A Look Back at July

With five Mondays in July, I’ve been talking about the garden over and over again. We’ve had successes and set-backs. As I’m writing this, the MR’s parents are watching robins, squirrels, and a bunny try to infiltrate the kitchen garden. Unfortunately, they’re meeting with a lot of success.

The beans were up; the beans were down. I decided to outsmart whatever was getting them by starting them indoors and then planting them out. Well that worked for about a minute until creatures stripped them bare. I added floating row cover this week and am hoping for the best.

Bean Collage

I can always go pick beans at the local organic farm across the valley. Up on the deck, the tomatoes are faring better. They’ve gone from leafless to lush and are still adding blossoms and fruit.

Tomato Collage

While I’d love to say that the lettuce is growing by leaps and bounds and that we’ve been enjoying fresh beets and carrots, it’s just not happening, but other things are really starting to grow. Just take a look at the difference a couple of weeks makes.

Overhead Collage

I have faith that it will all work out. The grapes are twining along their arbor and are producing a few clusters. I need to remember patience; it’s all coming together. Check out our week by week battle with deer, bunnies, squirrels, birds, and bad topsoil herehereherehere, and here.

Lest you think all I do is wander around outside and complain about critters, we did do a few other things around here this month. The MR created a channel in the carpet pad in Cutting a Rug to hide the cords to the computer.

No cords

Now we have no worries of tripping over something on the way to the desk. While this is not a perfect solution, it works for now until we’re able to add a few more outlets in the middle of the great room instead of just around the edges.

Sometimes, I enjoy nothing more than sitting back and enjoying the view. I hope you’ve had some restful mornings this summer.

Gunk-y faucets had been greeting me every time I washed my hands, but the concoction I put together to get rid of those nasty hard water stains really works. It’s taken a few applications, but the sinks are looking so much better. On the other hand, I tried orange Kool-aid in the toilet bowl overnight with zero luck. I know it sounds weird, but the lady on Pinterest swore it worked like magic, and at only 25-cents a package why not give it a try? The bathroom did have a pleasant fruity smell, but the ring from the hard water remained.

Faucet Collage

We had a great time with the MR’s extended family celebrating special times in Chelan. (Check out Home Again, Home Again.) For a week, we stayed in a beautiful home on the lake. Everyone took turns cooking, and Auntie Carol had all sorts of fun surprises for the birthday girl, the anniversary couple, and everyone else. The cousins and their dads played pinball and volleyball. The evenings were filled with cards and laughter.

House Collage

We rented a boat one day. I especially love the look of terror on Baby Girl’s face when Papa was driving and she was in the intertube.

Boat Collage

We’ve been vacationing at Wapato Point for years, and the girls have a few favorite places. We went to Blueberry Hill for breakfast and the Chelan Winery for a BBQ dinner. Those girls do love their ribs.

Family Collage

We hadn’t seen the MR’s aunt and uncle for several years. It was so fun to be able to catch up and for sisters to spend some quality time together.

I got a little nostalgic with the The Story of an Icebox. It’s been through so many incarnations in the last 22 years, I wonder what it saw before it came to us? Here’s back in the day, when it was the show piece you saw as you came in the front door at our last house.

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Sometimes I miss those sweet little ballerinas that are almost grown up now.

I don’t know if Harvold still has raspberries; they say to call first on their web site. But the berries we picked a few weeks back were sweet, tasty, and gorgeous. I made a few jars of jam, but we ate most of them fresh. After I talked about the joys of working with Pomona fruit pectin in Summer in a Jar, I read a post from Food in Jars about the new cookbook from Allison Carroll Duffy called Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin. Hey MR, that would be a lovely birthday present–hint, hint. Sometimes it’s fun to tap into other’s creativity.

I am oh so happy with the cheery green and yellow accents I’ve been adding to the great room since I Picked a Palette. Suddenly, the little green chairs make sense. While the emphasis is citrus tones, I have mostly been focusing on the lime/apple green accents. During the fall and winter, I thought I’d replace the yellow and orange with grays and darker greens to give the room a cozier feel. I’ve been keeping my eyes open and picked up a few more things to add some color.

Citrusy Accents Collage

I wanted to hang the birch print by Sweet Miss’ graduation picture, but it’s way too big. Perhaps I need to add some of our favorite photos to this area until we have a chance to get that family portrait taken. Some day it will all come together.

Someone asked what we’d do about the the carpet. In all honesty, we haven’t gotten that far. I thought cork would be warm, the MR says polished concrete would be really cool. As you can see, we are miles apart. We want something that works with the style of the house, is soft to the feet, doesn’t create more of an echo, won’t fade, and wears well. It may be a while before we come to any sort of decision.

I guess that’s why this is a journey not a race.

What have you been up to this month? Did you spend time with friends and family? Battle with beasts? Enjoy the fruits of your labor?

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Garden Update 7.29.13–Hits and Misses

We’ve been experiencing a lot of highs and lows when it comes to the yard and gardens this year. It’s a little disconcerting in that we’ve always had a beautiful yard. The MR spends hours on weekends mowing, edging, pruning, weeding, attacking the wild with a machete.

In the past, it’s always paid off so well. When my mom showed the ladies at work our Easter hunt photos, they’d ask which park we’d gone to, and she could proudly say it was her daughter’s front yard.

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Now obviously, when you have acreage, having it all well-maintained and manicured would be a bit much. But the MR had a plan to make that little patch of grass between the helicopter pad and the side of the house that people first see as they drive in a little gem filled with beautiful plants and a lush green lawn. He added new dirt, seeded, watered, and look what happened.

Dead Grass

A whole lot of nothing–that’s what’s happened. It’s disappointing, but soon the rains of fall will come, and the MR will have a second chance. Just another sign that we got a load of bad topsoil.

Down the hill from our sad lawn, the bee balm is continuing to thrive.

Bee Blossom

In the garden, the cucumbers are beginning to climb the trellis, the melons are blossoming and beginning to vine, and four of the six new bean plants have escaped being denuded by either birds or bunnies. For those of you waiting with baited breath after last week’s ultimatum, the carrots and lettuce are making strides. I didn’t have the heart to dig them all in and start over. The tomatoes on the deck that looked so scraggly just a few weeks ago have also improved. They have a lovely color, new growth, and new fruit. I think they were drowning in the June rains and took a while to recover.

Garden Collage

One little pleasure we have in looking out over the garden from the deck is automatic sprinklers we can operate from our iPhones. When we see something brown–whether fowl or beast–we can turn on the water and run them off. The sprinklers have been more effective than the dogs, so far.

Moving on to the orchard, the new grapes are twining around the support wires, stretching out their limbs, and bearing fruit. I’m so excited for an unequivocal success. The pear tree that was cut in half by the deer is back covered in new leaves and growing strong, and we have two apples on the apple tree. This may sound like a hollow victory, but last year, we only ate one apple. We’ve doubled the harvest in just one year, so I’m going to call it a win.

The Orchard Collage

The orchard is not all perfection. The new fencing is keeping the deer at bay, but it doesn’t stop much smaller predators. We have bugs–lots of bugs. And they are causing damage.

Buggy Leaves Collage

I’d love to hear your ideas on how to get rid of these pests. The MR has tried some spray that fried the leaves on the nectarine tree without much effect on the bugs.

While we’ve been struggling to add beauty and bounty to our land, sometimes we can just sit back and enjoy what is already here. These hydrangeas along the portico are beautiful and require nothing from me our my guy.

Hydrangea 2

While the promise of a harvest this year is iffy at best, I was excited to read about a local farm on Facebook. First Light Farm is a u-pick, organic farm near Camp Corey in Carnation. We’ve been enjoying their purple bush beans all weekend, and since I can see the farm from my kitchen, I can pretend it’s mine since we’re neighbors and all.

Experiencing any hits or misses around your house? Enjoying the bounty of your garden or a neighbors’?

Picking a Palette

I like having a goal–something to aim for. That’s why I’ve been intent on choosing a color scheme for our house.

Recently, I spent an afternoon browsing the gorgeous pictures on Design Seeds. I hadn’t noticed the blog tab at the top of the page before and decided to hop over to that web site and see what it had to offer. While Design Seeds shows photos and colors in turn drawn from these photos, Fresh Hues shows pictures, a palette, and then a variety of images featuring the colors from those palettes.

Lately, I’ve been drawn towards vibrant citrus hues. Remember the new high ball glasses I bought last month?

Glasses and towels 3

The potholders I made after the yarn shop tour are such a vibrant lemon yellow.

potholders with hearts

I love how these cheery tones look so clean and crisp with the white counters.

I guess I’ve always had a fondness for these colors. These are a few favorite pieces that I’ve had for years.

Treasures

Baby Girl made the reliquary jar, and Sweet Miss made me the coaster. The MR brought home flowers in the vase that have since been replaced with basil. Just a few of my treasures that remind of those I love.

Sweet Miss and I went shopping when she first came home from school and saw some hurricane lanterns that I really liked, but they were more than I was willing to spend. The next week, she found these apple green ones at Ross for a great price.

Green Hurricanes

While she said that we could paint them, the green color is growing on me. I thought a palette that featured green and citrus hues would be perfect for spring and summer. So I was oh so pleased when I came across Flora Glow on Fresh Hues.

I was totally digging the popsicle pictures featuring mint and melon, but I could pass on the pink door and pink cupcakes.

Since this is my house, my pallet, couldn’t I just skip the pink colors and switch them for white? It would certainly make the MR happier if we opted out of pink.

Speaking of my guy, he doesn’t get the idea of pictures or palettes; sometimes my explanations fail to enlighten. For me it’s all about focus. I love color. If I see something great, I might be tempted to buy it even though it’s the wrong color if I didn’t have a goal, a feel, a vibe that I was aiming towards.

Now do I want our house to look like a beautiful flower or a watermelon-mojito popsicle? Uh, no. But those colors speak to me. They feel fresh, and beautiful, and fun. I wouldn’t mind if our home felt that way, too.

So all this leads up to the fact that I’ve been shopping at Tuesday Morning. I’ve decided to add a little of that green and some sunny yellow touches around the house. By replacing a few throw pillows and adding some accents, I can change the whole feel of our space.

My feet get tired standing on the kitchen tile, so a few cheery rugs at the sink and stove add comfort, color, and softness to a fairly sterile space.

Rugs 2

Over in the desk area, I switched a brown faux leather box for a yellow, orange, and green floral.

Kitchen Desk Up Close

Baby Girl made me the bag and flowers for Mother’s Day when we were teaching preschool Sunday school. The green lime napkins can add color to a party or wouldn’t the look cute mod-podged to a tray?

Moving to the great room, I added a green woven tray to coral the remote and tissue box. The old wooden box I was using just didn’t look good next to the black granite.

Rattan Tray 2

Adding these touches of color somehow makes the little green chairs, the hurricanes, and the rest all come together. I found a few throw pillows to add to the mix.

Green Pillow

A little green amidst all that brown brings it into the family. While I love this little owl pillow, I think a colorful throw would help finish this sitting area.

Owl Pillow 2

This yellow and gray flowered table cloth screams fun to me.

Yellow and Gray Tablecloth

I also bought a few vases on my shopping spree, but I’m still trying to figure out a plan for the mantel.  My stop at Cost Plus was a bust. They do have spring pillows on sale 40 percent off, and a 15 percent off coupon for club members, but I just didn’t find anything that seemed right.

Part of the fun of decorating is the hunt, and now that I’ve picked a palette, I’m off.

Do you have a color palette for your home? Where do you find your inspiration?

Summer in a Jar

One of the great things about living in the Snoqualmie valley is the abundance of small farms and local produce. Along with farmers markets and road side stands, we have berry farms filled with luscious fruit.

I missed the strawberry season, but last week I went with my in-laws and a friend down to Harvold Berry Farm to pick raspberries. In the past, I’ve been when the berries were small, or moldy, or past their prime; this time we hit it perfectly. The vines were dripping with them.

We ate bowls of berries on Tuesday. My in-laws were headed out of town on Wednesday morning, and they left most of their berries behind. I wound up with the better part of 20 pounds of raspberries in my fridge and needed to do something–that’s a lot of berries.

Instead of getting busy, I went to Oregon for a few days. I’m thankful that Baby Girl bagged up a bunch of them and put them in the freezer to be enjoyed later. With strawberries, I add a little sugar to help them keep their shape and color, but with raspberries, I simply throw them in a freezer bag.

Before I left, I asked her to set aside eight cups of berries for some jam. I’ve had a weird jar of calcium water in the fridge for months since I made blackberry jam last fall (check out The Harvest) using Pomona Fruit Pectin. I was hoping it would still be good and wasn’t disappointed–no mold or strange color had developed over the last nine months.

If you haven’t tried this stuff, it is amazing. Instead of nearly equal parts sugar and fruit, I used eight cups of berries and only one cup of sugar. You can use honey or other sweeteners, too. The whole process is really simple.

First you make your calcium water. I just had to pull my jar out of the fridge. Then you mix the appropriate amount of calcium water and fruit and bring it to a boil.

Raspberry

Mix your sugar and the pectin in a separate bowl, and then add to the boiling fruit.

Pectin & sugar

Stir constantly for two minutes, and your done. I was a little worried that that might not be enough time to set up properly. Would it really jell in just two minutes? I left it on for a touch longer and ended up with a firmer set. Once you get to this point, it’s just a matter of ladling the jam into jars, and water bath canning for 10 minutes to create the seal.

The short cooking time and the low sugar content really let the taste of the raspberries shine. It’s just like summer in a jar and the perfect accompaniment to a biscuit in the morning.

Jam and biscuit

Since my in-laws did pick a majority of the berries, I thought I’d send them home with a few jars.

Jars & Raspberries

They’ll be back at the end of the week for a quick visit before going home to Nevada. Jam jars are easier to transport than a bowl of berries.

If you’re a canner, I encourage you to give Pomona Fruit Pectin a try. Along with simple recipes, they have a few more exotic ones on their web site. Doesn’t Blueberry Lavender Jam or Berry Chocolate Jam sound intriguing?

Now, I still have a few berries left. I thought I’d make a glazed strawberry-raspberry pie to thank Baby Girl for helping around here. She’s been gone at the FFA officers’ retreat and might enjoy a tasty treat to welcome her home. This pie from James McNair’s Pie Cookbook is a favorite of mine; I’ll just have to substitute a gluten-free crust.

How are you enjoying the local harvest? Been berry picking lately?

Garden Update 7.22.12–Seeking Advice

I’m not a quitter; that silly garden with the fancy stone planting beds is going to produce by golly. I’ve been polling some of my gardening friends to learn how to make stunted plants grow.

The dogs were just as baffled as I was.

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They may not be the most knowledgable advisors, but they certainly spend a lot of time outside with me.

So I turned to others. A friend from Bible study suggested adding more organic material to the soil. Worm castings seem pretty organic–full of digested food, worms, and microbes.

When I asked a fellow worm farmer how he separated worms from the castings, he said he didn’t bother since the worms are constantly making new worms. His bin is doing great.

Well, since I’ve been planning to harvest castings for a while now, I had put some watermelon rinds in the bin. Worms really like watermelon. If you put in a few rinds, the worms just flock to it; it’s kind of scary to realize I know this from first hand experience.

So this weekend, I moved around the rinds, and mobs of worms, and harvested some castings which I then spread around in my garden beds. I then dug and watered them in and am hoping for the best.

Now to be fair some plants in my garden are actually growing. I can even see more than plain dirt from the deck.

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And when your in the garden, it looks like the pumpkins are really taking off. I’ll be happy when they start vining; I’ll feel like we’ve reached a milestone of sorts.

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One of the cool things about plants is their amazing variety. I chose to grow the moon and stars watermelon for the unusual speckled rind and was surprised to find that the leaves of the plant are just as spotty.

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The beans have been a hit and a miss. Out of the rows I direct seeded, only three plants remain, but one has totally been denuded. Slugs, bunnies, evil robins? I don’t know, but I put down more Sluggo after planting the seedlings from the dining room.

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The MR says we’re just burning time waiting on the lettuce and carrots to start growing. He wants me to plow them under, amend the soil, and start over. I told him they have until Wednesday, but he negotiated back to Tuesday. I’m spending a few days in Oregon getting Sweet Miss signed up for classes at OSU. They have until Tuesday to clean up their act and start growing.

The sad thing is, I complained to my dad the other day that we might have four carrots in the garden, but today I saw dozens. Maybe the worm castings are kicking in. I hope it’s not too little too late.

Are you enjoying the bounty of your harvest or are you fighting nature at every turn?

Time to Make a Change: The Story of an Icebox

When we were just getting started, me and the MR inherited a lot of hand-me-downs in the way of furniture. We had the funky sectional with a wild, squiggly print, our childhood dressers, and an incredibly ugly dining set. One piece that we both loved and everyone complimented was the antique icebox the MR’s parents generously gave us.

This was the early 90’s when smaller but wider TVs were in vogue. We housed the TV up top, and all the equipment down below.

Misha & Icebox07182013_0000

Time went by, our budget got bigger, and so did our television.

SM & Icebox07182013_0000

Then we moved to a new house, entered the 21st century–the age of the flat screen. Our lovely icebox, had to take on a new role. It held toys, it held the boom box, it held player piano rolls, and it served as a lovely focal point as you entered the front door.

SM Zucchini & Icebox

Now, you have to use your imagination and delete the crazy girl holding 50 pounds of zucchini that she grew for the local food bank, but it really is a lovely piece.

On a side note, I’ve spent hours going through old photos trying to find a nice picture of our icebox, but it’s always played this background role solidly anchoring a space and offering a place for decoration. I also recently had a discussion about how I try to use only photos that flatter my girls for the blog. I guess the key word is “try”.  Here’s another go Sweet Miss; it is a nice piece of furniture.

SM & Icebox

Now that we’ve taken this walk down memory lane, flash forward a few years until we move into the big white house. A large, oak, antique icebox does not match the style of this home in any way, shape, or form. But I can’t help but reminisce back to the time when it was one of the few lovely pieces in our home. Besides being huge, it also weighs a ton, so our friends brought it in and were thankful when I told them to just leave it in the entry for now.

Well, for now lasted over a year and a half where it housed the printer and the driveway alarm and covered half of a painting. Once again you’ll have to use your imagination and visualize. You can see just the corner of it in this photo of the entry.

Should I get rid of the benches? Should I get rid of the slippers? Replace one with a console table?

Since we’ve made a dedicated space for the office, it makes sense to bring the printer into that area rather than leave it around the corner next to the front door. Our silly icebox, was once again without a purpose.

While we’ve pretty much ignored the entry for the last 18 months, it’s supposed to be welcoming and set the tone for the whole house. Nothing says warm and welcoming like a giant icebox squeezed between the shoe bench and the powder room. It was time to make a change.

So this week, I put one of our house guests to work asking Papa Larry to move the icebox to the guest room. Where I’ve used slides and a blanket in the past, he pulled out a hand truck and went to work with the help of Sweet Miss. They managed all five corners and brought it to its new home with ease. (I hope Papa’s back doesn’t hurt.)

And now our icebox will begin its new life in the guest room as a holder of extra bedding.

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We pulled down all the pictures when we had the house painted awhile back, and I’ve been waiting for this to happen, so I could put them back up. This has also motivated me to rethink the benches and the whole look of the entry. It’s just like a domino; change breeds change.

Now that we can see our painting again, I think it’s time to take on the benches in the entry.

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I’ve been looking at fabric swatches all morning. It’s a fairly empty space that people walk through quickly on their way to the great room. Here’s a few options I came up with from Fabric.com.

Fabric Collage

I’d love to hear which fabric tickles your fancy. I’ll share the results in the recap later this month.

Is your entry warm and welcoming? What are people greeted with when they come to your door?

Garden Update 7.15.13–Progress

I have to admit I was a little disappointed. We came home after being gone for a week, and I had wide-eyed hopes and expectations. The weather was sunny and warm, the sprinklers were running, the fences were up, my garden would be lush, and green, and filled with bounty–not so much.

The lettuce is struggling, the beets are struggling, the carrots are struggling, the peas have plain old disappeared. While I’ve been forced to wait patiently for crops that in the past have brought automatic success, I have been pleasantly surprised to see the cucumbers, zucchini, melons, and pumpkins are taking off. While the garden hasn’t turned into masses of amazing vegetables overnight, I can actually see it from the deck these days.

Garden from Deck Closer

This is indeed progress. I even weeded inside the garden proving that this dirt can sustain life–something we have been questioning. Here’s a closer look.

Garden Collage

It seems that the seedlings I’ve transplanted to the garden are doing well and everything else is just stalled. With that in mind, I planted a few containers of beans on Thursday when we came home from vacation. I was quite pleased to see beans coming up last night.

Beans

I’m trying the same method with lettuce seeds. In the northwest, we have a really long growing season. While the days are getting shorter, it’s still light till after 9 pm and the first freeze is usually in mid-October. I’m hoping for a bean harvest before volleyball season kicks in this fall.

I’m thankful that while the garden has been a struggle, other things are just chugging along. The tiny planting strip next to the garage boasts beautiful blooms this time of year with absolutely no help from yours truly.

Planting Strip Blooms Collage

And on the other side of the house, we’ve been enjoying all the flowers that came back from last year plus a few new ones. The MR’s vision is that the little swath of lawn and flowerbeds that greet you as you take the last bend in the driveway will be a beautiful manicured bit of paradise. Then we’ll leave the rolling hills and meadows more natural. We are inching toward that every year.

The MR’s folks gave us some bee balm last summer, and he was able to divide it this spring, so we have pops of red flowers scattered on the hillside. Down near the tennis court, I saw California poppies draping over the retaining wall. I would love for both of these to spread and fill the slope.

Hillside Collage

Wouldn’t the hillside look lovely covered in masses of red and orange?

On our trip, me and the MR took time to walk the neighborhood on the way to and from the lake. One thing, I miss about this home is the chance to walk around the block and check out the neighbors’ landscaping. We were always getting new ideas and picking out plants and shrubs we liked. After admiring the Russian sage lining some of the hills in Wapato Point, we came home to a packet of seeds in the mail just waiting to be planted. The MR is a man of action; I’d probably still be thinking about it if it were up to me.

When I was looking up info, I found that you’re supposed to stick the seeds in the fridge for three weeks to improve germination. Of course, the experts encourage you to do this in late winter. Since it’s the middle of July, and I’d like these plants to have a chance to make it through the winter, I threw caution to the wind and decided to forge on now. We’ll just have to wait and see. I had horrible luck with lavender last year, but sage may be my friend. The seeds were tiny, so I used tweezers to place one in each of the cups, sprinkled on a little seed starter soil mix, stuck them under our grow-lights errh, I mean china buffet. We are quite fancy around here.

Russian Sage Collage

Now if these babies take off, we’ll have the beginnings of a stunning hillside next summer. Not only will it look lovely, it will smell heavenly, too.

One of the bonuses of all the sunny weather we’ve been enjoying is the wildlife. We watched eagles fighting in the trees behind the drive a few weeks back, and lately we’ve been following the hummingbirds as they flit from the crocosmia,

Crocosmia

to the bee balm, and then over to the bougainvillea.

Bougainvillea with MR

It’s a hard life we lead watching the birds and sitting on the deck soaking in the majesty of Mount Rainier in the distance.

What would you plant a hillside in? Wildflowers? Terraced hedges? Grapes? Ground cover? I’d love to hear your vision.