Wednesday, July 29, 2015

All In A Day's Work

This story begins on the Friday night of Fourth of July weekend.

Sitting on the patio together after dinner, my second-born leveled her gaze at me and calmly threw down the gauntlet. "To be honest, I'm surprised that you've never made a vertical succulent garden in a pallet."

Flustered and maybe a little defensive, I scrambled to respond. "You mean the kind where you drag a pallet out to the patio, prop it up, and then attach little buckets full of flowers to the side? Not really my jam."

"No," she patiently explained. "I mean the kind where you fill the pallet with soil and the succulents grow sideways."

Hmm. That did sound pretty cool. Clearly, some midnight research was in order.

My vertical garden still has a bit of filling in to do, but she is upright, happy, and filling this corner of my backyard with endless charm.

By the time I dragged myself off Pinterest at 3 a.m., I was completely committed.

As I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, my whirling mind was building a grand scheme. 
  • An extra pallet had been kicking around the garage for months.
  • I had a ton of baby succs that needed a home, thanks to some successful propagation experiments.
  • A quick trip to Home Depot would quickly and economically supply all my other pallet garden needs. 

Right then and there, I pledged to myself that before another day passed, I would indeed be the proud owner of a vertical succulent garden in a pallet.

These baby succulents were raised by yours truly, grown from discarded leaves of their mother plant. I am very proud of their determination.

Next morning, I hopped out of bed, tracked down my husband, and announced the new item on the Saturday agenda. Agreeably, he got to work.

The process of converting a run-of-the mill pallet to a garden-worthy succulent chamber was not complicated. We rearranged a few of the planks to create the desired openings on the front, and then stapled a double layer of landscape fabric to the open back. To ensure that my pallet garden will stand strong in case of nuclear attack, we nailed a series of planks over the top of the landscape fabric.

This wooden beast now weighed about five hundred pounds.
Creating a pleasing of shapes, textures and shades of green is my idea of fun.

Laying the pallet on its back, we poured in two bags of garden soil and packed it firmly into every nook and cranny. Potting soil is too fluffy for this vertical business - only the firm, dense character of proper garden soil can properly defy gravity.

Now the monster checked in at somewhere around a ton.

Time to pop in the plants, which was by far my favorite part. 

After a gentle watering, we carried the contraption to a shady corner of the yard and laid it on a bench, still on its back.

And clearly, the final weight of the completed planter was roughly equivalent to the mass of Jupiter. 

I have a major plant crush on this oversize, geometrically pristine, blue-gray beauty queen. 

For two weeks, my vertical pallet garden lay in this peaceful horizontal state. As I shooed away curious pets, my little garden grew a strong and stable network of roots; after two weeks, we finally tipped her up and introduced her to vertical living.

* * * * *

In all my DIY days, I have never tackled a more enjoyable and satisfying project. Knowing full well that good things usually take time, I rarely pressure myself to get something done in a single day. But this happy endeavor came together on time and under budget. 

So thank you, dear daughter number two, for spurring me on. You were right; a vertical succulent garden in a pallet is exactly what I need. 

And if you, dear reader, have a few extra hours on your hands tomorrow, please allow me to suggest that you consider building one for yourself. 

But if you don't want to make your own, you can always come visit mine. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Baby Doll

Adrenalin charged through my veins the instant my eyes fell on the distinctive shape. I dashed across the room, ready to plow down anything that dared to come between me and the object of my desires. After a multi-week city-wide man hunt and a quick read of the plant tag to be sure I wasn't hallucinating, I breathed easy. Finally, finally! I had tracked down a split-leaf philodendron, and I was in love.

And why, pray tell, with a house quite bursting with pretty plants, was I so inconsolably obsessed with this particular species? A story is in order.

* * * * *

My love for the split-leaf philodendron is rooted deep in my childhood. I recall, with vivid detail, the waiting room at my pediatrician's office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That light-infused room simmered with more mid-century swag than any set of Mad Men.

Bertoia wire chairs.
Danish teak lamps.
Walnut-paneled walls.
Framed abstract art.

I loved every inch of my doctor's stylish space. But best of all was the special corner designed for the young patients' amusement.

In a small niche at one end of the room, floor-to-ceiling walnut shelves waited with an irresistible assortment of toys. I'm sure I played with a jack-in-the-box, and a wooden truck that carried a cargo of geometric blocks. But it was the baby doll in her flowered cradle that totally obsessed me, and I recall that whenever the nurse called me back to the exam room, I insisted upon tucking the baby into bed before I left her.

Dr. Dietrich presided over this happy paradise. A quiet, gentle man, he reminded me of a soft-spoken, more handsome version of Walt Disney. Though I don't recall, my mom often told me that at the end of one visit, as he walked us out to the front room, all the while continuing his conversation with us, my doctor leaned down to that same cradle, settled the baby straight in her bed, and pulled the covers up to her chin.

To the right of the shelves, basking in the muted light of the sun streaming through pinch-pleated drapes, grew a luxurious split-leaf philodendron. The long tendrils stood supported by a rough-hewn wooden plank, which caught my imagination right away. A chunk of wood in a planter? I had never seen such a thing.

But even more fascinating to my childish mind were the bizarre loops and elongated holes decorating the leaves  Even as a mere toddler, I had made my way around plenty of plants in my day, and I had never encountered anything similar.  Sure that they must signal some sort of horrible disease or malformation, I eventually asked my mom who reassured me that, no, these were perfectly normal for this sort of plant.

So my moments of playing in this safe and serene corner were overseen by this beautiful plant, and thus was born my tender affection for the species.

* * * * *

These memories rushed through my mind as I stood with the plant tag in my hand. The intricate design of the familiar leaves still played the same magical music for me, and I snatched up my new friend and brought him home.

I know. It's just a plant. But every time I pass by my jungle bench and see those amazing cut-out leaves, I feel just as cozy and content as a baby doll tucked into bed.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Oak Superstars

We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle. - Marilyn Monroe

I'm on a single-minded mission to bring some love back to oak furniture.

I know, I know. The eighties slapped that hardwood around pretty badly, and many of us have yet to recover from the appalling abuse. Oak kitchen cabinets alone caused untold human suffering, not to mention the fake antique farmer's tables and rounded-corner entertainment centers that set infinite teeth to gnashing. Undoubtedly, oak has been a victim of countless heinous design crimes.

But surely the wood deserves another chance.

These two parquet Parsons tables in my living room date straight back to the mid-eighties. A DIY Christmas gift from my future husband, they were doused with the classic shade of golden stain, introduced to my hunter green ruffled couches, and have lived with me ever since. Though many times I've cringed at their sheer oakiness, I'm also forced to admit that they are good, solid, sturdy tables with classic lines and at this point, they lend a lovely history to my home. 

They, too, deserve to be loved. 

So this past week, I marched the rascals out to the garage where I sanded off every speck of their golden-oldie glory and applied three coats of polyurethane over their pale naked timbers.

Voila! This simple makeover freed my friendly oak tables from their decades of bondage and brought them forward to this very day and age, where quality materials and timeless design are always appreciated.

And now I love them. Don't you?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Design Dilemmas

Last fall, I started two simple projects: 

1) Using cast-leaves from my own dearly loved succulents, I undertook a science experiment in propagating new plants.

2) Having outgrown our longstanding family dining table, I dove into a woodworking task to build a new one.

Strong starts spun both ventures into play. 


Until this past week - nine months later - both tasks were still dissatisfyingly incomplete.

The problem, as often happens in creative enterprises, revolved around making difficult decisions. 

When faced with too many options, my mind got muddled, my momentum ground to a halt, and nothing got accomplished for a long, long time. 

Let me explain.

My succulent seedlings were going great guns but desperately in need of more permanent homes. 

So I bought a handful of clay pots. That was the easy part.

But how to spunk them up?

Certainly these precious newborns deserved a worthy nursery. My plan was to paint or otherwise embellish the pots. But the more I poked around on Instagram and Pinterest, looking at countless ideas, the deeper my design paralysis grew. 

Finally, after an obscene amount of hemming, hawing, and weighing my options, I gave myself a stern lecture about seizing the day, chose a project for which I already had all the supplies on hand, and pulled the trigger on a simple color blocking scheme

At the moment, the pots are a bit roomy. But the darling green infants will grow quickly, just like their human counterparts, and soon enough burst beyond the limits of even these spacious digs. 

Then I'll have a new problem on my hands.

But for now, a few more of my propagated offspring are properly launched. And as I wiped the last of the potting soil from my hands (and counter and floor,) and surveyed the happy row of pots, I knew I had made a good choice.

Now. About that table.

Constructed from planks of solid oak, my as-yet unfinished table was sorely in need of stain and polyurethane.

Somewhere along the past few decades, I've picked up an odd sense of guilt about oak. I mean, come on, who doesn't love to hate on that scourge of the eighties? Relentlessly awful oak cabinets, coffee tables and shelving units still haunt my decor dreams and even though I intentionally chose to make this table from oak, my post-millennial inner design snob was now trying to convince to hide that shameful fact.

Light walnut.
Golden pecan.
Colonial maple.

Maybe with the right stain, this oak table wouldn't look so...oaky. My mind puzzled over this question for months, and I bought and tested a half dozen different finishes.

But there on the workbench, my can of golden oak stain mocked me, amused at my ridiculous attempts to run from reality.

"It's an oak table," my nemesis chuckled. "Why would you pretentiously try to hide that fact by staining it a different color?"

Seems so silly now, but it wasn't until I found myself literally holding a paintbrush dabbed in light walnut stain over my pristine, perfectly sanded tabletop, one swift swipe away from casting my destiny, that I finally came to my senses. 

Before the haunting echoes of the design hipsters' disdain could ring in my ears, I pried the top off the can of golden oak stain and brushed it boldly across the bare wood.

Glorious grain popped into definition and detail.
A deep golden glow sprang up from the timber.
The oak angels burst into song.

And I knew in an instant that I had definitely made the right choice.

Maybe I needed three-fourths of a year to resolve these simple design issues.
Maybe I got distracted by surgeries and trips to Asia.

Maybe I just procrastinated like a champ.

But whatever the reasons for my painstakingly slow decision-making process, I embrace them. Because both of my design dilemmas turned out just fine.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Dryer Is Taking The Summer Off

Cotton rope.
Wooden clothespins.
And a row of white tees drying in the sunshine.

The world today is full of new and improved gadgets, emerging technologies, and killer apps that fly far beyond our dreams of even a decade ago.

But sometimes, the old ways are the best. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

James' And Jiyoon's Wedding

I was too busy having fun to take photos. but my daughter managed to grab this shot of the fabulous ceiling as we were settling into our seats. 

I went to a wedding this week.

Dreamy summer night.
Brick walls and twinkle lights.
Dancing groomsmen.
Bouquet- and garter-tossing.
And plenty of bumping tunes.

Every element of the traditional yet updated wedding fell perfectly into place.

Chivalrous groom. 
Sweet bride.
Proud parents.
High-spirited friends.
And a best man with a speech full of jokes.

Each person there, both my long-time friends and the new acquaintances I made, warmed my heart.

I was unreservedly content, completely at ease, and genuinely grateful to celebrate this special day with the happy couple and their guests.

And while this fact matters not at all to me, this was a room full of Korean-Americans. Tparents and their peers had mostly emigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s; most of the young adults were full-blood Korean, born and raised in mainstream American culture, but accustomed to keeping company with their ethnic homies.  

I was one of maybe ten straight-up whiteys in the room.  

Some may see that as odd or extraordinary or slightly bizarre, but I can only say how fortunate I feel to have been part of James' and Jiyoon's wedding. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rumble In The Jungle

I've been lucky enough to travel the length and breadth of the little country of Malaysia, and one of my favorite adventures was swimming at a secluded island beach in Langkawi. Surrounded by nothing but the silent Indian Ocean and untold acres of wild, untamed jungle, I spent hours bobbing in the silky waves as my eyes drank in the undulating green sea of tree tops, and my ears rang with the high-pitched and never-ending cacophony of insects and birds that is known as the scream of the jungle. Later, I learned that the interior jungles of Malaysia are roamed by marauding packs of elephants who will knock cars from the roadways with a single swipe of the trunk, and even a remaining population of elusive, endangered tigers.

So strange and unearthly different from my beloved Pacific Northwest fir forests, so foreign and incomparable to anything I had ever experienced before, the tropical jungle has since earned a place in my imagination, and made a home in my heart.

 ^ To build a jungle, start with some big, leafy basics. Shove the couches to the middle of the room, and let the forestation begin. 

^ Add a plant table to boost up the little guys. Mine is homemade from pallet lumber with a few coats of polyurethane. 

^ Buy only the plants that you adore. 

 Like half the universe, I've been obsessed with fiddle leaf figs, and keep a giant specimen next to the table in my office. But when I discovered that they - or something much like them - grow luxuriantly along the roadsides of Hyderbad, India, I let go of all restraint. I've added two more of the beauties to my collection since I got home from my trip and I don't promise that I'm done.

^ The leaves on this philodenrom selloum please me beyond reason. They're just so big and bouncy and ridiculously whimsical that I suspect Dr Suess must have had a hand in their propagation. 

^ Transplant every specimen into a clay pot (nine out of ten plants prefer them over plastic), water and feed conservatively, and give everyone a chance to settle in and get growing. 

Along with a beloved ten-year-old jade tree and a deep green scheffelara, just like the one in my childhood home, my baby jungle has just begun.  

* * * * *

In honor of my newfound love for the jungle, here's my latest decorating philosophy:get rid of all the furniture and fill the house with plants.

Okay, so that's a little extreme. I'll settle for keeping a few couches around as long as I can heap up the sunny spots with greenery galore.

My current goal is to turn one end of my living room into my own private tropical jungle. Lush, leafy greens of every shade and texture, heaped on my rustic homemade table, clustered together in pots, and straining toward the ceiling. When I walk in this room, I want to feel like I just wandered into the deep, green mystery of the Malaysian interior.

Minus the bugs. And the stampeding elephants.

But I wouldn't mind a well-mannered tiger or two.