Jan 7, 2019

Happy New Year!

I can't believe we are a week into 2019 already.

I didn't meant to stay away from this space for so long, it just sort of happened that way. The holiday season was so busy for us. Lots of baking, entertaining, celebrating, visiting, quality time with family and friends... and also ear infections, not enough naps, staying up too late, mountains of laundry accumulated and exhaustion. We had so much fun - but I also could use another 2 weeks off now just to catch up on real life stuff that's piled up.

My biggest accomplishment so far for January? Getting all the Christmas decor away. Now I'm slowly tackling the to-do list of things like reorganizing the playroom to fit in the new toys we've accumulated. My little office cubby in the dining room is out of control and needs a full reorganization. And there's the real life stuff like tax prep, preschool applications and interviews, medical stuff scheduling, tackling the laundry piles.

January (and February) always makes me want to hibernate. I'd happily stay inside where it's warm, under a blanket with a good book and a cup of turmeric spice tea. However, winter is the ideal time to work on some indoor projects. Especially the basement. I refuse to be trapped in the basement reorganizing it when it's nice outside, which is probably why the space hasn't been dealt with in 3 years. The past two winters we were sick more than we were healthy (as a whole), leaving a bad situation to get worse and worse.

Our focus this Winter while we're trapped indoors:

Living room

What this entails:

Living room
We have a new couch. OMG. It's awesome. Even the kids are in love with all of us being able to sit together as a family. I can't wait to share pictures but I need to tweak the room a bit first. It's much bigger than anything we've ever had, in a very awkwardly sized room, which means we now have to figure out how to make the new layout work better with some minor changes. Our TV stand is too deep for the space now (and the kids trashed it). The storage ottoman coffee table is also too big now (and the puppy chewed the corners and legs). We really need some new pillow covers too (kids are brutal). And I have to figure out how to configure the space behind the couch - the console table fits perfectly but I have to edit down the rest.

This is a big clean out, reorganize, rethink project where I really need to focus on how we've used the space over the past 3 years (aka a dumping ground) and what I can do about it to make it more usable and easier to keep together. We thought we would use the space a certain way, but then didn't. And then the boxes started piling up... until it became to massive to tackle in a weekend. So I need to tackle this huge space, bit by bit as I can squeeze it in. I actually started at Thanksgiving and chipped away more over our holiday break, but I have a looooong way to go.

There are holes in our kitchen ceiling and that have been since March. MARCH. It's a long story but basically when we lost power for 5 days from that crazy snowstorm, the bathroom pipes also leaked into our kitchen ceiling and messed up the wiring (and the ceiling). The electrical was more than Mike wanted to tackle, so we had a pro come in and rewire the main light, swap out the water-logged fixture with a pendant and added a second pendant over the kitchen sink. Totally awesome to have task lighting. However we did find that the rest of the kitchen was dark without the ambient ceiling light, so we made a plan to utilize some of the holes to add in a couple of shallow LED pot lights in the ceiling. But then the weather warmed up and we got busy and spent most of our free time outside... so now this is Mike's priority this winter while I focus on the basement.

Dec 18, 2018

+ Garden Border (Part 2 of Morgan vs. the Fence)

See part 1 here.

I might be jinxing it, but so far, the chicken wire is working to keep Morgan from digging holes under the wooden fence. However, it is not keeping her from digging holes in the garden beds next to the chicken wire (MY PLANTS!!!!!) and in other garden beds (MY PLAAAAAAANTS!!!!) and in the grass (Mud pits!).

So my question of "do we add garden border fencing now or in the spring?" was answered with YES DO IT NOW BEFORE ALL THE PLANTS ARE GONE FOREVER BECAUSE SHE DUG THEM ALL UP. (Also if you are wondering how this keeps happening, Morgan loves being outside and 95% of the time she's out there, she's not digging. But when she does dig a hole, she can do A LOT of damage in under a minute... she is a natural.)

So I got out a tape measure and really measured the garden borders. Not just the one on the right side  that's been her focus, but also the one next to the deck, the strip next to the patio, the bed between the driveway and the fence on the left.  Morgan is digging in all these spots. And when we have other doggies over for play dates, they tend to trample things so I think long term a low border fence as a physical reminder is ideal. Plus it will look nice.

I bought 3 packs of the pretty fencing I really like (each pack is 26 feet) and then a 12-pack of the significantly less pretty wire fence, for a grand total of 198 feet of low garden fencing. The pretty fencing will be used near the house - the gardens around the patio/deck, the right side going back towards the tree. The rest will be fenced off with the wire fence, which I'm hoping will blend into the plants in the spring more (because, well, it's ugly).

So here's what it looks like now. We're still using lots of physical pieces to protect things during this adjustment period. Hopefully by the time the plants come back in the spring, this will be a non-issue!

It's going to take time to train Morgan to stay away from the low fence. Obviously she can easily hop over it, but again it's meant to be a reminder of where she's not supposed to go. Plus it will make it harder to dig when there's less room to do it. I still have all the barriers up inside the fence to make it harder to move around.

The wire fence is almost impossible to get in a photo, which I guess is a good thing because it's also subtle in real life. All non-grassy areas are now blocked off.

Here you can see where fancy fence meets wire fence under the red bed tree.

Hopefully this works... otherwise I'm going to be very sad for all my dug up flowers.

Nov 19, 2018

Morgan Mayhem vs. The Fence + 4 Dog Friends

Before I get into this post, I need to express that Morgan is actually a REALLY GREAT dog. I know recently when I mention her, it's all about the chaos and destruction she's caused (the garden, my plants, the fences). But really, she's just a puppy. She's wonderful, we love and adore her. She is very well behaved in the house. She's mostly outgrown the naughty chewing phase indoors. Her worst offense is counter surfing, which we are working on. She doesn't even steal the kids snacks anymore. She barks at the back door to go outside and barks to be let back in. Morgan sleeps in her crate at night and when we aren't home to keep her out of trouble. She's learning good things at her weekly dog training classes. And most importantly, Morgan is AMAZING with the boys. She's so gentle with them, she adores them, we never have to worry about her interacting with them. There's 100% trust, even when we've literally caught them jumping on her while she sleeps and she barely bats an eye. She thinks the world of them and she's completely calm in the constant chaos they create.

Outside... outside is where Morgan's naughty side is unleashed. Literally - she's still terrible at walks and won't stop pulling no matter what we try. In the backyard, destruction reigns. She will shred stolen cardboard boxes and plastic bags out of the recycling. Chewing up the boys frisbees, beach buckets, bubble wands. Hiding baseballs in the bushes, stripping bushes of leaves, knocking plants over, climbing tables. Shredding the deer netting around the garden, digging holes in the grass, digging holes in my raised bed garden, digging holes along the fence (including the garden beds with my new plants), digging up my tulip bulbs. Running through the mud, hunting critters, attempting to escape, causing mayhem. Lots and lots of mayhem.

Backstory: Miss Morgan Mayhem was a rescue puppy, her litter was fostered next door on the other side of the wood fence (on the right side of our yard when facing the garage). Our neighbors still foster occasionally still and have 4 dogs of their own. There's a lot of crazy dog action going on on the other side of those wood planks.

When Morgan was smaller she liked to escape under the chain link fence on the left side into another neighbor's yard and wander. It was stressful, but eventually we effectively blocked the chain link fence escape routes. Morgan then turned her attention to the wood privacy fence where 4 of her doggy friends live on the other side. While she can't break through the wooden panels, she can dig under it. So can her doggy friends on the other side.  And if left to their own devices long enough, they can also push the fence pieces out, popping the nails and leaving a gap in the fence that works everyone up into an even bigger frenzy of barking and doggy noses poking through and tails wagging.

When the garden plants were big in the summer, Morgan mostly avoided the garden part of the fence line, opting for the grass further back for her digging adventures. We blocked each hole and my neighbors on the other side did the same. But then I started digging in the garden to add in the new plants, exposing dirt and new smells that triggered her digging instinct. And as the plants died off with each frost, there was more and more area exposed.

I barricaded the fence with every last spare paver (including some I was using as garden borders) to stop the digging. I blocked off the garden flowers the best I could with literally anything I had handy - gates, chairs, spare trellis, rotted porch railing, spare fence, etc.. Morgan did everything she could to work around the barricades. More holes were dug, escapes were made, with the help of the neighbor's dogs digging on their side... plants trampled, roots damaged. She even went under the rose bush with the giant thorns - and she has the scratches to prove it. I was so frustrated.

In the demo of the existing raised bed garden, we had all this spare chicken wire fencing that we dug up. It wasn't in good enough shape for the new garden, but I realized it was a perfect barrier to deter the digging - at least where the garden plants are. I knew I could hold it down with the pavers we lined up along the edge and staple it to the fence panels, as well as using inexpensive ground stakes. We had just enough to go from the rosebush to the blueberry bushes, down the whole line. It won't stop the dogs from digging on the other side, but it would make digging in the garden beds more difficult for Morgan. Hopefully with some time she will learn it's useless to bother trying.

Here's the fence right now... the chicken wire is hard to see in photos but it's there! What you can really see is all the things we're using as barricades.

I'm using the raised bed garden obelisk to block a giant hole she doesn't want to leave alone. For better or worse, anenomes are aggressive enough to fill back in here.

In the spring we'll take up some/half/most of the pavers and just leave the short ground staples and fence staples. And I say that with the assumption that after living with the fencing for that long, she'll be uninterested in digging there anyway and won't need all the weight of those pavers for extra wire barrier stability. This way nothing will be blocking the plants/bulbs/pretty things from coming up through the holes. We'll cover everything with a a nice layer of mulch too so that we won't see ugly wiring anymore either. (Right now things are so ugly!)

Step 2 will be a physical barrier across the garden beds as a physical reminder for where she's welcome and where she's not. It will take some training not to cross it, but if there's no reason to cross (like not being able to dig), it will hopefully work in combination. I like the look of this one, and it covers 26 ft per package and it has good reviews. It's still pricey for the amount of garden we have, but I think I might be able to combine it with a cheap wire one further back.

I'm not sure when to do step 2. Part of me thinks, the sooner the better, but then I also wonder if we should wait. If we do it now, the ground isn't frozen yet and we'll have the winter to train her to stay out of the garden bed area. But... will the freezing and refreezing of the ground hurt the border fence? Will it get damaged or knocked over in the snow? Will Morgan even understand not being allowed in there when there are no plants (and potentially one big snow plain anyway)?

Lastly there's the back part of the fence where the grass meets the wood fence (after the garden beds end. Right now we still have sporadic barricades up, but I'm hoping the chicken wire could be a long term solution back here too. We have to also figure out a prettier option along the chain link, but it's too flexible for chicken wire to work over there (really we need giant rocks...)

Nov 14, 2018


Winter in all its forms has come early this year around here. Illness season, darkness season, cold-gray-snow season. In late October we had pneumonia in our house (ugh) and I felt like everything was on hold the whole time (is it just me or does everything stop when the kids are sick?). Then we had the time change and the kids schedules are still wonky. And all I want to do is SLEEP. It's hard to give up that hour of evening sunlight. Then there's the forecast for tomorrow... SNOW. Like they are estimating 5-8 inches as I write this! We hardly ever get snow in November here in NJ. Even in December snow was rare for most of my life. I hate winter, so having it come early in combination with such a late spring makes me a little grumpy.

So we need to make our own sunshine around here, now that winter has arrived early. Here's a few things that are bringing sunshine into my life these days around the house.

A felted flamingo head mounted on wood from a friend who totally gets me.

I was really loving this print from minted, but then I remembered I had some old wallpaper samples that were very similar. Boom. Fresh art for the walls in a couple of spots that needed it.

Seasonal soap in our bathroom that looks pretty and smells so good (this is pomegranate and downstairs we have redwood forest... both smell like Fall in the best way).

This beach bag from my sister's Wellfleet wedding.

Where's Waldo coloring book that I've totally kept for myself with a big box of fine-tip markers to live out all my 4th grade coloring book fantasies.

Liberty of London tea towels from Anthropologie (from my sister who also totally gets me).

Saving a couple extra flowering pots from the garden. They might not survive the full winter, but for now they are providing some much needed color indoors.

Hearth & Hand clearance succulent stems from Target for more much needed winter greenery.

This turkey, made by entirely by Oliver, to decorate for Thanksgiving.

The way this candle smells like summer.

A succulent terrarium with monster candles in it for greenery + whimsy.

Oct 29, 2018

Slates for the Garden Path

My dad had several old slates from an old walkway stacked behind his shed. They were too nice and too heavy to get rid of, but he didn't have a use for them. We have two of them already on the side of the garage. We forgot he had more until we were planning our garden and path redo project and he offered them to us - we were thrilled. They are way nicer than anything we could afford.

Each slab weighs A TON so we could only take a couple over at a time in our cars (and even then they weighed down the back!). It took several trips to get them all over - 8 big rectangular slabs total, plus several pieces of broken slabs that were perfect for the curved end of the pathway.

Here's what the pathway looked like when we first created it, with curved lines. It hasn't changed much in since then.

We cleared the pathway of pea gravel first in wheel barrow loads. Then we pulled up the plastic weed blocking fabric, then the plastic line divider so we could re-level the path for the slates and change the layout from an organic curved path line to a straight one to better fit with the slate shape. Once the path was level and the line straight, we re-installed the divider line and started laying down the slates. They were placed 8" apart, starting at the front of the garage to the back where the future gate will go.

Once the slates were in and leveled so they wouldn't rock back and forth when we walked on them, we cut up the weed blocking fabric to go around the slates. We didn't have enough to cover the wider path, but going around the slates worked out perfectly - we had just enough fabric and it was fast and easy to do.

From there we added the gravel back in around the slates. Done!

 Morgan certainly likes the new path....

I'm thrilled with the results - isn't it dreamy? And with these large slabs, less path weeding! (Weed blocking fabric is great at blocking weeds from growing in from UNDER the path, but we get plenty of weeds growing on top of the fabric.) I can already see the future garden in my mind's eye with the white picket fencing, a charming little gate...

Oct 22, 2018

Raised Bed Garden Plan for 2019 (or 2020)

I love our raised bed garden, but it's falling apart. As I mentioned in my August garden recap, Morgan has destroyed the fence and the gate. I've given up on replacing the deer netting, Morgan Mayhem shreds it (in fact she thinks its her personal set of dental floss). And then with full garden access she indulges in digging and destroying in the beds. Worse, the raised beds themselves are at the end of their lifespan - the cedar is soft and rotted. They are going to fall apart anytime now. All the rain this summer made it even worse - I accidentally kicked one while cleaning up the dead tomatoes and vine beds and my foot went through. Another one started to crumble under Morgan's weight. Sadly, these are done. I don't think they will make it another season.

So it's time to start planning garden #2 to replace our first garden. New beds, new fence. And of course use this opportunity to fix the issues we've had with our first one. There's no better template for improvements than 8 years of experience.

I'm hoping we can implement this plan in the spring... but it's a BIG project. We might not finish in time for planting. It might not get done until next summer, next fall, or even next spring. In the meantime the garden will be paused. As sad as I would be to skip the garden next year, I would rather do that than deal with the frustrations of this year all over again - better to do this right.

First and foremost, the new beds will be made of composite this time instead of cedar. The composite kits I found online cost about the same as cedar in NJ (cedar is very expensive here) but of course should last much longer. I'm keeping them the same size - 8' x 4' was great for our needs. Plenty of room for the plants, but I could reach everywhere in each bed. I also really like having four big beds for crop rotation and variety.

We also need to replace the fence with something sturdy that can't be shredded by Morgan. It doesn't need to be tall - we haven't had deer in our backyard since our neighbors put up their 6 ft privacy fence. It also needs to be low maintenance and let light through. I think that 3 ft vinyl picket fence with wide spacing (like this one from Home Depot) would be the best fit. It will look pretty, never require painting, and will let in a good amount of light through. Morgan won't be able to shred it and the points on top will deter her from jumping. If we do a little cement around the posts, she won't be able to knock it over either. I think we would keep the semi-buried chicken wire, putting it in the inside of the garden fence wall. This would help deter chipmunks and rabbits (though they are much less of a problem now that we have a big hunting dog patrolling our yard).

Other Improvements:
  • Wider paths. The paths on the outside around the beds are too narrow and when the weeds grow in and the plants grow big, they feel even more crowded. We made the whole thing the width of the garage originally and divided up the space, but it needs to be wider. If we widen the whole garden imprint by 3.5/4 ft, the paths overall will be more comfortable. 
  • Moving the garden gate to face the house at the end of the path. The fence gates that come with the vinyl fence line are 3.5 ft wide, which is where we came up with the 3.5/4 ft number for widening the overall garden. This will help blend the new wider garden width blend into the overall yard layout and look nicer from the house.
  • Adding a trellis over the garden gate at the end of the path. Originally I wanted to add a trellis at the beginning of the path near the driveway, but I think with the garden changes it will not only look better in the back, but will help make the new extension look intentional and designed (plus I've wanted a trellis since we bought the house). 
  • Having a gate on both sides - it's a little annoying to have to walk all the way around the garden when the ground is wet or all the way around the garage. Having a gate on both sides would be very convenient. 
  • Combat weeds. Adding a perimeter around the fence with pea gravel and/or pavers about 6" deep will help with encroachment. While it will be much easier to weed whack the weeds with a real fence in place (vs. netting), this will also help even more by allowing the lawn mower to get closer. 
  • Pushing back the length of the garden imprint by 3 feet. Making the garden a little deeper will give us more room. Which I will use for...
  • Adding in two narrow beds at the back for non-rotating items, 2 beds that are 8 ft wide and 2 ft deep. I don't mind moving the oregano, thyme and rosemary every year, but if we are making all these improvements, we might as well make this garden the best it can be. And that would include a non-rotating herb garden in the back and moving the strawberries in here too. As much as I like the strawberry bed on the side of the garage, it's no match for Morgan Mayhem and her love of berries. In the long run we could even espalier a couple apple trees back here.  
Here's the plan laid out:

I would also like to add in 16" square patio pavers in gray (before we used leftover patio pavers, but those were a little too small and we had to relocate  them to keep Morgan from going under the fence). We might have to order more pea gravel to fill things in, and we definitely need to order new compost mix in bulk. We plan on emptying the existing beds to fill in low spots in the yard (instead of ordering dirt now) - after 8 years it's time to start fresh.

While we're at it we should fix/straighten the path leading to the garden along the garage. My dad offered us several big slabs of slate (like the ones we have on the side of the garage) which would be perfect for the path along the garage surrounded by pea gravel. I love the look of gray stones and pavers surrounded by pea gravel.

So that's the plan. It would make the garden AMAZING. No more rotting beds, less opportunities for Morgan destruction. Fewer weeds. Easier harvesting. There would even be room for pots where I could have peppers, even the citrus trees back here.

Here's how it would fit into the overall yard plan - it's an easy change to make and it won't effect the usable yard space.

Oct 16, 2018

Halloween Decorating

Our neighborhood loves Halloween. We get really into it. Each year we add a little more to our decor... while some of our neighbors go all out. Across the street they do a new theme every year - this year's includes a 6 foot tall giant dragon that could seriously be ridden by 3 children at once. And of course it blows "smoke". Naturally.

This year, we've expanded our graveyard with more gravestones (12!). And a french bulldog skeleton from Target (yes we do have a sick sense of humor) that we added a dog collar to. At night there are purple lights over the graveyard fencing so no one runs into it in the dark.

As always, ghouls and bats haunt the graveyard from the tree.

From the mailbox:

On the porch railing we have our orange lights, the giant spiderweb, bugs and bats... and now even more rats. I couldn't help myself, I loved the idea of a bunch running up the railing. Over black gauze of course.

On the bench, the skeletons. We were given a new tub of Halloween decorations from my childhood that included sea creatures and snakes, so of course we added them to the skeletons as if they came from the bottom of the sea. Add in a few more rats and it's quite gruesome. 

We have a creepy Halloween wreath for the front door (finally, because my inner 90 year old lady hated not having a proper Halloween wreath). 

Inside we have Halloween everywhere inside too. The boys are SO into it. Pumpkins, rats, spiders, skulls, ghosts, rats and more pumpkins. Gel clings on the back sliders. Witch's hats. Eyeballs in random places. It's fun, festive and spooky. (And definitely not blog-worthy, but I'm keeping it real here... this isn't pretty but it's fun!).