Spooky (but beautiful) containers + P. Diddy's packin' heat (and a shovel)

I am a Halloween failure. I have not put one Halloween or fall decoration in, on or near my house. You won't find so much as a pumpkin donning our front stoop.

I'm not a total scrooge (can you use that term in reference to holidays other than Christmas?), it's just that we live in a fairly remote area. We have a lot of neighbors, but it's a small neighborhood and the only kids left are past their trick-or-treating years (or at least past wanting to trick-or-treat in our neighborhood; if they do it at all I'm sure they head into town for maximum candy-gathering potential). And since our house is set back from the road, no one ever really sees it unless they are coming over. And I just didn't think the UPS guy would care if I decorated or not.

So I have no great autumn containers of my own to show you and no great Halloween crafts you can do (I'm sure if I did they would involve spray paint).

Fortunately, the rest of the blogging world isn't nearly so lame. So I leave you with these beautiful yet scary containers from the master of container design (my label, not hers) Deborah Silver.

Find these container ideas and so much more inspiration here.

And because the zombie apocalypse is no laughing matter, I turned to one of my favorite gardening gurus, P. Allen Smith, for some tips on surviving.

Happy Halloween!

(A side note ... holy crap, P. Diddy is packing heat!)

Putting plants to bed for the winter

I hope everyone had a good weekend. For anyone on the East Coast I'm sure your weekend was filled with hurricane preparation and I'm crossing my fingers for all of you that it's not as bad as they say it's going to be.

I made these pumpkin banana muffins this weekend and they are amazing. And even better they are little health bombs. There is no sugar in them at all, an entire cup of flaxseed meal and whole wheat flour. And the "fat" in them is coconut oil, which I think is supposed to make me live to 150 or something like that. Anyway, the recipe is from Dana Slatkin who runs Shutters on the Beach uber chic boutique hotel in California. Her cookbook The Summertime Anytime Cookbook is one of three cookbooks I use regularly. The other two are Julia Child's The Way to Cook and The Joy of Cooking so she's in good company. Anyway, try those muffins. (And if you're interested in more recipes that I fancy, you can check out my Food board on Pinterest, but be aware not everything on there, like the cosmopolitan Jell-O shots that I just pinned, is quite as healthy.)

When I wasn't playing Suzy Homemaker this weekend, I was trying really hard to get my but in gear on cleaning up the garden. The first part of that was leaf management, which thankfully is handled almost exclusively by Mr. Much More Patient who mulches them all up into little bits for the compost bin and their own pile for use as mulch later one.

The first item on my garden agenda was tucking away what I call "the forgotten plants." These are all the things that didn't get planted during the summer. Although I know that technically you can still plant at this time of year, I'm not a huge proponent of it. I feel like plants just don't have the opportunity to put out any real roots in their new spot before they are tested by the Midwestern winter so I prefer to keep the forgottens in their pots and heel them into the ground until spring. I discovered last year that the raised veggie garden is the perfect place to do this. The soil is very easy to work so it's no problem to sink them, then I just fill up the beds with leaf mulch. When spring comes, I can pull them out, work the leaf mulch into the soil and plant them when the ground is workable. Of course, that's not always how it works out, especially since I know I stick a few of those pots in the ground for at least the second year, if not the third. Oh well, they'll have big root systems by the time I finally get around to planting them.

Plants nestled into the veggie garden for the winter. Throw on a layer of leaf mulch and they are good to go.

I also found a certain amount of irony in how beautiful some plants were looking, even as I cut them down for winter. I don't cut back all my perennials in fall, just the ones that get particularly floppy or are prone to reseeding themselves. I like to leave some things, especially grasses, standing for some winter interest, but at the same time I don't like making more work for myself when cleanup time comes in spring. Last week, a nursery owner speaking to our master gardener group said that he cuts all the perennials back in fall but leaves all the plant material on the ground to act as a mulch. In fact he never cleans it up, allowing it to compost in place. That's too messy of a proposition for me, but the concept of letting the material lay in the garden over winter is interesting. After all, a lot of people add evergreen boughs to the garden after Christmas to act as mulch after they spent a lot of time pulling out all their plant material.

These are a few shots from the Instagram file. Funny how looking at a photo of something sometimes helps you appreciate its beauty more than just looking at it in the larger environment.

The fringe tree seems to be hanging onto it's leaves longer than any other tree in the yard. When they are this beautiful, that's a really good thing (plus it is very late to leaf out in spring).

The gingko is starting to drop it's leaves but they are the most wonderful golden color right now.

I cut all the hyssop back mostly because it was just too floppy to stay, but it was still beautiful. As I carried it out to the compost pile I thought that I should have trimmed the blooms and brought them inside instead.

What beauty are you finding in your autumn garden? Or is it mostly just mushy hosta leaves by now?

A skeleton key to the rescue

I once read that bloggers should never apologize for posting bad photos. Instead they just shouldn't post them. That is probably good advice, but I'm going to completely ignore it for today.

These photos deserve to be apologized for, because if you thought the photos coming out of my iPhone were lacking, wait until you see these gems from my iPad. Oy vey. (Rest assured, I'm working on a solution to this problem, hopefully sooner rather than later, so hang in there with me, OK?)

They do, however, get the point across. So let's pretend they are arty, shall we?

It is always amazing to me how I can manage to let the smallest, simplest tasks go undone for so long only to do them and find out that they took but a matter of minutes and bring me unexpected joy.

When we used the door from my grandparents' house for the new bathroom door we had to buy a reproduction lockset for it, I think from Van Dyke's, because that's what fit in the hole in it. And because I believe in locks on bathroom doors, the only kind that would work was the thumb turn variety with a skeleton key.

Maybe this is showing my paranoid side, but I was not at all comfortable with a door in a second-floor bathroom (no access through a window) that could only be unlocked from the outside with a key. Usually bathrooms have those locks you can just pop open with a bobby pin or turn with a credit card so if there were an emergency—I have visions of a little kid locking himself in there or a person passing out or something—you can easily get in. But it's a little more complicated if it only opens with a key and that key is not totally handy, right?

Anyway I didn't want that key to go missing during said emergency, or have to root around in the junk drawer for it, so I thought perhaps it could become a small decorative element. I looked for a cute vintage knob for ages and never really found the right thing and then I thought maybe thing was one of those places that could be well served with a small nautical touch. Although I obviously love sailing and water and all that comes with it, I'm reluctant to go too nautical in my decor. Rope picture frames are not in my future. Anyway, I had Mr. Much More Patient pick up the smallest cleat he could find at the marine supply store.

That was probably six months ago. Why it took so long to hang the darn thing up, I have no idea. But I did, and then I stuck the key on a bit of navy velvet ribbon and away we go. Upon further review, I think I need a small piece of three-strand line instead of the ribbon, but the line will cost me 32 cents plus tax but the shipping is $9.95, so that too will have to wait until the next time someone runs to a ship supply store.

In the meantime though, I think it's kind of cute (which you could tell better if the pictures didn't look like they were taken with a disposable camera) and it is amazing how much better I feel knowing that we are ready for any kind of bathroom lock-related emergency. It's the little things that matter, right?

Back to the garden

You won't catch anyone here complaining, but two weekends ago it rained from Friday night to Sunday night almost without stopping. It was a nice, steady rain that added up to 2.5 inches over the course of the weekend and boy were gardeners, myself included, happy. Of course it put a major crimp in my plans to clean up the garden for fall, but I spent the weekend refinishing the coffee table (and I'm still working on it, of course).
The last of the flowers cut from the garden. From my instagram feed.

This weekend was another story entirely and I took advantage of the beautiful fall days to get a few things taken care of. The first thing I did was a very thorough cleaning of the raised garden. I've found that it's very important to get every bit of plant material and every stray tomato out of there to ensure the soil's health. I plant that garden pretty intensely, which I get away with by adding lots of compost and babying it a bit, but that means it's all that much more prone to diseases, so the more I can remove in fall, the better.

Last year it worked out very well to heel the plants I didn't have a chance to plant in the garden into the raised bed and I intend to do the same this year. I just covered them with a ton of chopped leaves (no shortage of those at our house) which helps protect the young plants during winter and then get turned into the soil in spring.

I also cleaned out the containers that were spent, including the large container by the front door with the  papyrus 'King Tut' in the center. It always amazes me how many roots that plant puts out in a summer, which is exactly why I contain it in a three-gallon nursery pot that I sink into the container. I have no doubt it would take over the container if I didn't.

Check out all those roots!

Although most of the really colorful trees have already dropped their leaves (the rain and wind from the previous weekend took care of most of them), I was delighted to notice how pretty the climbing hydrangea (anomala petiolaris) is looking with its chartreuse leaves on the now-bare ash tree. 

There is lots more to do in the garden, but I'm delaying cutting anything (other than the Rudbeckia and Echinacea, which I don't want to seed everywhere) back until we get a real frost or freeze (no sign of either of those yet here) because I think they need as much time with their foliage as possible after the tough year they've had. I like to do as much as I can in fall so ease the spring workload, but I also like to enjoy some of the plants in winter.

How's your garden clean-up going? Or are you one of the lucky ones who doesn't have to clean up your garden for fall.

Art at last!

We've been looking for a new sofa sort of off and on and a few months ago I walked into the place where we bought our last sofa and talked to the same designer who sold me the one we currently have. I told her exactly what I was looking for and she walked me around the showroom pointing out everything they had that might fit our needs.

The conversation went something like this:
Furniture girl: How about this one?
Me: Nope. Too tall.
FG: Oh, here's a nice one. What about this one?
Me: No, the arms are too skinny.
FG: OK, well, we have this one over here that might work.
Me: No, I don't care for that one either.
FG: This is why I love working with you. You know what  you want.

I'm not really sure she meant the first part of that last statement and but I know she had the second part backwards. I rarely know exactly what I want, but I do know what I DON'T want. I know the right "one," whether it be a sofa, art, lamp or even a husband, when I see it but I don't know exactly what I'm looking for until I lay eyes on it.

I also don't do placeholders. Early on in my decorating-my-own-place life I bought an awful Ikea chair that filled a space in a room just because it was cheap. I hated it. It was uncomfortable and kind of ugly and I think it scarred me for life. Since then I'd rather sit there with nothing or use something I already have that I don't like rather than buy something to fill in "until I find the right one."

And that's why the huge wall behind the banquette in the kitchen has been blank for three years. It drives me nuts and every time I show a picture of it I included a little asterisk about how I knew the wall looked stupid blank but I was waiting for the right piece of art to come along.

I can't tell you how much art I looked at, but none of it spoke to me. I thought about making my own driftwood sculpture or even painting my own canvas, but those certainly would have been disasters.

Since the kitchen is one of the most light-filled rooms in the house, I liked the idea of bringing the outside in with some kind of botanical, but I didn't want anything fussy or formal. And then I (well actually my friend and design sympathizer Roisin) found these vintage German schoolhouse charts at the Etsy store Bonnie and Bell.

Of course picky old me was not satisfied with the charts that were in the store. No, I needed something special (I told you, I know it when I see it). So I started working with Bonnie and Bell owner Linda to find just the right thing. I swear the woman is a saint. She poured through piles of vintage charts (she has all sorts of contacts in the European antiques world) until we found the oak one on the right. Then it was just a matter of finding the right partner for it. I really loved the colors in the Sundew, but then I did a little research on Sundew and found out it's a carnivorous plant and as weird as this may sound, I just wasn't comfortable with a carnivorous plant hanging over my table (visions of "Feed me, Seymour, danced in my head). The same went for some of the zoological charts Linda had. I absolutely love the chickens chart, but I have a hard time thinking about raw poultry while eating much less looking at chicken innards, as pretty as they may be.

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So I did a little research on these old charts and found one that I knew would work: horse chestnut. So Linda set out to find that chart for me and sure enough, in a couple weeks she located it for me!

I was so happy when I unrolled them. They are so lovely and wonderfully but gently worn. It's completely charming that they aren't totally perfect. One was printed in 1967 and the other in 1977 so they aren't THAT old, but just perfectly aged.

I once heard a designer say that every room can use a little black. Before I hung up the beautiful botanicals, the only black in the entire kitchen was the black cords on the pendants over the table. Originally I was worried that so much black on the wall might overwhelm the room or make it unbalanced, but I think it adds just the right statement to the room and actually makes those cords fit in more.

Check out what it looked like before.

And now after. Which do you prefer?

I'm so happy I waited to find the right thing for that wall. You know it's right when it just feels like home. And that corner just became my new favorite place in the house.

And one last look from a different angle (where you can see my homemade seed packet art works great with them.

There's great news to go along with this post. Bonnie and Bell's Linda (who apparently didn't tire of me even after I sent her on a wild goose chase) has agreed to work with me on a giveaway. Stay tuned for details!

Darling dots: How to recover a chair

I'm absolutely delighted to be bringing you this tutorial today. I have to say this is one of my favorite projects ever and  I couldn't be more pleased with the results.

This wasn't even a project I had planned, but I fell in love with the fabric and after giving it some thought, I realized that jumping into my first upholstery project on the Craigslist chairs that have been sitting in the basement that I hope to cover with the crazy expensive Chiang Mai Dragon fabric might be ill-advised.

The two little red chairs that sit by the game table in the living room have needed recovering since I got them about nine years ago. My mother-in-law found them in an antique store (although I don't believe they are that old) and thought they were too cute to leave there. We were lucky enough to be the home she chose for them.

They have a lovely lived-in red finish on them. I'm not sure if it's well-worn or a really good paint job, but for maybe the first time in my life, I didn't even consider touching the finish.

There are a lot of upholstery tutorials on the Internet, and I encourage you to read a couple (in addition to this one). This one is quite good and Design Sponge has a whole series of upholstery basics articles that probably cover most beginner projects. The more you read about it, the easier it is, I think. But here's the key thing to know: This is not rocket science. If I can do this, so can you.

Here's what you'll need:
• Something to reupholster, preferably an armchair, bench or something that's not fully upholstered.
• Upholstery fabric
• Stapler. I used, and highly recommend, a pneumatic upholstery stapler that attaches to an air compressor, but an electric or even hand operated stapler will work ... you'll just need a hand transplant afterwards.
• Thin flat-head
• Pliers or small vice grips
• Scissors
• Pencil
• Trim or double welt cording
• Hot glue gun

New favorite power tool.

The important thing to do is to make a lot of mental notes (or better yet, snap photos with your phone) when you take the existing fabric off. Start with any trim, which should pull right off with a few good tugs.

Then find yourself a good movie and sit down in front of the TV because this next bit is really no fun. You want to start pulling out the staples that hold the fabric on. I found it easiest to use the screwdriver to pop it up as much as possible and then use a small vice grips top pry out. If your chair is covered in a really heavy duty fabric like mine was, when you get to a certain point, you can actually pull the fabric to help pop up the staples. Just take care not to rip the fabric because it will serve as your pattern later on.

Old and faded and old and naked.

I labeled the fabric and foam with a marker as I took it off if it wasn't totally obvious as to what part it was from. I also saved the dust cover on the bottom to reuse.

With the chair stripped, I ironed my new fabric and laid out the old fabric on it. I laid everything for both chairs (I bought two yards of fabric) out first to make sure I was making the best use of the fabric. I also had to save some fabric for the double welt cording later on.

You can see how faded the old fabric was. I used a yardstick to line up the dots on the old fabric with the dots on the new fabric to make sure it was level.

If you're using a solid fabric this part is much easier because it really is a matter of just copying the fabric you're using as a template. Patterns are a little more complicated. First of all you need to decide which way you want the fabric to run on the chair (in my case I decided the ikat dots should run horizontal). Then you need to leave a little extra room so you can line up the pattern on the chair. I cut each piece about 2 to 3 inches larger than the template fabric after making sure it was lined up horizontally.

I did not follow any of the cuts around the legs when I was cutting my fabric. Those get put in later.

I spent a lot of time lining up my fabric on the seat of the chair. I'm a stickler about patterns matching so I used a yardstick to line up the dots just so. Then I realized the chair isn't square, so lining them up perfectly in both directions wouldn't be possible and focused on the vertical line and did the best I could with the horizontal line.

Here's where I'm going to tell you what you should do, and what I did on my second try, not what I actually did (which is to say that I screwed it up on the first try and had to order more fabric). To maintain the layout that I spent so long figuring out, I tacked the fabric in the center back with one staple and then pulled the fabric snug and put one staple exactly opposite it on the front underside. (I later figured out that if you're using a pneumatic stapler, it's best to turn psi down for these first staples to make them easier to pull out if necessary. You can always tap them all the way if they stay.) The arm braces were the most difficult obstacle to deal with, so I worked the fabric around these first. I held the fabric up and then used the pencil to draw a line following the angle of the arm brace. I then cut carefully on that line. I erred on the side of cutting less and then went back and cut more as necessary, finishing with a small tear-drop shaped cut to keep the fabric from ripping more. This cut was pulled tight between the arm and the cushion and then I rolled the fabric under to keep a nice edge and stapled it on the underside around the arm brace. I followed the same process on the other side before moving on to any other stapling.

Cutting and folding around the arm brace.

With the two most difficult release cuts finished and tacked, I went back to the front and back, spacing the staples out quite a bit. When everything was set I went back and put in a billion more staples to hold everything nice and tight.

I made my way around the back to make the release cuts around the back braces the same way I did the other cuts. Smoothing out the back corners was a little tricky, but I just kept pulling the fabric taught and stapling a lot. Around the legs I just cut a little and rolled the fabric under again so the edge always looked nice.

With the arm brace cuts made and stapled I worked my way around to the back legs for the next cuts.

The front corners were the last thing to get stapled because they have a little tuck in them and it was a good place to take up any extra fabric. I pulled the underside of the fold (from the side) across and tacked it underneath the chair sort of inside the leg, then created a straight tuck and smoothed the fabric with a bamboo skewer and stapled that part after rolling the edge under. Later I put a furniture tack over this one staple in front (this is how it was originally). After all that, I went back and filled in any areas that needed staples. Lots and lots of staples. Then I put the dust cover back on over the top to make it nice and neat.

Although the chair is upside down in the top picture, you can see how the tuck was made originally. I duplicated that but pulling the underside of the tuck taught and stapling and then creating a nice pleat on the front.

Here's what the bottom looked like when  all the stapling was finished and before I put the dust cover back on.

After all that pushing and pulling on the seat, the back of the chair was a breeze. I started with the piece of fabric that faces the back, making sure to line up the dots exactly in a line with the dots on the seat. Because the back is slightly curved, I actually did the top and the bottom first, alternating stapling one, then the other and alternating sides, pulling taught each time. Then I did the sides working out from the middle and again alternating side to side. Because the fabric I was using was pretty thin, I spaced out my staples then folded the edge over and did another staple in between through a double layer of fabric.

I made sure to line the dots up with the seat.

First I stapled the back on one layer and then turned the fabric over and stapled through two layers for extra hold.

Then I stuck the foam back on. It just held itself there, suspended in air.

For the front layer of the back, I again lined up the dots to continue the pattern from the seat, then stapled the entire top first (I used a row of dots to make sure I was staying even) on the underside of the fabric. This avoided having any raw edges sticking out from behind the trim at the end. Then I folded it down over the foam and folded the edge under so I was stapling through two layers of fabric. I pulled it tight and stapled three staples in the bottom row to hold it, then put a few on each side to make sure everything was nice and tight. It was a little hard to pull the fabric tight with the edge folded under so I used my needle-nosed pliers to pull the fabric while I stapled. It's important to try to keep these rows of staples in a pretty straight line so the trim covers them nicely.

I used a needle-nosed pliers to pull the folded-over fabric tight while I stapled the front.

Here's what it looked like after stapling but before the trim went on to cover the staples.

With everything stapled it was just a matter of attaching the trim. It sounds like cheating to just glue it on, but believe it or not, that's really how it's done. I bought some trim from the fabric store but ended up liking the look of double welt cording better.

I'm not going to get into how to sew double welt cording because me telling you how to sew is like me telling you how to perform brain surgery. I'm unqualified. I'll just tell you that with a cording foot (I couldn't find a double cord foot but the single cord foot worked fine) it's not hard and I actually spent far more time reading the sewing machine directions than actually sewing the welting. Just follow this tutorial on how to make it.

When I made mine I knew I didn't want any dots showing so I made sure to line it up so just the navy fabric would be showing. By the way, you don't HAVE to cut your fabric for cording on the bias, it just goes around corners a little easier if you do. I'm sort of cheap about using fabric and you use a lot less if you just cut straight so that's how I made mine. Also, it turns out that it was only $5 more to buy 250 yards of double welt cording than it was to buy 5 yards, so I now have more double welt cord than I could ever use. So if you want some for a project to try, e-mail me your address and how much you need (within reason ... I'm not sending you 100 yards), let me know and I'll send it to you. For free. Because I don't need this much.

Anyway, if you follow that tutorial, all that's left to do is glue it on. I just used my hot glue and stuck it on. The only tricky part was dealing with the ends. I ootched the cord out a little and nipped it off then folded the fabric over and tacked it down with glue so there wouldn't be any fraying ends.

Glue on the double welt to cover the staples. Scintillating television going on in the background there.

I folded the ends of the fabric on the cording under and glued it to keep it from fraying.

And that's it. Honestly I can't believe how good it turned out and with the exception of removing the fabric, this was one of the more fun projects I've done.

Before and after (pre-trim) in the same shot.

After and after.

P.S. I have a lot of these little tutorials that I find online and then later use for projects on my How-to Pinterest board. It runs the gambit of cleaning tips to DIY light fixtures, but if you're interested in some of them, check my boards out there.

Linking up to:

A sneak peak of the latest project

I've been working on a few projects, some more exciting than others and I've finally finished a pretty exciting one that I'm pretty stoked about.

BUT ... it's gonna be a long post (you're gettin' a tutorial folks, whether you want it or not), and no one wants to read long posts on Fridays.

So I leave you with this sneak peak.

More to come on Monday!

Have a great weekend everyone. Mine will be filled with a lot of garden-related activities regardless of the weather (which isn't predicted to be great). It's time to start cleaning up. What's on your agenda for the weekend?

All aboard the seed train

I am a lazy gardener. I'm also (obviously) an impatient one. So growing things from seeds has never really been my deal. I do grow almost all my vegetables from seeds (other than tomatoes and zucchini, only because I don't need a million of either), and I've professed my love for nasturtiums which are so easy to grow from seed.

Other than that, I pretty much stay away from seeds. That's mostly because I just don't have the patience or space to tend trays of seeds, but I'll admit that it's nice to put a plant in the ground and enjoy it from Day 1.

I do, however, love zinnias. I think they are the happiest flower (daisies move over). I also think they are beautiful cut flowers although I rarely treat myself to bringing them in the house. (Kylee at Our Little Acre is the same way, but her house is full of beautiful bouquets right now because she cut all her flowers before the first frost. I'll have to do the same.)

You can sow zinnia seeds directly in the ground, but I was worried I'd forget about them and I wanted to give them a little head start, so I planted several in seed-starting trays then distributed the plugs in bare spots throughout the garden.

For the last six weeks or so, I've been enjoying the fruits of that labor, and all for a couple of bucks worth of seeds.

So pretty it makes me wonder why I didn't get on the seed train sooner.

What do you grow from seed?

Garden crash: Mid-century beach house

It's been awhile since I've done any garden crashing and this one is more of a mini crash but its still quite different from most gardens lurking around this area. I visited with my mom, who was writing about it for the home and garden section of the local newspaper.
The garden is THE feature at this house, a mid-century ranch. The garden envelopes the house to the point where you have to look for the structure from the entry side. It is located on a beautiful property on the shores of Lake Michigan, which can be a blessing and a curse for a gardener. That giant body of water (skeptical readers who live near the ocean will scoff at that adjective, but Lake Michigan is more of a mini ocean than a lake) dictates the weather, which means summer is slow to come as the water warms up and the growing season is extended in fall as the relatively warm water wards off frost.
My favorite garden on the property may actually be the one that borders the road. I love its simplicity and statement. When you see a garden like this before you even enter a property you know something good awaits.

The shady driveway is lined with beach stones. I imagine they would be a pain to weed around but it's such a charming look.

The front door is flanked by a large Bloodgood Japanes maple. This is view from the right of the front door. Clematis 'Sweet Autumn' crawls over the roof softening every hard edge.

I loved this classic combination of hackenachloa and Japanese painted ferns.

This is the view from the other side of the arbor that supports that clematis. It also supports a climbing hydrangea (it's a beefy structure).

Along the path that runs along the house to the arbor, the gardener kept it simple with just pachysandra and I think eunonymus, providing a nice resting space for the eye.

In the back the gardens are varied. According to the gardener, this will be the last year for a high-mainentance rose garden. Other areas feature native plants (that were looking a bit spent at the end of the season). But the real star of the show back here is the view. You can't go wrong with that.