Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Garden planning 2014

This is the time of year when I start to get antsy for spring. Now that Christmas is over and the new year is rolling around, I'm ready to start sowing seeds and watch new growth.

I have a couple of goals for the garden this year, and while I'll be plenty busy with school in the spring months, I'm confident that I can make these happen. Here are some of my garden goals for the new year:

  • Use more heirloom and open-pollinated seeds
  • At the end of the season, save those heirloom seeds for next year!
  • Use up old seeds from years past 
  • More freezing and canning. I froze a lot of green beans, and a few tomatoes after stewing them, but that was as far as it went.
  • Plant more mosquito-repelling herbs and flowers
  • Plant more bee and butterfly-attracting herbs and flowers
  • Find some new recipes to use more of the harvest
  • Get some more grass growing in the backyard
Those are some hefty goals, but I think they will make a big difference in my family's lifestyle and budget. Do you set goals for your garden regarding output, use, or environmental impact? I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Newest addition: a dishwasher!

Merry belated Christmas! I hope you all have been doing well the last couple months. Things have been INSANELY busy here between school and work, so I made the executive decision to put home improvement projects and the blog on hold until I got to Christmas break. Anywho, to the topic at hand...

We knew when we bought our house that we would be washing dishes by hand for a while. Not only was there no dishwasher, there wasn't even a place to install one! This is our kitchen when we moved in.

No dishwasher...that blank space to the left of the sink is where a refrigerator originally resided.

This routine of washing dishes by hand was fine for a while. I never had a dishwasher in my college days in Boston, but as often as we cook and entertain, handwashing every dish has been pretty cumbersome. It is by far the chore that we spend the most time on. My poor, wonderful mother-in-law washed every dish from Thanksgiving dinner for five people and it took forever, even with another person drying and putting away as we went.

Since I've gone back to school, my husband (who is also wonderful) has been doing most of the dishes because he has been home so much more than me, but he is starting school in January as well! So with BOTH of us in school and working, we decided what we really wanted for Christmas was a dishwasher. The consensus was that it would make our lives WAY easier, and would free up a lot of study (and fun) time for both of us. Well, thanks to a very generous gift from my parents, we finally have a dishwasher!

We decided to go with a Bosch for its low volume and efficiency. However, before it could be installed, I had to build a place to install it!

Since we aren't ready to tackle a remodel yet, we decided that a temporary box made of plywood would be fine. Just something to keep the dishwasher from walking across the room. Since the sales guy from the appliance store gave me a diagram with the dimensions of the dishwasher and surrounding box, This was pretty easy. I picked up a couple pieces of plywood and a 1x2 from Home Depot, and had the nice man in the lumber department cut the plywood to size. I think everything cost about $40. I painted the plywood so that it was waterproof. Next, I cut the 1x2's into the correct lengths to be used for supports. Lastly, I installed the plywood by screwing it into the 1x2's, using a level to make sure nothing turned out crooked. This is what I ended up with.

Oh, and I also later added a shim under the front of the vertical piece to hold it steady, since there wasn't a good way to attach it to the tile. I did try drilling through the tile to add a bracket to the floor, but the tile bits kept losing their pointed heads. Has anyone else had that happen?

Anyway, when the guys came to deliver and install the dishwasher, they had to drill a hole at the back corner of the cabinet to run a water line. They also had to work some plumbing magic and install a split valve under the sink and drill a hole through the horizontal plywood to run the electrical cord (I discovered too late that there is no electrical box under the sink). Here is the final result...


We are eventually planning to rip out (at least) everything from the countertops down and start over, so this is definitely a cheap temporary solution, but we have a dishwasher! Life is better already.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Remembering that it Never Hurts to Ask

My dad always told me that the worst thing people can tell you is "no" when you ask for things (this applies to jobs, prices, auditions....really anything). I was reminded today.

I set up an appointment for an exterminator to come out and do a yearly spray for bugs some time ago. They are the same people we used last year, and we found them through a deal on LivingSocial. I was hoping to see another deal from them this year, but so far, no dice. However, after I set up the appointment, a deal came up for another extermination company (for about $20 cheaper than our exterminator's normal price).

I hemmed and hawed about calling up the exterminator we were already using to ask them to match the price. I shouldn't have worried. They called me up just this morning to ask if they could come at a different time. I used that phone call (and my willingness to be flexible) to ask them (very politely) about matching the deal. The answer? "Sure! Why not?"

And that, friends, is why it never hurts to ask.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Music Room: still plugging away...kind of

So I posted these pictures of the music room as it stands today in my post about what we've accomplished this year.

And then I realized I hadn't given any sort of update after painting the floors! *face palm*

If you look at that post, you'll notice I had already painted the walls and ceiling....well, mostly anyway. Can I just go ahead and admit that I'm STILL not done painting in here? *another face palm*

It seems like I got the bulk of the painting done (the walls and ceilings) and lost steam. I've caulked painted about half of the trim. I still have some touch ups to do around the tops of the walls. I got one coat of paint up in the closet....and it's just sat like that...for a couple months now! Obviously, I've done other things in that time, but this painting project is still staring me in the face.

Does this happen to anyone else? It's not like I don't want to finish in here....believe me....I would love to wash my hands and call this room officially D.O.N.E., but I think I'm suffering from remodel fatigue. I've spent the past nine months doing this by myself (hubs has been deployed)....and even though it makes me really proud when I go back and think about all the work I've done this past year with my own hands, I think about everything that's still left to be done and it just stresses my out sometimes.

Whine....snivel.....ok I'm done. Yoga breathing....one foot in front of the other is how things get done.

Anyone else lose steam in the middle of a project and leave it sitting for months? What do you do to get over the hump?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The First Year

It's been a year (as of this past week) since we moved into this house, and man, have things come a long way! I thought I'd use this week's post to take a look at all the changes that we've made. Obviously, we're not done (is anyone ever "done" with their house?), but I have to say, we've accomplished quite a lot! Warning....this is kinda long.

This is the front of the house when we moved in...obviously taken by the realtor during the winter...

And here it is as it looks today.

You can see we chopped down that odd looking lollipop tree (to let more light into the living room) and added more in the way of landscaping. Oh, and here is what replaced the garage door, since it is no longer a garage.

I love the cedar shake framing the door. Still trying to figure out a good place for the trash cans...hmmmm....moving on to the back of the house!

Here's the before...

And the now (I wouldn't really call it an after).

You can't see in the picture above that I've painted the back doors. Better pictures are coming!

You can see in the one above the new shed and garden boxes.

If you stepped inside the front door the day we moved in, this is what the living room looked like.

And as it looks today

Huge improvement, no? Those built-ins make a HUGE difference in the functionality of this room. I still have some playing around to do with the furniture arrangement on this side of the couch, but this room has come a long way!

Here's the kitchen before...

and now.

Obviously we haven't done much in here besides changing the appliances and painting the walls.

Here's the dining room. Lots of knotty pine....oh my, that was a lot of knotty pine...

And here's now it looks now.

I'm still in love with the Ikea light fixture in here. And I love the way this paint looks in the natural light coming in from the sliding doors.

This might be the biggest change so far....the garage....or what used to be the garage...

...and is now my music room. What a difference! It's easy to forget this room was ever a garage.

The master bedroom also looks pretty different. Here it is before...

And now. Glad that it's bright and airy...and not dead body beige anymore. Still need to add a closet though.

This is the guest bedroom as it looked when we moved in. Almost exactly the same as the master. Boring.

And now. Could be a whole different room and is so cozy!

Our crazy fiesta bathroom is still crazy and fiesta-like (yes...there are still sunflowers in the sink)...

But it looks a little more cohesive now with it's dramatic green walls, white curtain, and new light fixture. It's liveable now until we save our pennies to redo this room. In the meantime, it can induce all the giggles it likes.

Lastly, the basement. Aka...the man cave. Here it is when we moved in.

Still very cave-like (which, I suppose, is the point of a "man cave" haha), but much more comfortable.

Anyone else celebrating their "house-iversary"? Any cool before and current pictures? It amazes me what we've been able to accomplish in just a year to make this house our home!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lesson Learned and a Little Rearranging

Last year, when my (now former) voice teacher and his wife gave us lots of pass-along plants to fill in my bare flower beds, I just plunked everything in the ground and hoped for the best. I didn't do any research, and I didn't really consider how they would fill in, what things would look like during the winter (bare) or how far they should be from the house.

During a conversation a couple months ago with my great aunt, I heard the term "foundation plant" for the first time. As she explained it, a foundation plant is one that is okay to plant near the foundation of a house because its roots are not invasive (aka: the roots won't grow into the foundation of the house, thereby ruining the foundation).  It also usually has a more compact growth habit, rather than something flowy or fountain-like. The other cool thing about this conversation: my 90-year-old great aunt walked around the house at the farm with my parents (the one that my grandfather built) and identified every bush and flower, making note of which were foundation plants and which were not.

This conversation made me wonder if the forsythia bushes I planted at the back of the flower beds (near the house) were foundation plants (if you squint, you can see the small leafy bushes in the back row).

I hopped on Google and started searching away, and, of course, forsythia are most definitely not foundation plants. Fortunately, they hadn't been there all that long, so I don't think any damage was done.

Around the same time I dug up that tidbit of information, my friend Patrick (who is a master gardener) mentioned to me that the red bud (in the pic above, it's on the far right with the heart shaped leaves) needed to be moved soon. See, when I planted it, I thought it was a shrub. WRONG. It's definitely a tree. Pat's comment was "Yeah...you know that seven foot tall tree by our driveway? That's a red bud."

So I started brainstorming places to put four-five forsythia and a small-ish tree. Fortunately, it didn't take long. I decided to put the red bud in the opposite corner from the hybuscus at the front of the yard. Here she blows, a little peeked looking, but otherwise none the worse for wear. Please ignore the downed mailbox in the background. That is a story for another day.

As for the forsythia, on the other side of our driveway, is a narrow strip of grass that is constantly forgotten. It always seems like a waste to restart the lawnmower just to mow the 3 foot wide section of grass, but it has to be done. I decided to forgo the issue and plant a forsythia hedge.

Once these fill in, I don't think we'll have to mow over here any more, but I am considering putting down weed cloth and mulch, just to be sure.

Once I got everything moved, I was left with this...and a similar situation in the other front flower bed.

Needing ideas, I took this picture, along with a few others, up to Bates Nursery (they are a local, family-owned nursery about 10 minutes away). One of the employees tossed out a couple of ideas once he'd seed the pictures and heard the description of sun, but told me that before I made any decisions, I should go home, measure the beds and the window heights above them, and come back with a rough sketch of what I'm working with. Here's what I came up with. Obviously my musical talents don't translate to the visual arts.

Armed with the sketches, I went back to Bates, where a second (and very helpful) employee helped me choose plants, figure out how many I needed, and helped me figure out a layout for both front beds. I only left with shrubs for the left bed that day...partially for budgetary reasons (three shrubs were $100) and partially to break up the work for myself.

Since there is a gardenia to the right of the front stairs, I decided to mirror that on the left. Bates didn't have exactly the same kind of gardenia, but they helped me pick out one that has similar foliage (Kleim's Hardy). The only noticeable difference is that the flowers on the new one are single, instead of double flowers.

To contrast the gardenia in the left bed, I also picked out a Georgia Petite Indian Hawthorn. It has lovely blue green leaves that look a little bit waxy, and it blooms small white flowers in the spring.

Has anyone else been rearranging their garden? Planting shrubs? Digging holes is hard work! Oh well, hopefully I'll get lovely toned arms out of it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My Weekend Excursion

I went home to SC this past weekend to see my baby brother graduate high school. He's the last of the three of us, and is nine years younger than me. He was pretty excited (as he should be), and is looking forward to college in the fall.

Because my parents are getting ready to move (hopefully for the last time) to the farm that belonged to my grandparents, they have been faced with the task of combining two (large) houses worth of stuff into one. Thus, one of my tasks while I was at home was to go through my room, figure out what I really wanted to keep, and separate the rest to be given away to friends, donated, trashed, etc.

Truth be told, I really didn't have all that much left at my parents house. I haven't really lived in their house since high school (two moves ago for them), and I moved almost all of my books, clothes, personal items, furniture to Nashville when I graduated college. That being said, I was surprised at how much stuff I still had there.

Among the odds and ends, a few things I found:
  • my notes from AP calculus....taken my senior year in high school
  • lots of dolls (maybe that makes me weird, but I have an aunt who used to send me dolls, and I loved playing with them when I was a kid)
  • love letters from my high school boyfriend
  • all the cards I got for my high school graduation
  • every solo/ensemble adjudication sheet, music award, recital program and school award I ever got
  • a few evening gowns, a foxtail cape (that was my grandmothers), various other formalwear
Now, remember how I said I hadn't really lived in my parents house since high school? We moved two weeks after I graduated, and I guess I never had a chance to go through my stuff. Then, it all got moved again when my parents moved after my freshman year in college.

In the end, I brought home a desk (for the music room, particularly needed since I will be full time in grad school in the fall), all the dresses and formal coats, a few books, sewing patterns, some art that I had stashed away there and a few other odds and ends. I left three small boxes of stuff that I can get next time I go to visit.

Maybe I'm weird, but this task didn't draw up strong emotions for me. I guess I've moved so many times that I don't have any strong attachment to the house itself, and since I have my own home now, it seems right to me that my stuff should be in it.

Have you completely cleaned out your room at your parents house? Was it really emotional, or did it just feel like a task that needed to be done?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

State of the Vegetable Garden, May 2013

Whew! I know I haven't written about gardening lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been toiling away! So here's a post to catch you all up. Warning: it's long!

The seeds I had leftover from last year, and the ones that I ordered have all been started, and I've got some of the seedlings planted in the garden boxes. Sadly, not all of them yet though!

Just in the past couple days, the garden has seen great improvement! I spent a good bit of the day planting herbs (sage and basil) in pots to put around the retaining wall

The rhubarb was already there, but I have plans to make strawberry rhubarb pie next weekend!

And my ever-helpful buddy Patrick came over to help me build another garden box, so now I have three, and we have plans to build another one on Monday! We were going to build both yesterday, but ran out of light by the time we got the first one finished.

Oh! and may I introduce my newest garden helper? Meet Betsy Lou.

She is a sweet, young (only a year and a half) rescue. I have been fostering dogs for an East Nashville rescue called East C.A.N. and was fostering Betsy for them, but the hubs and I talked, and we decided she's home :-) Seger loves having a little sister (even if she is MUCH bigger than him...she's 70 lbs!!) and the two of them spend lots of time in the backyard running and playing.

Ok....back to gardening....I harvested my first crop of peas yesterday. Those are going gangbusters. They've actually grown taller than the trellis.

 You can see where I've planted some lettuce. It's not very big yet, and it looks like it maybe got dog smashed....*sigh*

These are the lemon tree tomatoes (not all of them....there are more planted elsewhere, and still to be planted!). 

These (to the left) are trionfo violetto beans. Even their stalks are purple! I can't wait to see what they look like as they get a little bigger.

These (to the right) are a variety of onion sent home with me by Patrick. I guess they grow onions at the top of the plant as well as growing them as a root. My mom says they might be Egyptian walking onions....anyone know for sure?

Bonus shot of the garden box layout. I think the fourth one is going to end up on the far end of the line. Eventually I'd like to have a total of eight, but we'll see what happens!

The blueberry bush has gotten a lot bigger, and is already putting on berries. Hopefully I'll have a good crop this year.

In the retaining wall bed, I planted various herbs and flowers that are coming up. There's dill....

....and sage....

...and nasturtiums....

....and I think these might be asiatic lilies. Not sure yet. I kept pulling them last year because I thought they were weeds, but I'm pretty sure someone actually put these here on purpose haha.

 The tea rose is putting on buds. The ones in front have already finished their first round of blooms and are getting ready for a second. Doesn't this one look like it's ready to burst open?

Oh, and I keep waiting and waiting for the garlic to be ready to pull. I thought it was supposed to be ready in the spring, but I also know you aren't supposed to pull it till the leaves die, so I guess I'll keep waiting....

I dug up this spot just this morning to plant the faerie watermelon, and a few sunflowers. I have a lot more digging to do to plant all those sunflower seeds though!

 My lemon balm has come back with a vengeance! I'm seeing more cocktails in my future....maybe a jelly? Anyone have any ideas??

This mint was, I think, accidentally passed along to me by my voice teacher and his wife. They gave me a bunch of flowers to put in my flower beds out front, but I'm not sure if this was supposed to be in there or not! It looks a little sad right now....probably because it's a clump of dirt sitting on dry leaves (need to fix that), but knowing how hardy mint is, I think it'll be alright until I can get my hands on some more potting soil.

Oh, and here are the first of my container tomatoes. I need to prop it up with something....hmmmm....

Kudos to you if you seriously just read all that. How is your garden looking? Did you plant anything super neato/unusual this year?