little house in the hood

The Tree Catastrophe

So I got home from work today to find this madness (sorry about the as usual bad, unedited iPhone photos).

UntitledUntitledThe neighbors's tree fell on our yard.UntitledDowned power line!Untitledso a tree fell in our yardso a tree fell in our yard

Our neighbors had this tree that was gigantic and dying. Their landlord (she lived there when we moved in but now rents the house) had been trying to have the tree taken out, but there were bees living in it, so she had to have a guy come out and get rid of the bees before another guy would come out and get rid of the tree.

And so it came to be that while waiting for this to happen, nature was all, haha fuck you people and your plans, and that gigantic dying tree just snapped in two and the big part fell across our yard and the next neighbor’s yard. The good news is that no people or animals were hurt (Update: There were two pigeon casualties. :() and no houses or cars suffered any damage. And the downed power line was dead, having been snapped right off the live wires behind the houses (of course I didn’t know that as I mountain-goated in my platform shoes over the thing when I got home).

The bad news isn’t even all that bad. Neighbor landlord is awesome and has already been out to check out the damage and has offered to pay for anything that needs to be fixed. Her tree guy will take care of the tree within the next few days and we’ll get as much free mulch as we want. But, the bad news is that our little baby tree in our front yard was snapped like the little twig it pretty much was, and all that’s left is a little branch Ben broke off for me and one leaf and one set of bright red helicopters that I carefully placed between pages of the biggest book I have (Colorado Real Property Law, a book I cite checked back in my freelance days — it was a tossup between that and the Nowak and Rotunda constitutional law hornbook). One section of our fence was taken out, but it’s just chain link so easy to replace (and it wasn’t the section that’s now completely covered with ivy, so that’s awesome).

And — ugh, I don’t even want to talk about this part, but the most traumatic thing about having a gigantic tree fall in our yard is the fact that I had to see the freakishly gigantic beehive that had been lurking inside the tree for who knows how long. Our yard is swarming (no exaggeration — you can hear the yard buzzing — don’t go out there!) with bees. Wait, not just bees. Bees, wasps, hornets, whatever flying things that were living in the ecosystem of that crazy tree. And I don’t mind any of these guys themselves. It’s the nests. We’ve had wasps building nests on our fence every day for weeks and I’ve been traumatized by their nests, but gigantor beehive was even worse. Oh man that shit freaks me right out. It’s that same feeling people get about lotus seed pods — do you know what I’m talking about? There’s a word for that but I can’t google it because sometimes when you google shit like that, pictures come up and I can’t even. Now I’m getting the crawlies and I’m going to lie awake tonight thinking about beehives and that’s so stupid but damn those things freak me out. So anyway, let’s never speak of the nests of bugs again. Deal?

And I know this is silly, especially in light of the hundreds of people in Colorado who have lost their homes this week, but I’ll miss you, little tree.

our tree

Swamp Coolers

Or evaporative coolers if you want to be correct and less, um, swampy.

evaporative cooler

We live in a 124-year-old house that does not have central air conditioning. In the past, we made do with one or two old window-unit air conditioners, but for how much it cost to run those things, they didn’t do a very good job of keeping our drafty house cool.

So on a 90+ degree day a few weeks ago, we bought and installed an evaporative cooler (we got this one). All I can really say about it is that it’s the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Please note: This is not a sponsored post. Sorry if it sounds like it is. I’m in love with an appliance.) (Also if you want to learn more about evaporative coolers, check out the Wikipedia page.)

Within an hour, the swamp cooler (Ben and I both independently determined that he should be called “Bob,” which is weird and annoying and I promise we are not in the habit of naming household items) cooled the temperature in our living room/dining room from 81 degrees to 70 degrees. We left Bob (sorry) running all night and woke up to a 60-degree living room (brrrrr).

Unlike our old air conditioners, Bob cools the whole house. The trick is — and this seems weird — to leave doors and windows open in the areas you want to cool. Generally, we leave our back door and bedroom window open, which helps to distribute the cool air throughout the house.

Another awesome thing — in Colorado, our electric company (Xcel) offers rebates when you buy an evaporative cooler (more info. here). We’ll be getting $250. When you add that to what we’ll save in energy costs this summer (running a swamp cooler is way cheaper and more environmentally friendly than running old, inefficient air conditioners), Bob will have almost paid for himself (sorry, that’s just weird but now I can’t stop) by the end of summer.

If you’re not familiar with evaporative coolers, there’s one thing you should know. They smell when they’re running, at least for a while. At first, the smell was really strong and bothered me. Since then, it has mellowed and now it’s either gone or I’m used to it and don’t notice it. According to Ben, the smell comes from the cardboard filter, which is made from aspen trees. So it’s nothing chemical/unhealthy/creepy — it’s just a little different.

At least now we’re ready for this shit, which, as I am wont to say, WTF.


Our Garden: February 2012

During the weekend of The Great Denver Blizzard of 2012 (don’t believe the hype — it wasn’t all that), my thoughts turned to our garden. That doesn’t really make sense, but this always happens to me in February. Nothing against winter, but after the holiday sparkle of December and the glorious2012 garden: February new year of January, by February I’m thinking about spring and summer. The good news is that there are some gardening-related things you can do in February. Here’s what I’m doing this month.

1. Learn from last year’s mistakes.

Last year, I made some of the same mistakes I always make (this year will be different!). I ended up getting my seeds started too late. I started everything at the same time and wasn’t with it enough to start cool-weather veggies like lettuce early. The biggest mistake of all? Too much damn zucchini and yellow squash. No disrespect to zucchini, which is awesome, and yellow squash, which, truth be told I don’t like as much because it develops a pretty thick skin when you let them get big, which you’re bound to do when your shit gets all overgrown and you don’t even see the gigantic squashes lurking under all the foliage, but they kind of took over the garden, crowding out some of the other veggies like cucumbers, bless their hearts they never had a chance. As much as I enjoyed writing my “WTF to do with all this zucchini” posts, too much is more than enough. This year, I think we can get by with one (maybe 2) zucchini plants and one yellow squash plant.

2. Plan and get some seeds.

Our 2012 garden will be our 2011 garden +. The “plus” means we’re adding variety. We have leftover seeds (in the freezer) of everything we planted last year. I hope these work. I’m also planting:

  • moon cake edamame (edamame is one of Soren’s favorite things in the world; it’s also a fantastic snack to take to baseball games)
  • rainbow chard
  • De Cicco broccoli
  • Bloomsdale spinach
  • Hanover salad (spring) kale
  • Connecticut field pumpkin (good for carving)
  • Victoria rhubarb
  • valerian
  • calendula
  • evergreen hardy white onion (bunching)
  • wild garden lettuce mix
  • Cisineros grande tomatillo.

Oh, and I have some arugula seeds, too. This is quite ambitious for our limited space (and time), but I’m hoping for the best. My plan is to plan (that’s probably the point of a plan) well enough to get cool-weather veggies like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, spinach, chard, etc. out there early. If they’re still hanging in there when the warm-weather stuff like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash are ready, cool; if not, we’ll have more room for the new guys.

I order most of my seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Also! I’m happy to report that I found some super-helpful and free info. about Denver gardening on the internet:

3. Start composting.

Okay, yeah, if you’re a good gardener and/or hippie, unlike me, you probably already do this. But we’re just about to get started (finally). Because we have dogs who eat things, we need something covered, but I was horrified by the cost of compost bins ($100-200, what?). So what to do? We bought two 32-gallon trash cans from Home Depot ($15.47 each) and we’re going to drill some holes in them and hope for the best (I’m thinking something like this or this — I like the second option because it doesn’t require screens and seems easier). I also got a little fancy and ordered this compost bin for the kitchen ($19.99). So, $50 and a little effort and we’ll be keeping stuff out of landfills and providing luscious compost for our garden soon. Yay!

4. Start making toilet-paper-roll seed pots.

We usually buy one of those plastic seed-starting things with the little compartments and the cover. These are nice in theory and great for the early days, but I always run into trouble because plants grow at different rates and I end up with tomatoes and peppers that don’t fit under the lid and want to get outside in the sun and leggy little lettuce sprouts that aren’t ready for that madness.

Then I found this awesome post about using tp rolls to make seed pots. It’s environmentally friendly, free, and, well, fantastic. I’m not that good at it yet and mine don’t really like to stand up on their own, but I’m sure that once they’re filled with starter mix and next to each other on some sort of tray, it’ll all be good. Getting an early start on this project means I should have plenty of seed pots by the time I need them.

5. Be a total dork about gardening.

I think I have that one covered. I can’t wait ’til summer!

Gang Graffiti (SUCKS!!!!)

There’s a cool building near Curtis Park I often pass on the way home from the gym (the old Denver Enterprise Center, which appears to have never been renovated). Today, I noticed that the 30th street side of the building was covered with gang tags. That’s pretty lame.

Gang graffiti happens in our neighborhood all the time, but I think its heyday was in 2009, when I took these pictures.

Tagsblazer1???not sure about this oneShadow

As I said back then on Flickr, I’m not sure who these kids are, but this is pretty weak. Is it blazer or blaser? Either way, why? Does a 1 with a circle around it mean that was some guy’s first tag ever and, if so, don’t they train these people any more? What’s up with the lone D-looking thing? Is it a flag like one that would be used for golf? Is it a pointy boob? Did they get interrupted and, if so, why weren’t they bad ass enough to come back and finish later? Are they soft? Is Shadow someone’s little brother who tagged along (punny!) with his Crayolas? If you’re out tagging shit, isn’t your tag your logo? Wouldn’t you want it to at least look kind of cool? Where is the pride in workmanship here? I find this whole thing very disappointing.

Whenever we’ve been tagged, we just paint over it. The time we got tagged twice in one week, I said we should paint our garage and fence black, but we never did.

To tell you the truth, though, I’d like to be a little more aggressive in my response to gang graffiti. I’d like to make it better. I think this stems from the fact that I’m an editor. I want to edit gang graffiti.

For example, after “blazer” up there, I could add “sucks.” After “Shadow,” I could put “is an asshole.” An East Side Insane Gangsta Clown Posse tag could be followed by “MOLESTS CHILDREN.”

Eventually, because what good is anything these days if you can’t make money off of it, I could design and produce my own line of gang-tag-fighting Fatheads. The first product would be a giant version of this you could stick on any reasonably clean outdoor surface, including walls, garage doors, and fences:

I’ve never understood these Calvin peeing things, but now I see the appeal. Just slap one on the wall and have the pee stream end right above the offending tag.

The store would also carry black ski masks and other items to ensure any witnesses will not be able to identify you to the local gangstas, as well as red editing spray paint. I’m sure it’ll be a huge success, at least until I’m shot in a drive-by.

Preview: Our 2011 Garden

Song: Back Up Pistol by Wick-It the Instigator
I can’t wait to start our garden this year. Seriously. If you look at our house, you’ll see me standing there with my nose pressed against the window of the back door, gazing longingly into the yard, pining for the days when it’s warm enough to be growing peppers and other delights. Those are also the days of baseball, and let me tell you, I can’t wait for that to get started, either. The White Sox are coming to Denver this year! That’s just about the most exciting thing, ever!

tomatoes and lettuce

This is from last year, which wasn't our best gardening year ever.

You won’t be shocked to hear that we’re not master gardeners or anything. What usually happens is that I plan for an elaborate onslaught of vegetables and herbs and choose and implement a color scheme of flowers for the front yard. I’m all about getting the seeds started and planting everybody, but soon after that, my interest tends to wane. In the garden, I like creating more than destroying — I love planting and hate weeding (and good lord, we get some terrible weeds here in Colorado, the likes of which I’d never seen in the midwest). As usual, I’m good at planning and big ideas and poor at follow through. This means approximately half of the vegetables don’t do very well and Ben ends up doing all the maintenance, most of which involves watering. This year, I will be better! You heard it here first!

Soren isn’t old enough to appreciate a garden, but I think that good, home-grown veggies are especially important now that we have a kid. When he’s older, I hope he’ll appreciate the work that goes into growing your own food, and I also hope that will make him enjoy the food we’ve grown more than he’d enjoy vegetables bought from the store or whatever. Maybe he’ll be more likely to enjoy tomatoes he picked out and help grow, you know? I could be full of shit, but this is my veggie-friendly vision.

Our soil is questionable. There are soil-contamination issues in our neighborhood; all yards were tested and those that had an “unacceptable” level of whatever were dug up and replaced. Our yard did not require replacement of soil, but I’m still (reasonably or unreasonably) bothered by the fact that there’s some sort of questionable shit going on out there. This means we do everything in containers, which also means we don’t have all the room in the world. If I do a good job of not flaking on the garden this year, maybe we can put in a raised bed next year. That would be fantastic.

In any event, I’ve been spending some time on the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange website, lovingly filling my cart with what will become this year’s crops. Here’s what I have so far (you’ll note we’re partial to peppers, which grow very well in sunny, hot, dry Denver):

  • Catskill (Long Island Improved) Brussels Sprouts
  • Lemon Cucumber, Pickling
  • Spacemaster Cucumber
  • Salad Bowl Lettuce, Looseleaf
  • Slo-Bolt Lettuce, Looseleaf
  • Anaheim Chile Pepper, Hot
  • Hungarian Wax (Hot Banana) Pepper
  • Jalapeno Pepper, Hot
  • Serrano Tampiqueno Pepper, Hot
  • California Wonder Pepper, Bell, Sweet
  • Early Prolific Straightneck Squash
  • Zucchini, Dark Green Squash
  • Basil, Lettuce Leaf
  • Yellow Pear Tomato (these are fabulous if, like me, you’re not a big tomato person — they have a nice, light flavor and aren’t too slimy)
  • Large Red Tomato
  • Mountain Princess Tomato
  • OTV Brandywine Tomato
  • Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin

    Yay for pumpkins!

    We grew these!

The tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, red bell pepper, yellow squash, and pumpkins are heirloom varieties, which I think is very cool.

We might add a few more things. Last year, we went to a little community garden event where they gave away a few free plants to everybody. We got pear tomato, eggplant, and pumpkin plants from that (these all did very well and the pumpkins even threatened to take over our whole yard — we planted them in the ground because we weren’t going to eat them). (I’m not sure if they’ll be doing this event again this year, but here’s where I found out about it last year. It was a lot of fun and they even served vegetarian tamales. I’ll let you know if I hear anything!)

I’m still working on the color scheme for the front yard. I think I did pink and white last year, but usually, for whatever reason, I’m drawn to purple and orange. I should try to do something different this year. Maybe blue? I’m not sure. In any event, I know I’ll post way too many pictures of the yard, because apparently taking 900 pictures of everything (and being hyperbolic with numbers) is my thing these days.