Jun 29, 2018

The Oasis: Big Patio Updates

Project "enjoy the yard" required some big updates to our patio to make it a comfortable, relaxing, shady place to be - an oasis where we could hang out on nice days.

First, the deck lattice! We cut and stained the lattice and installed it under the deck, creating a nice wall along the side of the patio. We're not enclosing the whole under-deck area right now, but we wanted to close this part off so the patio feels more like an outdoor room. I'm really happy with the overall effect - we've been meaning to do this for years. And it makes the space feel much more pleasant without a dark "cave" behind the chairs.

Then the biggest change of all arrived... Patio furniture! Real seating, the kind you can sink into and relax in.

With aqua cushions of course. This set is the result of a major furniture sale + gift cards + deciding this was our birthday/anniversary gift to each other this year. We've wanted comfortable patio furniture for a long time but have been waffling about what to buy for years. Finally we did it - with all the effort we've made towards project "enjoy the yard" this was a final key component.

One of my biggest pet peeves with the space was the hoses. No matter how hard I tried, the shortest distance from the spigot always won out. And that left the hose constantly in the middle of our space - a tripping hazard, a nuisance... plus it was ugly. Now we have the hoses winding around the perimeter and along the under-deck lattice, with pieces in place to keep it from traveling. When we want to wind the hose up (which isn't that often because we're always using it), it's easily accessible under the table in the corner (and out of the way).

I took pictures at two different times of day so you can see the extra shade the lattice on top of the pergola provides in the morning. The pattern is pretty and it really helps keep the area comfortable. When we close the aqua curtains it's even shadier and cooler.

The plastic aqua Adirondack chairs were were using here are at the end of their lifespan - two were quite broken (like dangerous to sit in broken) and the remaining two were moved to the driveway area where the kids play as secondary seating.

We still have the table out and two chairs for eating outside (or working from home on a laptop outside) and we have the additional four chairs in the garage we can pull out as needed for guests. Luckily all the wicker furniture is light enough we can easily move it around and rearrange things depending on our needs. Originally we wanted to do a sectional here but eventually we realized that it was too limiting and we needed something more versatile that could be moved around. This is much better.

Our outdoor areas are heavenly these days. The cushions make all the chairs comfortable. The deck umbrella, pergola lattice + curtains provide wonderful shade. All the potted flowers are so cheerful and pretty. The yard is really looking nice now that the mulching is finished and the plants are filling in. We just loving hanging out outside on the patio, now more than ever. It feels like an outdoor living room - on nice days the kids never want to go inside!

Jun 26, 2018

June Garden Update

The garden was planted two weeks late and I definitely feel it during this June garden update. I'm not the only one who started late - with a late spring, it feels like all my gardening neighbors are in the same boat with theirs as well. I mean, it's the last week in June and the astilbe is just now blooming. Usually in NJ that blooms in late April/early May! Hopefully we still have a decent season though... there's still plenty of summer to go.


The tomatoes are sturdy and healthy so far, a couple have blooms on them. Usually by now things are further along, but at the same time, my plants are looking healthier than they have in years past too. They are sturdier and thicker, less stringy than years past and so far the blight has held off  (though who knows for how long...).

Herbs, greens and things

My thyme and oregano are doing great, I'm always impressed by these plants for how well they transplant from bed to bed each year. The rosemary is still small - too small to harvest but hopefully will get bigger as the summer continues. The basil had a rough time early in the month, it was yellow and sickly, but now it's taken off with the change in weather.

The carrots and swiss chard have sprouted and are growing - the swiss chard is doing especially well. The pole beans are getting big and are aggressively climbing the string. On the other side of the support tower is the vine spinach, something I have no experience with. It's still small but I'm hopeful that it will take off soon - it's almost tall enough to start using the trellis.


The melon seeds sprouted and have just reached the trellis. There are a few early blooms though so I'm hopeful they will take off soon. The pumpkins and butternut squash have just exploded. With a little coaxing and twine, they are happily growing up the obelisk tower. There are lots of flowers too.

The cucumbers are a mixed bag right now, because Morgan attacked my cucumber sprouts. She's a digger by nature and loves to break into the garden (deer netting is no match for her). The garden "fence" is full of barricades until we can replace the outer fence with something sturdier. I think everything has recovered, but some are further along than others due to the setback.


The zinnias are up and starting to grow - another couple weeks we should have flowers. The heirloom seed mix is tricky because I can't tell what's a flower and what's a weed! We should know soon enough though. The wildflower seeds never came up (bummer!) so I replaced them with more zinnias - they are just so easy to grow.

We had strawberries in early June. Not that many because Morgan loves strawberries and there's no stopping her - she rips out fencing and deer netting - dog will not be contained! Luckily we only have to contend with the birds for raspberries right now (and deer netting stops them). Next we'll have a few blueberries, though not as many as we should because Miss Morgan ripped a bunch of branches off the bushes while deciding the mosquito netting was a perfect chew toy. Our blueberry bushes are now wrapped in netting and surrounded by half a baby play pen. Morgan is tricky - she digs under wood fences, slides right under chain link, crushes chicken wire and plows right through deer netting. We've had to reinforce the "weak spots" in our garden fence with boards, stakes, baby playpen pieces and spare fence. What we really need to do is install some real fencing (like a 3 ft vinyl picket fence), but we don't want to do that until we overhaul the whole garden since the cedar is rotting - next year or even the year after (because also $$$$).

Jun 16, 2018

Life Update + Morgan + Things

Our lives feel like they are going a million miles an hour these days, I feel like we came out of winter hibernation at full speed ahead. Our to-do lists are still miles long, our calendars ridiculously full. But that's family life right? Juggling schedules, appointments, lessons, activities for 4 people and a dog. Homework, childcare, work. Maintaining and improving an old house. Having fun. Planning for big trips and big events.

So many happy things. My sister is getting married this summer and I have privilege of being her maid of honor. We threw her a bridal shower a few weeks ago and it was so much fun. Her bachelorette is a girls' weekend in Brooklyn and the wedding is on Cape Cod this summer (one of my favorite places on earth); we couldn't be more excited. We're also going on a cruise with Mike's side of his extended family this summer (a generous gift from my father-in-law to celebrate his retirement)... it's going to be a blast. Our pool opened and Oliver is now obsessed with the giant water slide they have there. Our local zoo has lions and hyenas now. We're planning his birthday party.

Mike also changed jobs. We are SO HAPPY that he found something new that fits our needs better. The new job is doing more of the technical stuff he likes to do and less of the managerial drama that was weighing him down. The hours are steady, he can still work flextime to be off one weekday each week (for childcare cost savings) and the pressure to be available to work 90 hours a week is nonexistent there. It's also much closer to home - his commute has changed from 1 hour each way to 20 minutes each way 3 days a week and 5 minutes away 2 days a week. He's even started riding his bike to work when he's in town. It's been great!

We are over the moon for Miss Morgan Mayhem. She's settled into our home and our hearts and we can't imagine life without her. She is such a good puppy and ADORES the boys (and they her!). Morgan loves to snuggle, play and get into mischief. She is a digger and an escape artist, and she steals the garden strawberries. She lets the boys do pretty much anything without batting an eye except getting her wet  (she hates water). We still miss Georgia, but Morgan's affections have really helped.

Overall the kids are doing great. Oliver's almost done with kindergarten. He has nice fiends, he loves his school and teacher, he's learned so much this year. This summer he'll be doing a local day camp in our town in the mornings and be with his grandparents in the afternoons with Matt. Matthew overall is great too - he's such a happy toddler! He is affectionate, smart and loves to play. We're not going to send him to preschool until he's 3, so he has another year at home with our much loved nanny and wonderful grandparents.

Of course not everything is rainbows and unicorns. On top of all the illness (like Matt coming down with pneumonia in June - who gets pneumonia in the SUMMER?!), worries and craziness this year, both kids have (minor) obstacles to overcome that we're working through. Oliver has been having trouble with his vision. We ended up getting him glasses in a very extreme prescription - it's helped him see a lot better (and we've seen huge strides in his reading since), but there have been side effects. Motion sickness on swings, rides and in the car and overall being prone to bouts of nausea that has been incredibly frustrating for him. And then Matt doesn't talk. We ended up having him evaluated by our state's early intervention program and he's now in weekly speech therapy. It's nothing cognitive (thank goodness), but he has a lot of catching up to do. We are very grateful to live in a state with such great EI programs!

So that's where we're at. Lots of good things, busy schedules, plenty of calendar juggling... but I think things are going really well and hopefully will only get better from here.

Jun 14, 2018

8 Years

8 years. Wow. 8 years of home ownership, 8 years of blogging. So many projects. 2 kids, 2 dogs. This month also marks our 10 year wedding anniversary. Time flies!!!

While I haven't posted a lot this year, we've spent a lot of time working on our house and making improvements. Not necessarily things that are photo-pretty or blog-worthy, but they've made a big difference for us as a family of four and the way we live. I feel like we're in the phase of fine-tuning things to work better until we have the opportunity to do something big.

It's been a year of fun experiences and some tough things too. We said goodbye to Georgia. There was a lot of winter illness, stress and an uphill climb of life. But overall it's been a good year, a great year. Our family is happier and stronger than ever and I think it's only going to get better from here.

Here's to year 9!

Jun 5, 2018

Mulching and The Start of Seeing the Gardens Fill in

The weather has been really wet lately, I swear the month of May had more rain than sun. It makes it really hard to finish the patio and porch projects when staining/painting is involved. I swear this week we've had rain every night.

Between storms I've been able to mulch and weed however. So the giant mulch pile in the driveway has dwindled down significantly and the beds are looking good. The black mulch really makes all the plants and flowers pop.

One thing I'm taking note of during all this mulching are the gaps in my plantings from the big project last fall. Most things came back, some very strongly like the hostas, day lilies and astilbe- you'd never think those had been split... and the rhubarb came up in the new spot and the old spot!) Some plants will need a couple of years to catch up - like the anenomes, hydrangea, sedums and echinachea will expand to full size in time. The new stuff needs time to take root before spreading out - last year we added black eye susans and more echinachea.

However, some things didn't fair so well and didn't come back. While the white-purple irises all survived, only two dark purple did and none of the pink (darn!). It's a much thinner showing than I expected, though the gladiolas are sprouting and they will help fill things in for the summer. And hopefully next spring the irises will fill out a bit more (I just wish with more colors ... maybe I'll have to add in more variation in the fall?). My primrose came back but it was tiny, sickly and not blooming. Two out of three lavender plants are toast from the winter weather. The original butterfly weed I planted last fall didn't come back, but I added two more from seed this year (started indoors) as well as two apricot blanket flowers from seed to help fill things in where the lavender was. If those take it will help fill in a couple of the gaps. I also have planted my dahlia bulbs and some annual seeds as a temporary filler in some of the other gaps I'm not sure what to do with yet long term... will the plants fill in?  There's a much bigger gap than I expected between the irises and the delphinium, then between the delphinium and the hydrangea. Will the hydrangea fill out the gap? Will the gladiolas?

I know these things take time and I need to see how things go this summer and take the mature size of the plant into account before I do much more. But its still fun to think about... more short echinacea plants in the front row? More black eyed susans by the fence? What about next to the tree? Could I squeeze in something new?

Already in my plans for this fall's plant list are more tulips - they were a riot of color in the early spring and I know that more bulbs will be spectacular. And I want to try more ranunculus bulbs too...I only had ONE ranunculus bloom, but something ate the flower buds off the other ones that sprouted, so I'm wondering if it's worth adding a few more next year and trying again. It might have been the chewy puppy, or it might have been a critter that is not yet afraid of the puppy... either way next year having a big hound dog next spring should take care of that.

And the garden paths have been weeded too! It's such a pain, but I'm glad it's done. I do it with a child's sand rake, hunched over by hand. It's very effective though and uproots everything that's made its home in the pebbles. We still need to trim back around the fence (grass and weeds with the weed whacker), but it's big progress. The garden is looking good as the plants take off (full June garden update coming in a couple weeks).

The forecast is for rain on and off still this week, but hopefully soon enough we'll get a stretch of sunshine that coincides with some time to do some staining and painting.

Lastly, my new honeysuckle on the obelisk is blooming! It smells AMAZING.