Hailmageddon, 2017

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I’ve always wanted to take advantage of my homeowner’s insurance! And two weeks ago I got to do just that. What a time to be alive!

While we were at work, the skies turned black and the wind picked up. Mr. Fickbonne called me to make sure the sun shades were up on the garden, because it looked like it was going to hail and we didn’t want our delicate plants to get pummeled. As if mere sun shades would be enough to protect anything from what was coming. How naïve we were! How innocent!

Instead of a normal hail storm, we got baseball-sized rocks of ice hurtling from the skies. Not only did they rip the sun shades from their hoops and completely demolish the garden, but they damaged the house and Ben’s car.

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Every car in the parking lot at Ben’s office lost its windshield. After the insurance people were done with us, we learned that Ben’s Jeep was totaled. The poor thing looked like it had pock marks over every body panel. It lost the tail lights, the mirrors, the windshield. Sections of the tail gate were completely smashed through! All of which turned out to be good news: we’ve been saving up to get rid of that stupid lemon of a vehicle for awhile now, and the insurance claim just sped up the process.

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Fortunately, I was at my office in Boulder, where it only rained. So my car was safe. I think I would’ve cried if my little Volkswagen was hurt. It’s too good of a car for me. I don’t deserve you, Greta!

The house is another matter. The hail came straight out of the west, so we lost both windows on that side of the house, the siding and trim were dented and stripped of paint, and the roof needs to be replaced. Oh yeah, and our poor tumbledown shack of a garage suffered a similar fate. Behold, the aftermath:

Then of course there’s the garden…

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And what used to be our maple trees…

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And insult to injury, even my watering can got smashed…

18341935_10100821305988141_1148633185482758351_nAll of which is to say: we’ll be dealing with the insurance company and contracts for awhile. I’m trying to look on the bright side. After all, now we get a brand new roof and we don’t have to pay for it! And while the insurance negotiations are not done yet, I’m hoping it also means a new paint job for the house, which was part of our ten-year plan anyway. And don’t get me started on that bathroom window. We’ve wanted to smash that thing since we moved in. We even got new sheets out of the deal, as the bedroom window shattered into glass dust all over the bed.

In the calm after the storm, our neighbors have really pulled together. Some of them fared much worse than we did, and it warms the cockles of my heart—whatever the hell those are—to have everyone meeting in the street to check on each other.

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We’re lucky enough to have a garage full of boards, plastic sheeting, and tools and the know-how to use them. But after boarding up our own windows we went next door to our neighbor’s house and did the same for him. And the moral of this Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood story is that when disaster strikes, it’s really nice to be able to depend on the people around you.

Stay tuned throughout the summer for updates on the repairs! At least I’ll get plenty of blog posts out of this mess…

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The War on Tomatoes

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Friends, the state of Colorado is trying to murder my tomato plants. And it has almost succeeded.

I’ve been bursting at the seams to garden this spring. April was a gorgeous month: sunny, hot, all the spring flowers blooming. I bought pepper and tomato plants and lovingly nurtured them in our hothouse (read: a table by the south-facing egress window downstairs). I collected my seeds. I composted and tilled the garden soil.

Our “safe planting date” (HAH!) for this climate zone is May 15th. But a week before that I looked at the forecast, saw blue skies far into the future, and decided to jump the gun. I transplanted all my little plantlings and lovingly folded my seeds into the ground. It looked beautiful.

It lasted barely 24 hours.

Because then the hail came. And not just any hail! Baseball-sized ice rocks, hurtling out of the sky like they were launched from the trebuchets of cloud-dwelling giants. Every window on the West side of the house was smashed. The roof was ruined. Ben’s car was totaled. The trim and siding took a major beating. Our beloved maples and fruit trees were practically stripped.

And the garden was demolished. The hail tore the sun shades right off their PVC pipe frames. When it was all over, you couldn’t even tell where the pepper plants used to be. The only shade to stay up was over the tomatoes, but it was full of holes and we still lost two of the five plants. Most of my seeds likely washed away.

A view of the carnage:

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Ok, fine, lesson learn. I mocked the gods with my hubris and paid the price. So a week later I planted again. Ah, beautiful! Here’s a before and after:

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And that lasted five days before the forecast spelled my doom once more. Snow and freezing rain, headed right for us.

Determined not to lose my leafy beauties again, I launched into action! I watered the beds thoroughly, to act as insulation against the cold (counterintuitive, but that’s how it works). I pulled the large-bulbed string lights down from around the patio and laid them around the perimeter of each bed to generate a little heat. Then I covered each garden bed with the plastic sheeting we’ve used in the past for emergency makeshift greenhouse purposes. I weighed down the edges with bricks and hoped for the best.

Then, I plugged the lights in:

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(See my Facebook for the actual video. I’m too cheap to upgrade my WordPress account to host videos.)

When I woke up this morning we had freezing rain. Within twenty minutes it was wet, heavy, cold snow. Miserable. But my plants are safely tucked into the heated greenhouses I MacGuyvered for them. And with any luck the snow will be over by Saturday and I can once more open them up to the sun!

The weather has tried to take my garden twice now. I’ll be damned if I let it win!

Winterizing the window boxes

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Well, my beautiful summer window boxes are somewhat less beautiful now that winter has arrived and all the flowers have died. They actually look kind of sad, all wilted and dusty.

Hmm. What to do?

TO THE ARTS AND CRAFTS SUPPLIES STORE!

One hour later…

Ah yes. That’s much better:

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It’s amazing how a few branches and pinecones can really class up the joint.

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I left most of the soil in the boxes, since I needed something to stick the branches in securely. If I had to do it again though, I think I’d add some evergreen boughs as well. It’s all looking rather, well… brown.

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So maybe I’ll add some greenery in there later. The supplies didn’t cost very much, and nothing is glued down, so it won’t be too hard. But all in all, I’m calling this a pretty easy fix to having dead window boxes all winter long. Plus, I got some good compost out of the flowers.

Adulting: I’m doing it.

Look out, Rehab Addict, I’m rehabbin’ some furniture

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In the spirit of practicing my home improvement skills before it actually matters, I’ve rehabilitated our old nightstands! As with the kitchen bar cart, the rule was I could only use what we already had in the Garage of Wonders, making these essentially free projects. I knew I didn’t necessarily have a purpose in mind for these two end tables, and I didn’t particularly care if I messed them up. So my goal here was to make them pretty and then sell them on Craigslist.

I’m planning to use an antique finish technique on our kitchen table when I eventually get around to it, so I decided to practice that technique on the end tables. Before I explain the technique, take a look at the results.

Before:

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After:

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I know right? I’m getting so much better at house blog photography! Oh, and the table looks cute too. I believe this look is known by trendy Pinteresters as “”””shabby chic””””.

Overall I think I went a little too heavy-handed with the antique finish, so I scaled it back for the next one, the night stand that used to be in our guest room. Here’s how it turned out.

Before:

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After:

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It’s a little more understated, and I think the sage green paint works a little better than the white for this method. I also like how the wood grain is visible. Anyway, here’s the very basic instructions for how to get this effect with nothing but an orbital sander, paint of any color, and stain of any color:

  1. Sand the bejeezus out of every part of the wood, even those hard to reach little nooks and crannies.
  2. Paint it with your chosen paint color. Don’t worry too much about drips or uneven brush strokes.
  3. Wait for the paint to dry, then sand it again. You’ll want to judge for yourself how much of the paint you want to sand off, but in general just don’t hold the sander in any one spot for too long, and definitely don’t press down too hard.
  4. Rub stain in and immediately wipe away with a clean cloth. You want the stain to soak into the bare bits of wood you’ve just exposed with the sander and to collect in the nooks and crannies, but over the painted surfaces it should just leave the barest residue.
  5. Let it dry!

Drying times aside, this is an hour long project for something as small as these end tables. You can also mix it up like I did with the first table, and try pairing the antiquing technique with just straight staining on different parts of the piece. You might also consider sealing the whole thing with a wax sealant or a varnish if it’s going to get handled frequently (like kitchen cabinets or a dresser).

Oh and the best part? I’ve already sold one on Craigslist. Not bad for a free project that took me an hour!

Increasing that curb appeal

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Two things. First, remember how I wanted to increase Casa Fickbonne’s curb appeal from Recently Condemned Crackhouse status to Resembles a Habitable Domicile? And remember how I wanted to practice my carpentry skills on small stuff before tackling larger projects? You do? Ok great.

Now that we’re all on the same page… I made a thing!

It is a dual house number placard and flower planter, and it mounts on the front of my house. It was inspired by Etsy crafter Chesneys and it doesn’t technically have a name, but I built it and it looks just grand. See?

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Now that’s craftsmanship. I built it mostly in an afternoon, but had to come back to it over the course of two days while I waited for the varnish to dry and changed my mind twice about how I wanted to mount it. But all told it was maybe two hours of labor for a moderately skilled carpenter.

HOW I DID IT

Materials:

  • some scrap wood we had lying around the Garage of Miracles
  • Minwax wood stain in Red Oak
  • spar varnish for weather proofing
  • some screws of varying lengths and sizes
  • wood glue
  • house numbers
  • succulents
  • soil
  • also a miter saw, orbital sander, clamps, measuring tape, drill, screwdriver, level, pencil, and all the other tools house bloggers have on hand and never mention in the list of materials

Instructions:

  • First I cut all my wood to length and sanded it down to make it look rounded and antiquey. The backboard is made up of two even pieces of scrap wood I didn’t bother measuring. The flower box is 7″x3″.
  • Next I attached the two backboard pieces by screwing a third board to the back of them both. This will also serve as the mounting board.
  • Then I glued and screwed the flower box in place. The front board of the flower box is the only piece that is connected entirely with glue. Let’s hope it holds.
  • I drilled a hole in the bottom of the flower box for drainage, because I intend this sucker to hold real live plants!
  • I stained the whole shebang Red Oak to match the window boxes I made this summer.
  • After the stain dried (about one hour) I applied the first coat of spar varnish. Then I let it sit for about 24 hours before applying the second coat. My recommendation with this stuff is to put it on thin and apply multiple coats no matter how long it takes to dry. Otherwise you end up with gloopy bumps. And nobody likes gloopy bumps.
  • After another 24 hours I screwed the house numbers in place. I wish I could say I measured precisely to get them even, but, well… I just kind of eyeballed it.
  • Flipped ‘er over and screwed on the mounting hardware. Then removed it and replaced it with different mounting hardware. Then removed that and replaced it with the first set of mounting hardware. YOU MUST COMPLETE THIS STEP IN ITS ENTIRETY LEST YOU RISK MOCKING THE UNIVERSE WITH YOUR HUBRIS.
  • Mounted it on the front of the house with much measuring and swearing.
  • I lined the flower box with landscape fabric and nestled in some adorable succulents and soil.

Instant curb appeal. And also now people can find my house when I give them directions like “It’s the one that looks like a meth den except for the gorgeous woodwork on the front porch.” See what I mean?

In other news, we had our first frost of the season! So I covered what’s left of the garden in bedsheets to keep them nice and toasty and producing fruit for a few more weeks. Also, Craig (of bathroom remodel fame) caught some trout and gifted me with the guts. I just buried them deep in the garden beds, where they’ll spend the winter decomposing and filling the soil with all kinds of exciting nutrients to feed next year’s crops.

Garden update: A lesson in hubris

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After three years of raising vegetables, this was to be my largest backyard garden yet. Ben built two new beds, for a total of five 4’x8′ raised garden beds, lovingly tilled and composted and protected with sturdy PVC pipe and shade fabric hoop houses. I tried out several new species, packed in as many plants as possible, and went for it with all the confidence and gusto that a few lucky years will grant the average gardener.

But like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun! Alas, hubris was my downfall! Here’s everything that’s gone wrong–and a few things that have gone right–in my garden so far this year.

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The tomatoes are usually my bumper crop. I’ve planted one more plant every year I’ve been gardening, so this year I planted five, all different species, and just assumed they’d continue to kick ass in the late summer. But not so, my friends, not so. Both my Early Girl and my Better Boy–the quick-to-ripen sauce tomatoes I had depended on for early and bulk harvesting–died miserable deaths. The Early Girl was a total loss. The Better Boy I managed to coax back to life, but it’s so stunted that it’ll likely never produce at the rate of the others. Fortunately, the Beefsteak, Cherry Reds, and Black Prince are all healthy and doing fine. As far as I can see, the dead plants were victims of a combination of too much heat and over-watering, a sin I committed to compensate for the heat.

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The corn is doing… ok. My mistake last year was not planting enough to cross-pollinate. This year I think I definitely have some cross-pollination going on, but they’re stunted. I think this is another problem we can chalk up to the unusually hot summer we’ve had so far. But I think there might also be a nitrogen deficiency in the soil. This is what I get for not listening to my elders. Next year I’m going to plant the corn, squash, and beans in the traditional Three Sisters method, which will hopefully give the corn the nutrients and structure they need to grow strong and tall.

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My carrots are actually the stars of the garden right now! They’re healthy and flourishing. But I didn’t do a good enough job of properly staggering the planting. So the first planting is completely overshadowing the second planting, which means I’m likely going to get one big carrot harvest and then nothing (or wee little carrots) later on in the fall.

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That right there is two zucchini plants completely encircling an entire garden bed. Normal zucchini behavior, right? Right. Except that ain’t zucchini. It’s cousa squash, a Middle Eastern squash that looks like this:

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Fortunately, cousa can be used exactly like zucchini, and while its skin is a bit thinner and it tastes a mite sweeter, the difference is pretty negligible. Only problem is the cousa plant doesn’t bear fruit as often as a zucchini plant does. And yes, while you can joke about how we were up to our eyeballs in zucchini last year, I had actually planned for that kind of high yield. I had all kinds of uses for a deluge of zucchini!

So how the hell did this interloping cousa invade my garden when I wanted zucchini instead? Well I’ll tell you. Last year my friend Rachel accidentally and mysteriously grew a cousa (still no explanation as to how or why). She gave it to me to try. I forgot about it until it wasn’t any good anymore, and tossed the whole thing in my compost bin… where it germinated all winter long. This spring, after I added  fresh compost to my garden and before I planted my seeds, I noticed what I thought were dozens of volunteer zucchini plants popping out of the garden. The horror. 

So naturally, I pulled most of them and left two to mature, not bothering to plant any of my actual zucchini seeds. Imagine my surprise when these plants that look almost exactly like zucchini plants started producing cousa instead! I had to google image search to even figure out what they were! And now I’m stuck with the buggers. Composting lesson learned.

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My herbs are kicking ass, but they used to share a garden bed with my spinach and lettuce, which, again… I did not stagger correctly. So they pretty much all matured and went to seed at once, almost faster than I could use them. I managed to freeze some spinach, but we definitely didn’t get as much out of the lettuce as I was hoping.

On top of that, it’s been impossible to plant more spinach and lettuce seeds because of the heat, even with my awesome sun shades. We had 100 degree heat through pretty much all of July, and the garden did not like it. My cherry tree bought the farm (picture too gruesome for public consumption).

Overall I’m taking this year’s garden as a learning experience. I was perhaps a little too ambitious to be as successful as I was hoping, but hey–every gardener has bad years, right? At least I’m not a subsistence farmer living in the Dustbowl circa 1930.

The bedroom continues to adultify

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Now that we have a gorgeous hand-crafted king-size bed, it’s time to scrap our old free/yard sale mismatched nightstands and make some that perfectly match the bed. It’s almost not worth doing a before and after, but honor demands, so…

Fugly, right? On their own they’re not terrible, they just don’t match the space nor the bed at all. The smaller of the two was my bedroom nightstand growing up and has gotten a little battered after multiple moves. The other was a yard sale purchase, like… 8 years ago… that was mostly used by our old roommate Catey… and has definitely seen better days.

My plan is to fix them both up and sell them to partially fund the new nightstands. Which oh by the way look like this:

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Right? RIGHT? A massive improvement.

The nightstands are of Mr. Fickbonne’s design. He decided there was too much wood in the bedroom (he ain’t wrong) and he always wanted to work with metal, so here we are. Total supplies:

The longest part of the process was waiting for the stain to dry so we could assemble the nightstands. The hardest part (in my humble opinion) was removing the price tag goop and the grease from the pipes. I tried nail polish remover at first, which was just as frustrating and futile as you imagine. And then I remembered we had paint thinner and suddenly that step was done in roughly two and a half minutes.

We started with one and waited a few weeks to make the second (by then Ben had the technique down and built it on his own). Look how pretty and adultified our bedroom is looking!

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(New lamps to replace the ones I bought sophomore year of college. Yeah I’m thrifty.)

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In other news, the garden continues to flourish despite the sun’s best efforts to burn it down. We’ve had several 90-100 degree days, and it’s everything I can do to keep the plants hydrated and shaded. Our cherry tree and one of the maples look really… crispy. But thanks to our wildly efficient and water-saving rain barrel, I think they’re going to make it.

I took those photos a few weeks ago when we built the first nightstand, and the plants are even bigger now. We’ve already harvested radishes, lettuce, and spinach. All of the tomato plants have tomatoes, and the corn has just gotten too tall for its sun shade. The only thing that’s not taking off as expected are the new veggies: onions, scallions, turnips, and the herbs I planted from seeds rather than starters. I’m going to chock this one up to lack of experience for now and keep trying!

*Yes, I giggled over this for way too long because despite my best efforts, I still have the sense of humor of a thirteen-year-old boy.