Monday, March 23, 2009

The Bane of My Existence and Another New Rose!

If the redbuds, dogwoods, and azaleas weren't enough to announce Spring's arrival, these little winged spawn of Hell would be:

Yes, it's carpenter bee season!
Carpenter bees are destructive pests that resemble fat, shiny bumblebees. The males can't sting, and the females rarely do. But, the females do chew perfectly round holes (without actually eating the wood) into and through wood in order to nest. For the past few years, I have waged my annual battle to prevent them from boring tunnels as big around as my thumb into the fascia boards around the roof of The Cottage. Or, at least some of the fascia boards. Carpenter bees seem to prefer some boards over others, and they also seem to like a southern exposure. Some of the boards they haven't touched at all. Not even an entomologist or exterminator can explain why. People will tell you that carpenter bees don't like painted wood. Don't believe it. They like it just fine.

The holes pictured are actually doorways leading to very long tunnels that extend far into the inside of the board. These bees are pure evil.

I have tried various non-toxic as well as toxic methods of eradicating them. I stapled strips of wire mesh window screening over the entire length of another of their favorite boards by the workshop door. That worked well, but it looks a bit unsightly in the more visible areas under the eaves.
I have also spent hours sitting out on the porch armed with a spray bottle of pesticide, with the nozzle set on the high-power, long-distance death setting, and picked them off one by one. Although very satisfying, that just took up a lot of my time, and didn't seem to make a big dent in their population.
Now, normally, I wouldn't kill a bee, since they are pollinators, they make honey, blah, blah, blah.
I make a very big and unapologetic exception in the case of carpenter bees, to which I say: Die, Carpenter Bees, DIE!!

My latest weapon of apian destruction is Delta Dust, a dry powder insecticide that is applied directly into their bore holes using a bellows sprayer. Puff, puff...die, die. Very simple, very effective.

Since it is early Spring, and I planted some new roses last year, I have been anxiously awaiting any signs of blooming from my newest rose, Madame Alfred Carriere. I planted Madame Alfred Carriere last Spring, out by the back deck, so that she could climb up on the pergola, if I ever finish building the pergola.
Madame Alfred Carriere is also a noisette rose, and a climber with buds that open palest pink after which the flowers fade to purest white. They are known for being repeat bloomers, and for being very fragrant.
My Madame grew exactly one tiny bud this Spring, and I watched the single bud grow in size until it just started to open. Then, I somehow missed it at its peak! But, I did get a couple of photos while the first flower was still in bloom on a very cool and windy day:

Since these photos were taken, I pruned the plant back a bit, and now there are several new buds coming out, along with a new flush of growth!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back home again, first baking adventure, and my favorite plumber returns!

We have been busy unpacking, struggling to downsize our mutual possessions (me, especially, since I'm on a major less-is-more kick), and trying to organize the kitchen so that it has a comfortable work flow.

Ahhh, the new kitchen! I am loving it! The new fridge was delivered last week.

Yesterday, I finally got around to baking in the new oven. My first baking adventure: Irish Soda Bread. I have a recipe that my Mom gave me many years ago, one that I kept all these years. I even baked it while I was in college (and who bakes in college)? I love this recipe because it is so simple and it tastes like home.
My first baking endeavor, half-eaten in this photo, using the new oven:

And here's the recipe, barely in time for St. Patrick's Day:
Irish Soda Bread
(makes a small loaf; can easily be doubled)

2 c. unsifted all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1/4 t baking soda
1 c buttermilk
1/2 c raisins
1 T caraway seeds (optional)

Mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk, stir to make a soft dough. Knead on floured board. Placed on greased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

I hadn't made this in so many years. The dough was a bit stickier than I remember, too sticky to handle, so I just added more flour (about 3/4 cup, total). It came out just fine. If you make it, my advice is: add the buttermilk s-l-o-w-l-y! This bread is delicious with butter and a nice, hot cup of tea.

This past weekend, we had an unexpected encounter with the plumber who worked on our remodel. Yes, the very same one who doesn't return phone calls and goes missing for 6 days at a time. What happened was, Saturday morning Andrew noticed the toilet making volcano-like sounds (GLUG! Glug! glugglugglug!) while taking a shower. The toilet started to back up when we attempted to flush it. After a few minutes of fiddling with the toilet and running the shower some more, the tub began filling with water, as if it wasn't draining properly. We plunged the toilet (after going to Lowe's to buy a plunger, because, somehow, my old red rubber plunger got lost in the remodel), to no avail. I had never before plunged a toilet and NOT had it start draining again. Very ominous.
Next, we plunged the tub, which now had 2-3 inches of standing water in it. Again, no luck. So, I unscrewed the overflow cover and sent our snake down through the tub overflow, thinking there must be a hair clog somewhere in the drainpipe. But, the snake went right on through easily, to a length of about 10 feet, and never hit a clog.
By then, I had noticed that one of the pipe joints of the exposed tub drain was now LEAKING. Just a little drip, drip, drip where 2 pieces of pipe are joined, but still leaking, and leaking enough to make a small puddle on the tile floor. Not knowing what else to do, I called our contractor, J. He managed to get the plumber out at the house within 2 hours.
Plumber Guy explained away the leaking pipe by quoting some unknown-to-me Law of Plumbing Physics whereby tub drain pipes are supposed to leak when pressure is exerted on their joints if and only if the water is backed up and thereby flowing in a direction opposite to the direction of the normal outbound water flow.
Which sounded completely absurd to me, but the larger issue at that moment was the clogged sewer line, which, unlike the dripping pipe joint, would actually cause us to have to vacate the premises temporarily, being unable to bathe or flush.
To work on unclogging the clog, Plumber Guy did, while at the house and while simultaneously charging us standard time-and-a-half plumber hourly rates, climb up on our hot metal roof and passed something like 120 feet of snake down through the vent stack. After which the water in the toilet was just as stagnant as ever, and after which Plumber Guy exclaimed the problem "must be on the City's side."
One emergency call to our local utility company later resulted in, long story short, a City utility crew coming out (on a Saturday, no less), and blowing out our sewer line with a high-pressure water hose, which resolved the problem completely! City utility wastewater guys: you ROCK!
All water outflow is functioning normally ever since. And, I have new-found respect for our local utility company.
More photos of the kitchen: