A cockapoo and a crowbar

Ok, so I admit that I'm taking some artistic leeway with the title of this post.  Murphy is most definitely NOT a cockapoo.  But we sure do love calling him that every now and then....

Anyway, this past Saturday it was the first demolition weekend at DH's rental property.  I was going because back in January when I was begging him to go on vacation with me this summer, I promised that I would help at with the renovation so that he could take a week off to go to Mexico. 

Usually hard manual labor makes me cranky.  But on this particular weekend I allowed myself to get plenty of sleep, and we kept my work load to just around 5 and a half hours, which fell just under my crank threshold. 

Anyway, I mentioned that we were doing demo, right?  But what you might not know is that when a Hartman does demo, he's not messing around.

Case in point - the kitchen. (Or, the room formerly known as The Kitchen.)

The whole house is basically coming down. 

You can see a video of the man in action here:

My least favorite part was going to the bathroom while watching DH walk around in the kitchen a floor down.  Definitely scary....

What did I do all day? Well, first I pulled up carpet tack strips in 5 large bedrooms.  Then I rolled and bagged all of the carpet padding.  Finally, I used a bizarre tool to remove multiple layers of flooring, including some linoleum straight out of the 60's. 

We ended the day when DH pulled down a ceiling that creating so much black dust that I ran out of the house and stood on the porch, and it was like the black smoke monster from Lost was coming out that doorway.  Then came this scary looking dust-covered man wearing a mask and making crazy breathing noises and I was sure that it was Desmond coming out of the hatch!!  Oh wait, it's just my husband...

So we gathered up our white dog, who was now by this point totally gray, and hit the road.  We have more demolition to look forward to tomorrow morning, followed by a trip to St. Marys for Memorial Day weekend!


Gardening week is running into it's second week now, since there is still so much to tell you about!  We've worked harder this year than ever before on trying to make our yard and gardens look amazing, and I want to make sure that I cover it all.

So now it's time to talk about fruit.  Last year we purchased 50 strawberry plants and 3 blueberry bushes. 

 Our strawberry plants, covered in - you guessed it! - straw

DH ate the first 4 strawberries of the season yesterday and he said that were the best berries that he's ever eaten in his life.  Maybe they were really that good, or maybe he was just starving, but either way, I'm glad that they were tasty!  I don't eat strawberries (when I was younger they used to give me hives, so I avoid them now, just to be safe) but I loved planting them and watching them grow. 

But they look awesome!
Strawberries are wildly satisfying to plant, because you plant them in the spring and by late summer you have twice as many plants.  They're a lot of work and need a lot of love, but for some reason I don't mind that, because they're so pretty and productive.  After 3 full months of pinching off all of the flowers last year (you're supposed to pinch them off so that the new plant spends it's energy on growing strong, instead of producing fruit.  Apparently producing fruit can be exhausting for a plant.)  I like plants that produce noticeable results relatively quickly, so if you're like me, I highly recommend strawberry plants.

Blueberry plants, on the other hand, require a lot more patience.  We ordered 3 blueberry plants last year and I'm going to say that we'll get 10, maybe 15 blueberries from those 3 plants.

If the birds and bugs don't eat them first.... 

One of our 3 plants from last year was fairly well destroyed by the snow this winter, and although he's now showing some signs of bouncing back, we decided that we needed to invest in a few more blueberry plants.  This worked out well, since we had decided to purchase some for my mom for mother's day since the plants she had purchased the year before didn't seem to be doing too well either. 

Can you see 6 plants in there?  No? Well, that's why I'm saying blueberry plants aren't very fun if you're into quick growing things... 

So now we have this beautiful blueberry garden.  In a couple of years those plants that you can't even see will be enormous 6 foot high hedges FULL of blueberries!  And that means that this plant....

... will have more than one measly berry on it.  Are you excited?!?! I sure am!!!

Back to Verizon

DH and I are pretty unfaithful when it comes to our commitment to our cable provider - we have literally no sense of commitment to either of them. We're fortunate, really, because we live outside of the city limits, so we have the option of choosing between Comcast or Verizon (and I suppose we could also choose between Dish Network and Direct TV, but I don't really count them as cable providers.)

A totally ridiculous picture of our television that I took on New Year's Eve 2008, when they had a midget jump against a screen in an effort to get Betty White to flinch

But neither Comcast or Verizon has ever done anything to earn our loyalty, so we like to keep them competing for our attention.  You see, as soon as we agree to go out on a date with Comcast, Verizon bats her eyes at us and tries to lure us to come back.  If Comcast doesn't take us to a nice restaurant, or Verizon offers to cook dinner for us, we'll go back without a second thought.  We enjoy pitting them against each other, and catching them in their own lies ("Why didn't you call us before switching so that we could offer you the same deal?"  Ummm... we DID call you before switching and you DID NOT offer us the same deal, or even anything remotely close to it. See ya.)  We're television infidelity at it's best, and as far as I'm concerned, we'll be that way forever.

I like to think that we're keeping those guys who have to come to your house to do the installation gainfully employed.  Every six months or so we get to meet a new one, and Murphy usually tries to bite their foot off.  Sometimes I think that I should let him, although I need to remind myself that it's not the installation guys' fault that the company he works for sucks.

Here's the rundown on our most recent interactions with these 2 companies.
  1. We got a flyer from Verizon offering a great rate. 
  2. We called Verizon to sign up "great rate" and they told that "great rate" doesn't exist.  "But I have a flyer in my hand that you sent me."
  3. Verizon "checks" on that rate and confirms that they can make it work.  Great - let's set that up.
  4. Call Comcast to cancel.  They say that since there's now a "port hold" on our phone number that they can't cancel our order. We'll have to physically drive to the customer service center in the West End when we want to cancel. Jerks. 
  5. Verizon sends a confirmation e-mail of the new order and the rates are $20 more that the "great rate" on the flyer. Double jerks.
  6. Multiple customer service representatives tell us that there's "no way to see what rate you're signed up." Really? Aren't you sitting in front of a computer looking at my order?  The same customer service representatives tell us to "just wait for your first bill and see what the rate is then."  Yeah right.  AFTER the installation? So you can then charge us the $375 early termination fee when we're pissed that you're billing us a higher rate that we agreed to?
  7. We cancel the Verizon installation when we're unable to get confirmation of the rate that we agreed to.
  8. We get a bill from Comcast letting us know that our rate is going up from $113 to $177 per month.  How convenient it is that a rate increase just "happened" a week after we told you we were going to cancel?
  9. We get a new offer from Verizon.  We decide to check the rates online first to see if it's real.  We find an even better price online than the new offer.  I
  10. We proceed with the order but can't find anything about the term of the contract.  OH! I see, that's the catch.  It's a 2 year contract, but the price is guaranteed for the full 2 years and it's less than $100 - aka $75 LESS than we're now being billed by Comcast.
  11. I chat with a Verizon rep to find out what would happen if we needed to cancel.  She basically tells me - in so many words - that "the cancellation fee is $375 but that I don't need to worry, if you do this or do this then you won't be charged, so please proceed with the order."  
  12. I save the entire chat conversation so that I have it when I need to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.  
But ultimately we did get the rate that we signed up for and we're now back with Verizon once again.  Only this time we're sworn to being together for 2 full years!  Dear god this is going to be hard for us!

The good news is that Verizon's On Demand features are slightly more extensive than Comcast's, including the full evening line-up on ABC (ABC isn't even offered on Comcast's On Demand.)

So, this might be the last that you'll hear me complain about cable companies for a long, long time (because 2 years is FOREVER when you're talking cable company relationships.)  But after all of the hassle that we went through the past 2 months, I think I'm ready to settle down....

And that brings us to today.  We are now, once again, living with Verizon, and Comcast won't be welcomed back into our lives for at least 2 more years.

It's sort of a blessing really.  I had to waste 2 vacation days on the debacle that was the initial (failed) Verizon installation and then the most recent one as well, because they don't install on weekends at all.  Then I had to drive to the West End, and let me tell you, if I never have to go to the West End ever again, it will still be too soon.  That whole "West End Circle" traffic pattern is a disaster waiting to happen (and in fact, I'm sure that many disasters have already happened there.)

Lost - Reflections

Monday night we finally finished watching the season finale of Lost.

I'm not going to say much right now.  I need to process a little more before I put more of my thoughts out there.  But here is my initial observation....

On Sunday - literally ALL DAY SUNDAY - Twitter and Facebook were all abuzz about Lost.  People predicting what was going to happen.  People just exclaiming how excited they were to watch it.  Literally everyone was writing about Lost.  And the people who weren't writing about Lost?  Well, we all just ignored their stupid non-Lost posts and moved on to the other Lost posts.  The energy was palpable; I was getting exciting just being online!

So, the next day I was excited!   Monday morning I woke up and quickly logged in to both Facebook and Twitter to see what people were saying (yes, I admit that was probably stupid since I hadn't seen the last hour and a half, and I risked the possibility of reading huge spoilers, but I was anxious.)  I was expecting every single post to be about how amazing the finale was! Or how sad they were that it was over...

But the reality?  No one was really saying much of anything.  There was an occasional post here or there, saying something vague or uninteresting, but I didn't get it.  Where was the hype?

And now I know why.... there just wasn't much to say.  I don't want to say that I hated the ending - I need to process it a bit more before that sort of statement.   But I can definitely say without question that the finale was not what I was expecting.  For a show that was so amazing, so mysterious, so intense, and so intelligent... to just say "they were dead.  The end," seems like sort of a cop out to me.  Seriously???  Lost fans were saying that they were dead on fan boards three seasons or more seasons ago!  That's the best the writers could come up with?

And I walked away with so many unanswered questions, which I will cover in a post later on once I put together a list.  So yeah... I'm a little disappointed.  And I didn't have a single urge to go to any of the social media sites to say anything amazing about the finale, and I'm pretty sure a lot of other fans felt that way as well.... There just wasn't anything to say.  

So now that it's over and done with and gone forever, I can't help feeling just a little bit sad.  Or rather, maybe I should say that I feel lost...

Where should I start?  Well, first let me say that I was a big Lost fan.  I didn't start watching it right from the beginning but really got into it after the third season.  I spent an entire summer watching one episode per day online during my lunch break - when others were outside enjoying the sun, I was inside watching Hawaiian sunshine on my computer screen.  It took some time and a lot of prodding but I finally convinced DH to start watching during the fifth season.  We started the Season 1 discs through Netflix and I watched everything for a second time while he watched for the first.

Have you ever watched something a second time and marveled at how much new information you were able to notice the second time around?  I was floored.  I always thought that Lost was a smart, intriguing show, but the second time around it's even more so because you notice a lot of the little details that you didn't see the first time.  Quirky things, like how many times "the numbers" showed up in various

Do you know where your garbage goes? (Or, "On Strip Clubs, Dumps, and Drunk Yinzers")

Hi. It's husband, excited to write my very first guest blog. I'm not normally inclined to share my stories with the world, mostly because chronicling life candidly usually constitutes an occupational hazard for high school teachers like me. But some tales need to be told, and this is one of them ...

When I'm not pretending to be an upstanding teacher, I'm renovating rental properties. And on my recent weekends, I've been doing just that. Currently, I'm gutting portions of a 5-bedroom house, which obviously creates a lot of garbage.

This brings us to the "transfer station." A transfer station is like a knock-off landfill. You go there, give them $55, and then throw all of your junk out of your pick-up truck and onto their floor. Later, some heavy equipment is used to transport that garbage to the real landfill, which is much farther away and no less expensive. So, I use the transfer station a lot, except that it's not open on Sundays.

So, this Sunday, I brought my garbage home with me, and parked the truck proudly in our driveway. It looked slightly less ridiculous than this load from last year:

On Monday, I rushed home from teaching so I could drive my over-filled truck to the transfer station before closing time. Driving a pick-up laden somewhat beyond its theoretical weight limits is a little bit scary... it's hard to see other vehicles, the back end fish-tails if you go too fast, and you suffer from the constant fear that one tiny piece of lathe will fly out of the bed, land nail-up, and cause a 60-car pile-up that makes global headlines. Or at least I do.

To make matters worse, I got lost briefly on the way there. But I arrived, and in plenty of time to dump the garbage before their 4:45 p.m. closing. The only problem: The transfer station was on fire. Or, more accurately, some garbage inside the transfer station was on fire. But the end result was the same: I couldn't dump my garbage. Head hung low, I drove home. My trash's route to the dump now covered more than 75 miles.

Surely, my Tuesday trek would go better. I called in advance - no fires today - and got an early start toward my destination. Which brings us to our destination:

You probably don't have a transfer station in your neighborhood, unless your neighborhood lost some major NIMBY battles in the past. So McKees Rocks might not be the most affluent neighborhood ever. In addition to the transfer station, it's home to a lot of heavy manufacturing, as well as two really sleazy-looking strip clubs (one of which may be closed, and both of which look sorta closed).

Regardless, it's a fine place to dump trash on the floor. And I was within 100 yards of the trash-dumpin'-haven when I saw a flurry of police and TV news activity in the strip-club parking lot. It turns out that an undercover officer had just shot a suspect after that suspect allegedly tried to run him over with a vehicle. (I learned this later in the PG, of course). Sad for those involved, but it looked as though it wouldn't befuddle my dumping dreams.

I passed the police and TV cameras, drove another 100 feet, and slowed to turn left into the transfer station.
Amidst heavy traffic in both directions, I glanced in my rear-view mirror, worried that police-gawking could cause someone to rear-end me. Fortunately, the pick-up truck behind me also slowed and then stopped as I waited to turn. Unfortunately, the semi truck behind him continued traveling at about 30 m.p.h.

The chain-reaction jolt was sharp and severe, and sent my truck several dozen feet ahead, even with the brakes on. Since this is the second time someone has thought to rear-end me, I reacted relatively quickly. Despite an instant-headache and back-ache, I got out of the vehicle quickly to check on the other pick-up driver, who was acting as the meat to our smushed-truck sandwich.

The pick-up driver was slow to open his door, which provided several scary seconds as the nearby police officers ran toward us. When he did open the door, the police and I were both surprised to note the intense scent of beer erupting from the truck.

Let's review: I'm hauling garbage for the third day in a row. I'm in front of a strip club, next to dozens of police officers and all major local media outlets. I've just been involved in a car accident with a drunk guy and a semi truck. It's 4:10 p.m. on a Tuesday.

I do have to commend the Stowe Police Department here, since I'm pretty sure their 30-second response time is unbeatable. They took the report, and I think they found that the fault was with the driver of the semi truck. Turns out the drunken pickup guy had just gotten off work 10 minutes prior. And although he was in fact drinking as he drove, he was on his first beer.

The stench came from the fact that his icy cooler of beer flew into the front windshield and shattered several of the bottles. I could see things going much worse for him ... and maybe they still will ... but at least it was nice for me to be comfortably in the position of "by far the least guilty and most upstanding of everyone involved in this accident." I'm actually getting that title inscribed on a plaque I ordered to commemorate my selfless heroism today.

So, 90 miles, one fire emergency, one police shooting, and one three-truck pile-up later, I was able to dump my garbage. At this rate, I will be done the renovation project in 2034.

I hope you've enjoyed my tale of woe, and learned a valuable lesson, even if I don't have any idea what that lesson might be. Just don't expect this guest blogging to mature into a Private-Practice-esque synergistic spinoff. I'm hoping my future dump trips aren't nearly as exciting as this one was. Plus, Private Practice isn't any good in the first place. If I'm going to be a spinoff, I demand to be considered on par with A Different World ... or at least Saved by the Bell The College Years.

Life - You just can't make this stuff up

There have been numerous occasions when I've tried to convince DH to be a guest blogger here on The New Hartman.  After all, he was the editor-in-chief of a 14,000 daily circulation college newspaper, a writing major, is now an English teacher, and in general is just a far better writer and communicator than I am.

Well, the time has finally come.  DH had such a ridiculously bizarre experience today that he called me to say, "I'm ready to write a guest blog."


So, get ready for it, because it's coming tomorrow!  And as a teaser, here are just a few elements that will part of his exciting story:
  • A strip club
  • A garbage dump
  • A drunk yinzer
If that's not enough to whet your appetite, then I'm never inviting you to my house for dinner!

Two Years Ago Today....

Was Saturday, May 24, 2008.  It was also our wedding day!

I seriously can't believe that it's already been two full years.  Even though I generally think that time passes rather slowly (great example - this past winter, the longest, slowest, most painful example of time passing EVER) when I look back on big events like our wedding day it really does feel like the time has flown by.

Much like today, the weather back in 2008 was beautiful.  Totally amazing.  Blue skies, white clouds, not a single drop of rain.

Tonight, to celebrate, we went out for dinner, and then DH took me pillow shopping, since apparently the 2 year anniversary is the "cotton" anniversary. 

Happy Anniversary, DH! I love you, and look forward to many more anniversary's to come (and our second honeymoon in Mexico this summer!)

Biggest bug ever

This is a picture of the really big bug I killed this morning.  It was IN MY BEDROOM!!!

I tried to take a picture of it not dead, but it started running away, and I screamed and then impulsively killed it.  In case you can't tell it had 4 million legs and mile long tentacles.  My husband wasn't around to do it for me so I had to take matters into my own hands.

Oh, and did I mention that this is SECOND bug of this nature to make an appearance in our bedroom???  It's time to get serious....

An "Artist's Rendering"

So, all of the dormant plants have been planted.   And our hill basically still looks like this.

Doesn't look like much, does it?

But here is an artist's rendering of what it SHOULD look like, assuming that all of the many "dead" plants actually make it.  This is also assuming that 10+ years pass, since I'm pretty sure that's how long it takes for twigs to become plants that look like this.

Dog not included

Nice, isn't it???  I really hope that some day I can look back on this picture and say to myself, "Wow, I can't believe that it actually turned out just like artist's rendering."

Here's what you're looking at from top to bottom:
- Rose of Sharon
- Dogwoods
- Blazing Liatris (purple things)
- intermixed with Blue Oat Grass (brown stuff)
- Lilies
- Creeping Phlox

And because this is a perennial garden, all of those things should come back each and every year.  The only maintenance we'll need to do is some occasional weeding and we'll probably have to either cultivate the mulch or add new mulch every year or so.

Some of the plants, such as the lilies and the liatris, are supposed to spread so maybe in a couple of years, I'll be able to give away some of the things that I planted!

Wanted: Quarry Truck Driver

Did I ever tell you that we live on top of a rock quarry? I didn't? Well, let me tell you right here and now - we apparently live on top of a rock quarry.

We've known for a while now that our soil was pretty crappy.  But it wasn't until we started actually tilling it up that the true reality hit us.

We live on a rock quarry.

Do you see all of those rocks??? 

Would you prefer a close-up?

Picking all of those rocks (and I'm not even mentioning all of the roots) out of the garden bed was horrible, back-breaking work.  I declared intense hatred on all things rock.  We hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of rock to the edge of our property, and now we just have a pretty trashy looking rock pile at the edge of our yard.  What do you DO with so many rocks that you want to get rid of? 

After my initial wave of rock hatred, I suggested that we just skip planting altogether and just do a rock garden, but DH wouldn't have it.

At some point we just said "enough is enough - we've gotten all of the rocks that we can."  But even after that I was still finding more massive rocks with each every hole that I tried to dig.

No wonder our first tiller died within 10 days... it was probably begging to die, based on the torture that we were putting it through in this rock quarry. 

So, if you're thinking of starting a rock garden, or have any interest in some rocks, let me know! I'm your girl!

Election Day

Yesterday was the Pennyslvania primary, and although I am not a very political person I vote, mostly because DH strongly encourages me to do so.  So I went, even though I did not feel particularly strongly about any of the candidates, and fortunately there were no long lines (during the presidential election I had to wait in line for over an hour.) 

I have a couple of gripes with the voting process though.  I'm not sure if this is how it is at all districts, or just mine. 

First of all, when you walk in the door they say, "Are you a Democrat or a Republican?" to which you need to respond out loud.  In a district where the Republican's greatly outnumber the Democrats, I feel like I get dirty looks when I'm forced to say "Democrat," so that they can pull my voter card out of the appropriate. 

Secondly, I changed my name a year and a half ago, and they STILL have my voter registration under my maiden name.  The woman at the polling place did not seem to be surprised. She said, "Oh, a year and a half? That's not enough time..." as if it should have been obvious to me that I would still be listed under my maiden name.  How can government offices be so bad at what they do?

Thirdly, I feel like the voting area needs to allow for more confidentiality.  Again, things might be different at other places, but I remember back in the day when they had the old school voting booths, they had a curtain that you closed while you were voting.  You could at least take your time and not feel pressured to hurry through.  But now, with the electronic voting machines (which I think overall are a GREAT improvement) they're just little screens on wheels, placed basically side by side to each.  While voting, I have to stand facing the line of people waiting, and it seems like they're just STARING at me... probably because they heard I'm a Democrat, right?  And then, when the guy next to me was done voting he walked right behind me and they brought the next person right behind me as well.  I know that it's not a test or anything, and that it's not like there's any cheating going on, but I had to fight the urge to "cover my paper" while they were walking by.  Voting is supposed to be personal, right?  Should they really be taking people behind me where they have full view of my screen?

So that's my beef with the voting process.  In general, I think the whole election process is a little bizarre, and I do believe that the candidates that have the most money are more likely to get elected, which isn't really how it's supposed to work.  But I'm pretty sure I'll keep voting, as long as DH keeps telling me who to vote for.

Perhaps I should send these gripes on to my elected officials?

My Introduction to Dormancy

With the great wall finished we now found ourselves with a garden nearly 3 times larger than the original garden, and not a single thing to plant in it.

We could have gone to Home Depot to purchase some plants, but I'm pretty sure we would have spent well over $500, which is clearly not in the budget.  So instead I turned to some of the gardening catalogs that I receive at least once a week ever since I order 3 blueberry plants online, and found one to have pretty great prices.

6 hibiscus or 6 Rose of Sharon for $3.99!?!?!  20 lilies for $7.49??  40 blazing star liatris for $3.50?? For those prices, I couldn't say no!!! I placed an enormous order and was thrilled to see that the total only came to $85, which included shipping.

But then the plants arrived, and I was shocked.  The entire "huge" order came in a plastic bag roughly the size of a backpack.  I figured for sure that this was a "partial order," but nope, it was the full order.

Here's what I didn't realize - when you buy plants at Home Depot, they're already awake and alive and flourishing!  Flowering, even!!!  They're large and more mature - for trees they're probably 10 years old!   But when you buy plants from a nursery you get "dormant" plants.  Dormant is a nice way to say "looks dead."

My entire order

The 6 hibiscus that I was so excited about?  Little 5 inch pieces of root.  No leaves, not even any sign of growth or life or anything.  Same for the Rose of Sharon.  There were 6 twigs, a little over a foot long, with a few scraggly dried-up roots at the bottom of the twig.

The six Rose of Sharon "bushes" - HA!

It was sad. I was sad.

But I forged ahead and planted everything, after reading in the "planting guide" that accompanied the plants things like "You're plants are not dead!" or "Please don't return your plants until after 6 weeks."  Apparently this company gets a lot of calls from people who are just slightly less smarter than myself and don't read the booklet to know that the plants are supposedly not dead, but just "dormant."  (I, for one, am not totally convinced yet that they're not dead. They could not look deader.) 

I feel a little stupid, since I should have realized that there was no way I was going to get 6 beautfiul hibiscus plants with full blooms like the picture in the catalog showed, but I was also expecting a lot more than a couple of chopped up roots.  The picture of the pink dogwood tree that I ordered showed an enormous tree that had to be at least 15 feet high.  Obviously I wasn't expecting that either, but I was expecting more than the little 6 inch twig I received.  Assuming it survives, it's going to take a solid 20 years for that tree to look like anything even remotely similar to the tree in the catalog.


But now I know.  And if everything survives and flourishes then I'm going to pat myself on the back for saving at least $400 on plants.  And if some of it doesn't make it.. well, I probably still saved money.   My introduction to dormancy was yet another lesson learned in my quest to be knowledgeable about gardening.  However, in this instance, at least I didn't spend a fortune.

And who knows?  I could be totally proven wrong if all of these plants thrive and bloom.  In fact, I HOPE that I am proven wrong....

The wall is finished

A couple of weeks ago, DH finally finished the "great wall" that we started around Easter.  The delay was due to the fact that he needed to rent a concrete saw in order to make the toppers for the wall curve along the same arc as the rest of the wall.  The main blocks were designed to be able to allow for a curve, but the toppers were not. 

The event looked like perhaps there was a massive pile of leaves on fire, or anything else that you can think of that looks extremely smoky.

It started off alright...but check out this progression of photos.

And then he couldn't take it anymore.

But when it was all said and done, it was beautiful and I took some time to spread out the clumps of hostas that were choking themselves out of existence. 

And thus the completion of the very first gardening project of the season. 

A few thoughts on this project....

As nice as this wall looks, in the end, it probably wasn't worth it.  It cost us well over $500 and a TON of time, for very little return.  The hill behind the wall was so incredibly steep and there was a lot of erosion going on so we needed to do something, but I wish that something could have been a little less expensive.  It's hard when you're trying to budget to throw SO MUCH money on a project that adds relatively little value to your property. 

Oh well - lessons learned.  And now all of a sudden we had an ENORMOUS garden area and zero plants to plant in it... Can you see where this is going??

Gardening Week!

I'm declaring the week of May 16 (this week) gardening week.  After 9 hours of gardening yesterday alone, but at least a handful of hours today, and then counting the numerous hours spent the past couple of weekend and evenings, I have a LOT to write about garending.  If you're not very interested in gardening I'm really sorry - this week is not going to be very exciting for you to read.  But if you ARE into gardening, this week is going to be full of pictures and information!! Woo hoo!

Right now I am at work (yes, I realize it is a Sunday.)  It's just one of a half-dozen or so weekends that I have to work, but fortunately things have been very quiet (knock on wood.)   I just received an e-mail from DH to tell me that his truck broke down in Oakland.  He is my ride, and AAA is on the way, so hopefully it's just the battery and we can still head home at 1:30 as originally planned. 

Wish me luck!

Trying to like tea

It's been 4 days since I've had any coffee and I've decided to use this momentum as an impetus for curbing my addiction to coffee.  Currently, I hate tea.  HATE IT.  Hate the smell, hate the look, hate the taste.

But I'm a firm believer than I convince myself to like anything in the world if I really really want to.  For example, I forced myself to eat broccoli so much that it's now one of my favorite vegetables! I'm currently trying to do the same with asparagus and green beans.  My secret with learning to like vegetables (especially green ones) is to eat them with garlic flavored mashed potatoes.  That's how I did it with broccoli and that's how I'm doing it with asparagus and beans.  Mashed potatoes and steamed veggies from a restaurant usually taste the best, so if you're going to try this yourself, I recommend that you NOT start by making these things for yourself at home.  Chefs are chefs for a reason - they make things taste better than you do.  Even when I steam my vegetables, they never taste the same as they do in restaurants.  Neither do my garlic mashed potatoes.  But if you must try it at home and you're not an expert at making garlic mashed potatoes, I would instead recommend a spritz of spray butter and a sprinkle of garlic salt. 

Where was I going with that?  Oh yeah, tea.  So, I'm going to try to convince myself to like tea, but I'm going to leave the mashed potatoes out of it.  This morning I decided to start with a caffeinated version of the free tea that we have available here in my office - Lipton Breakfast Tea.

I figured that drinking it out of my Murphy mug might make me like it more

My first observation?  (Keep in mind, I haven't even tasted it yet...)  It's so dark!!  One of the reasons that I wanted to try tea because I hate that coffee stains my teeth!!  And yet this tea looks just as dark as coffee does and is definitely going to stain my teeth! What's up with that???

I debated throwing it away right then and there, but decided to persevere.

My first taste was just plain, hot tea.  It was awful.  It tasted like stinky water.  Yuk. People drink this stuff?

So then I added sweetener.  Ok... slight improvement.  Now it tastes like sweet, stinky water.  Great.

So then I added some of my French Vanilla creamer.  The taste was much improved, and I almost didn't hate it, but now I'm torn.

I mean, why replace my coffee (which I do usually enjoy) with something that is just as dark and needs just as much intervention as coffee does to make it taste good??  My original idea for trying tea was because I thought I could like it without having to add sweetener or creamer, but that is definitely not the case. In fact, it seems like this particular tea stains my coffee mug even more than my coffee did, so what can that mean for my poor teeth?

I'm not sure that Lipton Breakfast Tea with sweetener and creamer is going to be my new go-to drink of choice.  However, I already have my next selection on my desk and ready for tasting tomorrow - Bigelow Sweet Dreams Herb Tea (chamomile and mint).  It's caffeine free which is already a little scary. But the fact that it's name contains the words "Sweet Dreams" and I'm planning on drinking it around 10 a.m.??? Absolutely petrifying.

As promised!!!

Here is a picture of the random cut/bump that I woke up with on my back on Monday morning!

What you probably can't really see in this picture is the enormous bump that is directly under that weird shaped disaster.  (Actually, you can sort of tell - the bump is where it the flash is particularly reflective.) It was big and sore.

Yesterday even the pressure of my bra strap on that bump was painful, but it's healing quickly and it's already less swollen and less sore.

My dehydration issue is also lessening although still definitely present. I know this because my urine is florescent yellow.   My migraine doctor tells me that's no good.  I think that's fairly obvious...

Oh, and for the record - I'm still thinking that this cut came from the corner of our bathroom counter, especially now that I'm able to see all of the detail!  Doesn't it look like a big collection of scratches and cuts all in the same little area!?!? 

Update: I just put a sports bra on. OUCH!  Not quite ready for that yet apparently!!!

The one where I'm an idiot....

This is the story of the time that I was an idiot.  I know myself pretty well, and I know what I can and cannot do, what I should and should not do.  But sometimes I do the things I can't and shouldn't, usually because I'm caught up in the moment.  Because of this, I lost an entire day of my life, and 3 full pounds.  And even though I could pretend that it never happened at all and just "forget" to write about it, for my own health, for my own sake, I am going to tell the story of how I was a huge idiot.

Saturday night DH and I attended a wedding.  His mom was driving us, so I knew that it was possible that I would drink a little too much.  Early in the night I accidentally ate an onion (which I am allergic to) and was feeling so sick that I almost stopped drinking for the rest of the night.  Oh, how I should have done that.

You see, I have remarked on many occasions that when I accidentally eat an onion, one of the reactions is that my digestive system basically stops functioning.  I get severe indigestion and I will seriously still be tasting onion 3 or 4 days AFTER I ate the said onion.  It's like my body just can't process it.   The same can be said for times when I might have had a little too much to drink - my digestive system basically just shuts down.

So you would automatically assume that the best reaction would be to stop drinking, right?

Well apparently instead, I decided it was a better idea to try and drown the onion in light beer, and I did that heartily.  Other compounding factors probably included the fact that the dinner was a very small meal (especially when I consider how little I ate earlier in the day) and the fact that we went to a bar after the wedding festivities had ended.

But this story isn't really about Saturday night.  Nope, it's about Sunday morning and Sunday in general.  We got home around 3 a.m. and I knew I had had too much to drink.  I was sick, but I went to bed and thought that I would wake up feeling fine.  And actually, when I first woke up, I did feel pretty good.  I was in good spirits, asked DH to make me some toast, ate the toast, and was even cracking some jokes.  Then I tried to stand up, and I was immediately sick again.  After returning to bed from the bathroom I decided that it probably wasn't in my best interest to go to breakfast like we had originally planned.

So I stayed home and slept and rested.  When DH returned home I asked him to bring me some Kool-Aid.  I took a few sips and was immediately sick again.  We tried again with some fruit punch.  It was as if as soon as anything hit my stomach, it was immediately sent straight back up.

I was so frustrated.  I was so thirty and just wanted to drink something.  I knew I was incredibly dehydrated and wanted so badly to start the recovery process.  My mind was ready, but my body was not.

So DH went out and bought some ginger ale, thinking that would do the trick.  Down, and up again.  He also bought me some Rita's and though the ice felt great on my raw and ravaged throat, I still couldn't keep it down.  I was suffering from severe bouts of sweats and chills - really intense, dripping sweats followed by shivering and teeth chatting.  My body ached and I couldn't get warm any time I was experiencing one of these chills. 

By this time it was like, 6 p.m. and I was started to panic.  The whole scenario felt absurd.  I was afraid that I was going to get really sick if I couldn't start keeping fluids down, but the fluids made me really sick.  I wanted to drink something, I wanted to eat something, but my body was just refusing and nothing seemed to be working.  Should I go to the hospital? Was this something much much worse than a regular old hangover? (It definitely was, but I just wasn't sure what I needed to do....)

So after doing some internet research, DH decided to go out and buy some drug at Target that was supposed to help with vomiting (or "stomach distress" as the bottle called it.)  I was scared... I did NOT WANT to get sick again.  My throat couldn't handle it, my abs couldn't handle it, my head couldn't handle it.  As much as I wanted to be able to consume some fluids, by this point I was terrified.  I took 2 tablespoons of the medication (I think it was called Enfermol) and listened as my stomach rumbled in such loud and amazing ways that Murphy was cocking his head back and forth as if to ask, "Mommy, do you have another dog under that blanket?"  It actually sounded like growling.

I was worried and just laid there, very still, gauging my body's reaction to this new substance I was just put in it. I tried to doze off, but the noise of my own stomach kept me awake.  Fifteen minutes later DH came in and told me to take another spoonful.  I did, and the gurgling started up again.  But it also stayed down, which was a huge development.  Another 15 minutes passed and I was so parched that I decided to take a risk and try to drink some more ginger ale.  This time it stayed down.

I was thrilled but still cautious, taking very tiny sips. About an hour later I had some more Rita's and it tasted wonderful, although a little weird because my throat was so raw that my taste buds must have been messed up.  The final challenge was to stand up, since this is where I usually lose it if I'm going to.  I stood up and walked into the bathroom without having to run! Phew!

I moved very slowly for the rest of the night and didn't really have much more to eat or drink because I was afraid.  When I weighed myself Monday morning, I saw that I lost 3 whole pounds in the course of one day. Of course, 100% of that 3 pounds was probably from loss of fluids, and I hope that I gain it all back very quickly, because I don't deserve to lose 3 pounds for being such an idiot.

One of my co-workers suggested that perhaps it was food poisoning, commenting that it's odd for someone to get so sick for so long just from alcohol, but I'm not sure.  In many ways I feel like my hangovers are like my bee stings - every time it happens it gets worse and worse each time.  I also wonder if part of the reason this was so bad was because of that onion that I ate - I definitely think it was a factor, but I've never had such a horrible reaction to onions either.  I guess it's the compounding factor of combining them both?

The other surprise for me on Monday was that I discovered an enormous 2 inch long and 1 inch wide cut/bump on my back.  It was definitely a cut, but it was also so puffed up that it was like an enormous bruise or something.  It was hot and sore, and I have no idea how or when it happened, although my best guess is that I hit it on the corner of our bathroom vanity during one of my very regular visits there that day.  I will post a picture soon, I promise.

So what have I learned from this?  A lot, trust me.  I have long thought that binge drinking was stupid idea, especially for me.  I can never handle it, and I always suffer the next day.  Lately, since I've been exercising in the evening, I've cut out the vast majority of alcohol that used to be in my life.  Alcohol and exercising do not go good together.  And I felt great because of it.  For the past couple of weeks, I haven't even wanted to drink because I knew it would destroy my progress.  Apparently there was something about this wedding that just brought out the worst in me, and that's really too bad. 

I KNOW that I can have fun without alcohol - I do it all the time!  No one pressured me to drink, and although my dancing skills are much better when I have a few drinks in me, I could still pull it off with just one or two.  I just need to remember this the next time.  I got caught up in the moment, and while it's embarrassing as all hell to tell the world that I was so sick, I'm going to keep this post handy the next time I'm considering have more than 2 or 3 drinks (which I've decided should be my max) I will think back to those moments on Mother's Day 2010 when all I could think about was wishing that I could back in time and redo Saturday all over again.  I don't want to ever, EVER go through this again.... and hopefully I won't.

(Oh, AND, I need to be much more careful about checking foods for onions before I eat them...)

My Little Victory

Monday marks 8 weeks from the day that I announced my goal of trying to lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks.

I will come right out and say it - I did not succeed in losing 10 pounds.

HOWEVER.  I did successfully lose 6 pounds.  I know that 6 does not equal 10, and so technically I did not succeed at my goal.  However, there's no way that I can call 6 pounds lost a "fail," so I'm going to chalk it up as a "little victory."

Tonight we have our first of 3 (maybe 4) weddings of this 2010 wedding season.  It's an Oakland wedding, and we're really excited for it.  Having been through my own wedding has made me enjoy other people's weddings even more.  I'm no longer sitting there wondering when it's going to be "my turn," I don't have to participate in the bouquet toss, and I get to eat, drink, and relax the entire time.  I'm excited.

I haven't yet decided what I'm going to wear tonight.  Originally I was planning on wear the black and white dress that I bought last fall with a little black shrug.  But on Thursday night when I was getting out some of my summer clothes, I tried on a couple of dresses that I thought would definitely be too tight, and they fit!!! I couldn't believe it, and was so excited! But of course now that just means that I have even more options to decide between. 

A good problem to have, right? All thanks to my "little victory."


Dogwood trees are my absolute favorites.  Their vibrant color in the early spring is always so inspiring, especially early in the season when they're all flowers and no leaves.

One of my favorite things about this house when were looking at it was that it had so many dogwood trees.  Seriously.  I had been trying to grow one at our first house, but it wasn't looking so great (turns out it just needed a year or two to take - now it looks amazing!)

Usually most of my dogwood pictures look exactly the same.  But this year, I think that a few turned out particularly well and I'm thinking about framing them!

Love this one. LOVE IT. 

A little bug

Usually I give all of my attention to the pink dogwoods, but this year, I really found myself loving the white ones as well.

Now if I only knew how to do some professional photo editing, I could make some of these pictures frame-worthy....

What I've Learned About Migraines

If you haven't already read about my Worst. Headache. Ever. then click that link to get caught up!

Migraines are crazy things and after this last one, I've learned a ton about them, probably things that I should have learned a long time ago.  A lot of my symptoms would have made more sense.  If you also suffer from migraines, I hope that you find this information helpful!

Migraines are caused by enlargement of the blood vessels in the brain (source) and affect the sympathetic nervous system.  It's not always totally clear what triggers this and it can be different things for different people, such as allergies, changes in sleep, stress, and hormones.

Here were symptoms that I have experienced or that I "self-diagnosed" as being migraine symptoms whether or not I knew if they were:
  1. Loss of peripheral vision and "flashes" in my vision that usually looked like glowing black spots (imagine an eclipsed sun.) 
  2. Loss of appetite and the feeling that my digestive processes were literally halted for both food and liquids, which often led to indigestion
  3. Nausea and dizziness
  4. Sensitivity to light and sound
  5. Total disgust at the thought of drinking water; craving something sweeter or thicker for beverages
  6. Total disgust at the thought of coffee, particularly the bitterness that I associate with the coffee at work

And here's what I've learned to be true! (with source links in parentheses).

So, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our responses to stress and pain.  (source) But the sympathetic nervous system also slows down the process of moving food from the stomach to the intestines, resulting in nausea and that feeling that I described in number 2 above where it felt like my body had stopped processing.  It actually HAD stopped! (Or at least slowed down.)

Numbness - or that "pins and needles" feeling - in one's limbs is actually a fairly common symptom of severe migraines.  (source)  I had never actually experienced this symptom before, and I didn't know that it was a possibility so when I started going numb, I thought that it was something far worse than just a migraine symptom.   No so.  Although if that becomes a regular symptom I'm going to need to start seeking alternative treatments. 

The pins and needles feeling as well as the "flashes" of light or blackness in my vision are called "auras."  (source)  Most people get migraines without the auras.  But those with more severe migraines (like me - woo hoo!) will experience the auras.  Previously, my auras only included the flashes.

Caffeine is often used to treat migraines - it gets your blood pumping faster and helps with circulation.  Too bad I gag at the mere thought of coffee when I have one....

Craving sweets is also a symptom.  Hallelujah!!! Finally an explanation for why I felt the need to eat THREE large pieces of cake on the evening of my migraine... Seriously - THREE pieces of cake!  Two of them being from this cake....

Almond torte from some bakery in Shadyside. Seriously, the best cake ever. 

There is a ton of information out there on migraines, and it's really not worth me posting it all here.  But if you suffer from headaches and you haven't read much about them, I highly recommend it.  If you're anything like me, you'll feel stupid in the beginning but highly enlightened at the end, with a sense of finally learning something about this condition that you have that really has no for-sure cure as of yet.  Until they come up with one, I'm going to keep the butt-shot doctor at the Urgent Care center on my speed dial. 


At the end of this snowy winter, I thought that our azalea bushes would need to be replaced.  They appeared to be literally flattened by the snow, and I even pulled out a half-dozen significant sized branches once the snow had melted.

I NEVER would have guessed that a few weeks later they would look like this:


And I'm not even really a big fan of azaleas... but how can you not love that color!

Trying to save nature

This morning I tried to save the life of a bumblebee, even though I am allergic to them if I am stung.  This poor little bee (I shouldn't even say little; in terms of bees, this guy was enormous - I think he was a bumblebee) got stuck in our screened in porch when we were working in the yard on Saturday.   Then it rained all day on Sunday and I saw him clinging for life on the screen but I figured since bees can't fly in the rain that he was waiting it out.

I saw him yesterday morning as well, but it was still raining so I let him be.  But this morning, he was still there and I could hear him buzzing softly.  I look at him closely and noticed that he was moving really slowly.  Although I feared for my life, I still felt so bad for him that I stuck out my finger.  He willingly crawled onto my finger and clung to it with his little bee-claws. 

He looked like this, only his wings were on top of each other (source)

Then I went out into the yard and held my finger up - "Fly away little bee! Come on, fly off!" 

But he wouldn't fly, and instead started crawling up my finger and in a moment of panic I flung him into the yard.  Instantly I felt bad.  So, I walked to where he had landed, put my finger out, and he once again climbed aboard.  I felt him buzzing again and noticed that his wings were stuck together.  Did that happen because he got wet when I flung him into the grass?  Or were they already stuck together from all of the moisture in the air from the rain?

Now what to do? I was already late for work and needed to get this bee to a place that was at least better than the grass or the porch screen so that I could feel less guilty for his death.  I tried to get him to climb onto a leaf of our rhododendron bush, but the leaf was weak and since he landed onto his back, he fell into the grass once again. 

Good god.  How much time am I going to spend on this bee?

So I picked him up again and took him over the dog wood tree.  The dogwood's flowers are sort of cup-shaped and so I figured he could sit in one of those.  I stood there patiently while he tested the strength of the dogwood flower and finally climbed on.  Of course instead of climbing into the flower cup, he grabbed on underneath and was thus upside down.  I didn't want him to fall off again, so I waited as he climbed across the bottom of the flower and then when he got the end, I bent the petal so that he could climb onto the top of the flower.  Seriously - I did all of this for a bee!

So I then proceeded to try to convince my dog to come inside, since did I already mentioned that I was late for work?  Of course Murph had no interest in coming inside on such a glorious spring morning and he ignored me for a solid 2 minutes which felt like 2 hours, until I was fed up and started walking up the hill, which is the sure fire way to let him know that I mean business.

Once Murph was down, I glanced over at the dogwood. 

I couldn't see the bee. 

I checked the flower and then the ground underneath and on my way back to check the flower again I saw him underneath the petal, still buzzing away, unable to fly. He seemed to have a good grip, and I knew that there really wasn't anything else that I could do for him. 

So I blew him a kiss, wished him the best, and went inside. 

But I can't stop thinking about that bee.  I wonder if he's still in the dogwood?  Do you think he'll survive?  How in the world did I become so emotionally attached to a little bumblebee???  I just need to remind myself that I did everything that I could - even went above and beyond the Mother Nature's normal call of duty - to help this bee survive.  I know that it hadn't been for our screened-in porch, he never would have gotten into this predicament in the first place, so I know it was least that I could do to give him one more chance at survival.

Good luck, Mr. Bumblebee.  I hope you make back it to your family and friends.

The Pittsburgh Marathon

AKA the Rainiest Day of My Life.

On Sunday, DH and I volunteered for the Pittsburgh Marathon.  This was the second of two volunteer/service opportunities that we decided to do together - the first being the Water Walk, which was DH's choice.  I decided on the Pittsburgh Marathon for a couple of reasons.

First, I am a "runner."  I put that word in parentheses because I realize that the term can mean a variety of things.  No, I don't run marathons or even 5K races, but I can easily do a 5k these days in the comfort of my home on my treadmill.  Some day, I hope to venture out and work on more diverse topography than a thin black belt, but for now, I run a minimum of 4 times a week, averaging at least 2.5 miles a night, oftentimes more.  So yeah, I consider myself to be a "runner."

Second, I have this inner urging to take part in events where I am part of something big.  I like to play my small part in a large event, and know that by being there I was part of something much bigger.  I also have a lot of love for Pittsburgh, and so big events that are part of Pittsburgh make it a double win for me.

Finally, it was free. Selfish reason, I know.  But I think it's important to recognize the value of giving time, and not just money.  Money is fine and dandy and I know that a lot of people have to give money to make the marathon successful.  But for those of us who are still struggling to establish ourselves financially, we can give the gift of our time, and we'll probably get more satisfaction out of that than we would get out of writing a check. 

We also had quite a few friends and acquaintances running the marathon, although we didn't find that out until well after we had registered as volunteers.  But knowing that there were people out there that we knew in the hoardes of runners made it even more fun.

So anyway, back to the marathon.

We woke up at the crack of dawn and check the Weather app on my phone.  "30% chance of thunderstorms, all morning," it said.  So we made the executive decision to NOT pack a backpack containing our rain ponchos, but as an afterthought I did put the little "raincoat" that is basically an oversized sandwich baggy into my pocket before heading out the door.

We checked into the volunteer site, looked at what everyone else was doing, and just started doing the same ourselves.  There were over 100 volunteers at this site, and no clear leader, but the process was fairly simple - lay out cups, fill with water.  We found ourselves near the end of this particular water site, which - in retrospect - was not a great place to be, since by the time they got to us, most of the runners had already gotten water from people at the start of the site.

Three layers of water cups and a not-so-flattering picture of me...

Right around 8 a.m., when we had finally filled all of our cups (hundreds, if not thousands of little cups of water) it started to rain.  We stood back under an awning, and thought we'd wait it out, but then the wheelchair marathoners started coming through followed quickly by the runners.  As the rain turned from a drizzle to a fairly steady shower, we decided that I would don the human-sized sandwich baggy and put all of our electronics in my pockets. 

Then the runners came like it was the running of the bulls....

It was crazy... thousands of people running by, all in a relatively tight pack.   In that picture above, you can see more and more coming around the bend there... it was surreal. Who knew that many people were such in good shape!?!?!?

And we handed out water...

... or tried to, at least.  Remember how I said earlier that being at the end of the water site turned out to be a disadvantage?  Well, basically everyone who was running by us had already gotten water from someone else at an earlier table.  And since it rained the ENTIRE TIME, the runners weren't as hot as they would otherwise be if it had been a sunny day, so our water was not in high demand.  Sad face.

The entire time I was trying to scan every single face that ran by, trying to see someone that I knew.  But it was so hard to do that and concentrate on handing out water.  You see, there is actually some level of skill involved.  First, you have to pinch the top of the cup and hold it out there (see the picture above for an example.)  Then, you have to make eye contact with the person who wants your water.  Eye contact is crucial.  If someone just runs by and tries to grab a cup, you're not going to be ready for it and thus you're not going to let go at the right moment, causing the cup to fall and the water to spill.  But if the person makes eye contact with you, you can actually prepare for the hand-off and let go at the exact precise moment that results in minimal spillage.  Of course, half the time the running just dumped the contents onto the top of their head, but still, it was always really excited when someone took our water, and we wished we would have been closer to the front (if we do this again next year, we'll definitely be more strategic now that we know what we're doing!)

And the most exciting part of our day???  My friend Kate - who I promised I would take pictures of - was the one person I really wanted to see.  I would have missed her had she not cut straight across the street when she saw us, yelling, "I think I'm going to win!," planted a kiss on my check and then DH's and then ran away.  It happened so fast I didn't know what hit me.  So I quickly whipped out my camera (as quick as I could whip it out from underneath a sandwich baggy and out of my pocket) and snapped this incredibly artful picture.

She's the one in the pastel green shirt

Sorry Kate! I'll get better pictures of you next year!

And then as quickly as it started it was over.  And we started to clean up cups.  See all of the cups littering the street in the picture below??? Multiply that by 20 and that is probably close to the number of cups that we cleaned up.  Runners finish their water and then just toss their cups to the side, but when it's an incredibly tight pack of runners, sometimes just dropping it is easier.  

Would we do it again?  I think so... Even with the horrible, rainy weather, it felt good to be doing something outside, in the city.  And I felt appreciated too... I couldn't believe the number of runners who would smile at us as they passed and said, "Thanks!" "Thanks volunteers!"  "Woo hoo! Thank you for everything!"  Unreal.  The fact that they were wasting their oh-so-precious breath on taking us was really touching.  

And at the end of yesterday, I was even feeling motivated enough to consider trying to run some portion of it next year!  Right now I'm thinking perhaps a relay team... anyone out there interested?