Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sewer Blues + In the Garden

A little over half a decade ago, during the housing bubble's upward rise, President Bush, like countless other people on cable TV, at banks, at mortgage lenders, in the media, actively promoted home ownership. It was touted as a basic right, almost, anchor its centrality to the mythic American dream. (The more pressing issue of affordable housing, whether private or public, for everyone, was removed from public discourse.) As we now know, the bubble has burst completely, hundreds of thousands people have lost their homes and millions are underwater and unable to pay for them, hundreds of domestic banks have failed, and the US and global economies have taken a severe hit. I can't say I was prescient about or fully understood the housing bubble, though C and I were always skeptical of the ease with which so many people were snapping up homes, flipping them, and spending down their equity (I hadn't even realized the HELOC madness was going on until years later, though a close friend of mine lost his home in part because he'd used it like a charge card), given the hurdles we had to vault to purchase our house. I used to launch on this topic to people, and I'm sometimes wondered whether they were thinking, What a bore and so wrong too. On top of this, and again, I wasn't aware of the various schemes people were using to remodel, renovate, and rebuild homes, I also couldn't understand how nonchalant people were about the expenditures involved, based on our experiences with having to shell out small fortunes to address basic problems a house may eventually present, including but not limited to: addressing a leaking roof by having to completely re-tar and re-flash it; replacing a hot water heater; having a chimney properly lined; replacing an air conditioning and heating unit; and, this weekend, the replacement of a basement underground, 100-year-old ceramic drainpipe, breached in multiple places by a a giant sycamore's roots, that leads to the sewer line out front. This is only part 1; part two will involve tearing up the street out front and replacing the rest of the badly cracked pipe where it enters the sewer. (We've fortunately avoided two other nightmares many owners of older homes face: replacing the windows, and rewiring the house. The previous owner took care of those crises at some point in the 1970s and 1980s.) In all the huzzah about buying houses, there's never--or seldom, from what I can tell--any discussion of potential multiple costs beyond the mortgage and possibly remodeling, and no matter how well a house is built or has been maintained, the problems start to rack up with age. Of course if you told most people about these costs, they might decide not to go through with the purchase, but then again, you can't predict what'll need fixing, and unless you're a contractor yourself or have oodles of time on your hands, you may need to pay other people to do the job properly for you. (We went through four roofers, including one who wanted to cover the leaking chimney with stucco and chicken wire (!), one who went insane, and another, an Australian, who was crazy as a loon, but actually did what was needed and stopped water pouring into the walls.)  It leads me to say that home ownership is a wonderful thing, especially if you can afford it, but even if you can (just barely): buyer beware!

That said, one of the joys of owning a home can be having and cultivating a garden . Since I had to be home for the major repair, C and I spent part of today in the garden and did some new planting for this year. He'd already planted tomatoes, which are growing steadily.  Some of the perennials, like the roses; the rosemary bush, as tall as a tree; the African sage; the strawberry patches; the blackberry bushes; the azaleas; the lilac bush; the rhododendron; the butterfly bush; and the honeysuckle vines, are back, at superstrength. Curiously, the collard greens, which returned late in the summer and early fall, and which we didn't harvest, are growing again, with striking yellow flowers adorning the fence. We decided to change our herb and vegetable mix this year by planting oregano; tarragon; parsley; lavender; dill; and basil; and habanero peppers; sweet peppers; eggplants; cucumbers; zucchini; yellow squash; broccoli; snap peas; and heirloom and regular beets. (We'll have to put some red cabbage, carrots, and onions into the ground at a later date.) Working in the garden always is enjoyable, and today was calming counterpoint to watching the basement jackhammered and dug up, though its floor is now partially repaved and the new pipe is in, at least up to the sidewalk. After we pay for the rest of the necessary work, those homegrown herbs and produce will definitely come in handy.

Some photos:

Collard greens flowers
Collard green flowers (you can see the growing leaves at right)
Blackberry bush
Blackberry bush, with tiny blackberries
Purple sage
African sage
Broccoli plants
Assorted herbs & fruits
Some fruits and herbs (In back: thyme, strawberries; in front: marigolds, tarragon, oregano)
Lilac bush
The lilac bush
Assorted vegetables & herbs
Assorted plants (Zucchini, green bell peppers, eggplant, habanero peppers, green peas, sweet basil)
Assorted herbs, fruits & vegetables
In back: strawberry patch; in front: oregano, parsley, and heirloom and regular beets (dark patch of soil)


  1. The garden sounds wonderful, simply wonderful. Do post whatever wonderful food recipes you concoct with the range of ingredients.


  2. Thanks for the good words, Keguro. I owe you a special thanks for something else you wrote, and will post it later today!