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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sleep. It's Not Always Easy

Here it is, after midnight again, and I'm starting another post.  I should know better.  This is not in keeping with my 'health regimen'.    I had one of those days again.  Ever have one?  Nothing I set out to do was accomplished and what I did do was incomplete.  Oh, well, everybody is entitled to an off-day now and again.  I guess if I was gainfully employed and had a boss, I'd have been in the office getting a talking-to.  It's a good thing I'm not employed.

 Part of the culprit has been my sleep apnea issue again.  Sometimes me and the Machine don't quite get along.  Every now and again, I have more apneas than usual.  (For those wondering what an apnea is, it's a cessation of breathing, either due to snoring or simply no effort to breathe.) You'd think that losing weight would make sleep apnea a thing of the past, but well, it doesn't always work that way.  In other words, you don't have to be obese to have sleep apnea.  Nope.  You can be a Skinny-Minnie and still be a Hose Head. 

My father was a notorious snorer, and wasn't an overweight man.  I remember as a kid listening to his raucous snoring all the way upstairs in my bedroom.  It was Loud. 

"Sssssssnnnnnnoooooooorrrrrkkkkkk, snooooorrrrrrrkkkkkk, snoooooooooorrrrrrkkkkkk.........," on and on......over and over until all of a sudden........nothing. 


Dead silence, which was deafening. 

And then suddenly, "Ah...hhhh....hhhhh," a massive gasping and choking effort for oxygen would occur.  It was as if his head had been held underwater and he was finally coming up for air, which was exactly what he was doing.  Soon the snores would resume, only to go back into holding his breath in a few minutes until his brain roused him enough to fight for air again.  Sound restful? 


So, yes, I come from a genetic background of sleep apnea, but whether genetics play a part in becoming a sleep apnea patient or not, I'm not sure.  But I know I was in denial at first; I didn't think I snored at all.  Denial faded when I tape-recorded my sleep for a few nights and was embarrassed to hear the truth and fear crept in when I heard  how many times I stopped snoring.  Most of the time I sounded like I was being strangled, and no, Carl wasn't to blame.

When I went in for a sleep study two years ago, they found I had mild sleep apnea, with about seven 'events' an hour of failure to breathe normally.  But my oxygen saturation levels were dipping quite low, which is not a Good Thing.  The doctor explained the obstructive apneas themselves were like having someone come into the bedroom seven times an hour and hold a pillow over my face until I woke up.  And for some reason, my unobstructed breathing tended to be quite shallow at times which was causing my oxygen levels to drop. 

No wonder I was waking up with headaches every morning.  Full-blown, miserable, day-long headaches.  And no wonder I was trudging to the bathroom up to three and four times a night;  when the airway is blocked or partially blocked as it is during an apnea event, the body must exert more effort to pull air into the lungs, causing a change in pressure and more blood to flow toward the heart. The heart interprets this increased blood flow as an alert that there's too much fluid in the system. It then sends a signal to the kidneys via a hormone which in turn, produce urine as a way to dump the fluid.  And you find yourself roused from your uneasy sleep to head to the restroom, only to repeat the performance in an hour or two.  For me, this went on for decades.

With so many trips to the bathroom and waking up over and over again, there is no restful, restorative sleep.   The body and mind need time to rest and repair the wear and tear of living.  I would wake up in the morning and be so stiff and sore, oh, it was no fun. 

I rarely, if ever, had any dreams at night.  It wasn't until I became used to being a hosehead that one morning I woke up and could recall a fantastic dream I'd just had (in color!)   It was then I knew for certain the CPAP (Continuous Positive Air Pressure) machine was working wonders.  And the first night I went to bed and didn't wake up for six hours was another milestone.  Wow, I never woke up once all night long.  I can't tell you what it feels like to have restorative sleep after years of being denied. Truly life-changing.

So, what's my problem now?  Oh, once in awhile life weighs heavy on my mind and sleep is elusive.  Though I know I need rest desperately, being a hosehead has it's ups and downs, too.  Strapping on the face mask and getting all the seals seated so no air is escaping and blowing in your eyes or making rude, farting noises can be an adventure all its own.  You can get the straps on straight and everything seems good, only to turn on the air pressure and find you have a 'tickle' of a small piece of fuzz or a stray hair or what have you that you can't remove until you take off the mask and start over.   Rubbing my face all over before reapplying the mask usually does the trick.  Put the mask back on, rearrange the hose and fix the leaks and try to fall asleep. 

'Try' being the operative word.  If my mind is restless, I find the noise coming from the machine itself to be very annoying, even though I have a very quiet machine.  Every time I breathe in, the machine resonates the sound.  No, it's not as bad as Darth Vader, but there is a definite inhale/exhale noise.  Though it's much quieter than my riotous snoring used to be (poor Carl, how did he sleep through all of that racket??) it still mimics the sound of a life support machine somewhat.  I shouldn't complain, since for me, it is a form of life support I truly need. It's just when I'm willing myself to fall asleep it's hard to not hear my own breathing.  It keeps me awake.  Ok, I'm weird.  I know.

   Every now and then, sleep can be elusive and even after drifting off,  I find myself awake several times a night which is the way things have been going this week.  My CPAP machine is quite sophisticated and I can tell at a glance how my sleep quality has been by hitting a button.  I'd like to see Zero Apneas listed, but that's never happened.  Usually it's around 1.2 or so, but lately, 3.8 has been popping up.  That's not cool.  Anything over 3.0 and I'm really, really tired the next day.  I'll have to do some reading on why things are acting up a little, there's a great website devoted just to sleep apnea patients and they are very, very helpful.  I can post the data from my machine and find the help I need.  I'm not in this alone.

I'm still in better shape than if I didn't have the machine to contend with, and for that, I'm thankful.  Everything has its ups and downs.  This too shall pass.  CPAP masks are far from glamorous, no one ever said they were.  Yeah, I wake up in the morning with the indentations of my mask embedded in my face, but I wake up which is no small feat.  Sleep apnea can be fatal if left untreated.  And despite having less than stellar results overnight, I'm so much more refreshed, even if I did have a rough night.  Simply not having headaches every single day of my life is a huge blessing. 

There.  I've done got that out of my system.  Now I think I can sleep.  Tomorrow is another day.  From this Hosehead to all of you........
Good Night!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Farewell to August

Inca Marigolds in deep orange bordered by Profusion Cherry zinnias.
I thought I'd take a walk through the garden tonight with Joel's camera to record the last blooms of August.  Here we are heading through the garden gate right around sunset.  I had to take pictures quickly because the light conditions change so fast.  Sunset is my favorite time in the garden, the shadows give great depth and mystery.

  (And you can't see the weeds as well, either.)

 This is the time of year I enjoy the most for now the annuals we raised so carefully in the spring take center stage.  With the drought and extreme temperatures we had this year, not every plant performed as well as they usually do.  In other words, plants I tried for the first time will have to have a second or maybe even third year of planting trials before I can determine if the plant is really a dud or not.

Profusion Cherry Zinnia looking very tired in the River Bed.
Take for instance my very favorite zinnias, the Profusion series.  They have had a very hard time of it this year.  This zinnia has been a fixture here in my garden for ages.  However, if this had been the first year out, I doubt I would ever plant it again.  Most of them look pretty ratty right now.

And some of them look worse than ratty.

Many of them have given up the ghost.  Dead as a doornail. 

Looks like a color/negative shot, doesn't it?
Depending on their location in the garden and soil conditions their appearances vary.  There's a possibility some had more shade or moisture than others.

The same zinnia, bordered by 'Crystal White' angustifolia zinnia out by the mailbox.
The picture above is what the Cherry Profusions usually look like right up until frost.  No dead-heading necessary, either.  Will I plant them again next year?  You bet.  Though they look pretty toasted in some areas of the garden, the fact they're still alive is a testament to their worth.

The white zinnia in the picture above is another annual I adore.  Zinnia angustifolia "Crystal White' may not look like much when you first plant it, but it is a powerhouse of bloom, never needing deadheading and tough as nails.  Powdery mildew is very, very rare with this plant.
Can't see the tree grates very well anymore, the hyacinth beans are covering them up.
The white flowers at the base of the driveway beds are also Crystal White zinnias.  The soil they are growing in here was downright awful when we started planting the area, mostly gravelly sand.  But the zinnias can take a beating and keep on flowering.

The first picture is the west side of the driveway and the petunias are putting on a wonderful display right now.  Gotta love the hay mulch we put down earlier this year, it certainly kept them going.  Bubblegum pink Supertunia is in the pot (I made cuttings of these and they filled out beautifully) and the others are Grape and Pink Avalanche petunias along with a Denver Daisy rudbeckia and another batch of Inca Orange marigolds from seed. 

Just another view of the same side, I was enjoying the way the evening sun was hitting the Karl Foerster grasses and the Emerald Green cedar.
 I planted hyacinth beans on the tree grate trellises; well, that was a waste of time.  There have been no blooms at all.  Normally they would be dripping with purple flower clusters and lovely purple bean pods.  But not this year.  At first I thought it was because the tree grates are cast iron, and boy, the iron did get HOT when the temps soared, but even the beans planted on my normal trellis in the River Bed have failed to put out many blooms at all.

So, the poor hyacinth bean would have been another casualty scratched off my 'Stuff to Plant Again' list if I didn't know what they can do in a more normal conditions.   Hey, everybody has the right to have an 'off' year, right?

Let's see the other side of the driveway:
As I mentioned, the soil in this bed started out less than desirable, but as the years go by, the mulch breaks down, improving the fertility.  The little white flowers are the zinnia angustifolias again, but the bigger blob of white on the right is Tidal Wave Silver petunia.  I wasn't sure if my seedlings would survive out by the road, but I guess I have my answer.  The Tidal Wave is starting to climb the cedars.  This is the first year I've planted them directly in the ground, and it won't be the last.  If they can handle the heat of a gravel driveway and tree roots to compete with, they are keepers for sure.

The hyacinth beans on the east side of the driveway really look pathetic, though I kinda like their leaves softening the cast iron.

Willie the Willow and Ernie, two year-round companions in our driveway.
Ernie the Urn, sporting his Bubblegum Supertunias, wanted to get in on the act, too, so here is a dramatic side profile of his rugged good looks.  The petunias in the foreground, among the Dusty Millers (which also wintered over and came back this summer---gosh, we had a mild winter!) are seedlings coming into bloom for the first time this year as volunteers from Ernie's parent plants. 
Willie is a massive willow tree already. I had to smile when I overheard some garden visitors gazing up into his branches and canopy and wondering how old he was.

 "I wonder if anyone will ever know how many years this tree has been here?"one of them asked the other.  "Can you imagine what tales this tree could tell of how things have changed in all the years it has lived?"

Well, I know how old Willie is.


I hated to burst the bubble of our visitors, though, because they thought he was Ancient.  Somewhere around here is a photo of me, sitting on our brand-spanking new electrical power box with what looks like a feather in my hair.   The 'feather' was Willie who was planted just behind the power box.   I was 20 years old and Willie was just a sprout then.     He was given to us as a little whip that had been rooted in a pail of water by Carl's late uncle, Jack.  When we planted the tiny branch, we had no idea it would survive in the sand, but we kept watering it.  Apparently he liked it here. 
Found the picture....there's me and Willie waaaaaayyy back in 1978.  (Time was kinder to Willie.)  And that hayfield is our garden now. 

We have worries about him falling over and landing on the house some day, and have done some preventative pruning here and there.    Weeping willow trees are not for everyone; so many visitors say they like the look of the tree, but would never plant one due to their messiness.  I don't feel Willie is any more or less messy than any other tree, really.  Yeah, he loses twigs here and there, that's for certain,  and he needs his bangs trimmed every so often, but he is so well-behaved, allowing hostas to thrive right up to his trunk.  No roots to deal with, considering his size. 
St. Fiacre enjoys the shade along with Gold Standard hostas and a climbing hydrangea.

And the shade he casts is a cool oasis on a hot summer day.  Willie is the first tree to leaf out in the spring and the last to lose his leaves in the fall.  In fact, we've had snow on the ground in both spring and summer and there's Willie, wearing his green in spring and bright yellow in the fall.   No other tree has the graceful  movement in a passing breeze.  For all Willie does around here, I can put up with his 'messiness'. 
 As long as we're still in the driveway, there's my lightshades full of petunias.  Once the flowers fill out, you can't tell what they're planted in.  The planters really look tough now, though.  I didn't trim them back the way I should have and along with the blazing heat, they've been through a lot.  But they're still doing their best to blossom.
The hoses add a nice touch, don't they?  Ooops.

Ok, enough with the driveway already, let's head for the Pachyberm out on the front lawn.
My favorite time of year with the ornamental grasses is here.....they're blooming.  I can't capture the essence of the way light plays on them, though. 

The miscanthus is eating the pathway, but that's ok.

More miscanthus, Emerald Green cedars and Cassia Alata seedlings in the foreground from my friend and fellow blogger, Cindy aka Tufa Girl in Fort Worth, Texas.  I was so hoping to see the cassias bloom, but I don't think our growing season is long enough.

The leaves are so exotic, I'm going to try to germinate some more of the seeds next spring and try again.  Cindy, if you're reading this, I love this plant!

Another oddity this year were my castor beans, which should be towering in the range of six+ feet by now.  Well, they're about two feet tall, but they're still growing.
Two foot tall castor beans and cassias.  But they're pretty.
 Cindy said the cassias would be just about the same size as the castor beans.  And they are both short this year.  I feel bad about the castor beans too.....I had 'blue' castor beans one year and thought I'd saved the seed.  Well, apparently I saved the wrong seed because all of my crop this year is red.  Drat.  I'll have to germinate some more next spring and see if I can 'find' the blue ones. 
Castor Beans finally flowering.
Silver grass doing what it does best, reflecting light.
Karl Foerster lighting up the yard behind the house.
And another specimen out by the road with zinnias and salvias.
Gotta hurry up, it's getting darker out.  Pachyberm with assorted grasses and some struggling rudbeckias.
Moving on to Thing One and Two bed
We limbed up all the cedars over by the little foot bridge this summer.  At first we had one of those 'what have we done' moments, but now it's growing on us.  There are new vistas to enjoy now instead of straggly limbs lying on the ground.

Of course, we had to move some rocks in to the area.  The way the sunset lit up this one caught my eye.

The begonias have finally taken off down by the dry river bed.  The tree in the background is 'Fat Albert' dwarf spruce, kept as small as possible by my amateur pruning efforts.

Let's head to the Formal Garden.  Now the mosquitoes are bugging me, gotta step it up a bit.

The plantings in this garden didn't do much at all, but there's some color.  I'm thinking of moving more hostas down here as the crabapple trees mature.  The inside walls need straightening, too.

Follow me to the Quarry.  Nope, there ain't much water.  But what can we do?  Did I mention we lost our big koi this year?  Raccoons came when the water was even lower than this and somehow cornered the twelve year-old fish. Judging by the huge scales we found lying on the shore, the pests had a fish dinner.  Oh, we felt SO bad.  I just hope the end was quick.

Looking down from the top

Up from the bottom, lol.

 From the Quarry to the Formal Garden.

The back wall of the Quarry.  See the sand on the fourth level?  Woodchucks have been digging.  SIGH!

Goldsturm rudbeckias are still blooming, but even they are starting to wane. 

East Hill

Really getting dark here...trusty Aermotor windmill in background.

Little closer......I moved the potted petunias here after we yanked out all the Indian Summer rudbeckias.  And can you find the live trap in this picture?  Trying to catch the woodchuck who keeps on DIGGING holes everywhere!

The bees are building nests under the cut stones needing mortar.  Carl used the flame thrower and changed their minds a bit.
Heading to Aaargh....Carl worked all afternoon battling the wasps.  We may be good to go tomorrow morning, but we'll be cautious.  In the picture above, the circle is going to be a round window.

Heading over to the main hosta beds, the Royal Standard hostas are blooming now on the right.  Love their fragrance.

 I had no idea the impatiens would thrive in this area as well as they have.  Just another oddity chalked up to the weather. 

  Heck, they're making our bigger rocks look puny.

Ok, almost done on this walk-through.  Getting really, really dark.

What have I learned from this growing season's successes and failures? 

You can't control the weather.

"If at first your plants don't succeed........

Try, Try, Again."

There's always next year, and we gardeners are an Optimistic Bunch.

 Hope you all have a great Labor Day Weekend!!