Tuesday, July 07, 2009

and i'm sure i'm not the only one who feels this way

When celebrities die, I feel sorry for their families. But when I heard Michael Jackson passed away, I truly felt a sadness though I'm not nearly his biggest fan. I was trying to explain this to H--who enjoys his music but doesn't feel much of a connection--and I wasn't able to put it into words.

But this afternoon as I sat and watched coverage of Michael Jackson's memorial service, I realized what it is: The guy is a big part of my personal soundtrack. Thriller and Bad were some of my first beloved cassette tapes, and I'm pretty sure my brother and I could still re-enact the choreography (and the dialogue) of Smooth Criminal. It's probably why my first impulse when I heard of Michael's death was to send him a text message.

During those long summer days after The Dukes of Hazzard was over and my mother had threatened bodily harm if my brother called her at work ONE MORE TIME to say how bored he was, there wasn't much to do but pop a movie into the old Betamax machine. Soap operas are hardly entertaining for a fifth-grader and a first-grader stuck inside without cable until 2:45. Especially when the first grader a) didn't like to read b) could only tolerate one board game a day c) ALWAYS decided on the film/entertainment even when pretending it was my turn and d) had an Approved Watching List of just three movies: Home Alone, Troop Beverly Hills and Moonwalker.

We watched Moonwalker a lot.

It didn't end there. He made me cut off the fingertips on one of my white gloves and put sequins on it to go with the white sock/black shoe ensemble required for video dancealongs. And though I was always reading a book, it was cute to look up and see his little legs imitating the steps. I smile just thinking about it.

My brother has been home visiting for about a week, and he's coming to stay at my place to hang out and catch up. It was a treasure last Christmas to find Troop Beverly Hills in the dvd bin at (of all places) the hardware store, but it made a phenomenal stocking stuffer. It'd be great to get Moonwalker and watch it with my brother one more time. Though I doubt he'll dust off any of those old moves. Well, maybe the spin, if I'm lucky.

The only example I can think of to put the passing of Michael Jackson into perspective for H is that it's a little like how it'll feel for him when longtime baseball announcer Vin Scully dies. H grew up listening to Vin call the games for his favorite team and says it's just not the same with anyone else at the mic. We've never actually met these people, but experiencing what they do best has become like a delicious, familiar smell: One whiff, and you're right back in your 1989 living room, laughing as your brother shuffles his feet, hoots and grabs his crotch in time to the television. It's not like the new music Michael Jackson might have made would be the same by any means, but acknowledging that he will never sing another song just solidifies the fact that those lazy summer days of dancing around are truly gone forever.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

all we've got to give is love and hard labor

When my parents bought this house 21 years ago, one of the draws was the raised garden in the back. In the southeast corner, it gets plenty of sun and it's regularly yielded delicious veggies from zucchini as big as my thigh to sweet cherry tomatoes. It's just not summer without hanging out in the back yard, working on the garden.

But this patch was in need of a major rehab. For one, my parents have cobbled scrap wood onto the sides to keep it together, and their efforts to keep out THE BUNNIES haven't always been successful. The entire corner is on a slope, and heavy rains wash a good chunk of the dirt away; they ended up putting about ten bags of high-quality soil onto it every year. Plus, the rocks and gravel from the bottom have slowly risen through the ranks due to years of frost heave.

H and I thought it'd be a nice project to build a sturdier, more level garden for my mom, even though our gardening knowledge tops out at how much we like to eat what grows there. But with a little Internet research and several trips to the hardware store, we began.


We hadn't banked on the four corner posts being buried deep and rooted in cement. We also did not estimate there would be THAT much dirt packed so tightly.

We had to buy a bigger, sturdier wheelbarrow. This was by far our best investment; it paid for itself about tenfold. This is about a quarter of the way dug out.

This was the FIRST dirt pile. It is difficult to describe how big it was. I am 5'3" and the peak of this came up to my shoulder. But H's youth spent building bike-riding dirt ramps came in mighty handy. Our method was to fill the wheelbarrow, push it into the center of the yard, take a running start up a ramp in the dirt and dump it without getting flipped over or dragged down.

It took us all weekend just to dig out the hole (taking breaks for the rain, of course). This is a little more than halfway done. We had to start another pile when it became too hard to get the wheelbarrow to the top of this one.

One major goal was for the new garden to be level instead of sloping with the hill. We weren't sure how far down to dig, but we knew it'd have to be deeper on the right side. It ended up being about 12-15 inches deep on the right and 6 or 7 inches on the left. H dug out the left side a little farther because my mom wanted the garden to be bigger.


It rained. We spent the whole weekend at the garden center coming up with a game plan. We ordered the bricks, which would be delivered the next week.


If we'd started building the garden at the depth we'd dug to, the brick wall wouldn't even show over the edge of the hole and it'd be less effective at keeping out THE BUNNIES. So we had to fill back in. Sigh. This was slightly less difficult as digging out--only because the dirt was no longer packed so tight. But after the rain it got packed anyway. This is the view from the top of the pile to the ground.

There were A TON of rocks in the dirt. So we built this "sifter" to pick them out, which was extremely time-consuming. My mom kept trying to help with the shoveling, but I was worried about her back so we gave her this job. It was just as hard, but didn't have as much heavy lifting. When it became apparent we wouldn't have time to sift it all, this dirt was designated to be "topsoil."

This is about a quarter of the way into filling the hole with the first pile. To put this in perspective, we calculated that (with two half-trucks of topsoil, plus the ten bags a year of peat moss my parents have added over the years) H and I had dug out FOUR THOUSAND POUNDS of dirt. And then we had to put most of it back into the hole.

Making it level was H's personal mission, so even though I'm in this photo I can't take much credit for all the work (it took forever) to get it all even. At this point, we had filled in most of the hole and started to tamp down the part on which the bricks would lie. We called my mom's friend's husband who is a bricklayer and he said that would be a good idea, as well putting down a layer of pea gravel and sand under the bricks.

The person who helped us at the garden center had said we didn't need the gravel or sand, but at that point we'd rather have been safe than sorry if the whole thing sank or collapsed after a few seasons of hard rain. Plus we trusted the bricklayer more than the clerk at the store.

After the project was finished, it came to light that the bricklayer thought we were building a patio, not a garden wall. We could have just laid the bricks down on the grass because "it's not like people were going to walk on it." Lesson learned. But we would have sat down and cried if the whole thing fell apart later, so we don't regret the extra work to get it right. Hundreds of measurements have confirmed that it is indeed perfectly level.

We originally ordered enough bricks for a three-tiered wall. As we started industrial-strength-glueing the stones, we thought it would look better/be harder on THE BUNNIES if we made it four layers. And when we went back to the garden store, our bricks were on sale! So we purchased enough for the last layer and got back the difference in price on the ones we had bought earlier, a savings of nearly $200!

Finishing the wall (it was nearly dark, but we got it done) made me jump for joy. Kudos to H who was able to pull off this action shot with very little ambient light.


Raining. Again. We bought more seedlings because the original ones were starting to wilt in their containers. This project was taking longer than expected.


We finally filled the garden back up with dirt, then topped it with "sifted" dirt. If we were going to do this again, we would have stopped and thought longer before grabbing the shovels--the highest-quality dirt actually ended up at the BOTTOM of our new garden. But because my parents had added so much soil over the years, we hope that it will still be good.

We spent a lot of time thinking about how we were going to protect the garden from THE BUNNIES. In estimating the amount of bricks, we miscalculated just a little and ended up two bricks short. This became the "doorway" (we didn't want my mom to have to climb in and out over the poultry netting). We fashioned this "gate" out of heavy-duty steel shelf-mounting rails and a screen-door protector. It's going to take some damn intrepid THE BUNNIES to get into this garden.

After the netting and stakes (we piled more dirt against the netting so THE BUNNIES can't climb up and under it) were in place, it was time to plant! We placed plastic stepping stones in strategic places for kneeling and walking.

Let's hope it grows.