Potting Shed Finale: The Budget Version


We have a difference of opinion, husband and I.  I say when we redeem our credit card points on a snazzy, bright orange Home Depot gift card, the plants subsequently hauled home are “free.”

He disagrees, bringing up the logical, but completely unnecessary, observation that the points are equivalent to dollars.  Such a killjoy!

Nonetheless, after pricing out my initial plans for the potting shed project, I decided to try to accomplish them with as much stuff as I could from the Big Box.  And I’m fairly happy with the result because it is a working potting shed, after all, and I’m not possessed of Martha Stewart’s ambition….or budget.

So goodbye to dreams of this:

Fantasy "After"

Fantasy “After”

And hello to reality. We started out with this bereft little structure floating in the middle of our parking area:


We put some thoughts on paper….


….and revised those plans as we went along. Initially, I had hoped to install a picket fence around the perimeter and/or do some kind of boxwood edging.


Fencing around the whole garden is just too expensive, so we did a little accent fence in the back to define the border. And expensive bricks were replaced with pavers, a giant pile of which happened to be on sale.


Walkway edged with leftover bricks from another project

Boxwood did not make the final version either. Triple the price of the little Japanese hollies I selected, they also would grow much too large for their spot. Easy decision there.


The wooden frame on the wall will support an espalier of the fig tree. By this time next year, it should start taking shape.

Did I mention we had a construction supervisor? His salary demands were achievable…..


He occasionally asked for second opinions on plant selections:


A few details:

We built a nice little pergola with corbels I found about five years ago in an antiques booth owned by my friend, Dorothy. I planted two little hyacinth bean vine beans hoping they would germinate. Germinate? The thing has become a menacing presence since I took the photo below. There’s a reason for the Jack and the Beanstalk story.


The potting shed is out in open territory  susceptible to the ravages of deer and without easy access to water. Plantings have to be drought tolerant and varmint-resistant. This garden is not for sissies:


Knowing that deer avoid the blueish, furry, and highly aromatic plants, I selected lamb’s ear, Russian sage, lavender, creeping thyme, and rosemary along with a pot of succulents and some blue fescue. Love how that blue grass really adds a nice, squat textural element to the little bed.


OK, so the walkways are built, the fence is installed and painted, the plants are dug in and settled, and it looks like this now:


I used two big containers that were languishing in the garage as definers for the two front corners and planted some empty terra cotta pots for either side of the walkway to the door. The cobblestone for the walkway was leftover from a demolition project and worked perfectly here.


We introduced a couple new members to the Concrete Menagerie for this garden. The first, a cute little pig, remains unnamed. A certain evil friend of mine suggested “Prosciutto.” One is not amused.


And every country place needs a big ol’ Foghorn Leghorn, doesn’t it? Cock-a-doodle-doo, y’all!


Not exactly sticking to my budget here, but he was irresistible.

I had an old window frame to which we attached a little window box. I’ve held off having one here for ages because, well, I like to make the deer at least bend down to devour my plants instead of offering them up on a silver platter, so to speak. But then I spied these gorgeous ornamental peppers and thought “Aha!” Unless my deer develop a taste for Mexican, I am all set.


You can see that the hyacinth bean vine is working its way around the shed now. If I ever go missing, look for my lifeless body entangled in this vine first, okay?


And there you have it! Next year I’ll see what worked and what didn’t, plant-wise. And I’m thinking it needs some kind of edging, don’t you? Next year, next year….

Oh, and I almost forgot the very best part!! Thanks to my friend, Pat, who suggested in an earlier post that I should have one of these…..

Are you ready? It’s quite wonderful, you know. Prepare yourself…..

Ta Da!!!!


Thanks for reading and let me know your ideas to name little Piglet,


Posted in Garden, Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 60 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

Show us what endurance means to you. Is it that high-school diploma, beads of sweat earned on a long run, a treasured family heirloom, or something else entirely?

My first choice for “endurance” was a photo of the grand oak in front of my old Barn. It has endured much sturm und drang in its long life; in fact, it is missing half its giant limbs from an encounter with Hurricane Isabel.

But then I came across this photo from a recent trip to Scotland and changed my mind. This photo of the Queen’s pew in Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirk is symbolic of the United Kingdom’s endurance, particularly in light of Scotland’s recent vote to secede.


In case there is any question, the crown signifies which pew belongs to Her Majesty.

And why not, here is one of my old oaks reaching out to the Barn.  Somebody suggested removing that branch. Can you imagine?


These ancient oaks rather remind me of the United Kingdom now that I think about it: a bit battered from enduring a long life, yet still standing strong and proud. And more than a little awe-inspiring.

Posted in Challenges, Needlework, The Barn | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

We are asked to interpret “humanity” in a photograph for this week’s challenge. That can be an awfully deep and serious subject, and I am not in the mood for pondering things of a somber nature….for a change.

And so we are going to play “Spot the Americans” today:


In Taiwan, participating in a trust-building exercise. At least that’s what we think we’re doing. Beloved Husband suggests maybe we were just in the road for fun. Translation failed us that day.

How many cliches can I drag out about travel broadening horizons, and people being essentially more alike than different? There! I just managed to revive two of them! But it’s true, isn’t it? And maybe if we took the time to eat a meal together, work together, play together, we would find a common humanity. And peace would reign…..yeah, I know, get real, Barb.


Indulging the Taiwanese passion for non-stop picture taking! Smile and say 奶酪

Posted in Challenges, Needlework | Tagged , , | 47 Comments

Detour to Little Rock

It had been a tough four years leading up to this long-delayed and much needed vacation. Let’s just say that the launching of our business, a long-held dream of my husband’s, had not been as successful as we had anticipated. Sales growth? Glaciers moved faster.

Notice I say it was a dream of my husband’s; I had never been fully on-board with this venture and wasn’t exactly a pillar of support or strength through the difficult days. The strain of getting this business up and running was not what I had in mind for this phase of our lives, and a certain entrepreneur bore the brunt of my pity party. Everybody say “Awwwww, poor Barb, she’s having to deal with a setback.  Isn’t that terrible?”

At the lowest point we had exactly one mortgage payment left in the bank. I had no choice but to go back to work selling real estate, a career at which I excelled but not-so-secretly loathed. Square peg in round hole sums it up. I had hoped those days were far behind me and now imagined myself a poor downtrodden and beleaguered beast of burden. Absolutely insufferable, wasn’t I?

We managed to hang on by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins and, finally, the financial pressures eased a bit. After four long years without one, we could take a vacation.

We would leave Richmond, connect in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and fly into Albuquerque. Beautiful Santa Fe, here we come.

I cannot tell you how excited, relieved, and almost giddy with happiness we were as we settled into our seats that morning and climbed to cruising altitude. It was a gorgeous morning; I had a window seat, I remember, and the sun was streaming in. We had breakfast, and I was doing the crossword puzzle when everything changed. Just like that.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Due to the attack on the Pentagon, the FAA has temporarily closed all air space. We are to put down at the nearest available airport. It looks like we’ll be landing in Little Rock shortly.”

What?? What attack on the Pentagon? And so what if there was? Some nut with a gun opens fire in a parking lot and they close down airspace? What if we miss our connection? This is going to ruin our trip! Little Rock??

We circled over Little Rock for about 45 minutes before being allowed to land. No sooner did we hit the tarmac then passengers started frantically calling home. And that’s when we heard that the attack on the Pentagon was not all that had happened; news of the unfathomable was being spread from seat to seat by increasingly agitated passengers.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course the Towers didn’t come down. Good God.” I remember these words as if I said them yesterday. It was preposterous to hear such a thing; clearly any sane person would know that this was just not within the realm of possibility.

What in God’s name had happened as we, oblivious to the horror, had flown blissfully along towards our destinations?

Maybe within a half hour of landing the captain came on the air again and told us to gather our belongings and disembark. At the gate, holding rifles, stood some National Guard, directing us down to baggage claim.  I saw a TV on the wall and headed to it.

“Ma’am! Get back in the line. Now!”  Whoa, what is happening here? You better believe I got back in that line and pronto.

As we walked, subdued and dazed, we saw the restaurant TVs with the terrible footage. We all just stood there, in stunned little pods, craning our necks, trying desperately to absorb what had just happened to our world.

It began to sink in that night in the hotel as we watched the news reports, over and over. While we were 30,000 feet in the air having our breakfast and working the crossword puzzle, other people, just like us but for their doomed choice of airplane, had lost their lives. We couldn’t help feeling, warranted or not, that we had somehow dodged a bullet.


Memorial to the victims of September 11 on the grounds of Princeton University.

Perspective can hit with a sucker punch and that day it walloped me big-time. Happy because I was going on vacation? How about being happy because I’m alive? Just to be breathing in and out is an indescribable marvel, a miracle, really. Add to it a person to love and we’re rich as Croesus, aren’t we?

We remember September 11 and its impact on our lives each in our own way, I guess. I’m not saying I had an epiphany that day; that wouldn’t be honest. I had a shock which sent me down the road towards a permanent attitude adjustment, no doubt. I worry it might be offensive to you, dear reader, that I even attempt to describe what happened to us, as insignificant as it was, on the anniversary of 9/11. I know our experiences that day were nothing, nothing at all, compared to what happened to so many others but somehow want to tell the story anyway. I hope you understand.

I am forever grateful for a detour to Little Rock.


Posted in Random Ruminations | Tagged , , , | 59 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure

This week’s challenge: Whether your own or someone else’s, literal or figurative, take us on a photographic adventure.

Because I am a hopelessly literate thinker, no risk of a figurative adventure here.

Do you know the difference between the aviation terms “VFR” and “IFR”? Doesn’t everybody?

VFR= Visual Flight Rules. This is how most private pilots fly, never going on to earn their IFR designation. It means, basically, that you fly and navigate by looking out the window. VISUAL. You are not permitted to fly through clouds and must maintain sight of the horizon at all times.

IFR = Instrument Flight Rules. To earn this designation, a pilot literally flies under a hood unable to see anything except the instruments on the dashboard. Navigation and piloting occur using absolutely nothing except the instruments. My pilot, a really smart guy, said it was the hardest test he’s ever taken. Once earned, a pilot can fly through clouds and in heavy, low ceilings.

Any pilot would be screaming right now at my gross oversimplifications, but we get the drift, right?

The weather is the main reason we fly IFR.  In July we had two big events coinciding over the Fourth: a family reunion and our 40th anniversary. The weather in Virginia was glorious, but forecasts warned us of big storms as we flew into New England. If my pilot were not IFR – rated, the flight would have to be canceled.

This is “One-Niner-Three-Three-Mike,” my favorite of the four planes in my husband’s flying club, “The Wingnuts.”



The James River in Richmond, VA as we headed north:


As we approached Maine, the weather got progressively worse. On-board radar is a beautiful thing. The blue/purple line is our flight path. Flying between two storms like this is called “threading the needle.”


This is where instrument training comes into play as cloud cover begins to block the horizon.


Ahhh, at last. Portland, Maine in sight:


Safely on the ground! Portland is my kind of town: coffee shops, book stores, rugged Yankee architecture, museums, the harbor, and, oh yes, lobster.

Posted in Challenges, Needlework | Tagged , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Why I Should Label Things

Or Why Beloved Husband Should Stay Out of My Potting Shed

It was a bustling morning yesterday with BH getting ready to fire up the “dress truck” for a drive down to North Carolina for a customer visit.

The Dress Truck, you ask? Well, yes. Anybody who lives in the country has to have at least one truck. It’s part of the by-laws, I think. We have our good old beater truck that has worked very hard for us and certainly looks the part. But BH also has a beautiful truck that he uses to haul the camper and as his preferred mode of transportation. It’s one of those king cab Ford trucks that cause good ol’ boys to walk up and say some variation on “Nice truck, bud.” Happens ALL the time. And BH does his best to take very good care of it.

That’s where the trouble started. Often after hauling our two Westie boys around, the truck has that doggie smell which he does his best to eradicate with various sprays. And since he was taking a salesperson with him on the drive, he thought he would give it a good spritz beforehand.

Can you guess where I’m going here?

Suddenly the back door bursts open.

BH: What the %$&* do you have in the Febreze bottle?

Me: What Febreze bottle?

BH: The one in the potting shed.

Me: Are you kidding me? DEER REPELLENT!!!!

Yup, he sprayed down his entire truck with the hideously reeking Liquid Fence concoction I use to save my day lilies. 

I am then informed I really should label things. Really? I know what is what. He is promptly informed he needs to stay out of my potting shed. 

And is it too wicked of me that I find this funny? BH is starting to have a sense of humor about it now that the reeking floor rugs have been power washed. And I will start labeling things even though I am certain the rose spray is in the Fantastic bottle and the insect repellent in the Windex. Or wait….is it the other way around? Yup, definitely going to start labeling.

And speaking of potting shed……it’s as finished as it ever will be at this point, so I’ll post some pictures soon.

Thanks for reading,


Posted in Garden, Random Ruminations | 56 Comments

Emergency Room Elephant

Let’s be clear. Without modern medicine, we would have buried our daughter ten years ago when the first of the terrible seizures she has had to live with since struck. This is no diatribe against individual doctors and nurses, but it is a cri de coeur against a system which stifles the practice of medicine and reduces doctors to automatons controlled by hospital administrators and insurance companies.  Get ‘em in, treat ‘em, and get ‘em out…fast.

So many of you reacted wistfully to the idealized sculpture of the Country Doctor I posted in the Weekly Photo Challenge noting that this hands-on, nurturing model of a doctor is gone. Long gone. I am the last person to romanticize what medicine was like 100 years ago before antibiotics and anesthesia. Women died in childbirth, polio crippled, scarlet fever blinded. Return to that? No, thank you.



But somehow among all the life-saving advances in medical technology, the crucial doctor-patient relationship has been trampled, nearly fatally. None other than the Wall St. Journal describes the dismal state of affairs in medicine today.


In an essay excerpted from his new book, “Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician,” Dr. Sandeep Jauhar writes:

“When I look at my career at midlife,  I realize that in many ways I have become the kind of doctor I never thought I’d be: impatient, occasionally indifferent, at times dismissive or paternalistic. Many of my colleagues are similarly struggling with the loss of their professional ideals.”

He goes on to describe the frightening decline in physician morale and the negative impact this malaise has on the most important face in medicine: the patient’s.

Meet our daughter, Jennifer.


Why the pink helmet? To protect, theoretically, against the terrible seizures which strike without warning, out of the blue, sending her crashing to the floor like a tree which has just been felled. In this picture, she has pushed it up a little bit off her forehead because it is so very hot and her skin grows irritated. You can imagine. She shrugs off the looks….rarely unkind, but always there…..and really, it is the least of her burdens in living with this terrible disease. The worst of it has been the loss of her bright light through brain injury. Repeated seizures will do that.

We live under the Sword of Damocles dreading the phone call informing that she has had another seizure and is on her way to the ER. Thursday was one such night.

Jen was getting ready for bed and had taken her helmet off when it hit. The result was a hideous “L” shaped gash to her forehead and a laceration of her eye. The ER stitched her up, scheduled an appointment for the next day with an eye surgeon, and sent her home.

The next morning while standing in the cafeteria of her residence, she seized again plummeting, helmet-attired, face-first into a table. By the time I got to the ER, they told me they were admitting her. Huge sigh of relief. Admitting her until they received the scans of her injuries and saw that, in addition to the new gash on her chin, her jaw was fractured. A transfer to the big teaching hospital in our city was necessary. And off we went, she via ambulance.

And there they treated her over eight long hours.

First the triage, then a parade of specialists. In comes the oral-maxillo MD who carefully and precisely stitches up the eye injury. Next the ENT MD to explain about the fractured jaw. Then the neurologist: Jennifer, who is the President? Can you touch your finger to your nose? Can you spell ocean? Can you tell me your mother’s name?

Each did their job, in and out, but not one doctor stopped to look at her as a whole entity – the human being – horribly injured by potentially deadly seizures which may – or may not- be ramping up for another out-of-control cycle. Seizures are most terrifying in their unpredictability.

That’s where I’m reminded of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. Our specific ailments are being tended by specialists, yet the person, the individual human being in that bed, is invisible. She is a rope, a pillar, a tree branch, a hand fan. No one sees the elephant. And so it is easy for the attending physician to face me and tell me she cannot be admitted for even an overnight observation. I am to take her home. The blind men have spoken.


The nurse tells me they’ll bring Jen down to the sidewalk in front of the ER door. I weave my way through the hospital, into the cavernous parking garage, loop around the entire hospital complex to get to the ER door, and no Jen. I get out to look for her, an EMT tells me there’s a lady in a wheelchair in the waiting room. And that’s where I find my daughter. Sitting alone in a wheelchair. Bloodied hospital gown still on her. I rush up to steady her and help her into my car. Somebody sees me gathering up the back of her hospital gown and offers to help. He is appalled at her face. I say you must have to be hurt a lot worse than this to get a bed here. And he pulls up his shirt and tells me he’s been waiting since 2:30 that afternoon to see a doctor. His entire abdomen is bandaged; he had surgery two days ago and is in pain. He is scared and exhausted. I just want to get away.

And the beat goes on in my crazy little corner of the world. I am learning to prepare variations on gruel for the six weeks it will take Jen’s jaw to heal.  And to clean and dress a head wound. And wonder what happens to all those other elephants in the ER.


Smoothie, anyone?

Posted in Books, Random Ruminations | 92 Comments