Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Staycation Essential: Swimming Pools

When I was a kid, there was only one requirement I held for family vacations. I was quite a little dictator about it, actually. The whole vacation was ruined if this one simple thing wasn’t in place. What was it? A swimming pool, of course.

The hotel could have been a dive, the trip a total bore. But as long as there was a swimming pool (outdoors preferably), my siblings and I were happy as clams.

Still Scouting for Pools

Well, not much has changed since then.
If I’m planning a trip in the summer, I need to know that there is going to be a pool involved. Even if the trip is just a staycation, and the pool is in my neighborhood.

Truthfully I’m not much for swimming.
At least not in pools without diving boards or deep ends (my favorite water hang-outs since childhood). I’m more of the lay-by-the-pool-sipping-cold-drinks-and-reading-books type. And then, when I can’t possibly stand the heat one second longer, I jump into the water to cool off, and then hop back out to start the routine over again. Boring? Maybe. Simple summer leisure? Definitely!

In addition to my lounging routine,
I also love meeting my neighbors, especially the pint-sized ones who are clearly loving the pool as much as I used to as a kid. I like to listen to them make up water games, or occasionally overhear the drama and angst of some nearby teens. It is simple community entertainment at its best.

Out of Excuses

Which is why I can’t believe that it is almost July 1st and I haven’t been to the pool yet!
I’m not sure what is wrong with me. At first it was the cooler-than-normal weather. Then it was to avoid the early summer rush. And now...frankly...I’m out of excuses.

And since it is supposed to be 93 degrees today,
I just might have to slap on some sunscreen and hit the poolside.
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to do the same soon!

Previous Staycation Posts:
Reading for Gold Stars
Staycation on Foot
the Simplest Entertainment

Monday, June 29, 2009

Doin' Nothing...

I had just the kind of summer weekend that I love. Lounging on the back patio in the shade, reading books and writing and watching the plants grow.... Taking long walks with my hubby and two dogs... Sitting out at twilight and watching the sunset... Eating bbq ribs hot off the grill with corn on the cob and homemade ice cream for dessert... Listening to ghost stories by candlelight (seriously--I did this). Watching kids whiz by my house on their skateboards and wishing I could do that (when exactly are you officially too old to learn how to ride a skateboard?)... Sleeping with the doors and windows open, under an antique quilt my great-great-grandmother made...

Yeah--it was that kind of weekend.

And although I didn’t get all of it on camera, here are a few shots...

The food... (floss required!)

The company... He's not much for conversation, but we still like him.

The reading list...

The hand-me-downs...

Ironically, in our days of fancy gadgets and deluxe entertainment,
these simple weekends of doin' nothing are probably the ones I'll remember most.

What are your favorite doin' nothing memories? Share your comments below--

Previous Summer posts:
Favorite Things
A Day at the Farm
The Simplest Entertainment

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Simplest Entertainment

Blanket. Park. Food. Friends. The four ingredients needed for one of my favorite, and simplest, summer activities: picnics. Whether I’m on a staycation, or just want a break from work in the middle of the day, picnics are the easiest way to enjoy my community, eat good food (outdoors, nonetheless) and spend time with friends. And if I brown-bag my lunch, it is also one of the cheapest ways to have a good time in the summer.

Here are my tips for always being picnic ready:

* stash an old blanket or quilt in your car for impromptu outdoor dining. Nobody wants to sit on wet ground or risk grass stains on their backside--so be prepared to take your takeout outside by keeping a covering close by.

* get a picnic basket. In case you haven’t shopped for one lately, picnic baskets have gotten very fancy of late. You can find one with all the bells and whistles--separate compartments, cutlery, heating and cooling features.... Or you can just go low tech and grab a basket. Mine reminds me of Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, and holds plenty of food for four, minus all of the fancy gadgets.

* grab a friend or two. Haven’t seen a girlfriend in ages? Catching up over a picnic lunch is a great idea! Have kids? Invite another mom for a picnic at the park with PB&J for fun and affordable entertainment (you might want to throw in some sunscreen and bandaids in your basket, too...). The more the merrier in my opinion!

* get to know your parks. Does your friend work on the opposite side of town? Scout out a good park near her office and meet up for lunch. Or just get to know your community by choosing a new park every week to visit. All the charm of kids playing and couples smooching under trees will certainly increase your appreciation for your town/city.

* follow food safety.
This last tip is cautionary. Please don’t give yourself and your friends food poisoning this summer by neglecting basic food rules. So don’t forget to keep your mayo and potato salads cool and out of the sun!

I know--it’s not rocket science.
But it is fun and cheap and a great way to enjoy the sun and friendships this summer.

And if you do end up taking a picnic, snap some photos and share them with me! Upload them to Retro Summer's Flickr page for everyone to see! Happy picnic-ing!

Previous Related Posts:
Staycation on Foot
Reading for Gold Stars
**Retro Summer on the web: click to read more, view calendars, photos, etc.!***

Note: would you like to be featured in the upcoming Fall series, Real Recessionistas? Click here to learn more!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Staycation On Foot

If I were your staycation travel agent, the first order of business I would tend to would be to schedule lots of foot time for you. Foot time? you ask. No, I don’t mean pedicures (although certainly they should be a staycation staple, too). I mean walking on foot through your town. Or biking, which I guess would be on pedal--but the same principle applies.

Why on foot?
Because I’m convinced that experiencing your corner of the world at a slow, one-foot-(or pedal)-in-front-of-the-other-pace is the best way.

A Summer on Pedal
It was a few summers ago that I decided to give my car a rest and bike to and from work everyday. My office at the time was located on the opposite side of town from where I live, giving me a chance to wheel my way through miles of neighborhoods. It was officially that summer that I fell in love with Fort Collins, no doubt because of the bike.

There's Just Something...
There’s just something about getting outside of your car and wandering the streets. You notice things--like a cute boutique that you somehow missed, or an ice cream parlour that always has a line out the door. Furthermore, you get to smell the linden trees in full bloom in the summer, and the fresh scent of cut grass, and hear kids playing in the park as you walk or ride by.

And because you’re on foot, you find yourself slowing down and stopping at the cafe for a coffee instead of rushing to work.
Or stopping to look at a beautiful garden with your kids. Or catching your foot in the spray of sprinkler on a hot afternoon. You know--all those ridiculously simple things that make you feel alive, and appreciative of nature and summer and grass and sun.

Grab Your Sneakers!
During the next week and a half, I’ll mention a few more specific activities that you can do on foot or bike in your community to soak up the summer, including garden tours and gallery walks. But for now, as your trusted staycation travel agent, I’ll simply say get your sneakers and head out on foot!

Previous Staycation posts:
My Community Staycation
Reading for Gold Stars

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading for Gold Stars

My friend and I were tooling around the children’s book aisles at Barnes & Noble the other day, reminiscing over some of our childhood favorites (Ramona Quimby, Judy Bloom books, A Wrinkle in Time) and reading some of the newest favorites for today’s generation. And it got me thinking about how much I loved reading during the summertime.

Library Memories
I remember distinctly making regular trips to the library with my mom and little sister. We would set up camp in the kids’ section and start browsing. My mom would always set a limit for how many books we could check out. Needless to say, it never took me very long to reach the limit. Oh how I loved the smell of the used pages. And the crinkle that the protective plastic covering made when you opened the book.

And every year during the summer we would participate in a summer reading program--either sponsored by the library or by our school. I can’t remember the specifics, but I do vaguely remember colored stars and charts to record how many hours we’d read.

Signing Up
So, it was with these summer reading memories in mind that I decided to check out my local library to see if they were sponsoring an adult reading program. Sure enough, they were, and I signed up immediately. Apparently the only rule is that I have to read 5 hours per week. I think I get a complimentary pen at the end of the summer for my efforts. Not that I need the incentive.

And so I’ve been toting around some books, getting in my hours on the deck or before bed at night.
I’m trying to mix it up, reading both fiction and non-fiction, several books at once.
(To see what I’m reading, please feel free to look at my summer reading pinwheel to the left.) And if you have the inclination, check out your local library to see what summer reading programs they have, for adults or kids (if you have youngsters).

Since no staycation is complete with a good book, I’ll be leaving you now and digging into mine!

What are you reading this summer? Email me at shillberry@stephaniehillberry.com or post your comment here!

Previous Retro Summer posts:

My Community Staycation
A Girl Can Dream
...also check out Retro Summer's webpage for summer event ideas, photos, links and more!

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Community Staycation

On the dawn of this new mini series devoted to community entertainment, I feel compelled to cite an oh-too-recently-popular phrase: staycation. All the rage for summer fun, recession-style, the staycation is of course the practice to vacationing at home to save money. And though I feel sheepish for using such a trendy term, I have to confess that the staycation concept is exactly what I had in mind when envisioning this short series on community leisure.

In Love
The simple truth is that I am in love with my town. And though I am sometimes tempted to wander outside of its bounds and experience the cultures, languages and foods of other places, I am equally drawn to just staying home and enjoying the pleasures from my own community backyard. Admittedly this makes me neither posh nor sophisticated. But it does make me appreciate home. And it saves me some cash along the way.

It Started with Bikes...
So for the next two weeks I’ll be sharing the brief story of how I fell in love with my town, starting with mundane practices like riding my bike and frequenting my library. And I’m sure I’ll talk up the virtues of garden tours and amphitheatres and grand daddy of all summer community events: the Fourth of July.

So please stick around and join me as I shamelessly conform with all the cool kids and attempt some staycationing myself--

Maybe being trendy isn’t such a bad thing.

Previous Retro Summer Posts:

Oogling Outdoor Spaces
A Poodle Skirt Summer
A Girl Can Dream

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Girl Can Dream

Today is the final day for Outdoor Living, and rather than make it complicated (it is a Friday, after all), I thought I would just indulge in some more pictures of landscapes and outdoor rooms that I am currently coveting. Taken mostly from Martha Stewart Living and Sunset, the scenes below are my idea of inspiring outdoor living...

All I need is a lake. And a dock. And that sweet furniture....

Nevermind that it will take about 20 years for the trees in my neighborhood to be as big as the ones in the background here...
Maybe I can make a gravel path like this one to tide me over...

Beautiful landscape with trailing stone pathway--I could maybe do that.
Large, open meadow full of lushness off my trailing stone pathway--I doubt my luck extends that far...

My outdoor settings look more like paper napkins and plastic forks--but I'd much rather eat here...

I'd take a nap here any day.

Probably one of my all-time favorite outdoor rooms (I have a picture of this in my design notebook).
So charming. So quaint. After three or so years I'm still trying to figure out how I can pull something like this off on my patio. Needless to say, I have a long way to go...

Finally, where else but outside can you pull off a canopy? Ahh...I wish I was her...

And so it is with these dreams and visions in my head that I conclude this mini-series.
But we still have a whole summer left of posting, so come back next week as I start mini-series #2 on community entertainment! I can't wait!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Catch the whole Outdoor Living mini-series below!

Taking my Design Obsession Outdoors
Furnishing my Outsides
Light up the Night
Good Bones
Ode to Patios
Get in the Zone: on selecting plants
Oogling Outdoor Spaces
Water Wisdom
Cultivating Patience

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Culitvating Patience

Undoubtedly one of the most frustrating differences between interior and landscape design is the patience required for the latter. Exercising this patience is particularly hard for me, since one of the things I enjoy most about design is the transformation from before to after. I love painting a wall in an afternoon and seeing the immediate affect the new color has on the room. I love swapping out my bedding and pillows to give my spaces instant makeovers. I love finishing up work early on a Friday afternoon and knowing that I can completely change my kitchen by the end of the weekend.

No Quick Changes
Needless to say, I love quick change. And landscape design is rarely quick.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is obvious: plants take time to grow. No matter how impatient I may be, the matchstick pear trees I planted this spring will not be tall, graceful trees any time soon. Likewise, I can croon to my evergreens as much as I want, coaxing them to grow, and they will pay no mind to my schedule.

The simple truth is that most landscape plants need at least 3 years before they reach anything close to their mature size, and the timeline is much longer for trees and shrubs. So though I know my yard will look lush and full eventually, I have to make peace with the reality that it will take awhile to get there.

Money, Money, Money
The second reason why patience is required for landscape design has nothing to do with nature and everything to do with money. Because landscaping is expensive. I have indeed seen beautiful yard transformations in my neighborhood spring up overnight. One day the space is dry, brown and flat, and the next it has a gurgling stone-lined fountain flanked by grasses, shrubs and trees. And while I admire the final effect, I know that it cost a pretty penny. Thousands of dollars. Thousands which I cannot afford should I want to do the same thing to my lawn. I, instead, will have to go the usual route, buying smaller plants because they cost less, and buying fewer of them. And tackling one major project a year, while postponing the others for years down the road.

This is the reality of outdoor design: waiting.

In the Meantime...Focus on the Little Things
Of course, while you're waiting for plants (and savings accounts) to grow, you can always focus on the little things. Like containers. And pretty lawn pillows. And outdoor paper lanterns. They help appease the instant gratification bug, and encourage you to keep plugging away outside. Keep you designing while cultivating patience.

Come back tomorrow for my last post on outdoor living, and then again next week when we start another new, two-week mini series!

Previous Related Posts:
Taking my Design Obsession Out
Ode to Patios
Good Bones
Retro Summer '09's webpage

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Water Wisdom

I know there are places where water flows in abundance. Where rain falls, and rivers run freely and Kentucky blue grass grows on the roadside. I, however, do not live in one of those places. Instead, I live in the West. The beautiful, desert-dry West.

Like mine, many cities in the country struggle every summer with drought.
Those lush, emerald green lawns that are the idyllic picture of suburban summers quickly become a parched brown by mid-July.
In fact, I recently learned from the oh-so-informative Sunset Magazine that up to 70% of the water Western households use goes to landscaping. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that water is a precious resource in a desert and shouldn’t be wasted.

Water Smart
So, when working on your landscape (or patio), consider the following to maximize the water:

* select plants that are appropriate for your climate. I wrote about this in greater detail earlier this week, so I’ll just restate the principle: if you live in a dry area, choose drought tolerant plants. They use less water and will flourish in hot sun.

* minimize your lawn based on your needs. My husband and I have selected to keep grass for both the front and back of our home mainly because of dogs and future kids, but we limited it to under half of our space. And we also selected a grass blend for the yard that is more tolerant of the sun and drought than typical bluegrass. (to see a great lawn-less yard, click here to read yesterday's post!)

* plant trees.
Trees are nature’s air conditioning, and provide shelter from the sun for plants and grass below.

* water wisely.
Always, always water your lawn in the early morning or late evening, after the sun has set, to prevent unnecessary evaporation. And consider installing a drip line for your trees, shrubs and garden as they deliver water more effectively than sprinklers.

* mulch. Surrounding your plants with mulch or bark helps retain moisture at the soil level. And yes, you have to replace it year by year, which can be a pain. But it is worth the benefit of water conservation.

Spread it Around
In sum, most of the time when we plan for the plants in our lives, we are free to choose what we like without having to think much about the preferences of others. But when it comes to landscapes, our personal choices do affect the whole community. So, be wise and spread the water around.

Previous Related Posts:
Oogling Outdoor Spaces
Get in the Zone: knowing which plants to choose
Taking my Design Obsession Outside
**visit Retro Summer's webpage!**

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oogling Outdoor Spaces

I planned on writing out a whole post about designing for the outdoors. But then I thought, "why don't I just show them what I'm talking about?" So I scavenged Sunset Magazine and came across these 5 outdoor favorites: Tomorrow I am going to talk about water conservation considerations with landscaping, and thought this house was a perfect preview! You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but the plants in this front lawn are all drought tolerant and low maintenance. And you don't even miss the lawn! Notice also how the path curves toward the door rather than climbs straight up? (curving is a key to good landscape design). And the use of different textures and heights? Also note that there is not one blooming flower in this yard, and yet it is absolutely beautiful--proof that you can go a Long way with just foliage! I love this outdoor hanging chandelier! Constructed with a wire basket, some crystals and candles, it is so romantic and inviting. This is exactly the type of whimsical lighting feature that I love to see in a backyard, perhaps hanging from a tree or from under the eaves of a deck. A how-to tutorial on creating your own gurgling fountain accompanies this photo. The sound of running water is a really nice addition to a patio or lawn, and since this fountain recycles the H2O, it is eco-friendly. I'd love to stumble upon this while walking through the border of a lawn, and appreciate how these designers nestled it in among perennials and shrubs. This is a great example of an outdoor room! Of course, creating a stone patio isn't rocket science, but it's not the easiest project either. Here it is executed so well, with a lush border and those rustic chairs. For a similar effect without all the labor, gravel (or even mulch) would work wonderfully. Kinda makes you want to sit and stay awhile, right? Finally, this photo displays a lot of things happening all at once. The brick circular base adds such charm to this yard, and I really love the way the pots surround the base of this simple bird bath. Clearly the color choice for this outdoor room is chartreuse and purple, but you can see the variety of plants and textures used to create that palette! And of course I love the little girl playing in the center, and can only wonder at what her imagination is making of this idyllic spot!

Of course there are Millions of other photos of outdoor spaces that I could have added for us to drool over, but blog posts can only be so long!
My recommendation? Take advantage of landscape features in summer magazine issues, and clip the photos you like. Put them in a book or file for future inspiration, and try to tackle one project a year.

And if you already have a favorite spot in your garden or lawn, share your photos now by uploading them to Retro Summer's Flickr page!

Previous Outdoor Living posts:

Good Bones
Light Up the Night
Ode to Patios
**Retro Summer's webpage**

Monday, June 15, 2009

Farmer's Market Loot

I had a fabulous time at my local farmer's market yesterday afternoon, and thought I would share some photos of my loot.

First purchase was a bunch of fresh asparagus grown on a nearby farm. After having read earlier this spring about the Huge difference between fresh asparagus and the store-bought variety, I admit that I was more than curious to try it out. I asked the farmer at the stand when the skinny spears were harvested (because apparently they should be eaten as soon as possible for the best flavor), and was therefore pleased to learn that they were cut from their stalks less than 12 hours prior.

So I spent $5.00 (yes, I know that's a lot for produce) on my bunch and then promptly cut them into ribbons for pasta at dinner.
So are the rumors true? Is fresh asparagus
really that much better than store-bought? Absolutely Yes! Even my husband agreed, and he hates to agree about stuff like that. The spears were so crisp and fresh, with this wonderful earthy flavor. Would I spend $5.00 again for the experience? Definitely. Totally worth it. Even more so, I now have a hankering to plow some asparagus trenches and grow my own...

The next purchase was this locally made pasta. I can't even begin to tell you the sizes and shapes and flavors that were available from this pasta stand! Orzo, fettucine, linguine, etc. etc. in tomato basil or lemon sage or whole wheat. After deliberating for several minutes, I finally settled on some chipotle pasta for a little kick. And since the sellers conveniently printed recipes for us to take home, I enjoyed the pasta with some chipoltle cream sauce (I'll share more about that in a few weeks!).

For $4.25, it was pricey for pasta, but I thought it was a fun novelty.
Will I buy it again? Probably not, since truthfully the sauce provided the real flavor. But it was definitely fun to try!

Finally, the bread you see was my last purchase. I hadn't intended to get anything from the local bakery shop, but one of the bakers caught me trying to leave and insisted that I try some samples first. I am So glad he did!

They had everything you could think of, including this amazing Asiago Sourdough that I almost stole right there.
Talk about having a hard time deciding! I deliberated forever, asking for opinions and eating samples by the fistful. Finally I decided to go with a sweet bread perfect for breakfast. Which flavor, you ask? Only the most delightful lemony-choclaty bread Ever! Lemon White Chocoloate to be exact, which didn't sound appealing to me at all until I had a bite of it in my mouth. To. Die. For.

Needless to say, you can probably guess what I had for breakfast this morning...
At $5.00 a loaf, it's way cheaper than drugs! I'll definitely have to get my fix next week!

Thus concludes the tales of my day at the farmer's market. If you haven't shopped one recently, I highly recommend it! Just remember these simple tips:

* bring your own bag

* bring cash, including smaller bills and quarters

* set a budget, and expect to pay more. The great food (stuff you would Never find at the grocer) is worth it!

note: this trip was part of my Retro Summer June calendar of field trips! Click here to download the calendar to join me on the next event!

Get in the Zone: knowing which plants to choose for your landscape

One of the most common questions I hear about landscaping is “how do I know which plants to choose?” It is certainly a good query, since choosing the right plant for the right spot is key to pulling off a good design. Fortunately you do not need to spend your summers working at a garden center to learn the basics. And since I did spend a couple of my summers that way, I’ll share with you what I learned about the basics. (hint: most of the info can be found on a plant's sales tags.)

Plant Shopping Basics
* first and foremost, know the climate you’re in! For instance, I live in the West which is dry, dry, dry. It would be foolish of me, then, to select plants that need lots of moisture. Like hydrangeas and azaleas, for instance. I could plop a fern in the middle of my yard and watch it crisp in the summer sun. So don’t waste your money on plants that aren’t right for your climate, because more than likely you’ll end up paying for it.

* related to climate, do a little research about “zones.”
The landscape industry has divided the country based on climate, temperature, etc, and then determined which plants can survive within those zones. So, for example, though I love birds-of-paradise and palm trees, they are not hardy in my zone and would not survive the winter. Likewise, Aspen trees are a Colorado favorite, but do their very best in higher altitudes. Even my town, which is almost a mile high, is a little low for Aspens to truly thrive. Learn what your zone is, and then check the label on your plant before you buy it to make sure it falls within that zone.

* next, take note of the plant's changes through the seasons.
In other words, when does the plant bloom? Will it lose its leaves in fall? Does it need to go dormant for a time? Fortunately, most of this information is usually printed on the plant’s tag. What you want to aim for is a landscape that looks good all year. Therefore, make sure you have blooming plants staggered during the growing months so you have flowers from spring through fall. And consider your winter garden, too: plant some evergreens and shrubs with winter berries to add color and texture even in the frost/snow.

* watch your lawn.
Just like you are supposed to watch your interior walls throughout the day to see how your paint sample looks at dawn as well as dusk, so you should apply the same principle to your landscape. Observe your outdoor space at several times throughout the day to get a feel for the ratio of sun to shade. Because just like us humans, some plants worship the sun and would prefer to bask in its rays all day, whereas others need cover to keep from baking to a crisp.

* finally, know your plant glossary.
Here are seven basics:

:: annual: a plant that usually only lives one season in your zone
:: perennial: a plant that will regrow from the roots year after year in your zone
:: deciduous: plants that loose their leaves in the fall
:: evergreen: plants that keep their foliage through the winter
:: sun/full sun: plants that like 8+ hours of direct sunlight
:: partial shade: plants that prefer morning/evening and filtered (aka less intense) sunlight
:: full shade: plants that need protective cover most of the day for your area

Then Get Personal

As for the rest...well, mainly it comes down to personal taste.
Wild for yellow and purple? Go nuts with salvia and daisies! Like silver and burgandy? Choose artemesia and penstemon. Or go green and layer willows with grasses and junipers. Once you have the mechanics of zone, climate and season down, the rest is simply up to preference.

Heard enough? Me too! So get shopping!

Previous Outdoor Living Posts:
good bones
taking my design obsession out
ode to patios

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ode to Patios

There have been several seasons in my life when all I had in terms of outdoor space was a porch or patio. No lawn. No trees. No plot to plant a garden. And at the time, I let the absence of a yard keep me from maximizing the potential of my patio. This was a mistake, because patios can be fantastic spots for living outdoors.

The Same Tips Apply

Most of the same rules that I’ve touched on earlier this week apply for designing a patio space: paying mind to building good bones, providing furniture, bringing in lighting.... They only need to be tweaked a bit to accommodate a smaller space. For instance:

furniture: obviously scale makes a difference when you have a small space. Resist the urge to monopolize your patio with a standard size round table, umbrella and chairs, and opt instead for a smaller cafe table and perhaps a lounger or two. Or consider small portable benches that can do double duty as seating and/or table surfaces.

lighting: patios are even easier to light than landscapes, so go crazy! I love to unexpectedly see a fancy pendant hanging from a covered patio, or lanterns draped from the railings. Candles, of course, work really well too. Just don’t forget to blow them out!

good bones: even though patio space is tight, plants are a must if you want to create a true outdoor atmosphere, so make sure you leave room for a few containers. And like a yard, don’t just fill your pots with flowers. Diversify by adding some taller grasses or even some shrubs. I love boxwoods in containers lining a patio wall, or reeds standing tall in a corner, or a large fern by the foot of a lounger. Just remember that containers usually require more water than landscapes, so don’t let your pretty ornamental grass turn brown from neglect in the hot sun.

Flexible Advantages

In addition to these design tips, it is nice to consider that in a way, patio design is the best of both worlds. You can create a comfortable, inviting outdoor space with less money and maintenance than a lawn. No mowing. No weeding. No mulching and digging. Furthermore, unlike a yard, you can switch up your designs from year to year, changing plants and layouts as your tastes and interests change. Perhaps one year you love the Tuscan feel, and splurge on geraniums, lavenders and cedar. And then the next year you crave a more formal English design, and opt for topiary boxwoods and verbenas. Patios provide flexibility in a way that a landscape cannot.

So enjoy your “yardless” outdoor space and start designing!

Previous Related Outdoor Living Posts:
taking my design obsession out
light up the night
good bones
**don't forget to visit Retro Summer 09's webpage for more information on this summer's series!**

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Good Bones

As women we’ve all probably heard about the benefit of having good bones. We admire other women with good bone structure, even though we aren’t exactly sure what makes one cheekbone better than another.... We watch home design shows where they rave about the good bones of a house, compelling buyers to look beyond the psychedelic wall paper and chartreuse shag carpet. We even talk about having good bones in our wardrobe, referring to the classic staples like a white button-up shirt and those jeans that fit perfectly.

Landscape Bones
It makes sense, then, that bones make an appearance in landscaping, too. Though you may not be able to identify specifically what makes for a well-structured yard, I guarantee that it is the “cheekbones” and “arches” of a design that sets the stage for everything else.

Tips to Follow
So how can you make sure your space has good bones? Consider starting with the following rules:

Rule 1: don’t let your fondness for flowers govern your choices. Believe me--I know the temptation. You walk into a garden center, or down your street, and of course you are immediately attracted to the blooming plants. And so those are what you end up purchasing and planting year after year. The problem is that the common flowering plants are more like accessories--like shimmer to highlight an eyelid, or a scarf to accent a sweater. They certainly make a statement, but it’s the foundation behind them that really completes the look. Which leads me to...

Rule 2: focus on structure first. Though not nearly as flashing as the pl
ants mentioned above, it is actually the trees and shrubs in a landscape that make for good bones. Because of their size (height and width), they effectively anchor a yard just like cheekbones and chins anchor a face. They are the frames. So...

Rule 3: place them carefully. Since trees and shrubs frame a yard, it usually makes the most sense to layer them around the perimeter of the property/space that you’re designing. And just like walls and counters in homes, they can also be used to divide up separate “rooms” in your yard. Take the time to get the placement right, because bad bone structure is difficult to fix. In other words, please don’t plant a huge tree dead center in the lawn, no matter how tempting! Would you put the tallest lamp in your home in the center of your living room? No, of course not! You’d put it in a corner or along the side of the room. The same applies for trees/shrubs.

A Start
There is, of course, a lot more to say about good bone structure for landscapes, but starting here is...well...a good place to start. So next time you visit the garden center and are tempted to grab those gorgeous purple salvias, make sure you also have plans for a good foundation.

Don’t have a yard? Join me tomorrow as I apply these same principles to patio design!

Previous Related Links & Posts:
Furnishing Your Outsides
Light Up the Night
**visit Retro Summer's Webpage for June events, photos, and more!**

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Creative Hour: Quilted Shams

I took a short break from making handbags and throws this week to stitch together two patchwork pillow shams for my bed.

The inspiration started with some napkins I picked up at Cost Plus Market. The pattern on them looked so good with blue pinstripes that I knew I was on a roll. And since I wanted a summer theme, I even added a few squares of denim from some faded jeans I used to wear.

The end result reminds me of grandma's country quilts, only with a slight modern twist.

The shams are a great compliment to my quilted tan coverlet, which I just pulled out of the linen closet in time for sleeping with the doors and windows open.

I'll be writing more about my fondness for slipcovers & shams (and their fabulous practicality) later this summer, so check back in to hear more about these pillows in the weeks to come!

Until then, I hope you are enjoying your summer projects!

Previous Creative Hour Posts:

Wool Socks in Summer
Lime Green Shimmer
Baby Quilts

Light up the Night

In my earlier days of design, I rarely paid any attention to lighting. It was, I’m sure, a novice mistake. I was too swept away with the “big” stuff, like furniture and fabric and accessories. But after awhile, I began to realize that lighting is often what makes a space feel (as opposed to just look) cozy or inviting, energized or cold. This is the reason we use candles when entertaining, or turn on table lamps instead of overheads.

Creating Feeling
It is also the reason that we should consider how lighting can create feeling outdoors. Because the evening, after the sun sets and the air is cooler, is undoubtedly one of the best times to enjoy your outdoor spaces. There is something magical about a summer night--and part of that magic comes from lighting.

My husband, who apparently understood the importance of outdoor lighting Way before me, has been carefully layering outside lights on our property for years. First he snagged a chiminea (an outdoor fire pit in stone), where we’ve been known to roast marshmallows. Then he grabbed some tiki torches and arranged them around the perimeter of our patio. Next came outdoor electric lights to highlight the silhouette of the trees and shrubs at night. And finally, on occasion, strands of twinkle lights will make an appearance.

Illuminating Your Options
It is obvious from the list above that outdoor lighting comes in all shapes, sizes and costs. Here are a few to consider for your lawn/patio:
* battery operated paper lanterns. My neighbor has a set of these glowing globes that s
he hangs from her table umbrella every summer. I love to see them lit up during her annual barbecues.

* twinkle lights: white is best for summer, lest your
neighbors think you’re doing Christmas in July. With these, I personally think less is more, and particularly like them draped over a balcony or lining a gravel path.

* candles. Low tech and low cost, these are perfect outdoors. Just make sure they are out of the way of kids and pets (you don’t want to start a fire in your yard!). Bonus: buy citronella candles and fend off mosquitoes as well.

* fire pits: more maintenance, certainly, these pits come in all different shapes, sizes and prices. Make sure you know what you’re doing when building a fire, and to check with local ordinances about burning restrictions.

* lawn lighting: the most expensive and difficult to install, lawn lighting creates unmatched ambiance around a property in addition to providing security. I love the way my trees cast shadows across the lawn with a light peering up at them from below. You can also purchase solar lighting for lawns, although they tend to be rather dim and cost a pretty penny.

Your Lights?
How do you light your lawn or patio? Share your secrets with me by posting your comment below. Or, take a photo and upload it to Retro Summer '09's Flickr page!

Previous Outdoor Living Posts:
**check out fun summer event ideas at the Retro Summer '09 webpage!**
Taking my Design Obsession Out
Furnishing Your Outsides

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Furnishing Your Outsides

When I was a kid, our outdoor furniture consisted of a rust-red picnic table on the back porch, a few folding chairs made of vinyl, and an old recliner that my dad was too fond of to throw away. This collection was exceptionally functional, albeit lacking in a certain style, and we spent many hours enjoying our backyard from the seats of that furniture.

Rule Number 1: Get Seating!
So when I talk about outdoor living, one of the first things worth mentioning is that it is critical to have places to sit. This seems obvious, I know, but I’ve been to many a home where the yard is pretty and yet void of furniture. And without furniture, there is nothing beckoning you to linger for awhile.

I’m sure that part of the reason for lack of seating is that outdoor furniture can get expensive, especially if you’re like me and you appreciate the modern designs and fabrics that are out in stores these days. But let me say that lesson number one in outdoor living is to acquire seating, even if all you can afford is a dusty recliner and some folding chairs.

Hand-Me-Down Potential
Moving on from the obvious, I think that hand-me-down patio furniture can be a treasure waiting for discovery. Perhaps because of all that fancy furniture out there these days, people are commonly replacing their old pieces in favor of new. Fortunately for those of us with a little DIY muscle and a willingness to save, this furniture--and a makeover--can be a bargain.

Things to look for in used outdoor furniture:

* wrought iron styles will never go out of style. Plus, they are hard to beat for durability and weather resistance. Nevermind if used pieces come in unattractive colors (like bright green), have outdated cushions, or are covered in floral motifs--some spray paint and slipcovers can provide an instant facelift!

* wood/teak pieces
are also a great find, depending on the condition. Often a light sanding and some stain can revive old wood furniture, so keep your eye open for Adirondack chairs, benches and the like.

* finally, wicker is one of the most popular choices for outdoor spaces. Likely the cheapest option, wicker is timeless and can take a paint makeover easily. Uncovered, it will wear easier than wood or iron, but you’re still sure to get your money’s worth out of it.

My Makeover Tale

I preach about used furniture from experience. My husband and I were very fortunate to inherit a used patio set of iron furniture. Covered in thick green paint and scrolling flowers, it certainly wasn’t the modern look I was looking for. But I was shocked at how quickly it improved with some dark bronze spray paint. The color minimized the floral, and synchronized mismatched pieces.

The cushions I dutifully slipcovered in ivory canvas, and adorned with lots of throw pillows. And the look was exactly what I wanted! Except that I left the cushions out one too many times in the rain and they got a tad...um...moldy. So learn this final lesson from me: buy waterproof or weather resistant cushions and save yourself the mold!

Do you have an outdoor furniture makeover story? Share by posting your comment below. Or, take a picture of your favorite outdoor spot, and upload it to the Retro Summer Flickr page!

Previous Retro Summer posts:
***don't forget to check out upcoming events at Retro Summer '09's webpage!***
Plant Nerds & Cookie-Cutters: a glance at topics to come
Oh How I Love a Good Field Trip

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Day at the Farm

I can't think of a better field trip to kick off the summer than Saturday's trip to a local farm. There was lots of good food, fresh produce and dairy to purchase, animals to pet, and even a tour on an old yellow school bus! Below are a small selection of my favorite pictures from the day.

Lettuce, strawberries and rhubarb where the order of the day, as well as stacks and stacks of farm fresh eggs and even some exotic mushrooms.
In addition to all of the wonderful food, there was plenty of informational material to stock up on covering a variety of topics like organic food, local farms and community supported agriculture.

Undoubtedly my favorite part of the day was visiting the chicken coops.
Hundreds and hundreds of clucking hens roaming about was a sight to see! I got a half-dozen fresh eggs out of the tour, plus a few pecks on the toe.

Since this summer is
all about nostalgia, I couldn't resist snapping some shots of iconic farm images, like this grain silo and the dusty rafters of an old barn. These images, plus the warm day and community atmosphere of the farm made me long for a simpler time. By the time the day was done, I was ready to don an apron and set to some canning. Or baking. Or hanging laundry in the sun. You know--farm stuff.

And after touring the acreage and seeing the produce, my friend and I couldn't resist signing up for a small farm share.
So we'll be receiving 26 weeks worth of farm produce starting this month! I'm sure you'll get to hear a lot more about that in the weeks to come (like what we're going to do with all of the beets when early fall rolls around!)!

Previous Related posts & links:

Going to the Farm
Retro Summer on Flickr
Oh How I Do Love a Good Field Trip!

Taking My Design Obsession Out

One of the best things about the weather warming up is that I can take my obsession for design outside to play in the yard. Now, admittedly it took me awhile to figure this out. For years I was close-minded, picturing only what I could do within the walls of my home. Finally, thanks to some hand-me-down patio furniture and a great stone deck that my husband built, I began to see a room full of possibilities beyond the doors and windows of my home.

Outside living can actually be very similar to inside living, at least in terms of design. Both benefit from a sense of ambiance. Both require some forethought and planning. And both can be changed from season to season. With outdoor design, in addition to the staples of furniture, fabrics and lighting, you can also add the vast world of color and texture from plants, and the architecture of structures. In many ways I’ve come to prefer my outdoor rooms to the indoors during the summer. And the air conditioning is free!

In the Next Two Weeks...
So, in the next two weeks we’ll be covering it all! You’ll hear how I updated used patio furniture with spray paint and fabric. And how tiki torches, candles and lawn lights make a Huge difference when entertaining at night. We’ll dabble in making a new yard look older, argue the pro’s and con’s of grass, and discuss the opportunities of patio gardening. I might even try my hand at creating a fountain--but no promises.

It is true that outdoor design requires more patience than interior design,
mainly because plants take awhile to grow, and because frankly it can get pricey. But when I’m enjoying my breakfast on the balcony, or a book on the sunny seat of a pergola, I think the effort is worth it.

Please join me this week and next for more on creating living spaces in your outdoor spaces!

Previous Retro Summer posts:
A Poodle Skirt Summer

Oh How I Love a Good Field Trip

Plant Nerds & Cookie-Cutters: summer topics to come

Friday, June 5, 2009

Going to the Farm

I’ll be kicking off the first of many field trips this summer with a trip to the farm tomorrow! Not my farm, of course, but one of the local farms surrounding my town that offers community members shares of their annual crops.

A Farm First

Even though I was born and raised in an agricultural area (Northern Colorado),
I have never actually toured a working farm here, so I am excited. They’ll even have an animal barnyard, although I probably won’t be elbowing the kids to get my hands on the pigs and lambs.

Drawing Me
What draws me most to the farm is hearing about the local food movement, and learning more about their crop-sharing program.
After reading several books recently on the subject of growing food, agriculture and the like, I am eager to see the action in my town.

Plus, there will be food and drinks
(we have A Lot of local micro-breweries), live music, and vendors. What could be more fun than that!?

Join Me, or Host Your Own Trip!

If you live close by, and are interested in joining me for the event, just email me for more information at shillberry@stephaniehillberry.com.
Or consider gathering up some of your friends for a tour/visit to a local farm near you!

And I’ll certainly be taking lots of note to share more
during the “Plant Nerd” mini-series coming later this summer, so stay tuned for that, too!

Previous Related Posts & Links:

download a copy of June's other field trips!
visit Retro Summer's webpage for the latest updates!
Plant Nerds & Cookie-Cutters: a glance at the topics ahead
Oh How I Love a Good Field Trip

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Smarty Pants

Mental Break
One of the best things about summer is the opportunity to take a step back from the serious demands and issues influencing “adult life,” and enjoy some leisure. Soak up the sun. Read a novel by the pool (I’m working my way through number three already!). Catch a few mindless action flicks at the cinema.

Because the truth is that nobody really wants to think too hard in the summer. Least of all me.

the Bigger Picture
Nevertheless, I can’t in good conscience shelve the Smarty Pants column for an entire 12 weeks (smarty pants is a regular column here focused on current events and issues in our world). So I thought every once in awhile, I’d take some time to look at the bigger picture behind a few of the summer topics I’ll be posting about. So when we spend a few weeks talking about gardening and growing food, I’ll probably write about how the local food movement has grown in popularity over the past decade.

And during the weeks on customizing your home/apartment, I would love to discuss when tract housing become the norm for residential building (and how that has affected the way our communities function).

And when we dive into outdoor living, I’ll probably mention how the way we landscape our yards influences the environment and those around us.

Why the Effort?
Why go to all the effort? Because even the simple and recreational things that we do usually have greater significance in our communities than we realize. There is almost always a larger story to be told, and taking a few minutes to listen can be very rewarding.

Just a few minutes, of course. The rest of time I'll be soaking up sun and reading novels.

Previous Smarty Pants Posts:
Protecting Yourself against Fraud
Blame the Pigs
Avoiding Pitfalls

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