Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stay the Course

Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun' blooming despite lack of deadheading.
Work on Castle Aaargh has been progressing, but not so much that you'd notice.  (Sort of like my weight loss.)  I keep plugging away at both projects with the hope that somewhere in the distant and fuzzy future we'll reach our goals-- A roof and a decent number on the scale.  

Stay the course. 

That's my motto.  And an apt description of what it takes to finish courses of stonework.  I'm not sure if I'm quoting this correctly, but in England, 14 pounds of weight are referred to as a stone. Either way I look at it, I have a whole lot of Stone Work to accomplish. 

But we're getting at it again.  There's Carl, on Thursday night, putting down mortar again.  We finally managed to get the wasps out of Aaargh, but it took a lot of doing.  They were downright dead set on staying there for good.  Their nest was built under a loose stone that was ready for mortar so even simply tipping the stone off the wall and running for the hills didn't completely deter them.  They kept coming back for days trying to figure out what happened.  In a way, I felt sorry for them, but after Carl was stung once more, all sympathy evaporated.  We're both glad they're gone.

Back to the mortar mixer we go.  The photo above is such a lovely sight, isn't it?  That's our work station setup.  The mortar mixer is old and needed holes welded shut and a motor, but Carl fixed it up and for $60 it works so well.  If we didn't have the machine, mixing the mortar by hand would make the job even more tedious.  The square piece of plywood used to be where we'd dump the mixed mortar out onto to carry it to Aaargh, but we made some changes.  Dead-lifting fifty pounds of wet mortar straight up off the ground is great exercise, maybe, but hard work for aging backs.

Since we don't have Joel here to help as much and we're both getting older, Carl decided to put the mixer up a little higher on cement blocks.  We also decided to buy a new wheelbarrow that would be a little shorter than our other two with the idea we could roll the wheelbarrow under the mortar mixer and then cart the fresh mortar to Aaargh. So off to the big box store we went and home we came with a 'smaller' wheelbarrow.  There it is in the picture, all shiny and red.  And, come to find out, though the tray is smaller, it is still the exact same height as the wheelbarrows we already own.  Funny, in the store it sure looked shorter.  So, instead of taking it back, since we can always use another wheelbarrow anyway, Carl dug a hole under the mortar mixer for the wheel to go into making the front end low enough to clear the mixer. 
Add sand and mortar and water
Turn it on.  (And keep hands out of pulleys and guards!)
The mixer makes a deep rumbling sound as the paddles go round and round.  The paddles are really worn badly since this is a Very Old Mixer, and as each one scrapes the bottom of the barrel there is a slightly different noise which is all music to our ears, because in less than five minutes, you have a fresh batch of mortar.
Inside the mixer
Mixing mortar is not the same as mixing cement.  Cement mixers and mortar mixers are completely different machines.  Our mortar recipe is very dry compared to cement.

Carl getting ready to dump the mortar out.
Carl and Joel both know what consistency they are looking for in the mortar.  Moisture levels in the sand and even the humidity in the air can affect the consistency of the finished mortar, so water is added slowly.  Much like cooking, when I check the gravy to see if it needs more water or flour.  I stay out of the mortar mixing process just like Carl stays out of the gravy!    We're both happier that way.

First Carl tips the barrel down and then he turns the machine back on.  He has to hang onto the lever so the barrel doesn't flip back up and over as the mortar plops out.
Then a final scraping out.  Just like making cookie dough.  (Without the chocolate chips.)

Off we go to Aaargh.  We use an assortment of tools, trowels and even paintbrushes (we wet all sides of all rocks before the mortar is put down to ensure good adhesion) and even a pair of cedar sticks to push the mortar into place and fill in all the voids.  Again with the food allusion, but similar to frosting a layer cake, Carl puts down a bed of mortar more or less an inch thick and then carefully places the rock making certain it stays cushioned in the mortar.  No rocks can touch each other without mortar.  The mortar is the frosting holding this big stone cake together.

The wall is two feet thick and takes a lot of stone.  We try to tie stones into the middle of the wall every so often and then the middle, or heart, is filled in with rubble and more mortar and finally leveled off.  Then we have to go back to cutting more stone for the next course.
My main job is to fill in the vertical spaces between the rocks with mortar and do the hearting work with the rubble.  After the mortar has set up a bit, I go back and rake out excess mortar to a certain depth and smooth the joints.  I hasten to add that anyone reading this who knows anything about masonry and beautiful stonework may well be rolling around on the floor laughing or pulling their hair out over the lack of professionalism pictured here, and to those folks, my apologies.  We're doing the best job we can with what's at hand.  

Another course done.
The days are getting much shorter, so we're lucky if we can run five loads of mortar a night after Carl gets home from work.  Why didn't we work on this all summer?  Because it was too hot, for one thing, making standing in the sun whacking stones with a hammer unbearable and for another, mortar sets up very, very quickly in high heat which isn't the best.  I don't know how the pros do it, but we seem to have much better results if we cover the fresh mortar with wet cloths and let it cure slowly.  And another reason we didn't get back to the job before now was the gardening season and all that entails.  Just too much to do and too little time.
And I almost forgot, but here's the biggest reason, Carl had to build 150' of wall in the Formal Garden this year......and that was a LOT of work.

So, there you have it, the progress on Aaargh.  

The garden is going downhill, slowly but surely, but it's the time of year.  We have a wedding coming today for photography, and I wish it looked much better than it does, but hopefully they'll find some good shots. 
My old, wintered-over geraniums keep on flowering their hearts out.

Thunbergia alata climbing trellis stakes.

Inca Marigolds

Purslane in planter...didn't do so well this year.

I decided to yank out most of the Profusion zinnias.  They were so tired looking.

More rudbeckias bit the dust, too.  It's that time of year.

Stay the course. 

Good advice for the newlyweds, don't you think?  And for Carl and I, too. 

Our anniversary is tomorrow.  34 years.  Another stone in our lives; a milestone.  We've stuck it out this long, even without mortar. 

 Grow old along with me;
The Best is Yet To Be.


FlowerLady said...

Congrats on your 34 years together. Your anniversary is the day after ours.

I don't think the photographers will have a hard time finding backgrounds for the wedding happening today. You still have so much lovely color happening.

I love Castle Aaarrgh! It is a really cool work of art.

Have a great weekend ~ FlowerLady Lorraine

Darla said...

Thanks for the lesson on mortar....There is plenty of beautiful backdrops for photos in your gardens.....congrats on your 34 years, and without mortar!

Sue said...

Happy Anniversary to you both.
You work well together--it shows in your lovely garden. Best to you!

Junebug said...

I think you have some pretty good mortar between you two! 34 yrs. Congrats! Your garden is still beautiful and the wedding pictures will be fantastic!!

~mel said...

Happy Anniversary ~ 34 years is a major accomplishment! Dear Hubby and I just had our 36 in August.

Sandy said...

Congrats on sticking it out for 34 years
and although you said your garden is
fading, it looks wonderful to me!
Nice to see you both doing well.

Beth said...

Happy anniversary, Karen and Carl! You two area really perfect for each other. You are a real team, which I can tell from your writings. You make beautiful gardens and garden structures together too.

Alison said...

Kudos to you on making it through 34 years with the same man. Happy Anniversary! You managed to find some great shots, despite the garden being tired, so I'm sure the newlyweds did too.

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

Yea! So glad to hear you're back to work on Aaargh!! You should put something on one of the stones, like the year and your anniversary date. Every year, mark another stone for some milestone or event. That way when Aargh is done, you can look at those stones and see how long it took you to build it and remember the momentous occasions that happened along the way :-) Maybe Carl could fashion some sort of metal plaque for each occasion that you could mortor in with the rocks. Just thinking out loud :-) Happy Anniversary and Happy Rocking :-)

Tufa Girl said...

Happy 34th! I think you have some great mortar in that marriage just not the kind you blend up in your mixer.

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary have a great day hugs x

Lona said...

Happy Anniversary Karen to you and Carl.

africanaussie said...

Happy anniversary - I suppose you plan to spend it putting another course on Castle Aargh? I am sure the wedding photos will turn out fine - I cant even see the gaps where you pulled the flowers out. Your garden is a delight.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, that little castle is going to be a great place to sit and relax after a hard day of gardening.


HolleyGarden said...

Congratulations on 34 years! And your garden looks soooo beautiful! No worries about the wedding photography - looks like they will have plenty of blooms! "Stay the course" - Good advice for anyone.

Dragonfly Treasure said...

Happy Anniversary to both of you!
I don't think the photographer will
have a hard time finding a lovely location. Your gardens are still gorgeous. Thats one thin I just lat go over the Summer..the garden. With not knowing wether I get to keep the house or not, I just couldn't gather enough steam to get out there and face it.
Had a good meeting with my lawyer last week. So feel a little more confident about keeping/getting the house now. I went into the backyard this morning....What a mess!! Everything is overgrown and /or dieing back due to the season. It's so out of control, why did I let it go?!!! And the front - you can't even use the walkway, Sweet Annie and the mint have claimed it as their own! The kids use the stepping stones through the garden, I walk right thru and come out smelling so great! LOL I have so much garden work ahead of me ugh!
Been trying to list things on Etsy to sell which takes up so much time too. Seems we've entered "The Breaking Cycle"...first the dishwasher, then the dryer (back to a clothesline!) and now my daughters car.
Stay the course....appropriate for all of us. Gotta just keep plugging along.

Shyrlene said...

Wow, when you work on a project - you just don't mess around! "Castle Aaargh" is a work of art, and like nothing I've ever seen. My question is, when do you guys ever get to sleep? Geez !!!!!!!

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary! Milestones like yours don't come around often these days. How cool to know that it can... :D

myomyohi said...

Congrats on 34 years of love. That's a long time and a huge accomplishment.

Everything there still looks awesome. I know you see things I don't, but girlfriend, your yard is still going strong. Mine is pretty much brown, but there is always next year.

You should be proud of what weight you have lost, and while I am eager to see castle aargh completed, it will happen in its own time. (and I'm sure will be over the top awesome)

If I ever get to WI I'm inviting myself over to see all your beautiful stuff in person.


Indie said...

Aw, congratulations on 34 years! I love that saying at the bottom of your post.

Your garden still looks so lovely! What a great place for pictures! said...

Such beautiful work! Happy Anniversary!


Rosemary said...

Happy Anniversary to you both... garden looks darn good to me. Bet the wedding pics turn out beautifully........