Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas Music From Hell

Is there really a "hell?"  If so, is it under where we stand or right here?  Is it reserved for after we die, those of us who deserve eternal torture, or is it served up to us, unawares, during the span of our unsuspecting, innocent lives?

I am an innocent man, goes the song.  Well, really, I am!

But yesterday I was subjected to a unique form of hell as I walked into an establishment that was providing continuous background music of the Christmas variety.  For me, if not for you, Reader, HELL is having to overhear a recording of Wayne Newton's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.

You may adore Wayne Newton for all I know.  I don't really care.  It's not your hell but mine that I describe here.

Hell has rooms!  It's not a single place of flame, stadium nachos, stale cookies, or roadkillburgers.  If the first room features inescapable Wayne Newton, the second is a gallery of Johnny Mathis singing Sleigh Ride for all eternity, with a larynx so high and tight that the listener suffers sympathetic strangulation, though not enough to lose consciousness.

Bob Dylan's Christmas from the Heart CD is too awful for Hell.  It doesn't serve the purpose of eternal torture.  If I had to listen to any track all the way through I would be dead before the end, even if I were dead already.  I am a Bob Dylan fan, but with exceptions.

Jingle Bell Rock is well-suited to hell, and I expect to hear it many times in the coming weeks.  I don't think I'll hear Gene Autry sing "Here comes Santy Claus" very much, and it's so bad it's acceptable.  Elvis's Blue Christmas is not hellish at all but is a piece of family history around here.  I discovered the meaning of "going ballistic" long before that was a trite expression when I proposed that my father give me the Elvis Christmas Album for Christmas.

There are innumerable recordings that never should have been made for Christmas, but they are sometimes just so bad they engender laughter, which has no place in Hell.  I think of the spectacular bungle that is an arrangement of "Lo how a rose ere blooming" for Sting.  His constricted, constipational delivery makes me wince with laugh-loathing.

And yet he sounds sincere, and I have to remember that someone loves Sting, somewhere, if not for his singing.  I just had to interrupt that CD.  Painful, but not torture.

I am unaware of a Guns 'n' Roses Christmas Album or a Blessed Holidays With the Doors album or any recording by the Al Qaida Children's Peace Choir.  If these exist, they may be contenders for my personal Hell.  Until I learn of more bad music there will be Andy Williams hugging the life out of me with It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A New Front Door

Our fall project began modestly, as all epics do, with the simple phrase, "we have to replace this %^&#$ door."  The front door, you see, was not easily locked, once you got it open for the FexEx man or the insurance salesman, the young helper, or the scout.  You had to lift mightily on the door handle to make the deadbolt seat properly.  Opening the companion door required a hammer and screwdriver to force a vertical deadbolt up, and the same tools to force it down again when you wanted to close the door.

As long as we were going to replace the door, it was reasoned here, we should also correct the front stoop and the slanted step leading to it.  Here's what the stoop looked like on one of our inspection tours before we took possession of the house in 2010.

You can see the cement work left a lot to be desired,  and you can make out the oval door glass that seemed to belong to a house of some other style.

Kathy designed a set of two broad landings to replace the one slanted step.  The landings would be flanked by low block walls to provide visual balance to the new sense of mass leading to the front entrance.  The work began in the last week of September.  I've covered the early stages in previous blogs.  I'm going to pick up the story on November 15 and show the final week of the project.

The picture below shows the new facing board supporting the door frame.

The old facing board had been eaten away by termites long before we bought the house.  The previous owners had subscribed to a pest control program and had replaced a two-by-four beneath the floor joists behind this facing board.  Our house inspector had noted the two-by-four and the evidence of termite damage during a look at the basement.  At that time it wasn't possible to see the damage to the facing board.  Once the Branco team exposed it, we could see light through that board from the basement.

The ends of the floor joists had been chewed as well, so the builders had to create a load-bearing wall to support the end of the joists.  The old door had been a devil to close because the structure beneath it had sagged.  Here's Tim Yankow finishing the attachments of the new load-bearing structure.

Naturally, we didn't imagine what we'd get into as soon as we dismantled the old door, but this has been our "house story" from before we moved in.

Steve Brandt worked on making a perfectly square new frame to receive the new door.  What you see in the picture below is the new opening as well as work to restore the columns on either side of the door and to add electrical boxes to serve the new outside lights.

With a little time to spare that day, Steve and Tim started work on sloping the ground away from the new wall.

November 16

Steve continued finish work on the support structure for the new door frame.  He pieced in cement board, covered it with a piece of brown composite deck board to match the color of the new door frame, and installed flashing to assure that the new support structure would shed water.

November 17-18

Steve took advantage of great weekend weather to install the new LED lights along the walkway and following the curve of the far garden.

You can see how the far garden's curve meets the long walkway.  In poetry, the two-syllable combination named a trochee is indicated by a long horizontal stroke followed by a curved stroke.  The word "baby" is a trochee.  When you look at this long walkway followed by a curve you're not just witnessing "poetry in landscaping," you're witnessing a work of homage to our previous home in University City.  The bay window of the kitchen provided the "unstressed syllable" to the right of the straight line of the dining room wall.  I used that image to design the gardens in back yard at that house.  Here's Steve looking suitably unstressed as he connects wiring in the unstressed part of the landscape trochee.

The lights are following the curve of that bed, a curve which won't be visible until we cover some of the dirt in the foreground with new sod.

November 19

After laying base material and covering it with sand, Steve began to lay pavers on the landing.

He used the same pavers and the same pattern he followed a year ago when he built our patio below the new deck.  Tim operated a stone-cutting saw to cut pavers to fit at the edges.  The cut below is one of my favorite pieces in the landing.

Steve knew this pattern well enough to get the job done fast. In just a few hours, his part was finished.

Steve's father Carl then fitted the new pieces of cedar to complete the columns on either side of the front door.

November 20

Steve arrived with six yards of topsoil in his trailer and spent part of the morning establishing the new slanted grade for the lawn in front of the landings and walkway.  The front yard is full of low areas that drain poorly after rain showers.  We wanted to keep the storm water out in the middle of the yard.

Once the topsoil was laid down, Tim worked on smoothing it out while Steve and Carl removed the old door frame and the famous oval windows.

Then came a fateful moment: bringing the new door frame from the laundry room, where it had been painted and varnished, to its point of attachment.

They brought it outside and then eased it into place...

And when it didn't fit perfectly, Steve shaved microns of wood from the bottom of the supporting wood to achieve a remarkable, snug fit!

You can tell he's a happy man as the sun goes down.

At this point he didn't know that he had another hour's work ahead of him.  When he put the door on the hinges he discovered that the factory carpenters had positioned the opening for the tongue of the doorknob a fraction of an inch too high, so the door wouldn't click into place.  I bit of tweaking with a utility knife and chisel resulted in another perfect fit, leaving one more day's work to finish off the framing inside the house and clean up the construction site.

November 21

I had called Daniel's Farm and Nursery yesterday as soon as Steve finished putting down the topsoil. I gave them an estimate of the area to be sodded and Daniel called the turf farm in time to assure a delivery of three pallets of sod first thing.  Last night a fog moved in while I was at chorus rehearsal. Getting from the city out to the Missouri River was no problem at all, but as I approached the river valley I saw the heaviest fog I've seen in sixteen years.  The fog was still hanging around at nine in the morning when Daniel's crew arrived with the sod.

They started at the "unstressed syllable" and defined the curve of the garden and then worked down the walkway.

With five helpers, he made quick work of the job.

Then it's break out the hose and tamp down the edges.

Around eleven, the fog burned off.

The garage had served as a staging area for lumber, saws, and assorted equipment.

Carl spent the morning finishing the trim pieces in front.

Steve worked on trim for the inside.

He started his cleanup around 4 on the day before Thanksgiving while Carl and Tim policed the outdoor area and packed their trucks with equipment and tools.  Steve put the pictures back up on the walls and I rolled out the carpets and took this last picture of the finished door.

And it opens and closes with an ease you wouldn't believe!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Daylilies in Autumn

Today there is the red of Burning Bushes to enjoy and the last taste of mild weather before the quietude of Thanksgiving and the shift from outdoor work to gym work.  In the foreground is a section of what may be my future daylily registrations.  They are lined out as if I'm serious about them.  At this stage of the evaluation process, the ones that don't make a case for themselves are dug out to make room for the next class of contenders. Notice the dark green rows of plants on the far right, and the brownish plants next to them.

Now let's examine those unsightly brown plants.

The yellow color you see is the natural "autumn" of a daylily that is going into dormancy, but the "paper bag" color is what's left of the leaves that were invaded by daylily rust in mid-September.  Rust broke out in a bed about twelve feet away on a couple of seedlings that arrived from the Deep South in April.  The seedlings arrived with rust within the leaves, though none was visible.

An outbreak of rust spores on the surface of the leaves only happens when the leaves are wet and the temperature is in the seventies.  We didn't have those conditions until September, so there was no visible rust.  Once it breaks out, the spores are carried on the wind or on the coats of passing animals or the clothing of gardeners.

Daylily rust lives only in the green leaves of the plant.  When the single-digit temperatures of winter kill the foliage down to the ground, the rust dies with it.

I'd have to admit that the seedling above shows "high susceptibility" to rust and that nothing much good can come from saving it for further evaluation, so I'll dig it out this weekend.

It is amazing to me that the rust spread into this "futures" bed but did not make much headway.  The photo below shows the rows of plants that were closer to the source of the rust outbreak.

 You would think that if wind carried the spores into the heavily affected rows, the spores surely would have landed on these "clean" plants.  The lack of yellow in these leaves indicates that the foliage is of the "evergreen" type, and I know from experience with this seedling that it's quite hardy in our winters.  The foliage has withstood a couple of below-30 freezes at this point, and I expect it will take several hours in the low twenties to really make these plants collapse for the winter.  I love seeing plants this healthy in mid-November!

I hesitate to say that I have a bed that is mostly "resistant" to rust.  All I can say about this row of plants is that I have not yet seen them affected by a rust outbreak in the same bed.

Here's a look at the sort of "plant habit" I like.  This is a small clump of my SYMPHONY CHORUS lined out for sale.

I see three husky fans growing at slightly different angles, the foliage looking quite healthy and evergreen.  This has proven hardy and vigorous, with blossom presentation that makes a clump something dazzling.

Next to it is a very tough evergreen, MOM'S MIRTH.  It survived a December transplant in an emergency about ten years ago, when it was a new seedling under evaluation.

Again, I notice the vibrant appearance of these big fans coming up in several planes from the center point of the clump.  MOM'S MIRTH generally looks as if it is springing to life.

This final picture of is a showy greenish-yellow seedling from OMOMUKI X (BRAZILIAN EMERALD X VICTORIAN LACE).

The yellow shows it's going into dormancy, but the interest is the number of fans.  This was lined out as double fans in 2011, and this little clump needs to be divided and lined out again after just two seasons of growth.  I know this is a nice landscaping plant when planted in a mass, as that's what things look like in a line-out bed with short rows.  I also know this makes tall scapes with nice branching and lots of pods when breeding with it.

With temperatures holding mild through Sunday, Kathy and I will plant spring bulbs this weekend and pick the salad vegetables that have grown to eating size!