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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, time to cut back the peonies, I guess.  Every single year I tell myself, “Self, we ought to dig these puppies up, divide the root balls, and plant them out.  We could easily have three times as many shrubs as we do now.”

And every year I respond, “Eh…maybe next year.”

I also need to cut back the ferns hanging on the porch in preparation for bringing them inside for the winter.  To actually bring them in today would be to concede a kind of seasonal defeat.

UPDATE:  Done and done. Ol’ Robbo also had to make a hardware store run.  Somehow my reading glasses slipped off my collar without my noticing as I walked out to the mailbox beforehand.  I then squashed them flat while backing out of the garage.  That made me feel old. On the other hand, the gal running the register at the store flirted with me.  That made me feel young.  Until I reflected that she was probably the same age as my own Youngest.  That made me feel old again, plus a little bit creeped out.




Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Columbus Day!  Did you know that ol’ Robbo didn’t even realize this was a holiday weekend until last Friday?  The relief I felt when I found I had an extra day after all the silly running about behavior I had to do Saturday and Sunday was immense.

So on to this and that:

♦  In the spirit of the day, I recommend to you once again a trilogy of books by Hugh Thomas, sent to me by long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory.  They are Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to Magellan, The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America, and World Without End: Spain, Phillip II, and the First Global Empire.  What I really like about these books is the way Thomas sets Spain’s American ventures in the context of its home politicks and culture – the Reconquista, the Inquisition, the relations of Castile and Aragon, and the larger Hapsburg connections between Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  It all wouldn’t make much sense otherwise.

♦  Speaking of which, Eldest is taking a course this semester on pre-Columbian American empires, specifically the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas.  She’s really enjoying it, in part because her prof refuses to paint them as Rousseauian utopias and is careful to include the uglier aspects as well.  (She recently watched “Apocalypto” in connection with the course.  Her review? “It was weird.”)

♦  And speaking of ugly, is Melania Trump really getting flak for wearing a “colonial” pith helmet on her tour of Africa?  Do these fookin’ people honestly have nothing better to do with themselves?  Or is this just aggression-transfer resulting from last week’s Pickett’s Charge effort to sink Justice Kavanaugh?

♦ On a completely different note, our trip to CNU to visit Middle Gel this weekend was very nice.  We saw her perform in a pan-musick department concert Saturday afternoon, and then went to a BBQ picnic out on the lawn.  While we were eating, the marching band came, well, marching by on their way to the football stadium for the evening’s game.  I understand they are the second largest Division III marching band in the country.  They were really strutting their stuff, too.  I dunno why, but Ol’ Robbo has always been a sucker for school marching bands.  I like both the sound and the razzmatazz.  (And no, I was never a Band Geek myself.)

“Ah, Ha, Ha, Haaa…”

♦  Pulling out of the parking garage at the hotel yesterday morning, Ol’ Robbo was able to make a turn in our Honda Juggernaut that missed a neighboring car’s fender by inches but saved me having to back up again.  As I did so, I laughed in the voice of Snake from “The Simpsons”.  Mrs. R looked at me and said, “You are so strange.”  But I was happy.  Is this just a guy thing?

♦  And speaking of happy and driving, friend of the decanter Tubbs remarks in a comment below on the slog that is I-95 and the Dee Cee Beltway.  In fact, we didn’t do too badly coming up I-64 from the Tidewater and then I-95 from Richmond yesterday.  And I have to confess that ever since they’ve completed the EZ-Pass express lanes on the Beltway and dropped them down to around Stafford on I-95, the last 45 minutes or so of my trips home from south of The Swamp have become downright pleasant.

Whelp, that’s about it.  Ol’ Robbo needs to go mow the lawn now and feel appropriately guilty about historickal European destruction of Indigenous Peoples, but mostly go mow the lawn.

UPDATE: Yardwork status? Done.  I forgot to mention earlier that we took Youngest with us on our visit this weekend.  She got very mad at Ol’ Robbo because I point-blank refused to let her practice driving on the interstates.  I did, in fact, let her drive when we were in Newport News, but even then she almost ran a red light because she got distracted by something.  No way is she ready for bumper-to-bumper at 80 MPH.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No, no, not that Swamp.  I’m sure you’re all as exhausted of that wretched biznay as is Ol’ Robbo, and anyway, I try to take weekends off.

Instead, I mean the swamp I discovered the grounds of Port Swiller Manor to be when I went out to mow this morning.  The ground has never really dried out completely all summah, but we had so much rain this past week that it was mostly oozy mud under the grass.  I went ahead and mowed it anyway, even though I probably trenched things up a bit, especially in the shadier areas.  It needed it, and besides I may not have the opportunity next weekend.  Meanwhile, my never-mow neighbor is completely humped.  His lawn is up over a foot and a half now, but he has a riding mower (inherited from the previous occupant) that probably would sink out of sight if he tried to run it today.  (As a matter of fact, I now think the reason he hasn’t mown lately is that he finally managed to break the thing by running over something he shouldn’t have.  He’s pretty reckless when it comes to rocks and sticks.)

Meanwhile, a tad of color here and there in the trees, the first leaves are starting to fall, and the goldfinch are losing their summah coloring.  I also haven’t seen the hummingbirds in a week or two, and wonder if they’ve hightailed it out of Dodge already.

One of the half-whiskey barrels out front has reached the end times: Its metal bands have snapped and the slats are buckled at the breakpoint.  Mrs. R had already planted the fall mums, and we only need the thing to last us a month or two more, so I am thinking that maybe I can just bind it up with something for the time being.

“What will you use,” asked Mrs. R.

“I don’t know yet,” I replied, “But I promise I won’t try to duct-tape it.”

Mrs. R had the goodness to laugh heartily.

UPDATE:  In re the barrel, I went with a couple turns of manila rope.  It doesn’t especially stand out, and lends a subtle, rustic air.  (Mrs. R probably won’t like it, but too bad.)

Also, my neighbor must be a friend of the decanter, because he got out this evening and chopped back the savannah after all.

UPDATE DEUX:  Nope, hummingbird spotted this (Sunday) morning.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Juuuust dry enough to mow the lawn this morning, what with Flo giving us the miss, but it was still wet enough that Ol’ Robbo slipped and slid a goodish bit as he made his way back and forth across the back yard slope with his trusty push-mower.  I always carry a short-handled weeding tool around in my back pocket for cleaning out the blade well when it gets clogged with trimmings.  (It’s a rear-mounted bagger but I don’t have the patience to stop every five minutes to empty the thing, so I just mulch the clippings back in. This works fine when the grass is dry, but it’s a pain when wet.)  It occurs to me that one of these days I’m going to slip and fall backwards and probably shank myself in the kidney.  What a way to go that would be.

I noticed today a significant increase in the number of spider webs around – another sure sign that autumn is approaching.  Indeed, I blundered straight into several of them, something I particularly dislike as I would just as soon keep the creepy-crawlies at a distance.

I had been thinking about putting in a couple azaleas this fall, together with attempting a new rhododendron.  The latter move has long had a psychological side for me.  When we first bought Port Swiller Manor, I took a walk around the yard with the seller, going over various points.  (He was a gardener, and I think one of the reasons he was so patient with us was that he knew I would carry on his interests.)  At that time, there was a big rhodi on the north corner of the house.  “That’s the only place where I’ve ever been able to get one to grow,” I remember him saying.

Well, that rhodi did fine until we had a very bad drought a couple years later.  It survived initially, but went into a gradual but steady decline, and eventually died.  I took this loss personally, and felt guilty about it, as if I had somehow let the side down.  And for a long time I was actually scared to try again, especially given the previous owner’s remarks.

Now that I’m older and wiser, however, I realize this is all nonsense. For one thing, there are plenty of rhodis in our neighborhood that do perfectly well, so I can’t see why I can’t have them too.  For another, a number of the old owner’s other projects also came unraveled (I’ve completely done over the foundation plantings out front), making me think that perhaps he just wasn’t all that hot a gardener himself.

So I’m going to try it again, this time along a shaded slope along the southeast side of the house that is just crying out for such a planting.

In fact, if I want to get the thing(s) established this fall, I really ought to be out this weekend or next doing it, but what with the Gels unexpectedly coming home and plans we already have for next week, it just isn’t happening.   So unless I get some indication that we’re going to have another of those long, lingering, warm autumns this year – and the spider webs would suggest otherwise – I now may just let it go until the spring.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A cool and soggy day here at port swiller manor – not much of a day for mowing.  As it happens, I have “work” work to do today, so probably wouldn’t have the time to fool with the yard anyway.

At least I can work from the comfort of my back porch.  As I sit out here, I’m looking over at my neighbor’s yard and for the zillionth time wondering why he won’t invest in a weed-whacker. The grass around the fringes and along his house and fence must be at least two or three feet high now.  (Actually, I know the answer: They’re Chinese nationals and fairly new to the States and have a limited grasp of the arcana of suburban ‘Murican living.  But you’d think he’d have caught on from my example by now.)

Oh, well.  It’s a very small thing, and this motion in limine isn’t going to write itself, so Robbo will catch you all later……

UPDATE: Yikes! Sitting out here with the wind up and the rain coming off and on for hours, Ol’ Robbo got such a chill that I had to go put on a sweatshirt and jeans.  Fall’s coming, baybee!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo seems inadvertently to have marked Labor Day this year by giving himself a mild case of heat exhaustion.  Ma Nature, perhaps incensed by my premature autumnal musings last week, has been zinging me the last few days with very hot and humid conditions, and I seem to have spent just a little too much time outside earlier today mowing, trimming, weeding, and putting in some new mulch.  Now this afternoon, I’m paying for it.

Just as well we didn’t have any plans this year, because I’d be pretty crabby if I had to be socializing right now. [Ed. – When are you ever not crabby when you have to socialize?]

Speaking of holidays, I noticed yesterday that our local supermarket has already got all its Halloween swag out.  When I rounded into the aisle and spotted it, I literally blurted out, “You have got to be kidding me!”  Caused a few heads to turn.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has found himself in a protracted grudge match with a colony of ants that keeps getting into the hummingbird feeder. I’ve killed hundreds of the little bastards over the past month or two (and probably shortened my own life by a few years with all the RAID fumes I’ve inhaled) but they always seem to come back.

Earlier this week I thought I had put an end to things when I finally discovered their nest and brought the equivalent of SMOD down on it, but nope, they were back this morning.  (It’s two stories from the ground where they nest up to the feeder.  Interestingly, they were using a new trail this time from the one on which I had repeatedly hammered them previously.  How do they manage to remember and navigate? I haven’t figured out yet where the new nest is.)

They’re an extremely small variety of ant, so you don’t even notice them until you’re right up close.  I only realized the problem had returned because the hummer herself was acting skittish and wouldn’t come in for a proper drink.  Only when I heaved myself up and went to look close did I see that the feeder was crawling with the things again.

It’s better than having to deal with yellowjackets, of which I have seen absolutely none this year, but still……

UPDATE:  I cleaned out the feeder, refilled it and hung it back out before sitting down to write this.  Just as I was hitting *post*, the hummer came back in for a proper drink.  I wonder if she knows I’m her fixer?  The other birds certainly know that it’s chow time when I refill their feeders.

UPDATE DEUX:  And speaking of ants, may I just point out here that “Michael Ellis” is one of my absolute very favorite Python episodes? S’truth!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A delightful Saturday morning here in the vicinity of Port Swiller Manor with a hint of the cool and crisp, the kind of day where you start looking for excuses to stay out working in the yard a bit longer instead of fleeing for the house as quickly as possible.  I also notice that the light is starting to look different on the trees as the sun’s angle changes.  I know it’s supposed to hot up again next week, but it definitely feels as if summah is starting to think about winding itself down.  Grilling out this evening and having din-dins on the porch with Mrs. Robbo and the Remaining Gel will be a real pleasure.

Actually, as far as summahs go, we haven’t had a bad one here at all.  No triple-digit highs and only a handful at best in the mid or upper 90’s, and lots and lots of rain.  I’m sure someone could produce charts and figures to show me that Glowbull Enwarmening has once again made this the worstest, awfullest, most meteorologically catastrophic summah on record and furthermore that it’s all my fault, but I’m going to stick with what my lying eyes tell me.

We shall see how autumn works out this year.  The first genuine norther comes through here typically a week to ten days into September (recall 9/11), always a high point for Ol’ Robbo as it tends to shake him out of his summah torpor and gets him excited for what, after all, has always been his favorite season.  Alas, the last couple of falls have been duds – downright dry, not very cool, and with disappointing foliage to boot.  Perhaps we’re due.  (I distinctly remember a Halloween years ago when the Gels were small when there was frost on the ground.)  As for tropical activity, we haven’t really had a major storm come anywhere near here (although a couple have teased) since Isabel back in 2003, so again, we may be due.  Well, we’ve got our generator now (which of course has sat idle since we installed it), so all I can say is Bring It On.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Have I mentioned here before that iced coffee is the nectar of the gods? I have? Well, I’m a-gonna go right on mentioning it, because it is the Good News and should be spread to all the four corners of the earth.

And it is especially nectarful as I lie in the ol’ hammock, all showered up, after my usual Saturday morning’s laboring in the yard.

Today I decided that I really needed to prune a couple of the maples out back.  Perhaps because we’ve got so much rain this summah, perhaps because I just haven’t done it in a while, I noticed that they had really started pushing branches out and down and that the increased shade was having a negative effect on the groundlings around and behind them.

Ol’ Robbo has always been reluctant to prune.  I really don’t know why this is – it’s neither sloth nor fear – but I just like to leave things be as much as possible.  On the other hand, once I get a pair of clippers in my hands? Attila ain’t in it.  I go into a kind of berserker mode and start laying about me for all I’m worth.

So there I was.

My rule of thumb about these trees is to whack them back as far as I can reach from my stepladder, btw.  This lets in a good bit more light underneath, but I know I really ought to get a pro in to give them a professional cut.  We’ve been in Port Swiller Manor 18 years now and I’ve never done that, so they’ve all got rather…..large.

I probably should be attentive for signs of old age, too.  Better to take one down under controlled conditions than have it topple over all on its own.  (Our neighbors took out a big maple between us a couple weeks ago.  This is the only reason I can think of for why he did so.  Oddly, it seems as if he’s going to leave the stump where it is.)

Having a tree fall on the house isn’t exactly very high up on my list of worries, but it’s on the list nonetheless.

(BTW, I also hacked back the climbing rose out front.  It general loses a lot of leaves this time of year and when I don’t cut it back, Middle Gel starts making snide remarks about early Halloween decorations.  Whippersnapper!)


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Not directly related to gardening, but Ol’ Robbo spotted the hen hummingbird at the feeder today for the first time since much earlier in the summah, when I had seen quite a bit of her.  This makes me wonder if Port Swiller Manor is possibly just a way-station for her on her migrations there and back again.  (I am assuming here that this is the same bird, which I’m pretty sure it is. I’m also assuming that if she were around more often, I’d have spotted her, of which I’m also pretty sure.)

And speaking of birds, I was over to the local hardware store this afternoon picking up more seed for my local flock.  I buy it in twenty-pound bags.  When I got up to pay, the young thing behind the register asked me if I needed any help getting it out to my car.


I haven’t shaved this week and it’s true that my beard comes in mostly white, but I don’t think I look quite that feeble.

(The owner of this store hires only pretty young gels to work the registers, by the bye, the perv. A couple weeks ago, one of them recognized my name from my credit card – it turns out she and Youngest Gel had gone to middle school together.)

UPDATE: Turns out there are two hummers – I saw them squabbling with each other at the feeder this morning.  Doesn’t necessarily invalidate my assumptions, but makes the question a bit more interesting.

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