Our yard in spring

Spring has been late to Iowa this year, much like in the rest of the country.  As a result, we’re only just now in June seeing many of the flowers that would normally be blooming in May.   I’m enjoying looking at all of the beautiful yards in our neighborhood, and our yard has finally started to look more like spring.

The peonies are gorgeous this year.


Last year the salvia was small and dry, but this year it’s almost bushy and has brilliant color.


We added a rain barrel in the back yard this year and with all the rain we’ve had, there’s been no problem keeping it full. We’re hoping to get to use that for watering plants this summer so we can avoid using water from the tap as much as possible.


Our other yard project was to plant a plum tree in the front yard. The city cut down the elm tree on the curb and we’ve been missing it’s shade and feeling of privacy it provided. We’re hoping the plum tree will help fill that gap and hopefully the city will also replace the tree on the curb.


How is your yard shaping up this spring? Have you made any additions or improvements?

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Sunday in Pella

Pella, Iowa, is known for its Dutch heritage and tulips.  We didn’t go to the Tulip Festival because it was very cold that weekend, so we decided to drive out on a Sunday afternoon  a couple of weeks later so we could still see the tulips.  It’s about an hour west of Des Moines, so we set out fairly early on a bright sunny May day.

We hadn’t expected that most of the town would be shut down on Sunday, so we didn’t get to explore the many cute little shops that lined the streets, and even the Jaarsma bakery with its Dutch letters was closed.  However, that meant we could take our time strolling through quiet streets and just enjoy the sunshine and the tulips.

The Klokkenspiel plays at scheduled times throughout the day. We all enjoyed its music and the quaint figures (including Wyatt Earp) who came out to say hello.



The town has lovely architecture with everything designed to reflect Dutch heritage, including the buildings, a windmill, and a not-so-authentic canal.




My favorite attraction was the flowers. Tulips in every color and flowering trees all over the town square.  Can you guess which part the boys liked best.

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We all enjoyed our Sunday afternoon in Pella.  Maybe next year the weather will cooperate and we’ll actually go during the Tulip Festival.  What did you do this spring to help you get in the spring spirit?

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Iowa State Capitol

Back in February (I’m a little behind on posting), we visited the Iowa State Capitol while my parents were in town.  Over the years, I’ve managed to visit the capitol building in each state in which we’ve lived.  My only disappointing experience was the Oregon Capitol Building because it was closed the day we were there, so we only got to see the outside which is modern and not really my taste.

The Iowa Capitol is gorgeous inside and outside.  The gold-plated domes are beautiful and its position on the hill make them visible all around the area.  Even my 2-year-old points them out as we’re driving around town.


We didn’t take the tour, but opted to just walk around and admire the woodwork, marble, tile, and stunning murals and stencils.  Even the kids were a little in awe of the building and behaved pretty well.




We weren’t brave enough to go all the way to the top of the rotunda with the kids, but it’s possible to go to the top (just below the gold ring) with a tour guide.  However, there was plenty to admire about the rotunda from below.


We also couldn’t go in the library, but I peeked in the window and took a photo of this photo.  My librarian friends will appreciate this one.


When we go to Missouri to visit our families, we always watch for the capitol building at each end of our trip (in Des Moines and Jefferson City) as a signal that we’re almost home.

If you haven’t visiting your state capitol building, make the trip.  Many of them are beautiful exhibits of architecture, art, and history.   They also take a lot of money and effort to maintain, so enjoy them and make the resources that go into them worthwhile.  I’ve been to Missouri, Oregon, California, and Iowa and hope I get a chance to visit others in future travels.

Which capitol buildings have you visited?  Do you have a favorite?

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Kitchen Remodel 6: My Pantry

It’s funny how a quick side project can become my favorite part of the end result. We still have a small kitchen, so I want to make every space functional. That’s when my eye fell on the wall between the bathroom door and the window. The depth is too narrow for a cabinet and I didn’t want anything to block the window. I loved the idea of a narrow shelf that we could use as a pantry, so my husband and I started to measure and sketch, then we added the beautiful old glass-paned doors we found in the basement (not sure if they are original or just got picked up somewhere by a previous owner), opted to add feet on the bottom to make it look more like a piece of furniture, and chose to paint it a bold color as a contrast to the grays and whites in the room.  In just a couple of weekends, my husband was able to put it together so I could paint, and this was the result:


I love it! It fits the space perfectly, adds color (I used the gray on the inside to tie it to the rest of the room), and the style fits with the age of the house.

By now I’ve filled it with spices, cans, and other pantry items and it’s wonderful. It’s so convenient to what I call the baking area in the corner and I love that nothing is hiding behind anything else. The narrow depth also prevents it from blocking the window, and the height keeps things accessible, but is also a little higher than the counters, so it will hopefully not become a dumping ground for miscellaneous items.


I had been hitting a lull in the remodel project, but this snappy little pantry has inspired me to get back into action.

Have you ever had a side project that stole your heart?


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Kitchen Remodel 5: Countertops

One contractor we talked to said the words granite at least 50 times during his visit. “If we just get some granite on here” and “Granite will really make the room” and so on. We were focused on function and all he could talk about was granite countertops. We were not impressed and wanted to kick him and his granite out the door.

Countertops were one area that made us nervous to remodel the kitchen ourselves because there are a lot of options and you need to measure and cut precisely. We didn’t want to spend a fortune on granite, we really didn’t like the existing laminate, we didn’t want to have to wait on a special order for Corian, and we weren’t sure about the durability of wood. This was probably our most researched topic for the kitchen. For a short while, my husband was really pushing for poured epoxy resin (like in labs). I liked the idea and the look, but it was going to be pretty expensive and I was really nervous about messing it up.

In the end, we decided to go with wood. They were readily available at our local Menards, we could cut them to size ourselves, and they weren’t very expensive. Also, because we could install the countertops for about $300 I didn’t feel like it would be a complete waste if we decided we hated them a few years down the road and switched to something else.


Once we cut the countertops to fit the width, we still had to cut a hole for a sink. I don’t think I’ve seen my husband that nervous since we were in the hospital delivery room waiting for the arrival of our first son, but he did a lovely job.


Now we’re debating on the finish. My husband really wants to just oil them regularly with linseed oil and keep the birch color. I had been picturing a dark countertop and would rather make them darker. For now I’ve relented and agreed to just put some oil on them until the rest of the kitchen is done and I can see them in the finished room.

What do you think? Stay with the natural birch color, or make them darker?

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Kitchen Remodel 4: Are we crazy?

Taking on a kitchen remodel is not a small task. More than once on this project I’ve thanked my lucky stars that my husband actually seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to carpentry and just focused on keeping the kids out of his way so he can work. Then the boys and I came home from swimming lessons one day to this:



I seriously started to doubt our sanity for trying to do this on our own (and still keep the kitchen functional throughout the process).  However, I pitched in to help and by the end of the day we had all of the cabinets on that wall in place and I started to feel a little less panicked.


We moved the dishwasher to the opposite side of the sink, moved an existing double cabinet from another part of the room to the left of the sink, bought a new sink base (the old one had water damage and basically fell apart when we took off the countertop), and my husband built a custom-sized cabinet to fit the remaining space.  There used to be a cabinet along the wall on the right and by removing that, the room completely opened up.  It feels like it’s twice the size.

Still a lot to do here, but this felt like major progress.

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Kitchen Remodel 3: Going Trendy

We were thrilled to reclaim additional space by the chimney in the kitchen by moving the ductwork into the wall, but we had a hard time deciding how to repair the wall.  Removing the old upper cabinet and the tile completely ripped up the old plaster, so we had removed all of the plaster from the wall and had to start from scratch.  After many debates, we decided to go with some other trends I noticed in my Pinterest kitchen board — paneling and open shelves.

Modern paneling is not  the dark, laminated wood paneling of the 1970s. It’s a huge trend at the moment and fits into what I’m starting to see as my preference for modern farmhouse style.  To further break from the 70s, we also turned the paneling on it’s side (literally) and hung pre-cut wood paneling horizontally.  Then I whitewashed it with a 50/50 mix of paint and water so some of the wood grain could show through. I love how the paneling adds visual interest and texture to the room.


As you can see in the picture above,  we also made a decision about storage on this wall.  We considered trying to connect the existing upper cabinet to a newly built cabinet that wrapped the corner.  However, every design we sketched was either too deep (because we wanted to match to the center vertical beam on the existing cabinets) or would have messed up the symmetry on the cabinets framing the window.  We finally decided to make a set of open shelves that stretch partway across the wall, which leaves space for cabinet doors on the existing cabinets if we decide to do that in the future.


With the lack of storage in our partly demolished kitchen, they quickly got overloaded, but I envision these being the home to some frequently used items and maybe even some decorative items.  I originally didn’t like the idea of open shelves because it displays all of our clutter and leaves things to get dusty.  However, I’ve been loving the convenience of open cabinets during the remodel and if we stick to frequently used items, dust shouldn’t be much of an issue.

What current trends have you incorporated in your house that you never thought you would follow?

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