Orange County Fair 2014 Wrapup

I took a lot of pictures this year during our time at the Orange County Fair, and I wanted to share some of my favorites (the ones that I haven’t posted already anyway).

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Getting my flowers ready to bring for the cut flower competition.
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I entered two different giant squashes, on two different weeks. The second one was not as big as my first one. This one won third prize.
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My limes did not win a prize, but I was still proud of those little guys!
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Same with my apples, especially since that apple tree is brand new to us!
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My figs were up pretty high on the display (so I couldn’t get a good shot), but they didn’t get a ribbon either. 😦
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My kumquats got second place!
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My succulent arrangement won first place and division winner for the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle contest! So proud of this one. 🙂
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This spindly little succulent was my entry for most unusual container plant. It did not win a ribbon, but I am still proud of how it is so odd looking! This plant was one of my rescues (saved from an ugly divorce situation where the wife was intentionally allegedly trying to harm the husband’s plants. I have come across some interesting plant rescue stories via Craigslist).
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One of my teapot entries.
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I was sad that my little teapot from our wedding didn’t win a ribbon, but I heard lots of nice feedback about both of my teapots. 🙂
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My little wooden clogs were my entry for most unusual container. It sadly did not win a ribbon, but I overheard at least four fairgoers commenting on how they thought it should have won one, which made me really happy.
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My little baby staghorn fern won second place, up against some huge ones!
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In the cut flower department, my succulent bloom won second place!
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My fuchsia won third place!
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My pretty (and somewhat unusual) geranium won third place!
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My climbing roses won third place also!
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E and I proudly posing with our big winner of the week. He helped put mulch in there so it is partially his award too. 😉
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For those of you who garden, who inspired you to start gardening? Who do you turn to with gardening questions? For me, my dad was the one that started me off early with cultivating a green thumb. He got me started at the age of two with my own little vegetable garden, and a little flower garden and flower boxes around my playhouse that he built. I still text him frequently with panicked what do I do?!? questions. His mom was an avid gardener, and it is definitely something that is being passed down to each generation.
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The first time that we all went to the Orange County Fair, I was pregnant with E. I have never been a big meat eater, but when I saw the signs for those giant Texas turkey legs, I had to have one. I think I shocked my whole family. This year, I finally understood my pregnancy cravings for those turkey legs. I was not able to capture E’s first taste a previous night of these turkey legs (my hands were greasy and I didn’t want to dirty up the camera). The first night, he literally had tears of joy rolling down his face because he was so excited. We were hoping for the same the second time around (I kept my hands clean so I could get pictures of him eating this time). No tears the second time, but he was still really excited.
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Grandpa’s head makes a great drum!
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Watching the motor derby.
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About to get on his first pony ride!
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We live in an area with a lot of horses. Every time we go out to run errands, there are people riding horses down the main road. I think since E sees people on horses so often, he took to the pony ride like a pro. 🙂
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Goofballs!
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I really wish we could get some baby goats. 🙂
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I was very nervous about this activity. I am still breastfeeding E, and he is a milk fiend. I was so afraid when we explained to him that he was going to milk the fake cow that he would end up putting his mouth on one of the rubber nipples. Surprisingly, he followed my husband’s instructions very well!
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E helps me brush our pets daily, so this activity booth was a no-brainer for him.
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My ribbon collection from this year. Things were too chaotic here with projects when the fair started, and then I was feeling really weak for a while after my miscarriage, so I only got to participate in the last two weeks of the fair (the orange ribbons are participation ribbons for each week). I am pretty proud of my 11 ribbons in just two weeks! We will see how well I do next year when I am more organized and things are hopefully less chaotic around here. 😉
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My Summer Reading List

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I have to admit, I am not very organized with my gardening. I try at times, but I end up gardening more like an artist than a scientist (and that aggravates my engineer husband at times). I fertilize and water the plants based on how much I feel they need, not calculated amounts. I try to keep on a schedule but I always loose track. I decided that going forward, I am going to get a lot more organized with my gardening. I have tons of gardening books that I refer to when needed, but I decided that it is time to go through, really get in depth with these books, and start creating a more organized approach to my gardening. I’m pleased with how my gardening entries did this year at the Orange County Fair, but I would like to be more organized about it next year and come home with even more ribbons. 🙂

If you are new to gardening, and looking for some book recommendations, I put together a short review for each of the books that I have in my reading stack. Each book in my stack is great, and they cover a variety of topics.

Starting from the bottom, the Sunset Western Garden Book is one that I have had for years. This copy used to belong to my grandmother, and it was given to me after she passed away. At the time, I did not have a flower garden, but I started reading through its’ wide expanse of information and bookmarking pages. If you live on the West Coast, the Sunset garden books are a must-have. Someday I will probably upgrade to a more modern version. 🙂

Western Garden Book of Edibles This is another great one, with information about pretty much any fruit or vegetable that you can grow here on the West Coast.

Sunset Big Book of Garden Designs You may have noticed a trend…I am a big fan of the Sunset gardening books. 🙂 They are very well tailored to gardening here on the West Coast. I got this book after I planned our front and back gardens, but it has some great ideas if you are planning a complete garden makeover. It gave me some great ideas for the garden I am planning in our downstairs yard. 🙂

Modern Essentials This is technically not a gardening book, but got thrown into the mix because it is something I am trying to learn more about. This book is wonderful for anyone interested in learning more about using essential oils. I have been using lavender oil and fresh herbs for a variety of things for years, but I recently incorporated a lot more essential oils into our routine, and it is something I absolutely love. I am going to be blogging more about our journey with essential oils soon.

DIY Projects for the Self Sufficient Homeowner This book has some great ideas for projects that I would like my husband to build eventually. 🙂 It has helped me show him step by step instructions for some of the things I would like him to build eventually. Some of the projects I am not 100% sold on, but that is up to personal preference. For example, we don’t like the idea of planting edibles in plastic containers that may not necessarily be rated as food safe (we try not to use plastic much at all to be honest). I was also disappointed that the book got me excited to try to build a solar food dehydrator, only to later realize that we do not live in a climate that is conducive to solar food dehydrating (so then I immediately ordered this electric dehydrator for preserving). Otherwise, the book has some really great projects!

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening This book is my favorite out of all of my gardening books, hands down. It has such a wealth of information, and covers so many topics. It has monthly checklists that I am determined to actually go through each month from now on. This book usually sits on my nightstand, next to my Bible. 🙂

Mini Farming This book has great in-depth information about various home farming methods, and detailed information about the benefits to the various methods. Reading this book has motivated me to get more precise with my vegetable planting in our raised beds. I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in growing your own produce.

The Backyard Homestead This book packs in a ton of information about edible gardening with limited space. It includes information about warm and cool season planting, proper soil preparation, how to cultivate a variety of types of fruit and vegetables, pruning guides, sample garden designs, preserving information, and lots more. The sample garden designs are one of my favorite parts of this book, and we drew inspiration from this when we did our first round of planting with fruit trees when we first bought our house.

The City Homesteader This book is a must-have for those with limited space who want to get started with edible gardening. The first few chapters are great for those who are new to gardening, covering all of the basics, and the later chapters have more detailed ideas even seasoned gardeners will appreciate. It gives a breakdown on which fruits and vegetables are well-suited for growing in a small space and which are not. It also gives great step-by-step instructions for a variety of projects that will help you live more self-sufficiently and Eco-friendly. There are chapters on beekeeping, raising livestock in a small yard, making cheese and yogurt, building a root cellar for storing produce, and more. There is even a chapter on foraging for wild foods which has become so popular lately. 🙂

Flower Gardening Secrets This is another older book that used to belong to my grandmother. It has some great, time-tested tips and techniques that will get you on your way to growing a beautiful flower garden.

Soil Mates This one is not pictured, but it is one I always keep on hand during planting time. It has cute little drawings of vegetables, and my son loves looking at this book. I assume I couldn’t find it at the moment because he probably ran off with it again. 🙂 The book may read as a bit silly at first (kind of like a soap opera for vegetables), but it really carries some very useful information about what vegetables are good near each other, and what to plant far away from each other.

If you enjoyed my book reviews and would like to order any of these books, please consider purchasing through the links provided. The price is the same as if you went through the main Amazon.com homepage, but they are affiliate links, which means ordering through those links helps keep this blog running!

My $20 Greenhouse/Shed Makeover & Garden Updates

Recently, my husband and I sat down and went through and organized our lists of projects that still need to be completed for our house. We prioritized things into URGENT, high priority, medium priority, and low priority. One of the things on my list was that I wanted a new greenhouse (made out of the recycled windows that I have been collecting), and I wanted a cuter garden shed. Once I realized that we literally have over 50 items on our project to-do list, and those two fell pretty low on the list, I decided it was time to be happy with what I have for now, and make the best of them. Eventually we will probably get around to building my dream greenhouse, but in the meantime, I am happy with my little popup greenhouse. I made the inside much better which helps!

The greenhouse and shed are in our downstairs yard, which is actually a secondary lot joined to our property. You can see the before pictures here. My little plastic raised beds have been moved around a few times since we moved here, but I think I am finally settled on their location. I am addicted to finding free stuff from Craigslist that I can upcycle into something cute for the garden, and the bench and bench cushion below were some great Craigslist finds. 🙂 The bench looked awful when we got it (the previous owners left their kids alone with some paint samples and the kids went wild on the poor bench), but a can of spray paint and it is now a cozy little area under the apricot tree. When we moved in, you actually couldn’t even see that poor little tree because it was being strangled by vines! I am so proud to have rescued it. 🙂
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The metal shed was a rusty eyesore. I had some leftover paint from when I painted our patio furniture, so I decided to start painting the shed. The only thing I bought for this greenhouse/shed makeover was a couple of extra cans of spray paint and suddenly they are both much better! We also recently got a second compost tumbler (found here). We loved the first one so much, and realized now that there are three of us, we are generating a whole lot more food scraps! The one bin was getting a bit overwhelmed so it is nice to have two now. We are also in the process of putting in another large wooden raised bed in this downstairs area (getting dirt down there is a tedious process and my husband is building a ramp which I need anyway).
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Inside the greenhouse is my favorite part of the transformation. I had lots of cute decor things that I have made for photoshoots over the years, and have been storing them away in my office. I typically hate reusing the same props over and over, but didn’t want to get rid of a lot of these things since I worked hard on them. I couldn’t find a spot in our house for everything, but they made the perfect (free!) decorations for my little greenhouse!
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I realized that my pitcher plant was not doing well because apparently you are only supposed to water it with distilled or rain water! Ooops! It is getting some love in the greenhouse for now while it recouperates. I also gave it a spray with some watered down fertilizer. The other plants on the shelf rack are things that need some extra love (after getting trampled by my son for example), or things I have recently propagated. 🙂
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I made a pathway out of pieces of slate that were removed elsewhere in the backyard. In case you are curious (since people always ask me), you can find his cute moccasins here.
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A little chandelier makes everything better.  🙂
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My ferns and some other plants are not always in here, but they needed a bit of extra TLC after being at the fair all week. They came home fine, but just a little sad and droopy after being in a cold, air-conditioned building all week.
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The little star lights are battery operated string lights I got at Ikea many years ago. When my husband saw them, he got upset thinking I was trying to hint that I needed electricity in there. I assured him they were just for decoration, and any time it is dark, I won’t be in the greenhouse because I close it up at night. 🙂
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My little baby staghorn fern won 2nd place at the fair, even up against big huge ones! 🙂 It is a very happy, healthy little guy.
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I am addicted to propagating new plants from cuttings. I love having lots of plants and making more for free is the best! I have found great results with starting cuttings dipped in rooting hormone, then placed in a jar of water, and then transitioning them to moist potting soil once they have roots established.
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This thermometer is the best since it also gives humidity percentage. So important to keep an eye on the humidity levels in a greenhouse. You can find it here.
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I couldn’t get E to look at the camera today. He fell again and got another nasty cut right above his eye and he is quite upset about it. He has been sad when he sees himself in the mirror.aliciainwonderlandblog

I cleared out all of my lawn care tools, which left me some room in the shed to get organized! Most of the shed is actually taken up by my husband’s stuff, but now I have my own little organized corner. 🙂 I have been having a hard time with the wildlife chewing through my bags of fertilizer, so I got this dresser to stash my bags (the dresser was another free Craigslist find!).
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Our raised beds are coming along, even though they got a really late start this year. I have recycled doors placed at the ends of the raised beds for now (to keep the dogs out), but they will be going up soon and make the area look more our style. 🙂
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My cucumbers and peppers have not been doing as well as I would have expected. They have consistently perfect moisture, no signs of disease, perfect soil fertility, full sun, and yet they were struggling. I finally figured out the problem (besides the fact that they were planted so late in the season). The darn Japanese beetles have been burrowing under the soil and munching on the roots of my veggies. I just sprayed everything with neem oil which should help deter them, and also gave the plants a folliar treatment of an organic fish/kelp emulsion to help perk them up.
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My husband keeps getting frustrated that I planted the raised beds “so sparse”. I assured him that lots more will be poking through soon. 😉 I filled up all of the extra spaces with carrot and beet seeds.aliciainwonderlandblog aliciainwonderlandblog
Our son is a tomato fiend. He knows exactly when to grab the tomatoes too. I can guarantee that he will find this one tomorrow.
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I can’t wait for this guy to ripen. 🙂
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I planted tons of corn seeds very late in the game. It will be an experiment to see how they do. 🙂
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This is another one of my mystery squash plants that came from the compost in the flower beds. This was the only transplant survivor. I am so curious to see what kind of squash comes from this one. 🙂
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My monster squash plant is starting to try to take over the whole flower garden! That is just ONE squash plant!
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After my recent miscarriage, I cut all the roses in the garden and put them where we buried that tiny little baby. The garden seemed sad for quite some time after that. It finally started getting blooms again, and just in time for the last week of the fair. My flowers won a few ribbons (more on that in another post soon).
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Remember my post about the wasp problem and disease on this rose bush? The rose bush is doing much better thanks to diligent application of neem oil, and the wasp problem is gone thanks to the Waspinators! I was very skeptical but it seems to be keeping the wasps away!
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Last but not least, it is time to start seeds already for the fall/winter! I am starting snapdragons, stock, violas, pansies, and calendula for flowers. For veggies, I am starting lots of cool season foods like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower, onions and leeks. I will also be planting lots of carrots, beets, radishes, kale, mustard, and other root vegetables and leafy greens straight into the raised beds in the downstairs garden. I use the raised beds downstairs for cool season plants since it has a cooler microclimate down there thanks to the pine trees and the way the ocean breeze comes through there (our upstairs back yard stays much hotter year-round because of the way the concrete retaining walls block the breeze).

I used to start seeds indoors, but we don’t have any sunny windows in this house where I can set up flats of seeds. Also, the last time I started seeds indoors at our old house, our pets got to the sprouts in the middle of the night and had a party. I woke up one morning and found baby veggies and dirt all over our living room. Not a fun day. I am trying out seed starting with these portable little greenhouses (found here). I have them in our patio, under the pergola for now, but like the fact that I can easily move them around if I need to. I have been closing them in the late afternoon to try to keep the temperature fairly even. I am hoping this works out! I have a variety of seed starting trays, but I like these best. Also, make sure you always use organic seed starting soil for starting seeds, not potting soil (here’s a great option).
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The Giant Squash

When I was pregnant with our son two years ago, I attended the Orange County Fair for the first time. I was blown away by all of the giant fruit and vegetables that home gardeners entered into the fair. I was so excited to see so many competitions for gardeners. There are plenty of photography and art competitions everywhere, but gardening competitions seem pretty rare around here. I was determined to enter a giant vegetable in the fair the next year. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to enter last year after 11 months of pregnancy and post-partum bed rest. We went to the fair last year and had fun, but I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t prepared to enter the competitions yet.

This year, our backyard garden remodel took way longer than we expected. My new vegetable beds did not get installed until the very end, leaving me no time to prepare any vegetables to enter into the fair. I was quite disappointed, until I noticed that some vegetables were sprouting up as volunteers from the homemade compost that I mixed into the flower beds. There was one baby squash plant in particular that I could tell was going to grow quite large, so I let it grow and nurtured the little surprise planting. As luck would have it, that little surprise ended up growing my biggest squash to date. I started getting excited once I realized I may have a good entry for the fair.

The night before I was planning to bring my squash to the fair, I started reading online about winners of largest squash competitions. I read that there is a man on the east coast who regularly grows 1000+ pound squashes. My “little” 10 pound squash suddenly felt inadequate, and I considered not bringing it at all. In the end, I figured I may as well bring it because even if it was not the world’s biggest squash, it was the biggest one that I have grown in the 30+ years since I started gardening, and I figured that was something worth celebrating.

I usually spend my early mornings working in the garden, before our son wakes up. I get up at sunrise and tend to the garden, hang clothes and diapers on the clothesline, etc. It is my peaceful time of the day. The garden in the early morning hours is my favorite.

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E is thankfully a late sleeper. He was not initially very thrilled that I pulled him out of bed, but once he realized it was for pictures, he was quite cooperative. 🙂 Apparently he thought that we were about to cook this squash since I finally cut it off the plant, so he got his “cooking utensils” ready!
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Then he started talking to the squash and petting it. Silly boy.
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I tried to get another angle with my camera….No, Mommy! No standing on chairs!
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So then I was quite surprised to read, not only did my “little” squash win first place as biggest squash, it also won Division Winner for the whole squash category! I was beyond honored and excited. Not bad for my first time entering a gardening competition, right? 🙂
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My squash’s ribbons motivated me to get myself in gear and enter a few more items for the last week of competition for the fair. More on that coming to the blog next week!

Happy Accidents

Sometimes my favorite pictures are the ones that are not planned. I have done several photoshoots in my studio with babies in old vintage buckets, and I always wanted to do one in our garden with our son actually in a bath with bubbles. Unfortunately, when he was a little baby, our backyard was kind of a disaster after months of neglect thanks to my difficult pregnancy. I didn’t get the pictures I had envisioned, and I eventually put them out of my mind. Then one day recently, my husband and I were trying to clean up the mess that our fig tree was making in the backyard. My husband asked me to go get a bucket of soapy water. As soon as I laid it down, our little man decided that now was the perfect time to get those photos I had wanted months ago. E hopped into the bucket on his own accord and started posing. I guess he remembered it from in my studio and thought it was photoshoot time! Of course I immediately ran to go grab my big camera. This little guy sure knows how to make his mommy happy. 🙂

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At first I considered removing all of the dirt and grime from his face when I was processing these photos, then I decided to leave it. If it had been a “real” photoshoot for a client, I would have of course removed it. However since this was a spur of the moment thing with my own son, I decided I kind of like his dirty little face in the photos. Dirty face and messy hair after helping me in the garden…a perfect example of his sweet little personality. 🙂
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The funniest part of this impromptu shoot is that I happened to set the bucket in front of my “happy accident” squash plant, which ended up being a big prize winner at the county fair! The whole story on that will be coming to the blog next week. 🙂
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E loves helping me wash things. He helps me load laundry every day, and always wishes he could help with the dishes. Since he wants to clean things so badly, I made him some little sponges in different shapes that he uses in his water table with some soap bubbles. I don’t like when he “washes” his books, but it cracked me up when he suddenly pulled one of his little sponges out of the tub. I did not even realize he brought it in with him!
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Trying to give the elephant statue kisses!
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These ones were after I told him it was getting cold and it was time to come out of the water. 🙂
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Maybe if she can’t see me, I won’t have to get out!
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Recently, I took our little dog to go get her follow-up vaccines at the vet. She did fine the first time but felt kind of under the weather with the second round. Since she was a rescue, we do not have too much medical history on her so we have to watch her closely after the vaccines. She was particularly mopy that evening, and our three boys were trying their hardest to cheer her up. I wish our other cat would join in on the fun with them (she is still afraid of E), but I am pretty darn happy with a few photos of these four all playing together! Another totally unplanned, happy accident photo opportunity that ended up being some of my favorite photos. 🙂
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Here We Go Again….

Okay, I will admit it. We are project crazy. We have problems bringing any project to completion because something else urgent always seems to come up. I know that’s typical with homeowners, but we take things to the extreme. 🙂 We finally got everything planted in our back garden, and then we had that awful heat wave. I had been talking about getting rid of all of the grass for a while, but the heat wave made our grass in the front yard look pretty awful. I refuse to drown the darn lawn in tons and tons of water since we are in such a bad drought. I had a plan in mind that was supposed to come later, but it ended up taking priority.

My husband blames one of our neighbors since he asked me when I was going to do the front yard like I did the back yard. I am a Craigslist junkie, and one day last week, I stumbled upon two separate SUV loads full of free landscape succulents. Since my garden design plans for the front included landscape succulents, drought tolerant native flowers, some paths between flower beds and dry river beds, I was pretty ecstatic. Suddenly the front yard makeover got bumped from “when we have a chance” to “NOW”.

When I started planning the back yard makeover, I sketched everything out on paper first, which got translated to a bunch of different versions drawn up to scale on the computer. That was a lot of work but we were trying to make sure we had room to put in all of the structural elements that we wanted. The front yard design was going to be much simpler, and hopefully faster, so I just sketched out the design I had in mind with landscape spray paint.

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Next, my husband rented a sod cutter, then shoveled out all of the grass. He loaded it up in the wheelbarrow, and it all got dumped down into our lower side lot for now. Some of that will be repurposed when we do his rustic man-cave garden down in that area (he wants a bunch of different levels and layers of plants and trees). Next, we started the frantic process of yet again trying to get all of the plants in the ground. I was hoping that we would get more done over the holiday weekend, but since I was fighting off a nasty sore throat and cough, we didn’t get as much planting finished as I had hoped. Hopefully it will all be in the ground shortly!

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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!

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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!