Backyard living

We have a small little backyard that used to look like this:IMG_0096

Nondescript patch of grass, concrete walk from house to garage. Eric insisted last year that we take out the lawn and put in a patio instead, which I was initially very against. Where will the kids have lawn to play? I asked. I eventually relented, and I am ever so glad that I did.


We ripped out the grass and had a paver patio installed.  I  (or, erm, the contracters) used two different colorways and mixed them together–Borgert Holland stone in North Shore and Autumn Blend.  It’s laid in a herringbone pattern and edged in a solid color charcoal stone. This took a lot of work and I am so happy with the results.


Along the side are 3 aspen trees-typically you can’t plant aspens in a yard because they crop up everywhere and take over, but since we have stone and the neighbors do as well, it should be fine. I can’t wait for them to leaf out and start rustling in the breeze.


Along the garage wall are shade friendly plants-hosta (generic, but they work and look good), columbine, begonia, forest grasses.

The sail shade  and furniture are from Costco and have been great.  It took a few doings to figure out the best way to hang the shade, and it now is just right.  The furniture is modular which is nice because we can shift it around as needed to take advantage of the shade and also for various entertaining needs.


We’ve already been out here much, much more than we ever were last year. Still to come upgrades: restaining the fence, planting pots along the brick retaining wall behind the furniture, and an improved dining corner since it’s harder to eat while sitting on the couch than we thought it would be.

So I’ll say it here, in public, but JUST THIS ONCE.

Honey, you were right.

Purple Purple

So, a little over 4 years ago, I had a baby girl. (yes, 4. I skipped the obligatory birthday post.) At this time, I thought, “I will not buy only pink and purple for my little girl. I’ll do things that are bright colors, but not girly.”

And so I painted her room orange and yellow, partly to reflect the pattern of the beautiful quilt that my friend Emily stitched for her. I didn’t do much else in terms of decorating, since I think doing a full nursery is cute but silly since the baby doesn’t care and once that baby gets a bit bigger they’ll have opinions. I also feel that doing a full nursery is what the marketers want you to do–do a full nursery, then get all new stuff for “big kid” stage, then get all new stuff for “preteen” stage, then get all new stuff for “teenager.” But I digress.

That little girl grew and grew, and stated her love for all things…pink and purple. And thus did she get things that were pink and purple. And these things ended up in her room, so her room ended up being orange and yellow and purple and brown and pink and white and just all sorts of garish.

(The dresser has already been painted in this picture; it used to be the same dark brown as the handles.)

And then, a few weeks ago while I was at Bed Bath and Beyond I saw a beautiful dark purple comforter with hot pink stitching and knew that it would make my little girl all sorts of happy. I also realized then I’d have to paint her room otherwise it would be really ugly. Such severe life problems, I know.

Dear reader, I painted the room purple. Benjamin Moore AF-615 Violetta to be precise.

I painted the dresser and side table white and painted the handles a deep pink. I also painted the inside of her closet the same pink for a little pop of bright color.

Mirrored butterflies on the wall, floating away on the walls over to the top of the bed.

And as for the inspirational quilt-well, as a creator of handmade goods I always feel sad if I think they go unused. As it turns out, the quilt that Emily made for Atticus happened to be a dark purple, and thus we could put that one up instead! So pretty.

Overall, I love it. In my overachieving painting world I would have loved to paint it with an ombre effect, but it’s probably prettier this way. I was also going to stencil on some pink and purple butterflies onto the dresser but decided against it. We need to get better bookshelves and add real shelving to the closet, but that can wait. And did the girl like it?

Yes! She did!

And then she promptly put on an orange suit and clashed with her own room.


I make a mean granola. I’ve been bombarded for the recipe lately, so I thought I’d share. (And by bombarded I mean 2 people have asked me.)

Really, though, it’s more of a guiding principle of granola making than a true recipe. I always make a large batch (the recipe below is technically a double recipe, half if you want less) because it’s gone in a few days. To save time, I mix up two batches of dry ingredients since I have everything out anyway. Then I put one of them into a large plastic bag (the bag the oats comes in makes a good container for this) and then, a few days later, all I have to do is mix up the wet ingredients, stir them in and bake.

Many granola recipes have you toast the oats first. I’ve never done this and hardly find it necessary, but maybe the final product suffers, who knows. No one has ever complained. I started with a recipe I found in a cookbook but found it far too oily and far too sweet. I kept cutting back on the oil and sugar until it was just right. I tend to make it less sweet than most granola you’ve had before, since most of the time we mix it with vanilla yogurt or soymilk which adds a lot of sugar.

Granola (I get all my ingredients in bulk from Costco, which also helps to save some money)

6 cups regular oats

4 cups mixed chopped nuts/seeds (anything, really–I like pumpkin seeds, walnuts and pecans. If you want to make this a lower fat recipe, use less nuts/seeds. I personally do not believe in cooking or eating low fat.)

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup canola oil (could sub some melted butter also, very tasty)

1-2 tablespoons of flavored oil (walnut, hazelnut, etc) (optional)

1/2 cup liquid sweetener (I’ve used honey or maple syrup, though you could use agave or something else)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 cups dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, etc.)

Other potential add-ins: shredded coconut (add to dry mix), chopped candied orange peel, chopped candied ginger, mini chocolate or yogurt chips.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix together oats, seeds, nuts, and sugar in a bowl.

Mix oils, vanilla, liquid sweetener and honey together in a liquid measuring cup and whisk together.

Pour liquids over dry and mix well.

Prepare a large baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment. (I mistakenly bought parchment already cut into sheets, clearly it’s preferable to use a larger sheet that goes lengthwise. This step is optional, but really cuts down on the cleanup.)

Pour granola in and bake for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice until golden. Most other recipes will tell you to spread out on a baking sheet, and again I’ve never found that necessary.

Using the parchment, lift the granola out of the pan and transfer to cookie sheet to cool.

Mix in dried fruit when cool and enjoy with milk, soymilk, yogurt, or just by itself! Good luck getting it to last longer than a few days. If any of you make this I’d love to know what you use and how it turns out!


I love surprises, no matter how small.

Like these, for example, which I first noticed about six weeks ago:


The radishes I planted in April have done wonderfully.

I know there are many of you out there that abhor radishes. I used to be one of them. But if you toss them with a bit of olive oil and roast them, they are absolutely delicious. The boy gobbled them up.

The peas are also looking happy:

This year I wanted to know exactly what the dirt was made of, so to speak. I took a few clumps of soil from very different parts of the garden and took them to Echter’s Greenhouse for a soil test.

It took about 20 minutes and was $4 a test, which I thought was a worthwhile investment, though I’m sure the results are not particularly surprising to Colorado gardeners who actually know what they are doing. (For example, I was resoundly mocked by my neighbor for going over to borrow “the flat spade-y thing”.)

And the results? Well–the pH of the front garden soil which has had dying grass and dandelions for years was near perfect at 6.5. The newly dug up area near the house that hasn’t been touched for 2 years is not terrible at 7. And the beds I so diligently dug up and amended last year?  The pH is 8! Maybe that’s why things didn’t seem to grow as well as the community garden. Or it could be that none of the soil has any nitrogen. Potassium and phosphorous were okay, which seems to be typical for Colorado soil.

I’ll be adding blood meal for nitrogen, but are there any fixes for the alkalinity of the soil? Googling tells me that my choices are basically sulfur or adding compost yearly and waiting a few years for it to correct, neither of which sounds terribly appealing.

Buying starts tomorrow and hopefully getting them into the ground over the next week! Yay for Spring!

Trial and Error

My general approach to new things is to just jump in and figure it out as I go along.

I could break this down a bit more like this:

1. See new idea

2. Think, “Hey, that’s cool, I should do it.”

3. Start new project/task with no real clue as to what I’m doing, only some vague memory and help from Mr. Google.

4. Realize I have bitten off waaay more than I can chew.

5. Spend a lot more time with Mr. Google.

6. Figure it out.

7. Final result not quite what I initially pictured, but looking fine.

I then repeat steps 3-7 with increasing ability and end up getting pretty good at what it is I’m trying to do.  Knitting, gardening, parenting, the triathlon–all fall into this same pattern.  I’ll walk you through the steps with my latest project.

My new thing (because, clearly, I need another project) is mid century modern furniture, like everyone else out there.  Actually, I realize that’s what I’ve always liked, I just didn’t have a good name for it.  I hate all things foofy and puffy in home design.  (Step #1)

Eric found a great vintage leather lounge chair at a local vintage store, and I went back to look for an end table and found this little guy.

As you can see in the picture, this was after I thought, hey, I can just refinish that! How hard could it be? (Why I haven’t learned that the mere thought of that question should be a big red light is beyond me.) (This would be Step #2)

Here’s a closeup of the bottom level–you can see where the paint was pretty well worn, and it looked sort of crappy.

After dredging up memories of junior high woodshop and some time spent on Google (Step #3), I was armed with varying grits of sandpaper, Watco stain and brushes.  I then learned that it’s damn impossible to get all of the old finish off with just sandpaper on a piece like this with little nooks. I could NOT get into all the corners with the electric sander, and even with hand sanding couldn’t quite get all the old finish off.  I didn’t get a pic of the table when it was all sanded, but here’s one of the drawer.  I got a bit worried because at this point, it was looking a little pine-y, like an Ikea piece.

I really didn’t want to spend all this time to have something that looked like it came from Ikea.

At this point, all the Google instructions I found told me to basically slop on the Watco, wipe it off a few hours later, repeat, and then do it again the next day.

I did this a few times over a 3 week period and ended up with this sticky mess (Step #4):

Now, the color looks okay in that picture, but if you look on the bottom level you can see patches of very uneven color and the whole thing was slightly sticky.

Back to the computer, I started Googling terms like “Watco finish sticky” and came up with a whole NEW list of instructions, which basically said NOT to do what I did.  (Step #5)

I then had to make a decision–either I could let it dry fully and live with it, or I’d just have to redo it.

What’s a perfectionist to do?

Out came the sanders again, and I completely redid the entire piece.  (Step #6) Here it is in its final resting place next to the couch.

And a closeup of the top, where the scratches are still there, but the color is much more even (Step #7):

If I was ever to redo another piece like this, the big change I’d do would be to use a chemical stripper instead of trying to sand it.  I was hoping to avoid using more chemicals, but I think it’s kind of necessary to get a great result.

Now, I just need to find a nice table lamp for it.

Maybe I’ll find one at the vintage store. Oh! I know! I think I saw something online to  handmake your own lampshade.  It didn’t look that hard.

And thus begins Step #1 allll over again.

Energy Audit

A little over a month ago, Eric started looking into solar panels for the house.  The process yielded some interesting information.

I’d always thought of ourselves as relatively energy aware people.  I mean, we don’t run the air conditioning much, don’t leave lights on and are generally mindful of how much power we are using.  I didn’t think of our bills as ludicrously high.

I was wrong.  Though it’s not entirely all our fault, you’ll see.

As it turns out, the average kilowatt hour usage monthly (averaged over the year) for a house of our size is 632 kWh/month.  We had been using an average of 1033 kWh/month.  Jeez.  And now I feel like I’ve revealed something like my weight.  Anyway.  We got an energy audit from Xcel Energy, during which I learned that our biggest electricity drains were our electric dryer and our electric water heater.  Seeing as how we do at LEAST one load of laundry a day, our dryer gets a lot of usage.  (As a side note, you always assume that you’ll do more laundry after you have kids because you’ll have their laundry to wash.  What no one tells you is that they also manage to make your clothes filthy as well,  so your overall laundry quintuples.)  I’d always thought our water heater was gas.  Of course, this explains why our gas usage is so much below the average–34 therms instead of an average 70 therms.  In the summer, our only gas usage is our stove and the pilot light for the fireplace and our bill is only 7 therms/month.

So, a few changes.


Using this tutorial, I put up a couple clotheslines.  (The lady may be a jailbird, but she’s got some good ideas.) We started the time-honored activity of hanging our clothes out to dry.  Of course, since Colorado is well-known for late afternoon thundershowers, we also got to engage in the time-honored activity of scrambling to pull your clothes off the line before they get soaking wet again. And there was a minor emergency when a wasp got stuck in the corner of a fitted sheet and popped out of hiding while I was making the bed.  A few times, we left the clothes on the line overnight and forgot it was sprinkler night.  And yes, that’s practically our entire backyard, but the clothes never seemed to get in the way of kids playing.  We managed to use the dryer only once.

We also made a concerted effort not to turn on the A/C at all.  We’d have to open the windows every morning when it was cooler, then shut them and close all the blinds when the sun came up.  It kept it fairly livable, though we did turn on the air conditioning one day when my mother-in-law was here.  (See? Not my fault.  I was forced to use more energy for the sake of family peace.)  We also turned our water heater down a bit more and turned the fireplace pilot light off because, well, it was idiotic to keep it on in the summer anyway.

I eagerly awaited our September energy bill to see what the effect would be.  I was expecting that the total would go down by around 100 kWh, but not hugely.

Our bill dropped by 300 kWh from July.  Thirty percent. Our gas usage went from 7 therms to just 3.  Our bill overall dropped by $46.  Holy energy savings, Batman!

Obviously it’ll go up significantly in winter since we’ll have to use our dryer more and will have to run the heat.  Of course, now that we don’t have little babies in the house anymore we can keep the place a little cooler and use more sweaters and blankets.  Keep that in mind if you stop by this winter.  We’ll never get below the average year-round simply because of the water heater and dryer, but I feel a lot better about cutting our usage at least in the summer months.

Now I just have to wait until the kids are tall enough to hang clothes themselves and then I’ll personally be able to expend less energy.