Jenyfer Matthews
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August 27th, 2014
Summer Garden

It has been a strange summer for growing things. Winter was so long and summer got a late start. Plants (mostly) came back and bloomed, but in sort of strange intervals. I thought my tulips were never going to come up and when they did it was starting to get seriously warm out. The peonies bloomed a bit late and still have some deadheads on them, late in August.

My hydrangea died back so far this winter that it still hasn’t bloomed and probably won’t this year.

The vegetable garden hasn’t done much better but much of that is on me for getting it put in late. The tomato plants once again sneer at their support cages and have grown into an nearly impenetrable jungle, however they haven’t actually produced very much. The strawberries seem to go in fits and starts – I think the chipmunks must have moved along because the berries that have been growing lately have mostly been attacked by slugs and ants before I notice them.

(Many of my garden’s shortcomings this year no doubt come down to my being a bit too busy to pay as much attention to it as I should be.)

Aside from the raspberries, I have had one bumper crop this year: society garlic.

society garlic

When we first bought this house, the entire yard was seriously overgrown. I spent my first summer mostly just digging things up and ripping them out. As I went around I kept finding these small, mystery bulbs. I had no idea what they were until some of them bloomed that first year. Since they were pretty, I decided to relocate them in a more orderly fashion when I ran across them. They seem to approve.

I don’t notice any scent from them, but they certainly are pretty.

society garlic2

August 21st, 2014
Ugh

Still working on the stairs – applying the sealant. Even though it is a “quick drying” water-based variety, it is hardly a quick process. If I weren’t working, I could apply a coat in the morning after everyone had left for the day, wait an hour, and then apply another coat. Since I am applying it in the evenings, I am only getting one coat on a day – which I am telling myself is just fine because it has time to thoroughly dry between coats but it certainly does extend the process.

And I still have five naked treads and the landing left to stain and seal. Not to mention painting all the risers and trim.

Ugh.

There are three steps near the bottom that have spindles as well. I had taped off the spindles when I was stripping the original finish and that tape was still on the spindles when I applied the stain – and the first few coats of finish. I decided last night that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to leave that tape on while I was doing the sealant. I was right – the tape was difficult to peel off and it took a layer of sealant with it not to mention some of the stain.

Ugh.

Oh well – I guess I’ll get to do a bit of touching up on those spots when I do the next set of treads.

I’m hoping to get the last coat of sealant on tomorrow (I’m taking the evening off) and let it dry over the weekend to “cure”. Then I’ll start the process all over again with the remaining steps. I sure hope that it not only looks nice when I’m done but that it also holds up decently. If it doesn’t, I’m not too proud to admit I might cry.

Have to keep reminding myself how much I disliked the white carpet…

August 15th, 2014
One Step at a Time

My family was gone much of the week so I thought I would take advantage of both the weather – warm enough to open windows yet cool enough not to be uncomfortable – and their absence to finally finally finally get going on finishing my stairs. You know – from when I pulled up the carpet over a year ago and then stripped them down to the bare wood.

My plan was this: I would dust them off, apply wood conditioner, apply stain, then seal them. (I did every other step so that I could still get up and down the stairs in the meantime.) I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get *all* of the steps done while they were away but I had hopes.

HA!!

I applied the liquid stain according to the directions and was fairly disappointed with the results. Not only do the treads of the stairs themselves have different grain patterns but they were accepting the stain color differently as well. Some treats looked pretty good but others were blotchy. I can accept and embrace a “rustic” look but this just look flat out bad. I tried to work with it to get the coverage more even but the coverage wasn’t even and the color wasn’t what I wanted.

Hmmm…

Then I decided that maybe what I needed to try was a gel stain. These sorts of stains work better on wood like pine (which I suspect many of my treads are made of) because they don’t really soak in – they pretty much just stay on top. The directions said to apply, wait a few minutes and then wipe off the excess.

The only problem with following the instructions in this case was that nothing seemed to be staying on the treads – it was all wiping off. I was getting no where in a hurry.

I was just about to resign myself to just painting the treads when I decided to give it one last try. I applied the gel stain to the look I wanted – fairly thick, but still thin enough to see some of the wood grain. I wiped it on and then lightly feathered it with a clean, dry stain pad to get off any excess and to blend any wiping marks. Then instead of wiping any of it off, I just left it there to dry.

I applied it on Tuesday night and hoped that it would be dry by the time the troops came home on Thursday afternoon. It was still sticky 24 hours later. I had opened the windows because of the fumes and it had been cool and rainy so the next day I turned on the heater while I was at work to try and encourage the drying process. Still a bit sticky. I then put a couple of fans in the stairwell to try and hurry things along.

It is Friday afternoon and they are finally *mostly* dry. The ones closest to the fans are the closest to being dry, the ones in the middle are still a titch sticky.

(I haven’t taken any pictures yet because I’m still not confident that I won’t end up stripping them and starting over with paint!)

But that isn’t the end of the story of course – not only do I have to apply the polyurethane sealant coating to these steps but I have to start the process over with the ones that I skipped.

Now that I have started I might perhaps maybe finish this before it is too cold to open the windows for ventilation but the way the weather is acting it will be a close thing!

A more successful project was fixing my garage door – my husband backed into it a couple of months ago and knocked one of the wheels off the track. I got it back on. Yay me :)

August 11th, 2014
Gotta Start Somewhere

I do believe this is the sum total of my blackberry crop this year:

blackberries

I already ate the ripe one. Tasted just like I expected it to :)

August 6th, 2014
Tasty Stop

The children really wanted to stop in the Upper Peninsula on the way home from our vacation in Minnesota, having had so many happy memories from there from our short stop a couple of years ago, but it was either cut time out of our vacation to make that happen or just skip it. No one wanted to cut our time short so we had to just pass through this time.

But I did make one stop.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is known for pasties. I’ve been through the UP several times and never had a pastie and the children rejected them on our last trip through. My son covered some Michigan history at school in the meantime however so was more than willing to stop and try a one.

We ended up stopping at Muldoon’s in Munising, which claims to have been voted the best pastie place in the UP. I can’t personally verify that but their chicken pastie was pretty darned tasty.

0804141728 (2)

I know, I know – I have nothing to compare it to since it was my first pastie but it did set the bar pretty high to start off.

I’m willing to go back sometime to do some blind taste testing as well. Anyone in?

August 2nd, 2014
Loon-y

It’s been a great week overall – the kind of vacation that may not be long in duration but has a sort of timeless quality about it that makes it feel as if we’ve been here a longer time that we have. I had all these great intentions about getting some writing done in the evenings after everyone settled down but that never happened. Instead I indulged myself in some great books and was pretty much the first one to crash every night about about 9:30pm. Pure indulgence.

On a normal, typical trip to Minnesota we’d have spent equal time hiking trails in the woods as we did splashing in a lake, but this year has been so wet that the bugs in the woods would likely eat us alive so we haven’t stepped one foot into the woods. Instead, we’ve spent most of our time near the water and I’ve been attempting to burn off all the calories from my step-mother’s excellent cooking and desserts by paddling my kayak around. We even got out on Lake Superior once. Paddling in the big lake is always a thrill even when the morning is so cool (only 42F!) that my fingers went numb!

The other day I was paddling around an inland lake when I noticed a couple of loons swimming around one edge. I decided to try and get a little closer to see if I could get a picture. That’s when I noticed they had a baby with them.

Tom Lake 2014 1

I had been hearing the loons calling to one another on and off all day but the thing that drew my attention to them in that moment was that an eagle had just swooped down very low near them and caught itself a fish. The loons may have been a bit uptight about that eagle swooping so low near them already and then here comes a dumb city girl with a camera.

It was quite windy out and and I was trying to get close enough to get a good picture as the parents swam around their baby, my kayak started drifting. You would think that perhaps I had learned my lesson about bird-parents when I tried to rescue that baby robin a few weeks ago – if you think robins get mad it you get too close to them try pissing off a couple of loons.

I was being quiet and just watching them, but my kayak drifted close enough that those loons weren’t having it. Before I knew it, both parents stood up on the water and started flapping their wings and calling quite loudly and then dove. One came up on the far side of my kayak so I had one large angry bird on either side of me. Then they started flapping and calling again. Both of them then started flying away from me thank goodness.

Tom Lake 2014 2

Loons are pretty large birds up close – had they taken the approach of the robins I’d likely have capsized my kayak and had a chunk taken out of me besides. When they tried to divert my attention by flying away I took that as my cue to vacate the area as quickly as possible.

Only a couple days left of our time there before we head back to Michigan. I’m going to spend it watching the wildlife from a safe and respectful distance!

July 29th, 2014
Minnesota Happy

The kids and I drove to Minnesota on Friday – one long drive from mid-Michigan, but it didn’t seem so bad since I was so happy to be on my way and to get there.

I’d like to say I’m knee-deep in the water but it’s been a cold wet year so the water is freaking cold. I have been out in my kayak however.

Jen Kayak

That’s about as close to the water as I’m getting unless there is a serious change in the forecast between now and the end of the week – notice I am wearing shorts, a bathing suit, and a fleece jacket! The kids not only jumped into this inland lake but also ran in and out of Lake Superior which is a seriously cold lake on a hot day. Brrrr!

I hadn’t realized how much I needed a break until I got here. I guess non-stop tennis tournaments will do that to you even if you aren’t the one playing. I had plans to try and get some writing done in the evenings while I was here but so far that hasn’t happened. I’ve been so relaxed that pretty much the minute I sit down I fall asleep! I imagine it is what people who have narcolepsy must feel like. I frequently don’t sleep all that well when I’m away from home but here I can barely stay awake!

Our vacation this year is much more abbreviated than our vacations in past years, the kids and I are going to do what we can to make the most of it before it is time to head back to Michigan and our routine. Six days left… come on sunshine!

July 24th, 2014
Time for Fun!

I worked two days this week and now it’s time for vacation! It seems like yesterday I was putting this on the calendar at work and it was snowing outside – where does time go?!

It isn’t a bad time to go either. Things are sort of in a lull-waiting-for-things-to-happen at work. And the raspberries are pretty much waning while the tomatoes are just gearing up. I trimmed some basil and made some pesto to put in the freezer. I’m only gone for a week so I’ll likely be back in time to jump back in with the garden.

I’m trying hard to remind myself everyday that it isn’t about the destination but about the journey – so I while I’m rushing to and fro I try to appreciate the blue sky and the clouds and to notice which flowers are blooming. Time is passing faster than I’d like this summer but in general I have nothing to complain about :)

July 23rd, 2014
Something’s Gotta Give

There is only so much time in a day and way too much do lately.

My daughter arrived home from her week in Florida playing at a national tennis tournament late Friday evening and we got up bright and early on Saturday morning to go to another tournament about an hour away. I probably should have skipped this one for her but it seemed like a good idea and she said she wanted to do it when I asked her. So we went and though she was exhausted by the end, she managed to play very well and also finish pretty highly.

I’m pleased she was doing well, however because she was doing well it meant she kept playing on Monday… and then again on Tuesday – which meant that I had to miss work. It took me long enough to find my current job and I like it enough that I was slightly worried about missing work for a tennis tournament when few people who don’t have children who play high level sports really understand why parents do it. The timing was also less than great because I am leaving for vacation on Friday. Oops.

Another thing that is slipping through my fingers this summer is my kitchen garden. By the looks of it, there will only be tomatoes and basil this year – the seeds I planted are pretty far behind to actually produce anything this year. I guess I’ll just have to make some time to visit the farmers market instead!

And I still haven’t had the time to sand the second wooden deck chair or to start the quilting on the quilt top I made and is sitting ready to go… oh well, there is always tomorrow, right?

July 18th, 2014
Finders Keepers

I was on the way to take my daughter shopping when I spotted these beauties on the curb in my neighborhood. I did a quick u-turn and went to get them – no way they would have been there when we got back.

windows

They have hanging hooks in them so someone had been using them as decoration – but based on the looks of the frame they were actually a window at one point.

I don’t have a good place to hang them for decoration, and I also think I can probably come up with a better use for them. The idea of turning them into an interesting headboard occurred to me. I also though about making a couple of end tables out of them. I’m going to mull it over for a while. I’m sure I’ll come up with something!