Aug 26, 2015

Driveway Sealed

One thing we can finally check off our Summer Project To-Do List is the driveway. Or at least the front half of the driveway, which is the half that absolutely needed to get done. Last winter was brutal and the freezing and refreezing with the weight of the cars caused several bumps and valleys, a lot of cracks and one really big crumbling dip that was so bad Mike had to fill it with a bag of asphalt. We also had new driveway poured at the end of our driveway last Fall when the had the new curbing installed and I read that it needs to cure for a few months and then be sealed (and since the driveway didn't go in until October, there was no way to seal it before winter last year).



We finally had a few days that were cool enough to make the job bearable with no rain in the forecast, so it was finally time to get it done. Lots of prep work, 3 big cans of sealant and 1 bag of asphalt later, the driveway is in much better shape. In the pictures below the big asphalt patch is still drying. I actually kind of like sealing the driveway, it's very zen for me like one of those Japanese gardens with the sand and the rake.



The backyard half of the driveway is actually in good shape. There's one crack that needs to be filled, but that's it. We could spend the time and money doing the whole driveway, but we can worry about that next year. Yes there is an ugly new-to-old sealant seam right behind where the driveway gate is, but no one is going to notice that because the gate looks terrible anyway and draws all the attention. The fencing we bought from Home Depot just a few years ago is already rotting away and needs to be replaced (even with the stain! I'm so annoyed!), and the broken posts look terrible. It's on our list for the Fall... with so many other things!

Aug 24, 2015

August Garden

Our garden is looking August shabby. It's been worse other years, but last year and our first year were just so much better. The powdery mildew and blight have been brutal this year.


Tomatoes
We've had a lot of delicious tomatoes this summer - not as many as last year, but better than other years.  I can say it's been a medium harvest... Enough for everyday use, a few to share, but not enough to make big pots of tomato sauce. Olive likes to pick them and put them in the basket or eat the big ones like an apple - it's so cute.


The blight has really done a number on the tomato plants. They have no green leaves on the bottom two thirds of the plants and lots of stringy stalks.

Vines
The powdery mildew has done a number on the cucumber vines and melon vines. I've had a ton of cucumbers, but the vines have been sickly and wilting. We've also had a lot of melons too, despite mildew and poor vine health - planting the seeds early indoors has made such a difference in produce.




Flowers
The flowers are doing really well, better than anything else. The dahlias are prolific with dark red, light purple and yellow blooms. As always there are tons of zinnias (even one growing in the pathway!). The sunflower is still growing... I think we might get one in September?




I'm treating myself to a lot of bouquets in the house - there's always fresh flowers! 




Beans, Carrots and Herbs
The herbs are doing well - this has been a great year for oregano, basil and thyme. They are all huge and happy. The pole beans have also been out of control, prolific. We've had so many green beans it's ridiculous. I don't think we've ever had so many before!



It's also a great year for carrots - they are much bigger in August than other years. We're already picking them and in the past they usually aren't ready before late September/early October. Oliver loves carrots, so these are particularly fun and exciting for him - he loves to pull them out of the ground and wash them by himself in the sink. Then I wash them again and cook them.



Overall it's been a very good year for the garden, despite the mildew and blight we've had a ton of fruits and veggies. It's so much fun to pick our own food and it's been so great with Oliver. 



Fruit, Trees and Pots
The fig trees have grown so tall! The brown turkey fig is almost 7 feet tall, despite the fact that it froze almost to the ground last winter.  It's also covered in little figs. The Chicago Hardy fig is really full and growing taller, no figs yet but that should happen next year (it takes 3 years).


In the pots I have a ton of peppers and the lemon and lime trees are doing well, dotted with little lemons and limes. This late in the season all the berries are over (the last few blackberries have been eaten by the birds).

Aug 20, 2015

Sectional Window Shopping


First and foremost - I’m not actively shopping for a sectional right now. This post is purely window shopping/theoretical/allowing me to get my thoughts down to help make a decision down the road. The (very expensive) porch repairs ate our living room seating budget and then some. However, I have sofas on my mind these days - probably because two of my neighbors in identical houses are couch shopping and we are at the point where our current couch is starting to feel really cramped. Oliver is super active, jumping and climbing on everything everywhere and he’s on the couch, off the couch, in his little chair, climbing back on the couch, climbing on me, sitting on the couch, and jumping off again. My small windows of time to actually sit on the couch and relax have been reduced to becoming the human buffer between him and Georgia to keep them from irritating each other (Georgia doesn’t want to get kicked or hit by accident and Oliver hates being growled at). Mike avoids the couch all together and sits in the chair because there’s never enough room on the couch.


Our living room is small and it’s a weird shape and almost no wall space thanks to the doorways, radiators, stairs and front door. While someday we might change the layout (remove a doorway or move a door), that’s not in the cards right now. And with the front door in the middle of the room, we can’t get a normal sectional or even a wider couch to face the TV because we wouldn’t be able to open the front door. Even if we moved the TV to the other side of the room with the bookcases, the narrow room and front door will still limit the couch size. So our options are very limited.

I don’t want to spend a lot of money because dogs and small kids ruin furniture. Someday we’ll get nicer stuff, but what we need right now is a 5-10 year sectional to get us through the dog nails, sticky fingers, grape juice spilling, possible vomiting, marker wielding messy years. The most important thing is the size - it HAS to fit our small awkward space, an L shape but one side has to be short and still have a back so we can face the TV (no chaise lounges). The other important factors are durability/maintaining the couch and of course price. Currently there are 3 I have my eye on - unfortunately none of them are perfect but they could work.

1. West Elm Henry 3-Piece Sectional with wedge


Pros:
  • The size is perfect, it’s as large as we could reasonably fit so we really maximize the seating in the space we have
  • The wedge in the corner makes the corner seat usable for sitting
  • I love the design of this couch, it’s beautiful in every way
  • We can get the sofa done in a huge range of fabrics and colors
  • The couch is really comfortable
  • It’s West Elm so you know it’s good quality and should hold up well
  • Removable cushions could at least be flipped in a staining incident or removed for cleaning up a mess emergency

Cons
  • It’s expensive, even on sale. It’s still way cheaper than a lot of other sectionals out there, but I’m worried that it’s too expensive, too precious/high quality for where we are right now
  • On top of the steep price, West Elm has high delivery fees (like $300+) and full sales tax
  • No removable cover. When we choose a fabric we’ll have to choose between hiding stains or hiding Georgia’s dog fur. Plus I need help on what the most durable fabrics are (that’s anything but microfiber or faux suede)
  • Not a flexible design - we have to commit to the layout of the sectional when we buy it



2. IKEA Friheten Sofa


Pros:
  • This sofa is really compact and wouldn’t overwhelm the room
  • If we added extra cushions it would feel like a full sectional
  • The beige color would hide Georgia’s fur really well, the light gray fairly well
  • It’s a sleeper sofa, which could be fun for kid sleepovers or a family movie night
  • Hidden extra storage in the chaise piece
  • The setup is flexible so we could always swap the layout
  • The price is amazing, even if it was ruined somehow we could buy another and it would still be less than either other option.
  • Flat $59 delivery and the store is in a half-sales-tax zone

Cons:
  • The sofa doesn’t have arms, which makes it less cozy for curling up
  • The cover is not removable at all. The beige or light gray color will stain easily. I don’t even think we could flip the bottom cushion if something bad happened
  • It kind of looks like a cheaper apartment sofa
  • We sat on this at the store and it was not that comfortable. It might just need breaking in (which Oliver is perfect for), but I’m not totally sure I’d love relaxing on it



3. IKEA Karlstad


This would actually be an Ikea hack that I saw a friend of mine do in her awkward living room space - they bought the 2+3 corner sofa and a Karlstad chair (unfortunately you can’t buy the pieces individually) and put then chair where the 2 piece couch would go instead. This gave them a perfectly sized sectional and a separate love seat. We could do this in our living room with the loveseat and the chair together and then use the leftover 3-seater couch in the playroom or sell it on Craig’s list.

Pros:
  • A great size for the room once we cobble it together
  • Removeable covers and the dark gray cover is washable. WASHABLE!
  • We’d have an extra couch leftover for the playroom or craigslist
  • The setup is flexible - we could always swap the layout of the sectional
  • We know this couch holds up well and is really comfy once it’s broken in
  • The price, even with the chair add-on is half the price of West Elm
  • Flat $59 delivery and the store is in a half-sales-tax zone

Cons:
  • The hassle of “hacking” an Ikea couch and dealing with the extra piece
  • The light legs will have to be stained or painted so they don’t clash with everything else
  • The removable cover in dark gray will show Georgia’s dog fur like crazy, but the light gray cover they sell is dry-clean only. They used to have beige, but not anymore
  • The back is a little low and might not work with our console table behind the sofa
  • It’s out of stock at a lot of stores, which makes me worry that it’s actually being discontinued even though it’s still online and on their app

So that's what we are thinking about these days when we sit in our living room. Should we get a new couch? When could we get a new couch? What new couch would be best fit? Depending on the day I lean towards something different - one day I think we should get something quality that will last longer and the next I want the cheapest one possible because Oliver and Georgia are so destructive. Or maybe if we keep waiting the perfect couch will come into existence and be the right size with removable washable covers in beige or gray that isn't going to break my budget. Fingers crossed...

Aug 13, 2015

Summer!

I love summers like this. It's been hot, but it's a dry heat where a quick splash in the sprinkler cools everyone right off. A little time in the pool goes from refreshing to chilly (and turns Oliver into a shivering popsicle). Once the sun starts to go down the evenings are breezy and cool. There's been so much sunshine and blue sky.

I didn't realize how quiet evenings in July were until we reached August. Every afternoon and evening there's an outdoor serenade from all the crickets. It's lovely. I never realized how much I missed it until it was back.


The butterfly bush in the mailbox garden is attracting so many butterflies! Sometimes I see 4 or 5 swallowtail butterflies fluttering around it.

We finally had some rain the past couple days, after almost a month of solid drought. Not only did we finally get a break from watering and moving the sprinkler around constantly, we also had a huge rainbow over our house, it was so beautiful.


I'm like a 5 year old girl when it comes to rainbows, they make me giddy with excitement. IT'S A RAINBOW! A REAL RAINBOW! OVER OUR HOUSE! It's not science, IT'S MAGIC!


I know all I've been doing all summer is making excuses for not blogging much. We've been busy, just not with a lot of house stuff. Even though I'm done with traveling, the days are just flying by. Work, freelance, trips to the pool, the beach, family and friends... it's been a lot of fun, but it definitely doesn't make for a lot of good blog content. To be honest most of the time I can't even keep the house clean these days. Since we finished the porch, the only thing I've really done is clean up the basement (in between trips outside to move the sprinkler of course because everything is so dry!).


Believe it or not, this is actually pretty good shape now - some tubs, toys and things to go back into the crawl space, the rest of the mess is tools and electrical stuff. One of these days we're hoping to a break from yard work so Mike can finish the outlets down there. Then we'll get the last of this put away, but for now we can safely walk down there again without stubbing our toes or knocking a pile of something over.


On the plus side, the garden has finally kicked into high gear. It doesn't even fit in my big colander.



A rainbow of heirloom tomatoes (pink, red, orange, yellow green, purple!), cucumbers, peppers, blackberries and musk melons (which taste like cantaloupe). Not shown is the giant pile of green beans that came in next.

We've also had fresh flowers in the house from the garden at all times. When one bouquet wilts I just go outside and pick more.


We haven't forgotten about the driveway or garage either...  I keep checking the weather and my calendar, it's a challenge to find a day where it's not too hot, no chance of thunderstorms and I don't have a hundred meetings and to-dos. It just needs to happen before Labor Day right? 





Aug 6, 2015

The Painted Porch


The new porch posts are painted, the railings are repainted, and I’ve caulked the gaps… The porch looks really good now! Paint makes a really big difference - it’s impossible to tell in the photos but the posts no longer look like plastic. Once they are painted they look like wood - everything really blends now!




Mike also oiled the porch floor with a few coats of teak oil - it always makes the wood look so dark and lovely.




Originally I was planning on painting the left side against the house and give the concrete a fresh coat of white paint too (it needs it…), but I ran out of white exterior paint. We have a ton of gray porch and floor paint, so the gray side got a fresh coat of gray. I don’t love it because they don’t match, but it looks better than it did before - at least this is clean. When I get another can of exterior we can start repainting the foundation and I can think about repainting this side white to blend into the house.


It's a work in progress... there's always so much to do and so little time!

Aug 3, 2015

Seizing The Summer 2015: August Check In


I can't believe it's already August! June and July have FLOWN by. We've had a wonderful and busy two months, I can happily say we've really been enjoying the summer. Our weekends are jam packed with outings and activities and we try to fit in something fun in most weeknights too - a trip to the pool (we actually like it much better on weeknights when it's quiet), a bike ride, playing with neighborhood friends, playing in the blow up baby pool in the backyard with a homemade water slide. Popsicles and ice cream and fresh produce from our garden and farmer's markets. Sunshine, water and copious amounts of sunscreen.

So now that the summer is half over, it's time to check in on our summer lists.

Fun things:

1. Go to the beach 3+ more times before September
2. Continue to use our local zoo membership and go once a month
3. Once the pool opens in July, go to the pool at least 2x times per week (We've been going 3-4 times a week!)
4. "Host" a neighborhood wide water balloon fight for the kids with sprinklers and water balloons 
5. Take Oliver out for an ice cream cone  (more than once!)
6. Have dinner alfresco on the patio under the globe lights

Making things:

1. Homemade ice cream and popsicles  (yum!)
2. Fresh salsa, gazpacho and marinara with tomatoes from the garden (not enough tomatoes for marinara yet)
3. Refrigerator pickles with cucumbers from the garden (so easy and good!)
4. (Newly added) While the flower cutting bed in the garden is blooming, keep fresh flowers in the house (I love bouquets of zinnias and dahlias!)

House projects on the other hand we've had a harder time with... there aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. We will definitely get the driveway and garage done this month because we have to

Projects:

What we have to do this summer:
  1. Repair and seal the driveway. This winter was a doozy and left our driveway with hills and dips, cracks and all sorts of problems. 
  2. Repair the porch with a contractor. The posts are rotted, the stairs are rotting and I'm afraid the porch roof is going to fall down on us. We're hiring a professional for this one. 
  3. Finish reorganizing the garage. 
What I want to do this summer:
  1. Put crown molding up in our master bedroom 
  2. Refinish the master bedroom nightstands 
Projects we've started and need to finish:
  1. Finish the electrical in the basement - lights and outlets
  2. And once the electrical is done, clean up the basement and reorganize a bit
  3. Finish the electrical in the attic (but we'll have to wait for Fall it's too hot now)
  4. Install stairwell lights (also have to wait for cooler weather)

Jul 30, 2015

Summer Backyard and Front Yard: July

One of my favorite things about our yard is that there is always something blooming from April through October.

The mailbox garden is really filling in nicely. I'm very pleased to say that all of the transplants came back and they are all blooming this year.


Right now in the mailbox garden the butterfly bush is beginning to bloom with the pretty purple flowers and the pink echinachea is just covered with blooms right now - it's so pretty!


The new butterfly weed is also finally blooming! I love the bright orange flowers.


The rest of the front yard right now is green (or brown grass). The hostas are blooming on the far right behind the tree, but everything else is either spring blooming or an evergreen. With all the craziness and travel going on, I never replaced the pansies in the porch boxes and they have died in the heat. It looks terrible - the porch railing boxes had to be taken down to repair the porch, I won't be putting them back until I can get some new flowers. If takes long enough, I might even hold out for some fall-friendly flowers to put in there.



In the backyard we have so many things blooming... like our hollyhock trees in pink and white and our dark pink crepe myrtle. The crepe myrtle fully recovered from the cold winter, it's so beautiful when it blooms. The quince is growing so much I have to cut it back. The asparagus is still alive too - I always worry about the new plants that don't have robust root systems yet when it's so hot and dry like this.



The new clematis (the replacement for the one that died) is also still alive, another accomplishment during this heat wave / dry spell.


Other vines are easy to keep alive... the sweet pea is completely out of control despite how often I cut it back to keep the blackberry and raspberry bushes from being taken over.


I don't know what this purple spiky flower is. I thought it was something else so we let it grow... it's probably a weed, but I have to admit the purple blooms are beautiful! It's in the way back so I think it's okay to leave it alone. We have so many crazy weeds coming through the fence from our neighbors hard it's impossible to keep up.


I didn't get the best picture, but I have a lot of pretty dahlias blooming near the fence and patio. I planted 10 and 9 came up, all are blooming. There's red, orange, magenta, yellow, pink-yellow, and purple.


The rose bush, strawberries and peony plants...



The hostas and lilies are blooming now and the anemones are about to start...



The hydrangea is blooming! I didn't acidify the soil around the hydrangea so it has pink-purple flowers. They are really pretty though.


Here are the blueberry bushes, they are still small but growing steadily. There are some strawberry plants around them that seem to come back year after year.


Also as a side note, the July garden is going strong with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and peppers. There are also a ton of green beans (not pictured) now too.