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A Wild New Year's Eve

Monday, December 31, 2012


It's New Year's Eve. Geoff Heeter took this photo off our back deck this morning. We're planning a wild party. Wild in the good, clean, quiet sense, in the listening for coyotes sense.

Building a sweat lodge in which to observe the coming of the new year is becoming a tradition for us. Bill leads the way.

It's got everything a body needs. There is a big fire to stare into. There are tools and saws and lots of lugging stuff around in carts.

There are sticks for some of the menfolk to chew.

There is the artful lashing of saplings into a dome-shaped frame. Kyle and Geoff for scale. Our 2012 lodge is smaller this year, more heat-retentive, more modest than the huge teepee we built two years ago. But it's on the same spot. There's a firehole in the middle. So there's also digging.

And splitting wood.

And everywhere the beautiful snow

and the continuous gift of the birches, seeds for the juncos, goldfinches and tree sparrows

There's a newly cut cross-country ski trail in the meadow and orchard

photo by Geoff Heeter

 and we take turns lapping our property on two pairs of skis

photo by Geoff Heeter

There are good friends and laughter and food and bracing cold

 and the friends are the best of all. The kids would be in this picture if they weren't sledding at the time. We've barely seen them. They show up at mealtime and then run off into the snowy fields again.

All is as it should be. There will be no yakkety television, no Times Square ball dropping, no counting down of minutes tonight. Just a snowy silence, a guttering fire, the hiss of water on firebricks, the slow trickle of clean sweat, as it was for millennia, and still is for some who choose it. 
Wild doesn't have to mean dancing on tabletops.
However you spend your New Year's Eve, I hope you dance in your own way, and take the chance to make your 2013 the best year ever.

Welcome to My Greenhouse!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's been a long story. But as you know, I love long stories. Long stories lend themselves to the serialization that makes blogs such fun to follow. Long stories come around and circle back on themselves and if everything goes right there will be a satisfying conclusion. There's not much I love more than a long story with a satisfying conclusion. 

It all started in on June 29, 2012, with that mighty storm that blew my Garden Pod away.

And the story continued with the construction of the Rion Prestige Greenhouse kit we ordered to replace it. It all looked so simple, so doable, so procedural. First, you prepare the ground, then you build the roof...

making extra efforts to assemble the profile, because "Caution: extra efforts while inserting the profile might needed to keep the profile in its place for the greenhouse's life."

What's a profile? We never figured that out. But we got the extra efforts thing covered.

I used a scissors to force the rubber weatherstrip into a tiny channel between the window and the frame. You had to use great pressure, moving the scissors along about a centimeter at a time, groaning loudly the whole way because your biceps were about to burst. If things went really well, you didn't stab yourself, and you might be able to get rubber in two or three of the window sides.

  I've just concluded my fourth weatherstripping session. Each window took me a half hour to weatherstrip. If I could do it at all. Many of the windows were so ill-fitting that they couldn't be weatherstripped. Those, I had to plug with strips of foam insulation board. Those hand-sized gaps we've heard so much about. Phhhhh. You can see the board in the lower left corner of the photo above.

 Count 'em, do the math, and weep. That's me, kneeling over a coil of "ruber guard," seeing how many windows I have to weatherstrip. Oh, and there's the front and doors, too. Contrary to the directions, which wordlessly and inexplicably advocate a toolless approach, there is no way in Hades you could force that stuff in those tiny cracks with your fingers. Unless you are a cyborg with titanium fingers, and bleed sparks instead of blood.

Before we leave the instructions, another page that filled us with despair. Just for fun. Maybe there are people who dig the challenge of deciphering this kind of stuff. Me and Bill, not so much. We're sort of throw-the-manual aside and git-r-dun types. But we changed our act for this effort. We pored over those diagrams, to what avail I'm not sure.

But eventually we got something that resembled the picture in the 44-page book. 

And despite some very strong winds of 40 or more mph, it is still standing in the backyard. You can't see inside it because of the condensation running down the walls. It is one WET greenhouse.

And the doors haven't blown off.

And when I open them up, something very nice happens inside me.

I feel myself leafing out, like this poor tortured tangerine orange hibiscus that to all appearances died in the cold garage. I have a feeling it will bloom again.

I step inside and yodel, "HELLO DAHLINGS!"

and my plants holler "HELLO MILADY!"

and I heave a happy sigh looking at the paddle plant (a kind of kalanchoe) which is blooming its fool head off. And the fishhook cactus which never has in 22 years, but might someday. Plants like to surprise you.

And the hot pink Graffiti geranium that will soon be joined by flowers of all kinds (that's Vancouver Centennial, a Victorian dwarf geranium, on the right).

There are three chairs inside for those mugs of afternoon tea and those sunset moments when you just need to be in drippy warm humidity and around something green and growing, however modest.

The watering cans are warming by the heater so my dahlings get a nice tepid drink when they're thirsty because nobody likes freezing cold water on their feet in the winter.

You just wait. There's going to be a riot of color in here, and when the poor shocky yellowing poet's jasmine kicks in with its ethereal musky fragrance, the greenhouse will have arrived. Even now, it's dropping leaves, but it's budding, too. Kind of like me in midwinter.

That's my giant rosemary tree, the third one I've grown, on the left. She donates many leaves to roasts, soups and spiced pecans.

Now that we've got the zillion heat-escape holes mostly stopped up with bits and strips of foam insulation and weatherstrip, and it's reliably pretty warm inside, I promise to bring you back throughout the winter, into my new little Xanadu where there's always a piece of summer thriving.

                            Not that I need it or anything. Everything worth having must be worked for, no?

Chet Baker Suffers for Our Art

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

 Chet Baker tries. Oh, he tries so hard to please us. This video neatly encapsulates his relationship with Phoebe, who torments and bedevils him for her own (and her mother's) amusement. It is subtle, but it is all there for those who know this little gentleman. Like a fine actor, he can convey raging emotion with the twitch of an ear or the turn of a flew.

This particular evening, Phoebe had the idea to offer a bikkit to Chet Baker, without telling him what she wanted him to do to get it. So The Bacon ran through part of his trick repertoire, casting about until he settled on the one that would unlock the bikkit hand. Play Dead and Stay Dead was the key.

Do not miss the disgruntled look he gives me, the snickering videographer, at the outset of the bad dog training session. Why do you let her do this to me? Nor the stink-eye he levels at her. You and your stupid hand signals that don't mean anything.

 Phoebe often proclaims that Chet Baker secretly hates her, but we don't think that's true. When she gets home from school he's a black inky streak out the door to greet her.

At the end of the session, we had to wipe up a small pool of Baker drool on the kitchen floor. How this dog suffers for our art.

As I write, Chet has a red bow around his neck and a cookie sheet sticker on his back. He is working on getting the neon-green fur off several tennis-ball type dog toys, using a wadded-up Christmas stocking as he platform. He started raiding all the presents, taking each one to the back of the couch, and chewing holes in the paper at about eight this morning. As soon as he figured out there wasn't a dog toy inside he was on to the next. He made an exception for a Hickory Farms summer sausage... Don't worry. He got five of his own presents. It was a very Bacon Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Chet Baker fans everywhere.

A Roof Over My Head

Sunday, December 23, 2012


We're putting the roof on the Groanhouse. Now to lift it waaay up over my head like baby Superman lifts a car off his dad. One of Liam's friends helps, sort of. Bill's on the far side doing his best.

And it's on! This is about the only phase of the construction that went smoothly. And thank God. Because I had visions of having to take the roof off and put it back on oh, four or five times to get it to work. But it popped right into place. Amazing. What a sweet sound.
Truing up the fittings.

Bill still had to mount the doors.

But it was looking mighty sweet to me. Big. Roomy. Like a greenhouse. Even sort of... beautiful.

What is beautiful, Mether, is that chickeny stir-fry you and Daddeh are eating. Please give me a couple more chunks. I have been helping and helping and helping.

Yes, Chet Baker, nobody has helped more than the doggeh. Because building a greenhouse from a kit takes a lot of kisses and hugs to make the cussing go away. Or subside a little. 

Bill even managed to hook up the little gas heater before darkness fell, and we fired it up and sat inside the STRUCTURE and had a few libations. 
And I allowed myself to begin to dream about filling my GREENhouse with plants. Which, as I write on December 15, I just have. 

I kept telling myself that I'd do all the weatherstripping before I put plants in it. Fat flippin' chance. It takes me about 20 minutes per window to squidge the huge thick black rubber weatherstrip into a nanometer-wide edge around the perimeter of each damn window. I don't have that kind of time. They'll get weatherstripped when they get weatherstripped and not a minute sooner.

I can tell you that when it got to about 30 degrees with a wailing gale and snow, I wished I had had time to weatherstrip it. Hoping to find some victims to help me after Christmas. When Winter Storm Draco Malfoy blew in, the roof vent unlatched and blew wide open. Brrr. Glad I neurotically checked it before I went to bed. And there's no way to lock it from inside. Design Flaw Number oh who's counting. And I managed to get that fastened down and then somehow the door blew open. Bill caught that one and blocked it with a chair. So the plants have had adventures in chilling. They're going to have to lump it. Still learning my way around this thing.

 Right now, I have to have a glass of wine and a warm puppeh on my lap. And the evening sun slanting in the deli trays. Thank you, Dave, Marcy, and especially sweet Bill for working so hard to make my dream become a structure. 

Groanhouse to GREENhouse!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


I have kept you hanging. Well, I've kept myself hanging. With travel and work and all, it was a struggle to find another full two-person day to devote to Groanhouse construction, but eventually there came a Saturday when we were determined to finish the sucker off. It was just Bill and me now; Dave and Marcy had helped immensely through the worst of it. And we are so grateful, because who knows how long it would have taken if they hadn't? Three full days for four people, and then a fourth full two-person day. That's fourteen man-days. That's one hell of a Saturday, if you ask me.

Rion. Don't be telling your customers that two people can put this thing completely together "on a good Saturday." Maybe two bionic rocket scientists with a Lowe's right next door. But please. Be real about it.

I'm not saying that the Rion Prestige isn't a good greenhouse, or that you shouldn't consider buying it. What I'm saying that you should know what you're getting into when you embark on assembling it. And that the thick book of wordless directions bites stinky cheese, and will chew you up and spit you out repeatedly during the ordeal of building it. 

For instance: The side windows we fondly call "deli trays" for their sort of wacka-wacka ductility and thinness almost all buckled badly when inserted in the frame, leaving what we came to call "hand-sized gaps" where air rushed in. Why? Why? We tried and tried to figure this out. Finally had to call the company. "Oh yes. Lots of people return them as defective. But all you have to do is cut the extra plastic off the corners and they'll slide right in."

Oh. You might have put THAT in the directions. That extra plastic on the corners detail. Or, like, trimmed the extra plastic. Or something. Pfft.

They'll slide right into place right, she failed to add, after you disassemble the frame so you can get them back out to cut the extra plastic off the corners. And even then that's no guarantee the things won't buckle when you reinsert them. And reinsert them, and disassemble the frame and reinsert them a third time.

Maybe the fourth time's the charm.
This is getting old fast.

It's also so, so easy to build something backerds and upside down when the directions have no words. Like the front doors. Yep. Backerds and upside down. Disassemble, start over. Tra la.

Eventually, though, we had the two bottom tiers built and framed in. Chet Baker kept walking in and out, perceiving that it was becoming a livable structure. And liking the way the sun warmed him, coming through deli trays.

Time to put the roof on! Ack Ack Ack! All roof putting on photos by Liam Thompson!!

Look out honey here we come! Get clear! Oof! Dang thing is heavy! Yeah, I got it, but just barely.

Next: The Groanhouse becomes a structure! That you can walk into! Sit in! Drink wine in! Not that you needed wine after you finished constructing it! Noo! Not at all!

Let's Paint Bats!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Last January, I got a commission for a painting of big brown bats. That doesn't happen very often, or, never. Who wants bats? I do, and maybe one or two other people I can think of. I was excited. Not least because it was for my friend Kristen from Wheeling and she is awesome. Her mother Debbie is, too. Knew that a Zick painting of bats would make Kristen's canary chirp. She also bought a copy of The Bluebird Effect. It was going to be a totally Zick birthday.

I knew Kris, being a naturalist, would like a sketchbook treatment, so I drew some bats in a bunch of poses, with details that grabbed me.

Little wing-tail membranes, where and how it all connects, things like that. When I have a bat I just want to unfold it and examine it. But they tend not to like that very much. They cuss something awful. 

There are tons of tiny crenulations and wrinkles in the membranes when they're folded. They expand enormously in flight and in use. Membranes, marvelous membranes.

But how to make the bats look as impossibly soft as they are? Water. 
First, I flooded the fur area with water.
Just carried it over on a brush and pumped it onto the drawing.

Then, I got the brush loaded with a thick strong dose of burnt sienna and a touch of quinacridone gold (I use Daniel Smith watercolors, fabulous and more affordable than others)  and touched that to the pool of water.

C'est voila. It spread with a feathery edge. Fur.

It's important to vary the colors within the area so it doesn't look boring or flat. Feed some blues into them. And it's very important to keep your brush tip well away from the edge of the water pool you created in the first step. You must let the paint make its own edge by diffusing into that pool. That's what makes it look furry. If you try to create a furry edge with your brush, it looks fake. Just feed the pigment in and let it spread where it will, out to the very edge of the water you laid down.

It's fun.

It's also fun to rinse your brush, dry it on a tissue, and then suck some of that color back out to make highlights. See the pale trace behind the brush tip? I'm dragging pigment back out.

It never looks quite as soft after it dries, but it looks pretty good.

 Here's another bat, dried.

 I painted these from photos I took of Dee Dee and Darryl, my starter bats. The first ones I took care of, and still living in my heart. Darryl's gone, but Dee Dee lives with a rehabilitator in northeast Ohio now.

The finished painting. Debbie and Kiki liked it! I love painting things for friends.

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