THE SUN SETS ON 2016

For most of my life, the start of a new year has been an "eh" moment. It's going to happen whether I like it or not, I don't find the year that's ending to have been particularly better or worse than most other years. Although I'm always hopeful for a good year ahead, I don't generally feel more hopeful than I did the previous year.

But this New Year's Eve is different. 2016 really was kind of a bummer. Of course there were wonderful high points (we won an important sailboat race we've been competing in for years and have gotten so close to winning before but never had), and a lot of just good things (my family is healthy, I life in a house I love and through this blog I was able to meet and work with truly wonderful people), but from a global perspective 2016 was sort of a drag.

I can think of no other picture from this year that is more suitable for New Year's Eve. As the moon sets on 2016, the sun rises on 2017. It's gonna be a good year, dammit. 

2017 will be a year of change for us personally. There has been a series of events in our personal lives late in 2016 that mean new starts in 2017, and although that can be scary, I'm terribly excited about it. As for the blog, I have ideas for new features that I can't wait to roll out. I can honestly say I've not been this excited for the start of a new year for a very long time, and whether that's because parts of 2016 were a downright bummer or because I'm expecting so many exciting new things in 2017, I can't say and I guess it doesn't really matter.

I've never been a fan of most New Year's Eve celebrations, but as we've done on occasion in the past, we'll get together with some neighbors to celebrate. I can't even guarantee that we'll officially ring in the new year because I have reached a point where I don't need to see midnight to toast the coming year, but we'll be with friends (and we can walk home).

And when Sunday dawns, it'll be 2017. I can't wait. Odds are I will end up painting a wall January 1. Not only does it need to be done, it seems very appropriate for the start of a new year.

Thank you for swinging by this space this year. It's a privilege to have so many people reading about my trials and tribulations and my occasional ramblings. I know sometimes there are typos (let's be honest, most of these posts are written after 11 p.m.) and you're very nice people not to point them out to me. I hope you'll hang with me next year too.

Now ... tell me about your New Year's Eve plans and how you're feeling about 2017! 

BEST OF THE YEAR

I always enjoy looking back at the year and seeing what posts were the most popular on the blog. So without any further adeiu, here are the top 10.



10. I shared my favorite new plant of the summer.


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9. After a tough election season, apparently I wasn't the only one who took solace in beautiful gardens.

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8. The outcome of my free-stuff-only winter container challenge was popular.


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7. Great new shrubs for 2016



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5. 10 spring jobs to get your garden in gear.


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4. Garden bloggers shared their favorite perennials.


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3. It was three years in the making, but the garage renovation turned out great.


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2.  Great new plants for 2016: Perennials edition


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1. The final reveal of the downstairs bathroom renovation that we did as part of the One Room Challenge (still pre-sink ... I need to update those photos!)


Thanks for reading all year! I appreciate you all.


CHRISTMAS OVER, ONTO WHAT'S NEXT

All the presents have been opened. Most of the cookies have been eaten (the ones that remain seem to have an extra dose of guilt with them). Christmas is a wrap, but it was a darn good one.

Yep. Ate all those cookies. And a whole bunch of others too.

I had the day after Christmas off from work, which was really nice. This got cleaned up, the food coma subsided and I laid the groundwork for the next project in our house. Frankly I'm shocked there are still projects to be done, but I'm grateful because it's good to have something to do in winter.

I'll go into the hows and whys in a dedicated post soon, but we're finally going to fix up the finished half of the basement. Yes, I've said this before and I've even made half-hearted attempts at it before, but this time it's really happening. And it's happening on a budget. That means that a few things that really should be done, like adding insulation and expanding the electrical, aren't going to happen both for budgetary and timing reasons. I'm relatively certain those are things we'll want to do down the road, but I've got a few ideas of how to get by in the meantime.

Flowers at the store were so expensive so I grabbed the cheapest two varieties: red carnations and mums. Throw in some  tips from the Christmas tree and it's perfect for a Christmas morning breakfast.
I spent most of my day off cleaning down there. Having gone through this process last year before we fixed up the office/back room/den upstairs, it wasn't too bad of a job, but as usual, I struggle with having too much stuff. I've started calling those giant plastic storage tubs "Satan bins" because if you turn your back on an empty one, you will find it filled with things you don't need. There are seven empty bins ready to be given away (although I'll keep a few for moving pots around in spring when I start seeds and dahlia tubers indoors).

There is a stack of books that I can't figure out the origin of, but since we're planning on adding some bookcases down there, I'm not too worried about them. We also came to the conclusion that we have one too many pieces of furniture (or perhaps just the wrong furniture) down there, so more will be moved out.

One thing is certain: There's no way this won't be a great after because the before is really bad! I can't wait to show you more of it. We might be on the last few days of 2016 but I'm ready to get on with 2017.

How was your holiday weekend?

Has anyone seen the cat?





HAPPY HOLIDAYS + THIS YEAR'S CARD

Have I mentioned that I love having Christmas on a weekend? I usually work at least a half a day on Christmas Eve which means I spend the other half of the day running around like a mad person, which is not at all Christmassy. So even though not a present is wrapped or a single package of cookies packed for delivery, I'm not sweating it, because I have a whole day on Saturday to do all that stuff at a not-crazy pace.

Instead of Friday Finds, I thought I'd go about my annual tradition of sharing our holiday card with you all. I wasn't really looking forward to doing this year's card as it's the first since 2004 that features only one dog, and I put it off until the last minute. So last weekend when it was hovering around zero degrees I quickly snapped as many pictures as I could before I came close to losing my index finger to frostbite. And then I decided to torture myself by trying to put a hat on our cat and make him pose for a photo. Have I mentioned the cat here? Fergus is relatively new around these parts and he's currently a 10-month-old spitfire who is a lot of naughty and cute enough keep us from killing him. And he does not like hats.

Fortunately Odin was far more cooperative than Fergus, which led us to this card.


Here are some of the photos from cards past.

2015 (Rita and Odin)

2014 (Odin and Rita)

2012 (Hudson and Rita)

2011 (Hudson and Rita)

2009

2008 (Rita and Hudson)

2007 (Rita and Hudson)

2006 (Hudson and Rita)

2005 (Hudson and Rita)

Whatever holiday you are celebrating, whoever you are celebrating it with, whether your house is completely decked out in its holiday finery or if you just said, "Screw it, I'm not decorating this year," I hope you have a great time with people who are important in your lives. Holidays can be hard for some, but I hope you find joy. And that your cat doesn't claw your eyes out while you sleep for making them wear an elf hat.

I'll be back next week! Happy holidays!







HOW TO TIE A BEAUTIFUL RIBBON

When Mr. Much More Patient proposed to me, the ring came in a perfectly wrapped box (done at the jewelry store) that sat flat on the table. After we got through the whole "Yes!" bit, I went back and examined that wrapping, which was done without tape, just a perfectly cut square of paper and that beautiful red ribbon. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how they got ribbon on all four sides of the box without the annoying bump caused by the criss-cross on the boom, so I studied it until I figured it out. And I've been tying ribbon like that ever since.


This is particularly good for small packages and large ribbons, all of which look silly sitting catty whampus with that big lump under them. Once you get the hang of it, I guarantee you'll like how your packages look much more than the old way.

I should note, I picked the worst possible paper to do this with. Gold foil does not photograph well. Sorry about that.

So here's the problem with the old way. Gifts never sit right because of the crossing ribbon in the back. 


And here's what the back looks like.



To tie it so you don't have those problems, you want to start with the box in the opposite orientation that you will want the bow to lay. I want the bow to lay horizontal on this box, so I'm working with it in a vertical orientation.

With the ribbon still attached to the roll, measure out roughly how long you will want half of the bow and tail to be. In the photo below, my finger is at the mid-point and the ribbon below it is what I've allotted for that side of the bow and tail.


Wrap the other end of the ribbon (the part still attached to the roll) around the underside of the box and bring it back to the middle in the front. At the midpoint, twist the two ribbon ends a half twist so they cross over each other and end up perpendicular to the ribbon already wrapped around the box.



Wrap the end still attached to the roll around the underside of the box and bring it back to the middle. At this point you will have ribbon wrapped around each side of the box and you will be able to cut the ribbon to the same length as the original tail you measured. Here's were it gets a little tricky. Maintaining tension on the twist, slide the just-cut end of the ribbon (in the photo below it's the ribbon coming from the right side of the box), under the ribbon on the top of the box.



Once you pull that snug, tie a simple overhand knot with the other ribbon tail. Everything will be held nicely in place at this point.


Now you'll tie the bow. If you learned to tie your shoes using the "bunny ears" method, that's what you want to do here. For those not from the bunny ears school of shoe tying, you want to make loops with each hand, like I'm doing with my left hand below. When you have two loops, take the entire loop in your right hand over the left-hand loop and through, then gently pull tight. As you pull, you'll notice the bow wants to twist a bit. It will lay nice and flat laying one direction (in this case that will be horizontally). Don't fight it because it will never lay right. 


When you flip it over, you'll see that the back is as lovely as the front and that the box will sit flat.


 Flip it over, trim your tails to the desired length and you're all done. Voila!


LAST--MINUTE GIFT GUIDE (PROCRASTINATOR'S SPECIAL)

I can procrastinate with the best of them, but we are really at the last minute for gift shopping if you plan to order anything. This is where that Amazon Prime membership really comes in handy. If you don't have a Prime membership now is certainly the time to get on that. There's a link at the bottom for a $3 30-day trial and everything I'm linking here is free shipping if you're a Prime member so trust me, the math works out. (And that is the last time I'll ask you to trust me when it comes to math.)

As of this posting, everything in this gift guide is available for free shipping to arrive before Christmas, but don't wait because things sell out and snowstorms screw up shipping! I own almost everything on this gift list and I've only chosen the things that I really love and I know your friends and family will too.

Some affiliate links have been used. Thank you for supporting this blog! 



1. Epicurean cutting board set: If you love wood cutting boards but you want to sanitize your boards in the dishwasher this is the only way to go. These are the only cutting boards I use and I have them in four different sizes. I also love my Epicurean "wood" spoon for the same reason: I'm all about the dishwasher. This set has three boards and two utensils. Every person I've told about Epicurean swears by them now.

2. Dremel tool kit: Every guy and DIYer needs a Dremel tool. I use ours for stuff you can't even imagine. To be honest the thing I use it most for is doing the dog's nails. Nothing does it better. I use a 60-grit sanding cylinder and use light taps rather than a lot of pressure on the nail, in case you were curious. Anyway, this gift has the tool + gadget thing going for it and everyone loves that.

3. Compost thermometer: This really helps with compost. And few moments have matched the excitement I felt when I got my pile up to 140 degrees!

4. Bahco pruners: You know I'm a fan of Bahco pruners. I like the small size and I have two pairs because I'm always misplacing one and they are affordable enough to keep a spare around.

5. Wood puzzle set: Mr. Much More Patient loves puzzles like this and I got him these a few years ago. Even adults like to have something to "play" with on Christmas. We leave these on the coffee table and invariably people pick them up within minutes of spotting them.

6. Copper pepper mill: Everyone needs a really good pepper mill and you'll probably only need one or two in your lifetime so buy a good one. My mother-in-law gave us a brass pepper mill like this (available here) but copper is so of the moment. They develop a lovely patina and more importantly, they grind pepper really well. I love this as a gift idea.

7. Smartwool socks: The only socks I wear in winter are Smartwools. Some of my pairs are several years old and getting a bit thin in the heel but they still work great. I love the phD style. They are expensive for a pair of socks but they really are so much better than any others I've tried.

8. Marble mortar and pestle: I don't have this but I almost bought one just like it for much, much more. I think it's handy and pretty enough to be left on the counter and the price is fantastic.

9. Le Creuset cast iron saute pan: A few years ago, after reading some terrible stories about what Teflon coating can do, I switched to using cast iron pans almost exclusively. I still have a couple of coated pans I use for eggs and things where you really need it, but otherwise I cook in this pan. Another item that will last a lifetime.

10. Buffalo check throw: There is a law in blogland that every gift guide must have one item of buffalo check. So I'm fulfilling my obligation with this beautiful throw. I think throws are the best gifts because everyone can use many of them.

11. Mini greenhouse: Before I got a bigger walk-in temporary greenhouse I used this small one that is perfect for hardening off seedlings and plants in spring. Best of all it takes up hardly any space when stored.

12. Atlas gardening gloves: This is the single best stocking stuffer there is for gardeners. Share the love with all your gardening pals or give the entire six-pack to one lucky gardener. You absolutely cannot go wrong with this one.

13. Insta-pot: The whole world is raving about these pressure cookers. Eric from GardenFork just got one and I'm sure he'll be sharing recipes. 

Here's that $3 30-day Prime deal I mentioned:



If you're still shopping, check out my other gift guides, many of which contain items you can still pick up in time. Good luck, procrastinators! 


OK, time to fess up: Have you finished your shopping? I have four more white-elephant type gifts to pick up but then I'm finished. 



FRIDAY FINDS

It's weird to have Christmas on a weekend. I love it from a work standpoint (taking off in the middle of the week and having to come back is a drag), but from an organizational standpoint it feels odd. Like there is a lot of Christmas stuff I still want and need to do and given the date, I feel like I should have more time, but this weekend is really the last shot.

Anyway, no surprise, Friday Finds is pretty Christmas heavy. Merry Merry!

Loi's sparse Christmas tree. Loi Thai photo

I think Loi's Charlie Brown tree is pretty much perfect and the garland on his banister is to die for.

I have no idea what in the world an Asian perogi is, but it sounds pretty yummy.

I'll be baking lots and lots of Christmas cookies this weekend (although I'm scaling back from previous years to only what I plan to give away; we neither need nor eat a lot of extra cookies), and I think most spritz cookies are boring. This one may have a needed kick.

I agree with this. I love orchids, particularly varieties other than phalenopsis.

Emily Henderson (ex-HGTV designer and fab blogger) bought a new house and just finished the kitchen. She's calling it "Modern English Country" and I can't decide if I love it or not. What I do like about it is that it seems like a much more approachable kitchen than most kitchens you see in the blogosphere. That's not to say that I don't like other kitchens, but there is a warmth and a "normalness" to this kitchen that seems real. But I have to say, I'm always shocked when I see bridge faucets in kitchens. Who wants to have to turn on two taps to get water and then balance the temperature?

Also on the agenda for this weekend is taking the Christmas card picture (I know, I know, I'm so late!) You can see what we've done in years past, but I really can't imagine a cuter picture than this one of my friend Kelly's new Newfoundland baby Piper. Kelly had our Rita's sister and she died just a few months after Rita. It makes me so happy to see this little cutie bring Kelly and her family some joy. And she's just too cute not to share.



Have a great weekend everyone! What's on your to-do list? Lots of running around or are you one of those organized people who will get to sit back and just enjoy the season while the rest of us crazies pull our hair out?


5 FREE WINTER CONTAINER DESIGNS

There is no Christmas tree in my house. That, of course, was not the plan. The plan was to be ahead of the game this year, but once again it's the last minute and nothing is done. I'm tempted to just skip the tree at this point, but we did that last year and I feel like skipping a tree one year is fine, but skipping it two years in a row is positively scroogelike.

But the outdoor decorations are finished so that's something. And I'm happy to report that I met the challenge I set forth for myself to not spend a penny on any holiday containers and use only what I already had or what I foraged. I did buy some garland at Costco for the pergolas, but that puts the entire budget for everything I did outside at $30. I'm calling that a win.

The trough planter by the garage is big enough that moving it without removing the soil would be impossible. And because there are two clematis in there (they are group 3 types so they'll be cut back in spring, but for now I've taken the foliage and tucked it behind the holiday decorations) the soil can't be removed. Really simple decorations here: dogwood and evergreens just stuck in the soil with birch logs from the big tree that fell in our woods just leaning against the garage and a simple garland wrapped in lights.



The urn in the middle of the garden got a similar simple treatment. The snow came so quickly after I finished it that I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it before it was covered in the white stuff. 




The large planter by the front door got an unusual treatment that I thought played off the ring in the window box. Again, no sooner did I finish it, than a big snowfall did some of its own decorating. The small lit rings are metal rings from the inside of rotted wagon wheels that I wrapped in tiny LED wire light strings. (You can see what I did with those rings in summer here.) And yes, there is a sad and formerly lovely rosemary plant in a pot next to it that was forgotten when I brought plants in, so now it serves as sculpture of sorts.




Of course you've seen the window box already.


I had to throw in a picture of our special 'Hudsonii' spruce, planted in honor of our first Newfoundland Hudson. It's the only thing that gets colored lights and it looked so perfect with the snowfall against the otherwise black-and-white winter landscape. 



I also very quickly did the container at the office. I hate to admit it, but I really threw this one together with what I had left around and in about 15 minutes, so it isn't quite as neat as I would like. The trellis lives in another container there during the summer but I thought it added a nice touch. The big ornaments sort of look like they are waiting to hatch in their little nest.





So there you have it: five winter containers all done without spending a penny. There is actually one other small pot I did on our garden bench but I didn't manage to snap a picture before it was mostly covered in snow. I'll shoot one when it emerges.

Where are you at with your holiday decorating?