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Blogging about gardening in zone 4, marriage, our golden retriever and life in general.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Forward motion

I'm a big believer in the idea that it's okay to complain about something only if you're willing to take the steps to resolve the problem. It just seems like good karma; no grousing if you're going to just tell someone else to fix it for you. 

I've been frustrated with work a lot lately. It's been a weird combination of overwhelmed with things to do yet simultaneously unmotivated by any of it. Let's cut to the chase: I hate the design review component of my job. I dislike the conflict inherent in telling someone they can't do an ugly addition to their historic house. I find my car driving itself to Joe's Parkway for bulk candy when I have to write a staff report; trying to numb the pain with high fructose corn syrup. 

But, it's a part of my job. We have bills to pay. And I had a few realizations about it last week, the biggest being that my position in local government gives me automatic credibility, deserved or not, when I hand over my business card. 

Let's not BS here, there are people in this community who would do my job 100 times better than I have the ability to. There are some excellent cultural resource experts out there. They're just smarter than I am and employed in a field where they don't have to get in a pissing match with an architect about divided light vs. single pane windows. I really do think that I'll look back on this portion of my career in 30 years and be sad about what I could have accomplished rather than eating 23432567 chocolate-covered cinnamon bears. 

Anyway. Along the lines of feeling unfulfilled and knowing that I was the only person wholly responsible for making myself happy, I finally contacted the former chair of the history department at MSU to discuss an idea we'd batted around a few months ago. I've wanted to teach American History, or cultural landscapes or cultural geography or historic preservation or architectural history since... well, the beginning. 

Historic Preservation is inherently an interdisciplinary field, and today I pitched the idea of a seminar for undergraduate students at MSU in Public History. The idea is to use a number of lecturers to discuss how geography, public policy, public administration, history, architecture and landscape architecture come together in the field of historic preservation. To discuss how to understand how a landscape came to be, the laws that might apply, who has a vested interest, and how to interpret or preserve those cultural resources. 

Hopefully students who participate in the course will want to intern for me in the future, thus getting a lot of stuff done for me!

The interim History Department chair was really enthusiastic about the idea. He's going to see how it fits in their course book, and I'm going to create a single page "pitch" that he can shop around in the department and to other departments and students. I'd teach, err coordinate, the seminar in the spring of 2012 as an adjunct faculty member. 

And? Dudes. They'll pay me. Not much, but still. Awesome!

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25 Friday Farming

Today's post was supposed to be about how we're terracing our garden this weekend, but the four inches of snow on the ground has pretty much nixed that idea. 

Growing things in Montana takes so much damn perseverance; just when you think it's spring the long tail of winter is there to bitch-slap you back into place. All you can do is laugh and adjust your plans. 

We'll have a bit of a conundrum with the Farming 2011 spreadsheet. It calls for me to plant things like spinach and kale and other cool-season crops when we'll be out of town. Looking at the 15 day forecast, it appears that I wouldn't be able to dig in the dirt till at least the second week of April anyway. So I'll shift some things, record for weather, cross my fingers and hope for the best. 

But god I'm ready for spring. We purchased a pack of strawberries at Costco a few weeks ago. They were probably shipped from somewhere south of Mexico, and really cost like a tank of gas to get to me. I felt guilty knowing how out of season they were. And then I ate one... it had no taste! I could have been eating bread for all I could tell. Totally disappointing. 

Tonight we're going to a meet and greet for Montana's junior United States Senator, Jon Tester. He's an organic farmer from Big Sandy, Montana. He's the guy who added provisions to the new Food Safety Bill last fall which ensure  local farmers who sell to consumers, local restaurants and retailers and who see less than $500,000 in sales a year don't have to go through Big Agri-Business in order to sell their produce. So basically, Farmer's Markets. I'm interested to see what he has to say. He's up for reelection in 2012.

On my home front, I'm trying to figure out what "found" item I can trellis my sweet peas up this summer? Maybe a half-buried tension curtain rod? hmm. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In sickness

DJ and I have a deep aversion to the "OMG I have the best hubby in the world" posts on Facebook. It's just too much for us. But damn, if any guy ever earned one of those over-share mush posts, it'd be DJ.

Friday night I was in a MOOD. I mean, angry, pissed off, unapproachable and just wound tight MOOD. I couldn't figure out why. A run with the dog didn't help. DJ wisely gave me a wide berth while I cleaned the bathroom and went to bed.

I woke up Saturday with the cold from hell. Or the Influenza of 1918. Maybe Bird Flu. Or H1N1. Whatever this shit is, it's effectively kicked my ass through today. There were hot flashes and cold sweats. Death-rattle coughing. Feverish. Snotty. Exhaustion. Basically the worst parts of the Bible.

Okay, I know I'm exaggerating here, but seriously, it's been awful. I finally went to the doctor yesterday for antibiotics, prescription strength cough syrup and a decongestant. I also picked up a Neti pot for nasal irrigation. Dudes; call me a hippie, but I'm hooked. That shit works to clear out congestion. It's awesome.

In the mean time, I've been sleeping on the couch, attended by my faithful dog, who also likes naps, as long as duckie is within reach.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18 Friday Farming

There isn't much to share about my farming today. We're still firmly in the "Waiting for Spring" window. The big news is that my broccoli starts sprouted:

I'm not sure I've ever had home-grown broccoli before! Hopefully these guys do well. 

Many veggie gardeners farmers in Montana have greenhouses or hoop-houses to extend their growing season by weeks or a month (if insulated). Since our gardening plot slopes to the north, I haven't yet thought of how to accomplish this. I'll add a greenhouse to my "someday probably in another house" list. 

We have a set of double doors at work which face south. This solarium-like area allows for the growth of a few tropical plants, like a lemon tree or this hibiscus:

Ooohhhh pretty huh! 

Up this week: figuring out how to terrace the garden next weekend!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Do dogs eat their feelings too?

Harlow received four "Bad Dog" lectures yesterday. The first when I got out of the shower and realized she'd browsed some of the basil and mint on the windowsill in the office. There was dirt everywhere, including on her chops. 

The second was when DJ got home from work. She'd ripped the tag off of something in the living room. 

The third was when DJ arrived back from the gym. She'd decided that this magazine wasn't really to her liking:

The last came after she ate the tulip flowers in the bud vase next to my bed as I was on the phone with a friend last night. I've heard tulips are poisonous to dogs, but she seems fine, so I guess we'll find out. 

Misbehaving usually occurs when she's been cooped up inside all day with little exercise. Or when we ignore her to take on a different project. That usually leads to eating her feelings, by way of taking the hair off of duckie:

A walk or run every other day usually keeps her out of trouble. We went for a 1.5 hour walk last night after the tulip incident, so we'll see. 

She's going through an adolescent phase where she has selective hearing. You'll say come, and she'll look at you like "mmm, I'm going to go check out this puddle over here instead." Clearly, this weekend will include some reminders about obedience. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Soon enough

I woke up this morning to a sound I hadn't heard in a while: rain.

Not snow. Rain; beating against the windows.

I did a little happy dance getting out of bed, as rain overnight instead of snow usually means: SPRING!

Aaannnddd then the power went out, so there's that.

And it's been snowing all afternoon. Big, fat, fluffy, wet spring snow flakes.

In a way this almostspring is my favorite time of year. I like the anticipation. I like reveling in one more weekend of guilt-free reading in bed before the go Go GO Go outside of spring and summer. I like the buds on trees, the bulbs peeking through, the thundersnows we sometimes get.

This Cybil-esque weather does a number on my exercise routine though. I can barely muster the will to go to the gym. Why exercise inside when it's 45 degrees outside? Thus the running. Thus the long walks with the dog. Thus the contemplation of getting my bike out.

Soon though. Soon I'll be biking at lunch.

Hell, with gas at $3.29 a gallon, I'll be biking everywhere this summer!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guerrilla Gardening

We live in one of the many incomplete subdivisions across the US. Our house is on a street that is only about 50% filled in with residences, with the remaining lots unlandscaped in any way. The whole area was farm fields as little as eight years ago and putting in the infrastructure for the subdivision obviously turned up a ton of soil. The result last summer was entire crops of Canadian thistles in every vacant lot.

My plan for dealing with the weeds is twofold. First, I plan on spreading some low maintenance wildflower seeds as soon as the ground is warm enough to be worked. I picked up a packet of Xeriscaping seeds, as well as Rocky Mountain Wildflower seeds, and will spread them and hope for the best. Might as well turn Canadian thistles into wildflowers, right?

The second half of the deal-with-weeds plan is more aggressive. Gallatin County does have a weed ordinance, but as a government worker I felt too sheepish to call in a complaint last summer. Seemed like using my profession to tattle on the neighbor. This year I'm over it. The contractor who built our house owns the two lots to the west of us, and I'll let him know that the noxious weeds are a problem for me. If he doesn't address it, I will get over myself and call the County Weed Control.

I am the granddaughter of farmers. Canadian thistles are a scourge on the earth. If I had my druthers, we'd knock down all the thistles and plant a cover crop on these lots. Clover, barley, hay, natural grasses; just something that will eventually choke out the weeds and be low maintenance. Or we'd do what my parent's subdivision does and rent out the vacant lots to a sheep farmer to bring in his herd to eat down the weeds.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The bell curve

I was supposed to drive to Whitman County to visit family last weekend, but by the first of March my schedule the Friday before and Monday after was so packed I couldn't make the trip worthwhile. I wanted to visit my sister and my mom, but mostly my grandmothers, whom I find increasingly fascinating as women.

My sister called at 6:20 on friday night. In typical dramatic Gretchen fashion, she'd already been crying.

"Grandma Joyce had a doctor's appointment today" she said of my 78 year old grandmother. " And the did a bunch of tests and found a bunch of cancerous masses."

(I can't remember the exact words, but that's the gist of it.)

We chatted for a few seconds longer. There was something about the cancer being related to why she'd needed pints of blood transfusions every other week, with no explanation as to where it was going. But really, I needed to get off of the phone with my sister as soon as I could to process those words. I remember saying, "Gretch, our grandparents are old" and "better fast an furious than slow and drawn out."

(Apparently I'm really awesome at consoling people, ps.)

My grandma Joyce is, likely, dying. This should come as no surprise, at her age and with her lengthy list of ailments.

My grandmother was born in the midst of the Great Depression in a farmhouse only recently electrified through FDR's Rural Electrification Agency. Parochial education and graduation from a private Catholic academy instilled a great sense of faith in her. At 17 years old she married the milk man and school bus driver; a dapper Bob Heitstuman who'd returned from a job with the railroad in Livingston, Montana to run his widowed mother's eastern Washington dairy farm. Together they raised four children on the farm, which they expanded through thrift and hard work. They now have eight grandchildren.

I wore her wedding dress as my own eight months ago last Thursday.

I often think of my grandmothers when considering mid-20th century history. I wonder how my grandma Joyce inwardly chafed at the gender roles assigned her. Did she find joy in the responsibilities assigned her by her conservative small-town values? Did she ever wonder what else was out there?

I spent summers with my grandparents while growing up. A week or two spent playing with cousins, eating popsicles on the back porch, reading too far into the night and not rolling out of bed until 10am when my cousins would wake me up. If I were to describe my "happy place", it might be dusk on the back porch of the Ranch style house my grandparents designed and built with their hands in 1954. With a book, a popsicle, the green back yard mowed into an Augusta gold course-like expanse, the sound of a mariners baseball game wafting through the screen door and the smell of blooming wheat.

These summer stays ended about when I was 14 and started playing basketball in the summer. I didn't have time to spend large blocks of my summer vacation devouring my grandma's Nora Roberts novels and lolling around aimlessly. My grandparents also purchased their first cabin on Lake Coeur d'Alene at this time, so we spent a lot of time together there.

I think aging is a bell curve. A gentle decline, then a steep precipice of lost energy, ability to drive, bowel control and dignity before flattening off in a slow taper towards the end. I can't seem to pinpoint where the bell curve began for my grandparents. It seems like they were strong and healthy and VITAL up until 2005 or so? And then I blinked and suddenly these people I loved so dearly were OLD. Walkers, canes, loss of driving privileges OLD.

So I've know in the depths of my heart that this call was inevitable. We all die someday. But what I wouldn't give to go back in time just a little and sit on the back porch for a while.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Flowers for 2011

Like many people, I love having fresh flowers in the house but hate the cost of purchasing them. Last summer I was able to clip cosmos, zinnias, coneflower, sunflower, larkspur and sweet peas from our landscaping indoor use. Through the winter, I've tried to have something blooming in the form of forced bulbs. Which oh by the way, my tulips POPPED this week:

I actually thought I'd done them wrong, it took forever for them to bloom. But every time I walk into the house I smile. I might have to force flowers again next winter, although I'd like to find a way to keep all their bloom times consistent and will probably plant some kind of grass in the pot as well for more greenery. 

I've begun thinking about the annual plants I want to add to our landscaping this year. The workhorse of our landscaping beds are perennial plants and bulbs. First come the crocus, muscari*, daffodils and tulips in the early spring and summer. Then the daylillies, bee balm, larkspur, coneflower, irises, salvia, clematis and decorative grasses take off in the mid-summer. Last year I added petunias and snapdragons in the ground and pots, sunflowers near the front porch and a dash of wildflowers along the front steps. In the fall I have asters, mums, sedum and a burning bush to add color to the landscape. 

Frankly, last summer I just wanted something, anything, to fill our landscape. This summer I'm hoping for a more cohesive look, and so might spend some time moving plants around. I'm okay with that; gardening is a hobby and I'll probably never be done. 

That said, of course, with the perennials as a background, it's always fun to think about adding annual flowers that will compliment the perennials and bridge the gap between spring, summer and fall bloomers. There are a handful I'm planning on planting this summer:

Snapdragons. I'd never seen these in a landscape until last summer, and fell in love with them. They're so fun and spiky, and they respond very well to frequent cuttings (for indoor display!). I'll likely plant snaps both in pots and in garden beds; definitely in the location of a bunch of tulips I planted last fall to both mark where the tulips are and fill in the space when the tulips die back. 

Lobelia. This bright blue plant thrives on shade. I'll use some as a low plant in a pot on the back porch, near the door, in an area that only gets a few hours of sunlight in the morning. I love the bright blue shock of color. I might also plant lobelia in the areas under the trees that I planted spring bulbs in, to keep weeds down and add color. 

Petunias and wave petunias. This are a family gardening staple. They're hardy, and difficult to kill off by forgetting to water them. I'll use them to fill in garden beds again. Wave petunias act almost like a vine and overflow the sides of a pot in a explosion of color. I'll use them in front and back porch pots, as well as the hanging baskets I'm considering. 

Sweet peas. An obvious favorite of mine as they're excellent for cutting and using in vases. Last summer I planted sweet peas in pots, which didn't do so well as they prefer cool soils. An exposed pot on a sunny porch meant they wilted. I also planted a bunch adjacent to the front porch, near the driveway. They took a while to thrive, and I never really offered sufficient support for climbing (some varieties can climb to 15 feet!). By fall they were beautiful, but flopping over into the driveway. I won't plant them in the same place again, and haven't decided where they'll go this year. Sweet peas prefer to be out of the wind, and have shade in the late afternoon. Maybe I can train them to grow up the side porch columns? hmm... 

Sweet potato vine. This vine will both spread horizontally and spill out of a planter. I love the vibrant lime green shock, and plan to pair it in planters or hanging baskets with the wave petunia and snapdragons. Maybe white wave petunias, lime green potato vine, blue lobelia and pink and yellow snapdragons?

Zinnias. I'd also not planted these until last summer when I received some seeds from a friend. They're a nice flower to add to beds or pots, and are great cuttings for boquets. I'll plant them again as filler in the garden beds, and maybe in pots. 

Thinking about all of these flowers makes me smile! The big question for me this year is: should I start these indoors from seed, or buy packs of them later at a garden center? Seeds are cheap, I have the dirt and south-facing windowsills, buuuttt... hm. I haven't decided yet if the time investment is worth the saved cost. 

*I'm concerned about my muscari; most of it sprouted late last fall. I have all of these muscari leaves in the beds, but am not sure if the bulbs will produce flowers this year. I guess the only thing to do is wait and find out, right?

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11 Friday Farming

I've got my "Gardening 2011" spreadsheet pretty mapped out. I've laid out the plant, when it should be planted or transplanted, when I can expect germination if seeded, and when harvest should begin. Then below that I've added another line where I'll keep my notes about when these things actually happened. Between blog posts and the spreadsheet, I'll have a pretty good record of how things worked out!

My "Gardening 2011" spreadsheet indicates that I should seed my first set of veggie starts this weekend for transplant into the garden. I will not start many plants inside this year. I learned in 2010 that my south-facing windows don't get strong enough sunlight to really get a plant going, and as the sun climbs higher into the sky by mid-May, the eves of my house start preventing the sunlight from coming in the windows. Since the last frost date is usually about June 1, I had a two week interval where I was schlepping plants outside every morning and back inside every night. Major pain in the arse. 

This year my veggie-starting will be limited to the starts which can be transplanted outside before the last frost. Spinach, broccoli, kale, etc. 

I did get antsy two weekends ago, and started a few items in pots. Poppies in a white pot where they'll hopefully grow through the spring. Allysum in a clay pot where the white flower will pop off the orange pot. Oregano, thyme and rosemary which I'll transplant outside into the herb garden eventually. And cilantro for adding to cooking dishes this spring. Have I mentioned that I LOVE cilantro?
Facing south

Allysum (flower)


Off we go, into Farming 2011! I've got a post lined up for tomorrow about the flowers I plan to have in our landscape this year. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Running between seasons

I can tell that winter must be close to over by my enthusiasm level for going to the gym. About this time every year going to the gym feels like punishment. I want to be outside, even if it is only 35 degrees out. I actually considered dragging my bike into work today for a lunchtime bike ride. I go for a ride at lunch three times a week when the weather is nice enough. But 45 degrees is just a tad too cool still.

I've been running a lot this spring. Well, a lot for me is three times a week. I wouldn't classify myself as a runner though. For me running is the ultimate form of exercise for a procrastinator. It only takes 30 minutes to equivocate what 60 minutes in the gym would do. I can take the dog. It's over quickly, gets results and means I can move on with my day faster. I can just go. 

I can't run every day though. Sometimes I have a morning meeting, sometimes my legs just aren't up for it. So I'll substitute with a walk, preferably with Harlow. Anything to be outside in the fresh air. I get some form of exercise every day, though perhaps less intense than I have in the past.

Like the weather right now, sometimes my exercise quota is intense, sunny, and full of movement . Other days it's quiet, serene and low key. A bit of both seems to do me good.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A place to lay our heads

As a couple of late 20's/ early 30's professionals, DJ and I entered our cohabitation/ marriage with most of the accouterments needed to live by ourselves. Luckily, we had very little overlap when we merged households and then married. We both had a set of knives, both had a vacuum (though neither of them worked well), and both had the same loveseat, but in different colors. Any we both had about half a set of pots and pans.

We both came with bedroom furniture too. DJ had a bed frame, nightstand and dresser his mom purchased when he was 14. I had the queen bed I slept on in Kentucky, a dresser my dad built for me as a baby, a bookshelf and a little white table my cousin Blake built me when he was 12. 

If you're keeping score, that means we did not, and still do not, have a bedroom set. Truthfully, we probably won't have a "set"; I'm not into matchy-matchy. I'd prefer eclectic items that can be used for different purposes when needed. 

But a bed frame, that we needed. And grown up bed-linens. The linens came first, thanks to generous gifts from DJ's dad and stepmother. They generously purchased from our wedding registry this set:

Which I loved in pictures, but not in my bedroom. The square design seemed to only emphasize the room's square-ness. We exchanged it for this set:

Which I liked a lot more, except that it pretty much exactly matched the walls and was dry-clean only. High maintenance materials don't work with our lifestyle. I returned it as well, and purchased this set with wedding-gift-money:

Which I love! I know, it's floral, in a master bedroom. I'm not going to try to justify, other than to say that I love it and DJ tolerates it. Because he's a better person than I am.

Then last fall, I got itchy to try to "finish" our master bedroom a little bit more. I wanted to paint. It's always easier to match a paint color to a duvet then vice versa. So I slapped up paint splotches:

And ended with this:

Which I'm still not certain I totally love. It's a little more of a vibrant color than I was looking for. I wanted a little more grey-green-blue calming color. BUT, I love it about 60% of the time and right now I'm too lazy to repaint the entire room. 

And then yesterday the first big item arrived. Finally, the bed the bed I ordered in January was delivered, and they even set it up! 

I added our duvet, and voila!

Is our bedroom "done"? Nope. We currently have three different tones of wood in there. I'm okay with it, for now. Our dresser, the one DJ bought to go with the bed from nearly 20 years ago, isn't big enough for both of our stuff and also doesn't match. DJ's nightstand doesn't match. My nightstand will remain the teensy little table that my cousin built me, currently painted white. There are also issues with the flow of the room if I purchase a much bigger nightstand, so I'm not sure what the solution is to that. And there is the paint color. And the picture above the bed might be a little much now. We need a new mattress too. 

But for now? This is a big step in the right direction!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Paying attention to politics

In the last six months, at the most, I've become increasingly aware of American politics, to the point of considering participation in a manner beyond just voting. Somewhere on the other end of the internet my mom is laughing, for two reasons: 

It seems like since I was young, my parents have treated me on some level as an equal. Maybe they totally faked me out by pretending to include me in a conversation, but they never said "Courtney go away, we're talking about grown up stuff." Instead the let me listen in about their work, our extended families and issues that were important to them. Maybe they didn't know I was listening, but sometimes they'd ask my opinion about whatever their subject of conversation was. My usual answer was "I dunno," to which my dad expressed exasperation at my lack of an opinion. 

By the time I was 20 or so, they wished I'd shut the hell up with my opinions. I had opinions about things I didn't know much about (I now try to keep quiet unless I'm knowledgeable about the subject). 

Probably around the time my opinions formulated my mom suggested I take a political science class. I roundly refused, mostly because my high school government class wasn't my favorite subject. She thought I'd like it, thought it might give me an opportunity to use my people skills and my newfound opinions. In my opinion, I didn't think I would enjoy it and was already getting enough politics from my history major. 

And I spent the bulk of my 20's with only a handful of opinions and stances on political items, mostly the social issues that, for reasons I still can't grasp, have become political.

Sidebar: Isn't there something inconsistent about Republicans saying "I want smaller, less intrusive government" while at the same time saying "Except for you, women. I want to tell you how to run your vagina*"?

But in the last six months, I've become acutely aware of how politics impacts my life. I work in local government, so does my husband, and maybe this kind of exposure brings politics to my attention in ways it doesn't other people. The issues that really seem to get my attention lately though are:

  • Healthy food/ farm subsidies. Can someone tell me why we're subsidizing the corporate corn industry to make High Fruitcose Corn syrup, but not small family-owned farms or veggie and fruit growers? 
  • Health care. I have a Mother In Law who can't retire, thus freeing up a job to be filled by a younger employee of my generation, because she takes four figures worth of drugs a month to keep her Lukemia at bay. She probably couldn't qualify for health care with her pre-existing condition, and even if she could qualify, she couldn't afford it. Isn't access to health care a basic tenet of a "civilized" first-world country?
  • Debt, both on the home front and federally. We paid off our consumer debt last week. We don't live outside of our means, and don't plan to, ever. We live in both a City and a State that despite the Recession, are both currently in the black because of careful budgeting. Why is that impossible to expect from our government? On a more personal level, the debt incurred by college students chasing the dream of an advanced degree to "get ahead in life." I'm lucky to have escaped four years of undergrad and two years of grad school with "only" $24,000 in loans. My monthly payment, on a 10 year repayment plan, is $318. I consider that "not bad"; although I am in a career field where I do not anticipate making over $50,000/ year, ever. But let's see... economists wonder why the generation under 30 can't afford houses or apartments? Uhh... because we're so busy paying off our education! $24,000 would have made a hell of a down payment! And I have friends with liberal arts degrees and twice what I have in debt. 
Those are only three items. I have so many other opinions. But I think it might be getting time to transform my mouthy opinions into action of some sort, I'm just uncertain where to start. 

*Sorry mom. I said vagina on the blogosphere. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

March 4 Friday Farming

March! MARCH 4th! Maaaarrrcchhhh!

That means spring is what, like 6 weeks away? 8 at the most? Yes, we live in a norther climate.
And you and I both know Bozeman usually receives it's most snow in March. The quixotic March weather is all "45 degrees! Sun! No snow!" and then 5 minutes later "Snow! More Snow!"

Last year as a neophyte gardener, I did a lot of reading to bring myself up to speed on what gardening in Montana was all about. Of course the first place to start are the United States Department of Agriculture's zone maps, which look like this and tell you how cold it really gets in your neck of the woods. My area is somewhere between 2a and 4a (minimum temperatures of -30 to -50. 

Cold hardiness charts indicate which plants you can put into the ground and expect to survive the winter. We'll see how the bushes, shrubs and bulbs I planted made it through the winter in a few weeks!

The other resource I turn to frequently is the Montana State University Ag Extension Office's website. Their yard and garden publications, downloadable in PDF, are really excellent and geared specifically for Montana. They also have frost/ freeze data and Podcasts (aren't we tech savy Ag-Extension!). 

I also have a collection of excellent reference books. The Montana Gardener's Companion, by Bob Gough and Cheryl-Moore Gough is an excellent reference for local information, as is Rocky Mountain Vegetable Gardening by the same authors. Western Garden Book, by the publishers of Sunset magazine is a gigantic encyclopedia of gardening information. It's fun to browse through and read about plants suitable for only zone 8... 

Early spring is the time of year that I have to remind myself to temper my hopes with reality. True spring-like weather is still a few weeks away. Now is the time to finalize plans and gather materials. Seed shopping, anyone?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cozy Dog

Harlow loves to sleep under our bed. I guess the bedskirt and oversize duvet make it feel den-like?

Sometimes we'll be laying in bed at night, Harlow will be under the bed, and she'll start scratching, making the entire bed shake!

She better get it in while she can, as our new bed is finally being delivered on Monday!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Money Money

Fingers crossed, and pending our tax return, DJ and I will pay off our wedding sometime in the next week. It's been riding on my credit card since July. 

Yep. Since July we've had what feels like a guillotine over our heads from wedding debt. We kept making big payments on it, but ultimately it was going to take until we got our tax return to pay the damn thing off. I can't wait for the sense of relief we'll feel with all of our credit cards at a zero balance. 

I'm not sure if we made a mistake or not in building a new house and paying for our wedding mostly on our own within nine months of each other. If we'd really looked the elephant in the eye, we'd have probably waited until 2011 to get married and pay for it all in cash. The house purchase made sense, and the wedding was gonna happen, so we just went for it. But in reality, it's been since about June of 2009 since we've been true DINKs (Dual Income No Kids). 

We've had a lot of conversations lately about our finances and how they effect the expectations we have for our life together. We both grew up middle-class kids of parents who are still pretty conservative with their finances. We both dislike carrying a credit card balance, and believe the only "good" debts are mortgages and school loans. Car loans seem to be an unavoidable evil, though both of our vehicles are currently paid off. We vacillate between running monthly expenses on a credit card (to earn points/ airlines miles/ cash back) or paying for it in cash. 

With the end of wedding debt in sight, we're starting to to think ahead. We want to travel; Europe and somewhere tropical next spring. We need to complete the purchase of bedroom furniture, and probably will need new couches soon enough. We both need new vehicles in the next 3 years or so; in fact the -27 degree wind chill killed the battery and starter in my car last week. Nothing like being thisclose to paying off the credit card, only to have to turn around and drop $300 on car repairs. That was after $400 in new tires in November. Of course, we'd like to avoid having two car payments at once, but it seems like we'll both need to get into new vehicles faster than we can pay one of them off. We could afford two car payments right now, but add $700/month in daycare costs towards the end of those car payments in 2013 or 2014 and that we can't do.

I'll put it this way. I spent Friday night running the budget spreadsheet. We make good money; we're both professionals with college and graduate degrees. We have relatively small mortgage payments and living expenses. And yet... there just doesn't seem to be enough money to do the things we want to do. It makes me wonder how our parents afforded this. It makes me doubt that we'll be able to give our kids the same quality of life we grew up with. 

Damn. What happened to the American dream?