Monthly Archives: April 2012

Garden flowers

Check it out, another yard work related post! haha in all seriousness though, Chip and I have had a great time working together outside on these projects and trying to make our home more and more special. As I mentioned in my last post, we were able to get our vegetable garden planted a couple of weeks ago. Next on the list was getting the flowers planted on the other side of our garden area. So with last weekend upon us, I went to Lowe’s Friday afternoon (our first of four trips there for the weekend) and stocked up on flowers, including different gerber daisies, gardenias, hydrangeas, petunias, marigolds and lavender along with some little white flowers I can’t remember the name of.

We started tilling Friday afternoon, but since we were doing it by hand this time instead of using the awesome, big rented tiller, it took a bit longer than we had anticipated. We also had to be careful since we had a few sprinkler pipes on this side of the garden that we had to keep an eye on. And yes, we did hit one and poor Chip spent a significant part of Friday afternoon trying to fix it (I was able to stain more of the fence during this time since I have absolutely no knowledge on sprinkler systems). Luckily it was all sorted out by mid-day Saturday, so we could get back to tilling and getting the clay dirt out. Then it was on to adding in good garden topsoil and compost, re-tilling and then planting! We still have a little more work to do in this garden, but I think the bulk has been completed. We’re hoping to stain the garden fence in the next couple of weekends as well as work on the center pathway and get some lighting out here. We’re so excited to see how it will all look when the work is completely done! I think we’ll also enjoy having a weekend free to relax more than we have been lately… :)

Pesky sprinkler pipes...

Back to tilling!

My favorite part of yard work - mapping out the plants!

Love the sunny marigolds

So excited Lowe's had hot pink gerber daisies

Flowers planted!

Veggies growing well so far!

Weekend Gardening

After a lot of time talking about it and trying to plan everything out, Chip and I finally planted our garden last weekend! Let me tell you, we are so excited to have this (mostly) done. Ironically, last weekend was Earth Day, so I guess we did our part for the planet by spending the day outside planting away.

We went to Lowe’s last Friday to buy all of the plants, top soil and compost so we would be ready to go on Saturday. Chip had also rented a tiller for the weekend so we could get the soil out there in the best condition possible before planting everything. Now we both had commitments Saturday morning, so when we got home around noon it was time to get to work. Before I get started on all the work, I would like to thank my parents for the gardening supplies they sent us as a gift. They’re pretty experienced in the yard work arena, so they sent us some gloves, hats and sunscreen to help us get started. I did feel a little goofy in my pink hat at first, but its functionality can’t be denied!

His and hers garden supplies

The rest of this post will be broken out in all of our planting steps…

Step 1 (after applying sunblock and getting cherry limeades from Sonic, of course): Till the ground! Probably one of the best decisions we made for this garden was to rent a tiller. The dirt back here was terrible to start with, so with the tiller we were able to break everything up and then shovel out a bunch of this bad dirt and bring in better topsoil and compost. Yes, it was loud and a serious forearm workout, but it definitely got the job done with flying colors.

Step 1: Till the ground!

Wrigley didn't like the loud tiller and barked at it most of the time. Please note the partially stained fence...

Step 2: Shovel out a good amount of the bad, rocky dirt. Together, we shoveled out about 10 wheelbarrow’s worth of this dirt. We then brought in around the same amount of organic garden topsoil and leveled out that side of the garden as best as we could.

Leveling out the topsoil, or as Chip joked "shoveling sh*t"

Pile of shredded newspaper

Step 3: Shred newspaper for the garden soil. Now, one of Chip’s coworkers has a pretty good garden at his house and one thing they did was put shredded newspaper in their garden soil. Apparently the wet newspaper in the soil attracts worms which is supposed to help gardens. Since we really want this garden to be a success, we decided to heed their advice and include shredded newspaper in our soil.

Spreading out all the shredded newspaper

My preferred way of spreading out the shredded newspaper...

Step 4: Put compost on top of the topsoil and shredded newspaper.

Chip pouring out the compost

Step 5: Re-till everything so all the dirt and newspaper would be nice and mixed up for planting.

More tilling!

Step 6: Map out where everything will be planted. I had a general idea of how I wanted to separate the veggies, fruits and herbs but wanted to space everything out before planting. Confession: we bought an arbitrary amount of plants at Lowe’s last Friday. We literally walked around their garden area saying “How many tomato plants should we buy? Three? Yeah, that sounds good, let’s just do that.” Somehow, everything actually spaced out perfectly! (which only motivates me to buy my flowers arbitrarily, too….)

Spacing out the plants

Step 7: PLANT!! By this point it was about 6:00ish, so we were both more than ready to be wrapping up. I also need to praise Chip at this point for being so encouraging with another one of my projects. He did all of this yard work without any complaints (except for when we accidentally hit a sprinkler pipe while we were tilling… still need to fix that… haha) and worked so efficiently the whole day. He has also become an expert hole digger for my planting, so we were done with this last step in almost no time! Here’s what the planted garden looked like when we finished. I’m convinced some of them have already grown a bit, especially the tomatoes :)

Completed left side of the garden!

For those that are curious, here’s what we planted from right (where the big gate is) to left: different tomato varieties, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, orange mint, watermelon, cantaloupe, cilantro, basil and rosemary. After we had finished all this planting, we decided to go celebrate our gardening efforts at one of our favorite restaurants, La Fogata. We love this restaurant, but we’re convinced it’s an even better overall experience when you sit and eat outside with a glass of sangria after a long day of yard work :)

Blurry picture while we waited for a table at La Fogata

Delicious sangria with dinner

Enjoying the mariachis play a song someone else requested

Now we still have some more work to do on the garden, some of which we’re hoping to get done this evening. While we have all those veggies and herbs on the left side of the garden, I’m hoping to get some different flowers planted on the right side. We also need to work on the path down the middle of the garden which we’re currently planning as mulch and large stones and then put in a little bit of lighting (I really like this idea I saw on Pinterest from Your Cozy Home) . And of course, we still need to finish staining the rest of the fence. Whew! :)

The dogs are always there to supervise our work

Another great day outside together :)

Sweet story about a dog

A coworker shared this story with me yesterday and it really touched my heart. After a bit of crying from reading this, I posted this story to my Facebook wall, so apologies to those who have already read it but I just had to share on here, too. It’s a beautiful story about a lab who is so incredibly loved by his owner. I don’t want to give anything away, so here’s the story (warning, you may want to grab a tissue or two!).

“They told me the big black Lab’s name was Reggie, as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean, no-kill, and the people really friendly. I’d only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street.

But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn’t hurt. Give me someone to talk to. And I had just seen Reggie’s advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn’t look like “Lab people,” whatever that meant. They must’ve thought I did.

But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis balls, his dishes and a sealed letter from his previous owner.

See, Reggie and I didn’t really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too.
Maybe we were too much alike.

I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that. “Okay, Reggie,” I said out loud, “let’s see if your previous owner has any advice.”
____________ _________ _________ _________

To Whomever Gets My Dog:

Well, I can’t say that I’m happy you’re reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie’s new owner. I’m not even happy writing it. He knew something was different.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you.

First, he loves tennis balls. The more the merrier. Sometimes I think he’s part squirrel, the way he hoards them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn’t done it yet. Doesn’t
matter where you throw them, he’ll bound after them, so be careful. Don’t do it by any roads.

Next, commands. Reggie knows the obvious ones —“sit,” “stay,” “come,” “heel.”

He knows hand signals, too: He knows “ball” and “food” and “bone” and “treat” like nobody’s business.

Feeding schedule: twice a day, regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand.

He’s up on his shots. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car. I don’t know how he knows when it’s time to go to the vet, but he knows.

Finally, give him some time. It’s only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He’s gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn’t bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially.

And that’s why I need to share one more bit of info with you…His name’s not Reggie. He’s a smart dog, he’ll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt. But I just couldn’t bear to give them his real name. But if someone is reading this … well it means that his new owner should know his real name. His real name is “Tank.” Because, that is what I drive.

I told the shelter that they couldn’t make “Reggie” available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. You see, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could’ve left Tank with .. and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call to the shelter … in the “event” … to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my CO is a dog-guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he’d do it personally. And if you’re reading this, then he made good on his word.

Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family. And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family, too, and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he
loved me.

If I have to give up Tank to keep those terrible people from coming to the US I am glad to have done so. He is my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that’s enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. Maybe I’ll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth.

Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight – every night – from me.

Thank you,
Paul Mallory
____________ _________ _________ _______

I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope. Sure, I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver
Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog.

“Hey, Tank,” I said quietly.

The dog’s head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright.

“C’mere boy.”

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn’t heard in months. “Tank,” I whispered.

His tail swished.

I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my
face into his scruff and hugged him.

“It’s me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me.” Tank reached up and licked my cheek.

“So whatdaya say we play some ball?” His ears perked again.

“Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?”

Tank tore from my hands and disappeared into the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.”

Project: Grassy Backyard

Chip and I enjoy spending time outside together, and we’ve spent many afternoons in our backyard envisioning a lawn of green grass… but this definitely isn’t what we had up until two weeks ago. When we moved in about a year ago, the backyard had been neglected for some time. We saw some patches of St. Augustine grass, but overall, there was a lot of dirt. And a lot of weeds. But again, we didn’t want to put time or money into the yard last summer thanks to that crazy drought. So this is what our yard looked like a few weeks ago:

Not exactly a lush backyard...

Dirt in front of our shed...

With spring upon us, Chip and I were more than ready for for some green grass! Not only would grass look so much better than this dirt/grass/weed medley we had going on, we were excited for some great grass so we could spend more time outside with friends. I was also very excited to have the dogs bringing in less dirt and dirtying our floors… try as I might, those two just can’t learn to clean up after themselves! :) Anyway, Chip and I knew that we had a small window of time to get this grass planted. As one guy told us at one of the nurseries here in town, if we didn’t plant by the end of the month there would really be no reason to try to have grass this year and we would be better off waiting until next year to give this another shot.So we spent time at different nurseries and a Saturday morning at Milberger’s feeling all the different grasses we could try to grow in our backyard. In the end, we went with the Texas standard St. Augustine grass.

One obstacle we had to deal with before even laying down grass was leveling our yard. Prior to a few weeks ago, the yard actually sloped toward the house, which means all the water would drain by our porch. Not good. Not only was this shifting our foundation a bit, it meant lots of muddy paw-prints in our house. So for foundation reasons and for my sanity, we had to get this addressed. Chip did a lot of research and found a company that came out and did a great job addressing this leveling issue. And since Chip and I have never planted grass and would need lots of manpower to install all the pallets of grass ourselves, we had the same people that leveled the yard install the grass themselves. While this was something we had been planning and looking forward to doing ourselves, we were worried about several things:

1. Our yard requires a lot of pallets of grass, so we would be making multiple trips to the nursery to get this done, which means a line item of gas for Chip’s truck in our grass budget sheet.

2. Time: With Chip needing to allocate as much time as possible to studying, it was hard to justify setting aside a few weekends to get this project done ourselves. It just didn’t seem like a good use of this resource.

3. We have minimal to absolutely no expertise or knowledge on grass. We were so worried that we would be spending all this time and money laying down the grass all in the end of doing it incorrectly.

So in the end, even though it took a good chunk of our tax return, we are so glad we had our grass professionally done. All it left to us was making sure we adequately watered the grass to help the roots really get settled in. We also had to keep the dogs off the grass as much as possible for a good two weeks, which was fun to figure out. For the first few days, we kept them in the empty enclosed garage while we were at work. Luckily this grass project overlapped with getting a small fence built for my garden area, so once that was done we were able to keep the dogs in this space while the grass took root.

Day 1 of leveling the yard

We had two of these cement blocks in our yard from old drying lines... they were a couple of feet deep and a pain to get rid of. Chip got one of them out a couple of months ago and the guys did the second.

The cement block Chip dug out

Wrigley likes helping Chip in the yard

Wrigley checking out the second hole from the cement block.

Leveled backyard!

Backyard ready for grass!

Now that we have grass and are watering a lot more, we realized we needed to seal and stain our fence to help it last longer. So a couple of weekends ago, we got started on this! We still have another probably 2/3 of fence to go, but I’m hoping we get this done within the next week or so. We also want to figure out some lighting for the yard so we can be out there at night and may put in more seating (we’re thinking some type of porch swing along the fence that’s already stained). And of course, we still have my garden to get planting… hopefully we’ll get that done this weekend! :)

Grass taking root!

Grass!

Staining away!

Awesome garden fence! Why the chairs, you ask? Because of sneaky Wrigley, who would climb the windowsill there by the fence and hop over on to the grass...

The dogs are happy with the grass

 

Front yard flowers

Nothing says spring like fresh flowers, right? I couldn’t wait for spring this year and had been excited for Chip and I to do some flower planting for the first time. While we initially thought my backyard garden would be our first green thumb project, it got put on hold for a bit until we had a small fence built to block it off from the dogs (can’t have them stealing my future tomatoes!). So in the meantime, we turned our attention to our front yard. We really didn’t have much of a vision when we first started. All we knew was that we didn’t really like the way it looked originally, so anything should, in theory, look better. We spent a little bit of time driving around neighborhoods in Alamo Heights for inspiration before heading over to Milberger Nursery a few weekends ago and stocking up on little flowers that we would plant around the oak tree in our front yard. Now when we first moved in, our neighbor kindly warned us that nothing would ever grow around this oak tree except for weeds and that it was bound to kill anything we tried – grass, flowers, plants, etc. Luckily this hasn’t been true!

Oak tree... before

The first thing we had to do for this flower project was to pull out all of these little weed things that were growing around the tree. It doesn’t seem like much work, but let me tell you those suckers really put up a good fight. I’m pretty sure I would have thrown in the towel and let them win if Chip hadn’t been so determined! I also have a bit of an expectations problem and after seeing how quickly my parents would de-weed our yard growing up, I was not happy that this small area took us about two days to empty out. We went through several rounds with these weeds, first pulling up the ones that would come out somewhat easily. Then we had to use a small pick to dig the others out, exposing some very deep roots we weren’t expecting. These weeds may be small, but most had roots that would extend out a good six inches or so that we would just have to hack off with a small garden axe.

So... many.... weeds!

Getting closer!

Our supervisors :)

Once we eventually cleared out the area under the tree and had tilled the soil with organic compost, it was finally time to start planting these flowers. While at Milberger’s earlier that day, we realized that impatiens were our best bet for this area since they are pretty shade tolerant (we did make the rookie mistake of just picking pretty flowers at first before an employee kindly let us know that we were wasting our money not getting shade resistant flowers to plant under a tree….). We didn’t buy enough flowers that day to fill the whole area, so the following weekend had us over at Lowe’s, stocking up on more flowers and adding zinnias to our mix.

Planting flowers for the first time in my life

More flowers...

Flowers!

Now, of course I was a little worried that these small flowers would slowly (or not so slowly) die off. They were the least expensive flowers we saw at both stores, so I subconsciously thought this meant these flowers would be weak and that all this work would be for nothing. Luckily these flowers have proven to be heartier than I had expected (except for the zinnias, those are struggling a bit…). Anyway, here’s what the area looks like now a few weeks later!

Flowers in bloom!

I’m really surprised with how full those little impatiens are getting. I’m thinking of take most of the zinnias out and just putting more impatiens in, but it’s not at the top of our yard work to-do list :)

Now while I had been planting these flowers, Chip was clearing out one of the flower beds in front of the house. We will eventually get rid of all of the bushes in the front yard and replace with flowers, but we haven’t finished this yet.

Chip clearing out the old plants

For now, we’ve planted two small hydrangeas and two blue plumbagos in this flowerbed. These are actually two of my favorite flowers and it means so much to me that Chip has given me complete free reign to plant whatever I like around our home. I’ve always loved how full hydrangeas are and was very happy to see them on sale at Lowe’s a few weekends ago. We’re hoping they’ll get full/big enough so I can have fresh-cut hydrangeas in vases inside :) As for the blue plumbagos, these are flowers that I’m pretty emotionally attached to. We had them in our backyard growing up and my beloved childhood dog, Scottie, loved to lay in these flowers on hot Tucson afternoons. Because he was a sheltie, those little flowers would get caught in his hair so we always knew when he had been resting near my mom’s flowers. We had to put Scottie down when I was 17 and buried his ashes by his beloved plumbago bushes, so I always knew that these would be flowers I would want in my own home as an adult. Luckily Chip agrees that they’re pretty, so they are now part of our front yard :) Showing once again that we are gardening rookies, we didn’t measure the area of the flower bed before we bought these hydrangeas and plumbagos, so half of it is still empty… haha I’m hoping we’ll fill it up in the next week or so, but in the meantime here’s a quick picture of our blooming flowers.

Hydrangeas and Blue Plumbagos!

My boys :)

Taking a break with Wrigley and Duke

Blast from the past - Alex and I with our childhood dogs Daisy and Scottie

Sweet Duke

When we first brought Duke home two months ago, he was one of the most scared and timid dogs I had ever met. For those that have read my other posts, you may remember me talking about how much of a task it was to get him into my car at ACS and then eventually into our house. He didn’t know how to trust us and scampered around the house before eventually hiding away in the backyard. I’m slightly ashamed I had so many moments those first couple of weeks where I was worried that Duke was a lost cause, that because of whatever had happened to him before in his past, he would never be a “normal” dog again. Fortunately for all of us, these initial concerns were way off and he has become a goofy, loveable lab mix. I mentioned in a previous post how much Duke had progressed in our first month with him. Compared to where he now is today, it’s like we have a completely different dog living with us. Chip and I have spent many evenings talking about this growth and have fun reminiscing on this dog’s journey. So in honor of Duke’s progress, here are some of our favorite “before and after” moments.

Before: Duke avoided us like the plague and would jump and scamper out whenever we would enter a room too suddenly for his taste.

Now: Duke follows us around like it’s his job. It doesn’t matter where we are in the house or in the backyard, this dog wants to be our shadow now. It’s sweet that not only is he no longer afraid of me or Chip, but he’s even more social around strangers, wanting their affection and attention (although thankfully not as shamelessly as Wrigley does). Yes, he’ll still hide under the coffee table occasionally whenever new people are in the house, but it’s much better than running to his crate like he did before. Duke is also super excited to see me and Chip now when we come home, barking with Wrigley until we let them come inside with us. It’s sweet to see him this happy when he sees us now. He’ll even get a little jealous for our affection, trying to push Wrigley out of our hands with his nose.

Before: Duke would either be outside or inside in his crate. He would only hang out with us when forced.

Duke and Wrigley monitoring the kitchen floor

Now: Duke strolls around the house with ease and can peacefully nap in any room. This definitely took some time, but he has slowly made himself comfortable over the past couple of months and now branches out past the living room and office. In fact, he really only goes to the office now whenever he’s ready to go to bed or is asking for his dinner! Duke will often join me in the kitchen while I cook dinner, looking to Wrigley for cues on getting scraps of food. He runs to the front living room whenever the door bell rings and barks like a good guard dog at any strange sound. He stands ready for us by the office door where we have the dog gate set up when we wake up, anxious to see us and go outside. I’m glad we were patient with Duke while he learned that this home was a safe place for him and that he’s slowly learned to trust us.

Before: Duke wouldn’t eat consistently. I was convinced he was going to starve to death instead of eat the high protein food we were trying to give him to help him put on some weight.

Now: Duke loves food and even eats out of Wrigley’s bowl now. He trusts us, too, whenever we offer him human food, jumping up to grab whatever we’re giving him (he’s a big fan of those peanut butter dog biscuits!). I’m relieved that he now has a hearty appetite and know that he will never again go hungry.

Before: Duke slowly followed Wrigley around, trying to mimic some of his behavior.

Now: These two dogs tend to drive me crazy! They play non-stop, which I have to remind myself is a good thing (which can be hard to accept as they twist the living room rug around during their wrestle matches!). It’s not that Duke was ever afraid of Wrigley, he just didn’t know how to play with him or interact with him. Luckily they have figured this out and now spend a lot of time playing and wrestling together. They also enjoy fighting over the same toy and will play a little bit of tug of war to see who wins (I don’t think they realize there’s an entire bin in the living room full of other toys… they’re like children sometimes!). It’s so fun to see them interact together and it’s great to see how this has helped Duke come out of his shell and show his more playful lab side. Duke is now often the one that gets playtime started, running up to Wrigley and pulling on his ears, which of course Wrigley then has to reciprocate :)

Nap time after play time

Before: Duke would run and hide in his crate whenever he saw his leash.

Taking the two goofs on a walk

Now: Duke jumps and barks at me until I get his harness and leash on him for a walk. This is such a big change from where he was two months ago. I promise it’s no exaggeration at all when I say he literally used to cower at the sight of his little lanyard leash he came with from ACS. Luckily Wrigley has shown him that the harness and leash are exciting things and Duke now gets as happy for walks and jogs as Wrigley does. Their energy can make going on walks a little interesting, but it’s fun seeing how excited they get for this.

Duke is the sweetest foster dog we could have asked for. He’s easy to love and cheer for, and we can tell he appreciates this chance we’ve given him. He’s extremely loyal and will be a great addition to any family. We can’t wait to see who will take Duke in and give him a forever home. I’d say he’s pretty ready for his own place now! :)

Our sweet friend, Duke