Category Archives: bits

Removing the Yews

If I were to give you a brief update about what’s been going on around Shandy Hall for the past couple of months, I could accurately summarize it as: outside!  Yard!  Gardening things!

For instance: mulching and landscaping around the back deck, adventures with bareroot plants from Costco, the requisite summer tomatoes and basil, viburnums along the back fence line, (successfully!) dividing a feral mess of irises, and a systematic campaign of exterminating the pokeweed which the previous owner let run rampant for years and years.  Oh, and removing the Bradford pears planted directly beneath a conjunction of low-hanging power lines in our backyard.  Enthusiasm has conquered a certain lack of experience and knowledge.

After renting for so long, it’s thrilling to be able to change the landscape according to my whims and personal tastes.  ($15 Knockout roses at Costco?  Why not!)

Our most high-impact project, however, was cutting down the yews in front of our house, which had been there since it was built 60+ years ago.  They were too big for the space.  It was time.

Here’s the before (and a non-apology for using cell phone photos throughout).  The yews had been flat-topped for so long that they looked thin and puny from the street, but also stretched forward laterally a good 3′.  I’m amazed that they hadn’t gotten crushed by snow buildup.


The first step was borrowing a chainsaw and chopping down everything except for 10-12″ long stumps.  The resulting mess looked impressively scruffy.

The second step was digging out the core of the root ball for each yew — four (very recently) live ones, and three dead ones.  I’d read a lot of anecdata online indicating that this wouldn’t be too tough of a job for a couple of reasonably healthy adults with no history of preexisting back problems.  (You’ll also find plenty of jocular “chain the stump up to the bumper of your pickup, then floor it!” advice, but we wanted to try the shovel method first.  Especially since one of the bushes was growing within 6″ of our water meter and a couple of partially-buried electrical cables of still-uncertain provenance.)  This took three tools: a shovel, a semi-ridiculous digging bar, and loppers.  Dig dig dig, use the digging bar to chip underneath the root structure as you go, and use the loppers to sever large roots as you go along.  Before I began, I pictured the stumps getting leveraged from the ground like a toppling tree, but in reality the roots keep them tightly in place more like a system of high-tension wires.  The loppers were invaluable.

I pried out the dead and rotting stumps, which was easy.  Pete did the live ones, which were… heavy.  But, shockingly, neither of us suffered any residual back or muscle pain.  It ended up being a totally do-able DIY project.


Logistical note: besides a scraggly mass of vinca, those yews were the only thing surrounding the foundation.  I imagine that it’d be much more tedious trying to remove an overgrown shrub while trying to preserve the surrounding landscaping.

The third step was the most fun one: PLANT ALL THE THINGS.  (Preceded by step 2.5: TRANSPORT ALL THE THINGS in your surprisingly roomy compact hatchback.)  (It also helps when one of your local nurseries has free popcorn, a large selection of outdoor play equipment, and golf carts for you to rattle merrily around the tree nursery on.)


(That’s our painter touching up the shutters.)

It’s all pretty standard suburban stuff for our part-sun / part-shade area: some boxwoods, spirea, deutzia, hostas, a rhododendron around the north-facing side of the house, and a coral bark Japanese maple which we have dutifully planted the proper distance away from the house for its full height (which will probably only be realized in, like, 20 years).  Oh, and a dozen bags of mulch.  When the Home Depot lady gives you flack over the number of bags of mulch that you’re buying for your front foundation plantings, do not budge.  You need a lot of mulch.

You might want to reconsider re-routing your gutters away from your newly-revealed dirt, however.



Extra Yarn

We picked Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn up at the library a little while ago, and it was an immediate favorite with Theo without my even needing to push it on him as part of my subtle yarn-based knitterly agenda.  In it, the heroine’s box of yarn is so prolific that she begins knitting sweaters for things that don’t even need sweaters.


I wouldn’t say that Bunhilda here didn’t need a sweater, but I had a ball of Extra Yarn that had been sitting in my stash for years, defying all practical plans to get rid of it.  Too little to make a toddler-sized vest.  The wrong fiber composition for mittens or a small hat, and not something I’d want to use for colorwork.  But, as Theo bopped around the craft room the other day, turning test quilt squares that I had lying around on the carpet into vests and blankets for his stuffed animals, I had an idea.


And so, a custom-knit bunny sweater was made.  It was quite a fun project, since I’m pretty familiar with basic raglan sweater construction, but Bunhilda’s proportions meant making some counterintuitive choices in order to fit her rather unusual shape.  (“What do you mean, I need to make eight decreases every single round for the yoke shaping?  … Right.  Bunny.”)

IMG_6050Mostly, the adults of this house find Bunhilda’s new sweater to be adorable.  But Theo doesn’t mind it, either.


Halloween 2014: The Winner!

As I’ve previously noted, trying to help my 2.75-year-old wrap his brain around the concept of Halloween costumes was a fun challenge this year.  But, at one point, he finally suggested “a yellow cat,” and I enthusiastically seized upon this suggestion (not least because I got to overdye last year’s costume)!


I also decided to knit yet another beloved Foxy hat in yellow — Malabrigo in Cadmium, for the record — and style it as a kitty face instead of a foxy face, which worked out well both for costume purposes and for bulk-up-the-arsenal-of-winter-knits purposes.  He is amped.


“Now, Theo,” I coached him as we took his costume out on its first spin, “when somebody asks what you’re dressed as, what do you say?”


Just about right.

Sebastian is ready for his beauty shot

Things To Do In Your Hotel Room When You’re Bored

Pete and I were in Dallas for a couple of days last week to try and find a place to move ourselves, our cats, and our stuff into next month.  As always with such trips, it was a mixed bag: the price is right and there were plenty of options, but (as every realtor told us) the rental market seems to be unprecedentedly swift in the Metroplex.  So, we were left in limbo on Friday with a ranked list of satisfactory places, a folder full of lease applications, and nothing to do but hurry up and wait as credit checks were run and we were meticulously compared to mysterious (and, one can’t help but hope, gravely flawed) Other Applicants.

Uncertainty and tedium are two things that I don’t do well with.  So, after a quick trip to a lunchtime vegetarian Chinese buffet (!) and $5 at Hobby Lobby later, we returned to our hotel room with a small bag of embroidery floss and proceeded to work on these:

As long as you can procure a safety pin and a pair of scissors, friendship bracelets are a surprisingly great travel craft: portable, relatively fast, airplane-friendly, instantly wearable upon completion, and can give you an excuse to channel-surf and become surprisingly absorbed in shows like Unlikely Animal Friends I and II and a quite self-explanatory Cocaine Sub Hunt.  For example.

Lady Grey, Part 1: Or, What To Do During a Christmas Blizzard

I mentioned in my last post that Christmas, in these parts, is largely reserved for being lazy and pursuing our own selfish interests.

This year, we were aided in that goal by Sunday night’s snowstorm.  We’ve had virtually no snow so far this winter, which has (perhaps unfairly) only increased my impression of New England winters not being nearly as harsh as they’re talked up to be.  So I was definitely not upset to have an extra blizzard-given craft day appended to my holiday weekend, and spent much of it watching my neighbors dig out their driveways and walkways.  This being not nearly as cold of a place as Canada or the upper Midwest, though, the plowed roads were already thawing out under the sun the next day. Why, when I was a child, it snowed uphill!  Both ways!

My big project of the moment is the Lady Grey coat, which I’ve had my eye on for some time.  Then a good portion of the crafty internet made one as part of a sew-along.  I’m not typically one who requires a lot of hand-holding, and I’d already purchased some tailoring books and materials in anticipation of forging out on my own, but I figured it’d be an opportune time to tackle a fairly larger project.  I’ve had a few yards of nice-quality — really nice quality — wool that my mom bought for me in Montreal kicking around for some time now, and it seemed like the LG coat would be a good reason to hack boldly into it.

After a muslin or two, of course.

Here are my fitting notes, to add to the wealth of groupthinky knowledge that is the internet.  (Please note that these none-too-flattering photos were taken a month or so ago, immediately following a trip to the gym.  Also, I’ve left on a sweatshirt and a t-shirt, because even though I’m not going to be wearing a coat with below-the-elbow sleeves in the depth of winter, it is likely that I’ll be wearing it over a couple of layers.)

After this muslin, I ended up taking a huge chunk out of the floppy lapel, lowering the armholes a good 3/4″ on both the body and the sleeves, tapering the peplum slightly on most of the pieces, and enlarging the sleeve cap slightly.  After some tinkering, I left the sleeves alone, because I wasn’t doing much good, and I can always take them in later if I need to.  This particular muslin comes from an old bedsheet that I moved from Montreal for this express purpose: I love nothing better than being able to scribble directly on my draft garment with various colors of ballpoint pen.

Also, this is the part where I brag about cutting out the revised pattern.  One of my husband’s particular talents is the ability to fit things neatly into a given space: he’s incredibly useful when it comes to packing boxes, for example, and we’ve never had anything broken in any of our Pete-packed moves.  So, I gave him my steam-treated, pre-shrunk length of wool, a brief lesson on the meaning of pattern markings like “cut on fold,” and had him go to town.

In the end, he was able to fit all of the shell pieces on a 2 1/3-yard length of wool, when the pattern calls for more than 4.  Boo-yah.  Do not try this at home.

Next up: lots and lots of tailoring, and a cautionary tale about buttonhole-related overconfidence.

Useful links, other than the sew-along: