Monday, May 5, 2014

Our Yard {A Story of Progress and Love}

I already shared a little bit about how bad our yard was when we purchased our home. But I wanted to share a little post on the progress we've made over the past three years.

I shared that the first year or two was mostly spent nursing things back to health and learning about our yard--water flow and sunlight.  And I should include that "learning" also meant some failures and dead plants, but also some fun projects.

Last spring we decided to tackle laying in the corner beds around the existing Bradford pears.  The grass didn't grow well there in part because of the trees themselves but also because the soil had lots of rocky debris that needed to be enriched.  We went a very cost effective, eco-friendly route by killing the grass by laying a layer of newspaper down and then mulching on top.  Totally don't regret it!  It was super easy and a year later most of the paper has biodegraded and you can already tell that it has increased the quality of the soil.  We also fixed up the bed directly across from the patio and laid in heat resistant, full sun trees, shrubs and red yucca.  I am a sucker for ornamental trees so we have a few more than the average suburban backyard.  

Once we laid in the beds that swept around the Bradford pears and the corner of the yard, I felt compelled to carry one of them to the gate--it just sort of made sense with the water flow and it added a sort of garden path you can see below.  The bed on the left we extended this spring--it used to stop at that big evergreen but now it goes all the way to the fence now too.  One thing we would like to do on this side of the house is to complete the little path to the gate with some stepping stones.  Probably some moss rock stepping stones.  

Also, this spring we added the bed above--just last week! We had a wind storm blow over a piece of patio furniture that we were storing for a family member and onto my beloved Japanese was the first tree we planted when we started planting three years ago.  It had grown to be beautiful, thick and lovely.  And each year of growth I would think about the growth of our family in this little house of ours.  

Anyhow, for a combined Easter and Mother's Day gift my sweet husband bought me a replacement and he and my brother planted it and laid in the new bed around it.  I like the way it sweeps the patio and I think that it will grow to provide a nice element to the patio area.  I know that in Texas sun and heat that it's not recommended to plant a Japanese maple in full sun, but this is where my past one was and it had no trouble as long and I kept it watered in the hot months.  They are actually pretty adaptable and the only real difference is that their leaves may turn greener instead of deep purple when they get a lot of sun.  

While it was a quick, cheap fix for our patio to fix up the abandoned pots when we first moved in, they were only a temporary fix and the plastic quickly became brittle.  I also never liked the idea of plastic for plants--it doesn't retain water well and its just unnatural.  So we switched them out for terra cotta pots over time.  I would have loved some glazed pots to go out here, but they were waaay out of our price range.  The terra cotta came in at 1/4 or less of the price and so I had enough money in the budget to get a few more to layer.  Plus with the kind of hail we get in this area of the country I would be so devastated and annoyed if I lost a $100 glazed pot in a spring storm.  Plus the terra cotta adds it's own pop of color.  

The stone frogs represent my alma mater and I got them last month on a crazy good deal--75% off at our local Calloways. They we so affordable ($5 each!) that I got three to tuck around my pots.  I am not much for garden knick-knacks but I thought they fit the vibe well.  

And finally, we got rid of the bunny brothel aka the side deck, laid some sod and planted a few hostas in a small bed over here.  Plus we expanded the bed on the right to include a Japanese maple I got on an Arbor Day special for $9.  It was a sad twig of a thing but I fertilized it and this spring from the nice rain we've had it has probably grown 6 inches in every direction. We will see how it does but I think it should do well and if not--it was a $9 investment! 

We also added a few decorative moss rocks over the past two summers.  Because while we would love to have laid stone around all the beds, that would be an over-upgrade for our house and neighborhood.  But the moss rocks add some interesting depth and texture year round and their reddish tone tie in well with the terra cotta pots and fence stain.  Plus they make excellent climbing and jumping rocks for a certain little garden helper. 

We have a ways to go--there are still a few plants left to purchase to fill in our beds and we had a late February freeze that nearly killed/made my loropetalum look ragged.  And of course there is the power of time--time for the plants we have planted to grow and fill in.  We've planted around 10 red yucca in the beds--they are hot weather rock stars, grow fast and stay green in the winter and their late-spring flowers last all summer long. Currently they are about a 12-18 inches in diameter but the ones in our front yard that have been there 3 years or more are 3-4 feet in diameter and 2-3 feet tall.  So once the red yucca grow a bit some of out beds should really fill out.  Last year's plant of red yucca have already doubled in size and the same for out early spring plant this year. 
It is exciting because I love to work in the yard and I love the slow and steady process.  I will try to post an update here again, maybe next spring?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Our Yard {A Before Story}

This post has been sitting in my draft box for 3 years.  Yes, you read that correctly...3 years.  I think it's just really important to say that out loud.  We've been in our house a little over three years now and besides completely repainting the inside of the house the backyard has been the most drastic improvement.  We are on our third year of a five year plan, so I offer all of this to takes time.  

And since everyone loves a tragic before story, here's ours...

When we bought the house the backyard was a disaster.  And I mean this in the sweetest way possible but the yard was a well loved play space for three kiddos under the age of five.  There were two swing sets and a play barn and a few places where I think pirates must have buried some treasure and forgot to cover the hole back up with grass.  Some of the giant, grassless holes were also a place where water liked to pool and stand.  A fact that definitely freaked our family (and our realtor to a less extent) out. These facts under normal circumstances or rather in a normal yard may not be too bad, but our yard is a typical suburban back yard--shallow and small.  

And then there was the fence...oh, the fence.   It was sagging into our neighbor's yards in no less than three places, there were 8 rotted posts because the builder didn't use fence grade posts, they used something cheaper that wasn't meant to have water and dirt sit against it.  The same goes for the pickets, they were rotting from the bottom where they hadn't already fallen off or the dogs hadn't poked a whole through at the bottom.  

Below are two of the "befores" we snapped the day we moved in.  See how the fence isn't straight?  That's not an optical illusion or bad camera work that's what a fence that your 10 lb dog could knock over onto the sweet little neighbor girls looks like.   

We had the play equipment removed as part of our purchasing contract but you can also see the pirate holes in the bed above and two of them in the yard in the photo below.  Serious fun was had in our yard.  

I'm not sure that you can get a real feel by these two pictures, but we had hedges running along the back side of the house in shallow beds and two medium sized Bradford pears, one in each corner (there is one in a mirror image spot from the one pictured above) to work with and of course the falling down fence.  

If you can remember we moved in when I was 9 months pregnant which meant that I wasn't really up for a family fence replacing party.  But these high north Texas winds, a small bitey dog and dogs and kids on all sides of us meant that the fence needed to be high on the priority list.  So the first, unglamorous order of backyard business was having a new fence put up.

I wish I could say that our first fence purchase was wonderful, but it wasn't...we still have a few issues with it currently and would never recommend our fence contractor (send me an e-mail if you live in the DFW area and want to know who NOT to use!).  But the new fence, none the less was a huge improvement over what came with the house.  We went with the cedar board on board with metal posts for privacy and durablity. And since our house was one of the first in the neighborhood to be built, we have since watched all our neighbors upgrade over the past few years--very fun!

Our first year here we mostly focused on the lawn--filling holes, fertilizing the grass, filling in dead spots, fixing sprinkler heads and observing water flow and sun.  We also spent time throwing out all the trash, debris and abandoned yard items and toys left behind by the previous owners and shaping some of the existing bushes across the back and I did a cheap pot makeover but mostly it was a learning year.  We wanted to watch the sun in it's various positions and learn so that we made wise choices.

In our second year we got rid of this odd little raft of a side deck that was wedged between the house and the fence.  We lovingly called it the "rabbit brothel" because it appeared to be a nice mating and nest building place for animals.  It was also causing some water issues we thought might one day affect the foundation of the house.

Another thing we did in year two, that you will see the full effect of in my next post is put solar screens across the back half of the house. Our first summer despite keeping the thermostat higher than we wanted the AC ran non-stop, our bill was high and we were never comfortable--not cool!  So we installed solar screens to help with energy efficiency in our Texas home.  Side note...the solar screen company claimed that you recover the cost of the screens over 18 months on your energy bill but since we had them done in March before the summer heat--we saw our full investment recovered in 4 months.  Also, our unit is not running nearly as often or as hard and it is waaaay more comfortable.  Anyhow, the unintended side effect of solar screens is that aesthetically it created a nice uniformity across the back of the house.  You can see in the above picture how the widows looked at the beginning.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent for Ordinary Moms

We are now in the third week of the Advent season.  Just reading that I am sure gets some of your blood pressure's climbing with visions of shopping lines dancing in your heads. For those of you who may not be Christian, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas where we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child. We are also in the third week of the Christmas season--the one of shopping, attending parties and all that other good stuff.  Without boring you completely to death, the "church year" for mainline Protestants is divided into different seasons--we are in Advent right now, there is the season of Lent which leads up to Easter, but the bulk of the calendar year the church is in what we call "ordinary time." Ordinary time is a time where nothing huge is going on, but there are a steady rotation of lessons that hit on many of the different aspects of our lives with God. It is called "ordinary" because it is just that. 
But right now we are in the Advent or Christmas season, which means time for reflection and prayer, but it also means fitting in about ten times more errands, the daily commute taking a little longer each day, making baked goods and then trying not to eat/burn the calories of said baked goods, being pressured by Pinterest to create the perfect handmade Advent/countdown to Christmas calendar filled with and activity a day to teach "meaning" to your children and create "fun and magic" and all those great things.  As some of you may already know I am a pastor of a medium-sized congregation, which means that this time of the year my calendar is full and my family is required to be a bit more flexible.  So if you want me to come up with, prep and execute a thoughtful and fun craft or activity every night while also making a healthy home-cooked meal and get everyone washed and in bed on time, well you might as well induct me into the bad mother's club right now.  
Don't get me wrong, I love crafts and crafting with my child.  You only have to look around my blog for two seconds to get that vibe. And I love having fun with my daughter and creating special memories.  And we love teaching her about our faith and about the special stories of our faith. I am not knocking any of those things, because I love all of them. 
But this is my third Christmas season with a child and this year we have another on the way (yippee!) and over the past several years I have undergone a slow transformation and come to a bit of a conclusion. 
I am an awesome ordinary time mom.
If you want a over-planned and well-executed Advent calendar I am not your gal.
If you want an activity-a-day month, sorry, can't do it.
If you want to pack everyone up in the car, after dark (right around bed time) to go see lights on a school/work night, it's probably not going to happen. 
But if you want to come home randomly from pre-school/work one day in March and go for a "nature hike" around the neighborhood and talk about all God has made, I am your girl. 
If you want to go to the library and look up books on kindness in the middle of July on a Tuesday afternoon to beat the heat, I'm all about it. 
If you want to make cookies one Saturday afternoon in September just because we can, I'm there and likely have all the fixins in the pantry and leaf cookie cutters already in the arsenal. 
I have grown to be a peace with our lives not looking like a board on Pinterest during Advent because when you step back and look at the whole year, when you take into account ordinary time (which by the way takes up MOST of the calendar year), I pretty much nail it.  That doesn't mean that I am perfect, it means that we have found a pace and a rhythm that works for us to create special moments as a family, to do special activities together and to teach our families values and faith stories.  And no one is getting stressed out about it.  I am an awesome ordinary time mom--and you know what?  Ordinary time takes up way more of the calendar and (hopefully) way more of my child's memories and understanding of who they are and who we are as a family. 
And being an awesome "ordinary time mom" has made me a better Advent mom.  I can't track down 25 books, wrap them and remember every night to unwrap one in a meaningful and snuggly way by the fire.  But I can, every night at bedtime read The Story of Christmas, taking the time to sing "Away in the Manger" on the page where baby Jesus is lying on the hay, because it's my daughter's favorite. 
I can't do fun activity after fun activity each and every night (we have six church Christmas parties to attend this week people--six!), but I can make sure that like all the other evenings of the year dinner is (mostly) healthy and (semi) on time.  I can make sure that we pray before bed and that our prayers reflect what is happening in our lives, in our world and in our faith. And on the weekend we will sneak in a Christmas light watching stroll around the neighborhood with friends, we will do a movie night snuggled in jammies, but we will do them at our ordinary time pace. 
I am not writing this for the moms that can and will do all those special activities each and every day--more power to you, certainly I have no judgment and probably have more than a few high-fives to pass around.  I am writing this for the ordinary time moms--those of you that need permission to let go of the seasonal expectations and be the awesome mom you are year round, at the pace you do it at year round this Advent season.  Because most of the year is ordinary and most of our lives are ordinary and the faith story of the season is certainly about a God that not only digs the ordinary, but preferred to burrow down deep into the ordinary of this world through a small child, born not of royalty but of ordinary people. 

This year's Santa picture from our church Christmas festival, of which we all showed up, looking decent,
and matching and didn't plan a single bit of it.  I call that a WIN!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Woah, Baby!

Guess what? Spring 2014 we'll be welcoming a new family member! 
And we can't wait!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tuesday Crafties {Painted Blocks}

Today's Tuesday Crafties is a Toddler Crafty...we decided to paint our own set of wooden blocks.  Over the winter I had made several sets of Olio blocks as gifts.  I had some left over plain wooden blocks that A ran across in my craft supplies and asked her favorite question, "paint, mommy?" So I said "sure why not!"

I picked three colors to keep it simple, using a acrylic craft paint and adding a bit of water to keep her little layers of paint thin. I also put a separate brush in each color to prevent too much mixing.

We didn't wear a smock with this project (but should have).  We totally own and recommend this one if you are looking for one.