Aug 13, 2018

Shells, coral and rocks - oh my!

A few weeks ago, we went with Mike's side of the family on a cruise in the Caribbean. It was amazing. There were 16 of us, the kids had a great time with their cousins and all the adventures and we got to experience some truly beautiful places. Jumping off a catamaran into the aqua waters of Sint Maarten, snorkeling in Magen's bay in St. Thomas, swimming with sting rays in the Bahamas.

And of course, now we have a whole new vacation collection of shells, coral and rocks.

Our family's favorite souvenirs always seem to be shells, rocks and maps. I didn't find any good maps on our cruiser-centric shopping trips (apparently everyone wants duty-free designer duds, booze and jewelry?), but we did find a lot of great shells and coral bits washed up on the beaches.

It was beautiful, so beautiful!

No better way to remember the beautiful beaches. It's been a long time since Mike and I were in the Caribbean and I think I'm more enchanted than ever with the colors of the water. (Aqua is my favorite color after all...)

Aug 9, 2018

Living Room Bookcases Part 2 + New Rug!

It's silly how long it's taken me to share pictures of our updated living room - we've had this finished for over 6 months...

Mike finished the "built in" bookcase in the living room by installing the final section across the sun room doors (see part 1 here). We purchased one of the narrow Billy bookcases from IKEA that was the perfect width for the top of the door frame to the ceiling molding.Installed on its side, it had to be cut down to fit the space between the tall bookcases. Mike measured from the center out so that the middle stability shelf was centered over the doors. Cutting it down was easily done, assembling the bookcase was fairly straightforward as well - Mike just had to drill new holes and everything came together easily.

To get the shelf flush with the door frame and bookshelves, Mike added a backboard of spare wood (drilled into the studs in the wall). From there he attached the assembled shortened bookcase with heavy duty brackets used for decking. It's REALLY sturdy - we could probably use the bookcase as a pull-up bar now (but we won't test it).

Originally we were going to put molding across the front, but when we did a test piece, it didn't look right. It actually looks better without. We didn't add molding around the sides of the bookcases either because our walls aren't straight and the molding highlighted how wonky they are.

My favorite things in this house are the things that look like they've always been there, and this is one of those things. I can't imagine going back to how it was before with shorter dark bookcases without lighting - this is so much better. The height really accentuates are tall ceilings.

Also, we can't forget our new(ish) rug! We finally put down the new rug about a month before Morgan joined our family. The intense pattern camouflages a lot, which is key with two young kids and a puppy. Plus the price (amazon prime day deal from last summer) can't be beat. This rug is 8 x 10 instead of the 5x7 rug we used to have in here (that Georgia ruined and we threw away when she was having all her problems). The size is a much better fit for this room. And it's so soft and thick and comfortable to sit on. The boys love relaxing on it or playing on it. The pattern hides everything. And the colors work surprisingly well in the room.

You can also see how we're living with our old couch from when we first moved in (it lived in our sun room/playroom for a long time until we got rid of our newer but almost-ruined Crate & Barrel couch last summer). We will probably keep this one here for another year or so, until Morgan is out of her puppy phase and the boys are that much older. Right now this poor couch is taking a beating in chocolate milk spills, muddy paws, and chewed corners. It's a very comfortable couch for sitting and it's actually a GREAT couch for napping (seriously it's probably the best napping couch of my whole life)... but this couch also drives me crazy. The cushions NEVER stay put. They are always sliding forward at an uncomfortable angle, even with the cover on it. And it's a pain to constantly put back together 10 times a day when back cushions have to be pulled up while the bottom ones pushed in, the covers re-tucked, everything re-shifted and I feel like I'm doing acrobatics. I LIKE that the cushion covers are removable for washing, but I wish they didn't slide around so easily. We also need more seating in here - I still have my eye on a modular IKEA sectional with removable covers as our next couch (even if the purchase date keeps moving into the future).

Aug 2, 2018

Garden beds: Peak of Summer Assessment

It's July! I always think of July as the gardening peak of the year. The perennials are now at about full size for the year, the spring plants are still around (even if some are wilting). It's the ideal time to assess what I've done right and what I need to fix.

Overall I'm really happy with this results. I last shared an update in the Spring. Things filled in better than I had hoped in certain places, and in others I will definitely need to fill in. I made a few mistakes, but most things are easily rectified. Such as below - I planted some  annuals from seed not realizing how tall they would be (they are taller than the echinacea), but since they are annuals I will just skip them next year.

The alyssum, transplanted from spring seed sprouts in the raised bed garden where it self-germinated from last year has done really well. It's filled in the front areas where we need low flowers beautifully. I'm hoping they will continue to self-seed and germinate in the future, but if not I can always plant new seeds or add in more low perennials. The 2 blanket flowers I also grew from seed are also doing great. The butterfly weed is filling in so nicely (and is so easy to grow from seed!), we have 3 blooming in different spots and I just love the orange flowers.

The most glaring spot is here (marked by the trellis below), also mentioned in the spring, around the irises/delphiniums/hydrangea. The irises need a little more variation in color (since the pink and yellow didn't survive) and I think that will help fill in between the irises and delphinium (which died back completely after blooming... hopefully it's not dead-dead and just gone for the season?). There's also a big gap between the delphinium and the hydrangea. The hydrangea should get bigger in the next year or two (since it was split and transplanted here and needs to reestablish itself), but there will still be a gap. We need something tall here. I have a tall pink echinachea up front I could split. Or maybe another black eyed susan? Lupine? More delphiniums?

I also have a gap in the shade garden here (in the photo towards the right between the hostas). I'm thinking a big root geranium or salvia, something to break things up with something different. Nothing too tall, but the empty wedge goes all the way back to the fence.

The astilbe here is very unhappy - it's the sickly yellow thing in the center of the photo below. I think it's getting too much sun. I'm going to dig it up this fall and move it to another spot in the yard where hopefully it will be a little happier and get more shade. However this will leave a gap here and it will need something.

Another mistake I made this year is with dahlia bulbs, an example of which you can see next to the astilbe above. Last Fall when I dug them up I just threw them all together for storage (in paper bags in the basement) and so this spring I had no idea what was what. This of course has led to having tall dahlias where I needed short ones (like above) and short ones where I needed tall ones. In October I have to be more organized and make two groups - tall and short - so next year I can plant them better.

The original anenome plant that's spawned all the other pink anenomes in our yard is a monster yet again despite constantly cutting it back. Seriously those buds are 6/6.5 feet high. It's ridiculous and beautiful. Even though we're in the peak of summer I've attempted to transplant a chunk of it over by the blackberries to give the other flowers more room. It might not take, being so hot, but the alternative was just throwing some of it away when I trimmed it back so there's no loss. I can always transplant another chunk in the fall.

So my fall plans:
- Separate tall dahlias from short for winter storage
- Move astilbe that's miserable
- Fill in gaps with 3 sun-loving plants, 1 shade plant
- Add a couple more short perennials (this might wait until spring, depending)
- Move a couple more anenome transplants to the fence by blackberries
- Add a couple more irises (for variety, from spring notes)
- Add more tulip bulbs (from spring notes)

Jul 31, 2018

July Garden Update

It's July, when the garden starts producing the fruits of our labor and the plants still look good. It's the peak of the garden.


We have tomatoes! Delicious little red ones to start. And there are a ton of green ones on each plant. They are so tall that they've outgrown the towers. Most surprisingly is how green they are considering how much rain we've had recently, usually with wet weather comes blight and that's the beginning of the end. Fingers crossed it's a good year!

Herbs, Beans, Greens

The green beans went NUTS. I only planted them in a couple of spots but they have taken over the tower in a couple of short weeks. I actually had to cut them back to give the vine spinach more room. Lots of blooms but no beans yet. The vine spinach is really cool - these thick trunks reaching upwards on the strings with green leaves. We've only had a small harvest because I want to give it plenty of time to get established.

The herbs are going crazy, they are so big they are crowding each other out. And the swiss chard is massive and beautiful. The carrots are slowly growing.


Okay so I totally over-planted the pumpkins and spaghetti squash on the obelisk. One vine of each would have been enough. It's a monster, I'm so glad that I built a sturdy tower that can hold the weight. I've harvested two squashes already and there are about 5 more large ones growing. There aren't any pumpkins yet but those should set soon, there are tons of blooms.

We went from having no cucumbers to 5 big ones seemingly overnight. Plenty more little ones growing and there are several little melons growing on the opposite end.


Zinnias are so dependable. Once they get past the sprout stage they just need a little water and they continue to fill my vases. I love it. And the other wildflower mixes are creating some surprises too.

Overall I would say it's been a very good summer so far!

The raspberries were great. We had a lot this year, even with the birds and Oliver loved harvesting them.

We're just starting blackberry season now and there's a ton. Both Oliver and Matt love to pick them.

No sign of any figs yet, but the season this year was so late I don't know if we'll even get any this year.

The strawberry plants are really happy in their new bed, spreading out now - next year should be a great harvest if I can keep Morgan away. She also continues to eat every stalk of asparagus that comes up. My citrus trees were also stripped bare by chipmunks and Morgan (are you noticing a theme? Naughty puppies are terrible for gardens!).

The blueberries have not had a good summer between Morgan and a bird that ripped a hole in my netting... The bushes are also struggling from Morgan's excitement along the fence to see our neighbors' dogs... those patio pavers are blocking holes she's attempting to dig.

New Banner!

After what feels like a million years, I've finally updated the blog header with a few tweaks. It's been long overdue for a little refresher, it's something I've been meaning to do for a couple years now but never got around to.

I have a bunch of posts coming too, I'm finally taking pictures of the finished projects we've been working on.

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!