Mutinus elegans

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this stinkhorn belongs to the family Phallaceae.  Yeah, I’m laughing too.


From Wikipedia:

As the fungus matures, a slender orange to pink colored stalk emerges that tapers evenly to a pointed tip. The stalk is covered with a foul-smelling slimy green spore mass on the upper third of its length. Flies and other insects feed upon the slime which contains the spores, assisting in their dispersal. Due to their repellent odor, mature specimens are not generally considered edible, although there are reports of the immature “eggs” being consumed.

and this interesting factoid about its latin name:

The genus name Mutinus refers to a phallic deity, Mutinus Mutunus, one of the Roman di indigetes placated by Roman brides.[3] The species is commonly known variously as the “elegant stinkhorn”,[4] the “headless stinkhorn”,[5] the “dog stinkhorn”,[6] or the “devil’s dipstick”.[3]

These two appeared on our neighbor’s lawn and I suspect there will be more in the coming days or weeks. They’re really impressive when the top looks like its covered with diarrhea and crawling with flies. These appear to be drying out.

IMG_2869 IMG_2842 IMG_2834 IMG_2840

House Wrens

My friend Chris made this multi-tiered coconut birdhouse and our resident house wrens moved in. I finally got a real tripod instead of the old one I was using and I only now realize I should have bought one a long time ago. I also acquired a 400mm lens which will allow me to get better bird shots.

I hung the coconut hotel on the side porch and it seems they’ve chosen that over the wren house just outside the front door. Hopefully they’ll stay there and we won’t have to endure the horrible things they say to us every time we enter and exit our house.

These birds build several dummy nests before deciding on one to use for their eggs and I’ve seen them going in and out of both today.

IMG_1361 IMG_1362 IMG_1397 IMG_1409




Spider & Bess Beetle

I think this is a wolf spider. Definitely a female since she was carrying an egg case.


This is a Bess beetle or patent leather beetle. They live in groups and produce a variety of acoustical signals. They emit a squeaking sound when handled.


“Flimsy” is an understatement


A flimsy assembly of pine needles, twigs, and grass stems, unlined and with little insulation for the young. Over 2 to 4 days, the male carries twigs to the female, passing them to her while standing on her back; the female weaves them into a nest about 8 inches across. Mourning Doves sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests.
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

This dove made a nest in our gutter and we have an excellent view of it from our bedroom window. It will be fun to watch the young develop in such a half-assed location. Who could survive that?? My guess is that they make it.

Robin – Turdus migratorius

Sorry to be a Turdus in the punchbowl, but robins aren’t a “sign of spring” as people seem to believe. They’re here all winter. Some migrate, but if there is enough food available they’ll stay year-round.  They travel in large groups in the winter then pair off in spring.

This is part of a large group that fed on holly berries this morning in our yard:

IMG_7347 IMG_7370 IMG_7381




Kitchen Update and Warm Photos

The kitchen is nearly finished. The tile guy was here yesterday and had to rethink a few things and order some special tiles for the corner areas. He will be back to finish that later this week or early next. The electricians and plumbers will be here Thursday to do some major work on our breaker box in the basement and all should be functional by friday. There are a still numerous odds and ends to finish up but at least I can start moving in and will have an oven.

The marble is installed and it is DIVINE!!! I’m not going to post any more photos until it’s all cleaned up and finished.

This weather is so grim and miserable, I felt compelled to post some happy photos from warmer and more pleasant places:


IMG_5674 IMG_5181

Cabinets, range, sink

The cabinets arrived the week before last and most of thanksgiving week was taken up with installation. They are exquisite!  The sink and range showed up but aren’t functional yet because they needed to be in place in order for the marble to be sized. A guy from Natural Stoneworks was here this morning and made a template to take back to the shop in order to cut our slab.

I think we might have a  slow week because not much can proceed without the countertops and that will take until next Tuesday. These guys work meticulously and I’m perfectly willing to give up time in exchange for good work.  We’re entirely sick of the basement, but that’s the breaks.

Even though we’re not using the kitchen, I visit the Aga every day and dream of what I’ll cook:


This sink looks like something taken from a 19th century house. It’s hand made and the most beautiful dog bathtub I’ve seen:


It reminds me of the sink in the house where I grew up, except I doubt that one weighed 161 pounds! These are made of some kind of mineral aggregate called Fireclay.




I went to visit our slab yesterday at Natural Stoneworks and it’s breathtaking:


If you are in the area and have a chance to visit Natural Stoneworks, it’s worth the time, especially if you’re interested in biology or nature. Their slabs of stone are incredible and I didn’t even know such beautiful things existed. All are on display in the back showroom and the cliche “wonders of nature” is an understatement. Also, owners Mary and Don Senft couldn’t be nicer. They host the Humane League’s annual Leo’s Birthday Bash fundraiser and open the showroom to artists and dogs for an evening. The next one is on March 1, 2014 so stop by and see their rock while supporting the HLLC. And bring your dog!

The marble isn’t from Vermont as I said previously, but Italy. It’s Cararra marble which is indeed what is used in museums. From Wikipedia:

Carrara marble has been used since the time of Ancient Rome. The marble from Carrara was used for some of the most remarkable buildings in Ancient Rome, such as the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in Rome are constructed of it. Many sculptures of the Renaissance, such asMichelangelo’s David (1501–04), were carved from Carrara marble.

Now that gave me goosebumps. Fortunately, Cararra is one of the cheaper stones available but it drives some people nuts because it stains, etches and scratches much more easily than other types. It’s not for everyone. I found a blog by a woman named Edie Wadsworth and she says that “In general, if you love beauty over function, are laid back in personality, and have a strong aesthetic sensibility, you will likely LOVE having marble, like I do.”  She wrote an informative post here that explains the pros and cons of white marble.  Look at this photo from Edie’s kitchen. Seriously. What else could look like that???



There was simply no other choice for me – I love the feel of it, its history, it’s glow and it will never, ever look dated. I look forward to seeing it age and burnish like many of the stairwells and countertops you can even see in Lancaster. Once you start to notice Cararra marble, you can see it everywhere, especially in historic cities like Lancaster.

The ceiling was drywalled this week and there’s a guy here right now spackling and smoothing the walls in preparation for paint and tile. The big event next week is the arrival and installation of the cabinets next Thursday.




The Alligator Head

I’m pretty sure that if you went to Satan’s house and asked to see his basement this is what you’d find:

IMG_1468 copy

A filthy, reeking pit where even spiders dare not go. The disturbing thing is that this is in our basement. Or, it was, until this afternoon. It contained a hideous and sinister old oil tank that was installed when the house was built in 1930. The furnace it powered was later converted to natural gas but nobody bothered to remove that disturbing black iron colossus in the closet that lay in wait to one day rear its ugly head and discharge its foul admixture of water and oil through a rusted hole onto the floor, raining hellfire down on unsuspecting homeowners in the form of a hazardous waste disposal debacle. I detested the very thought of that beast in there and rued the previous owners for not killing the thing when they had the chance.

We finally had the fiend carted off today and the mess in the photo above is what remained.  I was outside raking leaves when our plumber approached me and said with a straight face “I found an alligator head in the basement. In that closet where the tank was.” Silence.

Uhhhhhh…seriously. How does one reply to that? All I could think to say was “what? Did you say an alligator head?”

“That’s right”

“I’ve got to see this” and I started to head towards the house.

“No, wait, it’s here in the bucket” and he pointed to a bucket of debris with the head on top:

IMG_1469 copy

Still baffled, I said “what the hell?!”

He laughed and just shook his head in disbelief.

End of story. I don’t have an explanation other than that really is a portal to hell and Satan is housecleaning, discharging his vile rubbish into our basement.



Evisceration stage complete

It was a enormous relief to discover that no major nightmares lurked behind the walls or under the floor last week when the kitchen was torn out. We were hoping to refinish the existing floor, but that isn’t possible so an oak floor will be installed instead.  Here’s the pile of wood and what it looks like now:

photo copy 4photo copy 3

It doesn’t look like much happened, but there has been a lot going on. The floor took quite a bit of work because someone went nuts with a staple gun years ago and they all had to be dug out. The electrician and plumbers installed gas lines, took out a radiator, rewired, installed outlets and switches, among many other things. They’ll be here again today, then the floor will be done on Thursday and Friday.

Here’s the kitchen bathroom that’s also included in the renovation:

That ring on the floor is probably 30 years worth of dried out male urine. Ack!!

Original wallpaper from 1930. I love this!
photo copy 2

Probably the original flooring. This is so dark, it must have been like a cave:

Here’s our charming makeshift kitchen in the basement among the spiders and centipedes;

photo copy

It’s not pretty but it works.

T=0 Kitchen Renovation

It took us well over a year to muster the nerve to undertake an entire kitchen renovation, but we are now on the eve of a complete and total gutting.  I am taking a break from spending the day setting up temporary quarters in the musty, spidery basement. Fortunately, we have more than enough space to store everything and the workroom even has cabinets. With a crock pot, the Big Green Egg, teapot, french press, and a rice cooker we’ll be in good shape for food prep.

We’ve never remodeled anything on this scale and I wasn’t about to pretend I could handle anything having to do with it, so we hired a designer named Bobby Herr who is a godsend. She handled everything and is using “her guy” Dave Geib from Stiegel Construction to do the work. She supervises from beginning to end and it is such a relief to have competent people who have worked together for years. In addition, Dave has renovated numerous houses in our neighborhood so he knows old homes and I am willing to bet he is nearly immune to the atrocities found once these old places start being torn apart and past nightmares revealed.  I am confident that their collaboration and experience will obviate any of the numerous horror stories I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances. It seems everyone has a kitchen renovation horror story that they’re completely willing to recount in agonizing detail.

Way back when it was clear that we were seriously going to do this, I started looking around on the internet for ideas. I discovered this one by Garrison Hullinger on, hyperventilated and quit searching right then and there:



I love everything about this – the retro styling, the color, the brightness…everything. Of course it won’t be exactly the same, but we’re doing the same paint color, white marble countertops, farm sink and a fancy-schmancy range. There were two things I had to have for this: white marble and a decent range. White marble because I have always loved museums so much and every old, good museum is loaded with marble. It will wear with age and gain personality as it’s used. I love its texture and glow that will also serve to brighten our dark space.  Julia Child describes in one of her books how she remembers fondly the house she and her husband rented when she first started learning to cook in France. The kitchen had ancient and worn white marble countertops.  I always admired her and it’s one more pleasant association that I’ll think of every day when I use it. And another cool association that was a surprise to me – it’s from Vermont! We are in love with NH/VT area and go every year, sometimes twice.

I cook a lot, nearly every night, and our diet consists of a large amount of Asian food. Anyone who has ever cooked Asian grub on an electric range will testify to its futility. It’s just not possible to achieve the temperature settings and immediate heat changes required to do it properly.  The other thing that drives me nuts is the oven. Since there are only two of us and few dinner guests, sometimes I find myself heating up the entire oven for one small side dish. It’s a waste of energy and the current piece of shit is so poorly insulated that the whole kitchen turns into a furnace which is a real drag in the summer.  I wanted something that met my needs and was also very attractive. I looked at the French ranges, La Cornue (the white range in the above photo) and Lacanche, but with no service people in the area and an astronomical price tag, that just wasn’t going to happen.

Bobby suggested looking at an Aga, the British cast iron ranges. I wasn’t aware that they made a gas top range but I did some research and it was love at first sight.  LH Brubaker had a discontinued 6-4 (6 burners on top, 4 ovens) at HALF PRICE!!!! in the color I wanted! and they service them! Here it is:



Yes, the ovens are small but with two homebodies who entertain maybe once a year, this is perfect. Each oven has a different function – a broiler/toaster, convection, traditional roaster and low-temp slow cooker. The burners also have differing heat setting including a ring to support a wok.  The roaster can hold something as large as a 12 pound turkey which is all we need. Every pan and pot I have fits, so no problem.

An additional aspect I liked about the kitchen above was the total departure from tradition in the form of a wild and unique light. I looked at chandeliers similar to the one pictured above, but they didn’t seem to be appropriate in our house. This place was built in 1930 and both Gene and I are fans of art deco and the decades surrounding that style which is why we are renovating with a retro feel. It didn’t take long to find this but I never dreamed Gene would go for something this wild:


I sent him the link and, surprisingly, he loved it. So that’s what will hang above the kitchen table!  Before photos coming next.