Garden Reveal!

Our backyard remodel has been a major undertaking. Way bigger than we would have anticipated. It has taken so much longer than we had planned, and there are still a lot of last details left to finish. When I made over our front yard two years ago, everything went a lot faster since I didn’t have a child to take care of, and I didn’t have my mobility and pain problems. Those two new factors have made this project infinitely slower. I know a lot of people have been curious to see a reveal, so I wanted to post pictures of the progress so far. 🙂

I hated the ugly retaining walls that go throughout our backyard, and I have been trying to convince my husband to let me paint them some bright colors ever since we moved in. Finally, I looked for some examples on Pinterest that were close enough to what I had in mind that helped me convince him that I should paint. E’s garden is so much more fun now that it is colorful. 🙂 I have a really exciting project in mind for the planter above his garden…I can’t wait to get that installed too!

aliciainwonderlandblog8

I haven’t finished painting this area, but that will come soon enough. The table was an antique store find and actually came with four different chairs, but I wanted the set because I thought the chairs would be perfect around our firepit. The table was cute too, and got paired with four chairs that were a great thrift store find at $2 each!

The pink flowers in the top planter are one of the few that I did not plant (along with the roses that they are mixed in with). They were there from a previous owner, and are amazing. They are super low-maintenance, need almost no water, and reseed themselves each year. They are called a bunch of different names, but you can find them at Home Depot under the name Red Valerian. In the bottom row, I have our dwarf almond tree and kumquat tree, which I planted when we moved in. In between those, I planted more low water plants, lots of geraniums and Santa Barbara daisies.

aliciainwonderlandblog7

This is the pergola that my husband built at our old house! We actually had our small wedding reception under this pergola in our old backyard, so it is extra special. (We had two wedding days…the ceremony day that was moved up when we found out my grandma was dying and our originally planned date). The diagonal pieces needed to be replaced after the move, so my dad made these new ones for us! They still need to be painted but look great.

The pergola used to be our patio dining area at our old house, but now it is a play zone. 🙂 Underneath the pergola is the artificial grass my husband installed (more info on that in a later post), and a nice play area for the little guy and his friends. Things are a little more put away than usual today since we are expecting rain, but this is where his bounce house/ball pit normally sits, and his trains are put away from the train table. We actually found the train table for free on Craigslist, but it needed some legs, which was an easy fix for my husband! It is one of E’s favorite things. 🙂 I will post pictures of his bounce house/ball pit when I blog about his birthday party, but in the meantime, you can check it out here.
aliciainwonderlandblog6

This is the part of the garden where all the work really took place…I am going to post some wide angle overview pictures here and then go into more detail about all of the various projects and areas within the next few days!

aliciainwonderlandblog5
aliciainwonderlandblog4 aliciainwonderlandblog3 aliciainwonderlandblog2

Our to-do list for this project still includes installing new raised beds for veggies, completing the irrigation system (I am hand watering for now…not too bad since most of the plants have low water requirements), installing the shade fabric system that will be drawn or retracted over the entire garden, lighting, sound system, waterfall, and adding more decomposed granite as walkway.

We originally were going to put in pavers, stepping stones, bricks or gravel, but then I realized that the decomposed granite that we put down as an underlayer is much easier for me to walk on! I like how it looks and it is super cheap (you can often even find it for free!), and we just need a bit more to thicken it up.

Lots more details coming in the next few days!

E’s Birthday Surprise – His Own Children’s Garden!

I have been searching for months for what I thought would be the perfect birthday present for E – a vintage train. The kind that people usually set up at Christmas time, to go around the base of the Christmas tree. He is wild about trains. He loves his Thomas the Train books, his wooden train whistle, and he goes nuts over my old battery powered train that my grandpa used to set up every year at Christmas. Since that one is pretty sentimental to me, I wanted to get E one of his own. I couldn’t find one anywhere, since apparently most antique stores only have them stocked around the holiday season.

I was getting discouraged and feeling like the little small presents I had gotten for him weren’t special enough for his first birthday. E has been helping me a lot in the garden (actually putting dirt in flower pots, picking out flower seed packets, etc.). When a friend suggested that I make him his own little children’s garden, I knew that would be the perfect birthday morning surprise. 🙂

The night before E’s birthday, we went to the dollar store and let him pick out any of the garden decorations he liked. I also grabbed some other things that I thought would be fun and educational, like giant plastic fake crayons, small hula hoops in a rainbow of colors, etc. After he went to sleep for the night, I went out into the back yard and started prepping a section of garden bed next to our patio. I pulled out all of the weeds (it has been a somewhat neglected area for a while), and set everything up. Most of the plants that I had in there were edible already, which is good since he is still putting everything in his mouth, especially plants.

When I was planning his garden, I saw a lot of horrible children’s garden advice all over the internet. It disturbs me how people recommend poisonous plants for children’s gardens. Tomatoes are great, but the leaves of the tomato plant are poisonous if ingested. Sweet peas are pretty and smell nice but also poisonous. I could go on and on, but instead I am going to make a list of the plants that I will be using in his garden. Some still had to be removed after his birthday morning, and we will be planting more. I am also using plants that mostly require very little water and are drought friendly. E’s garden will include:

1. Marigolds
2. Lavender
3. Rosemary
4. Nasturtiums
5. Pansy
6. Red Valerian
7. Pelargonium(which are commonly called geraniums in stores)
8. Mint
9. Lemon Balm
10. Sage
11. Aloe Vera
12. Sedum
13. Various varieties of lettuce
14. Spinach

aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com

It is still a work in progress, but he loves it. 🙂 I will post an update once it is completed!

Weekly Dose of E

This little guy is really starting to enjoy helping me in the garden! I can’t wait until our raised beds are full of veggies again, especially since he has really been enjoying eating almost any vegetable I give him. 🙂 Today I even got a high five for split pea soup. It happened to be one of the rare soups I gave him that wasn’t homemade, but I will take what I can get!

aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Also pretty exciting in the past week…he is finally clapping! I’ve been trying to get this guy to clap for months and every time I tried, he just shook his head NO at me. Then one night, my husband and I were watching Nashville while E was eating. He wasn’t paying any attention to the show until a song from last season came on. It happened to be the same song he would dance in my belly to every time it came on. All of a sudden, he finally started clapping. Now, he has been clapping for anything he really likes, particularly a few of his favorite songs. 🙂

I seriously cannot believe this little guy is going to be one in just a couple of days…I want him to stay my baby forever!

Resuming My Cook-Once-A-Week Routine!

Back when we used to shoot a lot of weddings, I got in the habit of cooking lots of meals for dinner in batches on one evening, and freezing the individual dinners. It was great on the nights when I was up for all hours, working on wedding photos. We would just pull something out of the freezer, throw it in the oven, and have a healthy, homemade meal in about half an hour. Since our son was born, I somehow got out of the habit of doing that. I decided that it was time to start again! We have gotten in the habit of having too much takeout food when things get busy and I knew that this is exactly what we need.

I started by asking my husband to keep an eye on E for an hour or two so I could cook. Then I started making a huge batch of sauteed chopped veggies in my wok (4-5 bell peppers, various colors, one whole chopped onion, 4 cloves minced garlic, tomato, and a bit of coconut oil, and a tiny bit of salt & pepper). I also started cooking a bunch of rice on another burner. On a third burner, I started cooking up a bunch of lean ground beef with a bit of salt, pepper, and dried oregano. On the fourth burner, I started boiling water for pasta. I grabbed a couple of boxes of Indian food mixes that I found in the non-perishable section at Trader Joe’s, two cans of organic garbanzo beans, a jar of pasta sauce, and a can of diced tomatoes. I also had a package of marinated carne asada my husband found at Target that was set aside in the fridge, ready to barbecue. Here is what I made with the above ingredients! I made multiple batches of most of the meals, so it actually ended up being enough for almost two weeks!

Meal #1: Trader Joe’s Punjab Eggplant. Added garbanzo beans and veggie mix, served over plain jasmine rice.

aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #2: Gluten free rice pasta with lean ground beef meat sauce and veggie mixture. aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #3: Barbequed carne asada with rice mixture. I added the can of diced tomatoes, some salt and pepper to some plain rice, and added in a bit of the veggie mix and some garbanzo beans. This marinade on the meat was amazing, and I was really excited that we found one that did not have soy in it!
aliciainwonderlandblog.com

Meal #4: Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley with extra can of added garbanzo beans and plain jasmine rice.aliciainwonderlandblog.com

It was so easy, and really didn’t take that long! For each meal, I took the frozen portions out, put them in an oven safe dish and baked for about half an hour at 375 degrees F. It is such a relief not having to worry about what I am going to come up with each night for dinner. 🙂 Also, I am quite proud to say that even my meat-loving Texan husband was a big fan of the two vegan meals we had last week. Definitely a major win for me!

Los Angeles Residents – Adopt a Fruit Tree for Free!

We were at The Home Depot yesterday getting some supplies for our backyard project, and I noticed this flyer for free fruit tree adoption days! It is part of the city of Los Angeles’ Million Trees project, where the city has a goal of getting a million trees planted. We already have over 20 trees planted on our lot that is just under a quarter acre, so we definitely don’t have any room for more trees (and I would definitely say I feel I have done my part for planting trees!), but I wanted to share this in case anyone else would like to add some trees to their home!

adoptatree

I am very proud to say that we live in a city that encourages its residents to plant trees! I would love to see friends who live outside of the city of Los Angeles write to their cities and counties, encouraging them to hold their own Million Trees projects. If you become the Lorax in your area, be sure to write to me and let me know…I’ll write about you on my blog! 🙂

Garden Updates & How We Celebrated Our Anniversary

First, I am going to start this post with a few exciting seasonal updates with our garden.

The first is…I finally pruned our grape vines! They were already existing when we bought the house, and in desperate need of pruning. I estimate that it has been at least 3-4 years since they were last pruned. When we bought the house, we were in escrow during the time they should have been pruned. I was already sneaking in earth worms and compost…pruning things before the house was officially ours might have been a bit strange. 🙂 Then last year, they got ignored again while everything was chaos with my pregnancy bed rest. I was pretty happy to finally be able to get rid of some of the excess growth. We wanted to replace the fence that they grow on, but I have a feeling that will have to wait until next year since we are in the middle of a major project in the back, and the new leaves have already started coming in.

BY0A9742

The first of this season’s grape leaves!
BY0A9747
I finally was able to prune our mature peach tree as well! Also below, all of our citrus has been sprouting blossoms like crazy ever since I fed them with a bunch of my homemade compost. 🙂
BY0A9743

This is one that I am very excited about…we are going to be getting our first home grown cherries! I planted two dwarf cherry trees, and it took a lot of research to find out which varieties of cherry trees will actually produce fruit here in Southern California. Since we don’t get very cold in the winter, most varieties of cherries won’t produce fruit here. Our neighbor paid his landscaper to plant some cherry trees in their yard a few years back, and the landscaper keeps making excuses why the trees haven’t produced any fruit. I bet our neighbor that my trees would make fruit before his ever do (since his are the wrong type for producing fruit in this climate). I’m going to be so proud when these little cherries are ready to pick. 🙂
BY0A9749

Since our backyard and normal vegetable area is about to undergo a huge makeover, I planted a bunch of lettuces in one of our wine barrels. Time for some salads! 🙂BY0A9753

I also planted a ton of nasturtiums in flower pots since I love the way they look and I also love using the flowers in salads. I just think it is so beautiful when new life springs up out of the dirt.
BY0A9756

Finally, I get to the backyard project! Recently, we debated doing an addition to our house, to enlarge the bedrooms a bit. Our bedrooms are all pretty tiny. When all of the estimates told us we would probably have to spend somewhere in the $200,000 range just to add on an additional 500 square feet of living space, we decided it was not a project we plan to pursue. Our bedrooms are small and cozy and that is fine. We recently watched Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and liked the way the genie had his bottle decorated anyway! Our bedrooms feel a bit like a genie bottle at times since they are so small, but it does not make sense to spend so much just to make them a bit bigger. It definitely would not increase the value of the house that much. Instead of adding onto the bedrooms, we decided to create our dream backyard and our ideal outdoor living space. We could have gotten a house with bigger bedrooms elsewhere, but part of why we picked this house was because the weather is nice here (5 miles from the ocean) and we have a lot of outdoor space.

Originally, we planned to start on this project sooner, but the recent rain storm here in Southern California delayed our start a bit. Our three year wedding anniversary was on Tuesday, and we decided that we wanted to celebrate our anniversary by really digging into this project, literally. 🙂 We are both really excited about what we have planned for this area. It is all going to be grass free, with drought resistant plants. There are going to be a bunch of different shaded seating areas for entertaining. To start, my husband rented a sod cutter to remove all of the old grass (it was mostly dead and weeds anyway).
BY0A9760

Then we went on a treasure hunt for a bunch of garden accents. There are still a bunch of things that we are looking for, but we are really excited about some of the things we have found so far!
BY0A9762

E likes these hand painted planters that I found. 🙂
BY0A9763

We are trying to get this yard finished up in time for E to have a birthday party. I apologize for those who know me…we may be a bit M.I.A. for the next few weeks while we work on all of this. I am going to be blogging our progress though as the project continues! Coming up soon, I will also be writing about my first experience with wine tasting! 🙂

Weekly Dose of Baby E

I skipped last week, so technically this is a double dose. E and I have been working hard on our garden, preparing everything for spring. He has been a good little helper (for the most part). It is really cute to see him studying everything I am doing in the garden. I even caught him a couple of times putting little bits of dirt into flower pots, just like he saw me doing. 🙂 I can’t wait until he can actually help me!

Below: he was sleeping while I worked on pruning our grape vines. When I heard him wake up via the baby monitor, I brought him outside with me. He was a little sleepy and confused but still happy.

BY0A1582BY0A1592 BY0A1595

Below: teasing his “sister” Stella (our toy poodle), who was being camera shy that day.
BY0A1599 BY0A1602 BY0A1605

I am trying to teach him to be gentle with the plants. He was being gentle with my nasturtiums. I cannot say that he was this gentle with some of my succulents unfortunately. BY0A1608

Below: I love this little patch of wild weeds in our backyard but my husband hates them. Apparently they are getting ripped up soon and replaced with artificial grass (part of a huge backyard makeover project that we are starting this weekend…SO EXCITED!).
BY0A2096

Hello, Spring!

Spring seems to have arrived early at our house this year! Even though we are in Los Angeles, which allegedly has no seasons, we still get a good feel for the seasons here by watching our plants and fruit trees change throughout the year. When we first bought this house almost two years ago, it seemed like everything came out of winter hibernation around April or May.  Last year, everything started growing just when we got home from the hospital, after E was born (that was early April). We were pretty surprised to see blossoms on one of our cherry trees already in February! The weather has been so warm that I feel like all of the plants are a bit confused.

BY0A1558

My winter potted plants by our front door have a lot of ornamental kale, which we absolutely love. Unfortunately, it looks like they will be bolting and going to seed soon. 😦

BY0A1563

One of my favorite winter flowers, my pink breath of heaven bushes are in full bloom for now.BY0A1568

Below: more of my winter potted arrangements by our front door and the first blossoms ever on our baby almond tree!

BY0A1570

Starting Solids!

Originally, I set a goal for myself that I would only feed our baby breastmilk and nothing else for his entire first year. I had read a number of studies that said that delaying introducing solids and doing breastmilk only for an entire year can help prevent/eliminate food allergies. Since we had such a battle from the start with him reacting to things in my diet, and the fact that food allergies seem to run rampant in my family, this was an idea I was strongly committed to (despite our pediatrician’s opinion that it was not a good idea). My best friend (who is quite an experienced mom now) told me that I would have to be mindful of that one day I may just notice that E is READY for supplemental foods. Unfortunately, that day came way sooner than I was hoping it would.

A little over a week ago, E started getting insanely hungry. Usually nursing on just one side is enough to fill him up, but for a couple of days he still seemed hungry after draining both sides. I knew that it was not a supply issue on my part since he was going through his diapers about twice as fast as normal. At the end of two very grueling days of pretty much non-stop nursing, I gave in and decided he could try some infant rice cereal. I had no idea it would be so hard to find a good one though! As I stood in the baby aisle at Target browsing through all of the different options, I got a little overwhelmed. Most of the rice cereals had either wheat, soy or dairy ingredients, so they were not an option for E. I was already sad about giving up on my goal in the first place, and this was even more frustrating. I finally found one that is organic and had no allergen ingredients. It also has the added benefit of pre and probiotics. I have read that probiotics can help with food allergies, so I am hoping introducing these into his diet may help him outgrow these allergies. The cereal that we have been using is Happy Bellies organic brown rice cereal.

Right away, he was beyond excited about finally getting to have some food of his own. He has been trying to sneak and grab our food for a while now, so he was quite proud of himself. After about a week of him doing okay with the rice cereal (minus a scary rash initially that turned out to be heat rash), I decided to make a bit of homemade spinach puree for him. He had been trying to grab my vegetable juice every morning, so he was quite excited to get his own bit of green fun. He absolutely loves spinach, and likes it even more than the rice cereal! Like mother, like son. 🙂
1 2 3 4
5

Our Summer Fruit Harvest: Not a Bumper Crop Year

summer fruit harvest

If you have been following my blog for a while, since I was just on Tumblr and before I started this WordPress blog, you may remember how we had quite a large selection of summer fruit that I was able to grow and harvest last year. I worked really hard all spring prepping our garden for the summer season, and it definitely paid off. This year, things were quite different.

Since I was laid up all spring, I was not able to put the same prep work into our garden this year. As a result, the production rate significantly declined on all of our fruit trees and vines. The photo above shows pretty much our entire summer harvest (with the exception of a few berries that I have eaten as they have gotten ripe). It is pretty disappointing.

The first problem with the garden this year started with the peaches. The local birds attacked all the peaches on the baby tree in the backyard, so we still have not had a chance to sample the peaches from that tree yet. The peaches on the mature tree in our front yard are absolutely amazing, and I was really looking forward to them. When I got really sick a little over a month ago, the peaches were just about due to start getting ripe. When we got back from the hospital, all I wanted for some reason was one of those peaches. When my husband went to get one, he noticed that they were all gone. Someone or something had taken every last peach on the tree while we were at the hospital. My money is on someone since animals know better than to take unripe fruit, and all of the peaches were definitely not ripe at the same time.

The raspberries, blackberries and apples all produced a bit of fruit, but way low quantities in comparison to last year. The good thing is there is always time to improve for next year!

Last year we had this same problem, and I totally wish I had the chance to take some preventative measures this time, but I got overwhelmed by the whole new-mom thing. Something eats almost all of our grapes. We have 5 or 6 individual grape vine plants, and the basket above was our entire harvest for the season. I’m not sure if it is the squirrel, birds or the raccoons, but someone gets them before we have a chance. I’m definitely going to try putting netting over them next year.

The most disappointing problem of all this year was with our fig tree. We have a huge, mature fig tree in our backyard. Last year I canned as much fig preserves as I could, but a lot of them definitely went to waste since canning out in the patio with the barbeque was a huge pain (our kitchen was still in the middle of being remodeled last year at this time). I was really looking forward to trying out a whole bunch of things with the figs now that we have a kitchen. Last week, I saw that the majority of the figs were ready to be picked. I put it on my to-do list for the week, and planned to get started preserving them and trying out some new recipes. The day I went out to pick them, I discovered that every last fig had been eaten by a swarm of enormous beetles. I was so disappointed, especially since I had just seen tons of them on the tree the day before. I am 100% committed to organic gardening, so I don’t want to use a pesticide next year to prevent this from happening again, but I don’t quite know what to do to prevent that from happening again. Maybe I should harvest the figs just before they are ripe? Anyone have any tips on growing figs organically?