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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  You can get your minds out of the gutter right now because I mean dirty as in garden dirt.

Those of you following the continuing saga of my effort to landscape the back porch at Port Swiller Manor will be pleased to know that I got the jasmine planted this morning.  I also put up all but a few small cross-pieces of the lattice on which said jasmine hopefully will climb.  Indeed, I am now so confident that Spring is really, truly, finally here that I also dragged out the patio furniture and the lawn hammock, and am going to throw caution to the wind and run out this afternoon to pick up a couple of clematis that I also plan to put on part of the lattice.

When the jasmine first appeared on my doorstep early last month, I was caught short for something in which to root them temporarily, so grabbed a handful of clay pots that I’ve had lying around forever.  Clay isn’t like plastic – if you want to get something back out, you can’t simply turn a clay pot over and squeeze and shake it a bit.  No, the only practical thing to do if you want to keep the soil and root integrity is to break the clay.  Whacking the pot on its side with the edge of a shovel works just fine.  It’s also, well, fun.

Beware the sharp edges of the shards, however.  I got my hand on one of these.  I also managed to cut my thumb again with the saw as I was shaping the last lattice panel to put up.  Split the nail this time, too.  I can’t recall a project that has involved so much spilling of my own blood as this one has.  Ah, well, it’s worth it.

In other garden news, regular friends of the decanter will be familiar with Robbo’s annual rant about the skimpiness of his forsythia blooms.  I thought I had this problem licked last year because I had positively razed the hedge down to about a foot and got a pretty decent burst of new growth (on which forsythia flowers).  Nope, it’s still the same feeble yield, maybe even feebler.  Well, as I say, I’ve tried pruning.  I’ve also tried feeding.  It was only recently that I suddenly had a flash:  Those bushes must be a good 20 or 30 years old.  Maybe they’re just…..worn out.  Plant age too, you know.

Finally, it looks like this is the year I’m going to have to bite the bullet and reseed the lawn.  Aside from the parts the construction crew tore up last summah working on the porch, the rest is getting too sparse and weed-infested even for me to ignore anymore.  I’ve never tried reseeding before and I must say that I’m not much looking forward to the prospect.

Going to be a busy spring.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Those of you keeping track of Robbo’s latest home improvement project will be interested to know that I spent the better part of the day today cutting, fitting and screwing in lattice panels. A glass of wine with those of you who gave advice – I used two inch wood screws spaced about a foot or so apart and pre-drilled the lattice.  The end result looks and feels quite solid, even with the strong winds we had today.   I’m not actually done yet, as the charge in my drill ran down and I had to come to a stopping point in time to get to the store for dins food, but I’m a good two-thirds/three-quarters of the way through, and as far as the construction goes I feel I could plant my jasmine tomorrow if I really wanted to.  (I can’t, as a matter of fact, because as soon as I’m done with noon Mass I have to take teh youngest gel off to a make-up softball game.  I’m also not yet convinced we’re completely out of the frost zone.  But never mind.)

I should note that I was aided and abetted by teh Middle Gel, whose primary task was to “hold things”.  This is an old joke in my family.  When my brother and I were lads, the Old Gentleman used to put us to work in the yard practically every weekend.  Somehow the meme developed that he only really wanted the company and that our tasks actually consisted of nothing more than “holding things”.  The phrase eventually entered the family lexicon.

As a matter of fact, he worked us like serfs: clearing rocks; digging flower beds; filling flower beds; hauling brush, firewood, stones and railroad ties; laying sod; weeding; mowing; planting; watering – you name it.   We hated every minute of it, in part because the work was often back-breaking, the weather beastly hot and the menace perpetual that the next thing we picked up would have either a snake or a scorpion lurking under it, but mostly because we felt it monstrously unfair that Sistah somehow always got away with not having to contribute to the cause.  (She was nominally supposed to help teh Mothe with indoor tasks, but we knew perfectly well that she in fact spent most of the time skulking in her room listening to Adam Ant records – and let her try denying it.)

Anyhoo, teh Gel was, in fact, immensely useful in her task of, er, holding things – the panels, to be specific.  It is physically impossible to brace a 4×8 panel up against beams and at the same time screw it in, so I literally could not have done the job without her.  My plan, in all fairness, is to draft teh Youngest Gel to help me with the rest.

There were no real mishaps today, either in terms of mistakes or accidents.  The closest I came was when I nicked the end of my thumb with my handsaw.  Anyone who has ever met teh Gel will readily assert that she is one of the sweetest and most sympathetic of souls.  What those who don’t live with her everyday may miss is that she can be startlingly phlegmatic and deadpan at times.  So when she noticed that I had cut myself, she simply said, “I see you’re getting blood all over everything.”

What could I do but reply equally coolly, “Yeah, I know.”

Anyhoo, a good day.  I’ve been feeling a bit in the dumps the last few weeks and this was just the tonic – fresh air and exercise and a plan working out- that I think I needed.  Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to grill a large steak on the bar-b and to get ready for an evening of watching my beloved Nats (hopefully) taking their first win off the Braves.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

If you had told ol’ Robbo last fall that he’d be shoveling snow off the Port Swiller Manor driveway on March 30, he’d have said you were crazy.

And yet,  here we are.

Damn you, Algore! 

Better hang on to that bucket, Bob, 'cos denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

Better hang on to that bucket, Bob, ‘cos denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter who have been paying any attention of the past couple weeks will recall ol’ Robbo’s project to lattice up the pillars of the back porch so as to give some lovely jasmine vines a place to grow.

Well, tomorrow was going to be the Big Day.  The lattice panels are here, I’ve got a saw, a new drill and a fistful of wood screws, and we are good to go.


The forecast now is that Ma Nature is planning to deluge the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor with rain over the weekend.  Back when I was a new, young homeowner some 20 years ago, this probably wouldn’t have mattered to me, and I would have been out there in the downpours industriously idiotically doing the things that I thought needed to be done.  Now? Meh.  I’m going to stay inside, drink lots of coffee and watch, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which just arrived from Netflix today.

Maybe next weekend……

By the bye, it’s been quite a long time since I had any direct contact with kid’s shows.  Is Bob the Builder still a thing?  And while I’m on the subject, what’s up with the Wiggles these days?  And am I correct in my heartfelt hope that Barney lies dead in some remote gulch, his utterly inedible carcass of no use to the vultures, but instead being used to line birds’ nests?   (Ain’t it odd how something you thought at one time would cause you to puncture your eardrums and gouge out  your eyes with a screwdriver eventually subsides to the point where you can barely even remember it?)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, even as I type, teh eldest gel is upstairs, glued to her school district website and hitting the “refresh” key with the same fervor as a crack-addicted lab rat in anticipation of tomorrow being called as yet another snow day.

At this point, I’d say she’s got about a 50/50 shot.  The latest forecast suggests Snow-nunciation is’t going to produce all that much white stuff in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor (1 to 3 inches, maybe), but it’s going to be flying most of the day, which might make both morning and afternoon bus service a bit dodgy.

As for myself, I must say that the prospect of another snowstorm on March 25 just seems absurd.  Granted, I was  in Cleveland  on biznay a few years ago and watching the white stuff come down on opening day of baseball season, but that’s teh norm in more northerly climbs.  Snow Miser has no biznay in the mid-Atlantic at this time of year.

Indeed, I was looking out the window this afternoon, which was absolutely crystal-clear and brilliantly sunny, and noticing the change in the light and shadows heralding spring.  Nonetheless, the thermometer was only in the mid-30′s.  That ain’t right.

Ah, well.

UPDATE:  Better news.  Even as I was posting this, I heard the rumble of a truck out front and went to find out that my lattice for the porch pillars had arrived.  It was scheduled for delivery today, but as it was already knocking 8:00 pm, I figured they were going to be no-shows.  I bustled out to throw a tarp over the package against whatever snow hits us.   Take a wild guess at what ol’ Robbo will be doing with his time this coming weekend.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Mrs. Robbo and the younger gels flew down to Flahr’duh to visit grandparents this morning, leaving Self and the eldest to bach it for a few days here at Port Swiller Manor.  So eldest and I headed over to the local diner to grab some breakfast.

I recall that whenever I used to take one of the gels out to eat when they were younger, I would often intercept looks from people that in effect said, “Oh, must be his visiting weekend.  Mmmm, hmmm.  Wonder where he’s stashed the home-wrecker honey while seeing his kids, the sum’bitch.”

For some reason, I didn’t get that vibe this morning.  Is there less of a psychological instinct to pigeonhole ol’ Dad when he’s out with an older kid?  Have we become that much more permissive in the last ten years that nobody gives a damn anymore?  Is it possible some people might have thought the gel was the home-wrecker honey?  I don’t know.

Anyhoo, we talked mostly about politicks and current events, in which the gel is starting to take more and more interest.  (She’ll be able to vote in the next Presidential, which is a scary thought.)  Suffice to say, I don’t think the gel is going to join the Army of Julias any time soon.  Her summary comment was, “Gee, Dad, I wish I had grown up in the 80′s like you.”

Yeah, so do I.

UPDATE:  Despite the fact that there’s still talk of snow next Tuesday, it’s a very nice day here today and I was able to get out and continue with some of my early-early-spring cleanup, this time pruning the climbing rose by the front door.   Over the years, the thing has got to be very tall, now reaching up two stories and overtopping the gutters.  I really ought to whack it back by about a third or so but decided to let it go one more season, just lopping off the visibly dead canes (of which there were surprisingly few).

This rose, which is on a southwest-facing wall, always does spectacularly well in the spring, erupting in mounds and mounds of dark red flowers.  Alas, by mid-summah, it almost always gets sulky because of the heat and starts shedding leaves.  By Halloween, it invariably provokes snarky comments from the gels about haunted house decorations.

Ancient Roman Fresco Painting of Flora Picking FlowersGreetings, my fellow port swillers and Happy Spring!

Regular friends of the decanter and former camelidophiles will know that ol’ Robbo is in the habit of regularly posting this ancient Roman fresco of Flora picking flowers on the first official day of Spring.   I have always found it to be a particularly delightful work of art, the Goddess lovingly portrayed in a graceful, dignified and yet uplifting manner, and a source of hope and inspiration.

Well, I wish that this year ol’ Flora would drop the bouquet and devote her divine powers to putting her knee to Snow Miser’s groin, as he’s  really outstayed his welcome.  We already had a mid-March snowstorm this week and now the weather-wallahs are making noise about the possibility of another one next week.  This week’s seems to have been dubbed Snow Patrick’s.  Will next Tuesday’s predicted event be dubbed the Snownunciation?   (Somehow, I doubt it, but a Catholic geek can always hope.)

Anyhoo, I know that friends of the decanter in more northerly climbs than mine will only chuckle at my frustration, but of course these things are all a matter of scale and expectation.   (Remember, I grew up in South Texas.  By this time of year down there, I’d already be sweating.)  And frankly, the mid-Atlantic in mid-March should not be experiencing the same kind of weather as teh Mothe normally gets at this time of year in Mid-Coast Maine.    It just ain’t right!

Damn you, Algore! Damn you to heeeelllll!!!!!!


On a somewhat related note, teh Middle Gel has bagged herself a ticket to go see a concert next week by an outfit I’d never heard of called  The Piano Guys.  This evening, as an example of their output, she showed me their mash-up of “Winter” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with “Let It Go” from the recent Disney movie “Frozen”:

Weyeell,  I frankly think that the crossover from the one work to the other is a bit, erm, jarring.  And I, personally, would  have preferred  to take the Vivaldi neat.  On the other hand, who am I to criticize at 14 year old these days whose tastes aren’t of the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa-yo-yo-yo-dawgz n’ beyotches variety?

However, while watching the video together, I was reminded suddenly of a yootoob I had seen several times of the third movement of ol’ Antonio’s flute concerto “The Goldfinch”, RV 428*.  I could not immediately find it but promised teh gel that I would do so this evening and post it here for her pleasure.  And here it is:

I hope teh gel takes me up on this and actually watches the durn thing.  Frankly, Ol’ Robbo is something  of a purist himself when it comes to art musick, disdaining “multi-media” stunts to get people interested in it, but I can’t deny that this is an excellent performance.

* There’s an old joke about Vivaldi in musick geek circles.  We have a catalogue of approximately 500 concerti credited to him.  The joke goes that he really only wrote two but that he wrote each one 250 times.  N’yuk, n’yuk.n’yuk.

latticeGood news, everyone!

According to the devil’s website home office, my order of lattice panels for stringing up the jasmine and clematis under teh porch is on its way and should be here within the next two weeks!

Yeah, buying garden supplies from Amazon.  Is there nothing they don’t sell?  Frankly, I don’t much understand the anti-monopolistic bed-wetting I read about their omnipresence.  Almost all of the books I buy from them are “remaindered” stock from local sellers hither and yon.  And when I buy other stuff like, oh, ten-packs of 4 x 8 yellow-pine lattice panels, their ultimate source is some local outfit (in this case, a lumber supplier down around Raleigh).   So Amazon is really more of an aggregator of products than anything else.  Why is this bad?

Aaaanyhoo,  here’s why I post about this.  I ask those of you gathered ’round the decanter:  What is the best method for nailing up lattice?  Should one drive in flat-headed nails in the nooks and crannies at the far corners of  the lathes, spread-eagling them as it were to the foundation, or should one drill directly into the lathes themselves?  I’m guessing the former, but I have no experience in these matters.

Any pro-tips wood, ah, be appreciated.

UPDATE:  Thankee to our commenters.  I was drifting in that direction and am glad of the confirmatory trend.   The panels are 8×4 and made of 3/4″ thick pine, so they’re already pretty hefty in and of themselves.  Toss some (hopefully) thick vine on them and they’re going to need the full-bore anchorage.  Pre-drill and screws it is.  (Also, how far along do you space the mounts?  I’m thinking that with sufficiently deep screws, every two feet would be ample.)

Now my bleg:  I’m really not much of a power tools guy and only have one old, dead Black & Decker electric drill with “so-called” rechargeable battery-packs which, in reality, are nothing of the sort, so I find myself in the market for a new drill.  As I say, I don’t do that much work with such tools, so I don’t think I’m looking for a lifetime relationship.  Also, I’ve no objection to extended electric cords, as opposed to batteries.   Any recommendations of a cheap and sturdy nature?  They’d be greatly appreciated.

Greetings, me fellow port swillers, and a happy St. Patty’s Day to ye!

Well, ol’ Ma Nature has delivered yet again, dumping (as reported by the NWS) something like 7 inches of snow in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor and, of course, bringing  Your Nation’s Capital to a screeching halt once more.  At the moment, I’m loitering around waiting for her to finish up so that I can go out and get cracking on the driveway, after which I intend to spend the afternoon gently dozing in front of the fire in well-earned sloth.

This is the first big late season storm we’ve had in ages, as I ought to know.  For one thing, the Eldest Gel turns sixteen this week (YIKES!) and  weather has never been an issue round about the time of her birthday before.  Also, I happen to remember the last mid-March blizzard (in 1993) because I was moving from one apartment to another that weekend in anticipation of my June wedding to Mrs. R.  When you have to haul heavy boxes around in the snow, it tends to stick with you, even if you have as porous and fluffy a memory as I do.

So anyway, here we are.

I was musing this morning on the bizarre transmogrification of the Feast of St. Patrick into the modern, secular “holiday” which seems to have no other function than to give  people an excuse to get blotto and to provide a forum for vicious public spats over whether Gay Pride groups should march in parades.   Of course, many of our major modern holidays are similar corruptions of Church originals, but at least with most of the rest of them there is still recognizable some faint image of their religious intent and meaning.   For the vast majority, St. Patty’s seems to me simply an excuse for self-indulgence, no matter how much green one is wearing.


Then, of course, there’s the whole leprechaun biznay.   If you’re looking for an example of the real Irish attitude toward the Little People and pots of gold at the ends of rainbows, may I recommend to you a short story of Patrick O’Brian (yes, of Aubrey/Maturin fame) entitled “The Happy Despatch”?  It’s part of a collection called The Rendevous and Other Stories, all of which I would recommend and, without giving anything away, is really quite terrifying.

Well, it appears looking out the window that Ma is just about done, so I suppose it’s time to get dressed and get busy.

UPDATE:  Well, it was closer to 4 inches than 7 on Robbo’s driveway, so shoveling didn’t take that much time after all.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I don’t care that it’s going to snow again tomorrow night.  (Actually, I do care.  I just can’t do anything about it.)  The fact is that it was a bee-ootiful day in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor and I was able to get out and get to work on some early spring projects.

First, per my ongoing jasmine-posting, I went out and measured the space under the porch for lattice installation.  (I’m actually getting rather excited about this project.)  I then went and ordered some 4X8 panels which should be here in a week or two.  Once I’ve nailed them up, I’ll probably put some framing around them just to make them look nice and neat.   By then, I also reckon that I can go ahead and plant the vines.  I can always cover them up in case of any late-season frosts, I suppose.

Then, I went and cut back the clematis on the wall by the garage.  It’s already starting to show a few buds and I wanted to clear out all the dead stuff before it starts its growth spurt.  Last year it got hit pretty badly by spider-mites so I also had a lot of cobwebs to get rid of.  Anybody know a good spider-mite preventer/eliminator?  (By the way, in addition to the jasmine I’m putting in on the porch front, I’ve decided I’m going to plant some more clematis on the patio side, the deer be damned.)

Having spent a solid hour on these tasks, I then went and threw myself in teh hammock and alternately read Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas and watched the kittehs drooling at the birds on the feeders.  (By the way, the goldfinch are starting to show their summah plumage, so spring really can’t be all that far away, right?)

So that was that.  I can’t remember being this impatient for spring weathah before, so I’m trying to take full advantage of even these little teasers.


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