Merry Garden, 2016

June 22, 2016   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses

A natural garden pathway using logs and mulch.

The growing season is off to a great start, and as usual, my eyeballs/stomach expect more out of our garden than ever before. My spacial planning skills need a reality check too; I never seem to do that well planning the ground to accomodate what’ll inevitably be invasion of the crazy squash, but I do try. We made the bed itself larger last season to effectively double its size, and it did not let down (except for the bell peppers, those were lame). We left the metal fencing up all winter long, and simply needed to till the soil when spring rolled around. Maybe 2017 will be the year that we add real posts and fence pieces.

This year, it’s all about the:

  • tomatoes (6 varieties + roughly 4,000 baby plants scattered throughout the garden that self-seeded from last year’s crop)
  • jalapenos
  • some seeds from a CSA pepper that I regret vaguely labeling simply as “hot round red pepper”
  • garlic (just trimmed the scapes!)
  • ~6 acorn squash
  • giant beans (aimed to crawl up 1/3 of the trellis I built last year – love it so much)
  • sugar snap peas (to occupy some space on the remaining 2/3 of the trellis)
  • pickling cucumbers
  • basil
  • lettuce (which is to say whenever we finish a store-bought head, I drop the remains in the ground in hopes that it’ll flourish)
  • a single radish (school project from J)
  • blueberries
  • raspberries
  • and strawberries (sorry to say that I think some furry crapper already got to 90% of the fruit that was on the as of last weekend, despite the plants being fully wrapped in chicken wire.)

In addition, this year we sprinkled in some flowers too: zinnias, marigolds, and giant sunflowers.

Unlike previous years when I lined the garden with weed block cloth to keep things neat, we had a different inspiration for our garden this year, and it involved lots, and lots of repurposed natural wood. If you want to venture back almost 3 years, a large tree fell in the backyard and while we promptly cleaned it up, the chopped trunk and larger branches have been hoarded in the backyard drying while we figured out what we could do with them (besides selling them to West Elm obv, which could easily have manufactured 50 of its $249 Natural Tree-Stump Side Tables).

It wasn’t until earlier this spring when STIHL loaned us a few of its chainsaws as a product testing opportunity that we decided to cut most of the dried logs into 1-2″ slivers, thinking that they might be useful as natural stepping stones or a nice pathway or something to that effect that I probably saw on Pinterest. The garden was the perfect test spot for any form of stepping stone installation, and we figured if the coverage of the slivers was fairly dense it would totally cut down on weeds. We cut through dozens of logs over the course of 2 days and made a completely ginormous pile of wood stepping circles, which Julia laid diligently for us.

Cutting logs for garden stepping stones.
Comically, and as you might expect due to my previous comment on spacial planning, the pile that seemed like it would cover 4,000 square feet really only covered like 150 sq. ft., so I rethought the plan and simply used the pieces to define the borders of the various beds within the garden. Good looking, good definition for our space (and a f-r-e-e upcycle).


What’s also convenient is that we also had a large pile of wood chips from the chipper left to dry/decompose in the backyard (and wood chips = mulch). So, while I had briefly considered splurging on some bags of nice dark mulch, repurposing the natural wood chips was easy (and also f-r-e-e), and because I laid it thick to create a defined pathway, it has been doing a great job keeping the weeds at bay.

The result is something we haven’t had before in this garden – an actual walkway that will let us navigate from the tomatoes back to the sugar snap peas with ease.

Garden pathway using free wood chip mulch and log border.

Late June might seem like I’m behind the game, but I actually snapped these a few weeks ago. The plants are flourishing and the 4th of July tomato plant even has little fruits on it, which is better performance than I can report from recent memory. The raspberries are rocking and the herbs are getting herb-normous. Grow little plants, grow!

5 Years Later

May 20, 2016   //  Posted in: Casual Celebrations   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses
Emily Fazio

photo by pete.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t waiting for my luck to run out every single day, but here I am, exactly 5 years after I left my job at an advertising agency to go rogue. 5 years, you guys! Today I’m celebrating that.

5 years of freelancing also means that I’ve been “on my own” for the same amount of time that I was employed by that agency, which feels pretty liberating and also makes me want to take a whole day off to sit back and take a big breather. I kind of can’t believe so much time has passed since I made that big decision, and I’m still glad I did it when I did. I fell into some lucky contracts that really gave me the confidence to keep doing what I enjoyed, and the opportunities continue to grow. I still find myself reflecting back on the years I spent at my last job and I have a pretty solid personal understanding of why the conventional 9-5 wasn’t the best fit for me; it wasn’t so much the office or commute (just a lil), but I’ve learned that I’m fueled by much different incentives than they were able to offer, and I’m so much more productive being able to embrace my own pace and work style. I love it, you guys. Of course, now as I’m approaching what would have been my second paid maternity leave I’m a little miffed at myself for being in a position where I have to get by without those benefits (basically that means zero maternity leave, working during baby naps), but aside from that, whatever. At least I’m not going to be installing floors the day that I go into labor this time around, or stressing about a blog post I wanted to publish when I’m only 3 days postpartum. It’s worth it, and all I can do is hope-hope-hope I can sustain what I’ve been working on for the last few years.

These days? I’m still freelancing and taking on special contract projects, and of course, working on ways to take this here b-l-o-g to a place where it could further substantiate my income, although my own blog sure does take a backseat to everything else. I enjoy it and the passive income it provides, but the odds of me winning the lottery are better than me making the blog my sole, full-time focus. That said, I love that Merrypad can be a space where I can continue to journal my home improvement efforts and DIY projects in a no-pressure kind of way (which is all it really expected of it when I started). I like what it’s become.

Thanks to the many of you who have been following along since the early days, and for the support everyone has shown over the years.

Keeping Tabs on All of the Keepsakes

May 10, 2016   //  Posted in: Decor, DIY, Merry Travels, Organized   //  By: Emily   //  2 responses

Amongst the actual souvenirs that we pick up on our travels, I also hold on to a lot of the smaller mementos. I’m talking the maps, ticket stubs, postcards, bar coasters, and restaurant menus that we accumulate as we explore.

I’ve never really had a great way to store all of these items, unless you count putting them on the fridge for two months and then cramming the treasures into a small box on a shelf in the basement. It’s not that it was a bad system (at least they were in one place) but as they say, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and I really wanted a way to present the memories in our home not so much for others, but as a casual reminder of the fun stuff we’ve done as a family.

As it happened, Pete and I stopped for a lunch break at IKEA on the way home from a recent road trip to North Carolina (a food-tastic weekend with lots of good grub from our fave PBS personalities at Chef & The Farmer). The break at IKEA was anything but food-tastic (forget a 40-minute wait for meatballs – we settled on cool pizza and lingonberry) but we left enough time to peruse the IKEA marketplace and pick up a few goodies.

One of the items I knew I wanted was a 19-3/4″ x 19-3/4″ RIBBA shadowbox picture frame for this little hack – making a framed, shadowbox-style home for all of our vacation keepsakes.

My little scheme was to route an opening in the top of the picture frame, like a mail slot, through which we could easily deposit the items we collect and let them accrue and settle into the frame.

Assuming you want to know the truth, I gave this a test run on an older 9″ x 9″ RIBBA that we weren’t currently using and it was such an abomination that I was almost certain that this project would be a bust. The router is a tricky beast to wield and as much as I love to use it for projects, it sometimes has a mind of its own, even when I’m using it with a straight-edge. I prefer my palm router to the heavier plunge router that we own because it’s easier to hold and control. My first attempt was to clamp the bottom of the square frame to the workbench and route directly into the top of the frame as it stood upright. I predrilled a hole for the router to bore through, but once I plunged the router, it only took the first .25-seconds of reverberation to obliterate the frame into four pieces. Well, crap. I took the opportunity to use the remaining three pieces of frame, clamp them more directly to the workbench (with a open space beneath so the router could plunge completely), and tested my ability to make an even, perfect cut in the edge of the frame. Not good, not good at all.

How not to route an opening into the edge of an IKEA ribba frame.

One might advise that if you can’t do it right after four attempts, maybe you should come up with a Plan B but I didn’t follow that logic. I was out of frames to test on and didn’t have any scrap wood that I felt like destroying, and decided to go for the gold on the real picture frame.

I removed the backing, glass, and the spacer insert that makes the frame into a shadowbox, and clamped the exterior frame down onto the table so that there was no wiggle room – especially with the undeniable reverberation of the power tool. A piece of painter’s tape created a barrier to protect the frame from potential router scratches as I dragged the tool along the edge.

Using a router to cut through a IKEA RIBBA frame.

This is the part where I was so certain I’d mess up that I didn’t bother trying to take a photo or video, and all I can say is that I paid a lot of attention in keeping the straight edge firmly against the frame as I plunged and made the cut. One opportunity = perfection.

Using a router to cut through a IKEA RIBBA frame.

Next, I had to match up the insert for the shadowbox and create a matching cut; this was a little less nerve-wracking because I knew it would be hidden, unlike the line that needed to look perfect on the outer edge of the frame. Still a damn good job for having had so many preceding failures.

Using a router to cut through a IKEA RIBBA frame.

Some of the edges where I cut were still a little ragged, but a piece of fine sandpaper completely smoothed them out. I reassembled the frame, and hung it on the wall in our hallway.

Now, whenever we have a memento to store, we can just drop those items into the top and let them fall where they may. (Yes, we went to see the elusive Daniel Tiger last weekend.)

Create a shadowbox picture frame for travel keepsakes.

We’ve already taken it down off the wall a few times to shake-shake-shake the contents so they fall in a different order, to keep the presentation fresh. All in all, it’s an easy way to contain our travel keepsakes not ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and I love that it’s a collection that will continue to grow as we explore more and more. In a pinch, we can easily open the frame from the back and look at something if we want to show anyone a certain map, or re-read the postcards (when we’re on vaca, we pick up a postcard for each day and write a short note about what it was that we experienced and enjoyed).

Create a shadowbox picture frame for travel keepsakes.

The scale of the frame is perfect for our bedroom hallway – a great place where we can all enjoy it.

Create a shadowbox picture frame for travel keepsakes.