28 May 2011

Garden Update: Pots, Pots, Pots

Last week I finally planted my patio and front step pots. I'd purchased the plants several days prior but rainy weather kept me from finishing this task.

I started by scrubbing out all the pots and getting them ready to be planted. This task really should have been done in the fall! Once clean, I filled them full of potting soil.

Next I checked out a few websites looking for design ideas. One helpful idea was to choose three types of plants -- "thrill" (something tall and
eye catching), "fill" (plants to fill the space), and "spill" (a trailing plant which will extend over the side of the pot). With this concept in mind, I combed the greenhouses and purchased several plants. This step involved a couple of return trips since I underestimated how much space I needed to fill. I don't like skimpy looking pots, nor am I patient enough to wait for small plants to fill in over the summer, so I tend to overfill my pots!

This year I added a few new colors to the patio pots. Instead of sticking with pink and purple, I added orange and yellow flowers for a more "tropical" feel. I also lucked out and found large zinnia plants which completely filled two pots. I like the look of a single type of flower in a pot and this option ended up being cheaper than buying several smaller plants.

Another website suggested "dressing" the tops of the pots with mulch. Maybe it's not a new concept but it was new to me. Supposedly it helps retain moisture and it certainly improves the overall appearance.

While I was working on the patio pots, I also planted the two pots I use on the front step and re-potted several houseplants into new or larger pots. Hopefully they'll be set in their new pots for the next few years.

With all of this potting and re-potting, I was definitely ready to be done with this task! Now we'll see how all of my patio pots hold up to a hot and humid Iowa summer!

27 May 2011

Feline Friday: CAT VAC!

Todai mi mommi tryed a differnt kind of brush on meee....a vakkume!

I knowed about dis ting becuz I seed her play wif it on da floor. Tinsul haytes it--she runz wen shee heers da noyze but I haf been kuriuss about it for a long tyme.

So I finalie letted mi mommie brush me wif da soft brush. It sucked up mi furs!

Mommi wuz so eccited she runned to get da kamra! I never seed her so eccited about vakkumeen!

Luv, Lily

24 May 2011

Front Gardens in Mid May

It's amazing how quickly plants fill in once the weather starts to warm up! Last week we had several rainy days but this week has brought nothing but sun. My plants are finally looking good!

I've been working on our front garden with hope that it will get to the point where I can sort of ignore it for the rest of the summer while I tend to other problem areas. In looking over this spring's photos, I'm pleased with how the front garden is progressing.

I took this photo in mid April, after I had cleaned out the bed and covered it with a fresh coat of mulch. Not much was happening at that point.

By early May, the plants were up and the ground cover (Chinese dwarf astilbe) was finally spreading. This ground cover took a few years to get established, but now I'm finally pleased with how it looks for the most part. I will say that without significant watering, it will dry up and look like it's been hit with weed killer. It needs a little bit more shade than we have right now in this bed, since we lost a mature tree a few years ago.

And here is what the garden looks like today. The ground cover is filling in well, and the hostas are finally opening up. Last week, I added a few annuals (begonias -- not my favorite but they do well in this garden) to fill in the gaps.

The Japanese maple tree (our second replacement tree) is now on its third summer and FINALLY looks alive. I hope we can remove that ugly stake one of these days.

Other than the fact that Spouse got a little carried away with his Round-Up duties and sprayed a few perennials he thought were weeds (the perennials --not Spouse! -- have since been replaced!), I'm happy with how this area is looking. I'm striving for a woodland garden feel -- not too formal and with a variety of texture and color.

Here is the area along the front of the house as you approach the above garden. We brought the hostas with us from our old house many years ago and you can see that they are doing well, but they're long past due for dividing. This area also includes a huge patch of Lily of the Valley (one of my favorite woodland plants!) and a vinca ground cover which has finally taken off after several years of limping along. The large bush in the foreground is an oak leaf hydrangea which will be beautiful when it blooms later this summer. The leaves grow to the size of dinner plates!

With these areas at least somewhat under control, I'm finally focusing on the back gardens. It seems that a novice gardener's work is never done...but that's OK with me!

21 May 2011

Extreme Before and After: Chair

It seems like I've had several "before and after" posts of late. I hope that means that we're making progress these days on some long-overdue projects.

As you can see, this chair was in dire need of reupholstering. In addition, the wood was bare in some places and it wobbled precariously when in use. Since it belonged to my great grandma, I finally decided to spend the money and have it completely re-worked.

And here is the finished chair, looking almost new!

Around here, reupholstering furniture seems to be a lost art. After spending some time at the local shop, I came to appreciate the artistry involved in restoring old furniture. The gentleman who refinished it for me does impeccable work. He completely re-built the chair, replaced the cushions, and added extra details to the upholstery.

I'm very glad I had this family heirloom restored.

20 May 2011

Feline Friday: Lily's Trip to the Vet

Among a few other activities, this week marked Lily’s check-up at the vet. True to form, she parked herself inside her carrier and, by the time we had to leave, had made a little nest in her soft pink towel and was sleeping peacefully. Drowsily she rode along next to me, looking all the while like she was enjoying the outing until…

...WE TURNED THE CORNER TO THE VET'S OFFICE. Like a bullet, Lily sat straight up and began to cry that piteous “I KNOW WHERE YOU’RE TAKING ME!” cry that cat people know all too well.

Little did I know that things were only going to get WORSE.

While waiting for our appointment, I could see a man approaching the office carrying a pillow case pinched tight at the top. Just before he came through the door, he lifted the bag and kissed it. Yes, he kissed it.


I knew what was in that bag -- and it certainly wasn't a kitten.

Of all the places to park himself, the guy sat down on the bench NEXT TO ME. Well, next to Lily (still in her carrier). I glanced over at the bag resting in his lap and saw it writhe. He lifted the pillow case high, as if he WANTED me to ask him about it.

I felt the blood drain from my body. I am DEATHLY afraid of snakes and here sat one next to me, loosely corralled in flowered fabric.

“HEHEHEHE” he laughed maniacally (okay, I had now stereotyped the guy as some kind of raving lunatic). “He’s more active than he’s been all day!”

I took the bait. Smiling weakly, I asked, “So what is it that you have there?”

“Oh, he’s just a little corn snake.”

JUST A LITTLE CORN SNAKE! I don't care if it's a MICROSCOPIC corn snake! The fact remains that it's a SNAKE and it's next to me! Not locked in a box, but loose in a pillow case! (Of course, I didn't say any of those things because that would have been rude. Instead I tried to smile pleasantly.)

He peeked into the bag and laughed again. I could feel in my gut that he was on the verge of fishing the snake out to show me. In an effort to look busy, I whipped out my phone and texted Daughter: "AT VET - SNAKE IN BAG NEXT TO ME" and received her immediate response: "OMG! RUN! RUN! RUN!" Her fear of snakes probably surpasses my own.

Thankfully I was spared further torment because at that moment, they called Lily back to the exam room. Such was my fear that I was transformed momentarily into a Bad Cat Mom, using Lily's carrier for protection as I squeezed past the snake, my legs so weak I could barely walk.
Once in the exam room, I felt much safer but Lily snarled, hissed, and required three professionals to hold her down long enough for her shot. In short, she lived up to the "FEISTY" label on her file.

But let me assure you, her feistiness was mild compared to the scene I would have made if that "little corn snake" had shown his face to me.

19 May 2011

Kitchen Floor Transformation: Day 2

Our kitchen floor project is done! For anyone who has forgotten, here's a photo of the floor before the work began.

And here's what the floor looks like now! It actually looks brand new. We opted for a satin finish which will make scratches and scuffs less noticeable than they would be with a semi-gloss finish.

I'm very happy with the final product. And although everything is coated in a layer of dust, I'm also enjoying the fact that our kitchen is temporarily clutter-free!

On a side note, I'm also delighted that I don't have to spend another night with the cats locked in the bedroom with us. Last night was UGLY. Between 3:30 and 6:00 am, I got out of bed no less than ten times to redirect Tinsel from assorted naughty behaviors. I finally fell back to sleep only to be awakened by Lily standing on my head and purring cheerfully.

Unfortunately, tomorrow we have to move the table and fridge back into the kitchen. I had a great idea to replace the fridge with a cooler and the kitchen table with couple of comfy chairs (a la Starbucks) but no one around here seems to be embracing my vision.

Oh, well. Not having a kitchen was fun while it lasted.

17 May 2011

Kitchen Floor Transformation: Day 1

Day 1 of the floor refinishing project seemed to go well, at least for the guys working in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, confining the kitties to the upstairs bedrooms is proving to be a challenge, to say the least. They are not happy, and they're not afraid to let their emotions show.
RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE goes Lily's sweet little foot under the door. SCRAPE SCRAPE SCRAPE go her precious little claws. You get the idea.

But on to the topic at hand: The floor. The two Nice Floor Guys sanded and sanded then sanded some more...so much that there were garbage bags of sawdust outside in our garage. They sanded away all of our scrapes and scratches and erased all physical evidence of that nasty water leak below the sink from a few years back.

Then they mixed up something which appeared to be chocolate frosting. It looked good enough to eat. But I refrained. Even though it was Day 1 Without a Kitchen.

Maybe they did eat that chocolate frosting after all, because the next time I looked, the Nice Floor Guys were applying oil to the floor. It will dry overnight and tomorrow they'll start applying the finishing coats.

Sure, it's a little inconvenient not being able to walk through the kitchen. But not being able to use the stove? I could get used to that pretty easily.

16 May 2011

Kitchen Floor Transformation: BEFORE

After dinner this evening, we moved the kitchen table and fridge into the family room. Why? Because TOMORROW our kitchen floor is being refinished. YIPPEE!

As you can see, the floor is in somewhat dire need of refinishing, although the flooring guy assures me that it is in very normal condition for its age. It has suffered quite a bit of wear and tear, especially around the table and dishwasher. And the area directly in front of the sliding door has bleached.

Over the next three days, the floor will be sanded and given two coats of something I cannot spell. It will return to its original oak color which will be less amber and will have more color variation. The flooring guy assures me that the "new" old floor will be beautiful. However it turns out, I'm pretty sure it will be an improvement.

As a side note, when we moved the fridge we found 12 of Lily's puff balls -- including her lucky black one. I have a feeling they might come in handy because both kitties will be moving into the bedroom with us for the next three days.

So let's summarize:

No kitchen for three days.

Kitties locked in our bedroom for the duration.

Things could get interesting.

15 May 2011

Ceiling Fan Transformation: Part 2B

As some of you may recall, we've been revamping one of our ceiling fans. After a coat of spray paint to the shiny parts, Spouse ran into some difficulties installing the light kit. But today, he channeled his inner electrician and figured out the problem with the wiring. In short order, he attached the new light to the base of the freshly painted fan and...

...it works! YIPPEE! Now we can see our books and newspapers at night!

Pathetic as it may seem, this is a ridiculously exciting event at our house! Now I can't wait for darkness to fall so that I can flip the switch on the new light and catch up on my reading. :)

13 May 2011

Feline Friday: I feel pretti!

Whenever mi mommi putz dis greene bow on mee...

I feel pretti! an i start to purr an purr!

Mi mommi sez i am pretti even wifout da bow. But da bow maiks mee EXTRA pretti!

12 May 2011

Ceiling Fan Transformation: Part 2A

Oh, the wonders of spray paint. It's amazing that an aerosol product has made me this happy.

As Daughter observed, the ceiling fan no longer screams, "LOOK AT ME! I'm shiny and bright! And I don't match anything else in this room!"

Note, however, that this post is titled "Part 2A". It seems that Spouse encountered some complications when attempting to install the light fixture onto the base of the fan. He was muttering about wires and switches last night but I sort of tuned him out.

Maybe it's the fumes, but I seem to have been transfixed by Rustoleum.

Who needs a light anyway?

10 May 2011

Ceiling Fan Transformation: Part I

For some reason, our house was built with plenty of ceiling fans but virtually no overhead lighting. As a result, it's pretty difficult to read at night in most rooms, unless you position yourself directly under a lamp or have a flashlight handy. You'll be cool and comfortable but you might as well be reading in a cave.

We finally (after only 17 years!) came to the conclusion that we need more light in the family room, including an overhead fixture. Instead of replacing the ceiling fan with a lighted model, we decided to add a light to the existing fan. (Many fans will accept a light kit, sold separately.) Unfortunately, our current fan has shiny brass parts which no longer match any of our metal finishes.

Disclaimer: I know that a ceiling fan is not necessarily considered the most stylish element in a room. We considered removing it altogether but decided to keep it because the fan is quite helpful with air circulation in that part of the house.

Of course it would be simple to buy a new fan, but I'd much rather transform the existing one. (I prefer to re-use and re-purpose if at all possible.) So Spouse took it apart to see if the brass pieces could be painted. And sure enough, they can!

Good thing Daughter is home from college to help with these important projects. A couple of summers ago, the two of us (read: SHE) spray painted several items in our house with great success. You can read about our spray painting adventures here.

Spouse and Daughter spray painted all of the brass pieces with Rustoleum's metal finish paint in an oil-rubbed bronze finish.

My task was to annoy them by taking photos. ("Why do you have to document every single aspect of our lives?")

The next step in the process will be to put the ceiling fan back together and add the light. Stay tuned to see the final result. It may take awhile, but hopefully not 17 years!

09 May 2011

Garden in early May

The cold spring we've experienced around here seems to have resulted in a slow start for many of my perennials. But in the last few days, things have finally started to warm up and my plants are waking up after a long winter's nap. Unfortunately, a few plants still appear to be sleeping -- possibly permanently. This would equate to "dead"!

I'm trying to focus on the plants which seem to be thriving and will plan to replace those which aren't. My favorites in this part of the yard include the foam flowers which I planted last year, the columbine which just decided to grow there through no help from me, and the tiger lilies which came from my late grandma's yard.

Once I replace the couple of perennials which didn't winter over and add a few annuals for color, my plan is to largely ignore these particular gardens this summer and focus on the problem areas in the backyard spaces. To fix those garden problems will require all of my wits and then some.

Stay tuned for more gardening adventures!

06 May 2011

Feline Friday: Won't you please enjoy a nice hot towel?

The very instant the dryer door opens, the girls come running. "Is it a load of towels, Mom?" they ask without saying a word.

Sometimes the answer is YES!

They can't wait to burrow into the warm and fuzzy nooks and crannies of the towel pile.

Of course, this tunneling business drives Spouse to the brink of insanity. He does not want to find a kitty hair on his towel.

But I'm willing to risk a little trouble from Spouse because burrowing deep into warm towels is truly one of the great pleasures of being a kitty. There are days when I'd like to do the same.

Plus, a little cat hair wouldn't hurt him. :)

05 May 2011

Well Done

It's very hard for me to believe that our daughter has just finished her first year of college. I can hardly believe she's even old enough to go to college, let alone already done with her freshman year.

Last August when it was time to take her to Indiana, I needed the biggest towels I could find to mop up all of her tears. While we knew she would love college, she was far from certain of it and too fearful to believe our words of assurance. And of course, we hoped and prayed that it would be everything we knew it could be for her, because in reality she didn't have a Plan B.

We expected a prolonged adjustment period, complete with the tearful "come get me" calls that everyone told us to expect. But we had none of that. By the time she finished unpacking her bags, we could tell she was going to love it at Indiana University.

Marching band provided an immediate sense of accomplishment, months of hard work, and -- most importantly -- a whole group of great friends.

She's had incredible professors and challenging classes. On the few lucky occasions we've heard her play, we can tell that she's already grown leaps and bounds as a musician. Even if she weren't my daughter, I would say with complete confidence that she's going to be a terrific music educator.

When it's time to move her back home for the summer, I guarantee that I'll be mopping up her tears again. But I'll gratefully wipe away every one of them, including a few of my own. I could not be happier that her first year of college turned out to be all we dreamed for her and much, much more!

03 May 2011

Graduation Shadow Box

It's very hard for me to believe that it's approaching a whole year now since Daughter graduated from high school. A new stack of graduation invitations is sitting on the kitchen table. I've talked to many moms who are frantically getting ready for the big graduation celebration. I have to say that I'm really glad we are past that particular transition in life!

Last year, we attended many open houses and were lucky to pick up lots of great ideas. At a couple of parties, we saw shadow boxes (like the one above) used for a graduation memorabilia. We thought it was a terrific idea, so Daughter and I bought the box but didn't get it finished in time for her party. (In fact, Spouse and I put it together after she left for college. It was a fun little activity for us, since we seem to have a lot more time on our hands these days!)

We purchased the box at Hobby Lobby, where they have several configurations and colors which could house all kinds of dimensional memorabilia, such as diplomas, hats, medals, and more. This one holds Daughter's academic and music letters plus her tassel, small pins, and medals.

I hope this idea is helpful to those of you who are busy preparing for graduation parties, wondering what to do with all the memorabilia your student has amassed over the years.

And if you don't have time to assemble your box prior to your party, trust me: It makes a nice Friday evening activity after your student leaves home for college. :)