Thanks for the memories

I'm sad to say that my grandmother died in August.  It was somewhat sudden but she had all of her family with her, and she had seen a lot of family members over the summer.  She was 88 years old and lived a full and very happy life.  I wish I was half as positive as she was. 

I am very lucky to have wonderful memories of my grandmother.  That's really all I need - I don't need her things all around me to remember her.  It is nice that I received a few things that will always remind me of her, and my grandfather who died 8 years ago. 

Here are a few examples -

1.  Grandma's Needlework - My grandmother was a crafter in the truest sense.  She did every type of needlework imaginable (and unimaginable to me), and was a knitter as well.  I have a few framed pieces of hers in my house but one of my favorites is the sampler she did below which hangs at the bottom of the stairs in my kitchen where I see it every morning.  She made it to commemorate the purchase of our home in 2002 just weeks after my grandfather died.  It's classic and beautiful.  

2.  Grandpa's Favorite Chair - I always loved my grandfather's red leather chair where he read his beloved books (we have loads of those too) and I am proud to have it in my living room today.  When I sit in it now, it still reminds me of him and how I used to love to play on it and its funny footstool when I was a kid. I love watching my kids find new games to play on it now.  I know my grandparents would be very happy to just sit and watch them.

3.  Grandmother Clock - Of all of the furniture and things in my grandmother's apartment, the only thing that my brother and I both asked my mom for was this clock.  My sweet brother let me have it.  For both of us, our fondest memories of this clock are of Christmas Eve in their house in Cooperstown, NY where we occasionally spent the holidays.  This clock stood in the hall at the top of the stairs near the room where my brother and I slept as young children, and we listened to it chime while we tried so hard to go to sleep before Santa came!  It needs to be repaired although remembering how much it chimed, I might not mind that it no longer works!  Appropriately, it is currently in my living room next to Grandpa's chair.  I'm not sure if that will be its long term home but it works for now.

There were so many pieces of nice furniture left at my grandmother's apartment but we just did not have the space, and many pieces were also just not our style.  My advice to anyone faced with this dilemma is:

1)  Take only stuff that you love and would consider buying if it were in a store;
2)  If you are debating about a piece that you love because you cannot figure out where you would put it, take it because you won't have a second chance; and
3)  Remember that fond memories and love are in your heart and mind, not in physical things. 


Thrifty Gardening

I have been working on cleaning up my flower gardens over the past few weeks.  We did some mulching last weekend which really spruced things up, and we moved some lilac bushes from the back of our yard to the side (read more about that here). 

We still have some pretty significant blank spots in our planting areas near the screen porch.  I want to get a few more larger bushes or small trees to fill in the area a bit more, but I needed some perennials as well.  I decided to use some of the perennials that I already have including some beautiful irises which seem to thrive in my yard.  I spread them out so they will be on both sides of the path leading from the front yard gate and arbor into the backyard. 

I also transplanted some peonies which were not doing well in the far corner of the yard and spread them out in this area. They don't look so great now either but hopefully that will change by spring.  And we really need to do something to cover up those beautiful air conditioning units!

Fall is also the time to plant your spring bulbs.  I often forget until December but that still is not too late in Virginia fortunately.  You should also dig up and divide tulips and daffodils every few years because eventually they sort of choke themselves out with lots of small bulbs growing off the original. I usually do that in the spring after the leaves start to turn brown but I may do a little of that this fall with some daffodils that grow at the base of our huge oak tree.  If you want to expand your plant collection see if a friend or neighbor wants to swap some of their spreading perennials for yours.

This is also a great time of year to plant grass seed or sod your lawn.  We have some serious bare spots in the backyard which need some topsoil and seed.  We try to plan those types of plantings when rain is in the forecast, but usually we end up throwing the seed down when we have a few minutes. 

What fall planting projects are you working on?


Thanks for the Memories: Keepsakes and Archives

I have been thinking a lot about how I want to keep pictures and other keepsakes for our children and future generations.  If you are over 25, you probably have a pile of photographs or photo albums (or worse slides!) lying around somewhere - likely in an underused area of cabinet, basement, or attic.  I have several large boxes of photos and photo albums hanging out in my attic and another few albums taking up precious cabinet space in our living room.  I would love to get these pictures stored in a more efficient and user-friendly place.  My goal is to scan all of those pictures and make large photo albums on Shutterfly which would be easy to pull out and laugh look at.  Of course, this is a very long term goal although if we get another crazy snowy winter this year then maybe that will happen sooner than expected. 

I recently purchased a Pandigital photo scanner that I really like.  I scanned some old pictures of the house that I had laying around and it took about 10 seconds per picture.  I could easily do a huge pile while watching TV at night. Once they are scanned, I will make some albums.

As for our digital pictures, I have tried very hard to keep up to date with making photo albums on Shutterfly, particularly with pictures of the kids.  I have many years of digital files before that sitting unused on external hard drives.  At some point I'll get around to making albums out of those.

I went a little wild with making albums of pictures of Elizabeth when she was a baby.  I made them about every 4-5 months so there are several for her first 2 years of life.  Poor Alex only got one paperback album at about 4 months old.  Better than nothing, right? 

In the last couple of years I wizened up a bit and started making family albums on Shutterfly for each year.  Although most of my albums are relatively small (around 8x10), I may start making slightly larger albums in future years so I can hold more pictures, but last year's album had about 100 pages and that worked fine.  They include pictures of our vacations, family events, parties, birthdays, weddings, holidays, and just random every day pictures from our life sorted chronologically.  They really are nice and hopefully will be a great and lasting memory for many generations - long after the digital files are lost!

We also have a few Shutterfly albums for special occasions, like my brother's wedding, and a wonderful book of family pictures which my cousin made for our family reunion last year.  My brother and his wife received all of the digital files of their photographer's pictures so we were able to make our own albums using those pictures and other pictures we had.  

I was not very creative when it came to baby books for my kids.  I think scrapbooks are amazing and it looks like so much fun but I just do not have time (or space) to make a good effort.  So, I went with pre-printed baby books.  A friend gave me a baby book by Susan Branch for Elizabeth (our oldest) which I love.  This adorable book is absolutely stuffed with pictures and keepsakes for Elizabeth.  Alex's baby book is a little slimmer (sorry Alex!) but I have made an effort to keep track of various milestones.  Whenever I let it slip, I think about Jim's totally empty baby book - he was the third child!  I am a little behind on Alex's right now but plan to mark a few things down after I finish this post!  I like it because it is spiral bound so it's easier to turn the pages.  It includes a few pockets for things as well.

My favorite recent keepsake find is a birthday book which you fill in for your child's birthday, including a short interview.  My daughter loved doing her 4th birthday interview.  The book chronicles your child's life  through 18 years old so it has more longevity.  This would make a great first birthday gift.  Hopefully filling in the kids' birthday books will become a family birthday tradition!

How do you store memories of your life? 


Up, Up & Away!

The kids and I just spent a great weekend at the Adirondack Balloon Festival in Glens Falls, NY which is a few miles from where I grew up.  If you have never been to a hot air balloon festival, it is definitely a worthwhile experience.  This one boasts 90+ balloons and unpredictable weather!  The balloons only went up two of the five potential launch times while we were there.  It must be incredibly disappointing to be a balloonist and to be constantly checking the wind and cloud cover but I guess that is probably part of the fun for them!

Sunday morning (at 6:30 a.m.!) we saw these beautiful sights -

Ok, maybe the alien is not exactly beautiful but it is so cool, and surprisingly, the alien balloon was my daughter's favorite!  I am resisting the urge to blow up poster size prints of some my pictures!!
Here are a few from the Thursday launch where they ended up all over my parents' neighborhood! 
Check out those fall colors!  Arlington had record-breaking temperatures in the upper 90s on Thursday and Friday last week so we are not seeing ANY fall color yet.  At this rate, we will be raking on Christmas Eve. 

Hope you had some fall fun this weekend!


Canine Craziness: The digger!

We love our dog, Angus, but he definitely has some not so great habits.  Attacking our door every time someone rings the bell or delivers a package is one, and digging in my flower beds is another.  We have yet to figure out a solution for the door habit (any suggestions?), but I have found a relatively easy solution for the digging.  Fortunately, Angus really only likes to dig in loose soil near the house so there are relatively few places he can do that.  The rest is pretty much rock hard clay.  Although the interim solution was to throw large plastic toys in his way, it was not the best looking.

Here is Angus' current favorite digging location -

I filled in the holes with potting soil, and then covered the dirt with some pieces of plastic coated inexpensive fencing that I bought at my local hardware store. Sorry I forgot to take some how to pictures but I just cut the fence and put small sections over the affected areas.  Then, covered it with mulch.

I need another bag or two of mulch to really cover it up.  It was the end of a mulching day so I could not make myself go buy 2 more bags!!

I would love to hear what others have done to stop their 4 legged friends from making a mess of their yards.


A Little Bit of Fall

As I said last week, I am not a fan of fall but mostly because it means the end of summer, my absolute favorite season.  So, I have to ease into fall decorating.  This year, I have removed the pure summer stuff - seashell themed stuff mainly.  But, I am not feeling the pure pumpkins, scarecrows, and orange yet.  I just cannot do Halloween in September - same for Christmas in November.  So, I had to find a mix that I could live with in the interim.  I started with the mantel in the family room - where we spend 90% of our time.  I'll work on the living room mantel as I come up with ideas in the next few weeks

I started with a few items from around the house.  I am working on more height on either side of the television without blocking the television.

This was close to being good but was missing a little life, and seems a bit overly balanced.  What I like most is that it doesn't scream "FALL!" and is made up mostly of things that we have around the house in our regular decor - except the pumpkin.  I really liked the red accents, including a decorative plate from REfind, and the non-traditional green-gold glass pumpkin (awesome HomeGoods find for $9.99!) which is nice and low so it doesn't block the TV.  The red pitcher was a birthday gift from a wonderful friend a few years ago - great for the sangria that I never make!  Then I added a little ceramic bird that had been gracing our dining room through the summer.

Such a minor change but I like it so much more.  As you have read and heard a million times before, odd numbers of items always look better and more natural.  It is still a work in progress (like everything in my house) but I will enjoy looking at it until I break out the real Halloween stuff.

Check out these link up parties!
Cottage and Vine
Nesting Place
Thrifty Decor Chick


Making a Dreaded Chore SOOOO Much Easier!

I bet I got your attention with that headline!  If ironing is the bane of your existence then this post is for you.  We are HORRIBLE about putting away our clean laundry quickly enough to avoid wrinkles.  As a result, we often have to do a quick run over our clothes before dashing out of the door.  Our large bulky ironing board has generally resided in our upstairs guest room but lived in one of our hall linen closets.  Since we don't spend much any time ironing sheets and other large items so the large ironing board was really overkill for us. 

So, when we came to be proud owners of a second floor laundry room (LOVE IT!), I really started thinking about how we could incorporate a wall-mounted ironing board into the mix.  I happened to mention it to my mom and she said they had taken one out of their house that we could have!  FREE!  Love that!  Parents to the rescue again.

When my parents were last in town, my dad and Jim set out to install said ironing board.  We first considered putting it in our laundry room but the electrical outlet positioning was an issue and there was not an obvious wall location.

My dad had the idea to put it behind the door in our room.  Basically invisible to anyone walking by but really convenient for us - particularly if we need to iron while we have guests in the house, since we are usually doing our ironing in less than presentable attire!

Here are some pictures of the new (to us) fancy ironing board.

It definitely needs a new cover because the elastic is pretty much gone but for free, I'm not complaining!  I love that there's a place to keep the iron inside and a spray bottle or spray starch - if I used spray starch!  Here's a similar one on Amazon.

Jim and my dad also opted to move our bathrobe hook to the wall from the door so the door could open further when the bathrobes are hanging there - the ironing board was getting in the way a bit.  Of course, they hid the holes in the door by moving the mirror up!!

In case you are wondering, there is still room to open the door and for an average size person, or a little person who sleeps down the hall, to slip through when necessary.

I can honestly say that we have done more ironing in the last 2 weeks since it was installed than we have all summer.  Hopefully our neater appearance is impressing our friends and coworkers!


Last Bits of Summer

Here are the last bits of summer before I take everything apart to prepare for the fall decor.  The boxes are out but I had to snap a couple more pics of my dining room centerpiece.  The dining room redecorating project is still underway.  Waiting on a couple of things for the walls and then I'll post the pictures. 

Stay tuned for the next round of decorating!


Here Come the Mums!

I really, really, really LOVE summer.  Everything about it - heat, humidity, swimming, ice cream, vacation, shorts, loads of family time, BBQs, beach, etc.  So, I may be one of the few people in the world that does not like fall.  I dread it actually.  This has nothing to do with a latent hatred for school.  I like school.  I should because I went for 21 years straight.  It really has to do with the shift towards cold weather, the impending winter, and the dark and short days.  NOT A FAN.  Fortunately we live in Northern Virginia so our winters are much shorter than the far upstate New York winters that endured growing up and in college.

As a result of my fall hatred, I often delay planting mums until the last possible moment - generally early October at the same time I get pumpkins.  This year, I went out on a limb and purchased and installed my mums early - really early.  SEPTEMBER 12th.  SERIOUSLY?!  I admit they do look beautiful though.

Way better than the mostly dried up and dead petunias and geraniums from the summer.  Fall is here I guess.  [sigh] At least someone is happy about it.

The major consolation prize of fall for me is Halloween which I LOVE!


Landscaping Progress!

We finally got around to a fairly major little landscaping project in the backyard last weekend.  All summer, I have been contemplating a privacy solution for our patio.  Our neighbors next door are great but everyone could use a little privacy, particularly when entertaining.  Our wonderful custom fence is about 4 feet tall which gives a sense of separation but the light goes through and we can still easily talk over the top which we often do.

Above you can see the remands of our portable tomato garden.  Tomato season is done here and was not very successful for me to begin with! Otherwise this is pretty much a blank canvas. 

I had thought about having lilac bushes along that fence.  I love lilacs and they do create some nice privacy without creating a solid wall of shrubs.

Then we started taking other things in our yard into consideration.  We want to get a swing set for the kids which is going to dominate our yard for the next few years.  There were a few plants up against our neighbor's old garage behind our house.  They are planning on tearing down the garage in the fairly near future, so the demolition and reconstruction would mean the shrubs back there would not likely make it through the process since they are so close. 

And guess what was back there - LILACS!  Yup, free for the taking because they are already ours.  We actually transplanted them there soon after moving in.  You can imagine how excited Jim was when I told him that I wanted to move them AGAIN.  These were spindly little trees when we put them there - basically a last ditch effort to do some new homeowner cheapo landscaping.  Eight years later, they over 6 feet tall.

As usual, Jim was a good sport and did 90% of the hard labor. 

So, we Jim dug a really big hole in our solid clay soil using a pick axe and pointed shovel.  It took about 2 hours to get to this point.  Fun times.

Still love me, right?
Fortunately Jim had the foresight to put the dirt on a tarp on our patio which made the clean up loads easier.  We then mixed the clay with peat moss, sand, top soil, and pretty much whatever else we could find in the garage.  It was not scientific in any way, but it generally resulted in much better soil than where we started.  

After a lot of sweating and digging, we finally got the shrubs moved and replanted.  The root balls on lilacs of this size are really small so that was the easiest part of all.  Even if they don't make it, it would be fairly easy to just buy some new trees at the garden center and put them in.  Hopefully these freebies will make it.

The result -

In a few years, I think we'll have some really good privacy and I look forward to smelling the lilacs while we enjoy our patio.  

Total cost - $0 (except for some Motrin that night)


Suite Dreams: Decorating the Guest Bath

A few months ago, I posted about the use of an orange accent color in my guest room.  I wanted to continue this accent into the adjoining guest bath.  One of the best things we did in the basement was to add a second door to the bathroom so people can go between the bedroom and bathroom without going into our adjoining play room.  So, it really makes sense to have these rooms work together.

The bathroom wall color (Duron - Watery) was really inspired by some towels my mom got us for Christmas intended for use in our master bath.  She did not know that we had already bought some, but I loved the color so I decided to use it as a jumping point for the basement bathroom which we started finishing a few weeks after New Years this year. 

I loved the colors - white, pale turquoise, and small touches of black tile - but it needed something else.  I only had to look through the door to see the ideal color - orange.  What was even more perfect was seeing these new Amy Butler towels in a decorating magazine (honestly, I cannot remember which one).  I had to have them.

The bird canvas was yet another great Marshalls find. 

I think the rooms really work well together, although both rooms are still missing a few accessories.  I actually bought this capiz mirror (HomeGoods) not really knowing which room it would go in, but I ultimately put it in the bathroom on the wall opposite the toilet.

What do you think?  Do you like the orange with the turquoise?


Coat Closet Crisis

First, I have to say that I am very thankful to have a coat closet on the first floor, especially one that holds hangers in the proper position (front to back).  For those of you living in houses built after 1960, you have no idea how frustrating it is to: (1) Not have a coat closet; (2) Have a coat closet but no rod to hold coats; (3) Have a coat closet but on a different floor; or (4) Have a coat closet that only holds 4 coats.  For all of you with these frustrating situations, I feel your pain.  A "real" coat closet was high on our priority list for our renovation.  We didn't end up getting a huge coat closet, mostly because I prioritized kitchen storage over coats, but we do have a decent closet.  Our previous coat closet could not hold hangers in the proper front to back position - they were all turned 45 degrees to accommodate the door.

This is probably the most public closet in our house.  It is in a prime location near our guest half bath, and we sometimes attempt to hang up guest coats in there (quite futile, actually).  We outfitted it with the Elfa system when we moved in.  We had most of the pieces leftover from old closets which no longer existed in our renovated house, so the investment was minimal.  But, it was scary and it was getting hard to shut the door. 


So, I set out on one of my famous closet clean-outs.  Things got worse (way worse) before they got better.  This was also a great opportunity to clean out several bags that we are not using right now and move some things to other closets in the house. 

But, an hour later, I got to here.

Probably does not look that much different because I already had the basics (shelves, baskets, bins, etc.) but it was really just the extra stuff in there that we did not need.  I love the Elfa basket/hooks on the door.  They add a ton of space for umbrellas, lint rollers, and mittens, and they give the kids a place to hang their own coats at the bottom. 

The plastic bins on the top shelf hold scarves, hats, and mittens.  In the winter, I'll move those down to the floor and put the extra bags at the top.  See-through boxes are critical for this function because you never want to guess where your mittens are when you are already 10 minutes late for work. 

I also invested in some heavy duty plastic tubular hangers for the coats.  We previously had a mishmash of hangers which was not working at all.  Lightweight plastic hangers cannot properly hold heavy winter coats and wood hangers generally take up too much space.  I opted for these inexpensive hangers from the Container Store which are less than $1 each (sold in packs of 3).  I continued to use the lighter weight hangers for most of the kids' coats. 

By now you have probably figured out that I love a good closet clean-out!  (sad, I know)