New year, new projects

2014 was a ridiculously great year. I started it hugely pregnant and quickly found myself with a newborn, which was unlike anything I had ever imagined. The short version, it was better. The long version, read past posts. Professionally, I had my first journal article published and spent my time at the museum working on big projects that matter. We traveled a lot, celebrated friends’ weddings and accomplishments, spent time with all of our big family, had fires in our backyard, drank wine, started and finished home improvement projects, cooked meals and were generally blessed.

I have no idea what 2015 will bring. I know that in a few days, I’ll have a one-year-old who is close to walking. I know that we will start and finish projects, make meals and hang out on the couch binge watching TV episodes. I will read books and try to exercise more. I will consume more caffeine than I did last year largely thanks to Greg’s new espresso machine.

I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions. January is a hard month for me, which makes it a bad time to try to change or create new habits. In the past, it has lead to frustration and made my mental state worse instead of better. So instead of resolving to massively change something, I take on a project. In college, I did a 365 day photo project, which resulted in a visual journal of the year I was 21. Last year, I had a baby. 2015 is the year that I will learn how to cook Asian food.

For those of you geographically inclined, you know that Asia is an extremely large continent. The sheer amount of land mass has resulted in varied food cultures, some with overlapping flavors and others that are quite distinct. That means that saying that I am going to learn how to cook Asian food is ambitious and includes Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines among many others. I want to learn how to make the noodle dishes I like to eat and expand what we have for dinner. Our first dinner of 2015 was chicken apple curry, a very mild curry that the kid loved. Authentic? Probably not. Different and delicious? Definitely.

Anybody got any cookbook recommendations?

Raised Beds

Back in March, our friends Chris, Patrick and Claire helped us construct raised beds on the side of our house. Our neighborhood is full of mature trees, which makes it both beautiful and shady. The only place that gets consistent sunlight is the south side of the house. When we moved in, that area was planted with bushes that really didn’t do anything for me. It’s not that they were terribly ugly, but they were not adding anything to the space. We decided to make the investment in raised beds because 1) we wanted them, 2) they are a productive use of the area, and 3) it would provide a place to grow greens in the spring and overwintering crops like garlic that we can’t do at the big garden because of the rules.

Chris runs GrowMemphis and knows a whole heck of a lot about raised bed gardening. (Side note–he and Claire are making their dream of being small farmers a reality later this year when they take over his family’s farmland. I’ll miss them being down the street, but it is amazing to watch them make their farm a reality.) Claire and Patrick know a lot about gardening too and were willing to give up a Saturday afternoon to help us construct the beds with nothing but spaghetti and beer for payment. We have fantastic people in our lives.

The actual construction was on the guys because we used railroad ties (courtesy of Bob’s Tie Yard, seriously), which are heavy. They had to cut some of the ties in half to make the ends. The stacked ties are reinforced on the sides with rebar to keep them in place. One bed is tall and comes up to my waist. The other one is only one tie high and is the one that is planted with asparagus. Two weeks later, Patrick and Chris came back over and helped us get the manure and soil in place. Chris knows some horse owners in the Bartlett area who are happy to have someone take manure off of their hands. We put a layer down in the tall bed to act as fertilizer. The rest of the square footage was filled with cotton burr compost.

This spring, we had arugula, spinach, two types of lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, swiss chard and peas in the tall bed. The peas straight up died, and only half of the radishes made actual bulbs. The carrots and beets are still in the ground with plans to pull them up this weekend. The arugula and spinach were delicious additions to our salads for the past month. The plants bolted so I planted a tomatillo and black cherry tomato plant in their place. The swiss chard is quite tasty, and we will be eating our second harvest of it for dinner tomorrow night. Once I pull up the carrots and beets, I will plant two more tomato plants and basil in their place. Next fall/spring, I’m definitely going to stick with growing greens and lettuces in that bed.

Cost–High

Labor–High

Impact–High

Herb Garden

As with many projects of mine, this one took much longer than anticipated. I went to dig out a place for an herb garden so that I could place bricks longways [8″ down] around the exterior in an effort to keep oregano contained. I immediately broke an insulated copper wire. After worrying about it incessantly until Greg could take a look at it after work, it was determined that the wire didn’t seem to be connected to anything. So major crisis averted.

And things stayed exactly like that–a shallow trench with a broken wire sticking out of it–for the next two weeks. I went out once while the kid was napping to resume digging, only to discover that my ability to spatially arrange items in a pleasing way is worse than I thought. Even following the string line Greg laid out was a bit beyond my ability to do with any speed. Rather than waste three hours doing what he could do in twenty minutes, I asked for help. Because I’ve gotten better about that.

So Greg dug out my herb patch and laid the bricks, and this week I planted basil, lemon balm, sage, thyme and oregano. The location might get too much shade, but if it does, at least I’ll have a nice shade garden next year.

Cost–nil
Labor–low, but only because I wised up
Impact–medium (low on the look of the yard, high for culinary pursuits)

The Gate

I’m not sure this fix even counts as a project, but we did it, so I say it does. Our gate is really tall, which is great for privacy. Unfortunately, it had no handle on the inside so shutting it was difficult. So we installed a handle. Problem solved.

Like I said, not much of a project, but my life is now easier.

Cost–low
Labor–low
Impact–low

The Path

It happened like this.

My grandmother mentioned that she wanted to get rid of the pile of bricks behind her storage shed and the bricks lining her flower beds because they were in the way. She asked if we wanted to take them. Since our house is brick and the backyard has a brick path lining the exterior, we said absolutely.

Then we realized how many bricks she had. Our bright eyed, optimistic plan was to spend an hour on a Saturday morning getting the bricks and a few plants from her and then stacking them neatly at our house for use on a future project. Three hours tops. [I laughed the entire time I wrote that sentence.]

We got to her house, loaded down our midsize car, called my dad to ask for his truck and manpower assistance, loaded down his truck, went back to the house [having only removed half of the bricks], unloaded everything, fed my dad lunch [three hours after we started] and called it a day on the bricks.

We didn’t plan on making a path that weekend, but we suddenly found ourselves with access to more bricks than we had imagined. Our driveway isn’t very steep, but it is narrow and does butt right up against a hill, which makes it super inconvenient when trying to push a trashcan or a stroller up to the house. Greg had been thinking about how and when he wanted to fix the situation when the solution came to us in the form of many pounds of construction material.

The next weekend we got to digging. We dug out a fair chunk along the side of the drive. [I was not the brains behind this operation. Greg did the measuring and gave me clear instructions on what to do. For these types of projects he is most definitely the ringleader and I am the additional labor.] As we got towards the bottom, we were moving some serious amounts of dirt. Thankfully, we had borrowed my parents’ tiller and wheelbarrow, which made the process easier.

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We laid the bricks longways, moving down the drive and cutting out a lot of tree roots as we went. We worked for most of the day and then picked it back up on Sunday, finishing laying the bricks, starting the retaining wall to keep the yard from closing over the path and using the first bag of paving sand to set the path in place. The second bag will go on in a few weeks when the bricks have stopped moving.

Actually “we” didn’t do anything with the retaining wall. Greg built the wall. Credit where credit is due. He poured concrete on the small space at the bottom of the drive where there was a gap between the bricks and the sidewalk. I stuck some beads that I had leftover from a summer at camp along the seam. Because I wanted to.Greg took Easter Monday off from work and finished the wall in the afternoon. The project would have been finished here if it hadn’t rained, which caused some of the mortar to not set. So on Saturday, Greg will finish our “three hour” project. Three weeks after we started.

It looks awesome.

 

Cost–low (under $100)

Labor–high (over 15 man-hours)

Impact–high (easier access to the house, easier to move the trashcan and the stroller)