Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas 2015

Just a few photos from around the house.

Our card holder in action.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care....
The tree was pretty spectacular this year. Gorgeous shape and size and G and C did a great job of decorating.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Minor curb appeal

Every now and then I like tackling an outside project not related to gardening.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

More home improvements

Master Bathroom

Back in January I re-did our bathroom. As I stated in that post, I wanted to put a shelf or two above the towel bar over the toilet.
10 months later, I finally did. Voila!
I knew I wanted to move my makeup and stuff out onto the shelf - both to have it accessible and to move it out of the way of little hands. But the top drawer of the 3 drawer set was previously home to kid medicine.
I'm a big believer in repurposing existing items. So I did some re-arranging, cleaning out of old supplies that I no longer use (Velcro curlers? Adios!). I had another mostly empty bin that I moved our first aid supplies into, then moved the kids' medication into where the first aid supplies were. This actually works better because it makes our first aid kit mobile. It also completely freed up the top shelf in our closet.

Kids' Bathroom

Several years ago, I re-did our "guest" bathroom. Took down a bulky, largely useless medicine cabinet and put up a train shelf and a glass display shelf. And for the past 6 or 7 years, it's worked well.
But the kids have gotten bigger, accumulated more stuff, etc. It had ceased to really function well. We were storing towels in G's room, other towels in C's room, lotions in another spot, etc..
So! In went a new shelf where the train shelf was for towel storage. I purchased a tank basket for bath and grooming supplies. Then I moved the train shelf up.
Again, repurposing the existing shelves. I could go and spent lots of money on brand new shelves, but why? 
I'm not sure what will go up on the 2nd shelf yet. Maybe extra bath toy storage. But now at least we have it..
The glass shelf got moved to the wall next to the door. Or will when C wakes up from his nap.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New books

When not actively gardening, I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Primarily to continue to evolve our landscape plan. In addition to the backyard, we now have two beds out front that need to be addressed.
Here's a quick run down of my latest reads.
  • Landscaping Ideas that Work by Julie Moir Messervy
  • Landscaping with Native Plants of Wisconsin by Lynn M. Steiner
  • The Well-Designed Mixed Garden: Building Beds and Borders with Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Annuals and Bulbs by Tracy DiSabato-Aust
  • Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place and Spirit by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden
  • The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening by Various Authors
  • Outside the Not So Big House: Creating the Landscape of Home by Julie Moir Messervy and Sarah Susanka
  • Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love by Julie Moir Messervy
My favorite book of the bunch is Plant-Driven Design. It really resonated with my thinking and approach to what I want to create - not just a nice space to live and play, but something that also takes into consideration the plants I want to put in. The whole focus of the book is to ditch the "outdoor room" paradigm and to treat the landscape as a living thing. Which sounds a bit self-evident, but if you spend any time watching HGTV or DIY Network, you see what they mean.

The other thing I really liked about this book is the approach they bring to the "native" vs. "exotic" debate. The thinking being that, yes, priority can and should be given to so-called native plants. But that we should be realistic about what "native" actually means in most North American regions - especially in northern states like Wisconsin. And that, if a naturalized plant or exotic can serve just as well or better than a native specimen, then it should not be excluded just because it does not qualify as a native plant.

I still have a fair amount of homework to do, especially with regards to the front yard. I think I have reached a design for the west side of our backyard that I like - that expands upon what we've already done and adds in new ideas we've had. Out front, though, I'm really not sure where to start.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The importance of light

One of the things I learned early on when designing our yard is the importance of light when making plant and location choices. A shady area can be made brighter by the right plant - even without flowers. And lovely plants can look dull and scraggly if exposed to the wrong type and angle of light. Here's a few examples

This white phlox is pretty enough, but when hit by the afternoon sun it positively glows.
Feather reed grass seed heads in the sun create a more striking display than those I have in the shade
Already a bright yellow, black-eyed susans exposed to afternoon light look like they're on fire.
In shady areas I use evergreen plants in a bright yellow color to create the illusion of light and create a focal point in a planting bed.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

More photos from July

With guest appearance by C.
I purchased two new Adirondack chairs for the yard. I tucked them into the curve of the bean bed.
Also blooming now: coneflower, almost black eyed Susan and some of my phlox

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's daylily season!

I love this time of year. Largely because while everyone else had boring old Stella d'Oro, we have these beauties.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Photos from around the yard

Lots of things blooming now that summer's in full swing.
Feather Reed grass has bloomed, along with the start of the galliarda and day lilies
Daisies are huge this year.
More daylilies, daisies and my new lantern from Pier 1.
More grasses. I love how lush it looks.
The new part of the bed. It should fill in nicely. Some phlox blooming, as are the coneflower and the spirea. The salvia are just finishing up, which means the birds are loving the seeds.
Homemade soccer field
Our spruce. Is MASSIVE.
No, really, it's MASSIVE. The fence behind it is 4'.
The two burning bush have really taken off in the last couple years.
Bean bed. Needs more plants.
My salvia in a box.
My new bench and pillows! Possibly my new favorite spot to sit.
And a bit of the garden beds.
Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, jalapeno, poblano and onion.
Pumpkin plants are doing well. Watermelon is clinging to life.
At least one small pumpkin growing.
Zucchini, summer squash, pattipans, beans, cucumbers, kale, carrots.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Purging Schedule

A topic that seems to be hot lately is minimalism. Living with less. Tiny houses. KonMari or whatever the hell that is.

I.Love.Purging. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE. But I married a saver who comes from a long line of savers. So I've had to develop a schedule and a few rules in order to keep our house from turning into a dumping ground of hand-me-down furniture, old school papers, baby toys, etc.

There are two rules. That's it. Easy, right?

  1. Set your limit on what can be kept. Be it a set number of items or number of containers, setg the limit and STICK TO IT. In our house, everyone gets 2 of those big Tupperware storage bins. That's it. If you start to accumulate MORE than what fits in there, you have to go thru it. This is actually a good thing, as physical items tend to lose that emotional pull over time, making it easier to discard them.
  2. Keep to a schedule. It's almost impossible to really maintain a clutter-free house if you let it build and build and build to the point where you can't take it anymore. So define a schedule that works for you and STICK TO IT.

To help, here's my schedule. The house is broken into sections and then generally one section is tackled per month.

End of December: Go thru kid toys. I do kid toys here because it's post-Christmas and post-Birthday. I ALSO do this when they're out of the house. I get the week between Christmas & New Year's off, so they go to daycare and I go thru their things. I'm not mean about it though - generally it's toys they've outgrown.

January: Filing - go thru annual filing, shred, shred, shred. File anything you need to keep into deep storage. Purge any older deep storage (like tax returns, investment statements, etc.).

February: Basement - this is the storage area & workbench for us. Go thru all storage boxes, purge as needed. Re-organize workbench, put things away. Go thru paint and other similar items, purge as necessary.

March: Kitchen - Pull everything out of the cupboards & drawers (you can work one section at a time if you don't have the counter space). Wipe things down inside and out. Purge as you put away. This is also a nice time to run a cleaning cycle on your dishwasher and stove. I also use this time to review my freezer/canning stock to prep for upcoming gardening.

April: Garage - empty COMPLETELY. Sweep out. Purge as you put things away. Set aside any HHW for proper disposal. "Summer-ize" snowblower, prep lawnmower and other garden equipment.

Closets & dressers - If you didn't wear it in the last 6 months, it's gone. Same with the obvious choices (doesn't fit, stained, ripped, etc.). Winter coats rotated to basement cedar closet, spring coats brought up. Linens aired out and reorganized, swap winter bedding for spring/summer.

May: Good time to take anything to donation or have a garage sale.

June - September: I'm generally too focused on outdoor crap to do much indoor stuff here. I may do some spot purging of places that tend to accumulate things faster, like our kitchen "junk drawer", bathroom cabinets and drawers, etc..

October: Closets & dressers - Same as in April but bringing out the heavier coats/bedding and putting spring away.

November: Garage - Same as April but winterize lawnmower, prep snowblower, properly store garden equipment and lawn furniture.

December: Book purge. We have to move our bookshelf to make room for our tree, so I go thru my books at this time and donate any old ones to the library or take them to Half Priced Books.

Note: Kid clothes are done on a rotating basis as they grow out of things, so it's hard to quantify when that happens. But now that G's in school, I expect to start buying his clothes/shoes in early Fall.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Caveat Emptor - Part 2

So, it's been a month since my poor Linden was topped.

I still have not been able to resolve the situation with the company. Let me walk you thru the timeline since the work was completed

On May 28th I sent an email detailing the damage to the linden, complete with the photos from the previous post. In it I stated that:

I would appreciate a phone call to discuss this, in addition to other concerns I have. Most notably:
  • the fact that I had requested a copy of workers compensation insurance prior to any work being done and none was sent
  • the fact that I had requested a call to schedule a time for service and no call was made
  • the fact that NO communication was made informing me that someone would be out on my property yesterday
  • OR the fact that there was no follow up communication regarding the need to contact Digger's Hotline in order to grind out the stumps.
On May 29th, I received an email from the owner of the company:
I reviewed the photos and spoke to the crew leader about your Linden. First of all let me assure you that this tree will be perfectly fine and in the long run will have a better appearance and structure.  There apparently were a combination of communication issues that became a domino effect which is certainly not our typical way of doing business or providing client satisfaction.  I have informed D that you do not have to pay for the Linden prune and also have issued you a Panera gift card for your inconvenience.  It seems the job description was the main source of confusion, as it indicated reducing upright growth to promote horizontal growth, hence the more substantial central leader reduction than you expected.  This is a pruning process we use in the nursery all the time on virtually every tree to stimulate horizontal growth which gives the tree a fuller character for sale ability. The center leader is retrained in young trees quite easily.  I spoke to K about using different wording in the proposals/work orders in the future to avoid this confusion. Thanks for your time and effort on this, it is how we improve.
A little annoyed at his response, I sent the following:
Thank you for responding personally.
Setting aside the Linden for the moment, your team should not have been on my property in the first place. In my email to K with the signed work order, I stated:
"We'd like to go ahead and contract for the attached. However I'd like to get copies of insurance coverage in hand as well before scheduling the work."
To date I have not received that. I want to have that in hand before any further work happens. Specifically, the grinding of the birch and mugo stumps, as the birch clump sits close to utilities.
I'm aware that topping trees is something done in a nursery setting and that the tree will, ultimately, be fine. Not to put too fine a point on it, though, but this tree is not in a nursery and should not have been treated as such.
It also does not explain the fact that no other significant pruning was done to the tree. The top was cut off and all the other laterals were left in place. No other shaping or pruning was done to promote healthy re-growth or preserve the pyramidal shape of the linden. Instead I came home to find my favorite tree looked more like an out-sized mushroom.
In addition to the linden, the initial work on the maple was also unsatisfactory. Several competing laterals were left in place and there was an obvious fork at the top of the central leader that should have been addressed but wasn't. I had discussed these specific issues with K on the initial consult, as the tree is now tall enough that that sort of pruning was out of my reach. When J had come back, he agreed with my assessment and finished the work, but that should not have been necessary.
I want to work with you and your team to resolve these issues. I understand that communication issues happen even to the best groups, but there was a lot here that went wrong. Please feel free to call me. I've left my cell phone number previously.
No further communication was received.

At all. Including a revised invoice removing the cost of the linden.

In the meantime, they completed work on the stump removal and I received an invoice on that. And I got my $10 Panera gift card. *SNORT*

Finally I called the company on June 15 and spoke with D, their office manager. She said she'd send a revised invoice the next day.

I did not receive an invoice. I asked H if he had seen it in the mail. He had not.

So today I fired off another email. I was, perhaps, less than polite:
I am writing yet again to express my extreme frustration and dissatisfaction regarding my service with your company.
Two weeks ago, on June 15th, I called and spoke with Diane regarding having a revised invoice drafted and sent - one that did not include the work to the Linden on my property at 123 Main Street. I cited your email from May 29th that she was CC'd on. D said she'd send a revised invoice in the mail the next day.
To date I have not received it.
This is completely unacceptable.
Please send a revised invoice with a new Payment Date and Terms.
For once, I received a prompt response that stated she mailed me a copy on June 15th (funny, she said that it was not possible as the mail had gone out already, but whatever). The invoice was attached as well.

I am just utterly frustrated. But I'll be getting a check in the mail to close out this ridiculousness.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Caveat Emptor

So, we've been in the process of contracting with a local arborist and tree care company to do some work. Specifically, take down the dead river birch and mugo pine, grind out those stumps, and then do some basic pruning of the maple and linden out back. The maple especially needed a good shaving but the linden could have used some.

I found the company thru the ISA website. Did research on them on various online forums. They checked out. Their quote looked good. So I sent back the work order with an email stating that I wanted a copy of their workers comp insurance for my records and a request to call me to schedule a time for the work to be done. I hadn't heard back, but I figured it's a busy time of year and wasn't in a huge rush.

Yesterday I got home and was shocked to see the birch and mugo were gone. The stumps hadn't been ground out though, which I found curious. Then I went out back to see if they'd pruned the maple and linden. And this is what I saw:
I think I started screaming. I'm honestly not sure. I was so horrified.

Because here's what it looked like last summer:
They'd lopped the top off. At least 2 to 3 feet of the central leader, completely gone. They'd left all the competing laterals in place and didn't do any other structural pruning. I couldn't believe it. There was no reason to do that.

Here's a photo of the tree just starting to leaf out from earlier this spring.
See the lovely structure? The strong leader? How straight it is? I had just been bragging about this tree to my father not 5 days earlier.

The maple wasn't nearly so bad. They'd done some decent cleaning up, but left a bunch of upper competing laterals at the crown as well.
I stormed into the house, shaking with rage and yelled "WHAT DID THEY DO TO MY TREE?!" Eric was suitably horrified; G and C were startled because mommy does not yell. I continued ranting and raving.

Eric finally suggested "You should call them."

"They're closed." 

"So? Leave a message. You should call and they should hear how angry you are."

So I did. I generally don't like doing that sort of thing. I knew it was going to completely ruin someone's day to get in and the first thing they hear is Angry Lady Message.

But. BUT! I looked at my tree. And called. And let it loose.

I don't remember exactly what I said, but I know I used the phrase "destroyed my tree" and signed off with "Please call me on my cell phone at BLAH BLAH BLAH. Thank you." And then felt a little funny having signed off so polite but whatever. Old habits die hard.

So this morning I was driving C to the doctor when at 7:58 my phone rings. It's the service company, returning my call.

After some civil back and forth, we arranged to meet up after I'd dropped C off at daycare after his appointment.

He arrived on time, introduced himself.  I don't know if this was the guy who'd been out the day before and didn't ask because I didn't want him to become defensive. I started up with the fact that they shouldn't have even been there, and he replied that I would have to talk to the office manager, because once the work order landed on his desk that it was ready to go. I forgot to ask why he hadn't called to either schedule a time or at the very least let me know that they'd be there. Another question for the office manager, I guess.

We then went out back to look at the trees. I was calm and civil, but firm. I did let a little of my outrage and frustration show thru because, dude. MY TREE.

We started with the maple, that being the closest and least controversial tree. I pointed out that the general pruning was fine, but that there still needed to be some clean up done. I pointed out the very clear split at the top of the central leader, the remaining competing laterals. He agreed immediately with what I was saying.

We then moved on to my poor, butchered linden.

He explained the work order stated to strongly prune back competing laterals to encourage growth and do general . I said "That's fine and dandy. That's NOT what was done. That's the OPPOSITE of what was done. The central leader was CHOPPED DOWN and ALL OF THE LATERALS were left in place. And NO other pruning was done!" He looked more closely and agreed. Apologized. We agreed on the approach he should take to fix it. He went to get his gear and go to work and I went inside and sat at the kitchen table to work and keep an eye on him.

Long story short, here's the end result.
The maple looks much better. Very clear central leader now. Nicely trimmed.

And the linden?

She still looks so sad and stumpy. My heart is broken. But it's an improvement and he did a good job taking care of pruning out the body of the tree. There's a reasonably strong lateral to the left that looks like it should be able to take over as the central leader.

Here's a close up of what the top looks like now.
So we're in wait and see mode for this year. She'll need some careful pruning at the top there to encourage Lefty to take over. Fortunately she's a strong, healthy tree and has proved to be a vigorous grower.

I still have to call the company's office and speak with their owner or manager. Because they have some explaining to do.


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