Saturday, March 27, 2010

Phase I Landscaping finished

For some reason this project exhausted me. I wasn't doing any heavy lifting, but I was letting go in some ways that were difficult. Alberto, the landscaper, had some good ideas and I went along with almost everything. I am pleased with his work and his prices were so reasonable. I have already talked with him about coming back to do my sprinkling system and finish cleanup and add bark in the remaining areas. Here are just a few shots of the results.

The reconfigured and narrower steps leading up to the beautiful new upper level.  The apple tree is gone.  The little birds visiting yesterday seemd disoriented by that.  I'll plant some ground cover along the steps and a new bird-friendly tree at the corner of the deck once I have sprinklers there to keep it alive.  That's coming in Phase II.
 This is my favorite section - the round patio (we brought in heavier flagstone for this and used my little blue rocks for the pathway).  Next fall I'll plant some perennials in here, but this summer I think it will be annuals in pots.  I can't wait to sit up here on a summer evening and watch the sunset.
Standing at the top of the new second set of steps looking down on my large swath of xeriscaped area.  Many little things are starting to grow, but we won't really see a garden here until April.  A second view of that area from the other end looking up from my driveway.
They trimmed up the old pfitzer which I'm keeping for sentimental reasons, but got rid of that one plant that always gave me a rash every time I trimmed it, cleaned up under the bushes and the entire west side, reconfigured my funny little cinderblock steps I put in to get me to the backyard from the front.  The next phase I'll have them add the landscape fabric and bark on the west side too.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's all good

The landscapers worked almost a solid 12 hours in my yard yesterday.  Honestly, they barely took a break for lunch.  I put out coffee and muffins and replenished during the day, with cold water as the day got warmer.  I appreciate their hard work and honestly feel sort of bad they worked such long hours on my behalf.  But I do know they'd do that wherever they were working.

The steps are so nice, the cleanup amazing, and the patio - well I had not imagined how pretty it would be.  They said there were not enough of the bluish rocks I already had, so we decided to go with some larger ones for a small additional charge, and they would use my other rocks for a pathway.  I'll get pictures when the sun comes up.

I decided to go ahead with the project on the west side while they were there.  Their prices are very reasonable and it's work I need to have done.  They are putting in a couple of retaining walls for me and taking out the old all-but-dead apple tree.  They cut down the tree late last night, and it was a shock to walk out and see it gone.  I have an emotional attachment to that tree.  It's where I've most enjoyed watching the birds from my dining room all these 30 years I've lived here.  I will need to replace it and soon.  My heart can hardly stand that vacancy.

They are going to be cutting down some other things today too, but I might put a hold on one of them, my last remaining old pfitzer bush.  It's another place the birds love, and it provides a small barrier between my deck and the road.  I think I need to keep it lest I feel totally naked to the world on that west side.

Pictures soon, I think.

UPDATE:  Okay, here they are from the dim pre-dawn light.  The bark is coming along nicely.  This picture doesn't do justice to how pretty the new round patio is.  But oh what a mess where the apple tree was.  In the light of day it's an even greater shock.  Patience, Becky, this wiill get better.  You can see the steps, not as wide, not as steep, more of them.  But we exposed an old unused sprinkler line in the process and that will have to come out.
Just for a point of reference, here's how that tree was looking two years ago, already quite dead:
I realize things sometimes have to get worse before they get better. I remember when they tore down my room addition to turn it into a covered patio. I so love my patio now, but that, too, was such a shock at first. Why do we cling to things even when change is so needed?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Landscapers Tomorrow!

I promised myself I'd get help this year.  When a landscaper I had used previously dropped by two weeks ago asking if I had any work for him, I decided to look at what I needed and break it into three jobs.  I was thinking I might have him do one, two or all three jobs.  He started at $3,000 total with his bid and dropped to $2,500.  I felt somewhat unsure.  It seemed high and I had had some problems with his work the two occasions I had hired him.  I decided to get a couple more bids.  When he dropped by a day later, he dropped his bid to $2,000 but I would still have to pay for the mulch above that.  The second guy had done work for my sister and he seemed to really grasp what I needed. He promised to mail me his quote.  It never arrived.  The third guy I found from a flyer left on the doorknob of a friend of mine.  I was surprised the guy seemed to have a very good grasp of what I wanted and he made a couple of suggestions to improve on my ideas.  The bid was just under $1700 including all materials.

After thinking about it over the weekend, I called the third guy on Monday and said let's do it.  He asks for no payment until the job is done and I'm satisfied.  He said he could start this week.  He just called and he will be here tomorrow. 

So here's where we're starting.  I'm excited to be getting this done.

Steps to the upper level.  My husband had made these out of full-length railroad ties years ago.  Now they are tilting forward and slanting to the west.  We will cut these long ties in half and make two sets of stairs, one at either side of that upper level.  He will reinforce them with rebar to hold them firmly in place.  This is such an ugly area just outside my dining room, I'll be so happy to have it cleaned up and straightened up.
The upper level.  Long unused, it is the only flat spot in my yard and was once grass-covered and a place for croquet and badminton for the kids.  The workers will clean this up and put down landscaper's fabric and spread bark so I can extend my xeriscaping here.  Somewhere  here we will also put down sand and lay some rocks I have as pavers for a small patio.
Here are the rocks I got for free from my boss last year just for hauling them away.  Rocks are expensive and I was glad to get these.  I think the blue coloring is particularly interesting and should make for a pretty centerpiece in my upper level.
My main xeriscaped area will get all new rich brown bark this year.  Two years ago I worked very hard with the help of my granddaughter and put down some mulch that already looked rather gray and faded.  My landscaper promises nice and brown and he will bring a sample for me to approve.  I have already cut down all of last year's growth here, so it's pretty barren with just some daffodils and tulips poking through.  But everything is putting up shoots and it will soon be very pretty.
So those are the three areas.  If that goes well, I have some work for them to do on the west side, too.  With all that heavy lifting done, my job of maintaining becomes much easier.  And who knows, I may just hire some of that done as well.

Movie Review: Moon

I don't watch a lot of sci-fi, but I took my daughter's advice and ordered Moon from Netflix.  It has an interesting enough concept: an energy company has a mining operation on the moon harvesting a fuel that has replaced fossil fuels on earth and solved our energy problems.  The moon station is manned by one man who is just two weeks from the end of his three-year contract and will soon be going home. His job is to keep the automated mining equipment online and to pick up filled canisters from time to time and shoot them back to Earth.

The moon station is appropriately futuristic, although worker Sam Bell has brought in an old leather chair and keeps family pictures tacked up around his sleeping quarters.  A detailed hand-carved wood replica of his town on earth gives the impression he's been there a very long time. 

Sam is well tired of his job and very anxious to get home.  His conversations with his wife and with his employer have been reduced to recordings as the live link to the moon is broken.  Sam is discouraged with the company for not making the communications link a higher priority.  Sam's only companion on the moon is a charming robot named "Gerty", with the voice provided by Kevin Spacey.  You can't help feeling the loneliness.  And then one day, another person shows up . . .

I won't get into the plot more than this as it would be too easy to give too much away.  I have to admit I was drawn into the story and began to really feel for the characters.  Sam suffers some injuries, and there are some bloody scenes that required some eye-covering on my part.  I'm squeamish.  I did find myself getting ahead of the story a time or two, but there were sufficient surprises and tense moments. 

The theme of the movie plays well because the dilemma is most believable.  This isn't Star Wars by any means, it's more cerebral and less fantastic.  The movie is well done and will hold your interest.  I'm giving it 4 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Ghost Writer

Saturday a storm rolled in, rain at first and then snow.  I had planned to do more spring cleanup in the yard, but the weather spoiled my plans.  And since the house was clean and everyone I know was off doing Saturday things, I took myself out to a movie on the spur of the moment.  I chose "The Ghost Writer" which had just arrived at Salt Lake's Broadway Theatre -- the place for foreign and independent movies, and occasionally mainstream movies with more of an edge.  This movie would fall into the latter category.

Directed by Roman Polanski, this was billed as a suspense thriller.  This is a bit out of the normal genre for me, but I liked the writeup in the NY Times.  It turned out to suit me quite well.  This was no Robert Ludlum story with numerous characters and a complex plot.  The cast is small and the storyline simple.  Facts are slowly revealed to you the viewer as our main character learns them.  There is just enough tension in the movie to keep you alert but not overly tense.

The movie opens in London with our main character, the ghost writer, played so well by Ewan McGregor, applying for the job of rewriting the memoirs of the former British Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan.  McGregor's predecessor in the position has met an untimely death, falling overboard from a ferry and drowning.  Right away we begin to realize that all is not as it seems.  Questions arise, and clues begin to emerge.  Little by little we are drawn into the story and, through the eyes of the ghost writer, we learn the answers that lead us to the ultimate conclusion.

I particularly liked the style of the movie.  It had the feel of an updated 1940's Bogart mystery.  The characters are fairly one-dimensional but deliciously so.  The dialogue is crisp, clipped, spare.  Most of the movie takes place on an island off the Cape Cod coast.  The dismal weather, the stark but beautiful seacoast, the fortress-like building, all contribute to the uneasy feeling of personal discomfort and possible danger.

The political background has just enough flavor of recent history.  You might believe the Prime Minister is based on, but is not quite, Tony Blair.  The war-profiteering company Hatherton is clearly meant to remind you of real-life Haliburton.  But the story necessarily departs from reality there.

The one distraction for me was Kim Catrell's phony British accent, as she played the role of the Prime Minister's personal assistant.  Her voice was unnaturally high pitched, and when she says "Right!", it just doesn't feel right.  Much better, I think, to have cast her as an American assistant and allowed her to use her more suitable sultry voice.  Still, the distraction was minor.

I give this movie four stars out of five.  While the plot was a bit thin, that was more than made up for by the acting, the scenery, the photography, and the way in which the story was told.  It turned out to be a very pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon.  Walking out of the theater afterward was a bit like closing the cover on an enjoyable mystery novel.  I recommend this one.

"Rated PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference."

Sunday, March 14, 2010


This is just a little FYI.  I'm giving up on my separate blogs for movie and books reviews.  For one thing, I rarely post there.  For another thing, I am simply committed to writing in too many separate places, and I need to simplify my online presence.  So I've iimported all the past movie and book reviews into this blog and will post any future such reviews here.  I'll try to remember to put "Review" in the title of those posts to help identify them.  I'll keep RedStateBlues as a separate political and commentary blog.