Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Hills are Alive with the Sights of Inspiration

Almost everything got put on hold this weekend as I enjoyed Payson and family. Like any good student, I dutifully packed up my computer and notebook - I even opened the "thesis in progress" document, then ignored it as I spent hours googling house decorating ideas and landscaping tips. (I love our not-quite-chats on pinterest, Tonya!) But who can study Ogilvy's insights on advertising fonts when the possibility of a good book and iced tea on the deck await?

So school got put on hold and my "to do" list of research and letter writing didn't get very far, but my "settle the nest" project was inspired. My parents' house provides the feeling that all hotels/bed and breakfasts/lodges/communes/window company advertisements/politicians/chair makers promise: a place that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed just as you are. While I can't transport the mountains (even if my faith could move them, I like them just where they are next to my parents' deck) and I can't bring back the great weather (though I plan to complain a lot about not taking that back to Phoenix with me), I can tackle some of these small details to make home more homey:

Sun tea! I feel like the 4,695 people who advocate for solar energy at the state Capitol: if they're using the sun efficiently in Payson (or Oregon, or Texas, or...), we should be using it in Phoenix! I shudder to think of the number of $3 over-brewed cups of Starbucks tea I've had when I could have been consuming entire jars of THIS yumminess. And unlike those at the Capitol, I'm not going to demand a tax credit to put the sun to good use.

Though I'm sure I'll get disagreement from those who have been required to water my plants, or even participate in my lengthy tour of my plants, I am sure that I need more plants in pots.
I need them in groups and I need them on shelves and I for sure, without a doubt, need more flowers. So there.

Nice, coordinated outdoor lights. The front door got royal treatment immediately (though I'm still ignoring the broken doorbell), but the outdoor lights in the back continue to look like the random remains of a 1980's home show. These lights are just beautiful and they even match the paint - very inspiring.

Strategically-placed bird feeders. Look at this - it's like a five star restaurant for feathered friends! My bird feeder gradually became a big hit (and I mean "hit" literally - birds would actually fight each other quite mean-spiritedly in order to feast there), but also created serious concerns about the cleanliness of my sidewalk below. I've got to find a spot where birds can be happily attacked for food, and I don't have to spend hours scrubbing just to avoid regulation by the county environmental health department.

Relaxation with family and friends. I need to stop stressing about what color to paint the living room and instead start enjoying living in it.

Love you, mom and dad - thank you for a wonderful (and longer than expected) weekend!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

I'm thankful for those who sacrifice so much to serve in the military, and for a country that still values the accomplishments and commitments that our flag symbolizes.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Definitions Redefined

I used to think that "DIY" referred to ambitious, cost-saving projects that brought one happiness, exhaustion and the sense of a job well done.

I now know that it stands for "dummy in the yard." I'm sore from the yard work this weekend and despite how much I'll brag about how great the side of the yard looks in an upcoming post, the fact is I barely accomplished anything. So there.

Though it DID bring happiness, exhaustion and the sense of a (small) job well done, so maybe I wasn't too far off.

Now You See It...Now You Don't

I was introduced to the power of bulk trash week, and I'm a huge fan. For one thing, it was ridiculously motivating. Human nature adapts, I guess, but I'd reached the point where I didn't even notice the junk piled up around me anymore. The clutter that kept me up at night when I first moved in no longer seemed so bad...my mind actually started to come up with things like, "well maybe those white trellis panels will come in handy if I decide to plant a vineyard," or "hey, maybe I'll NEED a dirty old office chair in the garage if I'm too tired to walk inside!" Ridiculous. But the concept of someone ELSE coming to just cart away the junk was rejuvenating. It was the cleaning equivalent of Monty Python's holy grail being just around the corner (African swallow, anyone?). So I worked all weekend to create a very impressive pile of junk in order to make the Phoenix Solid Waste employees feel oh so needed.

I should note that this picture would have been much more impressive if all the junk had actually stayed in the pile (and also if it hadn't been taken at 11 p.m. when it was too dark for me to even see where the camera was pointing). I'd heard rumors that people bring trucks through to pick up things that are left out for the trash men, but as someone whose favorite red truck was discovered from a trip to the dump with dad who am I to judge? (Seriously, that truck was COOL - the doors actually opened.) Things just kept disappearing and it wasn't all because of the people who appreciate junk. A huge pile of tree trimmings (which I'll brag about soon) mysteriously moved from my neat pile in the alley into the trash can, where they're not supposed to go. Anyway, my Inventory of Bulk was pretty impressive:
- 17 cans of paint
- An old flourescent light base
- Six enormous pieces of white trellis, with leftover rusty nails and wire hanging from them
- Nine huge bags of leaves and dead weeds
- A big pile of tree branches
- An old office chair
- Numerous pieces of an old moldy shelf
- An old car stereo that was left in the hall closet

Not bad, huh? I was proud of my separation from junk and, as you can see, the alley looks infinitely cleaner. The yard looks even more improved. Photos soon...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Color Obsession

Perhaps my desire to go to the beach is tainting my decorating judgement or
perhaps I'm just tired of looking at multiple tan paint swatches on the walls, but today I'm obsessed with seafoam-ey walls. This one on www.younghouselove.com started the color fetish...

...and now I keep finding other ideas that I like.

On a side note, did you know you have to wait for an invitation to use www.pinterest.com? I'm patiently waiting to be included since they have some great decorating ideas.

In between seafoam visions, I'm tackling major yardwork projects every night this week. Tuesday is Phoenix's "bulk trash day," which means some poor city employees will get stuck hauling away the junk I don't have the energy or resources to move myself. I'm working to tear apart as much old landscaping and messiness as I can...pictures and details coming soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In an earlier post I promised more details on my too-good-to-be-true solar lanterns from IKEA, and since I'm now enjoying them every night I wanted to share them. As you may remember, my patio lacked light and life though it is a shady, enjoyable place to spend time.

I was skeptical about the promises made about these lanterns. I expected the lights to not work, or the fabric to be flimsy, or the solar panel to forget to soak up rays throughout the day. It is entirely true that IKEA did not tell the truth...these lanterns are much, much better than promised. They soak up sun and then dutifully turn themselves on as the sky darkens each night.

They're just as pretty during the day, too - I've discovered I can almost be hypnotized by staring at the wonderful lanterns swinging gently in the wind.

I thought I spent a fortune on my treasure ($15 for the big white one and $10 for the smaller; $8 for the large blue one, which was on clearance) but then saw a similar lantern listed at over $40 in this month's Real Simple magazine. Knowing I got a good deal makes me like these gorgeous additions even better.

Shear Madness

In between glorious rain showers this evening, my shearers and I had a great time cleaning up the yard. I began with the Palo Verde tree, which I think has been suffocating my Mexican Bird of Paradise so it does not bloom. It seems to be the only Bird of Paradise not blooming in Phoenix right now, so it was time for desperate measures. Half an hour and a lot of scrapes later (did you know Palo Verde trees have thorns?!
They look so green and innocent until they're literally falling from the sky and impaling themselves on your face. My nose may never be the same.) the tree looked much more trim and the Bird of Paradise could take a deep breath of sunshine and fresh air and hopefully start blooming in celebration of my accomplishment.

A wise man once said that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail...and, after all, I'd gone to the trouble of getting the shears out of the garage - so I moved to the front yard and tackled every bush in sight.

These unruly little hedges had begun to go crazy - a good sign that they'll survive without much water, but a bad sign for my efforts to look like I'm getting my yard under control. So the shears tackled them next, and they quickly went from overgrown (left side) to tame and civilized (right side). Eight bushes, one big trash bag and a couple of blisters later, I claimed victory and gave up for the night.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

DC Inspiration

I was inspired by countless gardening ideas I saw in DC this weekend, only to be crushed when I discovered that most of the things I loved are somewhat obsessed with being in moderate, balmy climates. Since I don't take pleasure in watching plants suffer and I've given up on recreating DC climate in Phoenix (there just aren't enough mister systems!), I'm sticking to just a few of these great ideas.

Wood chips. There are wood chips covering just about every planter, yard, and public garden - they provide a wonderful feeling that somehow transports rural relaxation into the middle of the city.

Lantana. I already knew I loved this plant (little water AND lots of flowers? Yes, please.) but seeing it outside the Smithsonian ensured it gets a prominent spot in my front yard.

Edible Art. These hanging plants outside the Smithsonian made me actually want to eat a salad.

Non-mowable Grass. I'm a big fan!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green

Confession time: compost bins attract bugs. My composting days are over after a dark-of-night dump of the compost bin into the trash can.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In the Still of the Night

I made great use of precious BN time this morning. Before Neighbor time is very limited in Willo; at other times, work gets put on pause because it's more fun to talk to neighbors as everyone begins to enjoy the neighborhood by around 6:30. At 5 a.m. I tackled my front yard with a rake...two huge trash bags of dead leaves and grass later, it didn't look much better but I felt great. Rake marks on a lawn are like grill marks on a steak - totally unnecessary but somehow it makes it look better.

Then, pressing my luck a little by hoping all the dogs of the neighborhood would sleep in another 30 minutes and allow me more lonely, uninterrupted work time, I moved to the sidewalk. A bush along the right-of-way had become the local storage aread for my transient neighbors' drinking habits and I'm pretty sure that Willo Law assigns execution for allowing tree branches to go into the bike land or the sidewalk. Since this bush did both, I conquered it with awesome force. (Disclaimer: I had no awesome force at all. I merely managed the super-cool clippers that Eli let me borrow. But borrowed superpowers still count, right?)

The poor bush now is lopsided and I have renewed respect for people who trim landscaping professionally, but at least it's out of the way of the dog-walkers. Think they'll reward me by cleaning up when their dogs poop in my yard? Yeah, I don't either.

The Year of the Zinnia

My new Real Simple magazine tells me that 2011 is the year of the Zinnia. Perhaps that's why mine look so beautiful in spite of the fact that I keep rotting their leaves by splashing water on them as I'm fighting with the hose like it's a boa constrictor.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Magic of IKEA

IKEA's magic isn't all good...you find amazing things, but money miraculously flows out of your wallet when you're not looking. I had just such an experience last night but I'm so happy with my treasures that I don't even mind being broke until payday.

The biggest splurge was a collection of gorgeous Japanese lanterns that are...wait for it...solar powered! It's the perfect solution to my not-an-electric-plug-in-sight backyard patio, and I can't wait to post a picture of them.
It may be awhile until I have time to display them properly but for now here's a "before" picture of how bland my patio looks without them. You can't see them well in this photo, but the lights are all out sunning themselves on the table so I can try them out when it gets darker.

My other IKEA treasures include this old-fashioned jar that reminds me of
Grandma Breeding's kitchen (I'm hoping if I put flour in it I will feel like baking more often);

these great bookends that work because of my name (apparently they were designed to reflect the "Billy" bookcase brand which is, I think,even worse than people who wear those "Foxy" shirts; I'll only advertise for your company if you pay me for it, people!) that are beautifully displayed on my new favorite household item - the entry bench donated to the cause by Ken and Amy;
this slightly-too-masculine-but-I-love-it-anyway bedspread; and, most importantly, this table lamp.

I love this lamp for several reasons: first, it's gorgeous (duh). Second, it reminds me of the one Abe and Tonya have that I love (is it possible it's the same lamp?!). And it reminds me of Grammie. Years ago, she said she wanted to buy it for me when she saw it in the IKEA catalog. I don't remember how we were on the subject of IKEA but she loved it because of the cherry blossoms on it and said she wanted me to find a place for it in my apartment. I'd like to think she's happy to see it on my dining room bookshelf even though I was the one who actually purchased it. Mille grazie to the IKEA staff and shoppers who left me alone while I had my emotional breakdown in the lighting department.

In order to prove that IKEA is capable of unmagical things, however, I'm posting this picture of the chair cushions. This is what happens when I buy things without using my favorite measuring tape first.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I have baby sunflowers! I threw some seeds into the backyard about 10:00 one night a couple of weeks ago because I felt more inspired than realistic, and there they are: a lineup of the most adorable little green things. I'm not sure how long they'll live since it gets pretty hot where they're planted and the soil isn't great, but I will enjoy my new babies as long as they stick around. They'll be good therapy for my inner perfectionist, since there's no logic or consistency to where they're planted - I started out putting a seed in every 8 inches (after carefully calculating the number of seeds divided into the feed of space along the wall) and halfway through realized that my calculations had somehow gone terribly wrong (not as wrong as my calculations on the SAT, but that was hopefully a lifetime low never to be repeated). The second half of the wall just has random outcroppings of sunflowers where the seeds got scattered. I'm sure Christ could have turned my Seed Scatterings into a great parable, if He'd been here to watch the mess.

Most of my yard space is still a complete disaster so I'll show only pictures of the parts that look good. Here's my lovely group of flower babies on the front porch...so far, they're all still alive too!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Behr Dungeon

It seems I don't have a realistic sense of color when I stare at two-inch squares of paint samples. The good news is, I only bought small bottles of paint to test...the bad news is that all of them are such dark shades of the desired color, my house would look like a multi-colored cave if I had actually used them. Now begins the social experiment: how long will these blotches of darkness remain on my wall until I get motivated to do something about them?

Making the Most with Compost

Ok so I have lived in the house for two and a half weeks now and still have not posted any of the delightful observations and tales I've been collecting. Since I have to start somewhere or the blog will move even slower than the thesis I'm supposed to have done in seven weeks, I'm delving in to share the tales of my Sunday adventures.

Driven partly by my hippie-esque tendencies and partly by my concerns about hogging the shared trashcan in the alley, I tackled a compost bin today. I'd researched compost bins and discovered they can cost hundreds of dollars. Not cool. But then my heroes over at www.younghouselove.com saved the day (again) by demonstrating a $10 and under version they've used for years. Armed with a borrowed electric drill, a $6 plastic bin from Home Depot, and enormous piles of leaves and dead grass piled in the yard, I followed their directions and created a masterpiece. Now I just need kitchen products to add to it...a great reason to make poached eggs for breakfast!