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The Lanai 2015

balcony looking south, lanaiSummer is almost over and I haven’t shared photos from the lanai! It actually looks really different now because I spent some time out there yesterday giving up on some plants (RIP, little guys) and repotting my newly purchased mums*. balcony looking south, lanai, sitting areaI changed up the seating area from last year, moving the wicker love seat along the windows to give it some extra protection from the elements. I liked it a lot better this way, even though at only 4 feet deep, it’s a tight squeeze out there. balcony looking north, lanaiThe “dining area” is pretty much the same. I have six hanging planters of various flowers. I bought a portulaca and a mixed planter and I built my own of begonias, petunias, vinca vines, Creeping Jenny, Mexican Heather, allyssum, various coleus, and some other greens and blooms. (It feels like I did all of this a lifetime ago…it was before Japan!) I really enjoyed building my own planters but this winter I want to do some reading about pot designs. Some of the pots filled out nicely, but others never really filled out, even now at the end of the summer. large pot on the lanaiMy parents gave me this giant pot after Japan and I was so excited to fill it. I bought some cheap impatiens, petunias, and coleus and added in perennial sedum that I’ve had for years. Next year I would like to fill the giant pot with all perennials to keep costs and maintenance down. But I have to say, this pot still looks amazing and full and lush, while most of the others have suffered a bit in our heat lately. old geraniumMy old geranium is still going strong. I really weeded through my geraniums this winter and kept the strongest ones. I didn’t know which colors I would end up with since nothing was blooming in March, but I have one bright pink, one coral, and one white one left. I’ll bring them in when it gets cold. The geraniums hang out on a little cart with some perennials I planted this winter. None of them really thrived in the light on my balcony, so I need to replant them at my parents or give them to someone else who gets more sun. Most are still alive, just not blooming…kind of a bummer. Split Second Morning GloryNext to the big pot, I planted seven types of climbing vines. So far, only three have bloomed. (Womp, womp.) But, I love going out there every morning and tending to the blooms I have, so…I’m making the most of them! The one above is a Split Second Morning Glory, obtained through a “seed swap” on Instagram. (Thanks, Lauren!) They’re double flowers and are very peony-like. Now that I know how successful they are, I’m going to plant lots more of these beauties next year! President Tyler Morning Glory President Tyler Morning GloryThen there are the gorgeous blue President Tylers, obtained at the actual seed swap. The deep purplish blue is so striking on the railings. Heavenly Blue Morning GloryAnd last but not least, the Heavenly Blues…which really, how gorgeous is that color? I took this photo yesterday right before a huge downpour that completely battered the bloom. I’m so glad I captured its perfection!

Next week, I’ll do a community garden update which shall be called All About the Tomatoes. Have a good weekend!

*The Mum Disclaimer: Yes, I feel like it’s too soon to usher in fall, quite frankly, but it is after Labor Day and they were so cheap at Menards! I had to snag a few while I was there! It’s going to cool off today, so maybe fall is really right around the corner? As much as I love fall, I’m all for soaking up the season we are in. I’m not ready to pull out my boots and scarves (and pumpkin spice lattes!). I’m still enjoying the last bits of summer while I can!

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Japan Does It Better 23: Line Drying Laundry

clothes drying outdoors in JapanIn Japan, it is common to see loads of laundry danging from balconies, billowing in the breeze. (Or in the winter, hanging stiff as a board.) It seems like everyone in Japan hangs out their laundry. It’s the complete opposite here in America. Hardly anyone hangs their clothes. Growing up, my mom had a giant clothesline that was always full in the summer. As a teenager, I would die of embarrassment at the thought of my underwear and bras on display in the back yard. But there really isn’t anything like putting on a shirt that’s been drying in the sun all day.

I know my mom is in the minority though, even in her small town that doesn’t scoff at “unsightly” clothing hanging in the backyard. Where I live, our condo association has rules against drying clothes on our balconies. (I’ve started breaking this rule a bit, putting small bits of laundry outside draped across a chair or on my drying rack. Unfortunately, I don’t have room to hang all of my laundry discreetly.) Most cities or associations have similar rules, making us slaves to our dryers. It’s sad for the environment, really. And I’m not really sure what’s so offensive about hanging laundry. clothes drying outdoors in JapanNaoto said his mom always preferred to hang out her laundry, especially the futon and other bedding, because the sun and cold air would kill the germs.

Because air drying the laundry is so common in Japan, they have the best little tools for doing it. From circular hangers for socks and lingerie, to heavy duty clamps for blankets and towels, and even cut cat-shaped pins, they have really perfected the art of laundry!

To see all of the Japan Does It Better (JDIB) series, go here.

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Home Is A 1970s Apartment: Our Living Room, Spring Edition

Kimberly AH living room 2015 Last month, my parents visited and Naoto bought flowers, so I figured while the living room was all tidy, I would take some pictures to share. I haven’t done a full post about our living room since this one in 2012, and things have changed ever so slightly since then…dare I say the living room is almost done? Kimberly AH living room 2015 Kimberly AH living room 2015 The living room arrangement could use a couple more chairs and some art above/around the television, but I’m waiting for the perfect solution. (I have some chairs in mind…just waiting for a sale, and I’d love to do something simple and 3D behind the TV since there’s that weird empty corner there. I know a lot of people do the gallery wall thing around their televisions, but how many gallery walls can one room have?)Kimberly AH desk 2015I’ve been plagued with lingering art on the floor so I spent an afternoon readjusting the “gallery wall” above my desk, adding art and re-centering things to make up for the addition of the drawer unit in the middle. It was actually pretty easy, except for the time I slammed my head on the ceiling. I’m apparently pretty tall when I stand on my desks! Kimberly AH living room 2015  I am thrilled that the artwork is hung! Maybe now I won’t be so tempted to buy more…Japanese wall hanging, japanese postI bought this banner in Japan at Tokyo Station last spring. I’m sad to admit that it’s been folded up in a drawer all year while I decided where it should go. art above desk, kimberly AHI realize the art looks a little wonky, especially from this angle. I need to straighten things out with some Command squares or something. For now, I’m just happy the frames are all off of the floor. And, I will admit that my desk hasn’t looked this clean since about five minutes after this picture was taken.

Art details, top to bottom, left to right: You Are My Sunshine print-I can’t remember the seller//Cat Moves, signed “For Presley”-Lucy Knisley//All You Need Is Cats-Paper Pastries//photo of Presley//calligraphy quote-Dancing Pen & Press//Girl on a Swing paper cut-Tina Tarnoff//Lord Byron Letter Writing print-Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress//cat postcard from Japan//Make Something Today screen print-Life Love Paper//photo strip//Comparison is the Thief of Joy-I made it//Ironhead collage-Vivienne Strauss

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Old Painting = New Art

P. Rambert oil paintingIn January when I went thrifting with my parents, I found this old painting. It was only twenty dollars, it’s an actual painting, not a print, and for reasons I can’t explain, I really liked it. The painting is signed P. Rambert, which means nothing to me, but apparently people on Ebay think some of his paintings can fetch $50-550…mmhmmmmm. P. Rambert oil painting I’ve been working on hanging up more art (again) and so I tried this one in the living room near the lamp. (I do think the matchy-matchy pillow looks a little ridiculous…an interior decorator I am not!) I didn’t plan to keep it there, but it’s grown on me and I’ve really liked having some color on the wall! (I think my desire for spring and something other than grey skies and a grey home is getting to me!)

Am I the only one who freezes and fears decorating decisions?

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Plot #6: Winter Sowing Experiment

winter sowingI started gardening this week!! Back in December, Peggy (who seriously should be a contributor to my blog since she provides me with so much blog fodder!) sent me this blog post from A Garden for the House about winter sowing. Neither of us had tried it before but we both found the idea intriguing. I always feel like it’s late summer before all of my balcony flowers are really in bloom and by then, it’s sometimes too hot and busy to enjoy them. And last year, I had my best balcony garden but I also spent more than I normally do on flowers because I was addicted to having a lush, full garden. (I didn’t break the bank or anything…it was just more than usual.) Hopefully, if this winter sowing thing works, I can get a jump start on gardening, and I can start more things from inexpensive seeds instead of buying a lot of full-grown potted plants this year.

Winter sowing involves planting certain types of seeds in winter and keeping them outdoors in little protective “greenhouses”. Depending on your zone, you can plant perennial and hardy annuals as early as January. I waited until Tuesday (March 3) to start planting, so I planted some tender annuals, too. This blog post tells more about what you can plant when. winter sowing, seedsI worked on my winter sowing in my kitchen on Tuesday afternoon. For my greenhouses, I used distilled water jugs that I’ve been collecting all winter. (Naoto has been very suspicious of this “garbage collection”.) I drilled ventilation holes in the top and drainage holes in the bottom of each one.winter sowingThen I cut around the middle of the jug, leaving a little hinge underneath the handle. (Presley decided to take a bath while this was happening.) winter sowingI worked in my kitchen sink, filling each jug with a few inches of soil. Then I soaked the soil with running water and let the water drain out into the sink. After that I planted my seeds, one type per jug, labeling as I worked.

I only made it through seven jugs before I ran out of soil, but I’m hoping to run out today and buy more so I can finish the job this week. So far, I’ve planted broccoli, snow peas and lettuce in preparation for our community garden plot. And I’ve planted Evening Primrose, Columbine, Zinnias, and Achillea for the balcony. I have at least ten more potential seed packets waiting for winter sowing, depending on how adventurous I feel.

I put all of my seeds outside on the balcony. (I’m hoping my neighbors do not complain about the unsightly water jugs…condo living is challenging sometimes.) The seeds are sharing a table with my perennial sedum for now (which looks dead in the top picture, but I promise it’s just resting). That table gets the most sunlight and it gets snowed and rained on, so I figured the seeds will have the best chance there. For now, I wait…the hardest part of gardening!

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Homemade Granola

trader joes, homemade granola, blueberry almondI hosted book club on Saturday morning. I knew, since we were going to get home late from the Blackhawks game Friday night, that I wouldn’t feel like getting up to bake muffins or something in the morning. So, I tried to think of something tasty that I could make a day in advance, that would still taste fresh and “homey” the next morning. Then the idea of a yogurt bar popped in my head and I decided that would be easy enough, even if I made homemade granola instead of serving store-bought.

This Martha Stewart recipe for Blueberry Almond Granola looked like a winner and -best part ever- I could buy all of the ingredients at Trader Joe’s!! (That’s always a bonus for me…I like my tiny Trader Joe’s and hate having to go to a second grocery store for one ingredient.)

On Friday afternoon, I whipped up a batch of granola and even though I followed the directions to the letter, the granola was over-toasted. It wasn’t really burnt. (I still liked it, but I also like my toast one step below blackened.) But the coconut was really toasty and it kind of affected the taste of everything else. I didn’t feel like I could serve it to guests. So, I gave it another go and so I’m sharing the recipe and method that worked best for me in hopes that no one else will burn their coconuts.

Blueberry Almond Granola

2 cups rolled old fashioned oats

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

1 cup dried blueberries

Pre-heat oven to 350°

Place the oats and the almonds in a large bowl. Mix oil and honey in a small bowl and drizzle over the oats and almonds. Stir to coat evenly. Spread the oats and almonds on a large baking sheet and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. (Mine was done at 15. Keep an eye on it.)

Place shredded coconut on baking sheet and put in oven to toast separately. I left my oven door open and stirred every minute or so for about 4 minutes. You can also toast the coconut on the stove using the method explained here.homemade granola, trader joes Once the coconut is toasted, add it to the oats and almonds and allow to cool. trader joes, homemade granolaStir in the dried blueberries and it’s ready to eat! I served mine with vanilla yogurt and fresh raspberries and blackberries. I think the book club enjoyed it, too…either that or they’re a bunch of good actors!

The granola is a lot less sticky sweet than store-bought granola but you don’t really miss the sugar because the toasty, oaty deliciousness is enough. And I have to say, even my coconut-hating husband liked it!

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Oh Christmas Tree 2014

Christmas Tree 2014I think this year’s tree takes the cake…I love its little shape better than the fuller trees of the past two years (2012 & 2013). I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to hanging ornaments, so I’ve found places where there are little ornament clusters and spaces that are kind of bare, but I guess that just adds to the fun. The saddest part of my tree this year is that my favorite vintage tree topper would not light up, so I had to use a colorful replacement. (It’s hard to see in the pictures, but it has multi-colored lights.)  Christmas Tree 2014I included pretty much every single ornament that I own on the tree this year. Our full trees of the past two years meant that some of the larger and heavier ornaments had to be left off, but this year, the strong Fraser Fir branches could handle them all. I also have not hung some of my most loved ornaments since having Presley. This year, I put most of them on the tree. (They will get their own ornament story post next week.) I just feel like I haven’t enjoyed them in ages and they are just too beautiful not to hang. Christmas Tree 2014Here’s hoping this little devil behaves herself. (Knocking on wood, crossing my fingers, rubbing a horseshoe…)

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Oh Christmas Tree Trauma

Naoto and the tree part 1This was the scene on Sunday night when Naoto and I went to buy the tree. We decided to branch out (hehe) and try other tree variety this year. We’ve had a White Pine for the past two years (2012 and 2013) and this year I wanted to change things up with a Balsam Fir.

So, it was after 6:30 and dark, but we thought there was enough light in the parking lot to choose a tree. After checking out a few, we chose a lovely Balsam, had it wrapped up and drove it home (using our back-seat method as shown above.) We got it into our apartment and cut it open and…I noticed a patch of brown. Not like a tiny bit of brown needles that were falling off, but a chunk of brown needles that faded into green, like the tree had been damaged by the weather or something. I shrugged it off thinking we could put that part towards the window and no one would ever know. But then I noticed that brown spots were occurring all over the tree. The tree could only be described as mottled at that point.

Now, I am not a perfectionist when it comes to the holidays. We’ve had holey trees, crooked trees, dry trees…pretty much every year we buy an imperfectly lovely tree. But, brown? I couldn’t do it. So I said the words my poor husband was dreading, “We have to take it back.” We loaded the tree back into the car and drove back to Menards, which was closing in the next ten minutes.

We returned the tree, and in spite of the “tree guy” offering to open the lot back up and let us choose our replacement, we decided to wait until daylight to choose another one. (Even with the flashlight on my phone, it was hard to see the brown spots on the tree. We didn’t want to risk having to return another one.) new tree ready for trimmingI went back alone on Tuesday afternoon to choose another tree. Several of the Balsams we opened had the same brown damage as our first tree. So, I moved onto the Fraser Firs, which look similar to the Balsam but have a silvery tone to the underside of the needles. Between the tree guy, another customer and I, we found a good one…straight and tall with no noticeable browning. (It’s pictured on the trunk trimming table above.) tree in the car 2014 me and the tree 2014The tree guy–after much skepticism–loaded it into my backseat and I drove it home (after taking pictures in the parking lot!) naoto and the tree 2014The tree stayed in the backseat of the car in the garage until Naoto got home that night (after midnight!) I could have carried it up by myself, but I could never have put it in the tree stand alone, so I figured leaving it in the car was better for the tree as opposed to leaning it in our entryway all day. (Also there were a bunch of judgey ladies in the laundry room and I didn’t want to have to deal with explaining how I would of course come back down to sweep up my pine needles…sigh, the costs of living in a condo.) the tree 2014Here it is all watered and ready. lighted tree 2014I (unevenly) added lights last night and I’m hanging the ornaments today. And then, our apartment is officially ready for Christmas!

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Stuffing the Stockings

Our stockings, handmade felt, Mahar Dry GoodsWhen I was little, Santa put a clementine and a toothbrush in our stockings every Christmas. I know we got other things but the clementine and the toothbrush are the things I remember. Isn’t it weird that Santa probably stressed about getting me a few nice things for my stocking and all I remember now are the clementine and the toothbrush?

Now, Naoto and I fill each other’s stockings. As we shop, we just drop our items into the stockings with promises not to peek until Christmas morning. The stockings are the first things we open on Christmas, before unwrapping gifts.

I already have a few things in Naoto’s stocking (left side). He’s very hard to shop for since he never wants anything. (It’s a blessing and a curse!) I always try to think of a mix of fun and practical things, with a heavy emphasis on food.

For my stocking (right side), I usually ask for chapstick and other consumables. Some of my favorite stocking stuffers have included Luxardo cherries, rubber stamps and zines. This year I added a few new zines and a postcard set to my wish list.

As for Presley’s stocking (middle)…we usually get her a catnip toy. So far, she’s gotten two branches from Mew Cat Toys Etsy shop. And she has three Yeowww! catnip toys (the banana, the cigar and the dynamite) that we bought at a local shop, Scratch N Sniff. She really digs all of them. It’s hard to put her gift in early though, because she tends to help herself to it before Christmas.

What are your family’s stocking traditions? Any good ideas for Naoto’s stocking? I need all the help I can get!

P.S. Our stockings are from the now closed Mahar Drygoods. Presley’s is from a big box store.

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Our Thanksgiving 2014

thanksgiving table 2014, centerpieceAnother Thanksgiving is in the books and the world (and our apartment) is moving on to Christmas. As usual, Naoto whipped up a delicious meal and my mom made a yummy spiced apple cheesecake for dessert. thanksgiving table 2014, table setting, yellow owl workshop placecard stampI wasn’t feeling especially inspired, so I set a simple table this year. I crafted a “centerpiece” from a turkey on a stack of books and some candles, similar to last year’s table. I used some thrifted paper turkey napkin rings and I made place cards with my Yellow Owl Workshop place card stamp. yellow owl workshop place card activity kit, thanksgiving placards, embossedI embossed the stamp in copper and typed our names. Simple…and with a table of four, it is really important that everyone can find a spot at the table! thanksgiving 2014, my mealIt was a delicious, relaxing day…I feel like Thanksgiving is the end of the calm part of the year, maybe that’s why it’s my favorite.

How was your holiday weekend?

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