FRIDAY FINDS

Glad to be back for Friday Finds this week. Blogland is humming these days; it seems like autumn has everyone in the mood for some seriously creative projects.

First off, if you missed my review of the most empowering yard tool I've ever used (which was posted late last night because of an a.m. / p.m. scheduling mistake), make sure you check it out.

Um, no.


This house .... um, yes. Please.

I've tried so many recipes for oven fries and I'm always disappointed. Yes, I'll try one more.

Our doggy feeding station.

Check out the tables, stools and sliding doors on this site. So beautiful. And they match our dog feeding stand!

The One-Room Challenge is going on, in which bloggers fix up one room in six weeks and blog about it weekly. I have a hard time finishing projects in six months, much less six weeks. Suffice to say, you won't catch me taking that on, but it's fun to follow. I'm particularly enjoying following the projects of bloggers who are playing along but are not necessarily part of the official ORC team.

Lots to do here this weekend: more garden cleanup, cleaning out the basement (seriously, I've been saying I was going to clean out the basement for three years now, but I'm really going to do ... probably), and maybe another trip to a tile store for a little bathroom inspiration. What's on your agenda?

A SERIOUS YARD TOOL THAT ANYONE CAN USE

It is a big time of year for yard work. Those of us in the north know that any day could be our last opportunity to clean up the yard before snow and ice descend. And with the garden more or less minding itself at this time of year (at least until we get a good hard freeze) it is the perfect time to really get in there and take care of a few serious yard projects.

Which means it's also a great time to put another cool Troy-Bilt tool to the test. This time around I'm testing the TB60044 Straight Shaft String Trimmer. I know, string trimmers are so, um ho-hum, right? Well not this one because it claims to be a string trimmer but really it's a do-everything little bundle of magic.

First off, it's a four-stroke engine which means, among other things, that you don't have to premix the gas and the oil, it's quieter and a little more fuel efficient. Am I the only person in the world who is a little intimidated by premixing oil and gas? I realize it's a relatively simple process but I've always been afraid that I'm going to do it wrong and wreck something. No worries with a four-stroke engine; you just fill up the gas tank and fill up the oil tank and you're good to go.

I was a branch cutting machine.

This string trimmer comes with the string trimmer bit, but other attachments (and there are many to chose from) are also available. I'll be honest, I don't like using string trimmers and I actually didn't even personally try the string trimmer part of this. Mr. Much More Patient did and I assure you, he is smitten. I, on the other hand, went straight for the good stuff, which was the TrimmerPlus pole saw, aka a mini chainsaw on a long stick. Chainsaws scare me. They are cool but I'm pretty sure you ought to know what you're doing before you operate one. But this is a mini chainsaw that is not at all intimidating. And let me tell you, I had a blast going around and trimming up all the small low-hanging branches on our trees, up to a good 10 feet off the ground or more. It cut through them (I would say they were maybe 3 inches in diameter or less in most cases) with no problem and there was zero flex in the pole so I really felt like I had a lot of control. In fact, I got a little carried away and we spend the next couple hours dragging branches all over the yard.

This shows the reach of the pole saw. Throw in a tall guy and you can really get up there.

Then I tried out the Trimmerplus brushcutter. This is just a really sturdy metal blade that spins like a string trimmer attachment does, but it takes out, well, brush. I have been anxious to reclaim some of the areas under the big trees on our property that have gotten really overgrown and weedy and I went to town with this thing. It worked great, but I quickly learned that this attachment is one that you definitely need to think about safety with. It's loud, so I used ear protection and pants and good shoes are a must because stuff goes flying. In fact, the gator-type protectors they sell would probably be best because even with jeans I had a few pieces of brush that stung a bit.

That area is a such a mess and the brushcutter attachment is the first step in taming it.

There are many other attachments available with the Trimmerplus system, including a lawn edger, hedge trimmer, cultivator, blower and more. But what good are all these cool tools if you can get them started? Ladies, you know what I mean; pulling those strings to start gas-powered tools is difficult to impossible. Honestly, I don't think it's a strength thing. I think it's an arm length thing. I'm not joking; my arms are not long enough to pull the string on a tool and hold it with the other hand. When we first bought our house, Mr. Much More Patient was out of town (and out of the country) most of the time so I sort of MacGyvered a lot of things around the house. And on one occasion, I used a brick, my foot and some sort of yoga pose to start some sort of tool (the specific kind eludes me) that I propped up on a rock. It occurred to me shortly after that I was probably going to get away with something that stupid without hurting myself exactly once and never did it again.

Enter the Jump Start Lithium-Ion Engine Starter, which is the single coolest thing to happen to gas-powered engines in possibly forever, at least if you are a person who has struggled with pull string starting. Charge it up, stick it in the hole on the trimmer, push the button and the trimmer starts. That's it. As silly as it sounds, it's incredibly freeing to know that I can go cut down low branches whenever I feel like it, without having to ask for Mr. Much More Patient's help in starting up the trimmer. It's empowering. I'm not kidding. Wanna see how it works? Check this out:


video


Alright, I'm gushing. I'm trying not to, but it just make so much sense. You have to like that in a tool.

Disclosure: Troy-Bilt provided the products mentioned here for the purpose of this review, but they didn't tell me what to say. Or, in this case, what to gush about. All opinions are my own, even the ones about string trimmers usually being kind of boring.

VISITING BATHROOM SHANGRI-LA

In my mind at least, the downstairs bathroom renovation is ON. My mind and reality are not necessarily in the same place though. One thing I learned when we did our major house remodel four years ago now (I cannot believe it's been that long! I still haven't hung any art on the guest room walls!) is that it is much better to go into these things with your eyes wide open. When we did our big remodel there was a part of me that just didn't want to know just how much everything was going to cost or how long it was going to take (for real, not what we were first told) or just how hairy it would get. Having done it that way once, I know, for me at least, it's better to go in with a very realistic viewpoint.

So I'm making a spreadsheet. It is the epitome of homeowner geekdom, but I want to know exactly how much everything is going to cost and exactly what every piece will look like before we even think about starting this. That's the only way we can make an educated decision whether this winter is the right time to do thing.

I'm sure I'll revisit my geeky spreadsheet on the blog sometime, but in the interest of research I ran up to the Kohler Design Center over the weekend. Since the Kohler Co. is pretty much in our back yard, going to their design center on a whim is something a person who has been planting bulbs and piling up leaves all day can realistically do at 3 in the afternoon. Of course, had I known that it was the food and wine festival there, I might have at least changed out of my flip flops before I ran up there.

Any trip to the Kohler Design Center is a good opportunity for ogling a bit of eye candy and it is my blogger duty to share the love. I'm a little surprised that more of the displays haven't changed since I was last up there, but they are still current and interesting.

This is a beautiful vanity with a great thick marble top.
Nobody ever thinks about valves and stuff like that but it all has to work. It's nice to see them all in one place. 

I loved this preppy bathroom and I'm certain the floor las a lot to do with that. 

I have seen the world's most beautiful faucet and this is it. This is a Barbara Barry design for Kohler's Kallista line and that's a marble lever. However, I implore you ... do NOT fall in love with this thing. It sells for somewhere in the $2,000 range. Ouch. 

I'm pretty sure I've posted a picture of this bathroom before, but it still catches my eye. This is the most fun floor ever.

Hex tiles plus ombre. It's on trend and it's a whole lot of look.

I love the Karbon faucet but this is the first time I've tried one one out. One of the nice things about the design center is that many of the faucets and showers are hooked up to water so you can see how the water flows out of them. This faucet was a little more difficult to move around than I expected but it's still super cool.

I may be the only person in the world who doesn't love apron sinks, but if I was going to have one, I'd probably go for something with a modern bent to it like this one.

Maybe we all need fancy hand-painted toilets.

Look beyond the bizarre lighted floor and I dare you not to love that chandelier.

Have a seat. No, seriously, that's what they are for. They want people to sit on them and see if they are comfortable. I have never seen someone actually do it.

I love the striped design of this shower but those dimensional tiles just make me think of the crud that would accumulate on the ridges of them. Also this was a circular shower which is super fun.
Hope you enjoyed that little dose of inspiration. As the bathroom plan here comes together I'll share some details and whether we do it this winter, or sometime in the future, we'll at least know where we stand.

Do you make a detailed plan before you take on a big renovation project or do you just take it as it comes?

THE BEAUTY AND SADNESS OF FROST BOUQUETS

There is a traditional among northern gardeners in which the night before the first frost we all run out to our gardens and cut every tender flower we can find. Last Friday, the night of the first predicted frost, I got home later than I expected, which mean that I ran outside in the very last remnants of daylight and cut every dahlia I could find.

And let me tell you: That kind of harvesting with reckless abandon leads to some beautiful bouquets.

I had an armload of flowers but stuck them all into two bouquets, one bright and one pale.

The bright bouquet truly begged to be viewed carefully, with sunglasses, but it was as cheery as they come. 



The pale bouquet made of the last of the Cafe au Lait dahlias is a study in texture. It was my first year growing the ever-popular Cafe au Laits and my goodness, they are worth the price of admission. Although all of those that were cut for this last bouquet were ivory with just a hint of peach blush, earlier this summer they were pink and peach and bright pink and yellow—an amazing array of colors.


 

It was a good thing I brought in what I could as Saturday morning, most of the dahlias looked like this.

The bouquets are now faded as well, but they brought immeasurable pleasure for a few days, perhaps enough to see me through the winter until I can see those blooms again. And that's what makes frost bouquets both the prettiest and the saddest bouquets of the year.

Do you bring in as many flowers as you can before you get a frost?

AN OVERHEAD VIEW SHOWS A GARDEN'S ISSUES

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a few things you can do in your garden in fall to set yourself up for a great gardening year ahead. I accidentally came across another one: check out the sky-view of your garden to look for potential improvements.

While looking up something else on Google Earth, I zoomed up to our house and noticed that the picture had been updated since I last looked. I think it was taken early this summer.

Of course, since it was taken in what I think is early summer, the trees are blocking a lot of the view, but there are a few interesting notes. First, I love that you can see the "stripes" in the path to the garage even from space. (I used bluestone that I reclaimed from my grandmother's house for parts of the path and flagstone for the rest.)

But there is one glaring issue that is driving me nuts. Do you see it?


Check out the garden to the north of the house. Do you see that annoyingly randomly curved edge? This harkens back to an earlier time in my gardening life, when I compulsively created new gardens on a whim without a lot of thought as to what purpose they might serve or what they should look like. And back then, curvy was interesting, regardless of whether those curves served a purpose.

In case you aren't seeing what I'm talking about, I drew it in on photo below (in the middle).

To be clear, I'm not against curvy garden beds. It's just that I've learned that curves have to have purpose, like around a show-stopper shrub or tree, or as part of a larger, bolder statement. Compare the random curves on the garden to the north with the back/side garden. Although you can't see the whole yard because of the foliage cover and shadows, you can tell that the bold edge creates an oval of grass. The grass is the positive space rather than the negative space, which is the opposite of what is going on in the other bed.

Thanks to Google Earth, I know I need to deal with the shape of that bed. I'm not entirely sure what to do, and creating more room in the garden is probably not the answer (yes, I've gotten to a point where I realize that I need to keep my gardening space to a reasonable amount). I may even do something to break up that really large area on the right side of that garden. It is an insanely deep bed struggling for some identity. The good news, I've got a lot of winter to think about it.


FRIDAY FINDS

Well, it looks like we may get our first frost tonight. I'll be making myself a big bouquet of flowers from what is left in the garden and bringing the poor spider plant after work. I don't think I've told you about the abused spider plant before and I'll have to something. I bought it the day I moved into my first dorm at college which was (ahem) somewhere in the neighborhood of two decades ago. Since then that poor plant has been abused in every way you can abuse a plant but it keeps going (sort of). It's a survivor and that's no thanks to me.

I haven't had a lot of time to scour the blogging world lately (or comment on blogs ... sorry, everyone) but can I just voice my displeasure at the amount of Christmas stuff that is already being discussed? It's one thing for Wal-mart and Costco to have their Christmas stuff out for the crazy folks who get into that at this time of year but why in the world is the blogging world perpetuating this rushing of the seasons? So do not expect to see any holiday-related items in Friday Finds for quite some time, unless that holiday is Halloween or Thanksgiving.

I think if you're going to go to cooking school, Paris is probably a really good place to do it.

I have so many hydrangeas that I could easily make this. And I might do just that.

I'm pretty sure this tile will be making an appearance in the downstairs bathroom when we spruce it up, but it won't look like you see it here. (Eyeglasses—not mine!—for scale.)

I can't remember if I told you about the bathroom reno that is hopefully happening this winter or not. I know I started a post about it but sometimes these things languish unfinished in the drafts folder. Anyway, before I start a big renovation project I like to have every possible decision made in advance because there are always plenty of on-the-fly decisions to be made mid-project. And this tile will probably be a part of the plan, but not the way you see it here (above). Mysterious, right?

Is it just me or are all house tours starting to look the same (says the woman who is going to put marble in her bathroom, following every tired trend there is)? Still, this is an interesting house. I particularly love the exterior.

Good ideas here for using burlap in your garden. I use a lot of it in mine every year.

That's it for this Friday. More posts next week, I promise! Hope you all have a great fall weekend!



HOW TO DEADHEAD DAHLIAS FOR BLOOMS ALL SEASON LONG

It is mid-October and the dahlias in my yard are looking the best they have all summer. Most have been blooming since July, basically nonstop and I'd be hard pressed to find another flower that puts out that kind of performance. Some of their success is part of the nature of dahlias, but the reason they are still blooming, and blooming better than ever, is because I have been good about deadheading them. If you keep on top the deadheading, dahlias will bloom right up until frost.

Sometimes it's easy to identify spent blooms on deadhead. The petals wilt and start falling off and there's no doubt that flower needs to go.


But if you miss that stage, which is not uncommon when you have a plant laden with blooms, it can be hard to tell the buds that are about to open from what's left of the spent flowers.

Turns out, it's all in the shape. New buds that will still flower are round. Spent flowers have a triangular, pointy shape. In the photo below, the bud yet to open is on the left and the spent flower is on the right.


 You can look a little closer to see the differences as well, but the shape should tell you quickly what's what. After you've identified which bits need to go, trace the flower stem all the way back to its intersection to a leaf and use a pruner to clip it off there. That will promote more blooms and avoid unslightly flowerless stems sticking out here and there.

Even though this spent bud is still slightly open at the top, its elongated shape is a sure sign that it needs to be removed


A closer look at a round bud show petals waiting to unfurl. 

Of course, if you're just passing by and you see a spent bloom that needs to go, feel free to nip it off with your fingers. That's far better than doing nothing and you can come back later to take care of the bare stem.

It's as simple as that. If it's a triangle, take it off, if it's round, let it stay attached to the ground. See what I did there? The good news is that it's so easy, you don't need my less-than-catchy rhyming device to remember it.

Now get out there and deadhead some dahlias!

4 WAYS I SIMPLIFY MY LIFE

Despite how the headline of this post sounds, I'm not giving life advice. That would be most ridiculous case of false expertise blogging in the history of the Web (and if you read blogs you know that there are a lot of "experts" out there). I prefer to think of posts like this as tidbits about stuff I've done that you may or may not find useful. Which pretty much sums up everything on this blog.

Anyway, whether I consciously set out to do it or not, I've simplified my life a bit in the last five or so years and I'm a happier person for having done it. Here are some of the things I've done.



1. WE EAT THE SAME THING EVERY MONDAY

This is pretty weird, but every Monday we have "salad Monday." We have a salad with grilled chicken. Because neither of us are good at grocery shopping or meal planning, to have one night a week when we don't even have to have a discussion about what is for dinner is a huge relief. And with as hectic as Mondays can be, it's the perfect night for our no-brainer dinner.

2. I'VE STOPPED DOUBLING UP ON THINGS

Before we did our house renovation, I had a lot of stuff I didn't need laying around. I had pans to cook every possible thing you can think of. Specific pans or pots or dishes. For just about everything. And yet, 99% of the time I use the same pan every night. I would pick up all sorts of serving dishes for when we entertained. I also had about seven tongs, three potato mashers, approximately 39 spatulas and a bunch of other things. When we did the renovation and then renovated the kitchen a year or so later, I cleaned in a big way and was ruthless about getting rid of all of the extras. We hardly entertain and I've never had anyone ask me where my special serving dish for the mixed nuts is. I also have friends and family with all of that stuff so I could always borrow it if I needed to. (I pay them back by being the official family/friend/neighbor owner of a roaster oven—called a "Nesco" in Wisconsin parlance—which is the key requirement to any party for 35 or more people that also involves a sporting event being broadcast on TV.)

3. I RESPECT THE STORAGE SPACES I'VE CREATED

Yes, I create storage anywhere I can, because that's what you do in a small house, but I've also made it a point to not allow myself to create overflow areas. If the sweater drawer is too full, something has to go before any new sweaters can come in the door.

4. I AVOID MOST "FREE" STUFF

About a year ago I cleaned out two baskets of beauty samples (those little packets of moisturizer or shampoo or eye cream that you get when you buy or order similar stuff). It filled a gallon-size plastic bag to the point where I couldn't close it. I took them all to work and let everyone grab what they wanted, but now I never take the samples unless it's a product I know I'll use for traveling or something I truly want to try. The same goes for other giveaways and samples. Unless I really want it, I just don't take it.

Don't get me wrong. Life is great because it is complex (most great things are), but it's nice to simplify some things so you can make room and time for the more complex parts of life. Do you do anything to simplify your life?

GARDENER'S CONFESSIONAL

In the interest of keeping it real, I sometimes feel obligated to fess up to my shortcomings here. And today I will show you what happens when I'm not thrilled with how a container turned out. The poor thing gets forgotten about.

The container plantings I did at work this year were not great. The coleus grew too well and shaded out the begonias. The 'Yeti' nasturtiums went nuts and took over whatever the coleus missed.

I have a few excuses for this container looking so horrible, beyond the one I just gave you. I'm the only one who ever waters it, even though I never see it (I come and go through a different door). So when things get busy at work it gets forgotten about and this is what happens.

That's 100% neglect that you see there. We've not had even a nip of frost so cold has nothing to do with it. Nope, this poor container, which is completely under a roof and gets no rain, was just left to die. And it's my fault. I'm sorry, little container.

I did give it some water today. We'll see if it perks up. If not, it's time to end the suffering. It's the least I can do to atone for my sins.



FRIDAY FINDS

This is going to be so darn cool.

I have never even heard of a meal planning system, but I'm pretty sure our current method of a 4 p.m. phone call every day with a cranky conversation about what we don't want to eat and who is going to go to the store can be improved upon.

Deborah Silver did a little roundup of great Narcissus varieties. I have done nothing about bulbs yet this year, but this post is lighting the appropriate fire under my butt.

http://theprudentgarden.com/winter-garden-roundup/
The Prudent Gardener image


I'm still in denial about fall and certainly what comes after it, but fortunately Debbie over at the Prudent Gardener isn't. She's put together an excellent round up of winter gardening tips that are worth checking out with a hot toddy in hand.

I'm a pretty good baker (or so the people who eat what I bake tell me), but this free course is interesting to me. I will say though, I don't think there is any reason to make your own puff pastry. Life is too short. My baking goal for the winter is to master bread pudding (particularly the recipe for Poogan's Porch bread pudding that I fell in love with in Charleston).

Kylee is giving away some cool Ball jars!