Category Archives: setting up home

Get the Garden Growing: Memorial Day 2019

gardening at an American System-Built

It has become somewhat of a tradition that we plant our garden over Memorial Day weekend. Not only is Memorial Day the unofficial kickoff to summer and the first long weekend of the year, it’s also when it’s finally warm enough here in the upper Midwest to put plants in the ground without fear of a final frost.

We had never really intended to garden. While we both love food and frequently shop farmers markets for fresh, local produce, we’ve always seen our thumbs as more black than green. Judging by our record with houseplants, we’d be sentenced to life in prison for the neglectful death and overwatering of many a poor, unsuspecting little life. Still, former owners had a garden already plotted out and that first spring we put in a few plants as an experiment. By midsummer we were feasting on lettuces and green beans and vine ripened tomatoes. And let me tell you: after you’ve eaten a tomato fresh from the vine, you’ll never touch a mealy, tasteless tomato from the grocery store again. We’ve been putting out gardens ever since.

There seems to be something magical in this Iowa soil that makes our gardens successful. No matter what we’ve planted in the garden, it matures and produces fruits or vegetables. The only thing we’ve had difficulty growing is green beans. That failure has nothing to do with the soil, mind you. We did get a healthy harvest of green beans during our first summer of gardening. Every summer since then, however, the green bean plants are attacked by rabbits before they ever get a chance to grow. As soon as the bean seeds sprout and break ground, the rabbits come along and eat the leaves. The poor little plants never have a chance to produce a single bean.

There are some other plants that we’ve learned not to repeat. Brussels sprouts are easy, but it takes too long between planting and harvest and the plants take up too much space in the meantime. The same goes for broccoli. We’ll just stick to getting those vegetables from the grocery store.

Last year was the first garden that had a singular purpose: salsa. We planted more tomato and pepper plants that we thought necessary and ended up with crop upon crop of salsa ingredients. We froze dozens of containers of salsa and canned dozens more in jars. We’re still eating last year’s canned salsa!

And so we’re repeating that plan this year. We got the tomatoes and onions in the ground this weekend but forgot to pick up pepper plants when we were at the greenhouse. We also got a few kale plants in the ground because you gotta love those leafy greens!

Our garden definitely won’t win any prizes. We tend to take a rather haphazard approach to the task. And since we can be away for weeklong stretches, the weeds tend to get away from us, making it difficult to discern between invasive plants and something that will actually produce edibles. We’re trying to keep things as simple and organic as possible so we’re not spraying the garden with weed treatment. As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, we’ll always have a healthy harvest of dandelions!

Beautiful or not, gardening has become a seasonal treat that we both savor. After a week in the city sitting behind desks or countless hours stuck in traffic, there’s no better treat than crouching in the garden with the moos of cows carrying across the distance as we pull weeds or clip kale leaves for lunch.

What are you planning for your garden this year?

 

 

10 Items That Will Upgrade Any Bathroom

10 Items to Upgrade Any Bathroom

The bathroom is often overlooked in terms of comfort and charm. We’ll put all of our efforts into making the living room and bedrooms comfortable spaces and then just settle for whatever’s already in the bathroom. I’m here to say that it’s easy (and totally worth it!) to upgrade a bathroom. Whether you rent or own, all it takes is a few affordable items to create the creature comforts that will take your bathroom from lousy to luxe. Continue reading

Super Simple Tomato Salsa for Canning

Simple Tomato Salsa for Canning

Every year that we’ve planted a garden at the house (for those of you not keeping score, the number is 4), I’ve announced that I’m going to have a salsa garden. Each spring I’ve started out by planting all the ingredients for salsa. I excitedly bury my pepper and tomato seedlings in the garden and declare that this will be the year that we’re swimming in salsa! But something always ends up going wrong. The garlic doesn’t come up or the tomatoes under-deliver in their bounty.

Well, mark it in your calendars, folks, that 2017 is the summer of the salsa garden at the Delbert Meier house. The tomatoes have come in strong, garlic is abundant and the peppers have performed. And what I’ve lacked in ingredients from our own garden, I’ve managed to pick up at farmers markets.

Salsa is one of those simple recipes that makes you question ever buying it from a grocery store. In addition to the veggies, it’s really just some vinegar, salt and herbs all mixed up to make a yummy dipping sauce. I improvised my recipe for salsa so my measurements aren’t exact. I did check the label on the side of a jar of salsa to confirm that I was on the right patch with ingredients. But from there, it’s all a matter of taste.

Continue reading

American Standard “Clean” Toilet: The Throne to Own

american-standard-clean

You know you’ve reached middle age when you get excited about a toilet. Although, really, can you name another fixture in your home that you have such an intimate relationship with?

In the past six months we’ve purchased two toilets: one for the bathroom in the city apartment and one for the bathroom here at the house. The toilet for the city apartment was a total duress purchase. The toilet that had been installed during the building’s gut rehab in 2006 had been causing trouble for a few years. We really shouldn’t have been surprised when we learned that the cause of a leak into our downstairs neighbor’s bathroom was coming from the toilet. And I guess we weren’t really surprised … but we weren’t really prepared to buy a new toilet either.

I wasn’t completely uneducated about toilets, mind you. Over the years I’ve written about toilets here and there. In doing research for those posts I identified three things that I wanted in our new toilet: concealed trap way, easy flushing and comfort height.

The thing about a duress purchase is that you have to make your purchase quickly, which means you’re at the mercy of what’s in stock at hardware stores. That basically eliminated the toilets on my Which Throne Will We Own  list. But then in a moment of porcelain serendipity, Lowe’s came through with a toilet that fits all of my criteria – and also happened to be under $300.

American Standard Clean Toilet at Lowes

The American Standard “Clean” High Efficiency Elongated Toilet has styling that rivals the more expensive Toto toilets but at a fraction of the cost. As you can see in the photo above that I sent to The Mister when I bought the toilet, the Clean toilet came in well under $300. The concealed trapway and small tank look great in our small apartment bathroom. But perhaps even more importantly, this high efficiency toilet (1.28 gpf) packs a powerful flush! My experience with other high efficiency toilets has been that they require multiple flushes – thereby negating any water savings. The American Standard Clean toilet has a strong flushing system that rarely requires a second flush.New American Standard Clean Toilet

In fact, we’re so pleased with the toilet that we purchased for the apartment under duress that we bought the same toilet for the house.

DISCLOSURE: This is an honest review of our experience with the American Standard Clean Toilet. This American House was not compensation for this post. We may receive ad revenue from embedded Amazon clicks. 


The House that Feels Like a Home

20527775964_9d00e9d8ec_z

I’ve never been attached to a home.While I’ve always been a homebody, I was more likely to make the best out of any living situation rather than feel like I was planting roots. My family moved frequently when I was growing up and then I carried that gypsy spirit into my adulthood. By the time I hit my 30’s I had managed to live in a different apartment each year of my adulthood. Moving was fun and I always appreciated the opportunity to make an annual purge and redesign of my space.

Then, a few years into my thirties, we bought a small condo in the city. The housing market was booming and were practically promised a strong return on our investment. Well, if you were around for the 2007 housing crisis, you know how that story turns out. The bottom fell out of the housing market and everyone who bought during the boom found themselves with properties that were worth much less than they had paid.

Almost overnight, our home became a yoke around our necks. While we thought that we were ready for long haul home ownership, we had only envisioned being in the tiny condo for a few years before selling up to something bigger. Suddenly, our home became a yoke around our necks.

But we stuck with it. While many of our neighbors let their condos slip into foreclosure, we kept making our payments, confident that it would be the best decision in the long run.

While we still can’t sell our condo, we haven’t ruined our credit by walking away. We’ve diligently made all our payments and even though we’re still upside down, the amount we owe and the low monthly payment after refinancing our mortgage is very manageable. So manageable, in fact, that we have a little extra money to buy another home. It’s not a lot of money – which means we’re already priced out of buying another home in the city. And that’s what took us 4+ hours out of the city in search of a second home.

When The Mister first started telling me about this house, I immediately shot it down. There are so many reasons that owning this house is ridiculous for us. Besides the distance from our main home, the house is almost 100 years old, it’s much bigger that we originally had in mind and it’s located in a small town. Still, The Mister was drawn to the house’s history and, after talking and talking and talking about it, he finally convinced me that we should at least take a walk through it.

And that was it. From the minute we opened the front door and stepped into the house I knew that it was home. Because it felt like home. I can’t explain it really. This house has just always felt like home. Even before we started furnishing it with our own belongings it felt like home. There’s just a comfort here. And a familiarity that belies the fact that we’ve owned it for less than two years.

We don’t get to spend as much time here as we’d like. But whenever we do, we feel at peace. And that, in my mind, is what makes a house a home.