Books to paint by

Boy, I have been all over the place on the blog lately and we are about to enter a subject that I've never dealt with before and probably won't revisit anytime soon. I hope you all are at least a bit amused by these posts.

As you know I did a lot of the painting for our renovation. All of it, in fact, except for the living room and bedroom ceilings (after doing the kitchen ceiling I swore I'd never do it again) and three new doors. I couldn't even begin to estimate the amount of hours I spent painting, but I'm certain it's in the hundreds. I don't really mind projects that involve more busy work than mental stimulation and this includes another task I find myself doing frequently: weeding. In fact, after staring at a computer screen all day long for work, it's sort of nice. But I hate feeling like I'm missing out on something. I'm a multi-tasker to the core and always have been. If I'm not doing at least two things at once I feel like I'm wasting time. So when I discovered audiobooks (something I had previously thought was reserved for people with four-hour commutes and people with bad eyesight), it made all that painting (and weeding) that much better.

I just checked my iTunes library and I have 69 audiobooks. And most of those have been listened to in the last year. I have a few rules for choosing audiobooks:

1. I always read the reviews. Sometimes the book is great but the reader is horrible and it's ALL about the reader with audiobooks. I have a weird thing where I can't stand to hear the reader swallow when they are pausing between sentences. It's like bad table manners. For the same reason I'll often listen to the sample before I buy a book.

2. I don't like to listen to books that are too good. There are some books that I won't allow myself to listen to because I want to savor them, and more than a few books that I've listened to and been a little irritated with myself because it's so good I wish I would have read it. And I have gone back and read a couple of them (like the Stieg Larsson books).

3. I prefer female readers or an ensemble cast of readers. I get really irritated when male readers try to change their voice to read female dialogue.

4. Honestly, I often pick them based on length. They all cost basically the same (and since I now get them through a monthly subscription to audible.com they do all cost the same), I like to feel like I'm getting a lot for my money. I know, that's dumb.

5. I like to mix it up and listen to a variety of thrillers, unique sort-of indie fiction and even some chick lit. Every once in a while audible has a sale and I'll pick up something I never would have listened to otherwise. This experiment usually is a failure but sometimes there's a nice surprise.

Here are pictures of my entire audiobook library so you can see all the titles I've listened to. And trust me, some of them are more than a little embarrassing (Charlaine Harris vampire novels anyone?) Scroll down below the pictures to see my top picks.

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My absolute No. 1 pick for an audiobook is Tina Fey's Bossypants. This book is hysterical to begin with but it is so great read by Tina herself. I actually listened to parts of it twice, and this is the only book I've done that for. (The opposite of this was Chelsea Handler's Are you there Vodka? It's me Chelsea which I found completely boring despite the fact that I love Chelsea Handler.)

 

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Among the list of books that really were too good to be listened to and should certainly be read are the aforementioned Stieg Larsson books (which I LOVED, along with, apparently, the rest of the world), The Help, The Kitchen House (which is very similar in feel to the The Help but even better, in my opinion) and Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.

 

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I'm a sucker for James Patterson and even though he puts out about two novels a year (if not more) which certainly has to affect the quality of his writing, I still find his books to be great reads/listens. This is the kind of book I love to travel with.

 

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Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods is a book that I somehow missed hearing about when it came out several years ago. I absolutely loved this book, which is equal parts humor, adventure (and misadventure) and reality. This was another one read by the author and I think that makes it even better.

 

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A big surprise for me was Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain which is, if you can believe it, told from point of view of a dog. Sounds corny, right? And maybe it is a little, but it's a charming corny. Generally I stay away from dog books (and movies) because invariably I end up bawling at the end, but this is a truly a heartwarming story. If you are a dog lover, you really should pick this one up.

 

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And every once in a while I need to listen to something that is nothing but fun and that's when I plug into a little Janet Evanovich. OK, so it's a more than a little formulaic, but who among us doesn't see a little bit of the totally dysfunctional Stephanie Plum in ourselves?

After all that listening, I have to report that I am completely hooked on audiobooks even when I'm not painting or weeding. I listen to them in the car even though my commute is only 13 minutes from door to door. I listen to them when I'm cooking (although not when I'm baking because I tend to leave important ingredients out. Like sugar). I even listen to them when I'm running (or I should say attempting to run).

Anyone else hooked on audiobooks? Got any recommendations for me?

Go, Ginkgo, Go!

When planting the new gardens in the back yard I treated myself to three unusual and special plants, all from Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery, one of my favorite online nurseries.

The plant that, I will be honest, I picked just because there was no difference in the price for shipping three plants or two plants so I figured I might as well pick something else up, was gingko biloba 'Gnome'. When I took it out of the box, though, I was completely head over heels in love with the little guy. This dwarf gingko has densely package foliage and is (or rather, was) the most beautiful emerald green color.

But this poor little Gnome was having a tough time dealing with the transition. Within a week of planting, it was looking a bit peakid, and within three weeks it was looking worse. Because I'm not confident in exactly what is going on with the dirt in that part of the garden (you might remember that all the dirt in the upper part of the garden came from what we dug out for the path, which was a combination of beautiful, dark soil, red sand and full-on clay), I was worried that I was dealing with a  drainage problem, something I rarely encounter here given our proximity to Lake Michigan.

Gingko

I was watering it deeply about once a week, depending on the rain, but I worried that if the drainage was off I might be overwatering.

So I took a pretty drastic measure: I dug it up to see what was happening. And, the answer was: nothing. Well, nothing unexpected, that is. Turns out the drainage seemed to be just fine and little Gnome was probably just suffering from good old-fashioned transplant shock. Transplant shock that I probably just made worse by essentially transplanting it again.

But there wasn't really much I could do about it other that keep being nice to little Gnome.

And I suspect we won't know how this all turns out until next spring. Winter is tough up here in zone 5 and any plant that is stressed going into winter will have an even more difficult time dealing with the relentless freeze and thaw cycle that some winters dish up. I hope it makes it. I really like the little guy.

Door redux redux?

Yes, I know I just repainted the front door a deeper blue a few weeks ago. But the October issue of Coastal Living just came today and I think I might have to paint it again.

Aqua door l

Coastal Living photo

I'm pretty sure I need that. Including that awesome starfish wreath (from Beach Grass Cottage on Etsy, according to the magazine). I guess the problem with the fact that it was pretty easy to paint the front door is that it might be really easy to do it again.

This is why no real projects get done around here.

A tumultuous tomato season

Before I get into today's post, I just wanted to say thank you to you all. The ideas you've been sharing on the office plan have been amazing and really inspiring. I can't wait to incorporate many of them into the office.

Since it is the first official day of autumn (groan), I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about how my favorite summer crop—tomatoes—did this year. And there's not a lot to talk about.

I knew it was going to be a challenge for the tomatoes this year because we had a very cold and long spring so everything was off to a slow start. Here in zone 5 we have to look for varieties that are quick to mature but even some of those are still full of green tomatoes, and with temperatures predicted to max out in the mid-50s for the next week or so, it's unlikely many more will be ripening.

As you may recall, I grew tomatoes in two locations this year: in the at-home veggie garden and in a plot I shared with my mom at the community garden seven miles west (and therefore away from the chill of Lake Michigan).

The highly scientific (or, um, not at all scientific) study (mentioned here and here) we did between my mom and I when we planted the same kinds of tomatoes from the same source on the same day but treated them slightly differently turned out to be sort of a wash. In the end we both got about the same amount of tomatoes and the only noticeably difference is that my mom's were sort of deformed but maybe a bit larger.

At home, my plants once again succumbed to some sort of blight, although I still got tomatoes (about a bushel of which ripened in the past week).

The state of the tomato plants now might nicely be described as "sad."

Paul Robeson looks truly dreadful.
This is Japanese Black Trifle, which has produced dozens of tomatoes in the last couple weeks. They are smaller, black tomatoes with a really nice flavor. This is one of two grafted tomatoes I grew this year, and while it produced pretty well, you can see it didn't fair a lot better in terms of disease.
 I grew two (expensive) grafted tomatoes this year, one in each garden. The Japanese Black Trifle was quite nice, although I'm not convinced the grafting part of it had anything to do with it. I grew a double tomato—San Marzano and Brandywine grafted onto the same rootstock at the community garden but only got a few San Marzanos and no Brandywines at all. It was fun to try the grafted tomatoes but I'm not convinced they are work the extra cost (which was almost double the cost of the other tomato plants).

The cherry tomatoes (black cherry and snow white) had no problem growing this year, ad you can see from the way they grew up and over the garden fence and they suffered very little in the way of disease but very few of them got ripe. I'm wondering if that's because there was SO much foliage, there just wasn't a lot of sun hitting the fruit.


I have a lot of tomatoes to eat yet in the house and I'm savoring every last one, but I think that will probably be the end of it for this season. Soon I'll be thoroughly cleaning out the beds and throwing away all that diseased foliage (instead of composting it) and before you know it I'll be craving the sweet taste of summer in a tomato while staring at the wretched red cardboard-ish globes that pass for tomatoes in January.

Summer, I miss you already.

An office plan

Well howdy everyone! I can't even tell you how crazy the past week has been. I picked up a little side job last week—volunteer, not paid—that took up way more of my "free" time than I expected and then I had several dinners related to an event, and a golf outing. And then, of course, I was busy trying to "style" my house in preparation for the photos for the newspaper's home and garden section story on our house.

Procrastinator that I am, I was up until 2 a.m. Monday night finishing up the gallery wall. How ridiculous is that? But I was bound and determined to have that area finished, or at least look sort of finished, so I was painting frames, cutting mat board, printing out last minute photos on the home printer (I figured for a photo shoot you can't tell if it was printed on recycled copy machine paper or fancy photo paper) and believe it or not, sticking a big piece of wood to the wall (you know I have to leave you with a teaser).

And by the time I finished with that I just didn't care anymore. So I pretty much just jammed anything extraneous in the closets. In the kitchen I took the paper towel holder, the compost bucket, the cutting boards and half the utensils that I keep in a crock on the counter and literally threw them in the pantry along with a half consumed bottle of wine and a couple of the random bottles of alcohol that live on top of the fridge. I'd rather err on the side of bare than cluttered.

Anyway, I'll get back to the photo shoot and the story (due out next week, I think) soon, but I thought we could revisit the office project that I mentioned a couple weeks ago. The graphic artist at work and I banged around a few ideas and that clever little lady put them right into the HGTV design software and spit out some renderings, which is pretty darn cool.

If you'll recall, here's my hideous office at work. I've gotten preliminary approval to redo it as long as I can get the design approved and that I do (and pay for) the work myself.

Office3

 

Office1

 

A lot of you weighed in with some ideas of what might improve this space and the real hangup was that green carpet. I've decided that trying to work with it would be challenging at best and quite possibly horrific. So I'm going to look for an inexpensive large, low-pile area rug that will work to neutralize the space a little.

Officestar1

 

Officestar2

That opens up a few options. Here's the leading plan right now:

1. Paint the cabinetry light gray and replace the hardware with something a bit more modern looking.

2. Pull out the countertop (including the sink) and replace it with wood counter sections from Ikea or make my own similar to this.

3. Paint the trim white.

4. Paint the walls navy blue.

5. Remove the top of the desk, paint the bottom of it white, and replace the top with a wood table top (also from Ikea), stained a medium to dark color to match the counters.

6. Wrap the top and exposed side of the file cabinets with stained birch plywood and trim.

7. Possibly wallpaper, stencil or hand paint the backsplash area with a funky pattern that may or may not be repeated on the face of the file cabinets.

 

It's still a very rough plan, but I think it achieves a lot of the things I was looking for, namely a fresh, clean space, that is stylish but not overly feminine and still plenty businesslike.

Here's a view of the rendering showing the one wall I didn't take pictures of. Please note the art just represents where a piece of art could go, rather than the actual art (no neon sunsets please). Also the guest chair I have in the office looks like it was stolen from the conference room (actually, I think it was) but I'd probably be on the lookout for a chair I could redo to match the room but not look out of place. (Sadly the lights shown in the renderings are very true to life, but short of putting in track lighting, I think they have to stay and changing them out really isn't in my personal budget.)

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The rendering is incredibly helpful when I'm trying to envision this. What do you think of the rough plan?

 

Style help for a jeans and T-shirt girl

I never developed the ability to accessorize, whether it be in my wardrobe or my home. I tend to like a more clean-cut wardrobe full of basics (a good white shirt is the key to all humanity as far as I'm concerned although I rarely wear them because I usually spill coffee on them in about two nanoseconds) and I admire outfits that are basically jeans, a white shirt and some great jewelry, but I can't manage to put the same thing together on myself. I've been wearing the same pair of hoop earrings (that have not come off except for a handful of dressy occasions) for two years now.

The same goes for my home. Oh how I long to have a perfect styled bookcase. Even if it only has books in it, do you notice how they just look better in magazines? But no matter how I stack my books, I cannot make it look like that. And I sort of abhor buying home accessories just to fill space. I love found objects and things that I love or that have meaning to me, but it takes awhile to find such things.


Oh look, you're just in time for dinner. We're having apples.


So it's a bit humorous that I've spent most of last night looking through magazines and online images trying to get a feel for how spaces are "styled" (that's what the cool kids call it, you know). But there's a damn good reason for it. Our house renovation is going to be featured in the local newspaper's home and garden section. And that's not quite like ending up on the Nate Berkus Show or on the pages of House Beautiful, but there's a certain amount of pressure involved in it. Imagine if everyone you knew in high school—your best friends, your not best friends, your ex-boyfriends, and those people who totally had it out for you for four years—were all invited to your house for a party. You'd want it to knock their socks off, right? I know that's not a particularly charming personality trait that I just exposed there. It's much more interesting to say that I don't really care. I live how I live and they can take it or leave it because I'm perfectly happy here, but let's just say I haven't gotten to that point in my life yet. Maybe I just need a few cocktails. That would probably help.


Obviously the person who sleeps in this bedroom just got up, threw off the blanket and walked toward the light at the end of the tunnel through the French door.


Anyway, I have a lot of bare walls and bare shelves in the house right now because you might recall that in spring I put a moritorium on all indoor projects so that I could get a much needed break and go outside and garden. And since I'm in denial about the changing seasons, I haven't exactly picked up where I left off inside. I have less than a week to get the place as "photo ready" as it's going to get and I know fresh flowers will only get me so far.


All that stuff on the nightstands and no alarm clock?





But here's what I observed:

1. Tables always have something on them. Mostly books, but usually a trinket of some kind as well.
2. Pillows are always a little squished.
3. Most pictures look like you JUST missed someone walking out of the room. Because no one really lives with cookbooks randomly laying open on the kitchen counter, right?
4. Nobody actually lives the way these pictures look. Period. Which is of course the point of the wonderful and hilarious Catalog Living blog.


OK, those barely count as bookshelves since there aren't many books on them. And photo shoot or not, I'm not wrapping all my books in white covers!

So ... do you have any tips for me on how I make the place look good? No book covering allowed.

Falling for a great performer


Redstone

 

One of the new plants in the garden this year that has really thrilled me is heucherella 'Redstone Falls.' I got three of these through the Yahoo Co-op as plugs and they are all over a foot wide now. The coloring in their part-sun location is a gorgeous combination of terra-cotta, orange, yellow, green and a hint of red.

I'm really loving all of the new heucheras and heucherellas that are being developed (many by Terranova Nurseries), but you do have to be a bit careful as to placement of them. I've found that many prefer a good amount of sun, although others tolerate—no, demand—shade. Clearly I hit the nail on the head with where Redstone Falls ended up.

Looking back at the reno, a year later

It is hard to believe that it was just about a year ago that we started the house renovation (September 1, 2010, to be exact). The renovation seemed like it lasted forever (and it was a good six months) but looking back on it now it seems like a distant memory. Surely renovating a house (and probably building one too, although I have no experience in that area) must be like having a child: you forget the worst parts and remember only the good.

I'm not quite to the point where I've forgotten ALL the bad parts, but I suppose I'll get there someday. Having been through it, though, I can see why some people become serial renovators: You learn so much during the process that would have been really helpful to know in the beginning that you almost want to do it again (almost) just to apply that knowledge.

I didn't blog much about the renovation after it was finished because I was sick of it and exhausted and I thought anything I wrote about it would probably come out sounding overly bitter. Now that I'm a bit removed from it I thought I'd share a few thoughts about renovating with you this week.

First, though, an update. There are a lot of little projects in the house that are not finished. When spring came I so needed a break from house projects that I dropped them all and went outside. And I'm just starting to come back inside now. Some of the items on the short-term agenda are the gallery wall I have planned for the upstairs hallway (by the time I get this finished I suppose gallery walls will be passé), making the cushion for the window seat in the master bedroom, moving things onto the shelves in the master bedroom and generally just filling the walls with art. I also need to paint the doors on the mini-closet in the second bedroom. I've still not done anything about window treatments in the bedrooms and at this point I'm not sure if I will. We haven't had a need for them yet, and I think the windows might look OK without them.

And now, onto some photos. For whatever reason I've never put the exterior photos together like this before.

Here are the plan drawings of the front (south side) and back (east side). Yes I realize that doesn't make sense that we consider one the front the other the back, but in my bizarre mind that's how I've always thought of it.

House 1

 

Here's the original front side (on the day we moved out of the house for the reno hence the junk on the patio):

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And here's the new front:

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And the old back (that snow fencing protected a dwarf Japanese maple that I'm happy to report made it through the construction just fine):

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And here's the new back of the house, including the new landscaping I worked on all spring:

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And just for shock value, here's maybe the scariest demo photo:

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If you're interested in looking back at the whole process of the remodel, check out these posts:

Reprieve granted

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I had finally put the potentillia that I never really liked in the first place out of its misery. Well, my misery really, because it wasn't doing too badly, I just couldn't stand it in the garden anymore.

There is one other plant that has underperformed since we bought the house. A Rose of Sharon was here (in the former vegetable garden that eventually became the circle garden) when we bought the house more than nine years ago and I've moved at least three times since then. A few years ago I just stuck them in the main garden, but shortly after that I planted a purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'), which has since taken off.

Frankly, I'm just sick of moving this Rose of Sharon, which has annually produced about three blooms for all that hard work, and it was scheduled for the chopping block this year. It's only because I've been so busy with the back yard that it wasn't tossed in the compost heap months ago.

Well, I guess that Rose of Sharon caught wind of its fate because check out what it did this year.

Roseofsharon

Not only has it put on about a foot of height but it's covered in blooms.

I might seem ruthless with underperforming plants but I'm not totally heartless. Any plant that tries that hard to please can stay. But it can't stay where it is, so I'm currently looking for a new, permanent home for it. I'm sure it will carry a grudge for a couple years, but eventually it will get over it and reward me again. It better anyway, because I'm about to save it from the compost heap.

 

The awful office

The air is just a touch crisper. The mornings are a bit cooler. Stores are full of fall-themed merchandise. Fall bulb catalogs were filling the mailbox weeks ago. As much as I'd like to pretend it's not the case, autumn, apparently, is around the corner. And the surest sign of that is that I'm starting to think about projects that don't involve plants.

Don't worry, there's plenty of garden blogging yet to come, but I thought we'd take a quick detour into DIY land to take a look at a project I have my eye on for the fall/winter.

If you follow The Impatient Gardener on Facebook you've already gotten a sneak peek of this project-to-be and it's pretty scary. It's also fairly embarrassing because you'll see just what a messy office I keep. In my defense, these photos were taken in the throes of deadline and I generally let everything else sit until deadline is over and then do a big clean-up. Plus, you know you all love getting a real-life peek into other people's chaos. I aim to please.

So here's the situation: My office at work is a totally depressing space. I love that I have a nice big window but I  hate pretty much everything else about the room. I've gotten preliminary approval to make some changes to the office as long as I get clearance from the tower before I do anything. Oh, and the budget is basically nil. In fact, I'll probably pay for most of the renovations myself which means we are talking about the thinnest of shoestring budgets.

Since I don't really know exactly what to do in this space and the challenges require some serious creative thinking, I'm looking for any and all suggestions you all might have. So let's get to the photos.

Office3

Office2

Office1

Office5

 

Let's just start with the elephant in the room (well, the weirdest elephant in the room because I think there's a whole herd of them in there): The sink on the back counter. This building used to be a doctor's office and my office was the exam room. How would you like to be stripping down to your unmentionables in a doctor's office with that big window? Anyway, the sink is leftover from that. But worse than the fact that there is a sink in the middle of my office is that we don't think it works. Actually, everyone in the office is afraid to try it so we don't know if it works but what would I do with it anyway?

Here's some more information on the office:

• It's 11' x 12'

• There are actually five or six of those tall file cabinets in the room and they have to stay there. To make things more challenging, you'll notice they are not all the same color. Their current location is really the only place in the room they work. They have to stay but they can't stay the way the are.

• The carpeting is a very low-pile multi-colored deal with green, teal, gray and beige tones in it. The overall effect if you squint your eyes is sort of in the range of BM Lafayette Green. More than likely it has to stay unless someone can come up with a low-cost alternative. I considered putting Flor carpet tiles over the top of it, but after pricing them out I think it would be too expensive to do the whole room with them. This is certainly the biggest challenge to the rest of the color scheme.

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• All of the cabinetry WILL be painted. If it's the last thing I do. It is what drives me the craziest in that space.

• Right now I'm thinking about having that sink removed and replacing the counter perhaps with a stained wood countertop like this one.

• As ugly as it is I really like the desk. It has tons of storage and I need a storage solution (you wouldn't think that would be the case with all those cabinets but we use many of them for storage for office-wide items). It can't stay the way it is, but ideally I'd find some solution to make it better looking.

• The wall color has to change as well, but I feel like I can't figure out what color that should be until I get a color for the cabinets decided.

• I didn't take a photo of it (I'll get on that when I can), but one wall (the door is in the corner) is empty and in need of some art. I also have a guest chair there.

• The room cannot be too feminine. It is, after all, a business office, not a home office, so it has to reflect the company as much or more than it reflects me.

So that's the starting point. There is no timeline for this, but since I obviously have to work in the space I'll have to block off a few weekends in a row to crack it all off in. Lay it on me. What do you think? Do you have a vision for this space? Are you still stuck back at the picture of the disaster that is my office?