Jenyfer Matthews
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July 28th, 2015
Buried Alive

In things to do…

When it rains it pours. It seems like I’m either cruising the internet at work all day reading the headlines and my horoscope or I’m working 12 hours a day. Lately it is the later. I’ve had 60+ hours the last couple weeks too. And I am not even keeping up…

But that doesn’t even count my home life There are always things to do at home. Sitting inside at a computer all the time gets old… so old that going out to the raspberry patch and pulling out the old, dead / dying canes begins to look like a good idea. Bonus – I don’t have to pick raspberries anymore! I’ve clipped my basil and made mega-batches of pesto twice and my tomato plants are getting ready to erupt. This is the year my apple tree produces too. I WILL make time to can pie filling.

I did take some breaks from working overtime over the weekend to go out to work on the deck chairs. My son commented that the chairs must be crap. I was surprised and asked him why he said so. He replied “because you are always working on them!” Well, they are pretty much done now – though I admit it has been a while start to finish…

The chairs were made in Egypt and the finish / varnish deteriorated in the much more damp Michigan climate. I stripped them and washed them to kill mildew on wood and then sanded every slat. I stained the wood a “golden pecan” and then applied two coats of clear satin stain. I am not however planning to leave them outside in future – they fold. I love love love that they fold (or I might not bothered to refinish them!)

Here’s how they look now:

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Only two chairs but with all those slats, two is enough!

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A bit closer view. I used these chairs with their matching table as my computer table in our apartment in Egypt, with a cushion. I did not figure they needed to be perfect now because I’ll be using cushions again.

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They look good all the same though.

I am heading out on vacation on Friday this week. And I’m planning to do something completely unlike me – I’m going to unplug. No computer at all, not phone. Easy enough to do at my dad’s place in Minnesota! I’ll be in Minnesota for 8 glorious days and then it is back to real life in Michigan and then soon enough school will start again.

Where does time go anyway???

July 9th, 2015
Garden Makeover

When the tree people came to look at the giant tree prior to cutting it down, they suggested that I might want to move some plants out of the flower bed under the tree “just in case”. That is a huge flower bed so taking out all of the plants wasn’t exactly practical, but I did dig up a rose bush and a hydrangea to be on the safe side.

While I had the crew there with their equipment, I decided to have them grind out a couple of old stumps as well – one of which was in a flowerbed closer to my house. I have wanted to have that particular stump removed practically since we moved in because the placement of it made the end of that flower bed all but unusable. Imaging how happy I was when the tree people did their thing and I was left with this:

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I could not wait to get out and start digging.

I decided that I was going to fill this empty spot with a large Rose of Sharon that I had growing on the corner of my house. The bush grew ok but I didn’t think it was getting quite enough sun where it was planted – in the afternoon this spot is in the shadow of the house.

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I first dug up the monster hosta that were nearby and then went after the bush. It was all much easier to dig up than I might have expected given how large everything is!

Ta-dah! Looks better already:

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I transplanted and split up a few tulip bulbs while I was at it, split the giant hosta to fill in around the edges of the bed and then spread the top with wood chips from the giant tree stump. Looking good!

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I ended up digging a couple more big chunks of hosta for my sister to take home with her – I have plenty! I also ended up moving the hydrangea into the spot where the Rose of Sharon had been originally because it was getting too much sun and I thought it would probably appreciate some afternoon shade. I filled in the bed that was under the giant tree with a couple of roses that were also not getting enough sun.

I can’t begin to describe how happy being outside and digging in the dirt made me. The yard looks great too. I love being able to look around and see the improvements I’ve made and also know that I did it all with things I already had on hand anyway.

Now, to get the big dent in my lawn filled in and re-seeded for grass…

July 6th, 2015
Timber

We had a big tree in front of our house. A BIG tree. A tree so tall that the canopy was so high I hardly really even noticed the tree. Because of the way the house faces, the neighbors across the street got more shade from the tree than we did.

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The tall tree in the middle – that’s the one.

I never knew what kind of tree it was or even bothered to look it up. Until a scruffy looking guy in an unmarked van pulled up in front of the house and told me that the tree had ash borers and needed to be cut down before it fell down. On my house. Hmmm…

Turn out it was an ash tree and it did have ash borers.

So I made arrangements to have it cut down, but I did not hire the scruffy man in the van. As it turns out there is quite a problem with ash borers in Michigan so the tree service that I called couldn’t even fit me into their schedule for a month. They finally came to cut the tree down last Thursday.

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It is a HUGE tree and I felt bad about having to cut it down. But one silver lining is that my neighbor agreed to take the wood for his fireplace – which both made me feel a bit better about the waste of a tree and also got me a small discount on the job. And what a job it was. It took five hours to cut it down and most of that time was spend on the canopy.

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They cut the limbs, lowered them to the ground and then chipped them up as they went. The bigger limbs they cut and started stacking on my lawn. Once they got to the trunk the man in the bucket of the truck would cut a section and push it off. The whole house would shake as the trunk hit the ground. This is what my lawn looked like when they were done.

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That doesn’t look like much because of the distance. This is how big the base piece of the trunk was – my purse is not tiny, probably about 15″ tall:

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My neighbor did take the wood. Well, most of it. This is what was left after he decided was too big for him to deal with.

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I wasn’t too pleased to be left with these 7 giant pieces – what am I supposed to do with them? When they didn’t disappeared over the weekend he said he’d be back this week with his chainsaw and try to cut them in to manageable pieces and take them away. I think he was overwhelmed by the volume of wood when it all came down and was piled up. If I had a chainsaw I’d do it myself but in this case I know my limitations!

But when I think of what I could have done with all that wood and a wood mill for making planks… sigh…

June 26th, 2015
Time Marches On

Time passes, but where does it go? I tried to use a coupon at the grocery store the other day and the cashier told me it was expired. I was preparing to argue and then realized she was correct – it was expired. By an entire month.

I remember being a child and getting out of school just past mid-May and having off until the end of August. It felt like a vast stretch of time – and endless supply. I don’t think I’ve felt that way since. The only difference I can come up with was that back then I didn’t have event after event planned. I decided what to do with my day as each day began – usually with my finally waking up at about 10am. I just drifted along in a pleasant, relaxed manner. Why didn’t I appreciate that more at the time?

Try-outs for my son’s travel soccer team were the second weekend in June, just after their spring season ended. The following week there was a parent meeting for his team. The purpose of the meeting was to collect paperwork for the 2015-2016 meeting and to discuss planning. The coach is going to start having practices a couple of evenings a week staring in July. He is also already planning tournaments for the pre-season in August. Thinking about my daughter’s scheduled tennis tournaments along with already starting soccer back up only a mere few weeks after spring season ended was somewhat depressing. Given that it is practically July already, I feel like the summer is over before it has even really properly started.

And that is just the children’s activities. I have some things I’d like to accomplish myself before it starts to snow again. I finally finished sanding the wooden deck chairs that have been languishing in the garage so I need to find some time to stain and seal them. And I have that super cool vintage step stool to strip and repaint as well. I’m also kind of wanting to strip the stairs again because as hard as I worked to stain and seal them, I don’t like how they look and the seal is already peeling and flaking. I want to start on a quilt too, but at least that is one thing I can do whatever the weather is.

The more plans I make, the faster time seems to slip away. I suppose the only thing I can do is breathe and stop giving myself so many deadlines. Things will get done when they get done… or not…

June 11th, 2015
Going Old-School

Sorry I have been missing in action lately. I can’t claim not to have had the time to write because I waste a tremendous amount of time playing stupid games on Facebook. I just haven’t had the mental energy or any interesting ideas. Some of it might be still down to the retrograde but most of it is probably to do with some big, life-changing events that are in process at the moment: I am getting a divorce and have two court dates next week. It is a positive thing and I’m looking forward to moving forward from here, but it is also stressful and mentally enervating.

I was thinking about an old friend the other day and decided to look them up on Google to see if I could find their email address. They still work at the company where I met them, but their email address was not publicly available so I decided to write them a note. By hand.

As I was digging through my closet, looking for the box of pretty stationery and blank notecards I knew I had, I was also remembering the days before email when I used to be a regular letter writer. I wrote to my grandmothers and great-grandmother when they were alive, I wrote to my friends when they were living out of town / state, and I wrote to my father. I used to write long, chatty letters on a very regular basis, mostly before and between classes in college. I was so known for writing letters that I used to get gifts of stationery from people – and compliments on the content of my correspondence.

My handwriting was also much better!

I still write letters but now they are primarily sent by email. So convenient! So fast! And no doubt that email was a blessing when I was living abroad since regular mail would have been inconvenient, expensive, and slow. But I do miss actual letters. It is always a thrill to get a personal letter or greeting card in the mail instead of just bills and junk mail.

I decided that I am going to revive the practice of letter writing, and I am going to start with my father. He has zero interest in email and calling him doesn’t always work very well because we have vastly different daily schedules. But he was always a good letter writer too so maybe he’ll appreciate writing them again? He can do it on his own time and when the mood strikes. Getting a letter from him was always a treat because he too writes good letters and his handwriting is practically art.

Here’s hoping that I will need to replenish my stationey supply in the coming months…

May 22nd, 2015
Retrograde-d

A Mercury retrograde began on Monday – astrologically speaking this causes obstructions to progress, technological issues, slow-downs, traffic problems, etc. I have always been interested in astrology but have only more recently been aware of things like retrogrades. Frankly, it explains a lot! And even if I hadn’t know that the retrograde had started, I’d still have been suffering the effects.

Monday evening I was out taking a walk and dropped my phone on the sidewalk, cracking the screen. Tuesday afternoon was spent having that fixed (and picking out a better, more protective case). Wednesday I decided I needed to mow the lawn. I got two small sections done and the mower stalled. I cleaned off the spark plug and got it going again… very briefly before it stalled again. So I checked the air filter (it was ok), checked the oil (topped it up), and went to get some better, fresher gas (which I added along with some fuel cleaner). Then I went to the parts store for a spark plug. I got the mower running again and finished the front yard. On to the backyard… where I hit a brick paver and bent the blade of the mower so thoroughly the mower would not run at all. In the process of removing the blade I discovered a ridiculously thick layer of grass and dirt caked on the underside of the mower – that probably wasn’t helping things either. I scraped off what I could of that and then went to Home Depot for a new blade… which I did not install that evening because by then it was getting late and I had had enough!

Yesterday I was pulled over on my way to drop my daughter off at tennis – apparently one of my brake lights was out. The policeman was kind enough not to give me a ticket. Back to the auto parts store for a new bulb. After I got home I decided to install the new blade on the mower to make sure that it fit and that the mower would still run before I made the effort to change the oil. It started, but the blade didn’t mount correctly so it was also clattering and throwing sparks. Back to Home Depot to exchange blades. I got one that was 1″ shorter than is actually called for but it mounts correctly and there is no danger of it hitting the housing! Success! I went ahead and hosed off the rest of the muck from the underside while I was working and then I called it a day. It would probably be faster to rent some goats to cut my backyard at this rate!

At this rate I am scared to see what the weekend holds for me.

I did at least get a few plants in my kitchen garden Last weekend:

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I was being a bit conservative – I only planted 5 tomato plants (1 cherry) and 4 basil plants. And though I was worried I had waited a bit late to plant anything, we also had a frost warning two nights later! I did buy some seeds on one of my many trips to Home Depot – carrots and cilantro. I will try to remember to take pictures as the summer progresses because while this spot looks silly now it always turns into a jungle by the end of August.

I need to do some research on asparagus also. I have two large crowns of it which have been settled in this spot for two years now – one is sending up normal looking stalks and one is not:

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The come out of the ground very thin and twisty (sometimes twisted around each other) and then immediately want to go to seed. Does it need another year??

The retrograde lasts until June 11… I hope I can make it through without too many more issues!

May 17th, 2015
Music Education

I love music. I love taking road trips on my own when I can listen to music LOUD and sing along (with no audience). I have the radio on in my kitchen most of the time when I am home. The only time I don’t really care to listen to music is if I am working or trying to write. If music is playing I am singing along. If I am trying to write, I need to listen to my thoughts!

When I was a child, I listened to whatever music my mother played. She had a turntable with a really long stick and she would load half a dozen (vinyl) albums up on the stick and let them play on the weekends as she went about her housework. Once they had all dropped and played that side, she would flip them over. My earliest memories are of Elvis, but she went on to Kenny Rogers, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Tom Jones among others. I was a big Elvis fan as a young child. I once won some school competition for selling the most candy bars and chose an Elvis poster as my prize (he was wearing a bedazzled jumpsuit with a Hawaiian leie)

My mother’s car was her domain as well – she liked a lot of the current popular music that my sister and I liked, but if she wanted to listen to a cassette that is what we listened to. I know a lot of Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond as a result. I remember one summer when she was on a kick for Billy Joel’s Innocent Man album.

I myself like to listen to the radio, so I like a lot of the current popular music my own children like. However I have a six disk CD changer loaded up with disks I like… and I usually turn them off when the kids get in the car and listen to what I know they will like instead. Hmmm… something is wrong with this picture.

I remember not necessarily enjoying my mother’s musical selections at the time, however now I appreciate the fact that I was exposed to them. I love hearing those songs and remembering my mother. I made myself a disk of Billy Joel songs this week and put it my car and have been playing it even when the kids are with me. Baby steps.

They will listen to what they like on their own time anyway. Why not expose them to something new?

April 27th, 2015
Stumped

There is a vaguely kidney bean shaped flower bed in my front yard, and a large stump of what the neighbors tell me was a pine tree in the narrow end closer to the house. I have been wanting to have the stump removed since we moved in but it has been pretty low on the priority list overall.

However, that end of the flower bed tends to get pretty ratty looking in the summer. There is ground cover in that end of the bed that disguises the stump for the most part, however the grass from the yard has migrated into bed as well and is so thoroughly integrated with the ground cover it isn’t easy to just weed out – think sod. Also, there are some roots coming out from the stump that end up in the yard and disrupt the border of the bed (which is how the grass got in so easily).

This weekend I was on call for work more or less the entire time. Add that to the busy week I’d had and I was looking for something to take out my frustration on. So I decided to start digging up the mess of ground cover and grass in that flower bed.

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You can sort of see what I’m dealing with here – the ground cover and grass vs. the area that I’ve dug up. The pot is on top of the stump.

But as I was digging there were largish pieces of root that were just breaking off the stump so I started thinking about one of the larger roots that ran from the stump out of the flower bed into my yard – and wondering if I could remove it… So I got out my hatchet to try…

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You can see in this picture I am not the first person to have had this idea!

I wasn’t sure how sharp the blade of my hatchet was when I started but it seemed to work well enough.

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I was astonished and thrilled when I actually managed to get this large section of root out of my yard finally!

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The end I chopped was probably about 6″ in diameter and the middle bit was larger. Part of it had been sticking out of the grass but it did leave quite a furrow when I pulled it out. I ended up taking some of the sod I dug out of the bed and replanting it in the furrow I created. I tossed that root onto my log pile for a fire next winter. Waste not, want not.

(The sticker on the handle of the hatchet is a price tag from an estate sale, naturally – best $3 I’ve spent!)

It is amazing and ridiculous how much digging that root up lifted my mood!

April 25th, 2015
One Thing After Another

What a busy week it has been – and not necessarily entirely the fun kind of busy.

I had a minor, low speed collision in rush hour traffic at the end of last week when the person in front of me stopped suddenly and I bumped them from behind. We opted not to call the police since the damage was minor – and all to my tiny car. It honestly didn’t look like a big deal but that wasn’t what the body shop found of course. So I arranged to drop my car off bright and early Monday morning.

Last weekend I drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin for a tennis tournament with my daughter (in my damaged car). I was white knuckeling it through Chicago in the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic after my other collision. The tournament ended quickly for my daughter so we drove back home on Sunday. It is about a six hour drive from where we are in Michigan. As I was driving home I got a call from work asking if I could do a few things when I got home. Those “few things” ended up in my working from 4pm to 2:30am.

Monday I dropped my car off at the body shop and got my loaner. While it was in the shop, I decided to have the cloudy headlights replaced since they would have the bumper off anyway. Then it seemed like every morning this week I had doctors appointments for myself or for one of the children and every evening this week I had something to do to – including a retirement party and a going-away party for two different people on the same night. I got my car back on Thursday evening (wow – the new headlights made it look as if the car had previously had cataracts!) and then had to take it to the dealership on Friday to have an airbag replaced – which resulted in my being given another loaner car.

This weekend there are two soccer games for my son (one of which required a 5 hour round trip because of distance and construction traffic), school work for my daughter, and being on call for work. Is it any wonder I didn’t have time to write anything INTERESTING for my blog?

On the up side, my tulips are coming up and my daffodils are about to bloom. I also see signs of life from my asparagus and my peonies. So I believe spring is coming in spite of having had three days of snow showers / freezing rain this week.

April 14th, 2015
Muddling Through

I’m a planner by nature and I find that my weeks always go more smoothly when I have some ideas for dinner before the week starts. Not necessarily a set-in-stone plan for every night of the week – I can wing it a few nights – but at least three ideas of something I can make with what I have on hand. If I’m really on top of things I can think of ideas with enough time to pick up what I don’t already have in stock.

The last two weeks have not been great weeks for meal planning.

I muddled through much of last week and we got take out twice. This week is not shaping up to be much better so far. I think I know what I’ll make tonight (spinach and cheese quesadillas) but I’m already celebrating the fact that I only have to get through three more dinners this week because Friday my daughter and I leave for a weekend tennis tournament in Wisconsin. Can’t do much cooking in a hotel room.

I really need to get my act together.

Some of what is throwing me off is the shift in seasons. It’s starting to warm up enough outside that the warm and cozy winter entrees don’t appeal quite so much, however it isn’t quite warm enough to move into my full on summer menu either. I suspect I’ll be muddling along for a little while longer, though in the process of writing this post I already have an idea of what I can make for dinner tomorrow – at least if I do a bit of advance prep this evening (pasta with peanut butter sauce).

Sometimes you really do need to talk it out!