Where to Find Me

by Susan Harris on June 12, 2014

Begun in 2005, this blog is now dormant but I’m busy lots of other places:

  • DC Gardens.com is the campaign I started in March of 2014 to promote DC’s public gardens to visitors, and gardening itself to newbies.  The DC Gardens Youtube Channel has videos of each garden by month, so visitors are discovering how great our gardens even after the cherry blossoms.  DC Gardens is also on Pinterest.
  • Greenbelt Live is the community blog I created in 2012 after moving to Greenbelt.  It’s been a great way to connect with this fabulous “New Deal Utopia,” and help others discover it.  I also curate a Greenbelt Maryland Youtube Channel.
  • I contribute to the Behnkes Nurseries Blog.  It’s been my favorite garden center for 40 years.
  • And I’m still blogging at least weekly on GardenRant, the team blog I helped create back in 2006.  It’s still going strong!

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The Changing of the Hondas

by Susan Harris on January 24, 2013

From Hauling Mulch to Breaking Down on the Beltway

Since I bought it used in 2001, this 1998 Honda CRV did triple duty, hauling me, passengers and TONS of mulch, plants and assorted stuff (especially when I moved a year ago now) with no more trouble than regular oil changes, new tires and once, new brakes.  That’s why I chose it – because of its reliability and its ability to haul stuff.  In all these years there’s never been something I had to move that didn’t fit in it.  And it’s upright and boxy, with the great visibility that boxiness allows, and it always made me feel safe. Loved this car!

Until recently, knowing that at 15 years old and getting up there in mileage (though at 137,000, pretty low for its years), I started to worry.  Especially when I drove it 470 miles to Asheville last May and back, during which drive I worried the whole time.  I’d once had an older car breakdown in the middle of nowhere (on my way to Roanoke one year, on a Sunday) I didn’t want a repeat of that.

So I’d been thinking of getting a newer car for a while when the other night at 9:45 my car DIED on the infamous Washington beltway.  Yikes!  Fortunately I was in the right lane at the time, and I limped onto an exit ramp, though not far enough on the ramp to be highly visible to cars taking the exit.  Oh, and it was cold; did I mention?

Rather than try to do it myself along the highway in the dark, I called some friends to ask if they’d get on their computer and find a tow-truck operator in the area who was free and send him to me, which it took them about five minutes to do.  In another 15 minutes the tow-truck had arrived.  Great work, friends and tow-truck guy!  (Freddy’s in Silver Spring.)

My fellow Beltway drivers performed not nearly as well.  About 50 cars exited the ramp I was stranded on, with me standing alone near it, and none stopped to offer help, though about half of them thought it would be helpful to HONK, which they did with vigor.  Finally a nice young couple stopped to help and pushed my car to a safer spot a few feet away around a curve.  But wow, what a statement on the neighborliness of my fellow DC-area residents.  I wonder if the reaction would have been better somewhere else, maybe in a smaller city.

To Fix or Ditch?
The next day I discovered that it would cost over $700 to fix the distributor and other bad parts, so I just decided that NOW was the time to get a (MUCH) newer car.  A reliable car.  Another Honda CRV!

So driving the tiniest rental car imaginable, I set out to test some used CRVs, targeting the years 2009-2011.  I soon learned, however, that Honda had changed the way the back seats fold down sometime after 1998 in a much less efficient way, so that cargo space wasn’t so great.  They’d also eliminated the rear window that opened separately from the rest of the rear door and could be left open for hauling extra-long items.  So I had to mourn the loss of some of my favorite features.

Another feature I learned had been designed away is the boxy shape of the car that afforded such fantastic visibility.  Newer CRVs have been designed to be more rounded, more aerodynamic, in order to increase fuel efficiency, which is great, but the visibility isn’t what it used to be.  I sat inside a Toyota SUV and discovered its visibility is even worse, so decided to stick with Hondas.  (I’d confined my car search to Hondas and Toyotas only, because of reliability, reliability, reliability.)

But back to that inefficient back-seat-folding problem – they changed it back to the original, better design in 2012!  Which narrowed my used-car search to 2012s only – a mere year old, which cost almost as much as brand new cars.   That’s because Hondas hold their value so well, which is great but not if you’re hoping to save big by going the “preowned” route.

You must know where this is going – my decision to spend just a couple of thousand more to get a brand new car, thereby getting exactly what I want. Within an hour or so I was driving home in my new car, in the dark purplish blue color you see here.  My friends are exclaiming about how quickly this all happened, and yeah, I suppose so.  The car broke down Thursday night and by Saturday afternoon I’d replaced it, the rental had been picked up and WETA (DC’s public TV station) had scheduled their pick-up of the donated old car.  DONE.

Some Fab New Features

Here’s what else has changed in 15 years of designing the Honda CRV.  Horse power has increased (quite peppy now!) while city mpg has stayed the same but highway mpg has improved.  Thank you, engineers.

A new-to-me feature I love is bluetooth, a term I now know the meaning of.  My iPhone has been “paired” with it and now I can answer, chat, hang up and initiate phone calls hands-free.  (Actually, you start any of those by touching a button on the steering wheel, and then talk to the car, saying “call John Smith” or whatever.”  Fabulous!

Another great safety feature is the back-up camera.  One friend I raved to about this thought I was talking about an extra camera backing up my regular camera but it’s way better than that – a camera that comes on when you’re in reverse and shows you where you’re going and how far away you are from an object.

One feature I was looking forward to using doesn’t seem to work for me is the ability to listen to an iPod through the car’s audio systems.  The minor bummer here is that when I plugged in the iPod the car responded with “Unrecognized ver,” rejecting my cheap iPod Shuffle, which I prefer to the larger, less portable iPod versions.  So my hopes for going ear-bud-free were dashed.

The Next Mulchmobile?

Now comes the gardener’s reaction to having such a pretty, spanking clean car – can I keep it that way?  At least keep it from being as filthy as my old car was, a car I defensively but accurately called the “mulchmobile.”   (I’ll never forget driving a gardening TV guru I’d admired for years (Paul James) to dinner in Baltimore after his speaking gig.  As he was climbing into the front seat of my old Honda he declared, “Your car is filthy!”  How true.  How embarrassing.)

For its first full day in my possession the new Honda made its first mulch run and I used dropcloths to protect the back, but I wonder how long that’ll last.  I’ll be posting on GardenRant to ask other gardeners how they haul stuff making their cars filthy because I need some advice.

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Progress in Back Garden includes Paint

by Susan Harris on December 26, 2012

This is what the little patio garden on the back of my house looked like a month ago, before I followed the suggestions of my distant gardening friends, and painted that thing!

Click here to read the story on GardenRant.

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Greenbelt House and Garden 2012 Roundup

by Susan Harris on November 1, 2012

Frankly, I’ve ignored this blog for a while now because I’m blogging so many other places, some for pay.  And it’s on those other blogs that I’ve been posting reports of my new home and garden in Greenbelt, which means there’s nowhere to send people who just want to know what’s up with me, especially my nongardening friends and family.

So here’s a catchup, and from here on I’ll be updating here more regularly, at least to send readers to new posts I’ve published elsewhere.

On Moving, and Starting a New Garden

My lawnless old garden.

- First I fret about selling my over-landscaped old garden and the house on it.

My new back garden, definitely "before".

- Then in November, after buying and selling, I fret about creating a new garden, where I hoped to NOT repeat the same old mistakes.

New  House Reports

I’ve posted the bathroom here before, but not the kitchen.  Here’s the kitchen, which was so worth changing.

And just this week I showed off my new screened-in porch.

New Garden Reports

Front garden in early May.

The front was available to be planted in the spring, as soon as the flagstone patio and walkway were done.  The early May report is here. Late-season update coming soon.

Back garden in late July.

By mid-July all the construction was done, including the flagstone patio on the back, so my first back-yard post is from late July.  Then I wrote about back-yard suggestions from blog readers. Hey this blogging really pays off!  Not with money, of course, but occasionally with something else.   And for a local garden center I wrote about three challenges I’d encountered in creating a new garden:  First, there’s all that empty space.  Then there’s poor soil.  And there MUST be screening.

Community  Garden Updates

In June I was hankering after a plot or some part thereof.

By October I had a small crop (mostly failures) going in part of a plot, and I’d started the website for the gardens.

Elsewhere in Greenbelt


I recently bragged about Greenbelt’s woodland paths.  This one going around the lake starts just 2 blocks from my house!

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Watch! Espoma’s brutal take-down of Scotts

by Susan Harris on September 1, 2012

Over on the SafeLawns blog Paul Tukey calls this ad “ballsy” and says it was the talk of Chicago at the recent Independent Garden Center Show.  I bet!  I used to like Espoma well enough; now I’m their biggest fan.

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Rear view of back garden. From left, primary plants are Korean Spice Viburnum and Cryptomeria

I see that it’s been (ahem) a while since I posted here.   I won’t bore you with my excuses, but instead try to catch readers up.

The Garden

With construction done, indoors and out, both my front and back gardens are ready for planting.  In 90+ degree heat.  Oh, well.   In this story I showed off photos of the front yard, and included a plant list, which has been modified a bit since April when I wrote that.  And just yesterday I did the same for the back garden, hoping to get lots of suggestions about what plants to add.  One commenter asked for an update on the front garden, and I’ll be doing that soon – maybe even on THIS blog.

Next up for the gardens?  Lots of buying, begging freebies, and tweaking what’s there.  Oh, and begging for more design and plant-suggestion help, too.  The wonderful Northern Virginia landscape architect Thomas Rainer offered to help free of charge (saying I’d somehow gotten him clients – hope so!) and I accepted that offer pronto, before he could reconsider.

The House

Notice anything new and shiny in the photo above?  I’m thinking of the lovely 11 by 17-foot screened-in porch that was completed just in time for me to sleep in it when I was without power for four days and the temps were over 100.  Fun times!

You’ve already seen my newly renovated bathroom, but the whole damn kitchen is new, too.  Photos have been taken and I’ll be posting them in the next day or two, right here and on the new community blog I write for.  Speaking of which…

Greenbelt Live – the Community Blog of Maryland’s New Deal Utopia

That’s the name and tagline of my latest adventure in blogging.  I’d always wanted to work on a community blog but my last town had a great local website, so didn’t really need one.   Here in Greenbelt there’s a wonderful all-volunteer print newspaper that’s delivered free of charge to our doors every Friday, as it has been without fail for 75 years.  It’s produced for the sheer love of doing it – by those aforementioned volunteers, some of whom working 40 or more hours a week at it.  So I volunteered to contribute to the paper and while chatting up the staff found myself volunteering to also create a web version of each issue, but making that happen is a hurdle the staff can’t take on right now.  Hey, it’s only in the last couple of months that the paper’s been available in pdf, and in expecting them to go hog-wild digital (in addition to print, of course), I was just showing my ignorance of the situation.

But then someone suggested I do a community blog independent of the paper, free from the obligation to actually cover news – crime, weather, and the important but snooze-inducing stuff about the city council.  It could be exactly how I want it to be.   Ooh, I couldn’t resist that part.

Excerpt from a weekly A&E Alert for Greenbelt

So last month Greenbelt Live launched to either indifference or wild enthusiasm, depending on whether or not people saw how the blog could help promote something they’re interested in – the arts, the environment, or their own business.  The idea is to have as many contributors as possible, of all ages, who write copy or send photos and videos that I’ll edit and publish for them.  I’m imagining school-age kids sending in entries for a Best Pet Photo Contest, or short How I Spent my Summer Vacation stories.  I’m suggesting all this to anyone who’ll listen (“It’ll be fun AND educational and them!”)

People who’ve offered to contribute so far include the town’s major environmental group, the realtor who helped me buy my house (and who grew up here), a nutritionist who works for the co-op grocery store and started the farmers market, and the owner of a local fitness business.  But the person who’s had the most impact so far is the town’s primary arts booster, one Barbara Simon who’s an artist herself and heads up several arts programs in town.  She and I dreamed up the notion of having the blog run a weekly feature promoting all arts and entertainment in the city (or anywhere if Greenbelt-based artists are involved).  We’ve done two issues so far (like this one) and so far, people are clicking on it and the arts groups seem to appreciate that for the first time, these events are compiled in one handy place.

Just click on that link and scroll down to see how much is going on in this small town in the dog days of summer, no less.  Greenbelt’s quite the little arts and entertainment hub, I tell ya!  It helps that artists and entertainers can afford to live here, compared to, say, D.C. or my former town of Takoma Park.

If you’re curious or just feel like supporting this blog FOR and BY the little Socialist experiment that is Greenbelt, subscribe to it or just “like” us it Facebook.  Thanks!

I’m staying loose with my vision for the blog and have no idea where it’ll eventually go – if anywhere – but it’s a helluva way to get to know my new neighbors.  And it’s fun.

Garden Blogging with No End in Sight

I’m still blogging one or two times a week each for Homestead Gardens and Behnkes Nursery, and weekly for the team blog Garden Rant, that last one for over six years now, I’ll have you know.   That’s a whole lotta blogging for negligible financial gain.  We did manage a redesign in the last year, so that’s another tidbit of news.  We’re finally on WordPress, and have switched from a traditional blog format (like this blog) to a magazine format (like the style I chose for Greenbelt Live).  Apparently tastes change in blogging, and one tries to keep up, if it’s not too much extra work (like, say, regular tweeting would be for this Twitter-averse soul).

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1st Renovation Report: The Bathroom

by Susan Harris on April 10, 2012

It’s been almost four months since I moved (from Takoma Park to Old Greenbelt, both in Maryland) and after that many months of construction I finally have ONE “after” photo to show for it.  See, in addition to the usual construction delays you’re all familiar with, living in a co-op community adds another whole dimension to concept of delay.  And bureaucratic obstructionism.  (Oh, I could go on.)

But let’s get to the dramatic photos, shall we?  Below are two shots of the bathroom, which contained the original 1937 tub and medicine chest but a fairly new sink and vanity cabinet – which I hated.  Plus the tile – yuck!

So here’s the new look -  large gray tiles on the floor and tub surround, with gray walls and towels, and dark Shaker-style cabinets (Martha Stewart brand).  Plus Mistos plumbing fixtures, a Toto toilet and a new medicine cabinet and light fixture.  I’ll be painting my new kitchen and dining room this same gray.

The work was done by Ahmed Shomar at Mozer Works, the contractor who did most of the renovations in my last home.   Awesome tile work!

Speaking of the kitchen, the construction is done…for a while.  Am awaiting more deliveries and painting but happy to have it reassembled more or less and in working order.  Before-and-after photos coming soon, I hope.

The office and bedrooms are looking pretty good, with their new paint-jobs (all DIY – I love to paint!) but I’m waiting ’til the overhead fans are replaced and the yucky carpet replaced with wood flooring before taking photos.

Now about the garden, pictured here in its “before” form.  I have an actual designer-done design that includes flagstone patios in front and back, which I’ve actually received permission to install (oh yes, nothing happens here without permission).  So any day now the patios will be done and I can plant-plant-plant – at least in the front.  The full back-yard planting will have wait until the screened-in porch construction is done and I’m still waiting for the permission-giver around here (“The Dictator”) to finally say okay, do it.  And then the county has to agree.  So, sometime in 2012?

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One Baby Boomer’s Musical Journey

by Susan Harris on February 2, 2012

by Bob Oakes

My blogger friend Susan Harris asked me to write a piece on the role of music in my life. I knew Susan in the midst of my formative musical decade: 1963-1973. She and I attended college in Ohio and we backpacked around Europe in the summer of ’69.  We were on the other side of the Atlantic when Woodstock shook the American consciousness. I was running from the draft.

1972: Bob (back right) in a rock band in Connecticut with friend Richard Fichman (left). Good music, good times.

A baby boomer born in 1949, I was introduced to folk music via my siblings in the early sixties. My sister taught me some chords on ukulele so I could play “Tom Dooley” and “Scarlet Ribbons”. Soon I was playing guitar and strumming Peter, Paul & Mary tunes.  I even played “The Times They are a-Changin’” at a hootenanny. But it was the British invasion – The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, The Kinks – that truly reached my teenage core. It took two Canadians – Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – to bring my attention back to music happening on this side of the pond– along with The Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. I went back and caught up with Bob Dylan’s music after seeing his Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 and being completely blown away. There was Dylan playing “It Ain’t Me Babe”, then he was singing duets with Joan Baez and hey, here was Roger McGuinn just walking out on stage to play some tunes!

I made some good music back in my teens and twenties. After a few high school bands, some of my buddies and I spent a couple years writing songs and playing venues in Southern New England. We really didn’t get too far, but no matter. It was just so exciting to be part of the Sixties culture, contributing to the perpetual soundtrack of the civil rights movement, the peace movement and the women’s movement. Cultural changes were coming fast and my basic world view was solidifying.  It’s there in my heart right now, forever intertwined with “All You Need is Love”, “Ohio”, “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “I Shall Be Released”.

Of course there were many other musicians whose music touched me throughout the years: The Band, James Taylor, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, the Roches, Rosanne Cash, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris, the Grateful Dead and U2.   But what do I listen to now from today’s music? Steve Earle has a heartfelt folk-rock repertoire.  Donna the Buffalo has a cool Cajun/retro sound. Ben Harper has great vocals and guitar licks. Gillian Welch is the queen of folk revival. Did you hear her this year enriching the Decemberists’ “The King is Dead” with killer harmonies? There’s still a world of great music out there, but admittedly, I now only stay marginally current with new songs and artists.

1995: With his wife Ann & friend Lynn Siegel (left), Bob played for several years in a folk trio comprised of members of their UU church. Two others often joined in to form as a quintet and they made some recordings.

In recent years, I’ve cranked out a handful of original songs about issues close to me. My wife and I wrote songs that celebrate adoption and recorded them with friends from church. I work at a school, so I wrote our school song. I wrote a good song just last year, inspired by my daughter’s struggle with religious intolerance (performed in the video below). My favorite music in the past five years has come from playing with family and friends in living rooms or gatherings around a campfire. I ushered in my 60th birthday singing and dancing with friends and family around a bonfire out in the woods. What a kick! You should hear us jam on “Summertime”, “Shady Grove” or “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”. My colleagues and I also spread our love of music at the charter school where we work, leading weekly song circles with our students. Several school staff meet weekly for “guitar group” in the guidance counselor’s office (dubbed the Zen Den) where I teach guitar skills and we share songs. We visit Creedence and Dylan regularly. I also give some private guitar lessons.

2010: Music buddies at Evergreen Community Charter School in Asheville, NC. Left to right, Charlie Keller, Jeff Japp, Bob, Eben Heasley, Terry Deal.

Ready for some lists? Here are some of my all-time favorites in no particular order.

10 Albums I Never Get Tired of

Rubber Soul – The Beatles

Out of Our Heads – The Stones

Blue – Joni Mitchell

After the Goldrush – Neil Young

Greatest Vols. 1&2 – Bob Dylan

Spy Boy – Emmylou Harris with Buddy Miller

We Three Kings – The Roches

Europe ’72 – The Grateful Dead

Rosanne Cash – The List

10 (okay, 11) Songs that Touch my Soul at Each and Every Listening (links to Youtube)

“Beeswing” - Richard Thompson

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Bonnie Raitt with Bruce Hornsby

“John Walker’s Blues” – Steve Earle

Black Peter” and “Attics of My Life” – The Grateful Dead

Bell Bottom Blues” – Derek and the Dominoes

The Wind Cries Mary” – Jimi Hendrix

Somebody to Love” – Jefferson Airplane

Where The Streets Have No Name” – U2

Dreamland” – Mary Chapin Carpenter

This is Us” – Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler

Here’s  Bob and Ann Oakes singing a song that Bob wrote.  Videography by Jade Oakes.

Thanks, Bob~!  See you in Asheville soon (for the next Gardenblogger Fling). And readers, that’s Bob and I in the collage top right, in a field somewhere in England, 1969.

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Cycling Again!

by Susan Harris on January 10, 2012

In the two months since I posted to this blog I’ve moved and done lots of shopping and planning for my new home and garden.  I’ll share about that soon enough but for now, I want to write about cycling again after at least 15 years.  My former neighborhood was terrible for cycling – hilly and dangerous – but my new one is fabulous, with trails and parks and even farmland.  So I took my old bike to a funky local bike shop (now owned by a 50-something woman I bonded with instantly) to get it ready for action again.   And here it is – my Nishiki Colorado vintage early ’90s, takings its first-ever trip on the subway to D.C.

Which makes me wonder why I’ve never done this before, taken a bike on the subway.  It cost nothing extra and is the absolute best way to see the memorials in the touristy part of town, where parking spaces are nonexistent.

Seeing the Monuments by Bike

The Martin Luther King Memorial, from across the Tidal Basin

My first stop and the main reason for the outing was to see the new MLK Memorial along the Tidal Basin, which I reviewed here.  It’s right next door to the FDR, my favorite, so I checked in there, and then for contrast, the World War II Memorial, which may be my least favorite of them all.

The World War II Memorial

Two wars.  Two completely opposite memorials.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Albert Einstein Memorial Statue

By chance I spied the new Albert Einstein statue, which I’d never seen in person.  A tour guide there pointed out that his nose has been wiped shiny by visitors rubbing it, and his lap gets a lot of sitting on, too.   I’m hoping to see some of that action the next time I visit.  Love the statue – it’s by the same sculptor who did the JFK bust in the Kennedy Center.

Cycling past Lakes and Farms

Much closer to home – in fact about a half-mile from my house – are the 6,500 acres of the Beltsville Ag Research Center (the largest in the world).  With the smell of fresh manure in the air and roads with names like Poultry, Dairy and Animal Husbandry, it seems like the real deal – farmland.  I’ve cycled there a few times already, and always stop at this stream to look for eagles returning to their nest, which you can see in this photo along the treeline, on the left.

Greenbelt Lake

And closest of all to my house is Greenbelt Lake, which I ride or walk around often.  I recently heard from someone who grew up here that it was dug by hand during the ’30s, to give work to the unemployed.  So thank you, New Deal Socialism!

Back in the Saddle at a Certain Age

I can certainly confirm the old adage that you never forget how to ride a bike.  Forgetting how to use the gears is something else, but it wasn’t hard to relearn.  My cycling now won’t be quite the same as it was in the ’90s, though.  I got rid of my fast(er) road bike and kept just the slower all-terrain bike.  No need to pretend to be a racer anymore. Also?  No need to ride with cycling groups that go way too fast for me, just because the cool guys are in the faster group.  IF I ride with groups again, it’ll be with the mostly female slow-poke groups, right where I belong.  And I sure as hell won’t be signing up for those killer cycling tours of Vermont like I once did with a former husband.  No more pretending to be like serious bikers, the ones who profess to liking hills.  Oy.

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I’ll sure miss this view

by Susan Harris on November 12, 2011

This is my last November looking out onto this awesome view (after 26 years).  But on the bright side, this view can be yours – read my Takoma Park House for Sale page.

View from the sunroom.

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