Sunny but cold

It is such a beautiful day today. The sun is intense, and warm enough that after I bought my lunch in the cafeteria, I walked along the stream and waterfalls on campus. They were turned off for over a week and today they’re back on. I was warm enough as long as I stayed in the sun. I saw that, while the water was off in the stream, somebody had walked out onto the gravel in the little lake and put a pair of salt and pepper shakers on one of the rocks. So now they’re marooned out there. It’s not warm enough to wade out and retrieve them… but I’d probably do it anyway if I had a pair of flipflops.

Winter is a nice time to look at the landscaping here on campus. When some of the leaves are down, I can see better how they prune the bigger shrubs, and the evergreen ones, to keep them from getting unruly. A big crescent-shaped clump of nandina, mostly taller than a person, is pruned up from the bottom. You can see between the stems or trunks, and they look nice and airy. The evergreen leaves on top look great with all the red berries. Maybe I should fill a little space in my Woodchipstrip, between the small deciduous trees I’m going to plant, with three or four nandina. Now that I see how these and other big shrubs can be pruned, I wouldn’t worry as much about them getting out of control.

I also need to check out how they prune the Japanese kerria shrubs here, because I have one of those already. It’s in a place where it can spread out but I don’t want it to turn into a mess. The kerria on livesexchat campus is just starting to open its flowers and it’s full of leaf buds. I better visit the small one in our back yard and see how it’s doing.

Hooverball!

I doubt if even the oldest readers of Northwest Notes remember President Hoover. But does anyone remember Hooverball? Invented by Hoover’s doctor, it’s like volleyball, but played with a medicine ball. Instead of volleying, you catch the ball and throw it back over the net. President Hoover and his cabinet played it on the White House Lawn every morning at 7 AM.

New York Times Magazine reporter W.A. DuPuy said, “Stopping a six-pound ball with steam back of it, returning it with similar steam, is not pink-tea stuff.” He was right, as we found out today by playing Hooverball with the CrossFit crowd at the International District Chinatown Community Center. I dropped the 6-pound leather ball more times than I care to remember as it flew past me; you can’t catch it as it passes overhead. Well, I can’t, but some of the guys could. We played two on two, mixed-doubles style, with Tom and I paired together. It was fast and furious, with Jasmin live teams sometimes scoring 12 points in a 6-minute game, or 15 points in a 10-minute game.

Some of the most spectactular catches were the ones when guys managed to jump for the ball, catch it in the air, and slam it back over the net before they hit the ground. Then there were the diving catches that became a long slide into the scorekeeping table. Then there were the against-the-chest catches, which made a loud smacking noise but surprisingly didn’t hurt.

I’m in good shape, but I didn’t warm up my lower body enough. I pulled a groin muscle right at the beginning and it’s been sore ever since—not sore enough to stop me from playing, though. Tom and I played three games and won our first one. I proceeded to limp stiffly for the rest of the day. When we finished, my entire arms were aching from the impact of the ball. About twelve of us went for dimsum at Honey Court afterwards. It was all lots of fun.

You can play drop-in Hooverball every Saturday for $2 at the same location from 2:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon. I want to go back and do it again. (Strangely, anything I do that hurts, I respond with, “Hmm, I should do that more often!”) If we play more Hooverball, I wonder how it will affect our volleyball games this summer.

Update: Tom and I are temporarily the cover gal and guy on the CrossFit site here.

Who needs groceries?

My carpool friend stayed home today, so I took care of an errand in Madison Park before I came home. On the way there, I got all excited about how light out it still was at 4:05—this looked like a chance to buy some primrose plants and maybe even get home in time to plant them. I’d seen in the paper today that all the nurseries are full of primroses right now so they were on my mind all day. But at a nursery they would probably be twice the price as at the supermarket. I went to the grocery store and bought 15 plants, in all colors (not my photo), for $20. Lucky I didn’t have a grocery list with me, because I couldn’t have carried one more thing.

The grocery store, Burt’s Red Apple, is a small, cramped supermarket on a corner. Outside on the extra-wide sidewalk, they have big rolling shelves of plants just about all year round. They also have florist wares in a tent on their little parking lot. Shopping on the sidewalk and carrying a box of plants into the store to pay feels so old-timey, and the Livejasmine prices are so guiltlessly low, that Burt’s is one of the most fun places to shop for plants. (The Arboretum’s weekly Wednesday plant sales are another.) No battling for space in a parking lot, no nursery staff, no wandering a dizzying maze of plant tables. Just pretty plants that, if they happen to be the ones I want, are accessible and cheap.

I came in the house, changed my shoes and socks, grabbed my rubber gloves, and was back outside to plant my flowers within ten minutes. I didn’t even pick up the mail. This left me plenty of time to get all my plants in the ground—some in the small beds in front of the house, some in the narrow strip on the north side, and some next to the patio. These primroses are nothing unusual—some consider them a cliché so tacky that to plant them is an offense—but to me they’re the sweetest eye candy. I like them the best when they’re mixed in with another, more prolific groundcover, like my ornamental strawberries on the back slope, or bergenias. Today I dug holes for the primroses in the mats of blue-star creeper that have gotten monotonous as they’ve spread. The crisp, oblong green primrose leaves (not my photo), with their crunchy-looking texture and their rosette shape, will make a pretty contrast. Not to mention the colorful flowers, which are so vivid (not my photo) that I don’t know how anyone can not love the.

I have two others that I got at Christianson’s Nursery last fall on my Skagit County nursery-browsing trip. They were labeled as pink double English primroses. I’m looking forward to seeing them flower. They look happy in the raised bed next to the patio.

I noticed just the other day that the clematis, whose second season this will be, has tiny leaf buds along its vine. It’s in a big rectangular cement pot with a southeast exposure.

Tree shopping

Today I sprinkled 15 pounds of blood meal or more onto my compost pile and onto the Woodchipstrip. It’s an organic nitrogen supplement that I hope will help the woody materials and dead leaves break down. In summer I’ll have the opposite problem: all greens and not enough browns.

Then I put tall and short stakes in the Woodchipstrip to mark where I plan to put trees and shrubs. I made a sketch recently, which helped me place the stakes and then visualize how the area will look after it’s planted. I subtracted three trees and several shrubs from my plan once I was out there in reality, putting in the stakes. My plan is now narrowed down to: one paperbark maple in the section where there are no overhead wires, two kousa dogwoods, a few roses (probably all in white, climbing or upright shrubs), and two viburnum ‘Dawn.’

I like using stakes to help me plan where to put things. It really helps my imagination work. I find myself standing and staring intently at my stakes as if they are beautiful trees.

The hard part is deciding whether to buy inexpensive two- to three-foot baby trees and be patient for them to grow, or to spring for six-foot trees and delivery. I saw the former listed on arborday.org for about $11 each, but they would only be knee high for the first couple of years.

City People’s garden store says they will have trees in stock at the end of February. I can’t imagine that they would be willing to deliver, though, even though they are close by. Whenever I’ve asked them for any extra service (such as a special order) the answer is always “no.” I guess I could thread the trees through my sunroof into the car and take them home one at a time that way, like I did with the redbud a couple of years ago.

Better idea: ask my friend to help by driving them home in her new used camper van.

Daffodils and hellebores

After a couple of cold weeks, the weather turned warm, with temperatures higher than 60 F on some days this week. It feels great! Yesterday I noticed the first daffodils—three early ones in the back yard and a bunch in a little park near here. The rest of my daffodils are just starting to come up. I’m hoping for flowers this year on the ones in the big southeast bed, which I planted in fall 2003 after storing them for a year (which I think drained their energy). They came up last spring but didn’t bloom. My most advanced daffodils that aren’t yet blooming are along the south foundation of the house and they’re about six inches tall. It will be their third or fourth year. Tom planted new ones last fall in the Woodchipstrip north of the house, and a few of them are up an inch.

Today I saw I have a few yellow crocuses blooming too, in front of the house, with lots more coming up. As usual I’ve forgotten where various bulbs are. Last fall I started using lots of little white popsicle sticks to mark where I planted bulbs, but bulbs older than that are invisible when dormant.

Irises are coming up everywhere. I’m excited to see the new varieties I put in last fall start blooming. I didn’t get a lot—maybe three plants each in several colors. I try to spread them out among other plants instead of putting a big group of them together. They form a big group on their own pretty fast.

And of course, zillions of the cursed bluebells are happily sprouting in more places than I hoped. I think on a couple of occasions when I moved a plant, I may have spread some bluebells along with it. They make me feel like all my efforts are doomed, and in a few years I’ll have nothing but bluebells. Surely the situation is not that dire.

I also have a couple of winter flowers in bloom, a lovely berry-colored hellebore with white stamens (blooming for the first time) and a viburnum ‘Dawn,’ which I always wish I’d planted in a more accessible, visible location. I’m trying to grow another one from a cutting, and if it succeeds I’ll squeeze it into the Woodchipstrip with the little trees I’m planning to put in.

And then there’s a holdover from summer, a red salvia that’s still showing one or two flowers. I’m glad it’s happy.

Some of the new plants from last year that I’m especially looking forward to seeing are the yellow kerria with its fluffy popcornish flowers—I just love those yellow flowers blooming in the shade in spring—and the kniphofia (red-hot pokers). The pokers flowered only a little last year, their first year, but the clump has gradually doubled in size since then. They’re in a good spot if they want to grow a giant clump. They can duke it out with the bluebells.

No email? I feel like I'm missing my right arm

The helpdesk is receiving almost no calls today, following a flurry of calls this morning asking, “Why won't Outlook start up? Where's my email?” Our Exchange server is down, so there has been no email all day. But why no phone calls? It seems to indicate that almost all of our usual calls must be related to email. If I were asked what is the most frequent topic of helpdesk calls, I would have guessed Outlook, but I wouldn't have guessed that it sparked 99 percent of all calls.

I came in this morning to find a lecturing voicemail on my office phone. It was a bigwig who said I didn't return his call fast enough last night after hours (I'm on call this week), that this was unacceptable, and that he would take it up with my manager. But I'd returned his call only one minute later than the timestamp on the message. Somehow the message was delayed. He couldn't have known that. I can understand him thinking I was a freak for calling him two hours later and sounding as chipper as if it were an immediate call-back, which for me, it was. But I hate being lectured. I hope if I had been in his shoes, I would have asked for some answers before lecturing and tattling to the person's boss.

This is the bad part of my job—of any job, I guess: people who use their position of power to inflate a problem and force it, and their own emotional stress, onto other people. The big wheels have the luxury of not keeping a grip on how big or small a problem really is. His original question was simple and was quickly answered by someone else. But the chance to inflict stress on me, the IT director, and the office managers was too much fun for him to resist. I wonder if this tactic brings any emotional relief to the person who uses it.

One of my coworkers suggests just dealing with a caller's problem and ignoring the emotional side. My coworker is really good at doing that himself. What I can't figure out is how to ignore the emotional stuff when a caller displays it so insistently. People are really good at tying the problem to the “metaproblem” of how they feel about the problem. They are often more anxious to unload their stress onto the helpdesk than they are to focus on the technical problem. I want to get better at deflecting the anger.

On the bright side today, I have the impression people are enjoying not having to deal with email. Wait until it's fixed, though, and there will be a deluge. Probably tonight, while I'm on call.

I'm skipping the gym tonight to go home and relax, practice the guitar, and do some minor chores. I'll also work on my list of garden tasks for this weekend, and resolve to do most of them no matter how hard it's raining. I'm inspired by Sky's comment on the previous post. It can all be done—just not as fast as I wish.