Friday, August 31, 2012


I'd pinned several alphabet walls on Pinterest, and started picking up various letters about 6 months ago.  We finally got the last one done today (a D), so this evening, we laid them out and found an arrangement we liked.
 We measured the area of the wall we wanted to cover, and kept moving them until we liked the way they looked.  Assisted by Supervisor Kitty.

 (Our other Supervisor Kitty is on his union-mandated break)

So we nailed them up, but some of them need command strips behind them to keep them from tilting.  After we got them up, I don't like the plain white of the i, so I'm going to paint it tomorrow. 

 A broader view of the room, with Supervisor Kitty posing for her glamor shot.

Tomorrow we are going to visit my brother who lives in Los Angeles; he and his wife are going to be giving us some banana trees and other assorted plants from their lush yard.  Maybe we can get that hot desert backyard some more shade!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Back at work

Classes started up again this week and so I'm in the midst of course planning, advising and all the other delights of academia:  notably, meetings upon meetings.  BUT, we did manage to spend our last weekend of free time cleaning up one of the eyesores in our yard - the space where all the recyclables, garden tools, firewood and things waiting to be cut up for trash have been resting.  I don't think I took the time to take a photo of the eyesore, but I'll share what we've done this week. 

After cleaning the crap out and reorganizing our tool storage we had this expanse of boring block wall, topped by another 2 feet of painted white wood that our neighbors had done to extend the fence higher.  I don't mind that extension, but the block wall is pretty unattractive.  So we went to the local garden center and talked about options for planing in acidic soil with no light and terrible, sandy soil.  They recommended creeping fig, and so we got 5 of those to spread out along the strip:
They will cover the block wall with a sheet of green soon.  And they will thrive in the crummy soil (although we did amend it before planting).  I look forward to a wall of green here - and we're going to place some decorative pots with annuals in them along the strip in the future.

We went to Lakewood Nursery, because the reviews on Yelp! said they were helpful and had a good selection. And it was true, super helpful people who gave us great advice on what to put in this space, and helped us pick out a great climbing rose, too:

This rose is going to be planted to the right of the garage (below), we'll build a trellis up the wall and under the eaves to encourage the rose to grow along over the door.  We had a lovely climbing white rose when we lived back in Indiana that we loved, so we found something similar to that. This one is called "Pearly Gates" and the flowers start out a pale blush pink and whiten as they age. 

 We also dug up this little planting area to move our two taro plants.  They require a lot of water, so after digging down, we embedded a super large bin that we then planted these plants into, and just drenched the soil.  We are hoping that the bin helps to retain water so it doesn't just soak down.  The plants seem really happy right now!

Again, super happy with the customer service at Lakewood Nursery, and we spotted a few more plants (and they'll order anything I need if they don't stock it) - we'll be back again for more advice and plants!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Goodbye, Tree

Yesterday I had a tree company come out to look at this huge bottlebrush that leaves a ton of crap on my yard.  We need to remove it for a couple of reasons:  we want to expand the house in the future (adding on a bathroom to the master bedroom) and we want to put in a pool next summer.  While we could have waited on this, the reason I really hated to is because we get tired of this:
All those leaves everywhere! and these:
those hurt when you step on them, and there's been plenty of times I've caught myself before I fell when I feel them rolling under my feet!  And there's hundreds of them out there.

The first thing the tree guy said was, "That's not a bottlebrush, it's a tristania."  It looks like a bottlebrush because the bloom are similar, but this has a different type of bark and it's much larger.  Which is what I thought was odd about this, but I'm no tree expert, that's for sure.  So besides the tree in the picture at the top, you can see two smaller, interior oaks behind it.  These are pretty messy trees, too, so they were going to take them all out.  They showed up bright and early this morning and got right down to business:

and in no time, they had that tree cut right up.  My cats were fascinated.  When they got to this part, the guy started cutting chunks of the main trunk, and when they hit the ground, you could feel the thunk!

I had to go to work, so I left right around here, hoping that when I got home, it would be neat and tidy, like they promised.  And it was!  And now, it looks so bare out there!

This morning:

          This afternoon!

 One of the downsides to cutting these trees down is that our yard is going to feel HOT with the late afternoon sun.  But we'll get some stuff planted, and get a pergola eventually to help out.  It'll be nice in the late fall and winter, though, to get all that sunlight streaming in. 

So now, here's the view from in front of the garage:

When we closed on the house

                                                        This afternoon:

Yes, that sad lemon tree will be going eventually, too, but it blocks the sun from coming directly in the living room during the late afternoon. We're hoping that the bamboo we planted will grow in the next couple of years to help do some of that, too. 

Now that the trees are gone, we're probably going to lose what's left of the scrubby grass, but what the heck, more room for plants. 

And now, I can start looking for estimates for a pool, so we can plan how that's going to work in the coming year.    Finally - the cost.  When we lived in Indiana, we had a massive cottonwood that our FHA loan process insisted that we have trimmed.  It cost us $850 to trim that tree.  The guys from OC Tree Care that came today to cut down and remove all the wood/waste for 3 trees, and grind the stumps below the ground, and charged $500, which I thought was really reasonable.  I was pleased with the work they did and the way they left the yard.  I'd use them again if we need any work done on our trees.


Monday, August 20, 2012

More Books

I finished up my books, a total of 30.  I still have a couple of ideas, so I might make a few more for myself.  Here are some of the last batch:
On the left is a japanese stab binding, with origami paper covers.  In the middle is an accordion book with one long, continuous page that is folded back and forth.  The covers are collaged with a number of things I had around - I never throw anything away, just file it in my studio.  On the right is a soft red leather book.

In this last group, the one on the left is a piano hinge book with skewers holding the spine together, the center is a couple of books make from an old Monopoly game.  I also made a pair of books from a Trivial Pursuit game, but didn't have all the dangly pieces hung on them.  On the right are two tall, skinny books, the one at top has a square hole cut through all the pages to frame the key, the one at bottom has some painted paper that I made, and the key transfer has a plexiglas cover wired over it.

I really enjoy making books.  I want to make a few really nice ones for myself, so these smaller books were good warm-ups.  I know which bindings I really enjoyed, and that will help me make some good finished ones for myself!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

North side yard finished!

Oh my goodness, I'm exhausted.  We just finished the side yard, and we're going to kick back and relax now that it's done.  Here are some progress shots:

First, we had to remove a bunch of overgrown, unattractive bushes.   You can see the before shots here.  That included digging up a bunch of stumps, out of rock hard ground!
Besides the oak tree, we had 6 cypress bushes, so 6 stumps to dig out.  After that, I had to remove the straggler grass that was here and there, and dig out an area for our gravel path.

This took forever - the ground is incredibly hard, and it's been really hot here these past two weeks.  So I could only do a little each day.  That lovely drain pipe also needed to be cut down and recapped.
After digging out for the gravel and stepping stones, I had to grade the dirt, and blend all that extra in.
Then I added in some bender board to contain the gravel.

I finally got this done last night.  This morning, we got up and set the stones in a bed of mortar so they'd stay put and be leveled.  We had some leftover mortar mix from working on the shower pan, so we used that.  I think I spent about 25 dollars on the bender board, and I bought 10 stepping stones for 88 cents each. 

Then we poured in the pea gravel around the stepping stones.  All of a sudden, it was looking good!  We had to run back to the store to buy 2 more bags.  We bought a total of 15 bags at 3.58 each ( total of 53.70). 

After we got all the stone poured in and leveled, we had to start moving plants.  We have a lot of plants that we'd temporarily moved into the back yard as we got them (free on craigslist).  We have a couple of requirements for this side yard:  first off, we didn't want to spend a lot of money on it since we don't ever see it unless we walk all the way around the house, and there's not much of that happening.  Secondly, we wanted plants that are drought tolerant - we would like to move the majority of our landscaping to low-water plants, so everything on this side had to be free and survive with little to no water. 

Luckily, we had lots of them. 
It looks so great now that we've got it done!  We did end up buying two things: a small lavender for 3.49 and a flat of trailing rosemary, which cost 12.98.  Everything else out here is stuff we got for free either on Freecycle or Craigslist.  We bought 6 bags of mulch, I think they were 4.39 each.
So - we've got a nice kalanchoe on the left, then the lavender and zebra grass behind it.  Then there's a geranium and a jade we got for free, and the japanese sedge I've had for awhile.  There's a really big spider aloe we dug up from it's spot along the driveway - it was kind of hard to get out of the car with that spiky thing in the way - and a pencil tree that I'm not really sure about.

In front are some aloe aristata that we picked up from an alley - there were bags and bags full of them.  Next in the back is a agave americanus, and in front of that are the agave parryi that I dug up earlier this week.

So - the whole side yard makeover cost around $130.  Our arms look like pincushions, I have a ton of dirt under my fingernails and we're both completely beat.  but it looks really nice!  too bad it just stops - the front yard is still a mess, but it will get there, eventually

We're going to take showers and then get out to see the new Batman movie.  Sitting in a nice cool theater sounds great!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Handmade books

It's been really hot here (not HOT like the rest of the United States, but hot for Long Beach), so I haven't been out digging on my side yard.  Which is too bad, because I got some really cool plants this morning that I'd like to plant out there, but they're going to have to hang out for a few days until I get that area ready.

What I have been doing instead is beating the heat and getting ready for the upcoming semester.  One of the classes I teach is a seminar for student teachers, and part of that course includes having them keep a reflective journal with entry assignments each week.  This can be a bit of a chore for them because they're busy with so much, but reflecting is a vital practice in teaching.

So to get them a little excited, maybe, about this part of their teaching, I've been making them some hand-bound books.  I love making books, and it was one of the things I wanted to do this summer, but I had so many ideas and I don't need that many books myself.  So instead of having them buy a composition book, which I've done in the past, I'm making a variety of fun blank journals.
So - clockwise, from the top:  I created the covers from old mounted slides, the one on the top left has glass and aluminum mounts, the one right below it has cardboard mounts.  They're sewn together with a coptic stitch and watercolor paper pages.  The one on the top right is made from an old license plate I cut in half, the two below that are composition books (for the more traditionally-minded students) and I used old music book pages, paper napkins and origami paper for decorations.  The one underneath has a definition of 'music' torn from an old dictionary.  Oh, I need to say here that the section I'll be teaching in the fall is half art education students, and half music education students, so I tried to give them some choices that might appeal to them.  OK, underneath the composition books is a book made from the covers of an old geometry book, again with pages added and sewn together with coptic stitch.  The one underneath the geometry book is actually made from oval opening photo mats, with the holes left open so they can add their own pictures.  The one at the bottom left is made from a coin holder and has grid paper inside.  The last one in this batch is a fold out accordion style book, made of small brown paper bags, and they can write their reflections on index cards or if they want to type it on the computer and print it out, they can put each week's assignment in a different pocket.

Here's another picture of that book, opened out:

This second set has some fun stuff, too:
Clockwise from top left:  These books are made from my old LPs - this batch has Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon, Janis Joplin Live in Concert, and Arlo Guthrie Hobo's Lullaby.  Inside is a mixture of lined paper and watercolor papers, and the back is cut from the album cover.  Top right is a coptic stitch book with paste paper edges, and a map of Michigan.  I added some fun dangly things (the word says 'teach').  Bottom right is a Cheez-It book with watercolor paper, and the bottom left book has clear plexiglas covers and nice watercolor paper pages, with some fold-out pages for larger images if that's what they want to add.

So far I've made 18 books this week - some of them are duplicates of what I have above, and I have a few more parts cut out - one for a book made from an old Monopoly game, some more old records and I found some more old junk in the garage that I'm going through to see what else I can use.  I haven't spent anything, all this is found stuff from the house, and the paper I've already got on hand.  I need about ten more, maybe a few extras.  I want to be sure everyone has a choice and someone's not 'stuck' with one they didn't want.  I think I'll have them draw names to see who gets to pick first. 

So this week has been fun for me.  I did go out this morning and dig up some gorgeous agaves, my arms look like pincushions, but they're worth the ouchies and scabs (and I got them free on craigslist).  Hopefully I get that side yard dug up and the planting beds ready this week, I have some plants to move!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

North side yard

On the north side of our house, we had previously cut down an ugly interior oak that was spreading crap all over our yard and the neighbor's driveway.  The stump was still there, but this week we decided to work on getting that out, and remove the cypress that is along the house.  Both of these were problems that contributed to our plumbing problems early on - roots growing into the system.  Besides, there are also problems in the sprinkler system on this side of the house, and it's a struggle keeping any grass growing.  So I want to rework the plantings to remove the ugly cypress and put in some low-water alternative plants, and some mulch or gravel.

Here's how it looked when we closed on the house:
We've taken out the tree at left, and the cypress are NOT look as green as they look here - rather, they are kind of rangy and dead looking, especially near the base.  So - Dale fired up the chain saw and cut them all down.  Now it looks like this:
He's in the middle of diggin up the oak stump, and I've got the 6 hedge stumps going.  It's hard, sweaty work and my hands are so tired!  I've got one left to go but he's got a ways to go on that tree stump still.  We should finish this evening


Because we don't really get to see this side of the house often, I'm not going to put a ton of money and work into it, but I would like it to look nice.  The neighbors will likely be walking a bit on it as they get in and out of their car, since it runs alongside their driveway, so a gravel base or path of some kind is a smart idea.

I like the concrete stepping stones here:
I also like the taro plants and the large, tall wall of green, but that's probably not going to happen.

The tall cactus here is kind of fun.
I like the decomposed granite with the stepping stones and the tall blue grasses.  
 I also like the concrete pavers with the large black stones in between.  I also like the big pot, but again, that's probably not going to happen!

So - back to work getting the last of the stumps out, then I have to dig the grass up and create a base for my gravel, mounding the dirt against the house.  Since we've been getting so many free plants, I'll probably just get this ready and see what comes up!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Entry finished

A marathon carpentry and paint session yesterday, and touch ups this morning and I have the entry hall done.  I can't believe how much bigger and nicer it feels.  I was worried that by using a tinted paint (compared the the pale beige it was) might make it look smaller.  Maybe it's just that when we removed the paneling, the dark wallpaper and ceiling make it look so small, that now, anything looks better!  At any rate, I'm delighted with it.

This is my attempt to get the whole thing to fit in one picture!  And of course, a cat walks through.

What I love most is that the doors all look great again:
I added casings around all the doors, and baseboard and crown molding.  I haven't done anything with the front door yet, I'd love to replace it with a new full view door.  So right now, it still has the old paneling on it, because it's just a flat slab underneath.

 We have three pocket doors in our house. Two of them had paneling applied, so I am glad to see this one in all it's glory.  I'd like to attack the one in the living room next.

 None of the rooms have base molding, so we are adding it in each room we do.  Although this house is essentially a mid-modern style, we prefer a more a traditional style.
  I'm also adding crown molding in each room, as well as a picture molding band 5" down and treating them all together.  I do notice that this makes the rooms feel wider. 
So - now I've got this done, I'm packing and hitting the road to meet up with my daughter in Pismo Beach for a mother/daughter getaway!

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