It is supposed to be thirty degrees today. If you’re reading this from the US, I should note that I’m getting pretty tired of writing Celsius on the end of my temperatures so as not to confuse you further, so I’m officially phasing out my unit conversion service, trimming back the excess overgrowth and organic creep, just like I did in my flowerbed for and hour and a half last night. On hands and knees I clipped a good five centimeters of overreaching lawn from the edging around my tulip farm. With this and the other winter dead fall I filled nearly an entire composting bag… from one flower bed. It looks darn good, even though it has yet to fully emerge for the season, but it makes me realize just how much yardwork I have to do in the coming weeks to catch up. Can you believe we had ten centimeters of snow less than two weeks ago?
I know it’s what broke this camel’s back, but the lawn needed a mow and the flower beds needed some TLC. #planting #shrubbery #yardwork #dayoff
Sometimes you just need a few days off. Summer hit, and with our schedules being what they were, we just never got around to booking any out-of-town trips for our week off. And then we realized: we live in an awesome city, have an awesome yard, and really just needed some time to relax. This is what we did.
Saturday July 13
The holiday kicked off a Karin and I awoke in the throes of temporary empty-nest-hood. Claire was a few hundred kilometers away, camping with her grandparents for just a couple more days. So, how do two thirty-somethings, lost in the lack of a child underfoot, cope with all that freedom.
Weeds, Weeds, Weeds
The sun came out for a few hours and we pulled weeds. Exciting, eh?
Instead, I spent a good two hours on my hands and knees troweling the encroaching chickweed from the flowerbeds, pulling all kinds of semi-invasive visitors from between the much-slower-growing vegetables, and meticulously fighting the war of steady attrition I’ve been waging on the never-ending supply of dandilions emerging from the lawn.
Actually, the dandilions give me sympathy for a zombie apocalypse. They emerge from the soil, they are innumerable and seemingly unstoppable, and when their heads explode they spread their evil infection across the landscape.
The day wasn’t all hard work, however. Thanks to a well-timed order from Amazon, I found myself in possession of a brand-spanking-new copy of Lego: Lord of the Rings literally as I arrived home from my last day of pre-vacation work. (The UPS lady followed me up the street and handed me the package as I got out of my car.)
So, thanks to generous spans of time, I’ve been playing. And I think I like it.
Chris had some mixed reviews when I was at his house last weekend, saying something about how the levels were somehow intermixed with these quests and an RPG-like story. I didn’t exactly understand what he was getting at, at the time, but I think I get it now.
But anyone who’d played the second Lego: Harry Potter game would get it. Like that game, the story is not episodic, it’s linear, and you travel through the movies/story not with a central place to hang out, but instead, wandering through an ever-changing world. As you move through Middle Earth, you encounter “levels” that you play as normal, but in that wider non-level world, there are things to do, find, and complete.
I’m still in the single-digit percentage of completion, but I’m enjoying it. And I’m sure Karin is on the brink of picking up a controller too, soon.
And despite acting only a little wee bit like grown-ups over most of the day, we jumped into that role with both feet as the day neared an end and showed up just in time for our reservation at NINETEEN.
The neighborhood we live in, despite being kinda unfortunately known as the rich-snooty corner of town (which it only sorta is) has had a very long tradition of not-very-many restaurants. And part of that tradition has been only a handful of good restaurants.
That’s all changed in the last couple of years. In fact, it almost seems like restaurants are popping up faster than we can try them.
Yet, still, lots of chains and so-so dining experiences: great if you, like us, need to cater to a hungry, impatient kid.
So, out in the blue there is this place called XIX. It’s kinda, sorta, for now-until-more-gets-built in the middle of nowhere. Less nowhere every day, but still most people’s reaction about the place was: there? Really?
Even so, we made a reservation a week in advance and, albeit on a Saturday night, could only get a seven thirty slot. But we dressed up, splurged a little, and enjoyed a nice meal and great service before going back home and hanging out on the couch with our lonely puppy before bed.
It's Friday. I have the day off. And as luck would have it I find myself spending a relaxing-kinda-morning in a local coffee joint, sipping on a cup of dark roast, and killing some time with a keyboard and a blank screen in front of me.
Guess what you get to read.
Not that you mind, of course. You wouldn't keep coming back to read this blog week after week if it wasn't occasionally offering you some babble-filled insight into something you found interesting. That's to say, the dozens or hundreds or (occasionally) thousands of hits that these articles get must have some lingering interest to someone else this would be just another rambling post on just another pointless blog.
I've been trying. Admittedly that effort has been a little on the weak side lately. My posts have been rolling in at a steady average of not-quite weekly, a little daunting to consider, well, considering that exactly a week from now I'll be poised for yet another blog-every-day effort with my Those 30 Posts in June series. Because as much as I've been trying, life has just — simply — been darned busy.
I’ve been appreciating NOT using a computer at night
My evenings, usually a fountain of downtime and inspiration, have been little more than veg-fests, sitting on the couch recovering from a draining day. I'll not say much more about work other than that (a) my major project is in full swing, (b) my major project is burning a lot of mental calories, and (c) I've been appreciating NOT using a computer at night.
Every day, literally, we have something going on. I'm either running (which I can't rightly skip because I'm the clinic instructor now) or Claire is playing soccer or dancing or attending music class, or Karin has something going on, too. When June burns itself out in about a month it's going to take nearly all our obligations (save the running) into the rapidly diminishing bliss of summer break, leaving us wondering what to do with all our free time, but until then our family is burning the reserves at full power and feeling it.
I wrote a few weeks back about my video-a-day project. I've been grabbing (a minimum of) five seconds of video every day and compiling those clips into “5 Seconds of [Insert Month Name Here]” videos, little efforts we've been enjoying. They don't get posted anywhere though: private and personal, you know. So, if you want to see them you need to attend a private viewing at our house. Please form an orderly queue. Patience, everyone. Calm down. No shoving.
The negative side effect — and yeah, I fully admit this — is that (because the GoPro does capture a crap-load of photos, nabbing one still for every five seconds of video I shoot) despite taking a lot of pictures, I literally have not used my SLR since we were on vacation. No, really. It's been three months.
*hangs head in shame*
So, yeah. Perhaps one of the efforts I'll need to re-engage for my blog-every-day month is to dust off the Canon and get some photos to pretty-up all those posts.
In fact, I was poking through my archives a few days ago and discovered that it has been almost but not quite a year since I started digging into my template here and building the current iteration. I'm only reminded of that now — in the rambling sequence of this rambling post — because one of the major design considerations I made when launching that new template was the need for a boatload of photos. It has had a positive impact on the look-and-feel of the blog, I think, but the technical and resourcing impacts have been tremendous. My daily backups have grown to the point where I've had to run multiple archiving jobs, each one nudging a few key pieces — one part of the database here, another part there, some template files in this one, a few months worth of image assets in another — into a triply-redundant cloud file system. I've become something of an archiving guru just keeping these stupid, rambling posts online and secure.
The resourcing struggle has been photos. One one hand I tend to carry at least two digital cameras with me nearly everywhere I go (ie. phones or literally cameras) but collecting just the right kind of topic-aligned content so that I have something that goes along with a post, at the ready, has me always trying to out-think myself spinning me into a kind of infinite mental loop of infinite mental loop of infinite mental loop of infinite…
infinite mental loop of infinite
In the meantime I've managed to find heaps of time from somewhere to do non-computer and non-photo stuff. We spent nearly every waking minute of last weekend out in the sun, working on the garden and the yard. I tilled the whole of our little veggie plot and (with the help of at least three kids, including two of the little neighbour girls) ensured about twenty bucks worth of seeds made it under the soil in the appropriate spots. Well-versed in their nursery rhymes, my little hennie-pennies are likely going to be demanding payment for their planting efforts in the form of raiding said garden and eating up all the peas, carrots, berries, and whatever else grows come August.
I also poked away at some of the flower beds in our backyard. One particular bed, neglected for about seven years now, save for the bare minimum to hold back total domination by of a variety of weeds, is getting the full grooming and facelift treatment. It's about half done, and looking good (if I say so myself.) If it wasn't raining right now, I'd likely be up to my elbows in dirt inching it closer to completeness.
I suppose, however, the hardest part about feeling so busy and so drained and so lacking in free time and just generally over-scheduled is the feeling of letting something go. Claire's new bike still looks new, for one. She's been out quite a bit, but it never seems enough. My bike is still hanging in the rafters of the garage waiting for a tune up. There are unexplored trails and promised missions yet to be started. And that's just one of the should-dos on the should-do-list that have yet to be checked.
I have been finding time to do some of the little things, though. Neglecting this blog and entering a vegetable-like state on the couch each night means I'm pretty much caught up on my Netflix queue: I've watched through the full three seasons of Arrested Development again in anticipation of the relaunch-slash-reboot whatever on this coming Sunday. And (actually) prying myself away from the television, I've been reading some interesting books: I've been digging my way through World War Z again, listening to The Stand audio-book, and I've actually kinda gotten into the Tarzan series — I'd never read it before — which I somehow discovered on my Kindle a few weeks ago. Not to mention that I've been storming my way through some assorted philosophy and history non-fiction, too.
So, I'm not entirely unproductive, I guess. Just scattered. Rambling.
And my coffee is gone now, too.
A reloaded post is a short-and-sweet collection of the (sometimes-interlinked) randomness from my recent life, universe and everything else in between. They would be more detailed but they tend to be events lacking in either (a) details or (b) depth; Or lacking in the time to more fully record them. Enjoy.
Summer arrived in a flash. Remember how I was complaining that winter was hanging on just a wee-tiny-little-bit too long? Yeah. Well, it disappeared overnight one day about a week and a half ago and summer arrived in a burst of oh-my-gosh I-need-to-change-my-snow-tires-before-they-melt-in-this-heat kind-of panic.
The New Purple Bike
Luckily Claire was prepared. A couple weeks ago we found our way over to United Cycle and she became the proud owner of a brand new bike.
We’ve never been particularly cheap about bikes, but the last bike we bought her was a Sears special and it was never really intended to last her more than a couple seasons. She learned to ride on that little princess-adorned hunk-o-junk though, and we put it through the ringer in terms of modifications, crashes, and generally poor maintenance. And it became very apparent that, well, the cool winter weather must have shrunk it or something because Claire just didn’t fit on it anymore.
The new bike is something more of an investment. She’s just-barely-big-enough to fit it with lots of room to grow. And it’s something of a punch-in-the-dad-face of growing-kid-ness to see such a big-kid bike sitting in our house and knowing that it belongs to my — *sniff* — little baby girl.
Fences, Gates, and Green Paint
The kids have been bugging me for over a year now. And when I write kids — plural — I mean my single child plus her co-conspirators next door. We lucked out on our street in the last couple years. The two families who moved in (a) right next door and (b) two doors down are all lovely people with kids just right around Claire’s own age. They play together, hang out together, and…
Well, the problem with how we built the fence a couple years ago was two-fold: (1) our gate was designed to keep everything out and has not aged well, becoming almost impossible for me to open unless the stars are aligned and the humidity is just right, and (2) the original neighbors did not build a gate, so to get to their backyard one needs to walk all the way around the front of the house.
None of them let me forget that I offered.
The kids hatched a plan: build a set of stairs and a slide over the fence so they could go visit. I hatched a slightly more modest and realistic plan: cut a hold in the fence so they could climb through… and of course, none of them let me forget that I offered.
So, one Saturday morning about a week ago I got out the tools, got out the paint, and (first) disassembled and then rebuilt the gate so that it works properly and (second) used the extra lumber from the gate to cut, trim, and build a kind of portal in the fence between the two yards. And since the two houses next door never actually built a fence between them, voila! Three yards — and three sets of kids — are suddenly interconnected for the summer.
Of course as soon as spring-slash-summer hit soccer started. So I’ve been playing the dutiful soccer dad, attending every practice and capturing priceless moments of my not-exactly-competitive daughter — um — participating in a team sport. I think she got her athletic ability and interest from her dad, if you know what I’m saying.
Double Running Man
Well, at least her dad-as-a-kid. My athletic interest has me running epic runs these days. I’ve run a couple of races, one for each of the last weekends:
First… a pretty little bedroom community just a gnat’s breath to the North of Edmonton, the City of St. Albert played host to the RunWild race series on May 5. I had found myself registered in the half-marathon, and had been actively maintaining my training for that race over the last few months.
Then summer happened. No, really. All in one day. It’s as if on Friday morning we were thinking about how great is was going to be when the snow finally disappeared and spring arrived. On Saturday we were in shorts, doing yard work. And on Sunday — race day — we were full-on in Summer, having skipped Spring altogether.
The consequence was multi-fold. The race course, which was meant to be a relatively flat run through the river-creek trail system that bisects the City, was flooded. Really flooded. So much flooded in fact that I was surprised to have seen a map of a creek on Google Maps when I loaded it up to find out the name of the lake we had run beside that morning. It was not a lake, obviously. And because of the flooding they had diverted the route up and into the neighbourhoods adding a multitude of more hills than I was expecting.
It was also hot… the hottest weather we’d run in for six months, in fact. It was even warmer than my December run through the streets of Las Vegas.
I ended up with a modest time of 2:08, a very nice finisher medal, and a goodly case of heat-stroke to boot.
Less than a week later I found myself at the start line of yet another race. After running a half marathon the weekend before, it might seem like a step down to have been prepping to run an 8 km run. But if you are thinking that then it may be because you’ve never tried trail running.
I’ve tried to explain this to many runners at some point, the differences between running mostly on level asphalt versus bushwacking through a trail run. So, this time I took a video, strapping a sports cam to my head and filming my race. It follows:
You may notice that while some of the race is in the open and clear, much of it is through winding, hilly scambles, along dirt paths that occasionally leave you shakey and uncertain, wondering if you are more than a few seconds away from a tumble over a cliff into the river or a mis-step away from some kind of doom.
Which apparently I was… at about 3 and a half kilometers in — you can hear me wince in the video — I caught my foot on some uneven ground, or a root, or something, and rolled my ankle. Adrenaline and lack of proximity to a course marshall meant by the time I hobbled myself to a point where I could throw in the towel, I was feeling well enough to finish. So I ran the last four and a half clicks on a sprained ankle… and of course, regretted it the next day.
Fifty-two minutes was my final time, but I might be out of training for a week or two. *sigh*
An extra challenge this year.
Let the Yard Work Begin
Of course, with a hobbled ankle, yard work and getting the garden planted is going to be an extra challenge this year. It will get done. It’s already started, but turning all that soil is looking a little (ok… a LOT) more daunting than normal.
And the Winner is…
And on one final note… drum roll! Karin won an award at work: a Presidents League prize for general dedication and hard work. A gift basket, some general honours and a bit of a bonus. Pretty cool. She works hard and deserves it… but then I’m probably biased.
It’s been nearly a month since I found myself standing in the chaos of dirt and last-year’s left-over plant-matter, contemplating the upcoming summer of vegetable gardening. I wrote about spending the day tilling soil and the work done-so-far building trellis space for the peas and everything. Since that month, spring emerging, much has passed.
The shape of things is a big upgrade. I was getting frustrated with the slow creep of my lawn into three boundary-less borders: (a) right around the rhubarb there was always an organic mass of unmowed grass matted down with the lower, dying leaves of the rhubarb; (b) while I had once paid careful attention to my strawberry patch, a few years of not-so-careful growth blurred the line, crept past the narrow bits of stone edging, and was messing things for proper berry production; and (c) a small access gap between my shed and the raised box was a space I’d always intended on doing something with, but never got around to, leaving it open for a full-out lawn assault into what is clearly vegetable territory.
I bought a whole bunch of decorative concrete blocks. A whole bunch — it took me two trips with my little car (not wanting to weigh it down too much) — and about thirty hand-filled trips to the backyard to transport them. At first I just did the typical straight line, A-to-B style of sticking them in the ground. But something in me was feeling a little creative and so I built them into a kind a series of alternatingly-coloured, red-grey-red-grey, flayed arches, the closed-narrow-squeezed-tight end adjacent to the garden-side and the outer-arch flayed towards the lawn. The result was a series of semi-circular enclosure-slash-boundaries between grass and soil, and looks fairly awesome in a rustic sort of way. I’ll be sure to link back to this post in five years or so and ultimately decide on their effectiveness as a boundary, but for this summer they seem right-sweet.
And since this past weekend was remarkably gorgeous weather-wise, we managed to plant about seventy-five percent of the seeds. Claire got her own little space for some carrots and lettuce, while I got my yellow potatoes, banana potatoes, peas, sweet-peas, beans, edamame and (oddly enough) horseradish root planted. I still have most of the garden box to deal with — and of course there is all the tomatoes and other possible bedding-style plants that can’t stand the risk-of-frost-cold nights that are still in pots and portable to indoors.
The ground thawed enough this past weekend to turn the wet soil in my vegetable garden. Long time readers of this blog will know full well that when we move into our house in 2005 and did the initial landscaping work, we left roughly a quarter of our backyard as a patch for an annual vegetable garden.
I’m in no way an organic food advocate. In fact, based on the evidence and my past experience working in NGO agriculture, I’d bias myself quite the opposite: and we can have that discussion somewhere else if you’d like. But I do believe in the intrinsic rewards of growing your own food whenever possible, particularly for we city folk who tend to be inherently detached from our food and the disconnect most of us grow up with between production and plate.
Thus, I’ve turned my little patch of earth into an ongoing improvement project, putting more attention in some years, less in others, and usually making at least one or two upgrades every year. A few years ago I built a slightly raised (and significantly sunk) root veggie box to compensate for my relatively shallow soil. I’ve undertaken a variety of soil enrichment practices including compost (both homemade and purchased), earth worms, and a cross-mix of tilling and no-tilling techniques. And I’ve built up what was originally a pitiful four-inch black soil base to at least double that via a variety of dirt acquisition efforts.
This year my two primary (planned) garden efforts are focused on (a) plant supports, or what you might call trellises, latices, climbing fences, or other cages and (b) containment and beautification, or what you might simply think of as edging… but pretty.
I spent my easter Monday stat holiday getting my shoes really, really dirty and my arms really, really tired hand-tilling the winter-compacted ground with the spade I picked up at last year’s autumn clear-out sale at the local Canadian Tire. It’s at least a month, probably, until I put much of anything substantial in the ground — the very real risk of yet another spring snow lurking — but there is still plenty of work to be done getting ready for the big sowing of seeds that will happen sometime in early May.
My plant support efforts include the brand new pea-fences, completed and installed yesterday, as well as a little snow pea tellis I assembled from the left over pea-fence supplies, improvised yesterday also and tacked to the side of the shed. I’d also like to build or buy some sort of decorative arch for the “main entrance” to the garden — a term that makes it seem much more prominent than it really is — upon which I can grow pole beans or some other climbing vegetable.
The second effort will be waiting until the local landscape suppliers officially open for business this spring and I can acquire some sort of stone-based edging. The design of the garden allows the creep of the grass into the garden, a process that over the seven years we’ve been doing this is starting to reach annoying proportions. Not only would a stone border keep those roots at bay, but it would look a little nicer than the overgrown clutter of invading grass into my tomatoes.
Hopefully I’ll have the time and interest to keep this blog updated with some words on the summer progress of my garden… and photos too.
…filling the spaces, pots, and planters with an assortment of foliage, plants, seeds, and other recently purchased bits of life, flora, soil, et cetera, in a vaguely directional attempt to beautify this little chunk of land we call our back yard, a haven for rapid greening in a short five month window prior to yet another inevitable snowfall that reduces it all to brown chaos, death, and depression.
…or at least as much as a couple with a tag-along child can at a birthday-slash-going away party at Jess and Martin’s house, grilling various meats with folks we sorta-know through past associations at similar gatherings in distantly fleeting memories.
…logging yet another nine point some kilometers around the neighborhood with my now-familiar half-marathon training crew, the days getting brighter and warmer, and the courses getting longer and more grueling, yet still leaving the falvour of success in my mind as I traipse through each footfall aside some interesting young strangers who distract me long enough from the fear of my weakened ankle to actually leave me feeling as if I could accomplish a full race someday, again.
…with grandma, my mom, who left at home by dad, off visiting Japan with Derek (working, training, something or another) was up for various reasons, one of which was to see her granddaughter, the other of which will be explained a just a wee, tiny, little bit further down the post.
…we garden more…
..continuing the work left not quite completed at the end of yesterday, watering, finalizing the seeding of the dirt-enclosed shape, no longer the perfect rectangle I’d originally built, that is my vegetable garden, plucking weeds and trimming grass, as the rain lurked on the horizon threatening to muddify everything underfoot.
…we party more…
…now the youngest, go-gettem-est, at great-grandma’s (to Claire) ninetieth birthday party.
It’s not that the gas mower is broken, or anything. I figure the reason I went out an bought the cheapest (albeit brand new) rotary push mower I could find was this eclectic penchant for the anachronistic I tend to secretly nurture. It’s not an old mower, of course, but it is a kind of old-style mower: and it’s kinda kitchy out there in the yard, whilst the neighbors fire up their screamingly loud gas mowers, to get that whirring buzz of the push-powered grass-chomper out front and do just as good of a job clipping.
Plus all the environmental do-gooder-etc yadda-yadda-yadda…
I got carried away this morning and started clipping the neighbors lawn. It was really more of a momentum-meets-inattention thing, and I did a six foot strip into their yard.
It was a little bit obvious, and looked a bit lame — as if he’d started and just got really lazy; which is not the case, of course. But tell that to the judge. He’s not, y’know, particular or anything about his yard, but about five minutes after I cut the original swath and had decided to just buck-up and finish their whole front yard, he came staggering out the door in his pajamas, and I couldn’t tell at first if he was upset or grateful. I am going to dismiss the suspense and say as the conversation went on it was revealed to be the latter. Or at least I am going to continue assuming. It’s tough to say. Lawns in the suburbs are like this, holy-rite sacred-ground no-go-zone. If he had asked me to mow it, no-prob-bob, right? But I just kinda did it: and how does one interpret that? Is he in his house right now thinking I did it to be nice because his wife just had surgery and since he works on weekends I just thought, impromtu and resulting form my original carelessness, I’d help out? Or is he thinking I’m pissed, because his lawn is a haven for dandilions and I’m stepping in to be a prick? …of which I don’t really care about dandilions, anyhow.
It’s just funny. All this suburbia politics that come into play, our little postage-stamp-size chunks of grass. Weird, y’know.
Yesterday, Karin was rooting around in the girl’s mouth and discovered clear evidence of a lower incisor poking through soft gum. Yes, Claire is now officially teething. And she doesn’t seem too upset by the ordeal. Yet.
Good thing we’ve got a dental plan. (Whatever.)
I celebrated by having five yards of gravel dumped onto my driveway and spending the evening shoveling. If this seems like an odd way to commemorate the first tooth of your only daughter then, actually, there is really no connection. We decided to finish the last bit of landscaping this week and neither point seemed interesting enough from which to compose an entire blog post.
Come to think of it, they’re not interesting together, either.
Even though we’ve had enough small breaks in the rain to do SOME yardwork, break up some soil, fill our planters, and pull some weeds, the rain has kept us indoors for most of the weekend. Apart from attempting to sleep in and watching some DVDs, the weekend has been good for some things. For example, I managed to upload another gallery worth of photos. That makes two (almost 150 pics) since I last wrote an update here. Lots of you have managed to locate the Hungary gallery, but as of about an hour ago, the Poland album is up too.
Highlights include not only another great collection of us and other random people in front of lots of old European buildings, churches, and monuments, BUT ALSO highlights of our tour around the Krakow Salt Mine and a somber walk around the Auchwitz Concentration Camps. Have a look. Click on the thumbnails above.