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.


Sep 29, 2017

Driveway Sealed Twice + The Front Lawn Reseeded Again (Because Things Don’t Always Go As Planned)


Last week and over the weekend we tackled big but boring projects - the driveway and the front lawn. Both were time consuming, but not very interesting to blog about. And not very photo-worthy. But they were both necessary, time sensitive and I’m glad to have them done. Especially since I had to do the driveway twice.

The driveway was in bad shape from skipping a couple of years of sealing and bad winters, especially in the back. There was a big crack was so wide the kids could pull gravel out of it with their hands. The driveway was on our list all summer. And then the summer flew by. By the time I realized how little time was left in the warm season (it needs to be above 60 for 24 hours), it would rain every time we had an opening in our calendar.

Finally we had a weekend with 3 days of sun forecasted during an unseasonably warm spell. Plans were rescheduled in lieu of the driveway. Cleared it, cleaned it, filled in the cracks with asphalt and crack filler. I don’t really mind the sealing part, I find it very zen, like when people rake sand in those little Japanese gardens. Pour, spread repeat.


I was about ⅔ of the way done when the afternoon went from sunny to cloudy. I stopped because the clouds looked a little menacing. Checked the weather. There were some spotty showers here and there (uh oh) but nothing thaaaaaat close. I decided to close everything up and wait for the clouds to pass, mentally doing an anti-rain dance as I sat on the porch and obsessively watched the weather radar. The weather apps said no rain, no rain, no rain… until it was raining. One of those days with a totally botched forecast. A big red thunderstorm spot appeared out of nowhere over us on the radar, the heavens opened up and poured. And it didn’t stop. It rained and rained and rained. The rain pooled and puddled at the end of the driveway apron creating a lake over all my work. It wasn’t supposed to rain. NO. No. No. And it kept raining. It poured for over an hour, that little red spot didn’t budge. We went from a sunny afternoon to flash flood warnings over our town. And my dad who lives 8 minutes away? They didn’t see a single drop of rain. It rained again overnight too. I know these things happen but it was very frustrating.

So I had to do it all over again a few days later. The warm spell continued and I took an afternoon off from work when there was a zero percent chance of rain, not a cloud in the sky and several days of low humidity and sun in the forecast. Round 2 went much better and now our driveway is in much better shape.



The huge crack filled in. 


At the same time, Mike worked on our front lawn. Another season/time-sensitive project. Mike’s goals for fall were to repair the lawn and get rid of the crab grass that had taken over almost HALF the front yard. It was really bad and everything had to be pulled up and reseeded. Last spring when Mike did this the first time, he did a great job getting rid of the clover and some of the weeds, but the reseeding project didn’t go as planned with the crab grass specifically. It turns out his efforts, especially in the front yard, actually made it worse unintentionally. So he had to pull up all the offending grass in the front reseed the bare patches. Then overseed the whole lawn overall so it comes back in the spring lush and beautiful (and hopefully mostly weed-free).

After a ton of work pulled up ridiculous amounts of crabgrass, Mike put down fresh top soil, leveled everything out the best he could and reseeded, covering everything with peat and a roll of grass fabric at the bottom of the lawn slope to keep everything where it should be (because the peat would run down the neighbor’s driveway during watering and rain otherwise). Mike’s been watering it multiple times a day for a week and the grass has finally sprouted. Soon it will be full and green again and hopefully next year we can keep the weeds under control.