Our Memorial Day Mini-Vacation: The Indianapolis Children’s Museum

How time flies. It’s already been a month since Memorial Day weekend, and I still haven’t blogged about (or even mentioned) the little mini-vacation we took. It was a really spontaneous thing, but it was such a fun little trip that it wouldn’t feel right to just skip over it… So for today’s post, I want to share the photos and story from our trip to see the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.

Children's Museum Indianapolis (Sign)

We heard about this place through one of Joe’s co-workers, who has a son right around Lillian’s age and who gave it rave reviews as a really great, fun place to bring a toddler. Indianapolis is only about a three hour’s drive from Chicago, so we decided to go for it — and while we might’ve been able to make it a one-day thing, we decided to stay overnight to spread out the driving a little more. My mom joined us for the trip, and we ended up driving down on Saturday, staying in a motel Saturday night, visiting the museum on Sunday, and driving home Sunday evening.

Fair warning: there are lots of photos in this post! So many that I’m pretty sure it will be my most photo-filled blog post to date. I’ve even decided to break out the “read more” link feature for the first time ever, and put all the pictures and content after the jump. Too much picturey goodness to have it all on the home page!

Click here to read the rest of this post! →

Father’s Day

I didn’t get a chance to do a Father’s Day post yesterday, but couldn’t let the occasion pass by without at least a belated mention for the guy who is (in my biased opinion) the bestest daddy in the whole wide world. From those first sleepless nights pacing the hospital room, singing softly to comfort our crying newborn, to that moment yesterday when he somehow knew just the right thing to say to get our cranky overtired toddler to take a nap — he’s a natural at this fatherhood thing. Gentle and loving and endlessly patient. I couldn’t have wished for a better father for my children, not even if I had one of those magic monkey paws that can grant wishes.

Father's Day 2013

Kind of a funny story about the above photo — we were enjoying a leisurely barbecue with my family, and Lillian didn’t want to take a break from running around in order to sit on daddy’s lap for 30 seconds to take the mandatory Father’s Day photo, so we decided to get clever about it. We took the photo while Joe put on her sandals, an activity she’s been known to sit still for — and it worked! Both of them were even looking at the camera and everything.

I was especially excited because it provides a really sweet sequel to the photo we took of these two on Father’s day last year:

Father's Day 2012

I’m a sucker for these “look at how much she’s grown” photos (as I’m sure any regular reader of this blog is already well aware). Just look at how teeny and cuddly she was… and how she’s looking more and more like a “big kid” every day.

Another funny story — Lillian said “Baby!” when she saw that photo from last year on my computer, so we tried to explain that it’s a picture of her when she was a baby. Though I’m not sure how understandable the concept of having grown and changed so much is at her age. Heck, sometimes it’s almost incomprehensible to me, and I’ve got 26 years on this little girl.

On a more somber note, a Father’s Day post wouldn’t be complete without a link to this post in remembrance of my dad, who passed away last July. There was no way of knowing on Father’s Day last year that we would lose him less than a month later, and missing him hit me kind of hard yesterday since it was the first Father’s Day without him. He was an amazing dad, a huge part of shaping who I am today… and I like to think he would be proud and happy to see his granddaughter growing up under the loving care of another amazing dad.

I hope all the dads out there had a great day yesterday.

Petunias, Roses, And Lots Of Buds {Bloom Day, June 2013}

A few days ago, I posted with the epic story of some zinnia seeds I was trying to grow, and at the end I mentioned that a few of the plants were starting to get buds. I wondered if any would bloom in time for the June edition of Bloom Day (the addictive recurring monthly feature over at the May Dreams Gardens blog on the 15th of every month), but sadly, no zinnia blooms yet.

But! There are a handful of other blooms around the yard, so for this post I figured I’d go around and share some of those.

First, an update on the petunias we planted in the new garage window boxes. Not only have they not died, but they’ve gotten a LOT bigger and fuller! For a comparison, check out the photos at the end of this post to see what they looked like when we first planted them, and then compare it to the photo below:

Window Box With Petunias

I’m really happy that we’ve been able to keep them alive and all that good stuff — I’ve actually been remembering to water them consistently (every day, or every other day at most), and it’s been paying off. There’s something so uplifting about the look of a window box overflowing with flowers, and all the color it adds to the backyard.

I think my favorites are these pale purple ones with the intricate darker purple in the center:

Petunia Closeup

Meanwhile, over along the fence, the rose bush we inherited from the previous owners of the house is covered in its little reddish blooms:

Rose Bush Along Fence

This thing has actually gotten quite a bit bigger since we moved in two years ago — check out this post to see what it looked like in June 2011. We’ll probably want to trim it back as part of our ongoing yard makeover project, though based on some preliminary internet searches it seems like the recommendation is to trim them in winter, after the first frost? So it may wait.

Here’s a view of the blooms, which are small and grow in clusters, and are a deep pinkish red with yellow centers:

Roses Closeup

Despite some promising leads I’m still not sure exactly what kind of rose this is, so if there happen to be any gardening experts reading I would love to hear them weigh in!

Over by the corner of the garage, we have this cute little trellis setup, which is actually just a narrow strip of chain link fence that stretches from the ground to the roof of the garage:

Trellis Corner

I’m pretty sure the plant growing up the trellis is a clematis, which is yet another plant we inherited from the previous owners (along with the whole trellis setup). In previous summers its flowers have been a deep purple, though sadly I don’t think there are closeups anywhere on this blog of what it looks like in bloom. The closest is probably this post, where you can see it from a distance.

Anyway, it seems to be in good health climbing up the trellis, and gearing up to bloom any day now — here’s a closeup of one of the buds:

Clemantis Bud Closeup

And in front of the trellis are those zinnia plants, which you can read all about in this post. As I mentioned earlier they have yet to bloom, though they’re getting there! Here’s a closeup of what I’m pretty sure is a bud on one of the plants:

Zinnia Bud Closeup

And that’s all we’ve got bloom-wise this month. There’s nothing at all blooming in the front yard at the moment, so maybe we can try to plant some annuals or something out there… Not to mention catch up on weeding and the overall progress on our ugly backyard makeover project. So much to do!

Anyway, Happy Bloom Day — click here to head over to May Dreams Gardens and see what’s blooming in the gardens of garden bloggers everywhere. I hope everyone’s having a great weekend, and feel free to share in the comments about any gardening-related thing that comes to mind!

Starting Some Flower Seeds: A Tale Of Two Zinnia Packets

From some of my recent blog posts, it may be evident that I’ve been getting a little obsessed with gardening lately, even though I’m still a complete newbie — for more on this phenomenon, you can check out my recent “Bloom Day” post here. So for today’s post, I wanted to share a little seed-starting project I’ve been working on for the past few months.

It all started toward the beginning of April. Due to my newfound gardening obsession, I’d been thinking about maybe trying to grow something from seeds — so during a trip to Lowe’s for something else, I randomly picked up these two packets of Zinnia seeds for $1.35 each. I’ll confess, I knew nothing at all about Zinnias at the time, and only selected them because the pictures on the seed packets looked so full and pretty:

Zinnia Seed Packets

We also picked up a seed starting tray and some potting soil mix — the total expenditure for all of these items was around $10. Here’s the tray during the filling and planting process:

Seed Starting Tray

(The colors are odd because this photo was taken as it was starting to get dark outside.)

I planted one seed in each cell of the tray, using one packet (“Thumbelina Mixed Colors”) for one half and the other packet (“Lilliput Mixed Colors”) for the other half. And after just one week, I actually had some little sprouts popping up:

Sprouting Zinnia After One Week

And after two weeks, they had more than doubled in size:

Zinnia After Two Weeks

But at around the three week mark, we had some casualties. I guess they were finally getting full and leafy enough to start looking like an appetizing cat snack to Grendel, and she completely chomped off two of the plants and severely injured a few others. You can see the two sad little stumps in the foreground of the photo below:

Zinnia At Three Weeks

At this point we moved the tray into the mudroom (which always has the door closed, so Grendel doesn’t have access to it) in order to keep the rest of them from getting eaten.

As a side note, sadly this isn’t the first time Grendel has sabotaged my efforts to have plants inside our house. In her very first appearance on this blog (in this post) you can see a photo of her first leafy murder victim.

This is why I can't grow plants in the house.

(She doesn’t always look this evil, but the photo seemed to fit with all the talk of murder.)

Granted, by now it was getting to be time to transplant these things to the ground anyway. They were getting pretty tall as we approached the four-week mark, though I thought it was kind of interesting how much variation there was in the height of the plants — some were only in the 2-3 inch range, while others towered over them:

Zinnia Seedlings After Four Weeks

And quite a few of them (maybe 12 or so out of the 72 I planted) never sprouted at all. Interestingly, almost all of the ones that didn’t sprout came from the “Thumbelina Mixed Colors” packet, and the plants from that packet seemed to be on the shorter side as well. Here’s a photo showing the entire tray from the side (the “Thumbelina” plants are on the left):

Zinnia Plant Tray

The difference seems pretty obvious, though I’m not sure if there was something off about the “Thumbelina” seeds or if I just wasn’t paying attention when planting them or what.

Anyway, I had originally intended to plant these in various places around the yard, but ended up deciding to plant them all in one section near the corner of the garage. It gets some of the best sunlight in the backyard (and according to the pretty Zinnia seed packets, they need full sun!) plus many of the other planting areas weren’t quite as… “ready” as I would have liked.

So into the ground these little plants went. And I’ll confess that I worried about them a little at first. They just looked so small and thin and frail, like they’d blow over and die if a strong gust of wind blew:

Zinnia Seedlings, Planted In Ground

But over the next few weeks, they grew bigger and stronger and fuller, and any concerns about them being too small faded away. These look like plants that can fend for themselves:

Zinnias Growing Larger

And that’s where the epic tale of these Zinnia seeds ends — for now. None of them have bloomed yet, but yesterday I noticed that a few have little round things that look suspiciously like buds. Will they bloom in time for Bloom Day on June 15th? Maybe… but probably not… but whenever they do, there will surely be a post about it.

(Assuming they bloom at all instead of figuring out some way to fizzle out and die, which would make this whole thing an elaborate exercise in proving what a brown gardening thumb I have!)

What about you guys? Any plants started from seeds in your garden this year? Any troublesome plant-eating habits on the part of your pets? Feel free to share in the comments!

Our New Fence: The Installation & After Pics

A few weeks ago, I laid out the plan for our back fence in this post, which explained why we wanted to replace the old chain link fence with a 6-foot privacy fence and how we ended up deciding to call in the pros rather than try to DIY it. Shortly after came a teaser in the form of an Instagram photo showing the fence in progress, which you may have seen on Instagram here or randomly thrown in at the end of the post about our window box flowers here.

So for today’s post, I’m finally back with the pictures and details about our shiny new privacy fence! Skipping straight to the good stuff, here’s a view of the backyard as it looks now:

New Privacy Fence

(Plus a bonus bouncy ball! See it in action in this post.)

It’s hard to put into words what a nice difference it makes not to be able to see out into the alley from the backyard. Just for fun, I thought I’d include a “before” picture of the old fence into this post — for some reason I missed including a photo of the fence from a similar angle in the “state of the backyard” post I wrote in April, so here’s a view of what it looked like when we moved in:

Chain Link Fence (Before Picture)

(It’s crazy how much overgrowth we used to have along that back fence! Getting rid of those weed trees helped a lot, but I guess we’ve been making pretty good progress on the rest of the weedy stuff too. Anyway…)

The installation happened on a Saturday (on Memorial Day weekend, actually). The fence guy arrived at around 9:00 and got right to work — and in no time, the old fence was gone and the skeleton of the new fence was in its place. The work went on until a little after 5:00, and for us it was pretty much a normal day hanging around the house, except for walking back there and/or looking out the windows to take a peek at the progress every so often:

Fence In Progress

(Grendel seemed interested in the strange activity going on outside, too.)

Each of the new fence posts are sunk three feet deep and set in concrete, and it was built completely custom with no pre-assembled pieces — the fence guy arrived in a pickup truck stuffed with planks of lumber. So between the supplies for mixing cement and the power tools for cutting the wood, our backyard definitely looked like a construction zone for the duration of the work:

Wheelbarrow In City Backyard

(Don’t worry, though — it all got cleaned up by the end of the day.)

I keep saying “fence guy,” singular, because the bulk of the work was done by just one person — I thought I might’ve seen an assistant out there briefly during the part where they were dismantling the old fence, but if so, they didn’t stay for long. I was actually a little surprised about this part.

Not that it really mattered, though, because that one guy sure could build a fence. Here’s a view of the new fence as seen from the alley once it was all done, complete with all those funky angles we wanted (as explained in the plan here):

Privacy Fence Facing Alley

For fun, here’s another before shot (this time taken only a few weeks earlier and originally posted here) showing the old chain link fence from the same angle:

Backyard Alley Fence

As the contrast between the above photos shows, the privacy from this thing is such an improvement over that fishbowl we had before!

As for the actual details of the fence itself, the “traditional batten” style we chose may not be very apparent from a distance, so here’s a closer view to show how the boards are staggered to produce a little more texture and interest than just a flat wall of wood:

Batten Privacy Fence Closeup

And the back gate got a big upgrade as well — the new latch actually locks now, with a key and everything, from both the inside and the outside:

Locking Privacy Fence Latch

Oh, and I’m not sure I even mentioned this part in the planning post, but we also had them replace the gate leading out toward the front as a part of this upgrade:

Back Of House With New Gate

I know it looks a little strange to have the wooden gate just floating there while the rest of the fence is still chain link. In an ideal world we would have upgraded the fences on the sides of the yard as well, with something similar to this — a 4-foot privacy fence in the same batten style as the back one, which would be low enough to feel not completely cut off from our next-door neighbors while still being tall and solid enough to add a bit more privacy and boundary between the backyards. But alas, the cost of that much fence would be prohibitively expensive for us right now.

In any case, even just the gate is a lot more functional for us compared to the old one. In addition to reducing that fishbowl effect from the front a little, the latch is higher up and not as easy for toddler-hands to manipulate — at least so far, knock on wood* — and it also has the possibility of easily locking if we ever want to throw one on there:

New Front Gate Latch

* mmm, punny

So anyway, that’s the scoop on our new fence! We’re pretty happy with the way it turned out. And interestingly enough one of our neighbors came by as the work was being finished to compliment the fence and ask the fence guy for his contact info, so that’s probably a good sign.

In case anyone is in the Chicago area and wondering who we used, we went through a company called Fenceworks, which has an office located up in the north suburbs. Disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with Fenceworks, and even though we had a good experience and were quoted a good price I would encourage everyone to shop around and get estimates from a number of companies, etc. Disclaimer 2: If you do click through to their website, be warned that it’s a bit hard on the eyes color-wise (orange text on a green background, eek!) though they have a pretty good selection of fence photos on there. Lots of possibilities if you’re trying to decide on a style of fence for your own yard!

Oh, and as a final note, sealing/staining/painting the fence wasn’t included with any of this, so right now the wood (cedar) is completely bare. We know that if we leave it as is, it’ll eventually weather to a soft grey — which may not necessarily be such a bad thing visually, though we’ll probably want to do some research on how we should treat it or seal it to protect it from the elements as much as possible. This has been a fairly significant investment for the backyard, so we definitely want it to last!

What do you think of the new fence? For anyone with any experience with a wooden privacy fence (or deck or other outdoor structure), what (if anything) did you do to seal/protect it, and how has it held up over time? Any other advice on what to do as far as sealing it goes? Any comments would be appreciated!