Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The ups and downs of this summer's garden.

I am feeling grateful this week as just about every evening we've included something straight from our garden with dinner - a fresh tomato sliced on top of a burger, crunchy cucumber slices, zucchini in some way, shape or form.


But I mentioned in a post the other day that it has been a weird year for gardening, and that's true for my vegetable plants and my perennials.

My tomato plants, which I am still impressed with because I grew them from seed, hardly have any leaves left on them. Either there is something funky in the soil that splashed up on them, or it's just been too darn chilly a summer here. The leaves started getting brown spots and it spread quickly, then eventually the leaves would just turn crusty brown and fall off if I didn't pull them off first.


Interestingly, the plants still produced lots of tomatoes and they are turning red. And they taste good. So ... I don't know. This is one of those times when I shrug and decide maybe my garden just wasn't meant to be perfectly pretty this year and I should be happy with what I get.

I am on my third planting of green beans, and having gotten a full day of rain yesterday I am hopeful these will sprout and my dear daughter will get to pick and eat some beans - her favorite - from her own garden.

The bean situation started out great; I had planted seeds and they were sprouting, but we got a lot of rain early in the season and my gutters got clogged up and overflowed, sending a stream of rainwater straight down into the raised garden bed below and washing out much of what was planted. The few bean plants we had I dug up and gave to my parents, as their beans had never sprouted. They gave me what seeds they had left, and when I had cleaned up the garden bed I replanted. I got two plants.

Those two plants now mark the rows of where I planted a new crop ... hopefully.


I planted, watered, and prayed. If we do get some plants we should have a nice fall harvest of beans. We shall see.

Zucchini?


 Going like gangbusters. I've got some beets and carrots looking good, too.

This year's cucumber crop is the best I've ever had. They are beautiful and they taste amazing - not bitter like I've experienced in the past. Tonight I combined a couple of those fresh cukes with some red onion and a dressing made of olive oil, lime juice and cilantro (also from the garden).



When I dished some up for myself I tossed some avocado in there, too. Oh. My. Gosh. It's like SUMMER in a dish. Yum.

My jalapeno plants look sad. Last year I had jalapeno trees - tall, wide, and abundant producers. This year? The first four plants dried up and died. I bought two more. These are alive and green and leafy, but only about six inches tall. Stunted. Again, I throw my hands in the air. I suppose I have a few weeks to try to nurse them along, maybe fertilize and see what happens. Or I could go buy $1 worth of jalapenos when I need them, but store bought just isn't the same.

Such is the life a gardener, I suppose. Trial and error, ups and downs.

Elsewhere in the yard, my hostas are absolutely gorgeous and several plants and shrubs are blooming for a second time. Even those early bloomers that say they "might" bloom later in the season rarely do, it seems. I guess it's a good year for those.

And then there's this guy ...


Cilantro that sprouted right up in the walkway between garden beds. It's got to be from seeds that I harvested from last year's plant. I intended to put them in an envelope late last summer to keep and plant this spring. Most of them got blown off the patio table before I had a chance. I did pull a couple of cilantro sprouts out of the cracks in the patio earlier this summer. But this one ... I guess if it has the will to sprout and grow in the gravel, I'll let it stay. It'll be really yummy in my cucumber salad in a week or two.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I love it when a plan comes together. (A before and after.)

I completed a project!

This is a big deal. I am the queen of leaving things half-baked when is comes to up-cycling and repurpose-ing (am I making up words with hyphens now?). Ironic, considering my children's tendency toward the same half-baked-ness drives me absolutely batty. *ahem*

I'm really not that bad. It's a matter of lacking storage, really. If I had a garage or barn where I could store pieces until I had a chance to work on them, nobody would notice. As it is, my dining room is my work space and often my storage space - I paint, saw, and sand there if it's too hot, cold or humid, or the piece is too heavy or cumbersome to take it outdoors.

So it was with this latest project which involved a heavy wood door that I turned into a headboard in our master bedroom.

 Before - big bed, no headboard.

Let me give you a bit of a timeline.

Sometime this spring I brought 3 old interior doors home from work. I saved them from the Dumpster after they were torn out during a renovation project in our 100-yr-old building. For a few weeks those doors leaned up against a wall in my house. Two of them are still there awaiting future projects. The third was the perfect height to turn lengthwise and use as a headboard.

So I set about making plans. Surfed Pinterest boards to find a simple design I liked. Picked up some paint stripper thinking if the wood underneath those layers of (probably lead-based) paint looked any good I would give it a rich-looking stain.

Over weeks I had paint-stripping and scraping sessions which involved me carrying this heavy door outside, spraying or spreading paint stripper on it, waiting oh-so-impatiently for the stuff to do its magic, scraping, sanding, and eventually moving the door back inside, frustrated that I couldn't remove the paint as easily as I had hoped.

(I took pictures during this process and promptly lost them when my cell phone went kaput because who really backs their stuff up to the cloud?)

I finally abandoned the idea of staining the wood and sanded the old paint off as well as I could (wearing a mask, of course ... which makes me sweat just thinking about it.) I even got out the Dremel to sand the intricate little corners ... which I then abandoned because it would have required more time and effort than I was willing to give on this project.

I decided to re-paint the door using the bright blue paint I had purchased for our master bathroom (another item still on the to-do list).

I painted it. Painted again. Did a little distressing with sandpaper. Realized the door had a sour/musty smell that did not go away with layers of new paint. Googled it. Discovered shellac was probably the answer. Bought some shellac. Got busy with life in the height of summer and moved the door so I wouldn't be tripping over it. Finally decided it was time to knock this sucker out and vowed I would complete it by the time I went to bed on Sunday.

So I went to town after church yesterday and bought a $3 piece of wood for the ledge and $2.36 worth of heavy duty wood screws. The crown molding I already had - it must have been an extra piece because it's been floating around in our closet since we bought the house. I grabbed a scrap 2X4 from my in-laws', which I would use as a little extra support for the door to sit on.

There were a couple of casualties.


I broke off one of those 3-inch screws that was supposed to hold this large piece of wood on the wall above my head. My fault. Because of course the walls in this house are not straight, and of course I had to push my luck and try to use a 59-cent screw to bend a solid wood door to the shape of the wall. FAIL. Don't try that, kids.

Also? I need a new level.


We should have a moment of silence for this guy. I remember buying this when we installed the tile floor in our front room. It has been with me through many a project, but I didn't realize I had left it on the bed and I sat on it. Oops.

Once I made up my mind on the paint scheme - Paint over the shellac? Leave the shellac as the top layer with the aged/yellowish look? - it was relatively easy going. Here's a shot after the door was up but before I installed the ledge:


The ledge was easy - cut to size, paint, and tack it on. The crown molding? No. Crown molding is from the debil. If you are a whiz at cutting and installing crown molding please don't tell me how easy it is. I will never do it again. I will buy those cheater pieces so I don't have to figure out any corners.

Fortunately I'm a whiz with spackle and sandpaper. And paint. Paint covers a multitude of mistakes.

Voila! The finished product.


I have some finish work to do on it - a little more spackle and touching up the paint, but I think it looks pretty cool. I'm not sure yet what I'll put on the ledge, but I love the idea of some large black and white family photos.
 

We have lived in this house for 14 years. We have added character with paint, wallpaper, flooring, furniture, etc., to every room of the house except this one - until just a few months ago when I finally painted the dirty white walls a soothing green (it really is pretty, but the lighting in these photos makes it look kinda' drab). More and more as the kids get older and stay up later I tend to retreat to my bedroom for some quiet time; now it feels less like a punishment and more like a haven where I can read a book, watch what I want on TV, take a snooze, or on the rare occasion that he's home, enjoy some quality time with my husband.

 Before:
 After:

I love it!

Now if I could just get that master bathroom painted ...






Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What I'm loving lately.



My gardens. My plants and flowers. Sharing the abundance of zucchini with friends and family, and seeing the tomatoes finally beginning to turn red.

It's been a weird year for vegetable gardening. More on that in another post.

Every day when I get home from work, one of the first things I see is this flower bed on the east end of the house:



Huge hostas. Beautiful, bright pink garden phlox. Bee balm. Purple salvia. And more. This used to be my "nursery" bed where I would plunk sad-looking plants hoping to nurse them back to life. Apparently it's in a good place because everything I put here thrives here, to the point that I've had to move some plants to other places because they're crowding each other out. It makes me happy.



And yes, the garden hose you see in the picture, too. I love it. At the end of the regular hose I have one of those "pocket hoses" that when you empty it takes up only a teeny tiny space. Pretty sure this is one of the best inventions ever.

This drought tolerant plant? Love it. 
Despite being ignored lately, every day more of these gorgeous orange flowers pop open. This plant sits atop a fountain my parents gave me as a birthday gift (early, as my birthday is coming up this weekend). At the moment the fountain - which I have enjoyed immensely - doesn't have any water in it. I'm going to remedy that this evening.

More garden love. 


My cucumber plants are climbing the trellis beautifully. You can't see it in this photo, but way at the bottom, protected by the leaves, is one cuke almost ready for picking. And many more to come, I hope.

Cherry tomatoes - we've got a bunch. I love watching them grow day after day. It's one of those things that reminds me how amazing God is to have created this world.



The kitteh condo:
Given to us by one of my coworkers who is recently cat-less with no plans to adopt any more. A friend made this awesome cat bed/climber for her, and she was so happy to see it go to a home where it would be loved. Patch is happy happy happy. Whiskers is all, "This is not my bed. My bed is at the end of the hall." If only she would realize that when she's on the top, the dog can't reach her.

I took this picture of Patch from outside the window. The kitty condo is huge. We look like the Crazy Cat House. I'm ok with it.


This guy.
Well I love him always, of course. But this summer we have made a real effort to get together as much as possible, and it fills my heart to bursting. It has meant he makes the drive from WV to MI for the weekend after working 10 days straight. And I have visited him alone or with whomever can or wants to go with me (kid-wise, and on the most recent trip, my mother-in-law). We are in that interesting season of parenting where the kids would rather hang out with friends than with us, or are already committed to other things. Which means they are also old enough to fend for themselves while I spend a few days away.

It's been such a busy summer. The kids got out of school, we hit the ground running and we haven't looked back. I haven't even posted here on the blog since June 10. I'm just now catching my breath, and before we know it we'll be back-to-school shopping. But that's life, isn't it? I keep reminding the kids when they lament that they can't do it all, they are fortunate to be able to do as much as they do. We all are.


Something else I'm loving: work. After six years of the kids and home being my main focus, I am now regularly contributing to the workforce. It's the perfect part-time schedule for me. Great people I've known for years. A town I love and just blocks away from the kids' schools. With flexibility to take an extra day off now and then when I go to see Steve. It's been six months since I took this job and the time has flown by. Also, because of my job I'm trying new things like working as an election inspector which I'll do for the first time next week. Good stuff.

When I'm not working or running kids around or catching up on household duties, I am often working on projects - building, painting, stripping, sanding, upcycling - and loving it all. These windows are leaning against the house on the front porch. I have plans for them. (But don't they look kinda' cool right there alongside my grandma's old washtub I painted last year?)


There is so much else - so many things, moments, sights and sounds - that make me smile every day. It has been a wildly busy summer, yes, but I have enjoyed it. Looking forward to what the rest of summer brings.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

School's out ... hello, summer!

One of my friends posted on Facebook the other day that she already wondered where summer had gone and it hadn't even started yet. That describes my feelings perfectly.

And I felt the same way last year - that there were so many things scratched down in the little squares on my calendar, the carefree days of summer would be gone before I had a chance to enjoy them. That's one of the bummers of having a spouse/parent who works away from home. Steve is as involved as he can be, communicating with all of us via phone and text, and making the trip home as often as possible. But he's not here to help with all the little things on a daily basis - the running around, attending activities, making a thousand and one decisions every day, and things as simple as cleaning up the kitchen after supper.

Some days I just need to tag out and let my partner be in charge. But that's not an option here, so I go for the next best option: I take some time for myself to recharge and then dive right back into the fray.

Today was the last day of school for our kids. It was mere hours after we got home that I started getting the questions about when friends could come over or when I could take them to go and do. I'm glad my children have such active social lives, but sheesh! A few minutes of downtime is ok, too. Alas, Rachel has already made plans for the weekend.

I have weekend plans myself. I'm taking a road trip, flying solo to West Virginia to spend a couple days with Steve. He'll be working but that's OK with me. I plan to sleep, read, enjoy the silence during the day and enjoy his company in the evenings. This is one of the benefits of having a spouse who works away from home: there is always someplace to take a little getaway. I can't even tell you how much I am looking forward to it. Every minute, from driving by myself to sleeping next to my husband to doing absolutely nothing for at least two full days ... I can't wait!

Let another busy, fun-filled summer begin!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, which is the strongest tomato?

If I grew nothing else in my garden this year, I would at least grow tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. Because from the time the harvest is over in the fall until we're starting seeds again in the spring, there is nothing like the taste of a meal made using tomatoes - or sauce from tomatoes - you grew yourself.

Pizza with thick, pasty sauce. Chili with chunks of last summer's abundant harvest. Spaghetti topped with homemade marinara. YUM.


The last couple summers, in the interest of saving myself some time and possible heartache, I purchased tomato plants. The frugal side of me couldn't stand the idea of shelling out the amount of cash I'd need for as many plants as I want this year though, so I decided to start some seeds myself.

I spent about $13 on three packs of organic seeds and a Jiffy mini greenhouse seed starter (which I can re-use). As soon as I got home I soaked the peat pods and planted my three varieties of seeds, labeled the lid and set it in one of my south-facing windows. Less than five minutes later my dog had one of the clumps of seed starter spread all over the floor.

Bad dog.

I was able to gather up most of it and stuff it back in the little mesh thingy that holds it all together, plant a couple new seeds, and set it back in the container. Within just a few days I had sprouts. Happy!

I cared for those tiny plants over the next few weeks, rotating the container so they'd each get sun and keeping them just the right amount of moist.

One day apparently the dog made the connection that what I was putting in that little dish at his nose level was WATER. You can imagine how that went.

I lost one plant.


And then one day a certain offspring grabbed something from the corner near the window and bumped the table where my seedlings were thriving, upending the whole container.

Ugh. Is all I'm gonna' say about that.

Miraculously, just a few of the plants didn't make it. But after that incident I had no idea which plants were which.

What I did know is some of them were beginning to outgrow their little home, so it was time to do some replanting. This afternoon I gathered up some containers and soil and did just that.

So much for labeling. I have no idea how many plants of which varieties I have.

 I have 17 seedlings in various stages of development. I'm not sure I won't start a few more. Because you can never have too many tomatoes, right?

I'm excited to see how these babies turn out, and if I can manage to harden them off in a few weeks without losing them. That's the part I lose interest in pretty quickly - the shuffling things outside during the day, in at night, out during day, in at night.

Though I suppose if they can survive my animals and my kids, they have a pretty good chance of making it to summer.

Wish us luck.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The gift of Clarity.


**big exhale**



Road trips have a way of helping me find my bearings.

Even though I love this place we call "home," while I'm away from it I tend to gain a little perspective ... a fresh view (that perhaps I'd lost over the longest. winter. ever.)

My adventurous spirit craved a change of scenery, a warmer climate, time spent with friends who speak with just a hint of a southern drawl. It was just what I needed for spring break this year, and lucky me! The weather timed things perfectly so that we missed the last of the snow showers while we were gone and the snow was almost completely melted from the yard by the time we got back.

While the kids and I were out in West Virginia visiting Steve last week we fell asleep to the sound of the peepers each night and woke up to birds singing every morning. It was heavenly. And sure enough, we're hearing them here at home now, too. Bliss.


This time around, despite the kids getting in a large helping of bickering during the days we didn't leave the campground, I came home feeling refreshed and with a renewed - or strengthened, maybe - sense of purpose. I have struggled over decisions made and directions chosen, but lately I feel like we're on track. I pray often for guidance - as a wife, a mom, a Christian, a friend, a steward - and while there is always room for improvement, today I have a sense of peace.

Dunkard Creek, near our campsite

We got some great family time in during our visit. We ate dinners together. The kids and I went shopping at the mall one day and Rachel finally got to spend her birthday money. I met up with and had a great visit with my girlfriend, Heather. One rainy afternoon Rach and I got hot cocoa and coffee and went on a book binge (lots of summer reading material!). We did a lot of chilling out, napping, reading (me), playing video games (the kids), and just enjoying the break.

My loves.
(This photo pretty well defines how different they are.)

 Camp chickens!
The girls were hanging out right around our trailer when we got there the first afternoon. Steve joked that he had them brought in specially for me, because he knew how much I'd love it.

 I did enjoy watching them scratching around all week!

Rachel enjoyed some quality time with our buddy's Basset Hound, Daisy.

Sweet ride, Sammy.

I'm always sad to have to leave Steve, but at the same time I leave happier because I have been with him. Back here at home I smile at some of the memories we made during this trip, and I look forward to being together as a family again when Steve comes home for Easter.

In lots of little ways I am continually reminded of what is important in my life - what is and what should be. And I am forever grateful that I am able to share my life - however unconventional our lifestyle may be - with these people I adore.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A rare quiet morning.

I'm enjoying this Saturday morning of quietness. It's the first day in what feels like forever that I have nothing on my calendar - no commitments, no place to be. So I'm sipping my coffee and making plans to attack what's left of Mt. Laundry (after I already did a few loads last night) and try to make some order out of the chaos that is our house lately.

I love my new job. As I've told friends recently, the work is not life-altering. I'm not changing the world by processing people's water bill payments or answering questions about citywide trash pickup, but I am making a difference in my own little world. I'm making a (small) contribution to our family finances. I feel a sense of purpose. I'm teaching our children that mom has a life other than the one she's been focusing on them all these years (in other words, you'll have to learn to get yourself out of bed in the morning because I'm busy). I'm learning to manage my own time a little better.

It's just 20-ish hours a week, four days a week, which is just enough to push me to be more productive in the hours I am at home. And to appreciate those hours with my family, and in this home I love.

Steve is getting settled in back at work, too. After having him home for a few months and over the holidays, it's taking some adjusting. But we're making plans to visit him over spring break, which will be nice. I will welcome the change of scenery.

We're finally getting a glimpse of the end of winter. Every few days temps reach up into the 40's, which is enough to melt a little more snow. The roof of the house is clear now, but most of our yard is still covered with more than a foot of snow, all heavy and packed so hard we can walk on top of it. Yesterday it rained, and then last night snowed just enough that there was a dusting on the deck when I woke up. I am so over this winter. I've been looking at garden boards on Pinterest and flipping through my spring magazines, making plans for when I can finally get out there and work the soil. This week I picked up a small seed starter and planted some tomato seeds - I can't wait to have some GREEN around here! And I have other projects I'd like to tackle, too. Mostly furniture pieces that need to be taken outside and sanded so I can paint or stain them. I know ... patience. I've never been good at that.

I also want to finish some blog posts I've had hanging around over the past month. I think of something I want to share, start a post, and then get distracted. Story of my life. So ... while I'm waiting for the ground to thaw out, maybe I'll get some of those up.

Think spring!