April 4, 2021:

Happy Easter. Today is a beautiful day in MKE and I've been enjoying it working outdoors continuing the never-ending yard and garden bed clean-ups. I raked and raked and raked and picked out endless nut shells from the north garden bed in the back yard, then raked some more. I cut down the grasses that are already showing new green and cut out the tall stems from last season's flowers. Still much more to do but I've definitely made a dent. I did rake the back yard in March when we had a warm stretch of weather, but several wind storms since then and more squirrels seeking to move into the tall arborvitaes chewing up everything in sight has made a new mess that needs to be cleaned up. While we did have some nice days where I would have loved to get out and do some work, it was just to windy to try and rake anything. It will get done - probably by the end of September :) New posts coming soon, I still have to finish my income taxes and I am working my way through a chess instructional book for children that I promised to do a book review on. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get other projects done around the house so - bear with me! I always bite off more than I can chew.

Jan

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Yard Work!

Hola!  It's been so busy here.  Whenever the weather has permitted since our wonderful warm streak of about 10 days where we sometimes hit 70F ended, I've been outside working the winter and pandemic blahs away.  Whew!  The result is a front yard that has fresh mulch and leaves cleaned out of everything and the lawn, which had exploded in growth, had it's first haircut on Friday 4/16.

I was so tired out after shoving my electric lawnmower for more than an hour I didn't have any ooomph left to attempt doing the trimming, let alone the edging I really want to do and that is really needs.  I did get the trimming done the next day, but the edging will have to wait.

After I got the grass trimmed all around the front yard on Saturday, I pulled the electric mower back out and plowed away at the backyard.  Whew!  I thought I had kept myself in pretty fair shape over the winter because I didn't gain any weight and exercised daily, but boy oh boy, I was aching after I finished mowing that back yard.  But it looks good - if I didn't look at the areas where the mower is too large to fit and a lot of trimming needed to be done.

Which brings me to today, Sunday - the day of rest, peace and quiet, right?  Except people who work (I'm retired so I don't worry about what day it is), who didn't get out on Friday like I did to cut their front lawns or backyards, and people who didn't get out and do it on Saturday, although I heard mowers going throughout the day, decided to get out and do it today before the temperature plunges back down again and we may get freezing rain/snow overnight tonight or possibly tomorrow.  I wonder how far the sound of a power lawn mower travels when there isn't a strong breeze?  More mowers were going this morning as I waited until a respectable 9 a.m. to go out and start trimming the backyard.  

What a chore!  But I got it done and cleaned up part of the refuse left behind afterward while I was waiting for a visit from a rep of a local company that specializes in tree and shrub trimming.

Here's my beautiful Japanese maple in summer 2020. 
As you can see, it's far too large for the space and already
this year the branches have gotten even taller, more full
and are rubbing against the rain gutters, the siding and the roof.

Yep - I decided - sob sob sob - to have my Japanese maple in the backyard garden area removed, as it was planted far too close to the house.  I can't really handle the pruning that it needs yearly to keep it in control by myself any longer, I have to face it, I'm not as young or strong as I used to be - and the six years I've been in this home I've noticed the difference as each birthday has passed.  This year I'll be 70 - in 4 scant months. I will replace the Japanese maple with a smaller specimen tree that I will plant out in the lawn area of my back yard, because I do love their gorgeous colors and form. It will be able to grow freely out there.

Here's a photo of the flowering cherry in July 2020.  You can see
how much it's encroaching on the house and nearly totally covering one
of my bedroom windows, as well as hitting the gutter and the roof.

The beautiful flowering cherry that the former owners planted far too close to the house for its ultimate size (and it's still growing) - I couldn't bear to take that down yet. What on earth could I ever replace it with?  Instead of the drastic measure of either removing the tree completely or pollarding it, we're going to limb up the tree quite a bit to raise the canopy, do a severe cut back along the house side so branches are no longer scraping against the house and on the roof, try and balance it as much as possible from street and side views, and do a lot of trimming/thinning out of branches on the inside of the tree to let more sunlight come through to the struggling lawn areas and plants growing underneath.  I'm prepared to do this for the next two to three years since to keep the tree healthy we shouldn't remove more than a third of it at a time.  Fingers crossed I don't have to make the sad decision to have the tree removed in a few years.

Summer 2020 - this is after vigorous spring pruning by me earlier
in the season.  It grew even more after this photo was taken.  You can see 
how it is rubbing against the rain gutters, the side of the house and is above
the roof.  It also hangs out over the driveway.  Just a matter of
time before it completely overtakes the space.

The purple - whatever it is - (I've called it a purple plum) that anchors the other side of the house next to the driveway, oh my.  It grows faster than I can keep up with.  The arborist suggested digging it out and trying to transplant it but there is a beautiful peony shrub (planted by the previous owner) coming up all around the base of that tree/shrub now and I just couldn't do it - plus I don't want it planted anywhere in the front or backyard - nowhere to go with it.  So, we settled on extensive trimming and we'll see how it goes over the next year.  I may have to have them come out every year from now on and continue to trim back those two trees (or one tree and one shrub-that has pretensions to turning into a tree).  

The two giant pines on the other side of the driveway will get a haircut so there are no branches hanging down too low over the driveway and some broken branches (from various windstorms) on the interior of the trees will be removed.  

I'm also having some trimming work done on the arborvitaes in the backyard so they are not encroaching over my neighbor's narrow walkway between my fence and the side of his garage, or scraping on his roof.  Heaven forbid, I don't want him out there on a ladder hacking away at my beautiful trees!  

Total cost:  $550.  Not inexpensive, but for the amount of work that needs to be done, a really good price.  Having it done by a trained crew also saves me a lot of work that emotionally I would find difficult to do (I'm such a wussy), that I don't have the proper equipment to do for myself (or the know-how), or the strength to be able to do for myself anyway.

I have to say, I was very impressed with the owner of the business, who came out on a Sunday to see me. I didn't expect that, but he called within less than hour after HomeAdvisors notified him on Saturday that I would like to receive a quote for the work that I wanted done.  He's young and has started up a fairly new company, but he knows his stuff.  After years of watching gardening shows and home improvement and landscaping shows, I've learned a lot, and I saw quickly that he knew what he was talking about.  

The work will be done sometime next week.  I'm not limited as to time, so it will really depend upon the weather, which may be turning nasty on us.

Meanwhile, I've been working off and on as weather and time has permitted to try and get the garden beds in the backyard cleaned out.  What a chore!  My first priority is to make sure the front and sides of the house that people view as they drive by or walk by are in pristine condition.  As I've been out working during the past 3 weeks or so, I've received so many complements from neighbors walking by the house.  Just amazing, and very gratifying, I have to say.

The poor backyard is always at the end of the list.  But it's getting there, pant pant pant...

Saturday, April 10, 2021

New Year, New Season, New Hope

 Hola everyone!  I hope you are all well and have made it through the Year from Hell No. 2 - 2020.  Shame on me for not having posted anything since December 2020, wow.  Time is passing much too quickly.

I've been busy doing spring cleaning inside - and outside, I've put in a lot of hours.  We had an incredible streak of far above normal warm weather for about 10 days and I worked outside daily for at least a couple of hours each day.  We had a lot of wind storms in March.  This year March did come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, and April has brought April showers.  No flowers yet other than a small patch of wild violets (sooooo pretty!) but boy oh boy, the rain we've received sure has greened up the lawn and with the warm weather, perennials are bursting through the earth much earlier than usual including through layer upon layer of still unraked molding leaves in the flower beds I haven't had a chance to clean out.  It's been raining for the past 3 plus days, off and on, and the garden beds are too wet and soggy to work in and the lawn is too wet and soggy to walk on, even though it already needs to be cut!   

I've been limited to running out whenever the rain halts for a few hours to sweep up the patio every few days and the driveway.  I am, however, hopeful that all the rain will wash away a lot of the gunk that was left behind by city crews in March who were a few houses down on the street fixing yet another burst water pipe.  Boy, we sure do need that Infrastructure Bill.  Milwaukee water pipes are over 100 years old, and showing their age.  Because of the pandemic our tax base has been decimated and we don't have the funds to do a wholesale repiping of the city, even though it needs repiping  - badly.  This is the second burst pipe in about 18 months, and the subsequent mess of inches of clay, small rocks and stones left behind in the gutters for we the homeowners to deal with.  Thus far I haven't touched the gunk, hoping first that melting feet high snow banks would wash most of the stuff away (nope); and then that the rains would wash most of the stuff away (nope).  Sigh.

Every year there seems to be more to do, but it could just be that I'm slower now than I was 6 years ago when I moved into this, my "retirement" home.  This year I'm facing 70 head on - and I DO NOT LIKE IT ONE BIT.

Sooooo - let me show you a few things:






Welcome to the new color palette for my living room decor for spring and summer 2021.  It's done already, I worked on it off and on last month, but I haven't taken photos of it yet.  I promise I'll post them.  It's the brightest and most "unlike me" decor I've ever introduced into any of my beloved Maisons Newton.  It makes my eyes pop every time I enter my living room, and I LOVE it!  I keep thinking this must have something to do with psychological damage I unknowingly sustained during the 13 plus months of pandemic hunkering down.  Ya think?  

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

2020 Christmas Tree

 I've finally gotten some photos downloaded.  For autumn/winter, I switched out the decor in the living room to include my favorite old teal lamp, and purchased some throw pillow covers and two 4' x 6' area rugs on sale in a beautiful traditional ("Oriental") print in rich colors of turquoise, teal, gold, different shades of darker blue and deep red accents here and there.


I got lazy and decided not to change to out again to go with my "traditional look" Christmas tree I've had for the past few years with primarily gold and red.  I kept the turquoise/teal, and ended up buying some inexpensive non-breakable teal and turquoise ornaments from Amazon to put on my tree along with gold, silver and crystal ornaments from my stash.  I added French ribbon in two different patterns/textures and pulled out my large gold poinsettia picks (13 years old), miscellaneous "hole stuffer" picks that are smaller, my gold-painted pinecones, and three different kinds of icicles.  Gold and silver butterflies that I bought on clearance several years ago from the Jonathan Adler collection complete the tree.





There's "me" (the Nefertiti pendant) and Mr. Don (the souvenir sword
and representation of the Keep from the ancient castle where his his
family's Scots clan originated).  On the tree every year, sentimental as I am.





And the cardinal tree anchors the countertop in the kitchen/dinette:



Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Make Your Own High End "Feather Filled" Ornaments

 Hola!  I've been meaning to post, but honestly just been super-busy as I'm sure you all have, too, particularly during this time of the year, pandemic or not.

I recently came across some ornaments at West Elm that I absolutely fell in love with, and since they were on special at 50% off, I decided to buy the pair, even though even at 50% off they were outrageously priced.  While I was window-shopping at West Elm, I came across these feather-filled clear glass ornaments.  They're very pretty, and ridiculously priced.  On my retirement budget I can't afford to buy such baubles, even on "sale," but even when I was working and making good money I wouldn't spend the 50% off price for these.  Not when they're so easy to make for yourself!

Here are the pretties from West Elm:

Above is West Elm's Feather Stuffed Ball Ornament, 3" (diameter) and 3.25" height (to account for the cap where the hook or a ribbon goes to put it on your tree - or whatever you are decorating).  The regular price is $9.00 for one, and a set of 2 is priced at $27.00 Holy Hathor!  Sales price is $5.40 for one, and set of 2 is sale-priced at $18.90.  I still can't figure out why you wouldn't be better off just buying two at $5.40 each, or even 3 on sale, which would still be less than $18.90.  Hmmmm - am I missing something?

Anyway, I thought to myself, "Self,  this is an easy hack."  I'm not a particularly crafty or handy person, but even I can manage this hack!

I found both of these items online and didn't look further than them since I thought the prices were already really good:

From Michaels a fair-sized bag of white feather bits for $3.29 that could be easily stuffed into several clear Christmas ornaments to create the high end look from West Elm:


Michaels also offers clear plastic Christmas ornaments of 2.6" diameter and 3" height (25 count on sale now for $9.99, regularly $19.99), and a slightly larger size 3" diameter and 3.5" height (25 count on sale also for $9.99, regularly $19.99):


Yes, they're not glass.  But if you're a Miss Klutz like I am plastic ornaments are the way to go.  And if you have kiddies with curious hands, dogs with big whopping tails or cats who can't seem to resist batting at ornaments...

Not a difficult task to spend a little time taking the silver clip off the top of the ornament, stuffing feather bits into the opening to a fullness that appeals to you, and re-inserting the silver clip at the top of the ornament when you're finished.  Voila!  

It occurred to me just before publishing this that probably dozens of others if not hundreds and maybe even thousands of bloggers have come up with the same hack, but here it is, for what it's worth.  I think they're cute.  They may make appearance on my Christmas tree in 2021...

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Easy Chicken Casserole

 Hola!  I hope everybody is keeping well and safe.

Cold and extremely windy weather has arrived in my part of Wisconsin, brrrrrrr!  It's the time when the thick throws come out and are draped everywhere and flannel sheets go on the bed with a quilt and extra faux Sherpa throw - just in case.  And my gel fuel fireplace is getting used.

This experiment in my limited cookery skills came about a few days ago after I had pulled out an aluminum wrapped mystery package from the freezer, thinking it was about a pound of ground beef.  My original intention was to make my easy version of a Shepherd's Pie. But after it thawed out and I peeked, it turned out to be a very large boneless/skinless chicken breast.  I mean - BIG, like the size of two chicken breasts you would get at a restaurant when people were still eating at them.

So there I was - with this chicken breast that I wasn't prepared to use.  I could have made some kind of chicken and rice dish but - nah - just not my style.  So I rummaged around, discovered at the back of one of my cabinets a can of Campbell's Golden Mushroom Soup.  That came out to the counter.  I had a half of green pepper in the veggie drawer in the fridge, that came out.  I had frozen veggies in the freezer.  Out came two bags - one corn, one peas.  I dumped about half of each into a bowl to thaw out a bit and the half-filled bags (after I sealed them) went back into the freezer.  I could have topped the dish with instant mashed potatoes (surprisingly good if made with just the right amount of butter, milk and salt) but I have a lot of boxes of Idahoan instant potatoes in one of my cabinets - I picked up several when they were on special, they last for months, don't take up space in the freezer or fridge, and are quite delicious.  I pulled out a box of Scalloped Potatoes.

Okay, I thought, I'll make a version of a sort of chicken Shepherd's Pie but with the scalloped potatoes on top rather than mashed potatoes.  Well - turned out to be absolutely delicious, so I have another easy peasy recipe to add to my repertroire

I want to be clear that I will never audition for "Master Chef," LOL!  I am a SLOW cook.  It takes me forever to do the prep, even easy peasy prep.  But here's the recipe for all cooks who want to try something new and quick for some of you:

Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 oz. boneless/skinless chicken breast, cubed in 1/2" to 1" size
  • 1 can Campbell's Golden Mushroom Soup (do not use regular generic Cream of Mushroom Soup, you won't get the flavor and rich deep color of Golden Mushroom Soup)
  • Vegetables - use approximately 8 to 10 oz. of frozen mixed vegetables to your taste (I used some frozen peas, some frozen yellow corn, and chopped up half of a left-over green pepper)
  • 1 box Idahoan Scalloped Potatoes (prepare per directions and set aside)
  • Salt to taste (I don't use a lot of salt, it was about 1/4 teaspoon.  As you will be topping with a commercially made product - the potatoes - and mixing in the canned soup - there will be a lot of sodium already added to your dish).
  • Optional:  1/4 cup to 1/3 cup total of sweet pink or white wine
  • Optional:   2 tablespoons dried chopped onions or 1/8th cup chopped fresh sweet onion

 Directions

  • Begin browning chicken in about 2 tablespoons oil.  I use extra virgin olive oil.
  • Optional:  Add chopped onion to pan with raw chicken and oil.  If you use dried chopped onion like I often do, add some extra oil to the pan.
  • Optional:  Add wine after slight browning of chicken (with or without onion) occurs.  Simmer 5 minutes.
  • Add drained vegetables to chicken along with chopped green pepper.  Bring back to a simmer.
  • Add Golden Mushroom Soup to the simmering chicken, vegetables, wine and olive oil.
  • Optional:  Use about 1/8th cup additional wine to "rinse" out soup can and add to pan.
  • Simmer chicken/veggy/wine mixture about 10 minutes after the last ingredient (or optional wine) is added.
  • Remove from heat and pour contents of pan into a round casserole dish (size about 4" tall and about 9" diameter) or other casserole dish contents will fit in when topped with potatoes.
  • Top with the prepared scalloped potatoes.
  • Bake uncovered in preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 30-40 minutes.  You want to see the potatoes slightly browned and bubbling around the sides of the casserole dish.
  • Remove and cool about 10 minutes covered to eating temperature.

This casserole gave me five delicious and hearty meals (two are going in the freezer in individual servings).  It's really tasty!  The best thing is that this recipe can be made with ground beef or cubed beef stew meat and topped with any style of potatoes you/your family likes best.

Grandma, if you're looking on or watching over me from somewhere, I hope you'll be proud that at 69 years of age I'm getting brave enough to experiment a wee bit more and "go for it" cooking-wise in the kitchen.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The White Rose of Sharon Came Back to Life!

 Hola!

This week has come on with below-normal temperatures and rain in the forecast.  Yesterday was pretty much off and on rain and the temperatures fell from comfortable mid-70s to around 80 with much lower humidity last week to the warmest day yesterday (it got up to about 63)!  Temperatures will decline all week and drop into the 50s at night; and a possible frost warning for SE Wisconsin by Saturday.  That's unusual for this time of year, but hey - the new normal is never knowing what will be thrown at you next!

I did have a good streak of weather to get quite a bit of yard clean-up done and what I consider a miracle occurred:  the White Rose of Sharon survived!  Here's a pictoral summary:  


Above, a picture of what was left of my white flowering Rose of Sharon after last year's hard winter and equally rotten spring, taken this July.  You can see the flower bed is also filled with weed tree saplings and I will never win the battle again the ever-invading (from next store, right underneath the fence) ground ivy!  Lots of dead wood where the shrub used to be, but there are also new shoots that have sprung up since the spring - just not sure if those are the same Rose of Sharon or seedlings from one or both of my other two Roses of Sharon that share the same flower bed.


The photo above was taken September 22nd.  After pruning down much of the dead wood to the ground and saving any branches that showed small signs of life (July 21st - August 21st, when I tackled cleaning out this flower bed), cleaning out the weed trees around it and pulling as much of the ground ivy as possible (and cleaning out dead stems and leaves from the day lilies), the white Rose of Sharon started shooting out leaves from the branches I didn't cut to the ground (but trimmed off any fully dead wood) and she started setting some flower buds.  I didn't think she'd open though before the cold weather set it. I was still girding myself to dig her out before the deep freeze hits.  But after I deep watered the lawn and flower beds about every 10 days 3 times, and a week's worth of heavy rain earlier in September, she really took off growing.  The branches that had survived from last year and the shoots from the ground that shot up several feet seemingly overnight.  Lo and behold, the blossoms burst open about ten days before I took this photo!  At first, only a single flower opened, but I was thrilled to see even that one.  A few days later, a second opened, and then a third, and then several opened simultaneously.


The photo above was taken today, 9/29/20.  Lots of flowers, and there are still many buds that haven't opened.  It's just amazing how she sprang back to life .  You can see how tall the new shoots have gotten, particularly on the left side.  But as I said earlier, I'm not sure that those are a new white Rose of Sharon!  The leaves are larger for one thing, and it doesn't look like the new shoots came out of the base of the original shrub.  So, I'll have to wait and see what happens next spring and summer.  When seed pods form, I'll go out with an envelope and collect some from her, just in case.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Garden Projects Galore!

 Hola everyone!  

Work never stops around Maison Newton, just as it probably doesn't stop at your homes, either.  Regardless of where we live, there's always something, it seems, that needs to be done - or should be done even when we drag out feet and try to ignore it...

The largest garden project I did last month was lining the front beds (finally) with concrete blocks.  I had reported the first part of the project on July 16, 2020 - you can read about it here if you like.  It took several more days after July 16th (hot, sweaty days), but I did finish laying blocks along the border of the longer bed on the north side of the front yard. 

In progress:

Finished north front bed:



The bluegrass lawn now looks much better.  We had a major rainstorm at the end of July, and I treated the lawn a second time, and then spot-treated a third time for sod web worms - the little buggers!  And during the month of August, while we've gotten some rain, it's not near enough to keep the lawns lush.  I've been deep watering - CHA CHING on this quarter's water bills but a gal's got to do what a gal's got to do.  I live in southeast Wisconsin - WE WANT thick green lawns here with no brown spots.  Brown spots are anathema!  Or maybe I'm just a lawn nut case.  

I'm very happy with how this project turned out.  The band above the stone veneer on the front of the house is concrete and along with the concrete walkway, the low block wall coordinates beautifully and adds a great finishing touch to the front yard.  BONUS - I actually got MUSCLES on my upper arms from all the heavy lifting (each block weighed 14 pounds).  Now I'm trying to keep those muscles and wondering if I'll have to take up weight lifting during the winter...

Last month I took some photos of the state of my backyard flower beds.  In two words:  GIANT MESSES!  So, I finally sucked it up and realized I had to at least try to clean some of the mess out.  It still amazes me how when I took photos on June 29th everything was gorgeous; and when I took these photos below on or around July 21st, everything had turned into a disaster over one month's time!

Above is an overview shot of the back (east) garden bed, which includes the arbor vitaes planted in the corner to disguise the utility pole.  The large shrub in the middle is a Rose of Sharon that I received when it was about a foot tall as a seedling from one of my friends.  The Roses of Sharon on either side of the bed did not do well last winter - probably because we went straight from summer while they were still blooming right into winter.  Autumn skipped us last year and everything was a mess.  The shrub on the left side doesn't look too bad - from a distance.  But close up, a good third of the original shrub is totally dead and needed to be pruned down and removed if possible without injuring the rest of the shrub that did sent out greenery this year.  The shrub on the right side was severely damaged (hard to tell from this distance), nearly all of the original tall shrub died off.  Only a few of the remaining branches sent out greenery this season, and it appears that a new shrub sprouted from what I think might be the root ball under the center of the shrub.  It's hard to tell, because these Roses of Sharon are prolific seeders and I have mini-shrubs coming up EVERYWHERE in that East garden bed, sigh.  The Rose of Sharon on the left side sent out a few blossoms and has a few buds remaining to open; the center Rose of Sharon has good buds and flowers, but not as many as in prior years.  The Rose of Sharon on the right side has no buds set at all.

You can see at the bottom of the photo that the patio is partially covered in dead branches that I'd pruned from the ornamental cherry tree out front (that exercise over three days probably started the muscles forming in my arms, since I did all of the sawing of larger than 2 inch branches manually, and my loppers, used for branches up to 2 inches in diameter, are also solely powered by my woman in her sixties flabby upper arms.  It was quite the work-out.  

I waited for the large branches taken off the tree to dry out, as they are then easier to cut and fit into garden trash bags for disposal, at least for me.  Any leaves that come off during the cutting/bending and stuffing into bags process are swept up and used as mulch hidden under the lowest of my plants and shrubs.   

From this distance, the East garden bed doesn't look so bad, even though nearly all of the day lilies had blossomed and I was waiting for the now bare tall stems to dry out sufficiently so I could pull them out of the plant with one good yank!  You really don't see all the weed trees that have popped up seemingly out of nowhere, the wild grape vine that I have been endlessly battling for the six years I've lived here, and miscellaneous mayhem weeds that have popped up over the season among and behind the arborvitaes.

More will follow in the post(s) above...