2014: A YEAR IN REVIEW

Wow, how did it get to be December 31 already? It seems like the year just flew by. Come to think if it, since I was 25, they all seem to have flown by.

It was a good year on the blog. I've been doing this since April 2009 and I wrote (a few) more posts this year than any other. I hope to keep that up in 2015, but I never like to set a schedule because I don't want to start writing stuff that you don't want to read.

Anyway, let's take a look at the highlights of 2014 on The Impatient Gardener.

JANUARY



To keep myself busy during the cold winter months before I allow myself to really start dreaming of gardening, I made this really simple little magnetic chalkboard for the inside of the pantry.

FEBRUARY

I wrapped up what was probably the biggest indoor project of the year when I put the finishing touches on the small hallway outside the kitchen. For such a small space it sure was a pain to fix up. In the end it got smooth walls, a fresh coat of paint all over, a fun blue planked ceiling, a new light and a new thermostat. It wasn't pretty, but in the end it was so worth it, even though I still find drywall dust in odd places.

MARCH

The ugly vanity in the ugly bathroom got (another) coat of paint. I still hate it but it's much better navy than it was pickled pink. I'll be happy the day that the vanity, and the rest of the bathroom, are tossed out.

APRIL

Finally, after what seemed like the crappiest winter in history, it was time to garden. Indoors, anyway. For the first time, I started a lot of things from seed last year. Overall, I really enjoyed it because it helped the gardening bug a little and I had a lot of success with some of the things I grew from seed (and not so much from others).

MAY

The garden finally came to life (albeit slowly) in May. I was rejoicing in every swelling leaf bud and bit of green I could find.

JUNE


I showed off the wood planter we built. It ended up being heavier than heck and way more expensive than we planned, but it was still a fraction of the price we would have paid for something similar. It was a really satisfying project.

JULY


In July I finally finished up the back yard garden renovation I'd been working on. By creating a little more form in the shape of ovals, I defined the space much better and finally made the edge of the property much nicer to look at.

AUGUST


It was a pretty good year for containers and I shared some of the progress in August.

SEPTEMBER


I grew a perfect tomato. I grew very few tomatoes last summer, but this one was damn near perfect.

OCTOBER


Thanks to growing parsley from seed, I had a welcome abundance of it. I saved the harvest in a variety of ways and we're still enjoying it.

NOVEMBER


I experimented with a new way to ward off deer this winter. So far it's been successful, but since we've had no snow, the deer have plenty of other food to eat. We'll see what happens the rest of the winter.

DECEMBER


I added a little color to the drab landscape by decorating the outside containers. I'll enjoy them until March.

Not bad for a year. How was your 2014?


POST-HOLIDAY MODE

Hello again gang!

I totally left you hanging on Christmas Eve and I haven't been back since. Sorry about that, I was feeling a little lazy.

I did take a bunch of photos of the mantel, but it seems ridiculous to show them now, when I'm chomping at the bit to clean it all up. I love Christmas decorations but I also love when they are gone too.

It's a very busy time at work as well, which partially explains my absence. Mostly though, I think this is the time of year when you shouldn't force much upon yourself. There are so many to-do's coming in the new year that it feels like a good time to sit back and take it a little easy.

I will say though, that even tough it's sort of nice to have Christmas over, it was lovely while it was here. I can't complain about great times with family and friends and great food and drink too. Our group of friends hasn't been together in its entirety for probably a decade (several of us see each other frequently but the whole gang is spread out) and we were able to get together last Friday. It was such an amazing time and we laughed so hard we all had stomach aches the next day.

Ugly ornament bedazzled with macaroni
Would you believe I actually purchased this? For a whole 74 cents, actually. Then I hot glued noodles to the ends of it just for added ugliness.

We do an ugly ornament exchange every year and I just have to show you what I brought. I think it's right up there with the ugliest ornaments ever. The beauty of our exchange is that the rules state that you MUST hang the ornament on your tree in a place of prominence (no fair hiding it in the back) in perpetuity.

On Sunday, the sun was out for the first time in weeks and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We took a long walk on the beach and celebrated our dog Rita's 10th birthday. I know a lot of people around here were disappointed that we didn't have a white Christmas, but I'll take an unseasonably warm Christmas any day (at least that's how I feel after last year's neverending winter).


And look what I found in the garden. It appears that a brave little columbine decided to see what all this warm weather is about and push up through some weeds. I think it's probably telling that my first thought when I saw it was not, "Holy smokes there is a spring plant popping up," but "It's nice enough out here that I should be weeding." Don't worry, I didn't.

I'll be back tomorrow with a round-up of the year here on The Impatient Gardener. I have a feeling it won't show nearly as much activity as last year's year-end round-up did.


A CHRISTMAS CARD

Ever since our first dog was a puppy, we've done a personalized holiday card featuring the dogs. Sadly I can't find that card anymore, but last  year I showed you many of our previous cards (and this one).

This was the first time in 11 years that we made a card without Hudson on it, which is sad, but we were able to include him but taking a shot by the tree we planted for him.

Young Odin was quite patient (for all 146 photos that I took), but by the end, he was just done, hence the photos on the back of this year's card.



Happy holidays everyone! I hope to be back later with some more photos from my house, but all of a sudden Christmas Eve got a little crazy.


OH CHRISTMAS TREE, OH CHRISTMAS TREE

Welcome to The Impatient Gardener blog, where Christmas happens in slow motion. I've been slow to get things finished this year, pared down the decorations and haven't quite finished wrapping yet.

That means that I'm just now getting around to showing you some of how Christmas is happening in my house. Today I'm showing you the tree, mostly because the lights in the lanterns on the mantel needed new batteries and I didn't want to show it to you without them lit.

Last year we put the tree in a container (now home to the boxwood by the garage) because our old dog Hudson would have a tough time navigating around it. This year we did the same thing except with a basket because our puppy would surely wreak havoc on a tree.


Frankly, I quite like the look. The tree still appears tall but it doesn't take up as much space in the room. We ended up with a Canaan fir this year, mostly because the tree lot was sold out of Frasier firs. As proof that I have mellowed dramatically over the last decade, we actually picked it out in five minutes via Facetime, with Mr. Much More Patient at the tree lot and me at work. It's a beautiful tree but the branches have gotten very droopy.

When it comes to Christmas trees, I'm a traditionalist, so I will never have a trendy tree. I like mine with red and white lights (interestingly I use the same amount of lights regardless of the size of the tree), some regular ball ornaments, fancy ornaments that have been given to me over the years, and topped off with dozens of glass icicles.


In case you were wondering, it is possible to have a beautiful tree with a puppy (even one who is currently weighing in at 75 pounds) around. Here's how I do it:

  1. I happened to find a tree stand that fits perfectly in the basket, so it's a tight fit, but in the past I've also used rocks to help stabilize it. 
  2. We always tie the Christmas tree up with fishing line. You can't see it unless you're really looking and the peace of mind is so worth a little extra time.
  3. I don't put anything fragile on the bottom of the tree, even when it's raised up in a container.
  4. I used ornaments with bells on them at the bottom of the tree so I can hear if Christmas tree hijinks ensue.
  5. Any ornaments that are toward the bottom of the tree get attached tightly, rather than just hung on a branch.

You'll notice the top of the tree is rather naked. Turns out I forgot that the star (which I didn't care for much) broke last year, so I ran out and got something new but I haven't gotten around to putting it up there. Maybe tonight.

So that's the tree. That just leaves the rest of the decorating, the Christmas card, the wrapping and maybe the cookies to show you tomorrow. Like I said, home of the slowest Christmas reveal ever.

If you can't stop in tomorrow because you are busy celebrating, I wish you a very merry Christmas (or happy Hanukkah, a bit late, or Festivus or whatever you choose to celebrate).





FRIDAY FINDS

Well, the Hampton Hostess might have been hanging with William and Kate last week, but remember how Kate practically welcomed me to England (I "ran into" her after I'd been there for all of 14 hours)?



I love looking at other people's houses all holiday'd up. Linda's decorations are refined, unique and restrained. I bet everything she puts out has a story. I love it.

This foraged wreath is to die for. The how-to post is almost as beautiful as the finished product.

This is not at all a very cheery topic, but finally people are starting to learn about options for a green burial. Hopefully this option will become better understood and more accepted in the future. The quicker I become compost, the better.

Justina Blakeney photo via Apartment Therapy

Are you hosting a holiday dinner at your house? Here are some great ideas for decorating your table (note that I have refrained from using the hideous word "tablescape").

Have a great weekend everyone! I've got cookie baking on the brain.


CHECKING IN ON THE SLOWEST PROJECT IN HISTORY

Behold! I bring you tidings of great news!

I got my Christmas tree decorated this week. No pictures to share yet (and frankly, I do the same thing every year on my Christmas tree so it doesn't look much different than in the past), but I will definitely share my pared-down holiday decor with you soon.

Despite the fact that I just got my tree decorated a week before Christmas, I'm actually feeling like I'm in a good place as far as the holidays go this year. I finished my shopping last week and almost everything is at least partially wrapped (I'm doing a little something special as far as wrapping goes this year, so it's a multi-step process). I'm making cookie dough on Friday and my mom and I will be crazy baker ladies on Saturday. We're not hosting anything at our house other than having my parents over for our traditional Christmas breakfast, so there's no menu planning to do. And I scaled way back on decorations. The only real issue I have right now is that there is no star on the top of my tree. When I went looking for it last night I realized it broke last year. The poor thing looks naked so I'll make a little attempt to find one.

Anyway, I wanted to bring you an update on the slowest moving project in history, mostly because the pace of this project is now downright comical. That's right, I have garage pergola news!

A couple weeks ago we got the main beam put up. Hurray!


That sucker is a beast. Although the design of this pergola mimics the pergola on the deck, we thought that it was too small do to the double beam, but since the top pieces (I do not know my pergola terminology) are going to be made from 2x8s, as well as the beam, we decided to make it a double width. That also solved our problem of how to make it long enough (it's 24 feet long).

To make it, we put two 12-foot boards on the front with a seam in the center, and three 8-foot boards on the back side, so that no seams matched up on the front and back. We used construction adhesive and screws to put it all together. I also used a liberal amount of exterior grade wood putty to fill all those screw holes, smooth out the joints and cover the bottom seam that you'll see if you're standing under it. For the top seam that won't be visible, I just used exterior painter's caulk.

Before we put the boards together we cut the detail on the end, then sistered the boards, then used a belt sander to smooth out the the end details so they were nice and even.


And although I didn't have the heart to take a photo, let's just say that if you decide to do a project like this, you're going to want to make sure that you have the ends facing the right way when you make your cuts. When we sistered them, we ended up with one end detail facing up and one facing down. Fortunately the construction adhesive did not dry nearly as quickly as advertised and we were able to pull it apart and remedy the situation.

The next step is to attach the top pieces and then there's a lot of hole filling that needs to be done and touch-up on the solid stain in spring. And with the way this project has been going, I'll probably need all winter to get the rest finished anyway.

Like I said, it's downright comical now.

There's still a Friday Finds coming later today so stay tuned.

PUCKER UP; HERE'S HOW TO MAKE A KISSING BALL

I didn't bother to look up the history of the kissing ball, but I imagine it goes something like this: Mistletoe is ugly but people still need an excuse to kiss, so someone invented a ball covered in greens, called it a kissing ball and people started smooching under it.

Works for me.

Anyway, I recently took a class on how to make a kissing ball. Other than a few small tricks that make your life a little easier, this is the biggest no-brainer project ever.


Here's what you'll need:

  1. 4-inch oasis floral foam, really well saturated (overnight or all day).
  2. A chopstick, sharpened pencil, skewer or something else long and pokey.
  3. A 12-inch chenille pipe cleaner, preferably green.
  4. A bit of string, anything will do.
  5. A 1-inch piece of a twig, or a cut from the previously mentioned poking device.
  6. A selection of greens.
  7. A length of pretty ribbon.
I think it's probably easiest to prep everything first, so start by preparing all your greens. You want them cut into about 4-inch lengths, with the end of the "stem" part (the part you'll be sticking into the oasis) clean of needles for at least a half-inch. For the balls we made, we used white pine, port orford cedar and seeded eucalyptus. You can use anything, including flowers. Boxwood would be great and if you really want to guarantee some kisses you could also use mistletoe.

Then take your soaked foam ball (work over a sink or something because this bit is messy) and find the seam and think of it as the equator on a globe. Take your chopstick or pokey thing and stick it through the ball from the north pole to the south pole. If you're using a skinny tool, you may have to wiggle it a little to get a big enough hole.

Then take your chenille pipe cleaner and stick it through the hole. At the bottom of the ball, take your inch-long piece of twig or a cut from your poking device, and wrap a bit of the pipe cleaner around it to create an anchor. Hole up your ball by the other end of the pipe cleaner to make sure it's secure.


On the top of the ball, create a small loop, maybe an inch or so, and twist the rest of the pipe cleaner around the base of the loop.


Take about 8 inches of string and just tie a loop into the small pipe cleaner loop. You'll be cutting this off later so it doesn't have to be fancy; it's just so you don't lose track of the pipe cleaner loop when all the greens are in the ball.

The rest is easy. Starting at the top, stick in your prepared greens. Because we were using several kinds of greens, we started with the white pine as the base, spacing them out about 3/4-inch. Work around the ball, rather on one side, to keep it uniform, and cover the whole ball. Don't forget the bottom.

Then go back and start filling in with the other greens in the spaces you left between the first group of greens. You don't need to cover every last bit of the ball, because you won't see the oasis once it's hanging, but you do want it full. If some extra long greens sneak in there, just trim them off.

We also added a few gold-dipped greens to the very top, but you could also put pinecones or ornaments up there too.


When you're finished, find your pipe cleaner loop and string a piece of pretty ribbon through it, tying it into a loop (as long as you like) with 3-4 inch ends on either side of a square knot. Work the knot under the loop, cut off the piece of string you used as a place holder earlier, and you are finished.


Easy, right? There's no reason not to have a reason to smooch now. You're welcome.

The winner of the Uncommon Goods gift certificate was Laurin, who shared the worst gift she ever received: "The worst gift was from a previous M-inlaw. It was a hideous green and white polyester top that had clearly been on sale! That was well about 35 years ago and I still remember."

Buy yourself something nice with that gift certificate, Laurin. If you wore that top even once, you earned it. 

FRIDAY (OR UM, SATURDAY) FINDS

This is actually getting out so late that Friday Finds has most likely turned into Saturday finds. Either way, here's my (mostly) weekly roundup of cool stuff I found on the Interwebs this week.

Don't forget to enter to win a $50 gift certificate to Uncommon Goods. I'm closing the giveaway on Monday night so the winner has time to use it to finish up their holiday shopping.

I found a new skincare line thanks to my friend and clean-makeup blogger Kate. It's called Antipodes and it's a New Zealand line of products that is organic and clean (check out Kate's youtube channel for info on what makes makeup/skincare clean and why you should care). I will admit, I'm biased toward all things Kiwi because I loved my time there and I love the people there. Kiwis were into organic and clean stuff way before Americans figured it out, so they have a good handle on how to do it right. And I believe that New Zealand skincare tends to be very good because it has to be: the sun down there does damage that you cannot believe so you really have to take care of your skin. I just received my order of a small size of the Vanilla Pod day cream and the Manuka Honey Mask today and I'll let you know what I think after I give it a try.


If you read pretty much any design blogs, you probably saw that the announcement of Pantone's Color of the Year for 2015—Marsala—was met with what could nicely be called trepidation and not-so-nicely be called disdain or mockery. Of course these "color of the year" things are all conjecture and I'm certain the main purpose of them is to get people talking about the Pantone brand, so the cynic in me assumes that was the main reason behind this choice. My opinion is that Marsala is an ugly color and I hope to never have it in my house. My pick would have been navy because not only do I love it, it is everywhere. But that would have been a no brainer and that's why a gross burgundy-brown, dried blood color is the pick.

New House New Home photo

I'm way behind on Christmas stuff this year, so there may be no hope for me, but Heather has a great post on how to not lose your noodle and stay organized at this time of the year.

Loi Tone got a new shipment of vintage lovelies and antiques from Sweden and it's so damn good. Some day I will have to get to his store (I shall start saving now).

Deborah Silver isn't the only one who can make amazing Christmas containers. Check out Debra's (maybe it's in the name) work over at 5th and State.

I love wreaths, and this is a nice round up of oodles of beautiful Christmas wreaths.

That's it for this week, gang. I'm going to kick some serious Christmas butt this weekend: tree, mantel, rest of the house, wrapping presents, cleaning, you name it. By Sunday night, I hope to collapse into a heap of holiday satisfaction and feeling good about the coming week, which is full of parties, activities and more. I hope you all have a great weekend!

AN UNCOMMONLY GOOD GIVEAWAY

Who couldn't use a little help with their holiday shopping at this time of year? I don't do a lot of giveaways on the blog, but I was excited to do one for a very cool company: Uncommon Goods. This is the place to go when you need something interesting and different for a gift. I picked a few of my favorite things from their catalog, but you will get to choose anything you like if you are the winner of a $50 gift certificate to Uncommon Goods (entry at the bottom).


FOR THE TRAVELER ON YOUR LIST


I just gave this to my 12-year-old nephew for his birthday. The kid has been lucky to go to a few places and hopefully will do much more traveling throughout his life. It's a scratch off map (they have it in regular and deluxe but I prefer the deluxe map), so you can scratch off the places you've been. I think it's beautiful and fun and for $31.95, it's budget friendly.

This is sort of funny. I have to do a gift guide at work every year and I actually picked this for our editors' gift selections for the magazine I work at. Suffice to say, I think it's really cool and I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't enjoy receiving this. It's custom map ornament. Basically, you pick a spot, and they create an ornament with the nautical chart of your location for the front of the ornament. On the back you can put a custom message that could be the latitude and longitude coordinates of that location, a sweet message or just a notation of which Christmas it is from. I think this would be a great way to remember a special vacation. $75.

I think these hand-embroidered state pillows are fun, beautiful and just kitschy enough to be super cool. At $158 they aren't inexpensive but 1. They are hand-embroidered and 2. Have you looked at the cost of throw pillows?

FOR THE PERSON WHO ENJOYS A COCKTAIL


Moscow Mules are THE hot drink right now and I'm convinced it's at least partly because in order to be a true Moscow Mule, they have to come in a very cool copper mug. These are stainless on the inside and copper-plated on the outside for good lucks and good taste. At $16 each, a set of four is totally within reach. And here's my little gift to you: A can't lose Moscow Mule recipe.

MOSCOW MULE
Fill a copper mug with ice and add half a lime. Add two ounces of GOOD vodka (save the swill for your regular glasses) and top with cold ginger beer. Give it a stir and toast to good friends.

Sometimes it's nice to give a gift that DOES something. How about one that makes whiskey and rum? I'm not sure how it will turn out but I think it would be fun to give it a whirl with the Whiskey and Rum Making Kit complete with a wooden keg. $75.

Beer connoisseurs are everywhere these days and they take their brew seriously. The Beer Tasting Flight is beautiful and I think it will look just as good sitting on the bar empty as it will when it's full. $59.

FOR THE JEWELRY LOVER
Uncommon goods has some beautiful jewelry that I think would be difficult to find elsewhere (and you're certainly not picking this up at the nearest department store). Among my favorites are this Mixed Metals Hinged Cuff bracelet ($115), the beautiful Sake Bottle Earrings ($54) and the Raw Quartz Birthstone Necklace ($88), which I think is a really different take on birthstone jewelry.






FOR THE PERSON WHO JUST LOVES FUN STUFF
Let's be clear, these are not practical gifts, and that's OK. Sometimes these are the best gifts to give (and receive) because they are things a person probably wouldn't buy for themselves.

What cat (or cat owner) wouldn't want a little wool cave that's this cute? $60.


Some days it's just too hard to make a decision. Let this cute stocking stuffer do it for you. $15.

Nobody really needs a paperweight, but I know lots of people who should have this one. Let's just say I have the mouth of a sailor, and while I try to keep the salty language to a minimum at the office, sometimes it just slips out. Maybe a paperweight like this would temper that a bit. F-bomb paperweight, $45.


When we were in Napa last year, Himalayan salt was a big deal. From plates to planks to shot glasses, it was all salt. Here's a plank that screams foodie and looks cool too. Himalayan Salt BBQ Plank $29.95.

Those are just some of the cool things you can pick up at Uncommon Goods. They've come up with a few lists to make your shopping a little easier too. Check out their gift list, stocking stuffers and gifts under $50. And it'll be even easier to do that if you win a $50 gift certificate to use on whatever you like.

I've given you lots of ways to enter. If you want to keep it simple, just do the first one, where all you have to do is click. But if you want to increase your chances of winning, make sure to do the rest! This contest will only run through Monday so that the winner will have time to use the gift certificate before the holidays.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A TREE CASUALTY

Last week I lamented the loss of more trees in our yard. The difference of the missing ash trees is dramatic. But they are gone and that's all there is to it. I'm trying to look at this as an opportunity to plant something big and beautiful like a copper beech, a Kentucky coffeetree or any other from the amazing variety of large trees out there. You don't get a lot of opportunities to plant big trees in this life, so I want to make it good. And it probably won't be a maple (more on that in a future post).

There is a huge pile of wood waiting for a friend to pick up. He heats his house almost exclusively with a wood-burning stove so he's happy to take any wood we can get him. We don't have fires very often so we have plenty of wood stacked and ready to use to keep us stocked for some time.

I'm not thrilled that the tree crew stacked the wood at the base of my favorite old beech tree because I worry about soil compaction, disease and trunk damage, but I think the wood is supposed to be picked up this coming weekend so I think it will be ok.


What's not OK, unfortunately is that for the first time in the many years we've had these guys cut trees for us, they damaged an existed tree.


My poor little Gingko biloba 'Golden spire' bit the dust. I bought it from Klehm's Song Sparrow nursery on clearance a couple years ago and it lived its entire short life in a cage to protect it from deer.

This cage has seen better days.
From the state of the cage, it's obvious that they dropped a branch or part of a trunk right on top of it, snapping off the tree it was protecting.

I'm not happy about it, but if they had to damage something, it was a good tree to pick. The tree never had a central leader by the time I got it for about $25, so I was working on training a branch to take over that duty. I suspect the tree was never going to be very pretty. I'm not convinced I sited it correctly either.

So I get a do-over on that one. Maybe it was fate that brought that ash branch down on the poor little gingko. Either way it will give me something to work on after the holidays when I can plan out that area. Again.