Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Unbearable Mugginess of Being

We finally got some (1 measly inch of) rain, which has had a most electrifying effect on our lawn. I really thought the drought had permanently killed our intermittent patches of loathsome Saint Augustine, horseherb, and sandburs (I knew the bermudagrass would come back, of course). But lo, after a smidge of rain and a blissfully overcast week, our "lawn" has not only greened, it's grown to a great, mounding shagginess.

The downside of all this fecundity, of course, is that that miniscule sip of rain somehow translates to days on end of truly stupifying humidity. You have but to step outside to rain sweat. In the morning, this is endurable (if smelly), but by the afternoon it's really too oppressive to think straight. Talking takes too much effort. I abandon all my lovely polysyllables and start talking like E.T.: Yes home now, or No, store first or Where lunch? is the sort of sparkling dialog I come up with after about 30 minutes outside in August.

Meanwhile, our plan to bring a steadier supply of water to our languishing garden is proceeding apace. This morning, Matt laid some PVC line to set up a spigot at the gazebo with another line running out to the baby bur oak (Q. macrocarpa) that Mom & Dad gave us.

Matt's trenches for the new irrigation lines--to the gazebo, pond, and bur oaklette

He'll also send a line + spigot out to the pond, and he talks of installing a "float valve" to keep the pond topped off nicely. How fancy! Fancy and, sadly, necessary. We let the water level get too low a week or two ago and actually killed our equisetum. Equisetum, a plant that watched the extermination of the dinosaurs with equanimity, that has seen ice ages come and go, that didn't even blink when the woolly mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers and giant ground sloths collectively shuffled off this mortal coil, a plant that grows in cement--this plant we killed. I expect A&M to revoke my hort degree any day now.

Rare albumin print of early human-sauropod interaction. The dinosaur is crunching on a giant primordial equisetum. Just trust me on this.

In other mortal news, we're having fungus problem again. What is it with Elgin and fungus? I grew my roses in pots for years, often in too much shade with too little water, and never lost a one. Now they're in the ground in Elgin and they constantly have the vapours. 'Wild Blue Yonder' got the Black Death again, this time low on a stem right by the rootstock. You''ll remember that I sprayed (with Immunox) two or three time in early spring and seemed to pretty well have solved the problem. Apparently, spraying is actually a way of life for this stupid rose. Gross. I'll try to spray every couple of weeks in in September and October, and maybe for a couple of months in the spring--but if that doesn't bring us to a permanent solution, then WBY will have to join the giant ground sloth, the woolly mammoth, and our unfortunate equisetum in eternal oblivion.

Stump of infected stem--fungus has most likely penetrated plant's crown, dagnabit.

'Belinda's Dream,' interestingly enough, has the same leaf discoloration that WBY has (though no sign of any stem infections), so I gave it a shot of the toxic stuff too, while I had the bottle out.

'Belinda's Dream' with diamond-shaped leaf necrosis starting at tip and moving towards base of leaf. Drought stress or Black Death?

Still more distressingly, the twice-transplanted pear isn't doing as well as I thought. a few weeks ago, it developed these cankery-sort of patches on 2 stems. The patches girdled the stems and made the tissue above wilt and wither. This was upsetting, but it was fairly contained, so I just pruned the nasty bits off, making my cuts, naturally, several inches below all visible infection.

Nasty bits on our 'Moonglow' Asian pear

Much to my dismay, however, the same cankery-looking infection recently appeared below the cuts and started creeping down past the next leaf buds on both affected stems. It's possible that this is actually the same pernicious fungus that has plagued my roses (roses and pears are actually members of the same plant familys), or it could be a completely different stem infection. In that case, we've got two nasty stem diseases running amok in Elgin, which isn't a happy thought. Either way, I pruned again and drenched the pear in Immunox. Here's hoping.

Late-Autumn Renaissance
That wee bit of rain plus the cooler temps (in the 80s and 90 rather than then 100s) has allowed a sort of renaissance in my garden. All sorts of things have perked up and popped into bloom. Lots of pix in no particular order:

'Fruit Cocktail' shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana)

'Mutabilis' rose. This is our 1-year-old--it's getting quite big. I bet it'll be 4-1/2 feet tall by next July.

A pleasant surprise--some of the bulbine I planted in late May (a) survived and (b) is actually blooming. Look how fuzzy the stamens are!

'Cramoisi Superieur' rose.

"Blue Butterfly Bush" (Clerodendrum ugandense)--it's been blooming since July, but it recently put on an extra heavy flush of flowers

Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea)

'The Fairy' rose (was one of the centerpieces at our wedding)

And in the "Hey, how 'bout that!" category, one of the mostly withered Crocosmia has gathered its energies to pop into bloom one more time this late in the season. Thanks, confused Crocosmia!

'Tuscarora' crape myrtle, chugging along as it has been doing for most of the summer

I Claim This Mountain in the Name of Belgium and King Albert II* **
The City is (supposedly) paving over the stretch of 10th that runs on the east side of our house. I think they must have run out of funding or something, because they graded it, put out flags, sprayed some paint, and deposited two pieces of culvert and a mountain of debris in our yard a month ago, and have never returned. Eh, well. It's a big yard--we weren't really using that particular corner anyway.

*Ever since I learned that some of my Cajun ancestors originally hailed from Belgium, I've been subject to (very intermittent) fits of Belgian pride. Vive la Belgique!

**After Abert's death, Queen Victoria put a lot of pressure on her children and grandchildren to name their decendents Albert (and Victoria). She particularly wanted her son, Albert Edward, to take the throne as King Albert I--I think she envisioned, Banquo-like, an interminable line of King Alberts and Queen Victorias stretching towards the historical horizon. That son, who ultimately adopted the name Edward VII, declined that particular honor, as his father and mother had caused him major grief for most of his adult life. And now I don't think there are any first-named Alberts in the British royal family at all, nor can I think of any other Alberts in Victoria's extended European family who ever became kings. So I'm rather tickled for her sake that a couple of Alberts managed to go the distance in Belgium.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Dutifully blowing our rebate check like the patriots we are
We looked at some more sofas today, and I think this may be the one: a brown velour sofa with contrasting funky pillows. Mostly safely bourgeois, a tiny smidge bohemian.

One wants to be settled and have attractive things that are a good long-term investment, but one doesn't want to be boring. I mean, I was a ghetto-dwelling grad student for a long time. I had some clothes stolen from one apartment laundromat when thieves absconded with the washing machine they were sitting in, fer cryin out loud. I don't want to forget my roots. I don't want to be too gentrified. But I like pretty things. So. Brown velour + funky pillows.

The colors below aren't quite right (The photo of the pillow swatch came out oddly African, but it's actually kind of piquantly 1960s-ish), but you get the idea--the sofa's nice and rectangular. We like a rectangular sofa.

Very rough mock-up of possible new sofa. Shape is right; color is not completely wrong

It'll have a queen-sized sleeper, too, so we can have multiple guests at once or snuggle up for late-night movie watching. And it's good and firm and has a clean sort of an outline. The velour feels just a little decadent, too, which is fun. Our sofa says, "yeah, baby" and waggles its eyebrow rakishly.

Closeup of pillow fabric. In real life, it has more colors in it. Zesty and lubricious!

We're waiting on some swatches from the manufacturers before we make up our minds for sure, but I think this one is going to be it. And it's going to be 25% off! If we order when the sale is on, we'll be celebrating the arrival of the new sofa and the departure of the old by the end of September. Rest in peace, 33-year-old hideous yellow-and-orange-and-brown weave. You've served my family long and honorably.


New upstairs vanity
In other acquisitions, last weekend Lowes put a vanity I've been eyeballing for some time on sale--about 40% off--so I went ahead and nabbed it. Since it's abnormally thin, it's an unusually good fit for our wee snippet of a guest bathroom, which contained no cabinet of any kind. And it's all part of my long-term plans for making everything in the guest room match. Oddly, it will be the only set of rooms in the house that does.

A. New shelf matching new vanity
B. Picture to be replaced by mirror that matches shelf
C. New vanity--now we have a place (other than the floor) to store toilet paper!
D. Fixture, mirror, and towel bar set to ultimately be replaced with shiny new prettiness to match the vanity.

The sink is a separate piece and is held on by gravity--not, in my opinion, a particularly adequate adhesive. So I smeared a big fat bead of liquid nails on the top of the cabinet and set the sink on that. I feel a little anxious about this--was there some reason for the top to be a separate piece? Something to do with--I don't know--expansion and contraction under humid conditions or something? But the deed is done. If the vanity experiences some sort of catastrophic breakdown as a result, I'll be sure to let you know. That's what happens when you don't follow the instruction manual to the letter.

No movement on the swing or trellis. It's too damn hot. Anxiously awaiting autumn, the true season of renewal here in Central Texas.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Irrigation Plan

...Or, Fun with Visio
Matt's been sweating and swinking (good word, no? It's archaic for toiling & drudging) on an irrigation system for us for the past month or so. The most important, of course, are our new trees (Magnolia and baldcypress), the hedge of jasmine, and the re-transplanted pear, so those got attention first. But whenever Matt has time and spare money to pick up a valve, some emitters, t-connectors, barbs, or converters, he's been adding on. The system has become sufficiently complex that I decided to map it for my own benefit and that of whoever buys the house next.

Plus, I wanted to play with Visio before my company closes and I have to give their laptop back to them. (And, by the bye, why the hell didn't I do this sooner? Visio is far and away the easiest tool for mocking up blueprints and landscape plans I've ever tried--way better than that cheap crap from Broderbund or my pointlessly arcane and convoluted efforts in Photoshop. This is easy.)

So here's what we've got (click on the picture to see a larger [legible] version). The solid black lines are our main lines. The thinner black lines are thinner tubes. Dashed lines are buried.

Aqua is for places where we plan to put irrigation. The aqua bits don't connect to anything because we haven't quite figured out how it's all going to tie together. The quartered circles represent valves. The two aqua spigots (called "bibs" in official Visio-speak) are existing spigots that do not actually work and never have during our entire tenure here. I hope we'll get them operational someday.

Neat, huh?

Irrigation plan--click to enlarge

We don't have any automated timers yet. I'm not much inclined to buy one, since (as you know), I'm not a fan of regular supplemental water. It's all very well to have a system that (A) nurtures baby trees along or (B) gets the garden through a severe drought, but I'm not interested in trying to create a rain forest here. On the other hand, as Matt will probably want to point out when he reads this, I do have a tendency to turn on hoses and sprinklers and forget about them till the following morning. Some water conservationist I am. So the jury's out on a timing system at the moment.

That mention of work reminds me--some of you may not know that Fusion is shutting down this August. This is rather a downer, but I found a well-paying long-term contract position with the Texas Education Agency (doing tech writing with a soupçon of business analysis and project management), so all is well. Or mostly well--my cube at the State is the most ghastly hole you ever saw--barely 3' square with a giant pillar taking up about a quarter of the space, no natural light in the entire cube farm and the ugliest florescent lights--all sickly and yellowy--and of course everything is beige everywhere. Worst of all, they move people around so much that no one bothers to decorate their cubes so the beigeness reigns supreme. And it's about 81 degrees in there--apparently, we're singlehandedly compensating for the rest of America's inability to reduce greenhouse emissions. But everyone seems very nice and very smart and I think it will be a good opportunity to add some skills to the old resume.

The other happy thing about the job is that it will enable Matt & I to go ahead with our plans to buy a replacement sofa, plans we had to abort when we first heard that Fusion was going to close. We went to Ethan Allen yesterday and spent a small geologic epoch contemplating fabrics and pondering firmnesses. (Matt was very patient about this, by the way. Although he did put the kibosh on some of my more... exciting selections.) We had really liked the Crate and Barrel experience earlier this summer--good firmness levels on the sofas (we like a firm sofa--probably because we're accustomed to a 33-year-old sofa will very little stuffing left), reasonable prices, good service, but I have lingering concerns about the fabric options. So there is more shopping to do before we come to any decisions. This is momentous, you know. Our first real sofa. Our first big furniture investment. Not some fly-by-night, temporary solution, like our $25 Ikea coffeetable, our hand-me-down kitchen table, or our silver-painted yard-sale dresser. This is for real. WE. HAVE. ARRIVED. Adulthood, give us a nice, big hug.
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