Fall at Lowell Estates

Summer of 2017 is winding down, and much faster than I'd like. The fact that autumn is my favorite season by far is small consolation for the way time is passing so quickly. My previous post was about getting back into the gardening game, and now that the season is nearly over I can give a status report. Short version? There was some good and some bad. Let's get the bad out of the way. Someone in my neighborhood mowed the vacant lot next to my house (which doesn't belong to me). They also decided to mow my yard, which didn't really need it but I'm sure they thought they were doing me a solid. Unfortunately they were a bit heavy handed with the mowing, and I lost three plants to the whirling blades. A fourth is doing ok, but I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't survive the winter. I was upset at first. I've gotten more attached to those little plants than I realized, and the loss was disappointing. But I quickly found the silver lining - here was an opportunity to correct some of the mistakes I'd made when planting. As is often the case, life had other plans. Things just got really busy really quickly, and I didn't have the time or energy to replace the destroyed plants. Plus, I was overthinking it and as soon as I thought I had a plan in place, a new plan came along to replace it. And that's how the summer passed. Today was a beautiful late summer day, and with Mother Nature wreaking havoc down south I figured it would be a crime if I didn't make the most of my good fortune. So today became garden day. I stood in front of the garden for a while, studying it and deciding what sort of plant I wanted to go where. Then it was off to Urban Roots, and of course they had beautiful plants but not in the size or shape I had planned in my head. So I just got a couple of plants that looked nice. One is a chocolate snakeroot, which I've had in the past and loved. Then I went to Home Depot because as much as I love supporting local businesses (especially Urban Roots which takes the lion's share of the credit for turning my neighborhood around) I can't fight with the prices at Home Depot. Once all of the new plants were in, I stood there, again, looking and studying. There's no getting around it. My little garden is a hot mess. I like each plant well enough on its own but as a whole, there's no rhyme or reason. But, I'm not giving up just yet. I think when the plants come back next year, healthy and strong, everything will look a lot better, and I'll be able to fill in the gaps with some small foliage plants. I'm not used to thinking long term over short term flash, so this is all a very difficult lesson for me.


It's Been a While

How the time does fly. I haven't posted here in a long time, partly because I'm lazy, and partly because Facebook usually does a good job of keeping me connected with the world. Tonight doesn't seem like a Facebook night, however, so here I am back at the ol' Repository to talk about gardening. I've talked about gardening before, usually - like now - when I'm starting off in an exciting new direction with regard to my tiny yard. You'll get an update or two, then silence as the garden falls into disrepair. I think this time is different. I really do. Hopefully keeping it public will be an incentive to help me make it work. If not, see you in 2019!

As I've written before, I don't really like to garden. I don't enjoy the labor, or getting down into the dirt, or any of it, really. I like seeing things grow, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment when my tiny yard looks lush and vibrant. But it's a chore for me, not a hobby and certainly not relaxing.

Unfortunately for me, my daily walk from my parking spot to my office leads me down Rabin Terrace, a very competitive gardening block. The houses are close to the street, like mine, and so while their yards are slightly larger than my tiny yard, it's not by much, and still the gardeners of Rabin Terrace manage to create amazing vistas, both individually and as a group.

I should stop here and define my "tiny yard". My front yard is comprised of three parts (I don't have a side or back yard). There's the strip along the street, and a section on either side of the sidewalk to my house. The smaller of those has a large shrub and not much else. The larger is where I do my planting. It's about 8 feet wide and 2 feet deep. So yes, it's a tiny yard, but a big challenge to my meager gardening skills.

So back to my twice daily walk down Rabin Terrace. It's impossible to pass these beautiful yards and not think "I should try something like that." The strange part is that with one exception, I almost never see the residents (or hired help) actually working on those gardens. They just seem to appear by magic, trimmed and weeded and watered. I have just enough time to study each yard, and decide what I like or don't like about it, or what plants I think would work at my house. As beautiful as these yards are, they're more inspirational than aspirational for me, because they're a little overdone and fussy for my taste. They make me want to garden, but not like that.

It's been a while since I've made more than a token effort in the yard. Last year I put in two rhododendron plants, one with small leaves and one with large. To my delight (and surprise, frankly) they've done very well, blooming profusely and becoming the anchors I can build around with smaller plants. So far this year I've put in daylilies (a rare venture into flowers) along with coralbells and astilbe, which I think might be my favorite plant of all. Everything looks unfinished, but I'm going to resist the urge to pack more plants in and let nature take its course instead. I'll put in a few more of the low coralbells, and maybe - MAYBE - one more astilbe, but that's it. I'm actually working off a plan this time, instead of buying whatever happens to catch my eye at the store and finding a place for it later. I've managed to create a nice variety of tall / medium / short plants, and I don't want to ruin that.

I know it's ridiculous to make such a big deal out of a patch of plants the size of a large coffee table, but that's my tiny yard and I'm going to make it work this time. Watch for pictures coming soon if things work out, and silence if they don't.



Well, the weight loss roller coaster has made another circuit, and I'm back at Weight Watchers. I was a member back in 2010, and doing pretty well. I lost just shy of 50 pounds, and then I was in a car accident and everything went to hell. I wasn't hurt, but my car was, and the process of dealing with insurance and getting a new car was stressful and time consuming. I missed a handful of meetings and gained a few pounds, and then I was too embarrassed to go back until I lost those few pounds. Which never happened. Fast forward four and a half years to me deciding the time for silly pride is finally over.
The biggest change is, of course, what I eat. No more fast food or potato chips or chocolate. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Yes, I'm counting calories, but I'm also replacing crap food with good food. So a trip to Five Points Bakery on Saturday (Oatmeal bread toast, brie and homemade jam) probably used up more calories than I had to spare on paper, but it was so wholesome and filling and delicious that I just didn't care. I didn't even think about snacking for hours.

The second change is that I'm tracking everything I eat on myfitnesspal.com. It gives you daily totals on overall calorie intake, carbs, fat, protein, sodium and sugar. For now I'm focusing on calories, fat and protein - I'll worry about the rest later. It's often shocking to learn which foods are high or low in a particular area. Cottage cheese is off the charts in sodium and baby carrots are high in sugar.

The third change is the WW experience - weekly meetings and weigh-in. The weigh-in is all-important to me. It's a short term goal, and the counselor saying "you lost..." is a great motivation. The meeting is less useful, but not useless, and I'll force myself to go since I'm paying for the privilege.

I've been on-plan for almost a week. I hit my calorie goal four days and exceeded it two days. But even when I went over my goal, I was still under my recommended daily intake, so I expect to be down 2-3 pounds at tomorrow's weigh-in. I'm trying to keep my expectations realistic, especially at first. It's winter, and fresh fruits and vegetables are nowhere near summer levels (or prices) and walking is out of the question. But if I can lose - slow and steady - I'll be able to really make progress once summer arrives.



At work I park my car alongside a fence, and the house on the other side of that fence has a Heiny dog. He barks at me if he happens to be outside when I come or go, which makes me think of Heiny. It all started when my aunt scored a dog-sitting gig for a co-worker. I went with her to pick up Heiny, a miniature schnauzer. Nobody was home, and Heiny barked like crazy when we let ourselves in. I held him in my lap on the drive back to my aunt's house, and we hadn't been inside for a minute before Heiny had taken a dump on the floor of the spare bedroom. I thought that was the funniest thing ever, but my aunt was somewhat less amused. Despite the rocky start, Heiny's visit was a success, and my aunt sat for him several times over the next couple of years. Then Heiny's owners had a baby, and gave the dog to a brother living in NYC, which, as I predicted, didn't last. Heiny was up for adoption. My aunt and I went to work on my grandparents, who finally gave consent, and Heiny went to live with my aunt for good.

So let's address the name. Heiny wasn't really his name. He was one of those fancy-pants pedigree dogs with papers and all, and his full name was Sir Asti Heineken of Dorf. Unbelievably, it could have been worse. Heiny's mother was Lady Elsa of Dorf, and his grandmother was Floyd's Mexicali Rose of Dorf. If you're skeptical, consider that I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Anyway, Sir Asti Heineken of Dorf was a lot of name for a small dog so he went by Heineken or Heiny.

My grandmother claimed to be terrified of Heiny, but I used to catch her sneaking treats to him on the sly all the time. Similarly, my grandfather's stated opinion of Heiny was "ah, that dog" but in the end they were inseparable, whether on walks to the corner picking up cans (grandfather) and discarded chewing gum (Heiny) or snoring on the recliner (both).

Heiny also had a special relationship with their neighbor, Edith. When he was let out in the morning, he'd run back to Edith's door and bark until she let him in. He'd come back ten minutes later or so, noticeable more relaxed. Turns out she was feeding him scrambled eggs and cocoa. I'd have barked too.

But I was Heiny's pal. I paid him the most attention and in return he never left my side. When he had kidney stone surgery I was the only one he'd let hold him, and when he came to my house he'd run up and sit outside my bedroom door until I came out. It broke my heart to hear about how he'd sit and wait there after I'd gone away to school.

As he spent more time with my family he became less pedigree and more trailer park. His fancy dog-show haircut grew out, and we just used to buzz him all over when it got hot and leave him alone in the winter.

Heiny was a good dog. His schtick was that he'd bark whenever anyone came in, and continue  barking until you pet him, then he'd go back to napping or sleeping or resting or whatever he had been doing until you got there. One time he was barking for no reason, and in a plot right out of Lassie he barked until we let him out and we realized the dog next door had tried to jump over the fence and was hanging on his leash. Heiny had saved his life.

He could get into mischief too, don't be fooled. We soon learned not to leave bags of candy less than two feet off the floor (under the Christmas tree was definitely less than two feet of the floor). And the all time classic Heiny story was when, halfway through Easter dinner, I realized something was very wrong. There was no Heiny begging under the table. I called him, and he appeared in the doorway, his face covered in whipped cream. The pies cooling on the porch all had imprints of a schnauzer face in them. I truly thought my mother was going to kill Heiny.



It's the middle of the night, and I'm looking out the window as a light snow falls. It's a view that, while lovely, would normally inspire thoughts of shoveling and brushing off my car before work. Not my favorite activities. But it's different this time. I feel fortunate just to be able to see out my window. Less than 10 miles to the south, my friends don't have that luxury. The Knife Storm of 2014 (insert eye roll at lame nickname) broke the U.S. record for one-day snowfall, dropping more than five feet of snow in some places, with more to come. I was lucky this time. The lake effect snow band stayed well to the south of me, and my neighborhood got maybe five or six inches total.

Following my friends and coworkers on social media and viewing the photo galleries sent out to an incredulous world has made my jaw drop more than once. I'm grateful I was spared this time. I'm sorry and concerned for those stuck in their homes or workplaces with little chance of getting out before the weekend. I'm determined to stock up on essentials for the inevitable time when I'll be the one snowed in (maybe next week, maybe in five years). I'm in awe of nature's power, which can easily destroy anything we create but cannot break our spirit.

My facebook feed is full of people being the best that people can be... caring, concerned, looking out for each other. I received several notes from friends all over the country checking to see if I'm ok. Unfortunately there's a lot of behavior that falls short, as well, and I'm trying not to dwell on any of that. Life's too short, and I've no right to complain anyway.

Next week America takes time out to celebrate a day of giving thanks. I would imagine more than a few people will have a new appreciation for their many blessings. I know I will.


Sudden Fear

The fallout from my summer exhibition continues. I got an e-mail out of the blue inviting me to be the "Guest Artist" at the Williamsville Art Society's September meeting. I was so flattered that I said yes before remembering how much I hate speaking to groups of people, and what would I say about my work, anyway? I can't really articulate or explain how I see the world or how I shoot or how I crop... I just work at it until it feels right, and then I'm done. That's not a very interesting lecture. So I was more than a little nervous as I drove out to the suburbs on Friday night.

Well, consider this chapter 19,261 of the book "Things John Was Wrong About" because you couldn't ask for a nicer, more hospitable group than the 30+ people who attended the meeting. I played a bit of a trick on them. I was supposed to discuss my background, my photography, that sort of thing. And I did, very briefly. But then I talked about the "No More Second Hand Art" philosophy that I have found so interesting. I didn't explain it very well, but people got it and we ended up having a lively discussion about various aspects of creativity. It was a lot of fun, and I'm so glad I was part of it. My new goal: stop being afraid of stupid things!