March 2010

By the way, if you’re looking for a sys admin…Kevin’s contract ended, and the economy is still jumping around like a frog on a griddle, so the people getting him contract work went from "We have tons of leads!" to "Uh. Err. Hmmm. Yeah." in the course of a couple of months. (And next week it may be "Oh, yeah, here’s ten more leads!" I hate this economy.)

The wolves are not yet at the door–not even visible across the tundra–so it’s not an immediate problem, but I’m still having the stress reaction this sort of thing engenders. "Oh god, what if it never gets any better, what if this is it, what do I dooooooo?" So then I start making contingency plans, because it at least feels like I’m doing SOMETHING in situations where there is nothing at all that I can do. But once you’ve mapped out your entire plan in case of long-term partner unemployment–which takes about an hour, after you talk yourself out of immediately joining the Peace Corps*–you still haven’t knocked down the stress much, and then you’re left with video games or comfort reads or prowling around the house gnawing on your fingernails.

Or cleaning. There’s always cleaning.

Which is all rather ridiculous because Kevin’s the one in the hot seat, except that he’s handling it calmly, so I’m taking this opportunity to freak out, so that when he freaks out I can be the calm one. I am firmly convinced that one of the keys to a successful relationship is that only one person freaks out at a time. If you both freak out, the system fails, then it’s all rains of frogs, rivers turning to blood, dogs and cats living together, and it goes badly.

In a few days, I’ll get over the stress–my capacity to sustain dread is limited–in a few weeks, a job will doubtless appear–it’s just one of those obnoxious things that you know will be better eventually, but you don’t have the option to skip ahead to that point. Linear time is a pain in the ass.

*Given how often this is my default response to a crisis, it’s kinda surprising that I never actually did join.

It would appear that my allergies are starting to kick in for spring. It may be that Pine Tree Bukkake season has started and we’ll be seeing drifts of chartreuse in the gutters soon, or it may be some other plant, but today the mild stuffed-up-ness of the last week has gone to eyewatering and sneezing.

Fortunately, I’m nearly done with the major spring gardening. I need one more bag of dirt, I’ve got a couple of plants left to get in the ground, and I picked up some bedding annuals to fill in the large gaps in the border. I am generally all about the perennials, but having added a whole new bed, the budget will not stretch to fill it completely with native/well-behaved immigrant perennials, so the gaps are getting annuals for now. It’s a depressing truth, but I realize why everybody plants the same crappy flowers…ONE good native plant costs me $8 at Niche Gardens, and I can get SIXTY assorted annuals for $9.95 at Lowes. Hard to resist. Sure, the perennial comes back every year…in theory…but I think I actually get maybe 60% of them returning. (Niche gardens does a lot better than Lowes on that front, mind you, and the numbers will rise over time as I learn what I absolutely cannot grow and what loves life with a passion, but nevertheless. If you figure a mounding annual fills the same space as a first year perennial, and each annual costs $0.15, and each perennial adds an annual’s worth of space a year…then…uh…this is one of those sequence problems, and my high-school algebra classes are long behind me, but I think it comes out to something like "in five years, the annuals will still be cheaper than your $8 plant." )

Still, perennials are just COOL. And you don’t get that ecstatic Christmas-morning feeling with annuals, unless they’ve decided to reseed, in which case your ecstasy may be tempered with a desire to kill.

So I’ve got marigolds, which I’d plant anyway because they repel bugs, and pink petunias because my mother once planted the front yard with Pepto-bismol pink petunias, so it has a strange nostalgia factor (although I’m not interplanting dusty miller as she did) and begonias in the shade area. I’m not a huge fan of begonias in general, but I’ll try them as a border in the part-shade area, and if they work, great, and if they don’t, no great loss.

Obviously, gardening being what it is, I’ll be adding plants for weeks yet, but I’m hoping to be done with the serious back-breaking labor in the next day or two. Then it’s all just lurking and inventing excuses to go outside and yell "Grow, you bastards, grow!"

My Garden

This is what my garden currently looks like.

Needless to say, except for the Giant Metal Chicken, it is not very inspiring. (Actually, this is just the main bed, which goes on out of frame the right, joins the border, which is just visible in the back in the shade, and wraps clear around to vanish out of frame on the left. There is also the Deathbed, which doesn’t look like much of anything, and a few random plants scattered around the dry areas.)

Last summer, it looked like this:

I suppose this is more of an After & Before than a Before & After, but at least you can see what I’m working with (and what I’m aspiring to, although with a cleaner birdbath.)

What appears to be a third leg on the chicken is actually a trellis of swamp jessamine, which I am hoping to train up the chicken over time. We’ll see how it goes.

“There will be no more frooging, is that quite clear? NO MORE FROOGING!”

Kevin has informed me that if I wish to migrate the blog, now is a good time. So I’m trying to mock up the layout, which is mostly me playing with fonts. I’m using the chibi squash kachina as the header, which leads to the question of whether "Tea with the Squash God" is too pretentious a title for a blog, or whether the fact that it’s a frickin’ squash is sufficiently absurd to save me. (Maybe "Squash Blossom Tea." Or "Squash Tea." Maybe it doesn’t bloody matter because everybody is just gonna call it "Ursula’s Blog" anyway and I should stop worrying about it.) 

Now, I hasten to add, LJ will not go away. I need it to keep up on my friend’s list. So everything’ll be crossposted, and I’ll still hang out at the comments here–there’ll just be the little tag at the bottom that says "Originally posted at Tea with the Squash God (that pretentious twit) You can comment here or there." And probably more pictures, because I am more likely to post pictures there. But anyway, there is no reason you have to move if you’re happy here, and if you don’t have an LJ and only come here for me, you can move over to Squash Tea.

It’ll be on the Red Wombat site, linked off the main page, so it should be easy enough to find, and of course I’ll post links here and so forth.

Mostly I’m screwing around with fonts. I hate fonts. I love them, but I hate them because I have no design sense and after about twenty minutes they all look the same and I no longer know what looks good and what looks like the work of a thirteen year old girl who dots her i’s with little hearts.

Also, anyone who gets the reference in the title is…well, "geek" isprobably not the correct word in this case. Either born significantly before me, or subject to some of the same peculiarities of upbringing I was…

I was pleased by this one far more than I should be for the simplicity of the piece. It’s rare I do a painting I would hang on my own wall, but this one, I think I would. Apparently it has nothing to do with quality or complexity, either…just something about it works for me. Go figure. (If I ever figure out what quality it is that I am actually attracted to, I will either become a much better artist or give up completely because there will no longer be much point.)


Interviewing the cartoonist Jules Feiffer on the Diane Rhems show–a ghost writer for the Spirit and a famous political cartoonist, among other things–he uttered a sentiment that I recognized immediately–"Everything that I did that I found that I loved doing and had meaning, I stumbled into." 

Lord, ain’t that the truth!

I didn’t know I wanted to be an artist. I took an art class, at my mother’s urging, and fell desperately in love, despite everything.* I didn’t know I wanted to be a cartoonist. I definitely didn’t know I wanted to be a children’s book author. I got my agent on the flimsiest of chances, with no book, no nothing.

I have a vague feeling that I will be one of those people who, at age sixty, discover some great passion previously undreamt of, and I’ll end my days as an authority on javelina-keeping or whatever.

I have no real point to this post except to say that the only reason one should plan out one’s life is if one is looking for comic relief later.

*And I honestly think, had my drawing teacher been encouraging, I might not have continued. That she was contemptuous of my commercial ambitions and cliche subject matter while grudgingly appreciative of my talent made me work like a goddamn dog. Spite was always one of my great motivators. To this day, I wonder if she was a good enough teacher to recognize that, or if fate just threw together two grating personality types, and she was merely a good enough teacher to be grudgingly appreciative and reasonably good-humored about it.

She died some years ago–she was quite old, and had fought off cancer once already–and I regret that I never had an opportunity to send her one of my graphic novels, with a note somewhere between "HA!" and "Thank you." So, thank you, Gabrielle Ellertson. And, uh…HA!

That’s Gonna Hurt Tomorrow

After last week and this past Monday’s marathon session of gardening, I was sore. For days. I am still sore.

This is partly because I am woefully and tragically out of shape–if I had a totem animal it might be the wombat or the kingfisher, but the Pilsbury doughboy could also make a serious case. And I did a lot of bending and gave the backs of my legs (whatever those muscles are called) a serious job to do, and they have been sore for about a week.

Like, interfering with sex kinda sore. I mean, there are workarounds, but sheesh.

Aleve, wine, and heat help a little, but I spent most of yesterday in that unenviable state where dropping the last two inches onto the toilet seat (which is generally where those muscles come into play) was making me yawp like a kicked seal.

Today, I ran errands. Then I came home and flung myself at the yard, hacked some weeds, planted the majority of my new acquisitions, dumped out more mulch, and gave everybody in the garden a healthy drink of a weak manure tea. (I just mixed it up, I didn’t let it steep for a week in the sun, so it’s very weak, but hopefully yummy. I mean, if you’re a plant.) 

I still need to lay out more dirt, plant three of the shrubs, and finish laying out manure as a soil amendment on the old bed, but having exhausted myself for the day, I had to call it until later. (Probably Friday. Tomorrow I will likely be crawling around and whimpering and using a heat pad.) 

But I am undaunted! This is the hard part! This is the blood sacrifice to the gardening gods to assure a glorious harvest! (Not that I’m harvesting anything but aesthetic satisfaction and the glee of seeing hummingbirds and butterflies and hordes of bees. And probably basil. Still, that’s a pretty decent harvest.)

I want to take some photos tomorrow when we have actual sun, just so that I can show the world what my yard looks like when it’s completely uninspiring and looks like a bunch of dirt with some twigs sticking out of it. Then the "after" photos will look particularly impressive. Particularly once I plant in all the bare spots with annuals come summer…

I woke up this morning to find both Ben and Angus curled up against me.

When I made the mistake of demonstrating some sign of life, Angus sat up, put his paws on my shoulder and began kneading while purring thunderously. Ben, not to be outdone, got up from his spot on my legs and walked up onto my chest. He took my strangled noises as a sign of affection and laid down with his paws on my collarbone, also purring.

"Thanks, guys," I said. "I kinda have to pee, you know."

Kevin, who is currently between contracts and thus at home, rolled over, glommed onto my free shoulder, and said "Purr." 

"I love you all," I said, "but seriously, guys, I have to pee."

This plea might have moved Kevin, but not the cats. Fortunately, Angus decided to move around behind Ben and attack his tail–Angus is the only being that can attack Ben without dire repercussions–and in the resulting chaos, I was able to slip out to the bathroom.

There are worse ways to wake up.

I got some goooood plants. The only non-natives are pink catmint, bronze fennel, and a couple of hyssops–I’ve had fantastic luck with catmint and the hyssops, so definitely wanted more of those, and the bronze fennel is supposed to be an amazing plant–it gets like six feet tall and is a host for black swallowtail butterflies. The blog of a Chapel Hill gardener (which a reader suggested!) raved about them, so I’m definitely gonna give ’em a try.

Mostly, though, I loaded up on native species. Wild nodding onion (apparently this one gets pink flowers and spreads like gangbusters–they recommend it for "filling in." Given how well the chives did last year here, I have high hopes.) sundrops, woodland creeping phlox, a native purple spiderwort, a salmon-colored giant lobelia, and something called "golden ragwort" which is a native wildflower here and apparently does well as a ground cover in our moist clay soil. Given that I have a lot of ground to cover, I hope it performs as advertised.

I have this hope that by next year, I’ll know what actually works well in my yard, and then I can buy more of it.  At the moment, it’s lots of single specimens. Which can look cool, don’t get me wrong, and I’ll never be one of those people with the huge formal massed plantings of tulips of whatever, but it’d be nice to have larger groupings instead of a quilt made of very small patches.

Unfortunately, I also have this sneaking suspicion that every gardener, no matter HOW long they’re in a place, is hoping that by next year, they’ll know what actually works.

Still, it’s improving. (I’ve at least learned a lot about what doesn’t work…coreopsis, for example, appear to hate me. Probably too wet.) I now know a couple of good plants for the yard, and were I sensible, I would probably just plant a dozen of each and call it good, but where’s the fun of that? Not that the bees would object to a garden made of nothing but hyssop, lantana, and catmint, I suspect–and if I had only a few square feet to work in, I might plant just that!–but I crave more variety, and there’s more than just bees to consider.

In the interests of such variety, I’m trying a couple of grasses this year. I have generally been a fan of the flowers more than anything else, but native sea oats make neat seedpods, so I’ll give them a try, and the spectacular gold sweet flag might be a nice textural contrast. (And if they don’t work, eh, live and learn.) My tendency is to use grasses sparingly…I know too many people who have had to take out stands of pampas grass, a feat which requires either serious machinery or back-breaking labor.

To anchor the back of the border, where it joins the wooded area, I’m trying a couple of native shrubs–again, if any of them actually perform well, I’ll put in more. The one I’m most interested in is the buttonbush. (Izzat cool looking or what?) I’m also trying a small anise tree in the shade, and a painted buckeye over in the Deathbed, so we’ll see. And there’s a black cohosh, which is apparently a gorgeous full-shade native IF it blooms…we’ll see how it does…

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