Gardening Improvements

We’ve spent the last couple of days on gardening chores. Yesterday I picked up some flowers and vegetables and the girls and I attacked our forlorn container by the front porch and our small vegetable patch. We took “before” and “after” pictures because it’s so immensely satisfying to document accomplishments, no matter how small.

Container Before

That’s what’s greeted visitors for the last several weeks.

Container After


We moved to the vegetable garden, where I started by picking up all those freakin’ helicopter/whirly birds, and J took another “before” picture.

Garden Before

We have a plastic snake because it’s supposed to help scare off critters in a non-poisonous way. I’m not sure if it really does scare any critters, but it scares the hell out of Mary every single time.

Garden After, but also still Before

Ah! Lush, rich dark soil. Let’s get planting!

We planted tomatoes, watermelon, broccoli, basil, cilantro, arugula, &  red leaf lettuce. We still need to add some pickling cucumbers (because we love homemade pickles) and some carrots (J’s request). Even though we love gardening (and if you don’t garden with your kids, you should totally start–among other things, it’s a great way to encourage vegetable consumption), we’ve been discouraged the last few years, because our yard just doesn’t have a lovely, sunny space for a gardening like we had at our previous house.

In fact, the whole pathetic garden issue was part of a recent “shame spiral” conversation Cute W and I were having lately about our house. “Shame spiral” is a phrase that we picked up from Brittany Murphy (RIP) and Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Basically, it’s become shorthand for whenever we’re discouraged, grouchy, and generally in need of an attitude adjustment.

We’re often in a shame spiral about our house. We both think that it’s fundamentally ugly, which is annoying. What makes this more difficult is that our previous house (a mere mile or two away) was beautiful, with a larger yard and a giant deck. It was new, spacious, and excellent for parties. But the neighborhood was unfriendly and un-walkable. The school system was fine, but we were friends with a bunch of people in two other school systems and knew hardly anyone whose kids would be going to school with ours. Also, we bought that house with the expectation that I’d be going back to work soon, and then that changed. So five years ago, we moved to a wonderful, friendly, walkable neighborhood that contained marginally cheaper and much older and smaller houses.  I want to be the kind of person who is happy with a smaller house and less stuff. I want my kids growing up walking to school, and I think it’s better to make big choices based on community and relationships instead of things.  I’m also a real believer in faking something until you make it. For example, when I’m in a bad mood, I smile anyway, because if I keep smiling, eventually I’ll feel like smiling. So we moved because living in a smaller house was more in line with the kind of people we wanted to be. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t look at our nasty asphalt and siding and pine for the old party deck and tasteful brick exterior. Sigh.

So the other day Cute W was moaning that our house is a blight on our community, and it’s not. Absolutely not.  As I pointed out, we’ve pretty much only improved this house. When we moved in, there were these horrifying plastic awnings jutting out from one side, and an iron fence that our neighbors used to call “the yard”–like a prison yard. And we installed a tree swing: always a delightful addition.  So it’s not like we arrived and the place went to hell. No.  But also? I see his point. It’s not the cutest house on the block–it’s not even in the top two-thirds.

For a while we had grand plans of adding a gorgeous wraparound porch or re-siding the whole place, but consultations with architects and builders have destroyed those notions. Still, something had to be done, and now that we know that we’re absolutely too cheap to ever win the This Old House Curb Appeal Contest (where, hello! everybody‘s Before would still kick our After’s butt), it was time to think small. So I crossed the street and stood gazing at the house, and a neighbor struck up a half-hour conversation. Which seemed to be The Universe with a heartening reminder of why we live here.

Then I conferred with Cute W, and we decided that the most dramatic cheap thing that we could do was remove the four massive shrubs (yew, maybe?) that we’ve hated since we arrived in this house.

Heinous Shrub

For a while we wondered if anyone might want these if we removed them intact and left them on the curb. After some consideration, though, Cute W headed to the garage for the chain saw.

Cute W's manly attack on the shrub

Hacking at the massive shrubs meant that we located some long-lost belongings.

Hey! I wondered where that flip flop went!

We also created, briefly, some modern art.

Possible Modern Sculpture

Its Ephemeral Nature is part of our Artistic Statement. I was really excellent at BS essays in college, and I swear that I could knock out a four-page art analysis of this piece that would receive an excellent grade. Instead, I’m sharing my talent with you through blogging. You’re welcome.

We spent quite a bit of time sawing and clearing branches, then digging and chopping and sawing roots. So far, we’ve only completely removed one.

Triumph! One root bundle extracted!

Then the chain saw burst into tears and begged to rest, and Cute W and I obliged, because we still had to pick something up for dinner. We lined up a huge pile of shrubbery carnage at the curb.

Curbside pick up (crossing our fingers!)

We’re not entirely sure that the town will take it all. We speculated about possible methods of ensuring pick-up. Should Cute W call the town offices? Should I run out to the truck wearing a tight, low-cut shirt? Should we hope that the town’s desire for a clean street for next week’s Niska-Day will make them magnanimous? We’ll see what happens.

Finally, after cleaning up, we enjoyed an end-of-the-day treat when a neighbor invited us to see some of the kids head off to prom. I bet no one would have done that in our old neighborhood.

J leans against Cute W taking photos of our neighbor and friends


  1. Cheri

    I’ve been meaning to tell you I met a colleague who lives further down the road from you. When I told her our good friends live there also, and described you by saying, “You know the ones with the cute swing and even cuter girls running around?”, she knew exactly which house was yours and expressed her admiration from afar. See?

  2. Michelle

    I’m honestly surprised to hear that you don’t love your house! ‘Cause I kinda do.
    Your house is adorable, and your neighborhood is fantastic. I love that your kids can walk to school and I wasn’t feeding you a line when I asked for the paint color swatch from your dining room. I didn’t get a grand tour or anything, but what I saw, I thought was cute – definitely NOT a blemish on your ‘hood.

    Also: three cheers for your plantings! We’ve been meaning to get planting done but it seems like something else always comes up.

  3. @Cheri, Oh! That’s nice to hear. I said to Cute W, “Seriously, it’s not like we’ve got a rusting car on cement blocks. We have adorable kids swinging on a tree swing!” But it’s lovely to have back-up!

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