Jun 22, 2017

New Porch Mat

When we stained the deck I realized it was time to replace the doormat by the sliding door. It was shedding to the point where the birds were stripping it to make nests and it was making more of a mess than preventing. It was time to replace it and I realized that it was also time for the front porch mat to get refreshed as well... The bicycle mat looked faded and worn instead of cute.

The old porch mat dresses up the refinished deck - it's still back door cute even if it's worn and faded.

Also... the stained deck... it's so much better. No more peeling. No more splintering. Just smooth dark brown deck planks. It's repelling water like a dream. The deck is a lovely place to be again.

Then the porch! It needed something new and fresh. I love the doormats at Target. Especially when they are on sale and I can order them with free shipping and the red card discount. This year’s bicycle design is super cute and the natural background color looks great with our yellow siding.

I need to clean the porch floor and we want to oil it this summer (another thing to add to the list), but the porch really looks lovely these days. The flowers in the pots, the new mat, the updates we’ve made - I feel like it’s such a welcoming space this summer.

Jun 13, 2017

The Deck is Stained

This year we HAD to stain the deck. We should have done it last year but with the new baby it was just impossible. But this year it wasn’t optional - the stain was completely gone in many places and looked terrible. It was time… as soon as we had a string of good weather days that coincided with a day where we’re home to do it.

Finally it happened - an open Saturday afternoon followed by a forecasted string of sunny days. We cleared it, cleaned and scrubbed it, lightly sanded it. I put on 2 new layers of stain (with 4 hours in between coats) and it looks SO much better.

Afterwards we let it cure for 2 days before walking on it. That was the hardest part - keeping the kids and dog off of it. Even with a barricade at the door and at the bottom of the deck stairs, they are still programmed to going in and out of the backyard that way.

I’m really happy to finally have this done. We still need to restain parts of pergola that need it, but we ran out of time that day. When the new driveway gate is done that will also need staining, plus our patio chairs are starting to flake and need freshening up.

Jun 9, 2017

Checking In on Checking Things Off

Our list! We are making progress on the to-do list around these parts, which is pretty amazing considering how crazy things have been lately (as always). Birthdays, birthdays and more birthdays, the boys’ birthday party at the zoo, a family wedding in Baltimore, two full time jobs and two kids and general crazy life with playdates and work projects and a million other things. I’m tired. Are you tired too?

We had mulch delivered and Mike replaced the broken wheel on the wheelbarrow so we could move the mulch around. We went with black again this year because we like the contrast and it pairs well with the color of the house and dark wood stain we use in the backyard. We mulched the whole front yard and pruned the shrubs to start. It looks so much better.

The mulching in the backyard is a work in progress. I wish I was further along considering it’s almost mid-June already but we’re making steady progress. And again with everything going on + lots of rainy weather on days we’re home, we’ve done really well considering. The trees are done, the beds on the right side of the yard (looking out from the deck) are done.

The fig trees are coming back - they died back to the ground (as usual)... hopefully we'll still get another crop of figs from the Chicago Hardy fig this fall.

There was so much weeding. This 3 foot wide pile is from like 6 feet of garden along the fence. I just waited way too long and they went wild.

This wasn’t on my shared to-do list but the blueberry bushes are wrapped in netting to keep the birds off our blueberry crop. We’re going to have some blueberries this year!

Also - peonies! It's the end of the season now and they took a beating in the heavy rains we've had recently, but they are still so beautiful.

We also planted flowers in the flower pots. This year I felt like I needed some flowers in the pots on the deck, patio and porch for color (color + flowers = things that make me happy). We bought some flowers at the local nursery and I’m delighted with how everything looks now.

Oliver picked out the black petunias and calls them "ninja flowers."

The heliotrope makes the whole patio smell sweet. It's lovely!

As a flower bonus I picked up an orange and purple primrose and planted it next to the crepe myrtle tree next to the deck. It's an perennial so hopefully it comes back year after year. We had one in our yard when I was growing up and always thought it was such a pretty plant.

On the porch boxes we added in calibrocha and vinca (though the vinca have some sort of blight and I don't think are going to make it) to the pansies in hopes that as the pansies die back the other flowers will be bigger and take over. I’m loving the rainbow of colors from all the different flowers.

Also on the porch the blue pot is back! It used to have a snake plant in it a long time ago that died and has been moved around since. It's a beautiful pot though and I'm happy to have it back out in front with some flowers in it. (The chair next to it is Oliver's waiting chair. He sits in it on the porch waiting for playdates to arrive, family to visit or his neighborhood friends to come outside after dinner.)

Mike also bought deck stain for the deck and pergola, then new gate hinges, wheels and fence panels to redo the driveway gate. It's his next project. We are trying a slightly different kind of fencing panel (same height, but spaced planks) to make the whole thing lighter and easier to move. We’re also redesigning the gate a bit (more on that soon). I'm hoping to get the deck stained soon when the weather cooperates, though in the meantime I'm going to keep mulching and weeding...

May 30, 2017

Let’s Catch Up. Our list.

I have said this before, but I am a maker of lists. They help me remember things when life is crazy. They motivate me. They hold me accountable. I have lists for everything. I get a sense of personal satisfaction in crossing something off my list, especially during a time when things are so busy. Sometimes it feels like everyone only notices the one thing that didn't get done instead of the 15 things that did, so getting to cross those 15 things off - at least I'm giving myself credit.

This list is what absolutely has to get done in the next few months:
  • Finish the back garden maintenance (fence, paths, etc.)
  • Mulch all the garden beds in the front yard (we skipped last year and it’s terrible now)
  • Mulch all of the garden beds in the backyard (also terrible)
  • Replace the broken wheelbarrow tire so we can move mulch around
  • Get our dining room light and attic fan fixed/replaced
  • Replace the broken knobs on the playroom doors with new gray ones (see photo)
  • Stain the back deck
  • Re-stain parts of the pergola that need it 
  • Seal the driveway again (we skipped last year)

Things I would really like to get done in addition to those things:
  • Plant some flowers in our flower pots (I need some color in my life right now)
  • Put a piece of lattice under the deck (where we sit on the patio) and stain it (while we're doing the deck)
  • Replace the driveway gate (it’s literally falling apart)
  • Scrape and repaint the wooden parts of the garage that’s peeling
  • Scrape and repaint the garage walls too (and maybe even change the color?)
  • Paint the ceiling in Matthew’s room navy blue
  • Paint the bathroom ceiling
Mulching is our first priority, before the weeds get any further out of control. Our front yard is disheveled (and I hate it when the front yard looks messy since it's the face of the house), but the backyard a disaster to the point where our perennials are suffering from crowding by the invasion of weeds. I also need to stain the deck before the full summer heat sets in. It's needed a re-staining for a couple years now, getting worse and worse with each passing year. Now it's officially at the point of embarrassing. Lots to do...

May 25, 2017

Revised! 2017: The Year of The Full Garden

So I know my last post was all about how I was doing a half garden. I thought it would make life easier. However I got some great advice from more than one of you (thank you!) who explained that it's not good for the garden to just simply leave the beds. There would still be work involved to keep the earth worms happy and keep pests and weeds from moving in. And if we're doing all this work, we should plant something to help the soil repair itself. The easiest option turned out to be planting two beds of low maintenance flowers. (Low maintenance being key!)

So here's the revised garden plan - the empty beds will now be alyssum, impatiens, zinnias. We will keep the herbs in the same place with the cucumbers and radishes here (with more space). The final bed will still be tomatoes.

Over the weekend we finally planted the garden as well! Three weeks later than I would like, but the weather has been weird. Like too cold (with frost warnings at night), too hot (at 97) or too rainy. We went to the nursery and picked up basil, tomatoes and some flowers for pots. The cucumbers, radishes, zinnias and alyssum are all from seed.

One difference between my revised drawing and reality is the tomatoes. We were planning on buy 6 tomatoes. But then at the greenhouse we had two options -  slightly smaller plants in 4-packs for $2.50 a pack, or slightly larger tomatoes in a single pot for $5. And the size difference, due to the weird weather, was maybe an inch in height and thickness. So obviously we decided to do 12 tomato plants instead of 6, the only downside being we could only do 3 varieties - we went with red cherry tomatoes (sweet 100s), lemon boys and early girls.

There's still a lot of work to do back here, but at least things are started. The impatiens are coming this weekend. The pathways are completely covered in weeds. We need to put deer netting back up (not for deer, but for the chipmunks that seem to have an easy time climbing chicken wire but not netting) and fix the gate.

May 16, 2017

2017: The Year of the Half Garden

This year I didn’t start tomatoes from seed. We didn’t plant peas or lettuce or spinach in the early spring. We were still in the throes of the illness cycle of the endless winter when it was time to plant tomato seeds, we were still trying to find a nanny and get ourselves back together when it was time for spring vegetables. And then when it was time to plant the garden (early May), the weather turned unseasonably cold, temperatures were dipping down into the 30s at night...

We are still going to do a garden this year (because I love it), but I’m downsizing a full garden this year and we are just going to do a half garden in two beds. Hopefully this upcoming weekend now that things are warming back up.

Here’s my half garden plan:

One bed we will buy 6 tomato plants from the nursery, because we love tomatoes in our house. In the other bed I’m going to leave the oregano and thyme herbs where they already are from last year (usually I dig them up and move them as we rotate beds) and plant a basil in between. I also will add a couple rows of zinnias (from seed), cucumbers (from seed) on a trellis and experiment with radish seeds too. This way we get all of our favorites in, plus something fun to try. In this case, something is a lot better than nothing.

Hopefully next year will be different. Matthew will be a year older and able to play by himself or with his brother while I garden. Hopefully we’ll be healthy enough to start seedlings with a grow light. And hopefully I can get a couple more years out of the raised garden beds before we have to replace them (they are starting to rot).

May 6, 2017

Hello? Is this thing on?

Hello! Wow. I know it's been months. I'm so out of practice now this feels weird. We are okay, things have just been hard for us recently and this blog was one of the things I had to let go of for a while.

It's nothing major (and for that I am grateful), just lots of little things together over and over that have worn us down. I've wanted to talk about it. I wrote posts sharing everything in detail that turned into extensive novels. I wrote short posts with brief highlights that rang hollow. I couldn't pull the trigger to post any of them because I felt like we were still in the middle of the storm.

Are we on the other side now? I don't know. I would like to think so. It's spring! The air is sweet, the sun is bright, the skies are blue. It's a time of new beginnings.

I've decided to share the medium version, which is still lengthy because it's really just a long list of little things piled on top of the other, turning our life into an uphill climb.

It started over a year ago in March when Mike was moved to a new position in a different work location. At the time we thought it was short term and we wanted Oliver to have continuity with his preschool, so we decided to keep him in the daycare close to where Mike used to work. The commute has been brutal with this move - what used to be 40 minutes (an hour on a bad day) became 2+ hours each way for Mike. He's away for 12+ hours most days... gone are the glory days of early dinners with long evening walks or easy weeknight trips to the pool in the summer. He also has a supervisor who equates planned vacation time, illness and personal days as lost revenue and discourages taking time off. Even when your wife is having a baby. Like more than 2 days of paternity leave is letting clients down.

We dealt with it, got help from our wonderful family and just moved forward. We juggled two kids and a crazy schedule. I was overwhelmed sometimes - exhausted by two kids or lonely when it was just me and the baby at home for long hours on my maternity leave. Georgia became significantly more high maintenance in her old age with both her care routine and cleaning up after her. She's still with us, mostly healthy (some arthritis issues) and making us crazy, ruining our carpets and requiring the world's most expensive dog food and pill regime.

I went back to work, Matthew went to part time daycare and we had to then adjust to our new normal of two working parents with two kids. My family has been wonderfully supportive and helpful, but any time we felt we finally had a handle on things, something new would come up, another ball to juggle. Oliver had to have his tonsils out and had an unrelated health scare (which turned out to be fine). The crazy just kept getting crazier, but all we could do was keep going.

Starting in mid September, Matthew was sick all the time. At first it was bad colds one on top of the other. Then he had the RSV, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, double ear infection with burst ear drum and dehydration that landed him in the hospital for 4 days. And after that it didn't stop. This winter he was sick every week that he went to daycare. Matthew ended up in the hospital a second time. The kids brought home three tummy bugs, an enterovirus, croup, the human metapneumovirus that turned into double pneumonia, a double ear infection and also a sinus infection for both boys. We discovered Matthew can't tolerate oral antibiotics. Both boys had the flu this year (despite the flu shot) and when I caught it, it was so severe that I ended up in the hospital too (my fever was so high they had to check for things like meningitis). We were in the doctor's office almost every week, sometimes several times in a week. A good week was just when everyone was nursing a cold. It just didn't stop.

I'm lucky that my job allowed me to have a flexible schedule and work from home a lot, but at the same time it was also stressful to be burning the candle at both ends, juggling sick kids and a full time job, finishing up work late at night all the time. Always trying not to fall behind, always worrying. It felt never ending.

This winter I was also diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. Nobody ever wants to talk about this stuff because there's a stigma around mental health, but really there shouldn't be. It's brain chemistry, hormones, mixed signals and neurons misfiring. I have a hard time talking about it, but I don't want to. This week was the world maternal mental health day - in honor of that, I'm being brave and sharing here because no one should have to live with constant worry and stress, it's treatable and it happens to lots of women. I've been getting treatment and I'm slowly feeling better. A lot of anxiety has been tied to my kid's health and with the rough winter we've had, it's been a slow process - but I'm getting better.

On top of all this - we've hit a point in our house where things we've done are starting to break down after 7 years. The kitchen faucet broke. The attic fan broke. The dining room light wiring stopped working. The driveway gate is falling apart. The raised garden beds are rotting. The kids and dog have destroyed our couch. Georgia is ruining our carpets. Then the bathtub drain is completely messed up and we've been told our options are to replace our tub (so it will work with a modern replacement drain system), or they can literally break our tub as a temporary solution. Both are astronomically expensive in a year with double daycare and medical bills and car repairs and geriatric dog vet care so we've been living with it. And all this is on top of the improvements that we want to make or will need to make in the future. We've adapted to super fast showers, dining in the dark, washing dishes with low water pressure, the upstairs being hotter in the summer, fumbling with a broken gate, sitting on a broken and stained couch, steaming the carpets with a steamer. But at the end of a bad day sometimes I just want an hour to myself to take a long hot shower and relax with a glass of wine and a good book on the couch... and often if I get some free time I end up spending it cleaning up yet another dog accident off the carpet. Things piled onto each other to the point where I'd be in tears from frustration, stress and worry... it just felt unrelenting.

We've been making positive changes to make our lives easier. At the recommendation of our pediatrician we pulled Matthew out of daycare to give his system a break back in March. My dad retired part time recently and he and my stepmom are helping us watch Matthew during the week and we've also hired a part time nanny to cover the gaps. I get to go to the office again and be with adults and work during normal hours. Mike is taking active steps to find a job position closer to home and shorten his commute. Oliver goes to kindergarten this fall and only has 2 more months of preschool and then we can decide if we want him home with the nanny or do the summer program at the school. A lot of this winter has been trying to keep our heads above water and I'm hoping we're finally at a point where we can relax a little.

I wish I had shared this sooner, but it kept slipping away from me. I have unfinished posts from January. Unpublished posts from February. Revisions in March and April. All about this. But I just wasn't ready to jump back in here. Hard things are often hard to talk about right?

I think I've also been hesitant to share because my feelings are raw and complicated and I'm worried that sharing might be construed as complaining. Being in the hospital with Matthew gave me some serious perspective on how lucky we are, on how healthy my kids really are. I met families that would not get to go home with a happy ending. It has left me with so many mixed feelings - I feel incredibly grateful and even a little guilty, I feel embarrassed that I'm not stronger to handle these minor things so easily, I feel deep sadness and sorrow for the families who have really sick children, I am scared from the realization of how fragile life is. I am frustrated with my neural pathways for not being able to determine what's a real emergency and what's an inconvenience.

I'm hopeful things are finally settling down. We had a healthy month in April and it felt like a whole new world. Things are still busy and complicated, but it feels more manageable when I'm not worrying all the time. Even when things were at their hardest, there were many bright spots. We have two boys that are more wonderful than I could have ever imagined or hoped for. Our life is good, even when it's rough.

I'm hoping I can finally return to this space now. I don't know how regularly I'll be able to post, but we'll see how things go.

Dec 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year!

From our family to yours - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Dec 1, 2016

The Past Few Weeks

In November... I co-hosted a pink neighborhood baby shower at our house. It was lovely and wonderful and we're so lucky to live where we do. My co-hosts did most of the food and I did the cleaning and decorating with big pink tissue paper flowers and pink lanterns.

We took our Christmas card photos on a warm day. It was significantly harder with a four year old and a baby. My original idea didn't come out as well as I had hoped, but the backup idea worked better. The cards actually just arrived and I'm happy with how they turned out!

In mid-November Matthew got sick and ended up in the hospital. At first we thought it was a cold but then he got so much worse. He had RSV, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, an ear infection with a ruptured ear drum and was dehydrated from a lot of vomiting. He ended up being in the hospital for 4 days because he needed supplemental oxygen, but overall he was sick for 10 of the longest days of our lives. I now have a million gray hairs and I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life. The good news is that he's doing much better now - we were released before Thanksgiving and were able to spend the holiday with family.

Since then we've been recuperating, catching up on laundry and focusing on Oliver's top priority: Christmas. We've been decorating and getting into the holiday spirit! Hopefully we have a quiet month around here and everyone stays healthy so we can enjoy the season.

Nov 8, 2016

On Figs and Garden Failures

First - figs! We finally have figs! Delicious figs that taste amazing. This is very exciting, after all of these years.

Our first batch was a dozen ripe ones and then additional ones ripened one at a time. I'm not sure how many more we'll get now that we've had a hard freeze, but we are really happy to finally get a few!

They are all from our Chicago hardy fig tree, planted a few years ago. The brown turkey fig is struggling with our winters, even wrapped up. The beauty of the Chicago hardy fig tree is that it can freeze to the ground, regrow in the spring/summer and still bear ripe fruit in the fall. It seems that while the brown turkey fig is a more mature tree, dying back to the root ball each winter doesn't give it a long enough growing season and it sets its fruit too late. It's why we've barely had any figs so far from that side.

The Garden

This was probably our worst year for the garden ever. Baby or no baby, this would have been a disappointing year thanks to some bad weather and very high levels of mold, blight and mildew.

The fruits in our yard fared the best overall, though even this was mediocre (except the figs). The strawberry harvest was light. The raspberries were more plentiful last year. The blackberries were probably the only thing that had a good showing (we had LOTS of blackberries). It was our first year getting a few blueberries on 2 out of 3 of the bushes, I wrapped the fruit branches with mosquito netting to protect them from birds, but something else managed to chew through and get most of them. We ended up with 4 berries total. The citrus trees started off great until they attracted the interest of a the chipmunks and now there are 2 limes and 1 lemon left to ripen. Next year I'm putting hot sauce on my baby lemons and limes.

Next year I also need to rethink the strawberries - they are overshadowed now by peonies and the fence and even though I spent a ton of time weeding that bed, they struggled. I think it might be time to move them.

We now have a second bed of raspberries on the other side of the forsythia bush that are growing significantly better than the original ones I've been cultivating next to the blackberries.

The backyard garden was a disaster. I spent my maternity leave trying to take care of it, but it was a lost cause. The tomato bed fared the worst. First there were tornado-force winds that damaged several plants and sucked two whole plants (and their cages) out of the ground and dropped them on the lawn! (Though we were lucky it wasn't a tree picked up and dropped into our house like our neighbors.) Then the rest of the bed was then struck by terrible tomato blight, the worst I've ever seen. Everything turned yellow at once with black spots. By August pretty much everything was dying or dead. Pathetic.

The cucumbers did well at first with lots of fruit, then were destroyed by powdery mildew and blight. The pumpkins were doing great too until the blight set in. We did end up with two beautiful pumpkins in August that I realized were just starting to be being eaten by bugs - so we rescued them and decided to have "Halloween in August." We watched a Halloween movie, carved two jack-o-lanterns and put them on the porch to confuse the neighbors.

The flower bed was depressing. The dahlias all lived, but they didn't thrive even with a fertilizer boost - everything stayed small. I've never seen zinnias do badly before, but these stayed short, scrawny and didn't produce a lot of flowers. Oliver's sunflower did grow as tall as the garage though - our one success - so I'm glad it was his flower (he was quite proud of it).

In the last bed the herbs faired fine, so that's another silver lining. The carrots have done better other years but they weren't a complete disaster either.

So it wan't our year for the garden. We've had good years and bad years and this was definitely a tough one. If it had to happen it's probably better it happened on a year when I didn't have a lot of time for the garden anyways, so I didn't waste a lot of time on it. I do regret letting the weeds get so bad in the beds and paths - we'll pay for that next year.

Next year we'll try again. Hopefully the weather will be better!