Oct 10, 2017

September/October Garden

The weather has been so strange this year. The summer was mostly hot, humid and VERY rainy. So much rain, we barely ever had to water. Then August turned unseasonably cold. September was too cold then too hot. October is so far swinging from crisp Fall chill to summertime heat and humidity (seriously it was 85 3 days last week - crazy!). So it's no wonder that the garden has been confused.

Tomatoes (where they used to be)
In early September the tomato plants were D.E.A.D. from blight. The worst I've ever seen. Even the actual tomato fruits had spots. I pulled up the dead plants and just left the marigolds, which have been very happy with the extra sunlight.

Cucumbers (where they were), herbs
In early September I also pulled up the totally dead cucumber vines and harvested the last of the cucumbers. It wasn't a great year for them either. Or the basil. The oregano and thyme have done quite well though, probably because this is their second year in this bed so they are extra large.

Flower Beds
It was a GREAT year for the flowers back here. The alyssum and impatiens are just gorgeous right now. And so are the zinnias. I've been harvesting them all summer but the most recent ones I've been leaving because of all the butterflies. Dozens of monarch butterflies, stopping by to top off and fill up on their way to Mexico. I don't have the heart to take away their food source for the big journey.

Gardeners are optimists. Our mantra is that we'll try again next year in hopes that conditions will be better. I'll be trying again next year too.

Oct 6, 2017

This is Halloween. Halloween! Halloweeeeeeen!!

Ahhhhhh October. Time for Halloween decorations for our VERY EXCITED five-year-old.

We pulled all our decorations out from last year - the giant spiderweb for the porch, the bats, the rats, spiders and flies, the bird skeletons, orange lights and pumpkins.

We always add a little something new each year. This year we added a second ghoul to our tree to fly in the wind and more foam gravestones from Target, just to give what we already have a little more oomph and presence.

(ignore the adorable and delightfully cheerful giant blue pinwheel, it's Matthew's and he loves it)


Our neighbor across the street who always has the most amazing Halloween displays lent us one of his many life size plastic skeletons for Oliver. 

We are so excited for Halloween night!

Oct 4, 2017

Gardens and The Big Yard Project

My big plan for fall was to execute the whole garden bed redo plan - make the border garden beds prettier and more visually interesting (layering plants by height instead of haphazard segments of like next to like in a row) and also moving plants that need different conditions. I wrote up the entire plan here in more detail.

The garden project took a couple of days - it was a lot of work. I knew this going in so I knew I needed to make sure that we did it strategically to prevent plants dying from shock and being left out too long. Anything that was dug up had to have somewhere to go next. We reviewed the layout plan and came up with an ordered transplant list. It wasn’t as hard as I thought thanks to new beds being opened up and lots of blank spaces.

Grass was dug up. New beds were created . Plants were moved all over the place. The asparagus was a beast to transplant and took both of us. Some plants like astilbe, hosts, anemones, etc. were split up to spread out. I also planted the new black eyed susans and echinacea that were the reward for all the hard work. And it WAS a lot of work. Here’s the diagram of where everything is now, labeled:

A couple of things are different in this layout. Behind the driveway gate in the backyard along the fence, I ended up transplanting a peony and astilbe here because there was no mint left in the raspberry bramble to transplant! It was all gone. On the right side on the backyard next to the patio I also rearranged a few things because it looked better in person.

I also found a lot of bulbs from tulips, daffodils, and gladiolas that were carefully moved and rearranged to fit the new layout as well as adding in a few more tulip bulbs this year in clusters to maximize their visual impact (they were on sale and I figured planting them when the beds were dug up was the best time anyway).

And all that beautiful mulching I did in the spring? You would never know I spent all that time on it now. It’s a mess again… but that’s the way it goes! I know I could mulch again before winter but honestly I think it’s going to have to wait until spring. I did have enough spare mulch to make sure everything is protected, it’s just ugly now. And the plants of course look terrible too since transplanting is really hard on everything. Lots of smushed leaves, dead branches I had to trim off (after I took the pictures so I could share what is where). Honestly if this had been my first time transplanting perennials I would have thought a lot of things were dead.

The asparagus is very happy in its new location next to the blackberry bush. It can grow tall here and look lovely.

This is where the asparagus used to be. The 2 new echinachea will be the right size/height for this spot. You can see how much damage the asparagus did to the quince behind it - there are no leaves left! I have to give it a big trim this winter to bring it back to health. We won't have a lot of blooms next year but I have to do damage control. The sweet autumn sedum on the right was damaged by us during the asparagus uprooting (it was a monster).

Along the fence starts with the rosebush and moves back...

 The irises broke up into many more than I had originally imagined, so I was able to not only have some here in their designated spot, but also in a couple other places along the fence. I paired them with gladiola bulbs because the spiky leaves blend well together and are a welcome addition to vary the overall interest and texture in the garden.

The shade garden looks TERRIBLE right now (even worse than the other areas), but next spring it should really take off. From past experience all the shade loving plants in here are easy transplants and will come back in full force.

I made a little strawberry bed along the garage and edged it with spare wood to help protect it from the kids. I might run it all the way back along the garage later, but for now this is a good experiment to see if the strawberries like it over here.

I am SO glad it's done. Now we’re in the watering phase. Mike’s watering the lawn and I’m watering the garden beds daily (or even twice a day when I can swing it). This is the part where everything depends on watering the plants thoroughly and deeply so the root systems recover and get strong for the winter ahead.

It will take a couple of years for the split plants to fill back in and for the transplanted things to hopefully flourish in their new locations. Next year I’ll fill bare spots back in with dahlias bulbs again, but hopefully by the following summer I’ll have a good idea of how things will look (and the answer is hopefully much better!) and can update our plans accordingly. I can’t wait until next spring to watch this all come alive. Like the mailbox garden a couple of years ago, I really can’t enjoy the fruits of our labor for months.

Sep 29, 2017

Driveway Sealed Twice + The Front Lawn Reseeded Again (Because Things Don’t Always Go As Planned)

Last week and over the weekend we tackled big but boring projects - the driveway and the front lawn. Both were time consuming, but not very interesting to blog about. And not very photo-worthy. But they were both necessary, time sensitive and I’m glad to have them done. Especially since I had to do the driveway twice.

The driveway was in bad shape from skipping a couple of years of sealing and bad winters, especially in the back. There was a big crack was so wide the kids could pull gravel out of it with their hands. The driveway was on our list all summer. And then the summer flew by. By the time I realized how little time was left in the warm season (it needs to be above 60 for 24 hours), it would rain every time we had an opening in our calendar.

Finally we had a weekend with 3 days of sun forecasted during an unseasonably warm spell. Plans were rescheduled in lieu of the driveway. Cleared it, cleaned it, filled in the cracks with asphalt and crack filler. I don’t really mind the sealing part, I find it very zen, like when people rake sand in those little Japanese gardens. Pour, spread repeat.

I was about ⅔ of the way done when the afternoon went from sunny to cloudy. I stopped because the clouds looked a little menacing. Checked the weather. There were some spotty showers here and there (uh oh) but nothing thaaaaaat close. I decided to close everything up and wait for the clouds to pass, mentally doing an anti-rain dance as I sat on the porch and obsessively watched the weather radar. The weather apps said no rain, no rain, no rain… until it was raining. One of those days with a totally botched forecast. A big red thunderstorm spot appeared out of nowhere over us on the radar, the heavens opened up and poured. And it didn’t stop. It rained and rained and rained. The rain pooled and puddled at the end of the driveway apron creating a lake over all my work. It wasn’t supposed to rain. NO. No. No. And it kept raining. It poured for over an hour, that little red spot didn’t budge. We went from a sunny afternoon to flash flood warnings over our town. And my dad who lives 8 minutes away? They didn’t see a single drop of rain. It rained again overnight too. I know these things happen but it was very frustrating.

So I had to do it all over again a few days later. The warm spell continued and I took an afternoon off from work when there was a zero percent chance of rain, not a cloud in the sky and several days of low humidity and sun in the forecast. Round 2 went much better and now our driveway is in much better shape.

The huge crack filled in. 

At the same time, Mike worked on our front lawn. Another season/time-sensitive project. Mike’s goals for fall were to repair the lawn and get rid of the crab grass that had taken over almost HALF the front yard. It was really bad and everything had to be pulled up and reseeded. Last spring when Mike did this the first time, he did a great job getting rid of the clover and some of the weeds, but the reseeding project didn’t go as planned with the crab grass specifically. It turns out his efforts, especially in the front yard, actually made it worse unintentionally. So he had to pull up all the offending grass in the front reseed the bare patches. Then overseed the whole lawn overall so it comes back in the spring lush and beautiful (and hopefully mostly weed-free).

After a ton of work pulled up ridiculous amounts of crabgrass, Mike put down fresh top soil, leveled everything out the best he could and reseeded, covering everything with peat and a roll of grass fabric at the bottom of the lawn slope to keep everything where it should be (because the peat would run down the neighbor’s driveway during watering and rain otherwise). Mike’s been watering it multiple times a day for a week and the grass has finally sprouted. Soon it will be full and green again and hopefully next year we can keep the weeds under control.

Sep 22, 2017

Living Room Bookshelves: Phase 1

As part of our playroom reorganization project, we have new living room bookshelves!

Let me back up for a minute though. In the living room Mike and I always talked about doing real built-in bookshelves on the back wall facing the playroom, just like we did in the nursery, but realistically we have never had the time. We thought we HAD to do custom built-ins because our old house is full or wonky sloping walls and funky angles. All stock bookcases are too wide to fit between the door frame and the walls, so we thought that it would never work.

Then with the playroom redo we wanted to put a bookshelf in the playroom. I realized I didn’t want to buy a new bookshelf for this heavy-use space when we could use one we already had. I briefly considered bringing up the third brown bookshelf from the basement (they were actually a set of 3), but it’s really useful in our basement and loaded with books and supplies. It slowly dawned on us that we should just replace the living room bookshelves with new white ones. Yes they would be too wide for the doorframe, but so were the current brown ones. And then one brown bookshelf could go into the playroom and the other one could go downstairs to provide even more storage space (they are the perfect height for the low ceilings down there). And once IKEA’s new summer catalog came out with reduced prices on their already well-priced Billy bookcase system, that just cinched it for us.

We bought 2 white bookshelves with height extenders and four half doors, one for each side. The doors ended up being a bit of a splurge (compared to the cost of the bookshelves) but I think it’s totally worth it. It makes the whole thing look so nice with the doors on them - it doesn’t look or feel like IKEA anymore. And the ability to hide away the clutter of blankets, games, electronics, etc. is THE BEST. We added faux-Anthropologie style knobs from Target in gray and antique bronze to dress the doors up further. We added four inexpensive LED lights and I am completely and totally in love.

We toyed with the idea of painting the back of the bookcase the same gray as the walls (Benjamin Moore Rockport Gray), but in the end after living with the dark brown here for 7 years, I wanted light, bright white-on-white-on-white. It makes such a huge difference! The room feels so much lighter and brighter now. I hadn’t realize how dark those bookshelves made this end of the room.

I’m not sure if we’ll keep the slipper chair here or not, but I like having a place to sit in this location. It’s adjacent to the playroom, the boys playtime spills out into this part of the living room a lot and it’s also in a direct visual line with the dining room. We sit here a lot and so do guests. I do think the floor lamp is going to be relocated, but I’m giving myself time to think it over. Right now both fit between the bookshelf and the radiator cover and I can still open the doors all the way, but it feels a little crowded.

Also... I titled this post “Phase 1” because this is only the first half of the project. Phase 2 will be the cross bookshelf piece over the playroom doors to finish the look and provide additional storage, using the narrow billy bookcase, heavy-duty brackets, some crown molding at the top and a little customization. We’ve purchased all of the pieces, but we expect this to be a little labor intensive (compared to just putting together basic IKEA shelving), so we’re holding off until after we get our time-sensitive seasonal projects finished outside.

I’m really excited about this - it already looks so good and I know it’s going to look even better when it’s all done.

Sep 20, 2017

The New & Improved Playroom

A few weeks ago I shared the plans we received from the professional toy organizer who has helped save my sanity. We went to IKEA and bought the necessary shelving and bins from our shopping list. While I hate spending money on things we don’t really "need" when our budget is tight these days, this really became something that we needed. For my sanity. For the kids to be able to play. And the best part is that this room can grow with them now through different phases.

A cozy place to read? Check. A place for books and puzzles? Check. Art supplies? Check. Hooks for superhero capes? Check. Enough of the right kind of bins that the kids can actually find their toys? Check. Storage for toys for two boys at totally different ages? Check. A room that’s easy to clean up? CHECK!

It ended up working out that the room looked great with cube shelves 8 across and 3 high, even though it blocked a little bit of the windows, it doesn’t feel too tall. And it’s totally worth the extra storage space, especially for the oversized toys. The saying that kids will only play with toys that they can see is so true - the boys play with SO many more of their toys now that they can easily see them out or in the shallow bins.

We moved one of the living room bookshelves in here to hold books, puzzles and games. It also keeps the choking hazard toys like legos out of reach. Even with the new chair there the kids still pull everything out easily.

I also managed to squeeze in a small metal shelf from the basement for more toys and smaller bins under the windows. We’ve been keeping a lot of Matthew’s smaller favorites in there, easily within his reach. In the corner we have the sword collection all together. I had been searching for a good way to store them and it turns out we already had the perfect container in the room - one of the red stools we’d been using as a table. It’s the perfect size, height and the bars hold everything in while still allowing the kids to look inside and see what they want. Putting things away is a cinch and the stool fits perfectly in that spot.

One thing that didn’t work out the way we expected was the shoe bin on the wall for at supplies. It turns out that between the light switch, thick door molding and radiator cover, the shoe bins didn’t fit on the wall within a reasonable height. However, the space on the floor ended up being just right for one of the old Trofast toy units (the ones we were replacing). So we converted it to hold just art supplies with 4 small green bins for crayons/markers/paint and 1 medium white bin for paper and coloring books. It’s worked quite well actually. The other 3 Trofast pieces have new lives elsewhere in the house - one in the dining room by the back door (with 3 medium-sized white bins to hold sunscreen, dog towels, bug spray, gardening stuff, etc.) and then one in each of the boy’s closets upstairs to hold outgrown clothes (each with two large blue bins). It’s worked out quite well! And the shoe organizers are working out elsewhere in the house to organize papers, school work and supplies.

This room has become a much more livable space. It feels larger, brighter. I love how it’s so easy to clean up and declutter. The boys have more room to play. We love curling up together and reading in the chair (and the chair is really comfortable!). We’re all so much happier - especially me because I no longer have to look at masses of toy clutter when I look in the direction of the playroom! The boys can clean things up themselves too with this design. (Well Oliver can… Matthew isn’t quite there yet.)