Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Alive!

If you've read this blog or listened to me talk at all this week, you know that I planted winter grass last weekend. My obsession with this process hinges in part on my seeming inability to grow things. Even the beautiful geraniums that thrive in everyone else's fall yards...well, let's just say they look more like a grim Halloween prop in mine. So this week has been all about the front lawn. I water it, I gaze at it, I guard it (stupid birds!)...all in hopes that it won't let me down and be a giant billboard of failure to all my neighbors.

Great news: I have grass! Granted, there's still growing to be done...but isn't it gorgeous?

So that crazy woman doing a victory dance in the front yard this morning? Yep, that was me.

And because many of you already know I am what one professor entitled "A Paranoid Overachiever," you'll be happy to know that MY grass came up three days ahead of the schedule any of my Grass Advisors (i.e., neighbors, co-workers, Home Depot employees, and cats who are angry because they lost their lovely dirt playground) thought it would. Just in time, I might add, for this morning's meeting with my landscaper. Since I'm going to tell him I'm not going to give him $10,000 to do my yard, I'm very grateful that the grass played along and looked New and Improved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No More Water Fireworks

You know how everything seems more exciting when you're a kid? Christmas comes without the burden of holiday shopping crowds, the end of the school day didn't mean an immediate start to dinner preparation, and vacation didn't mean counting how many PTO hours your employer had granted you. Yesterday I had childlike excitement...over water faucets.

There are three faucets on the outside of my house, and each is very important to my ongoing effort to keep something alive for more than a week. Yet all of them were very old and leaked like Old Faithful. Every time I turned on a faucet I'd have to do a not-very-grateful leap backwards in order to avoid the fountain that spouted from the faucet.

I mentioned in my last post that I'm learning when DIY is D-U-M-B. I finally decided the faucets were just such an example. I wouldn't know how to even begin to replace a faucet, and while I'm sure my dad could do it I didn't want to have him come visit just to work the whole time (also, I have a whole list of other things I need him to do ;). So I found a great plumber and all three faucets were replaced in half an hour.

I think the red handles are a nice touch with the brick house, though I doubt the plumber considered such things.

I haven't been this excited about a faucet since I got my beautiful fish Faucet for Christmas.

AND *drumroll please* there are tiny little blades of grass starting to grow in my yard! You can't see them unless you are very close (yes, I am the girl crouching on the sidewalk to gaze intently at dirt) but they are undeniably sprouting to life.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Smell of Progress

I spent the weekend in the yard. I think the most critical aspect of being a do-it-yourselfer is knowing when not to do it yourself. I'm still searching for that balance but this weekend was definitely a rough lesson in planting.

As I've mentioned before, my yard was dead. It hadn't been watered for years - who knows how many, since the former owner didn't seem to do anything to it. I've seen old photographs that prove there was once grass and trees and flowers, but there is none of that now.

This yard has highlighted one of my worst character traits: indecisiveness. I drew numerous landscape plans of my own and even paid to have a professional one created, but since installing that plan came with a $10,000 price tag, the dream was shortlived.

Winter lawns were created for the indecisive.

I get to test out a lawn for several months - do I want water bills? Do I like lawnmowers as much as I think I do? Am I allergic to the color green when I've lived with a dirt yard so long? These are all important questions that a winter lawn would answer.

So armed with optimism, research from Phoenix Home and Garden magazine and the very helpful advice from countless friends and neighors, I dug in.

The before shot:

I spent Saturday using the SUPER cool edger that I bought...I felt like a character from The Matrix, it was so noisy and powerful. I managed to even keep all my toes - when you're a klutz, you worry about these things.

Sunday morning the true work began. First came the seed. Then the fertilizer. This awesome little tool did the work for me - it looks like one of my nephew's toys but it made me look like I knew what I was doing.

Then came the "topper." Topper is, of course, manure. They have scientific names on the bag but let's just be honest - it smells bad enough to keep even pigeons away. Progress stinks. Literally.

An amazing neighbor loaned me even more groovy tools to help with this process. One looked like a giant Bingo cage - as I rolled it around the yard, it sifted the fertilizer evenly. I've never felt like a human bulldozer before - AWESOME. Another very cool toy filled with water and acted as a miniature steamroller, to pack down the layers and help it hold water in better.

As someone who never listened when people talked about planting grass, I understand why probably no one is still reading this blog post. (Seriously, talking about dirt really can't be that interesting.) Besides, it's time to go entertain myself with the sprinklers again. So I'll leave you with this not-so-beautiful picture of a front yard that now looks like a parking lot. Cross your fingers and hope for sprouts soon!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Six-Month Check Up

Last week I celebrated the six-month anniversary of when I moved into my home. Since I'm a self-critical perfectionist who tends to focus only on what has not been done, or what has not been done correctly, I thought I'd take this opportunity to invite you to join me on a progress check as I prove that this house really has evolved greatly from when I first fell in love with it.

I didn't take many pictures of the managed chaos that filled my house when I moved furniture and belongings into it, so we'll have to start with photos I took when my realtor first walked me through The House That Would Be Mine.

Everything, as you'll see, was yellowish-beige. The closest color match I've been able to find is entitled "Necessary Hue." Unromantic, unless of course "hue" makes you think of "Hugh Grant." Hmmm...

The living room had water damage around all the baseboards - but fortunately, the baseboards had soaked up the water rather than the wall. These gorgeous shutters were already installed - thank you, former owner!

After the addition of furniture, Graceful Grey paint, and IKEA bookshelves, here's my still-in-progress living room:

The kitchen hasn't changed at all, but the adorable breakfast nook has undergone a rather radical transition from this:

To this:

I've poured hours of work and worry into the dining room, which is my pride and joy. The Room with A Window (and horrible brass light)... has mossy green walls, a unique lamp (that's where the hours of worry came in...I'll share stories at some point), a bookshelf and a buffet table. Eventually there will be a cozy reading nook there, too - my version of the perfect day revolves around books and food.

The guest bathroom was already lovely:

But now it's much more "beachy."

Of course, there's the transformation of the hallway to stripes.

And though you couldn't tell at a casual glance, the yards have come quite a long way too. Six months ago, the backyard was filled with weeds and a horrible needle-tipped century plant that declared war on me and every hose I dared to bring into the yard.

Thanks to a daring father who tackled my nemesis The Evil Plant and a hula hoe that loves to eat weeds for lunch, the yard is still bare but more loved.

And the front yard...well, the front yard's had some tough love. The dead grass and sloppy shrubs that lived here then...

...have been torn up very, very slowly. My neighbor says my approach to yardwork exhibits "the patience of Job." I think it just illustrates my lack of knowledge about just about anything. Either way, there's been some progress. The horrible fake hanging plants are gone, as are the scalloped brick borders. Some of the dead shrubs are gone, and there are once again purple flowers on the bushes in front of the window.

And perhaps in the near future, I'll have an even bigger progress report for the front yard! *Insert mysterious music here*

So there it is - six months of progress. Not bad, for a girl so afraid of putting down roots that she broke out in a cold sweat at the idea of having to sign a one-year lease for an apartment! A big "thank you" to all of my friends who read this blog and are sharing the journey with me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I'm A Winner!

I am very excited to say that I won a giveaway from one of my favorite blogs, Cutting Edge Stencils provided a $50 credit to one of their readers - and I was the one lucky enough to be chosen!

I've been dreaming of a stenciled bedroom wall for awhile now, but hadn't looked at many real stencils because they come with such a hefty price tag. Since I rarely spent $50 on anything, I never really considered buying a quality stencil and instead spent time finding super-talented people who make stencils out of cardboard. (It's amazing - check out this one from a pizza box. There are many more examples on Pinterest but for some reason the site won't take me to external websites today.)

Then the geniuses over at Young House Love created an amazing room with a not-out-of-cardboard stencil, so I was hooked.

Armed with my can't-believe-I-won optimism, I spent an hour on Cutting Edge Stencil's website to pick the perfect design for the accent wall in my bedroom. You should visit this website when you get a moment so you can understand the truly difficult task of picking ONE stencil. I drafted my sister as a judge, and we narrowed it down to a few of the options. One of my favorites: houndstooth! It's one of my favorite fabric patterns and I loved the idea of a full wall, but talked myself out of it when I realized it wouldn't be a very good backdrop for my beloved subway sign art I plan to hang above the bed. Thus, this beauty is the winner:

I later realized that I picked the same stencil as my benefactors - Joey and Lana's project turned out really beautifully.

Heaven knows when I'll actually do the stenciling, but I promise to share the sorrows and joys when I do!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Wonders of Water

I just got home from a few days in California, which always seems like the Garden of Eden for this desert girl. Things GROW there. And they grow without hundreds of dollars of irrigation systems and daily MiracleGro doses. Amazing.

Among my favorite sites:

This garden lined the sidewalk of the condo where my family stayed in Carpinteria. The only creatures who loved it more than me were the butterflies - they flitted happily from one plant to the next all hours of the day.

Many yards used thick, green groundcovers as borders around gorgeous lawns. The double-layer effect was beautiful.

The colors everywhere were amazing!

I brought home a part of the gorgeousness by purchasing a "small" hanging plant from a farmers market on the first day of the trip. The small plant wasn't so small once I started carrying it back to the condo, but it was worth it - it's the same kind of plant as my mom and dad had in their first home together. Their plant was named Wanda so mine, of course, is Wanda II. Wanda II had quite an adventure, which began with a couple of days in the beautiful garden at the condo.

Her Arizona existence can be credited solely to my dad, who patiently loaded her into the overcrowded car and made sure she had shade and water for the rest of the long trip home.

He even created a metal hanging system for the plant (after more than seven hours of driving, I'll add - impressive! I slept the whole way and was still tired).

Eventually I decided that I wanted to hang the plant lower, so I relied on the plant stand I bought at Home Depot (read about that adventure here).

Now both Wanda and I are trying to get back into the routine of regular life after a wonderful California escape.

P.S. Check out this adorable elephant hedge that I saw at the Reagan Presidential Library. Isn't it wonderful? I'd love to have both an elephant and a donkey hedge in my backyard someday...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Finally, My Favorite Art Ever!

I'm so excited it's Pinterest Challenge time again! Pinterest gave me all kinds of ideas for personalized subway you'll see, it wasn't as easy as I expected it to be but it was worth the effort!

A month ago, I optimistically tackled art that seemed like an easy project: subway signs. Other blogs made it seem so simple that I thought I could complete it in an energy-filled evening. I couldn't, as you read here. To fix this mess, I had to pick up two new skills...math and the ability to spend too much for something.

To start with, I went back to the drawing board (literally) and redid my graph for the project. I have professional graphing paper somewhere, but of course couldn't find it when I needed it so I made my own.

The extra spending came with the sticky letters. I recently found them for about $5 at Ace Hardware, but when I bought mine I was at Michael's and they were $8 each. Recognizing that my pack of 2" letters wasn't going to fit on my not-quite-two-foot canvas, I took my mom's suggestion (great idea, mom! ;) and bought a set of 1" letters as well. This allowed me to fit in the longer place names without running off the edge of the canvas.

Curious about the blue painter's tape? That's evidence that I had not yet set aside my inability to spend money on this project...I ran out of letters. As a Scrabble player, I should have known that "A," "O," "S," and "N" would go first...but I hadn't planned for that. So instead I did half of the board, covered the other half with newspaper and planned to reuse the letters after the spray paint dried on the top half.

It didn't work.

The letters would not restick after being painted, though I ended up with a great mural of letters after I placed the painted ones on wax paper in hopes of reusing them.

I thought about leaving the bottom half of the board white and painting the pencil-lined letters black, but didn't really like it that way.

So instead I groaned a little, dug up an almost-expired 40% off coupon for Michael's, and went back to the store for another set of overpriced letters.

Three weeks and lots of frustration later, it was all worth it - I love this personalized art!

For the most part, it's a reminder of favorite places I have traveled. The bottom half of the canvas on the left, though, is more of a "bucket list" for travel - I haven't yet made it to Santorini, Cinque Terra, Wales, Costa Rica, Lyon or Rio. Someday!

P.S. For those of you who may want to try this project, here's what I learned through trial, trial, trial and error:

1) Buy the gold letters instead of the white ones. For some reason, they stuck better though they were all the same brand...I was able to reuse some of the gold ones, but none of the white could be used again and some didn't even stick well through their first battle with the spray paint.

2) If you split the canvas like I did (in order to reuse letters as much as possible), use blue tape with EdgeLock. This isn't a paid ad - it really makes a difference! Here's my paint line with normal blue painter's tape:

And with EdgeLock painter's tape:

3) If you don't want to mix letter sizes or if you still need more room, you can overlap the letters and hand-paint the edges with a lighter shade of grey/black to make it look unique. (Great idea, dad! ;)

4) I thought about being even more creative and using yellow to hand-paint a letter in each line to create a vertical hidden message, as well. (I mentioned the idea in an earlier plan was to spell out "travel often" and "never settle.") I decided against the idea because I liked the simplicity of the black and white, but I may try it on another canvas sometime.

For more inspiration, check out the experts' Pinterest Challenge projects! You can find them linked here

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I started last month with a list of projects I planned to accomplish in the next 30 now I'm here to tell you that in September, I accomplished absolutely none of them. I did get some things done, as you can see from the month's worth of blog posts, but none of them were the projects I'd hoped to complete.

I did attempt to use the room planner, as I discussed here. Armed with my design, I got bookshelves and a new desk (the current one was a craigslist treasure in my small apartment, but is way too small to be useful now that I have room for desk space) that were part of this delightful delivery from IKEA.

I had every intention of following my plan perfectly, but temporarily put everything against one wall after I had assembled it...and loved it that way!

The color in that photograph is awful (should have closed the windows before I clicked away!) and there's a long way to go on this guest room/office, but at least this half is on its way to being awesome! I love to work in here, where I can stare out the window and daydream. Next step: much-needed cord storage and wall paint that covers all the swatches that have been hanging out on the walls since shortly after I moved in.

Full disclosure: in case you aren't addicted to IKEA enough to have already caught this, my accidental design is inspired by this magazine cover.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Front Porch Seasonal Welcome

After several days of crazy winter weather in Pinetop, AZ, I was even more ready to celebrate fall in Phoenix! I splurged on $45 worth of flowers from Home Depot yesterday (it was on the way home and after four and a half hours of driving, I wasn't going a mile farther than I had to!), and this morning gave them pretty, colorful homes on my front porch.

I learned that plant stands are every bit worth the $15 I paid for them (I got others for less through Craigslist). They protect my concrete patio and make this display look much nicer with varied levels.

I'd purchased a hanging flower basket when I first moved in, and managed to keep it alive until summer hit with full force. I saved the hanging pot, though, and put in new flowers rather than spending another $25 for a new one! (In the background you can see my orange bougainvillea, which is going crazy with flowers this week - I think it understands how lovely it blends with the other decorations!)

Now I'm off to continue my fall celebrations with a cup of hot tea...and the four hundred e-mails I couldn't read while I was without internet access in Pinetop.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Crafted for Fall

I'm not the only one with Fall Fever! Several of my favorite blogs are hosting decorating "parties" this week, and after reading about their crafty successes I hit the dollar store full of inspiration. Determined not to spend the $30-plus most stores are charging for autumn wreaths, I collected these goodies for less than $8.

The product would have been better if I'd purchased the right size glue sticks for my glue gun, but since I couldn't bear another Saturday afternoon trip to Town and Country shopping center I made do by just tucking the stems into the grapevine wreath. It wouldn't hold up in a hurricane, but if a hurricane hits Phoenix I'll have bigger things to worry about anyway. Here's my cheery final product!

Still fueled with inspiration from all the online crafters much more talented than I am, I tackled a little autumn art for the inside of the house as well. Michael's had 5 x 7" canvases massively on sale last month ($15 for 10 of them!), so I got one out and added some fall-colored paints to my collection. I used dollar store stick-on letters to randomly communicate my favorite things about fall, then painted not-quite-perfect stripes of these gorgeous colors over them.

I love my personalized celebration of autumn! It sits happily on my bookshelf, and I'm already planning a Christmas canvas...

More to come, since I'm going to complete my front-porch fall decorations later this week.

Update: I joined into a great "party" with other bloggers! Check out the other amazing ideas at