Apr 6, 2018

2018 Garden Plan & Seed Starting

It should be spring, but it's not. Apparently mother nature didn't get the memo that it's APRIL because it's snowing outside. Again. For the second time this week.

And the mayhem of winter hasn't released us from its grasp. Oliver brought home the flu (as in influenza) from school for Easter/spring break. It was flu B this time, not to be confused with the flu A we had over Christmas. And now we can say that we've officially had the flu THREE TIMES in one year if we go from end-of-March 2017 to end-of-March 2018. That's more times than I've ever had in my life prior. But apparently it's so late in the year now that the October flu shots are losing their effectiveness. And as soon as everyone was finally feeling better,  to keep the fun going, Matt threw up, putting us all back on high alert. I'm starting to forget what it's like to actually enjoy a weekend.

BUT. Spring will eventually come. Which means that eventually I'll be able to plant the garden.

I started tomato seeds inside this year (last year we skipped due to all the chaos, but this year I'm determined!). I started them later than usual, but I also think that the way the weather is going, we won't be able to plant them until at least the second weekend in May at this point.

2 yellow pear
2 sweet millions cherry
2 plum tomatoes
1 big boy hybrid
1 bloody butcher
1 green zebra
1 zapotec

Everything else in the garden will be direct sow, except the basil and rosemary which I can't seem to grow from seed properly. I'll pick that up at the nursery with marigolds and some flowers for pots on the porch, patio and deck.

Here's my garden plan, doodled in a sketch book this year as I'm trying to spend more time drawing on paper instead of the computer. I'm planning on a full garden (last year we went for extra low maintenance) - Matt is old enough now that he just wants to play with his brother in the backyard and doesn't need my constant attention, so I'll hopefully be more free to tend a fuller garden this summer.

Herbs, spinach, beans, carrots, etc.
Malabar spinach on the pole
Peas and later green beans
Radishes (just a few)

Cucumbers on trellis
Spaghetti squash on a new obelisk
Musk melons on trellis

3-4 Dahlias

New things this year - Malabar spinach, or vine spinach. I never knew such a thing existed, but I'm so excited to try it. Apparently it's not spinach at all, but an edible leafy green from India with a similar taste that loves hot weather and grows on a vine. We eat a lot of spinach in our family, but I have a hard time growing it since it loves cool weather and the seasons swing too much around here - the soil in the raised beds tends to go from frozen solid to warm too quickly. So this will be a really fun thing for us to grow. The spinach will share the pole with peas and later green beans.

We're also trying spaghetti squash, just for fun. I'm planning on building two obelisks for the garden this year - one for flowering vines in the backyard and another for the raised bed garden, so I'm hoping to train the squash to grow up the obelisk. Originally I was only going to make one, for the flower beds, but I realized it wouldn't be much more effort to make 2 and having another for the garden would be great as a focal point and structural support.

Mar 23, 2018

Winter Strikes Again (and again and again)

It's late March, technically spring... but the ground is white from yet another big snow storm. This winter has been hard on us. Less than two weeks ago we were hit with a nasty nor'easter that dumped 25" of wet heavy snow in 6 hours. We lost power for 5 days. Our generator stopped working and we moved in with my dad. Several of our trees and bushes sustained serious damage and I'm not even sure what the full extent of the destruction is yet because it's still buried. And the Friday before that, we had a terrible nor'easter with rain and terrible winds that knocked trees down all over with massive road closures for days. It's crazy.

For me winter is hard enough on its own. I'm a spring/summer person. I struggle with the lack of sunlight and long nights, even with vitamin D and one of those sun lamps. I hate the cold. I feel like I've dealt with enough winter illness already for two lifetimes. The lack of greenery on a gray landscape is depressing. I'm not big on winter sports. Did I mention how much I hate the cold?

This year is different than last year's struggles - last year I would say we had the winter blues on top of continuing challenges - a struggle of endless scary illnesses from daycare and my own struggle with postpartum anxiety. Matthew was seriously sick with some scary things, including being in the hospital twice (and almost hospitalized a third time). I was always so scared, so stressed, so anxious about the kid's health. My own health (I ended up in the hospital for the flu a year ago). Work. Life. Everything. Last winter was hard, it was dark and I was pretty miserable.

But then spring and summer came and those days were just wonderful - the total opposite of the winter we had. As soon as it was April, it was like a switch flipped. We were all in good health, the weather turned warm, the sunshine was invigorating and we spent our days doing fun things again. We pulled Matt out of daycare and got a nanny to break the illness cycle. We started drinking kombucha, taking probiotics and adding a rainbow of vitamins and supplements. We made plans for fun things and were actually well enough to do them. We made small improvements to our house, got things organized, had a good routine going. Spring and Summer were seriously great this past year.

Our fall was good too, though things started to creep in at the edges. A couple of colds for the kids that stressed me out, fearing they were yet another serious illness moving in. Both boys are asthmatics, so even a regular cold means keeping on top of them with asthma medication. Getting up with them in the night when they are coughing  because they can't stop on their own. Stress. Nastier viruses are more serious for them, my boys would qualify for the "complications due to underlying respiratory conditions" caveat. I started dreading the coming winter, fearing a repeat of last year. Georgia got really sick in October and we thought it was the end. A hail-Mary trip to a specialist hospital bought her a few more months and I learned how to give her shots (super fun for someone with a needle phobia). Even though those months were full of a lot of work and stress around her, I'm grateful we had the extra time.

This winter has been tough - not just for being overly long and disastrously snowy, but because we can't seem to catch a break. Hopefully it's almost over because I am SO DONE with it. We do everything we can to keep the kids healthy (probiotics, vitamins, healthy diet, exercise, fresh air outside, plenty of sleep), but of course it's another bad year for illness. December started with the kids catching this terrible cough virus that wouldn't go away (especially bad for asthmatics) - it was so bad the doctor tested them for pertussis and RSV, but it turned out to be a nasty coronavirus. I don't think I slept for 2 weeks. Then we spent our Christmas break with the seasonal flu that's been all over the news (Who gets the flu twice in one year? Thanks 2017!). We skated through January with only one family-wide cold, but then February hit hard with a kindergarten stomach flu epidemic. Which then showed up again in mid-March because the best stomach bugs boomerang (note my sarcasm). And now both kids have another asthmatic cough-cold situation. I miss sleep. When I wake up in the night I get insomnia and stay awake for hours after.

I am grateful  that this year nothing has been serious, because the reality of serious illness and scary diagnoses have hit close to home this year. Our little family unit of 4 is fine, but people we love very much have been going through some really tough things that aren't mine to talk about. But they are in my prayers, I stress, we worry. We are hopeful.

And then Georgia... Georgia continued to decline. Mainly it was the spinal degeneration that was causing her issues, it got worse and worse. She basically needed full time care the last few months of her life. It was tough, it was messy, it was stressful. In the end, it was her time... really more than time, but we just weren't ready. We were never ready. She was our first baby and we're still heartbroken.

Then there's all the usual life stuff, like work stress. Projects, changes, frustrations. The stress of losing power for 5 days in the winter. The generator breaking and requiring fixing. Water pouring through the ceiling light in the kitchen, blowing all the lighting we had in there. We have to do all our dishes and cooking by random lamps we've plugged in. And we still have to fix the dining room light too. Matt threw the ipad into the wash when I wasn't looking and it's toast. Less than two days later he flushed a plastic teacup down the toilet and it took hours for Mike to get it out. He's destroyed 3 sets of blinds upstairs, colored on so many walls. There are so many sticky chocolate fingerprints I can't keep up. Matt's always pressing buttons, turning things on and off, running water in the sinks and leaving them on. He loves to take gross garbage out of the garbage cans, while throwing away things that are definitely not garbage. He's mischievous in a way Ollie never was and keeps us constantly on our toes.

It's why I haven't posted much. It's been chaos. Every week there's something, one after another. And if we have a small quiet break, we're scrambling to try to catch up on one of the million things that still need to get done that keeps snowballing. I'm overwhelmed. There's just too much going on and a lot of it isn't even mine to share. And it's not like it's all bad - there are lots of good things in between the crazy and the chaos. I love our life, I love our family.

We are doing okay though. It's hard and we're salivating for spring at this point, but we are okay. And things should start to turn a corner soon - we are filled with hope. Hope for spring, hope for a break in winter illness, hope for warm weather and gardens and long days of sunshine. Hope for getting back to a normal routine. And in the meantime I'm taking care of our family and myself too. I love to read so I'm making sure I take the time to read every single day. I'm planning the garden. I started bullet journaling. I meditate. We drink kombucha instead of beer or wine. I discovered the glories of subscription prescription night creams.

Things are going to get better. We have a lot of really wonderful things planned for this year. Our fridge is full of invitations to so many happy things coming up - showers, parties, birthdays, weddings. New babies. We have two big family vacations this year. My sister is getting married and I'm her maid of honor. There is so much to look forward to - it's going to be an incredible year. We just need to get past winter - it's overstayed its welcome.

Feb 2, 2018


Last week, Georgia passed away. It was devastating, even if it was time.

My heart is heavy, the house feels empty, we miss her so much. My little companion, always at my side. She has been our baby for over twelve years. She was with us in our first apartment together in the city. The second apartment in the suburbs. This house. She was there for both my pregnancies, the birth of both boys. She would cuddle my pregnant belly, she would bark for me when each newborn cried, she would lay in their bedrooms next to their crib watching over each boy. Georgia always loved babies. And even though she merely tolerated naughty little toddlers and kids, she always helped us put the boys to bed each night.

The only thing she ever wanted was to just be with us. She was the best dog, entirely devoted to her family.

Her slow decline has been a long time coming. We honestly thought we would lose her in October, so we are very grateful for the extra few months together (even if they were hard). Twelve is ancient for a French Bulldog. We knew every day past 10 would be a gift, but honestly it doesn’t make it any easier. She was our first baby, she was family, and we love her so much.

I miss her.

Dec 22, 2017

Wish You a SUPER Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!!!

Dec 20, 2017

Checking In

It's been forever since I've posted, I know. We're okay! I've just been overwhelmed - lots of good things and a few really hard things. You know, real life. Highs and lows mixed into the march of everyday routines.

I just haven't had the bandwidth for blogging, my focus has been elsewhere. And if I do have a break I've honestly been using the time to go to bed early and catch up on sleep. I'm incredibly behind on taking pictures and writing.

We've even been doing a few small projects and improvements - hopefully I'll be ready to pick things back up in January after the holidays and share them. Mike finished the bookshelf in the living room and it looks great. I've continued my organization efforts and worked to keep things organized - it's made a huge difference in keeping our daily routines more manageable. I have my sights set on some new ideas too.

The Christmas season is in full swing around our house and we're feeling truly blessed. Christmas with a 5 year old is like the peak magic stage and we're enjoying it as much as we can. Here's hoping the rest of December is quiet and enjoyable for everyone.

Nov 8, 2017

An Overly Long Story about Fall Reorganizing

Fall. New school year, new schedule, new routines and a lot of things we have had to adapt to as a family. With two months of school under our belts, I need to get things in order to make the house run better, to make our routines run smoother. Everything feels so complicated these days. Life as two working parents with a one year old and a kindergartener is complicated and parts of our day are now MUCH more structured and intense. Weekday mornings I have to have the timing down to a SCIENCE to make it work. I can’t be frantically searching through piles of papers for a missing permission slip. Desperately searching for a missing jacket or realizing the baby has outgrown his socks again when we need to be at the bus stop. And I don’t want to waste precious time picking up more toothpaste when it turns out there was more hidden in the linen closet. Or trying to find batteries over little one's tears when all we wanted was some family time.

I've been on an organizing binge. Having the house reorganized is a great feeling, but the feeling is hard-earned. These tasks don’t do themselves and these things are so easily undone. And it takes a certain amount of uninterrupted time, energy and brainpower to do these chores, you have to think and make decisions.

Areas of focus: the back door in the dining room, the boys’ closets and dressers. The kitchen behind the basement door over the radiator, our “mini office” in the dining room hutch, the basement stairwell, the bathroom linen closet and under sink cabinet. A couple of drawers in the kitchen that grew overcrowded. The storage ottoman and media center drawers. Baskets throughout the house. My dresser, spots in our closet. Basically anything I could think of that needed attention, moving from one thing to the next. Nothing was safe!

The dining room by the back door was a disaster. Nothing about it worked. Piles of stuff in boxes and bins stacked on and under an extra dining chair, a stack of bins next to it. Towels, toys, gear, gardening stuf. A big row of sunscreen bottles on the hutch that wouldn’t fit in the organizer boxes and then bags of things hanging from the hooks out of the kids reach. (Apologies for the lack of "before" photos... I accidentally deleted them off my camera card and there's no going back!)

We moved the chair out and brought in one of the Trovast toy organizers from the playroom (with just white tubs to make it look a little nicer). In it went the surplus sunscreen, the bug spray. The random assortment of things we keep by the back door like citronella candles and twine. A tub just for dog towels at the bottom (no more crate on a chair!). We moved the organizer box on top of the storage unit and in it are the things we want to keep out of the kid’s reach - gardening tools, a torch, etc. On the side we still have the big tub of toys. It’s not beautiful, but it’s functional and works great for little kids. The hooks are once again free to hold things like hats and jackets instead of bags of stuff. This new layout works SO much better. We can find everything, it’s easy to keep organized and everything gets put away. It’s not beautiful or dining room worthy, but it’s functional for the back door and much prettier than the giant pile of clutter that was here before.

In the kitchen you can see our new organizers over the radiator, repurposed shoe cabinets hung on the wall from IKEA. This was a great recommendation from the toy tamer. Fast, easy to install and the perfect size for organizing papers! The top one is for school projects and art projects that come home all the time, once it’s full we’ll go through and pull out our favorites we want to keep and recycle the rest. The bottom is split into two - paperwork for adults (bills, forms, notices, invitations, etc.) and the other side for school/kids (school notices, calendars, forms, etc.). They really are the perfect size for holding and organizing art supplies and paperwork and all that family stuff that usually ends up in piles and cluttering the fridge. And now our fridge is clear for only the most important stuff and the things we actually want to display. Below the new organizers we have the lunch boxes at a height that’s easily accessible to the kids. And we have a new covered recycling container that’s so much better than the bucket we were using the past few years.

(note: now more than ever I'm realizing we REALLY have to do something about the radiator pipe... it's so ugly!)

Upstairs I hit up the boys closets and dressers. I swapped out the boys seasonal clothes. Deciding what to save for next summer in the closets (both boys rooms have small closet dressers that hold clothes for the next season), what to save in the attic for Matthew, what to put together for donation. I pulled out all the fall clothes. Organized the dressers. In the closets we put in the two remaining trovast toy organizers from the playroom, one in each closet, they both fit above their little dressers. Each one holds two big blue bins and we’re using them for outgrown clothes (this happens rather quickly with our tall boys). It works quite nicely and while we do lose some hanging space, in truth we don’t really need it. Both boys hate dressing up and 95% of their wardrobe is play clothes. And our families are pretty casual on holidays too so they don’t need a lot. Every family and kid is different, but this works out great for us.

Elsewhere, the linen closet is reorganized, the dining room “mini office” cabinet is reorganized. The basement stairwell cubby shelf has been cleaned up (clutter seems to land there often). The basement is a complete and total disaster, but I’m taking an “out of sight, out of mind” stance down there for now. Hopefully we have a quieter winter season and I can tackle it when it’s freezing cold out.

One thing that makes me happy about all our reorganization efforts throughout the house is that everything has been rehomed, moved or repurposed and nothing is wasted. From the old couch in the living room that wasn’t working out for us anymore (rehomed to our babysitter’s first apartment) to the bookshelves and toy storage. Even the little red stools that we’ve had since our first apartment - one is now a toy sword bin in the playroom, one is now a multi-layered plant stand for the winter. And we’ve been able to shuffle around containers and baskets and things to make things work better in new locations.

So far it all seems to be working better. Here’s to slightly smoother routines, faster cleanup and keeping our heads above water (at least for now).

Nov 2, 2017

Happy {Belated} Halloween!

Happy Belated Halloween! This year our family dressed as The Justice League at Oliver's request. Oliver was the Flash, Matthew was Superman, Georgia was Aquaman. Wonder Woman and Batman were behind the camera :) We had an amazingly fun night. In fact our family is still recovering because it was such a big event. Our neighborhood goes all-out and we get a TON of kids. I bought extra candy this year and we still almost ran out (my neighbor lost track around 260 kids...). It was really fun, both boys (and us parents) had a blast.

Our house looked very festive and spooky at night. We add a little bit more each year and while we can't compete with our neighbors who go crazy, I think it still looks great. It was a little hard to photograph at night since it's so dark, but it looked good in person. The orange lights on the porch rail look white in the pics, but were orange in real life. We added our rusted old garden trellis pieces in front of the gravestones to give it more of an "old abandoned graveyard" feel, but then had to add a purple lights to keep children from running into it in the dark (or at least that's how I rationalized needing a strand of purple lights at the last minute on sale...). We also added an indoor spotlight last minute in the tree so that the ghosts were visible. Next year maybe we should get a real outdoor spotlight.

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.