Planning a garden

I don’t pretend to have a green thumb.

I’ve killed more than my fair share of plants in my day, which is not exactly the best thing to hear from someone who worked at a flower farm for four summers. But, it’s true; I take a sort of “laissez-faire” approach to gardening and plant-tending, which typically amounts to: “Hey, let’s plant you…here!” *One week later* “Oh hey! You’re still alive! Awesome!”

Still, I’ve had the garden itch for awhile. Growing up, my dad maintained a large garden in our suburban backyard for many, many years, resulting in lots of fresh and canned vegetables at mealtimes (I still hate jarred spaghetti sauce having grown up on my parents’ homemade version). And we didn’t just have some token tomato and pepper plants; we grew corn, broccoli, pumpkins, cucumbers, lettuce, peas, and THREE kinds of peppers. Even though my early to mid-20’s were full of places like college dorms, and apartments, and townhomes with a tiny patio, I have this great urge to try my hand at suburban food production, and like my dad (who would always start flats and flats of seeds in our basement long before spring), I will probably go a bit overboard.

Then, there are the flowers. As I said, I worked at a local flower farm/nursery in high school and college, and I love being around flowers. Flowers seem to be a physical manifestation of happiness and joy in nature, and since those summers spent watering flower pots and rosebushes, I’ve wanted some for my own.

But again, I don’t have the greenest thumb. Stuck with pots and flower boxes at our townhouse, a disappointing number of blooms withered under my watch. Luckily, I was always able to keep some happy mums alive to brighten our doorstep for many months, and I have strange luck with basil. But even had I been a better patio gardener, I was also shy about doling out the big bucks for more plants (fun fact: flowers are expensive).

When we moved into our house last March, planting any kind of garden was low on our priority list. We managed to rake the mulch in our planter beds (and we have A LOT of beds), and keep them weeded all summer. But we definitely didn’t have time to fill them, or think about how we could fill them. Creating a raised bed for vegetables: not in the picture.

This year, our second spring and summer in the house, will hopefully be different. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to get to the vegetable garden – there’s just too many projects that need to be done, and too little money to go around – but I do have plans. Big plans. For one flower garden. Yes, one, but it’s going to be great.

I hope.

I wish I had snapped a “before” picture of this project, because then you would know how truly pathetic this patch of dirt was. This garden was a random, irregularly-shaped bed in the back of the house, next to the backdoor off the back hallway we never use (because there’s a glass door with no glass…but that’s another project). There are four windows that jut up this stretch of brick, two on the first floor, two on the second. But that’s it. It’s just a flat, (off-)white wall. Plus, this is where all our electrical lines connect into the house, not to mention the on/off valve for our sprinkler system, and other various “boxes” that control the do-dads and hee-haws in our house.

It wasn’t very pretty.

That’s why I’m trying to make it pretty. Here’s what I have in mind:

  • I’m going with my some of my favorite primary flower colors: purple and yellow (hues of which happened to be our wedding colors).
  • I need height in the back to add some interest to that wall and hide some of the boxes/wires.
  • This garden is full-on sun except for a short time in the evening, when it hides behind a pine tree during the sunset. I need something that can take some heat and glare.
  • I need something lush and easy, something will come back year after year, which means I’m investing in perennials. This includes:
  • Clematis
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    My parents have a giant clematis by their front door, and it has giant flowers every year, which is why I knew I needed it for its height on my bare white wall. I don’t believe my version will have blue flowers, but light purple ones instead.
  • Phlox (David)
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    This is one of those things you learn working at a flower farm: phloxes are beautiful, hardy perennials, and you learn that the varieties are named after you and your brother! While the Phlox Laura is pretty, I was actually partial to the white Phlox David, which will make one of my little brothers happy. This guy will also be in in the back, providing the height and color.
  • Black-eyed susans
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    My experience is that you can’t kill these bastards, and they grow everywhere. Maybe I will regret this decision in 10 years after the black-eyed susans have completely taken over my backyard, but for now, I need something that fills space and nothing fills space like black-eyed susans!
  • Purple cone flowers
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    This is another plant I may regret in 10 years, as I actually have never been a big fan of purple cone flowers. Specifically, I have always disliked their spiny seed pod things that stick up for weeks and weeks after the petals have died off. However, these are also easy to grow and good for this region. Plus, I want to make my backyard gardens as bird and butterfly friendly as possible, and birds just LOVE these suckers in the fall for the seeds. And I like birds, so there’s that.
  • Coreopsis (sunfire)
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    Coreopsis is just one of those plants that always stuck with me, years after I stopped working at the flower farm. Aren’t they adorable? Plus, they’re a good middle height, produce a lot of pretty yellow flowers, and I just love the sunfire variety.
  • Lavender
    lavenderplant
    This Windows-screensaver-lavender is totally what I anticipate my lavender looking like in a few months (jk). But still, I love purple (always have, always will), and what’s not to love about planting lavender right by your back door? NOTHING. Did I mention that we also have a lavender TREE in our backyard? Yeah, it’s pretty much amazing.
  • Dianthus (pinks)
    Dianthus Tickled Pink 14
    Because they’re just oh-so-cute! My flower garden is allowed to be “cute” right? I’m the only planting it, it can be anything it wants!

Going forward, we’ve made some headway. A few weekends ago, I scraped off the old top layer of soil that had probably been sitting there for years and replaced it with bags and bags of new garden soil. I also ferociously unearthed a rogue mint plant that had randomly set up shop there, a process that resulted in me hitting a sprinkler line with my new super-sharp hoe, creating the need for an emergency Home Depot run. Oops. Then, my awesome, forgiving husband dug a trench around the planter and lined it with pavers. Combined with our brick-paved patio, it almost looks like it was always supposed to be like this.

On the planting front, I’ve got my lavender in + two coropsis + my itty-bitty baby clematis. Aren’t they adorable?

 

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You will be bare and ugly for not very much longer, wall. OK, it has awhile to go, and I still need to get the rest of my plants. Again, SO EXPENSIVE. However,  figure that this perennial garden – provided I don’t kill it – is an investment, not a one-time expense. I’m hoping this garden continues to come back, year and year, lush and thriving, providing just the bit of color our big, nicely-landscaped, but still a little boring yard needs.

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Spring is on its way

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Technically, spring is here. But by “spring in Michigan,” I’m also talking about 30 degrees and snow flurries over the weekend. Oh well – these happy daylilies we transplanted shortly after moving in last year (almost a year ago!) have warmer thoughts on their mind.

House Tour: Our small, bright, colorful kitchen

Because I’m a perfectionist and always have something that I want to do to every room in my house before I consider it “done”, I’ve been hesitant to share pictures of our home for awhile now. Like, we’ve owned it for almost a year-awhile, and I still don’t feel like things will ever be done.

But nevertheless! It’s been nearly a year, and I’m feel pretty good about the house. Like, really good. I never thought a “place” could feel so right – so much an extension of myself – before finding and buying this house. And, now that the decorations and projects are seeing some progress, that feeling is only amplified tenfold. J and I agree that we’re not necessarily overly stylish people, but we both have an eye for a certain aesthetic, we like expressing ourselves through our environment, and we’re both a little obsessed with creating and maintaining a certain sense of place in our home. Like our love for modern art, we do like beautiful things, and we’ve sought to create a place where we can enjoy ourselves, be comfortable, and feel happy.

First, a little background on the house itself and what we’ve done to it. Our house is a 1940 Cape Cod located in a suburb of Detroit. We absolutely love our neighborhood; we feel like we’re a part of a community that knows and looks out for each other, there are sidewalks and old trees that create an archway over the street, and kids (and adults) ride their bikes everywhere. We can walk to a community park or a very active (some might say “hip”) downtown area, where there’s shopping and dining, more parks, our library, coffee shops, etc. Once we have kids, we could walk them to their elementary school. It’s very much the friendly neighborhood vibe I grew up with, but in a slightly more urban, built-up environment. J and I essentially grew up in “the country” in a lot of ways (or, at least, a rural suburb), but now, we’re solidly situated in one of the biggest, most diverse suburban areas in the Midwest. Coming from the slightly-homogeneous southwestern Ohio, it’s something I definitely appreciate (and it’s what I reiterate when I tell folks back home that, Yes, I moved to Detroit, and no, it’s not terrible. Actually, it’s awesome.).

Anyways, back to the house. The house is not the biggest, and we’ll have to be creative with space once we have a family. Luckily, neither J nor I wanted a big house, seeing it as a little excessive (and perhaps a little wasteful) when people insist on having a house that’s much too large for them. We wanted a place where we could live comfortably and easily maintain, with perhaps just enough of a space challenge that we would never be tempted to accumulate a lot of stuff.

The house was a foreclosure in the early 2000’s, but since then, has had two owners that have done significant work to restore and bring the house up to date. We’ve discovered (more than) a few problems since moving in (insulation! garage floor! leaking humidifier!), but overall, the place was in good shape, and aesthetically, quite lovely. I’m talking real hardwood floors throughout (!), a fireplace (!!), a Nest thermostat (!!!), and even a gosh-darned gas stove (be still my heart). Plus, the house has a ton of windows, and all times during the day, it’s just about the sunniest, happiest place on the block.

But being as we’re still perfectionists, I plan on showing you guys some of what we’ve done … slowly. Once I feel things are ready. Some rooms are pretty much where they’re going to be for awhile, but I wanted to start with one of my favorites: the kitchen.

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Soon after moving in, we painted almost the entire first floor a soft gray color (when we moved in, every. single. wall. was white), but we wanted the kitchen to be special. Cue, mint green! J and I had entertained the idea of a purple kitchen at one time, but upon seeing how bright and happy our kitchen was, what with the south facing bay window overlooking the backyard, we knew green was the way to go. Plus, along with gray, blue, orange, and purple, the green sets the foundation for the very bright color scheme we’ve carried throughout the house.

PLUS: in the spring and summer, that green just carries you out into the green backyard. And in the early spring, that decorative plum tree right outside the kitchen window blooms a million, tiny purple flowers. It is just about magical.

The cart above came from Wayfair. I spent months searching for a kitchen island that would match the cabinets (white) and countertops (black granite), and I’m so glad I waited, because this piece looks like it was meant to be there. Added bonus: on sunny days, the sun shines directly onto the island surface, meaning it’s a great place to quickly defrost frozen meat, or let bread dough rise.

Did I mention that the kitchen is small? Oh yes, small. It’s more space than we had at our last place, but the counter- and cabinet-space is just as limited. Here’s a look at how we’ve coped.

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This is about all the counter space we have, not counting the addition from the new island. You can see what I mean by small. Still, I’ve tried to keep the countertops as free of “stuff” as possible, and am a little crazy about keeping them neat and clean. Also, I love the white and black color scheme that was already in the kitchen, and so it’s awesome we didn’t have to do anything. Plus, it goes great with green!

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We only recently moved the coffee maker and espresso machine over to this side of the counter, and I don’t know why we didn’t do it before, because what with the coffee mugs in the cabinet above, it’s meant to be. Plus, we keep our coffee in the same cabinet, right next to the mugs, so it’s really a one-stop spot for your caffeine fix. Also, the random metal tree sculpture-thingy I bought from Urban Outfitters on clearance five years ago is still paying decorating dividends.

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The other side of the counter. If you do not own a giant canister to hold your flour, you need to stop what you’re doing and go buy one right now. Well, if you bake a lot, that is, like I do. If you can, place it just so next to your cherry red Kitchenaid that you received as a wedding present, and just get ready to make ALL the cookies. That black thing to the right is a slate cheese board that I “decoratively” lean against the wall to provide a tad more of a back splash. Eventually,  J and I plan on putting in some kind of back splash, but we can’t seem to agree on what tile we like. I know…married life.

pantry

This pantry, on the other side of the kitchen and next to the door, represents all the food storage we have, in addition to what’s in the fridge. FACT: countertop-style fridges are actually smaller inside than they appear. Fitting food inside is not the easiest.

I’m very proud of my pantry organization efforts, as I’ve worked my tail off to cull as much unnecessary packaging as possible, utilize the fancy glass food canisters from Target, and organize everything based on how I cook. Thanks to the former homeowner, the drawers slide out, so that helps save space and makes it so we can pack quite a bit in that one cabinet.

Also, not fully in the picture, but in the quite large cabinet above the fridge, I’m able to store our food processor, spice grinder, blender, and crockpot. When I realized I could fit all those appliances in the kitchen – and not have to store them in the basement, like at our old place – it was the BEST DAY EVER.

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We’re in the kitchen all the time. We make dinner at home nearly every night, I love to bake, and I try to make as many “staple” pantry items that I can from scratch. It was important that the kitchen feel happy and clean, but also organized and efficient. It IS a small space, though there is room for a major renovation if we wanted to. However, just as in other parts of my life, I believe in using what you have, and only having what you need, and I’ve tried to implement that theme throughout the house.

I hope you liked it! 🙂

Oh, and PS: Mr. Bennet wants you to know that he too also matches the black/white color scheme going on in the kitchen. Because obviously, we design our lives around our tuxedo cat.

 

Creating a kitchen chalkboard + my favorite pantry recipes

You know, sometimes I just amaze myself with what one can actually accomplish when one goes from simply staring at Pinterest projects, to actually doing them.

That was the short origin story of my latest, around-the-house, improvement-type project: a chalkboard for my kitchen pantry. And get this, guys: I was super creative and did all this using … you guessed it … chalkboard paint. I mean, no one has EVER thought of this before, right??

Wrong! But that’s OK, because even if this project was not highly creative or revolutionary, it did work! And I was able to complete the bulk of the work during an afternoon, followed by a week of waiting and touch-ups.

The time I had to find the painters tape. It was hard.

The time I had to find the painters tape. It was hard.

After The Painting, I carefully removed the painters tape, only to discover that I left the tape on too long, and it took away annoyingly large chunks of paint with it. Drat! Touch-ups were required.

After The Painting, I carefully removed the painters tape, only to discover that I left the tape on too long, and it took away annoyingly large chunks of paint with it. Drat! Touch-ups were required.

After four days of waiting for the chalkboard to set up, I was able to write on it. Success!

After four days of waiting for the chalkboard to set up, I was able to write on it. Success!

Inscribed on my new pantry chalkboard are two handy spots for us to write the food stuffs we need for the pantry + fridge, plus some of my most favorite, most frequently-used pantry recipes that I can never remember, and am thus left Googling “taco seasoning” every. time. I thought this board might be a good place keep track of those recipes, and they are! We made Asian Noodles the evening after completing this project, and hey! I didn’t have to find the recipe on Pinterest, I just looked over my shoulder into the pantry! A win for all!

I thought I’d share these lovely recipes, as they are a lifesaver. The taco seasoning and granola bar recipes are two of my favorite “staples” to make, not buy. They’re SO easy, and the ingredients are things I always have on hand, so it doesn’t make sense to buy them ever again. Plus, we eat a lot of Mexican food, and these granola bars are one of our favorite snacks to have on hand, so it’s good to have these recipes in a convenient spot.

Taco Seasoning (originally from AllRecipes.com)

  • 1 tbl chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Chewy Granola Bars (originally from My Kitchen Escapades)

  • 2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup crispy cereal
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 butter
  • 1/4 honey
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix together oats, cereal, and coconut. Set a small saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the honey, brown sugar, and salt. Stir and leave it alone as it comes to a boil. Once it starts to boil, leave it for 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla off the heat, then pour the mixture over the oats. Mix the ingredients until the oats are completely coated. Mix in whatever goodies you want (our favorites are just peanut butter, or peanut butter and chocolate chips).

Finally, what we call “Asian Noodles” are actually the Pioneer Woman’s Simple Sesame Noodles, and this is probably the most-made, weeknight dinner at our house. It’s SO easy and delicious, and we love making this alongside these sweet and spicy tofu nuggets, though this is good all by itself, or as a side dish to whatever asian-inspired meat dishes you so desire. Now, I always remember the ingredients I need for this recipe, but I have the hardest time remembering proportions. Not anymore!

Asian Noodles

  • 12 oz thin noodles (cooked and drained) – we use two packages of ramen
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbl sugar
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tbl rice vinegar
  • 3 tbl pure sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp hot chili oil
  • 4 tbl canola oil (though I sometimes just do 2-3 tbl, as this recipe always seem to make too much “juice” for our noodles)
  • Green onions for topping (optional)

Whisk all the ingredients together, dump in your cooked noodles, and eat. Top with siracha to make it extra delicious.

Homemade, and inexpensive, art

We’ve been in our house for almost 9 months now, and while most of the simple decorating is done (paint on the walls, basic furniture pieces), there’s still an arena where I feel we’ve been horribly lacking: hanging pictures.

Mannnn, is that a pain in the butt. First, you have to agonize over what you want to hang. Picture we already have, vs. buying something new? Do we buy something cheap at Ikea or Target just to fill space, or do we wait to buy a legitimate piece of art that will require thought, patience, and time spent searching? How long do we bear empty walls??

Then, where do we hang it? Should we do a collage of mirrors over the buffet, or should we do something else? How do we fill this big empty wall in the guest bedroom that will, most likely, remain big and empty? If we might have to switch master bedrooms once we have a family, do we want to spent too much time hanging pictures in those two rooms, even if that’s a year or more away?

All that agonizing aside, I do think that hanging artwork and pictures should be a slow, personal experience. I think the art on your walls should reflect you, and your tastes, in a big way, and no one wants to have an Ikea/Target personality. We waited months before finishing the collage of pictures that now hang behind our couch because it was missing one, large piece to anchor the collection. I wanted that piece to mean something, and so we waited until my birthday in September, when J got me a print of Gustav Klimt’s “Tannenwald I” from the MOMA Store. It’s beautiful, fits perfectly with our decor and personalities, and reflects our love of modern art. I’m so glad we waited.

But still, sometimes you need something quick. Luckily, J is quite the talented amateur photographer, and has slowly been printing his best photos and framing them for the house. We still have more to frame, but things are currently coming along nicely.

A photo of the GM Tech Center in Warren, MI, during a gorgeous sunrise. Taken with J's iPhone!

A sunrise over suburban MI.

This is J's favorite photo that he took during our Europe honeymoon, depicting the tiniest orange car squeezing through an alleyway in Montmartre, in Paris.

This is J’s favorite photo that he took during our European honeymoon, depicting the tiniest orange car squeezing through an alleyway in Montmartre, Paris. Both these photos hang in our upstairs hallway, and will soon be joined by another Parisian pic of some colorful Vespas.

I’ve also joined the Pinterest- and Etsy-inspired bandwagon of “quote art”. To be fair, I created my first piece of “quote art” years ago after seeing a print of a song quote during a house tour on DesignSponge. I thought: “I have paint, and canvas….I can do that!” I created that first piece as a present to J, and then finished my second as 2-year anniversary present this past October. They now hang in our bedroom.

Obviously, they're homemade. But they were cheap and easy!

Obviously, they’re homemade. But they were cheap and easy!

How to make an inexpensive couch look like it costs $2,000

When we bought our house, we knew we would have to buy some furniture. We are lucky to have a lovely living space with a fireplace and a giant window facing out front, as well as a sunken area off the dining room leading to the backyard. We’re using the sunken area (which is really an enclosed breezeway) as our “den” (for lack of a better word) and TV room, leaving the living room to our bookshelves, the fireplace (can’t wait to use it this winter!), and what would hopefully be our “nicer” furniture.

Except, in our former place, we only had room for one couch and one chair, so that was the extent of our living room furniture collection. We knew we needed more, including a very important addition – a new couch.

Among J and I’s many back-and-forths on how to decorate our new home, the couch was a long contested one. We both wanted something of the mid-century modern aesthetic, although I insisted that it had to be comfortable. And while we both love fancy-spancy furniture from West Elm and Crate & Barrel, we couldn’t justify to ourselves spending thousands of dollars on a couch, nor did we want to enter one of those payment plans at the big furniture stores. With the exception of our cars and this house, J and I pay cash for nearly everything, and so whatever couch we wanted had to be in our new house budget, and it couldn’t blow said budget so as to prevent us from buying anything else (which is good, because we’ve had to buy a lot).

Enter Ikea. I’m hot-and-cold on Ikea furniture. On one hand, I love it. Almost every single one of our bookshelves is from Ikea, and I just love them. We’ve also been really happy buying our dining room table, coffee and end tables, desk, dining room side table…you get the picture: most of our house is furnished by Ikea. But not our first couch, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go the Ikea-route with this new one as well. We’ve tried out the couches at Ikea many a time, and have never been impressed. Almost every trip we’ve taken over the years, I’ve plopped my behind on this couch or another, wondering, “Do I like it now?” Because gosh darn it, those couches were inexpensive!

At some point, we settled on the idea of buying from Ikea, specifically their Karlstad sofa. The problem was, J wanted the black leather version, namely because the back cushions are tufted and have a nice mid-century modern look to them. I…was not on board with the black leather sofa idea. And so the backs-and-forths began.

Then, I did some sleuthing online and was inspired. Let’s buy the grey cloth sofa, I said, and look at what we can do to it! Look at how awesome it looks! It can still be mid-century and modern, but just without…the black leather part. As in all good marriages, there was compromise and the rest was history.

And so, now, this is how you turn a $500 basic grey Karlstad sofa into something that looks like it could cost $2,000 – for less than $100:

Before:

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After:

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How do you do it? Simple:

  • Tuft the cushions! Specifically, convince your mother-in-law to tuft your cushions for you because she’s a seamstress who knows how to upholster. Score! For this, we bought a pillow case in this grey fabric. J’s mom already had the buttons. Total cost: $20.
  • Get new legs! I’m sure there are other options out there, but we ordered our new legs through Uncle Bob’s Workshop, who handily advertises that yes! they make replacement legs for Ikea sofas. Awesome. It’s important to make sure you find the right replacement legs when it comes to Ikea furniture since most are screw-in. We ordered a nice brown wood, although there are lots of options, to match the legs on our other chairs. The downside was that poor Uncle Bob got super busy after we ordered our legs, and it took more than two months for them to arrive. Sigh. Total cost: around $40.

And that’s it! We still need some new pillows, but I think the end result looks like it could cost up to $2,000. Very happy.