beginner level

8 Ways to Beat the ‘Work Bleghs’

raised by design - say no to ugh desktop wallpaper

Today I need to blog about blogging. I’m just slugging out of my first big work funk as a blogger/designer. Did you miss me?

The resounding words of wisdom out there on how to deal go something like this: do NOT let your readers catch wind of what’s going on with you or they will hate you and stop reading your blog. Well pish posh to that shit. Fear mongering. This is my space to be the real real. I know nobody wants to read a blog that’s a giant miz-fest, but you guys are all professionals and you get it. Slumps happen. They happen to Derek Jeter and they happen to me. (And you thought I didn’t have anything in common with Derek Jeter.) They happen to everyone! Even when you love your work.

Here are my 8 best ways to get out of a big nasty case of the ‘Work Bleghs’:

  1. Get up, go outside and take a walk. I don’t care if you work on the 50th floor and your boss just asked you to do something super important. If you’re feeling like poop fake an urgent bathroom break and take a walk around the block. Fresh air = fresh head.
  2. Put on some good tunes. I highly recommend vintage Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson or whatever gets you singing along and busting into a good head bop.
  3. Make something. Anything. That recipe you’ve been meaning to try? Sure. The paper airplane you used to make when you were a kid? Awesome. That DIY project you saw on Pinterest (or RBD!)? Wonderful. Just get your hands working on something and your mind challenged with something you enjoy.
  4. Call a friend. Not the ‘misery loves company’ one, the one that makes you laugh so hard you pee a little. The one that reminds you why everything is awesome.
  5. Treat yourself to something. You’re having a tough day so maybe your kale salad can wait. Go get a big fat meatball parm instead. Or a pedicure if you’re a little more ladylike and you don’t eat your problems like me.
  6. Make a list. Get it all out! Sometimes it helps to sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the tasks on your plate that are making you feel scattered and uninspired. Usually on paper they look smaller and you can boss them around a little better.
  7. Light a candle. Not in prayer (unless you want to pray for yourself, which could work), but to get things smelling good. This one is only for people who work from home. If you’re in an office, find the insufferable girl with a new boyfriend who just had a birthday and go smell her roses. My point being…ever heard of aroma therapy? Good smells trigger endorphins and make you feel rejuvenated.
  8. Take a break. Seriously. Shut. It. Down. Take a personal day and ignore your computer and all electronic means of working for a day. Take a nap. Watch that movie you missed in theaters because nobody would go with you. Go swimming. Go to the zoo. Or a museum. Sit in the park with a real live book. Do something that gets you back to you.

Do you feel better? Me too. Join the fight and Say No To Ugh.

Loveyoubye, Maggie

 

 

 

Backyard Work /// Before + After Porn

I wrote a couple weeks back about our back yard and the progress we’ve made since we moved in 4 years ago. The other day it was overcast and rainy, so I grabbed my camera and took some snaps of what it looks like back there these days. *Here’s a tip I picked up: An overcast day is actually one of the best times to photograph landscapes. In full sun, plants lose dimension and photos will turn out flat and washed out. Aim for overcast or partly cloudy days and choose early morning or twilight hours if you can. 

Lil' Spot Backyard

That big river birch is our favorite tree ever; it screens the 3-flat behind us for 3 seasons and provides some much needed shade to our full-sun yard. Can you believe it’s only 3 years old this year and already popping out of my frame?

Lil' Spot Backyard - hemlock and fire pit.

We’re also pretty proud of this eastern hemlock we planted the same year. It kinda looks like The Sorting Hat. But it’s hosted 2 robins’ nests in a row so I would say it’s WINNING!

I know you’re wondering WTF that piece of wood is about. It’s just a piece of weathered wood. I like to keep things a little trish-trash around here.

And don’t judge me because our fire pit needs a bikini wax. I have to pull up all of those rocks one by one and put down a proper weed barrier. Because it’s pretty much all weeds back here.

We’re not planning any major projects in the yard this season, after a couple years of some hardcore home improvement back there we are ready to just enjoy it. Wait, enjoy it? I mean let out a loud ass groan as we realize that it needs mowing…again.

This is us: Did you water the new grass this morning? Something dug up the seedling I planted yesterday and left a swath of dirt spread all over the deck. Nice. Is that fuckin’ raccoon back again? No? Maybe it was the skunk I saw the other night. Yeah, or the ground hog? IDK. Did you check for ticks in the shower? I think we should put a container of beer out to drown the slugs. I heard that shit works. Oh look, time to mow again.

Lil' Spot Backyard

We tried to plant fresh grass seed where our monstrous driveway once lived. It looks like a Chia pet on Day 3 or a botched Rogaine application. Think we need to reseed.

Lil' Spot Backyard

Now you see why we call it Lil’ Spot, right?! Our little suburban cabin. On a more serious design note, I would eventually like to get 2 big planters for either corner of the deck instead of a bunch of little pots. I think it will look cleaner and help anchor the asymmetric layout (lattice on one side, trees on the other). But did you know those shits are like $200 a piece? I feel a DIY comin’ on!

Lil' Spot Backyard

In the meantime, I planted some of my mom’s vintage pails and pots with herbs so I can grab them in the middle of cooking dinner. Working towards always having fresh herbs on hand…remember?

After I’m done griping about weeding and run-ins with nocturnal rodents or these bad boys, I try to remember that the payoff is major: a sunny semi-private place to sit and have coffee and read the paper iPad in the morning. It’s great to wake up to birds chirping in the trees that I planted. And it’s the best ever to have friends over to make pizzas on the grill and laugh so loud it wakes up our neighbors’ kids.

Lil' Spot Backyard

Our friends in the city always say the only reason they would move to the ‘burbs is so they can have a back yard. I get that. The only reason I would move to the city is so I can have a shorter commute and decent thai food.

If I had any sage advice for soon-to-be-suburbanites it’s this: this shit doesn’t just pop up like a blow-up castle. It takes a lot of sweaty, slimy, put-your-back-into-it work. At least for any homeowner who refuses to hire a landscaper, like me. It builds character. It ruins your shoes. It takes time out of your weekend. It’s a losing battle against weeds and pests. But yeah, it’s so totally worth it.

Lil's Spot Backyard

Here is the promised Before + After Porn:

before-and-after-backyard-facing-east

 

Before + After - Backyard Redo

before-and-after-basement-door-deck

Loveyoubye! Maggie

 

Before + After: Landscaping Progress

I know, I haven’t really given you a proper introduction to Lil’ Spot. So here’s a quick backstory. Our 882 sq. ft. kit house was built in the 1950’s by a couple who emigrated from Eastern Europe. They built this little spot with their own hands and took great care of it for 60-some-odd years. When they passed on it was sold as part of their estate. Lucky for us, we were first-time home buyers looking for fixer-upper to cut our teeth on home ownership and renovations. Here’s what it looked like the day we closed on it, 4 years ago this April:

curbside house

I must confess that today it looks almost exactly the same from this view. My Dad always says, “You fix the inside of your house for you, you fix the outside for your  neighbors.” So the front has been bumped to the bottom of our very long list of renovation projects. Sorry, neighbors! We did swap out the mailbox (a wedding gift from friends with number decals I added), painted the front door a nice dark navy blue (Benjamin Moore Hale Navy) and replaced the screen door with a more modern full glass door (sans eagle).

navy-door-red-modern-mailbox

But we haven’t done a thing to the poor overcrowded boxwoods, hydrangeas, azaleas, mountain laurel, dwarf pine and japonica. We also haven’t ripped out the last hedgerow of invasive barberry and privet. Or fixed our broke-ass concrete path and crumbling steps. Or painted our peeling porch. We’re not proud of it. We’re just busy. And not made of money.

Over the last 4 years we’ve really focused in on the back yard, where we spend most of our time in the warm months. With such a small house, having a big backyard makes us feel like we have more living space. Here are some BEFORE snaps from 2010.

backyard-before

View facing North into our neighbor’s yard. With a tin-can-man that is funky but I kind of love.

Our neighbor to the south has a small yard that is mostly occupied by a well-maintained vegetable garden. We love learning about growing vegetables from the elderly couple that owns the property. They even share extra plants with us.

I’m sure those ginormous laundry line poles didn’t escape your trained eye either. They’re retired since everyone has electric dryers these days. But they’ve found a second life as nesting sites for nuthatches and training poles for woodpeckers.

Don’t mind the John Baldessari-esque dots. I’m protecting privacy here, it’s serious business.

backyard-before-driveway

View facing east. This chain link beauty is still there and I’m doing my best to hide it with plantings.

Oh, and then there’s the infamous pear tree. There was so much that I loved about this tree. The scale was perfect for the house and I adored its cute lollipop shape. In spring there were fragrant white flowers and it provided privacy from the 2-story house to the north. Plus, it produced dozens upon dozens of pears each summer. But…it produced dozens upon dozens of pears each summer. And we couldn’t keep up with them. And they tasted like crab apples. And they attracted bees. And got stuck in our lawnmower. And STUNK like rotting fruit. And…we eventually decided it had to go.

pear tree

Down she goes…

pear tree coming down

I think I actually teared up. Poor tree. We’ll never forget you.

Also I should mention the teeny-tiny sad peach tree planted in the middle of the yard. We gave it the college try but it just wasn’t thriving. Plus, we noticed it had developed an oozing fungus and an ant infestation. Buy-bye, little nasty tree.

backyard-before

The last corner of our backyard was occupied by this crazy contraption covering the steps to the basement. Complete with corrugated composite, sheet metal, rusty poles and plenty of jagged wire. A wonderland for young children looking to get tetanus.

basement contraption

So, here’s the BEFORE + AFTER of our backyard plan, illustrated by yours truly.

Garden Plan - BEFORE + AFTER - Existing Plants

BEFORE garden plan (with a creative way of spelling “lilac” for your enjoyment.)

backyard plan before + after

AFTER garden plan

I justified cutting down a beautiful, mature fruit tree by planting not one, but SIX other native trees in the yard. Do you think I overcompensated? The pictures I took are horrendous so I made this list instead:

trees added to lil' spot

We also put in a pre-fab shed since we don’t have a garage. It’s wonderful, I would like to move in like a hipster. Maybe one day when we replace the siding on our house it will match. For now, it’s just so dang cute.

garden shed and climbing rose

our cute shed being upstaged by the climbing rose

We also planted a native perennial garden along the chain-link fence. In our hood we don’t put up tall fences because then you don’t get vegetable plants from your neighbors. Just a little privacy goes a long way so we did switchgrass and red osier dogwoods in the back row and filled in with purple coneflower, lavender bee balm and purple agastache. This will be the second year for this bed so we’ll see how it all fills in.

native perennial garden

the shed in action; native grasses and perennials

Last summer, my kick ass Dad built a huge, awesome deck on the back of the house. He’s turning 65 this year and can still rip up a driveway, drill for pilings, pour concrete and build a freakin’ deck! Yee-haw. The deck has by far been the biggest improvement to our yard, especially paired with the renovations we did inside which allow for direct access to the backyard through sliding doors off of the kitchen.

The deck is home to our Beetlejuicey black and white striped patio umbrella. I can’t tell you how much I love this umbrella!

patio umbrella

Actually, yes I can. I love it just a little less than the set of 4 original Russell Woodard Sculptura chairs handed down to me by my mother-in-law, which were passed down to her from her mother. I feel so lucky to have them. When we were growing up my Mom chained our porch furniture down after some problems with theft in our neighborhood. Don’t think I haven’t considered the same for these babies.

deck-table-chairs-umbrella

Russell Woodard Sculptura Chairs + West Elm Table

And that’s pretty much where we are these days. This year I’m letting things grow in and become more established. I’m resolving to water when my garden needs it and learn about pruning and caring for the plants that I have.

Is anyone still reading?! Holy Marathon Blogpost! Sorry to post so late tonight. I gotta go make dinner and watch some trish-trash on the TV.

Loveyoubye, Mags

2014 Garden Plan – 10 Lessons

So it’s definitely spring in the Northeast and the forsythia, oaks, tulip trees, redbuds and red maples are all poppin’ off. In that order, everything looks like this:

spring-banner

We have NONE of that happening here at Lil’ Spot. Everything is still twiggy and muddy and I don’t have any early bloomers that brighten things up this time of year. That’s okay though – gardening is a slow process and I’m learning to enjoy it. Each year I add a few things, move a few things and learn a lot of things.

I’m making a huge effort to plant only native species on our small piece of suburban property. Planting native takes a little bunch of extra research and planning. But it pays off in the form of a green conscience, plants that are easier to care for (because they’re meant to grow in your conditions) and a yard full of birds and butterflies (because you’re providing their favorite food and nesting sites). That last part really sold me. #birdnerd

People are always amazed to learn that in our area, just 25 miles north of Manhattan, we have hummingbirds! (Don’t tell anyone, but they’re in Manhattan too.) Well listen, if you plant native Trumpet Honeysuckle instead of invasive poo-pants Japanese Honeysuckle, you’ll actually SEE them in your own backyard. For REALZ. It’s science.

image credit: chris dupe

ruby throated hummingbird | image credit: chris dupe (CC)

Here are my favorite resources for learning about native plants:

  1. American Beauties Native Plants – a comprehensive resource for building a garden plan around native plants; look for their branded pots at your local nursery to help you distinguish native cultivars
  2. National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife –  a great guide for native plants with instructions for turning your space into a Certified Wildlife Habitat (yes, please!)
  3. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – I love their list of recommended species searchable by state or effort; you can find out which plants are good for honey bees or monarch butterflies, for example
  4. PlantNative – a thorough database for native plants by type – trees, shrubs, perennials, ground cover, etc.
Chanticleer Garden | image credit: JR P (CC)

Chanticleer Garden | image credit: JR P (CC)

And here are 10 lessons that I’ve learned the hard way and am happy to share with you:

  1. Don’t be fooled by what you see in your neighbor’s yard. Many of the most popular plants used in landscapes are actually super invasive (forsythia, privet, bamboo), and nurseries don’t necessarily advertise plants as invasive. So it’s up to you. Here’s the Naughty List you can use to cross-check your shopping list before you leave home.
  2. Speaking of, make a list before you go to the nursery. Plants aren’t good impulse-buys. Trust me. Please trust me.  Plus, it’s hard to remember their crazy long names by heart.
  3. Ahem, learn the scientific names that are crazy long and impossible to pronounce. The common name (i.e. winterberry) is SO much easier to say than the scientific name (i.e. ilex verticillata), I know. But common names are not as specific and there are multiple common names per species so they’re all jumbled in a big drunk 18th-century-botanist mess. It’s actually a terrible nomenclature system, unless you stick to the scientific. Plus it makes you sound SMART! Bottom line is that using the common name may lead you to purchase a species or cultivar (variety) that isn’t what you were looking for. No bueno.
  4. Learn about cultivars and varietals. If you want to plant a red stem dogwood in your yard do a little homework first. I learned that there are 2 species of dogwood shrubs that have red stems and each has SEVERAL CULTIVARS. Oye! All are different sizes, shapes, growth rates and colors. So if you buy one plant that’s a different cultivar…you’ll end up like me and have a “3 of These Things Belong Together” situation on your hands.
  5. Figure out which Hardiness Zone you live in and don’t try to deny it! If you live in New York, you shouldn’t be growing palms or succulents outside. Our harsh winters will kill those babies right away and everyone will be sad and poor. If you just can’t live without palms and succulents, move to Arizona. Here’s a map where you can just plug in your zip code to find your zone.
  6. Non-native doesn’t always mean invasive. There are many non-native naturalized plants out there that aren’t harmful to our ecosystem, they just weren’t born here. Over the years, naturalized plants have learned to play nicely in our sandbox and they are not invasive. They’re good guys, they just may be more high maintenance.
  7. Don’t take the nursery staff’s word for it. Unfortunately, staff knowledge can be hit or miss. Plus, not all nurseries are up to speed on the demand for native plants. For serious questions, ask for the head gardener. And at some nurseries you can look for the American Beauties pots and know that you’re choosing a US native.
  8. Try to choose a color palette and stick to it. Back to the cultivar issue – if you’re trying to grow a purple, white and gray garden and you accidentally install a plant that flowers red, you blew it. Just kidding, but now you have to either move the red plant or plant more red so it looks intentional. This part has been hard for me , but I’m trying to stick to purple, white and yellow.
  9. Don’t forget about the leaves! They’re part of the plant too and will contribute more to the look of your garden than the flower, most likely. Try to mix up broad leaves with feathery, waxy with fuzzy, chartreuse with deep green and so on.
  10. Plant for all seasons. This goes along with #5 – remember that most deciduous plants, most perennials and all annuals will lose their leaves in the fall and die back in the winter. Mix in plants that stay beautiful and evergreen all year long and you’ll have “winter interest” (and birds!) in the cold months.

I’ve learned all of these things through trial and error…and more error. Gardening is about patience, planning and coaxing – skills that we aren’t used to honing in our modern lives. A beautiful garden doesn’t happen overnight and doesn’t always work out the way you hoped. Which is why it’s something worth having.

Tomorrow I’ll share some of the before + after progress we’ve made in transforming Lil’ Spot’s Plot (aka our yard).

Loveyoubye! Maggie

Begin Anywhere.

Oh heyyyyy. Well I guess you’re seeing a pattern here. It’s been over ONE YEAR since I posted something…and that was FOUR YEARS since I’d registered this URL. So, essentially, I have zero followthrough and am in the hole like $500 before even starting my blog empire. But at least I’m aware of it. 10 points for Gryffindor.

I’m going to try an exercise I made up on my way home tonight. No, my therapist didn’t suggest it…but that’s only because I haven’t gotten around to having a therapist. I’m sure if I had one she would have told me to do this.

REASONS WHY I HAVEN’T STARTED MY BLOG:

  1. Normal life is so much easier to carry on with than giant scary bucket list items.
  2. I secretly really want to be a blogger slash designer for a living instead of doing what pays my bills (psh), so naturally I’m procrastinating like a champ.
  3. I’m easily distracted by true crime TV shows. 
  4. I lack that “voice” thing they say writers are supposed to have. It’s supposed to be clear, which is a word that describes nothing in my life. I need to drink more water.
  5. I need to drink more water. And exercise. And do a detox because what if I’m allergic to gluten and dairy. And travel the world. And read loads of books. And see all the latest thought provoking movies. And be up on politics. And lean in. And have a bombastic social life with lots of cheese boards and artisanal whiskey.
  6. The people out there that are going to think I’m a total douche, who my sister says to just put away in a little box. You…get in that fucking box I just made for you. And stay there.
  7. Speaking of “voice”…mine has lots of cursing in it. It runs in the family. But cursing isn’t really something that massively famous (classy) designers do in the public eye, is it?
  8. What if I just want to post about whatever I want instead of writing to my audience?
  9. I haven’t written a business plan.
  10. I haven’t populated my empty Etsy shop with the HUGE pile of hoarded vintage goods I own.
  11. About me. Is the worst.
  12. I can’t take advice, I can only dish it. I’m so good at telling other people what to do somebody should pay me for it.
  13. Bandwagons.
  14. My self sufficient cat is so high maintenance.
  15. Instagram is so instant.
  16. I don’t take enough real pics and barely know how to use the super ‘spensive SLR we bought as our wedding present to each other.
  17. I don’t have a proper place to work…ie. a desk with a chair…in a super cute, organized, chic, magazine worthy home office complete with an inspiration board and curated book shelves with vintage objet d’art. Everyone else has that right?
  18. My mom is a super talented blogger and I’m still a piss and vinegar filled 13 year old at heart and probably defying her motherly wisdom to. this. day. take. that.
  19. Did I mention how addictive marathons of The First 48 and Snapped are? Ugh. So good.
  20. Time for dinner…

First Time

It’s been 4 years since I first registered this blog URL. No seriously. And this is my first. post. Guess that means I can cross ‘impulsive’ off my list of possible personality traits.

Ever since it was time to grow up and get a big-girl job I’ve been in serious need of an outlet for all of this designerly energy that’s bouncing around my cubicle. Lucky [or not-so-lucky] for you, this blog is now the very public place where I’ll share all of that energy with anyone who wants to check in on me and make sure everything upstairs is in working order.

Now that I’m officially into my thirties, I think it’s time to get this show on the ROAD!

So far…this is awkward.

But I’m sure first blog posts are just like first dates. Just don’t expect a goodnight kiss. I see you jiggling your keys.