I spoke at a local school's career day yesterday. It was, um, odd. And then I looked around and found out that of the other people speaking at the career day, two were good friends a year older than me, and another two were two years old and two years younger than me. And I though, huh, I guess we are officially at that age when you speak at career days. This astonishes me.

And that was sort of my week. Odd.

Anyway, let's get into Friday Finds ... from bug houses to people houses, here we go.

Urban Hedgerow photo via Gardenista

Can we all just agree that we're not going to go out and BUY bug houses (no matter how pretty they are)? I hate to get preachy about what you should be buying and what you should be DIYing because everyone has different skills and priorities, but come on ... if we can't make our own bug houses maybe we ought to leave it up to the bugs.

You probably already read this blog. It's funny and a little crazy, and this post is both with a little truth thrown in. She's so right: You used to have to go out of your way to feel bad about your house and now it's right there all the time. That said, save for maybe going a little TOO far into the land of gray paint, I'm comfortable that all of the design decisions in our house were made because I really love them, not because they were trendy at the time. Our all-white kitchen was white (although a different white) when we bought our house and it's been like that since 1990. My grandmas BOTH had all white kitchens, so don't tell me I did it because it's a trend. I did it because I like it. And maybe it is also a trend, but I know I'll like it for years to come.

Speaking of trends, you know how the whole chinosserie thing has been in for quite awhile (and again, one of my grandmas had plenty of it in her house for as long as I could remember)? For awhile I've been thinking, why don't the big home stores get on that and start offering some affordable alternatives. Well Pier One listened in my brain and did just that. And now they have this cute, affordable coffee table that I'd happily buy and paint a nice bright color if I were in the market for a coffee table, which I'm not.

This is crazy: I see these Audobon prints everywhere for sale. Guess what? You can download them for free and print them yourself!

This article on producing mass quantities of cut flowers applies principles that can be used in any garden.

I'm with Linda: When my phone digs a hole for me (or better yet, starts pulling weeds), then we can talk about technology helping grow the garden.

What's on your agenda for the weekend? Will you be watching the Superbowl? Have a great weekend!


Before there was a vegetable garden in my life there were tomatoes. I first grew tomatoes in 10-inch plastic pots in the first apartment I lived in after college. The pots weren't big enough and the squirrels grabbed every fruit the moment it appeared.

When I moved to my next apartment, I tried to grow a tomato in a north-facing window box. I have always been an optimistic gardener. After we came home from living in New Zealand, I covered a patio with tomatoes in containers along with all kinds of flowers. I think the gardening prowess in New Zealand must have rubbed off on me because I came back a much better gardener, despite not doing any gardening there.

I've been growing tomatoes for 20 years now and I have never started one from seed.

That's about to change. This year I'm going to be starting most of my tomatoes from seed (I'm allowing myself an out to buy a couple plants that might catch my eye).

It's not that I'm afraid to start tomatoes from seed. It's quite the opposite: I'm afraid I won't be able to stop starting tomatoes from seeds.

I have room for about eight tomato plants in my garden and various containers and that's probably pushing it. Every packet of seeds has about 25 seeds in it. And yes, I can give away excess plants. But will I?

I've struggled more than a little with making my selections as well. Depending on the source you consult, there are between 3,000 and 10,000 types of tomatoes. I need eight or fewer.

I picked up Craig LeHoullier's book Epic Tomatoes, which had information on several interesting sounding varieties as well as everything else you need to know about growing tomatoes. (The most interesting thing I learned is that not all suckers are bad and you don't need to get rid of them all.

My personal priorities for tomatoes are:
  1. They have to grow and produce reasonably well in our short growing season.
  2. Taste. (Although I've never met a homegrown tomato that wasn't 1,000 times better than a tomato from the store.)
  3. Disease resistance.
I usually look for varieties that are quick to reach maturity, and that can come at the expense of taste. I also like to get a wide variety of tomatoes in terms of color, use and size.

Given all that, here are the varieties I've ordered seed for so far (I'm linking to the places I bought them but obviously many places carry the same varieties):

LeHoullier said his wife would never forgive him (or maybe divorce him) if he didn't grow this tomato every year. This very small cherry tomato grows on large trusses and provides amazing flavor. If this one is as good as LeHoullier says it is, I don't expect many of these to make it in the house.

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This may be my favorite of all tomatoes and I can't imagine not growing it (or substituting Black Krim) every year. It's sweet and dark and meaty and everything I want a tomato to be.
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This is a paste and canning tomato, which is a bit of a change for me as I rarely grow that variety. What drew me to it is that supposedly this heirloom was grown in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, (Mr. Much More Patient's hometown and a mere 20 miles from our house) where it thrived. I want a tomato that thrives and gives me more fruit than I can possibly figure out what to do with.

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This was developed at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, so it must be good, right? I was drawn to this tomato for the same reason as I was drawn to Sheboygan: It stands a good chance of doing well in my area.

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I'm a sucker for an interesting tomato and this one is intriguing to me. Descriptions of the flavor range from "horrible" to "sparkling." Apparently if you pick these when they are anything but ripe the flavor is not great. I'm willing to give it a shot.

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This is described as a pinkish brown tomato with green stripes. It matures quickly and the flavor is said to be outstanding. I'll classify this one as an experiment.

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I will also probably add in a Kellogg's Breakfast tomato, as that has been one of my best producers for several years and I love the orange-yellow tomatoes that taste more like a red fruit than a yellow.

Now comes the waiting. 

Do you know what kind of tomatoes you'll grow this year? Do you plan it out ahead of time or just grab what strikes your fancy?


I've missed Friday Finds two weeks in a row and I didn't want to let this one pass completely so I bring you a rare Sunday post.

I'll dispense with the usual preamble and get right into it. Here's some of the best of what I was loving on the web last week.

New House New Home photo

Heather shared some great drought-tolerant perennials for her garden. It was just the kind of post I needed in deep, dark midwinter.

I've been trying to play around with new furniture placement in the office (sliding doors, closets, a regular door and big windows are seriously complicating the issue), and I found this great room planner on the Pottery Barn website. I like that it allows you to drop in PB furniture or generic furniture sketches and then change the size.

I don't have a pond for many reasons (not the least of which is that I don't need an on-site Newf pool), but I admire beautiful ponds in other people's gardens. Melissa shares a great tip on how to have a crystal clear pond without using chemicals.

Ben Blossom photo via Gardenista

And if you do have a pond, you can also have a very cool pond house.

I was happy that Eric asked me back to his Gardenfork podcast again. I always have a great time talking to him, but I'll be honest: I never listen to the podcasts after the fact. I cannot stand my own voice. I should probably just get over that, right? Anyway, check it out ... it was a fun one.

I hope you all had a great weekend! Guess what ... it's February!


I figured it was time for an update on our little office / back room project, but prepare yourself for the most unexciting update ever.

Last I mentioned it, the drywall was up and the ceilings were painted and ready to be installed. That was ages ago. At least it seems like it. I think it was about two weeks ago. Since then, the ceiling and crown molding went up (they did a great job on that) and I got to painting.

As they say, it gets worse before it gets better.
The wainscoting in that room suffers from the same problem as the rest of the paneling in the house: it was painted over shiny poly, shellac or varnish without being sanded or primed. That means it's a pain to paint it if you want to do it right.

I opted for doing it mostly right and gave it all a really good sanding, but I didn't necessarily get all the way down to wood. After that I cleaned it and caulked all the gaps, which are plentiful in that old paneling. Then I primed with the same Zinnser BIN primer I used on the ceiling planks, and following up with Benjamin Moore Aura in satin. I used Mascarpone, which is the white we have in most of the house. Even though I gave it two coats, it's looking a little thin in some areas so I think I'll need to do a third coat.

Before the ceilings, crown and trim were installed, we painted the walls (it's so much faster when you don't have to cut in around the ceiling or door trim). I'll be honest, when I asked you all for your opinion on what color I should paint that room, I was leaning heavily toward something in the aqua family. But the the voters were very much in favor of a navy-ish color and a few people commented or wrote me practically begging me not to do the aqua. Well, you guys swayed me.

You can see more of the teal color in it here.

We ended up going with BM Summer Nights, which is a deep navy that leans toward teal in some lights. I liked the idea of a very tealish-navy as that picks up a color from the Chaing mai dragon fabric on the chairs. I'll also be completely honest and admit that the name of the color helped convince me to go that dark. I hate to say it, but I am absolutely influenced by paint color names. It's probably not at all good design, but it's the way my brain works.

We were able to crank out two coats of wall paint (I favor matte paint for walls) quickly and it looked great until they came to install the ceilings and put a bunch of dings in it that I had to go back and patch. I still haven't fixed the paint and I think I'll probably end up just doing an entire third coat so I don't have noticeable touchup areas.

I've filled all the holes in the trim, but I still need to paint it all, plus the two closet doors. I was on such a roll with painting and things were going so great but somewhere along the line I lost steam and I'm having a really hard time getting going again. Now it's to the point where I just need to crank it out. It doesn't help that we have no light in that room right now so if I work at night it's by shop light.

The sad fact about this project is that it was supposed to be done two weeks ago. A few things took a little longer than they should. The contractor left for a week for another project, putting a pause on the whole thing. But the big hangup has been the floors. I talked a little about this on Facebook, but allow me to bring you up to speed.

When they were finished with the drywall but hadn't yet done the ceilings or trim, the room was in a horrible state. It was absolutely covered in dust and dirt and there were holes in the floor covering they had put down to protect the wood floors. Drywall compound was everywhere (I was not impressed with the drywaller who was really, really messy; others I've worked with in the past have always worked very "clean"), including caked on our floors through the holes. We spent an entire day ripping up the red rosin paper they put down and cleaning up. In fact we blew up our shop vac and had to get another one. Then we had to scrape all of that drywall compound off. And when we lifted the paper (I wanted to clean the floor and get new paper down for painting and to make sure we weren't grinding a bunch of dirt in), we discovered that the dye in the red rosin paper had stained the floors in the area where the paper had gotten wet.

Three large areas of pink streaks like this covered our floor when the dye from red rosin paper stained the wood.

Our beautiful light floors (which were actually in great shape in that underused room, save for a bit of sunfade around the area rug) looked like a kid had gone to town with a pink highlighter. I'll spare you the details of dealing with this, but basically the contractor had never heard of this (I've since found out this is fairly common knowledge that red rosin paper absolutely cannot get wet), half accused us of doing something wrong and then agreed that it was his responsibility after we all met with the flooring guy, he filed an insurance claim, I had to deal with his insurance company and now it all seems to be handled and we'll be reimbursed the cost of refinishing the floor in that room.

The result was fine but in the meantime it has completely taken the wind out of my sails for this project. Everything was put on hold while we waited for a resolution on the floors and I used that and an excuse for my painting procrastination.

So that's where it is. Totally not finished. But here's a peek of a little something that's going in that room.

In other news, we've had to add an interesting detail to our stairs. What do you think?

In case you can't quite tell, that's plastic lattice zip-tied to the balusters. It's not there because it's stylish, that's for sure. Our geriatric cat Desdemona seems to be completely blind now and a couple weeks ago she walked between two balusters right off the edge of the second floor. She was OK (she's taken the same fall at least three other times that we know of), but we didn't want it to happen again, so scoured Home Depot for a quick solution and came up with an expensive sheet of vinyl lattice. We just cut it to the length and width we needed and used a handful of zip ties to hold it on. So far it's working great and poor Desi's biggest issue has been accidentally stepping in her food dish.

Like I said ... it's an unexciting update, but now you're filled in.