A Weekend of Antique Charm

The sun is high, the tulips are flirtatious, and the workday already has one foot out the door. Tomorrow opens up a spree of exciting events at the NYBG as we work our way toward the beginning of Monet’s Garden. More importantly, we’re springing off our announcement of the Rock Garden’s inclusion in this year’s Partners in Preservation competition. We need your help to make this happen!

We’re encouraging everyone to stop by the Rock Garden at the heart of the NYBG when they come for a weekend visit. You’ll understand why I call it a zen experience. And once you’ve walked along the gently sloped gravel paths and looked up at the reach of the trees overhead, I think you’ll also come to understand what makes this Garden icon worth your time. After seeing the Rock Garden, think about throwing your vote in the hat for The New York Botanical Garden as we strive for the privilege of restoring this piece of Nature’s Showplace.

Beyond the hollow of the Rock Garden, there is (of course!) a schedule stacked with events to take part in. The Antique Garden Furniture Show launched today to the joy of collectors around the city. If adding a touch of proven class to your home plot is on the priority list, think about perusing our dozens of elegant statues, garden furniture sets, and other pedigreed treasures from years past. You’re bound to find something that fits your outdoor aesthetic.

As always, birders have a chance to get together with their binoculars on Saturday morning, with Debbie Becker’s 25 years of bird-watching prowess leading the way. Those more inclined to indoor leisure will want to jump in with one of our expert docents for a Saturday tour around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, or head over to the Britton Science Rotunda for “Plants and Fungi: Ten Current Research Stories,” which runs all weekend. And come Sunday, it’s out into the Forest for a guided tour of our 50-acre wood.

Naturally we’re making room for the kids, too. Join us as a group for “Wild, Wiggly Worms” at the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden and bring your greenthumb’s constitution–you and your kids will be learning about and feeding the residents of our worm farm! Not that you’ll go home empty handed for your effort: worm compost makes for some of the best garden food you can find anywhere.

That’s almost enough for anyone’s schedule, but don’t leave out the rest of our 250 acres. We’re nearly buried under the springtime mosaic of ambrosial lilacs, brilliant tree peonies, and the river of pinks, reds, and whites painted across the Azalea Garden. Now, more than ever, is the time to experience nature in New York City!

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101 Uses for a Farm Truck

Mother Nature has sorely tried our patience around here in the past couple of months.

First there was the earthquake that sent me darting out the front door with the little dogs in my wake for fear that the computer cabinet was going to topple right onto my lap. Then there were tornadoes raging around in the vicinity to get us all warmed up for Hurricane Irene.

Oh, Irene! Irene dumped rain, tore up the roof and knocked down trees and generally made everyone but the dogs miserable. (The little dogs were sedated and slept through the whole thing.) Of course, the power went out, which meant our basement sump pump stopped working. Harry tried bailing water for a while until it became apparent that we needed nine or ten Harrys in a water brigade to stop the water from rushing in and filling in the basement like a very large, but very ugly, indoor swimming pool. After a while we quietly closed the basement door and tried very hard not to think about what was going on beneath our feet.

Once the subterranean waters receded I was hot on the phone with Thomas, our plumber, to get a battery backup sump pump installed tout de suite! Good thing too, because Mother Nature wasn’t done with us yet. We had another four or five days of rain dumping yet another 15 inches or so on our already saturated ground. And yes, BGE kindly made sure the power went out again so that we could test the newly installed sump pump. Bravo! It worked!

Thankfully, September 11 passed without incident. Mother Nature was probably just worn out.

Well, now we get to the part about the farm truck, Lulabelle.

Waiting on pins and needles, were you?

Throughout the various and sundry tests on my patience I was grateful that I had resisted the urge to have the hideously large and ugly Lulabelle hauled away for scrap metal. See, last winter she had left me high and dry not once but TWICE in some very cold weather, necessitating that I wait for AAA for a combined total of three hours without benefit of heat. As you can imagine, this truck was not high on my favorite vehicles list.

But she has recently made up for her earlier transgressions by being quite handy at serving first as a mobile dumpster as we sorted through the soggy remains of the basement and then hauling everything away. (Okay, she didn’t do it herself, Harry drove her. But you get the idea.)

Now, Lulabelle is performing a function that requires a great deal of patience but does allow her to use her considerable weight to advantage. Lulabelle is now a tree stake.

Yes, a tree stake. We lost three of the ‘Winter King’ Hawthorns by the driveway. Harry managed to upright another that was listing to the south. This particular tree was also bent in a southerly direction but resisted attempts to be righted by a mere wooden stake. So Lulabelle has been pressed into service.

Okay, I won’t give you all 101 uses for a farm truck, but I did think you would like to know that a farm truck isn’t just for joy riding.

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Is It Time to Clean the Carpet?

If there is one aspect of home maintenance that is commonly overlooked, and sometimes forgotten on purpose, it’s cleaning the carpets. For many, it is a chore they dread, but for me, it’s a Zen experience that I actually look forward to.

Your carpets get vacuumed regularly, but there is still dirt and grime that gets stamped into it that a vacuum cannot get out. This is especially true at main thoroughfares such as the front door area and dining room where people are constantly going in and out.

When should you clean your carpets? I clean mine at least once a month, but I have three children and two dogs that love to track everything in that they can. It really depends on how traveled your house is and the conditions that the rugs are exposed to. A single person or a couple with no children in an upstairs apartment may not have many problems.

A family of five in a single-family home in the wet and snowy wilderness of the Midwest may be better off just buying their own carpet cleaner. After a few weeks of mud and dirt, your carpets can look dingy. During the summer, when there isn’t much water to worry about, you may not have to clean the carpets at all.

Once you decide to clean your carpet, the next decision is whether to buy a carpet cleaner or rent one. If you only clean it a few times a year, then just rent the carpet cleaner. A Rug Doctor or other brand tends to be more powerful and hold more water than the standard commercial ones sold in stores. If you clean the carpet once a month or more, then just buy the carpet cleaner and save yourself the time and effort of renting and lugging it to and from the store.

The actual act of carpet cleaning is simple. The machine shoots out a blast of hot soapy water into the floor and a vacuum sucks it back up again along with the dirt. The one thing you need to be careful of is that these types of cleaners will leave the carpet wet when finished, so place a fan in the room to help dry. Mold can develop overtime if the carpet doesn’t dry fast enough.

When finished, the carpet looks fantastic and is about three shades brighter than it was before.

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/juliesjournal/2993449571

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Notes From the Field: How I Survived the Snowpacalypse

When I heard that Illinois was going to have 20 inches of snow dumped on it within a 24-hour time frame, I did everything I could to make sure the house was in tip-top shape.

I made the sure the windows and doors were secure, I went downstairs and took a look at the furnace to make sure it was in proper working order, and I had every blanket and portable heater ready to take on the night. The snow shovel was at the door, ready for quick access, and I had emergency flashlights and candles ready in case we needed them.

I was as prepared as I could be.

We were supposed to get the dangerous thunder-snow with snow fall rates of more than 3 inches an hour, and my greatest fear was that it would knock out the power. I did everything I could to make sure I was prepared, but ultimately, it was up to Mother Nature.

Facebook was aflutter with friends talking about the Snowpacalypse, and my wife was looking forward to seeing the storm. As the snow started, I watched as the wind blew heavily and as the drift grew steadily against my front door until I couldn’t open it at all. There was a 2-foot drift, and it wasn’t going to budge.

When the thunder-snow started and the house was shaken by thunder, I began to worry about the power again. The radio told reports of hundreds of stranded cars on the road, and the National Guard had been called in to help the state police.

It would appear the Snowpacalypse was here and going strong. About 6 inches had already been dumped, and the heavy winds made it impossible for snow plows to keep up, so they just stopped. It got to the point where you couldn’t tell where the road was in comparison to anything and the world was a solid field of white.

By midnight, the snow began to subside, and the forecasts became more favorable. We only had about a foot of snow dumped on us, and the power never went out. I talk about how to be prepared for winter weather and storms such as these, and you do your best. I don’t know if things would have fared differently if I had not been prepared, but it was reassuring that I did everything I could and survived the Snowpacalypse with ease.

Image Source:flickr.com/photos/birdies100/4347296054

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Blizzard Warning: Be Prepared

Here in Illinois, we are preparing for a major winter storm that could dump more than a foot of snow before the storm finally leaves. They say it can dump as much as three inches an hour and will be blizzard conditions.

This is going to be a rough 48-hours, and your home has to be prepared for the worst. It’s no different than living in a hurricane or flooding area. There is always a chance that it could happen, so you need to be prepared. The last thing you want is something major happening when there is a blizzard.

1. Check your windows. Winds can be in excess of 30-40 miles per hour in a blizzard and that means wind chills of 30 or 40 degrees below zero. You windows are the weakest link in keeping the heat in your home. Winds this fast and cold can drop a house temperature by 10 degrees or more, especially if they are drafty. Protect your home by putting plastic over the windows and securing it with tape and staples.

2. Cover door cracks. Doors are another place of significant heat loss, as the wind slips through the cracks such as the bottom of the door. Place a blanket at the bottom off the door to cover the crack, and if the door isn’t used, then cover it in plastic just like the windows.

3. Make sure awning and screen doors are secure. I learned this the hard way. A few years ago, wind ripped an awning off our front door. Every awning is triple secured using multiple screws, and I am sure that if a tornado hits, the only thing that would be left of house would be the awnings. Screen doors have a tendency to become unlatched, and while they may not be ripped off their hinges, you don’t want to hear a slamming door all night.

4. Keep an eye on your pipes. The cold of a blizzard can easily cause the pipes to freeze, and you can suddenly find yourself without water. It’s best to buy some bottled water in case this happens. It’s also not a bad idea to buy a couple days’ worth of meals and snacks.

5. Always have extra blankets.
With high winds and cold temperatures, there is the possibility that the electricity could go out. Crews will have a hard time finding the problem in a blizzard and fixing it, so it may be a day or so before the power comes back on. For many, that means no heat, so pile on the blankets to keep everyone warm. You may want to consider purchasing a backup generator for such a purpose.

A blizzard can be deadly to those who are not prepared for the worst. Emergency crews will have a difficult time navigating the snow-covered roads and seeing in blizzard conditions, so it’s best to be prepared and keep yourself and your family safe.

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/jasonpersse/5297211166

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Propeller Island City Lodge: Odd Architecture of the Week

Vacations are all about the destination and what goes on once you’re there, but there are some places where even the hotel can be a visual adventure. The rooms of Propeller Island City Lodge in Berlin, Germany, are art in and of themselves and are both beautiful and just plain odd at the same time.

Flying Bed Room
The room was built with a slanted floor designed specifically to make it look like the bed is flying in the middle of the room. The table and chairs are designed to complement the slanted room, so it feels like you are sitting down in a normal chair even though there is nothing normal about any of it.

While this room with the bronze abstract painted walls may seem normal at first glance, it’s a voyeur’s dream come true. The room includes a “spy mirror” so you can see the goings on of the room next door. If that isn’t strange enough for you, the bathroom was created to look like a giant plastic bag. Yeah, that kind of came out of nowhere for me, too.

Two Lions
Have you ever wanted to sleep in a cage? Me neither, but if you did, then this room features dual cages on stilts about four feet off the ground. You can choose to sleep in the cages or on a double bed. The hotel’s Web site says the kids love to sleep in the cages, but I don’t know if I would ever let them out again.

Can you guess what this room is all about? The room is beautiful, with a blue sandstone bathroom, lilac colored walls and velvet curtains, but adorning the walls are nude paintings (also known as pictures of naked people). Leave it to the weirdest hotel in the world to create the perfect room for romantic ambiance and take it a step further by adding a bunch of naked people.

I am a science fiction nut at heart, and the Space-Cube room is a testament to futuristic minimalism. Sparse and metallic, the room features a bed that has a mechanical barrier, which can be raised or lowered to create one bed or two. The bed also has a blue light, and the walls are made of a colored glass. It’s very… umm… interesting.

Twilight fans might want to choose this room if they want to get a little closer to Edward Cullen. A labyrinthine maze leads you to your two coffin beds high above the floor. Don’t worry about vampire hunters finding your sleeping quarters, as they have to traverse the maze, and with your aerial vantage point, you will see them coming.

Upside Down
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, the upside down room has the furniture above you while you walk on the “ceiling.” Don’t worry, you won’t be hanging like bats on the upside down bed, because the real beds and furniture are located in caves under the floor… err… ceiling.

The Propeller Island City Lodge is the oddest hotel on the planet, and these are only a few of the many crazy rooms his hotel has to offer.

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/dsopfe/3927852733/

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Garden Size: How Much Is Too Much?

When it comes to flower gardens, my philosophy has always been this: Simpler is better. I have seen grandiose gardens with manicured shrubbery, flowers from all over the world that are bigger than my house.

The question I always have when I exit one of those Hanging Gardens of Babylon is this: How much is too much? Is your garden an intimate place where you go for quiet meditation or an expanse that you obsess about and host garden walks in every year?

My garden décor is relatively small and simple. I have three small children, and I need the bulk of my backyard for things like swing sets and sand boxes. The garden area is my place of Zen. When the walls are closing in on me or the world is just too hectic, I like to head out and do a little weeding or just take in the colors.

I can’t imagine going out for hours each day and obsessing over every little detail or making sure that I was keeping up with the Joneses. I remember one day I was out and about when a friend asked if I wanted to see his, I believed he called it, “International Garden.”

So he opens up his back door, and suddenly, I am in a freaking rainforest. Plants 6–8 feet high from all over the world and covering every square inch of the backyard. Every inch except for those in the goldfish pond and waterfall.

I was overwhelmed by it all… and not in a good way. He must spend hours out there each day pruning and weeding to keep everything from being overtaken. When it was all over and I left, I swore I would never make a garden even half that size.

For him, the garden was a matter of status and pride. He wanted to bring people in and see it and then go tell their friends. It wasn’t a place of Zen. It was a place of cluttered flora.

My garden is the perfect size for me, because I don’t need people coming over or having it take over my life. His garden was the perfect size for him. I guess if I had to suggest the proper size of the garden for a person, I would say this: Don’t make a garden bigger than your own head.

Image Source: flickr.com/photos/left-hand/2578131633

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