Friday, April 25, 2014

top ten spring plants

i love being outdoors in the spring. with the horrible winter we have just endured, i can hardly stand to be in my house when the sun is shining. that means i've been doing a ton of spring planting. my yard makes me happy and certain flowers make it that much more enjoyable. if you are just getting started with your gardening this year, there is still plenty of time to shop and plant for a yard that will make you happy for years to come. here are my top ten flowers for this spring and every spring to come.

1) mandevilla: this plant is amazing. it is an annual so if you live where it freezes, you will have to buy a new one each year. it is well worth the $15.00 you will spend on this beauty. it is a fast growing vine with the most beautiful red or pink flowers. i plant mine in a pot next to my deck rails and let it take over. plant it now and enjoy it's beautiful blooms all the way until the first winter frost.

2) butterfly bush (buddleia davidii) aka. summer lilac: i love butterflies. these amazing bushes attract them by the dozens. the plants start out small (note the picture of the one i just planted in the ground) but they will grow to be taller than i am. they grow well in containers or in the ground and their purple flowers are irresistible to butterflies. seriously, there will be dozens. plant this plant once and it will stay through some pretty harsh weather. you'll have butterflies and blooms for years to come.
photo credit:

3) clematis: this plant always astounds me with it's beautiful purple flowers. we planted these five years ago and each spring, this is what we get...mounds of the most gorgeous and enormous purple blooms. it is a perennial and will come back year after year even more beautiful than the last. plant it with a trellis and watch it go.

4) chocolate vine (aka: akebia quinata): chocolate vines are another beautiful climber. we used ours next to our arbor and it has slowly but surely taken over to create the most beautiful canopy. it has deep purple blossoms in the spring (almost a chocolate color) and it will grow larger and larger each year. plant once and enjoy it for years.

5) hydrangeas: i love hydrangeas. their huge blooms just make me happy. they are fairly easy to grow and do not require a bunch of sunlight. they are perfect for some partially shady areas and will grow to cover a large area. plant them now and enjoy for years.

6) creeping jenny: i love, love, love this ground cover. they start as tiny little $2.00 plants. give them a season or two and this is what they do. they will grow wherever there is ground to fill. they require virtually no maintenance. they need little water, can tolerate sun or shade, and are hard to kill. they are a bright, cheery green and they keep the weeds at bay. did i mention i love them?

7) gerber daisies (aka: gerbera): they are the happiest flower i know. i have always loved them (i prefer a bouquet of them above almost anything else). the good news is they are easy to grow just about anywhere, from pots to any area in your yard. they like to be watered often and can survive sunlight. they are annuals and will need to be planted after your final frost and will last until the first frost of the fall. beautiful daisies all season long.

8) sweet basil: i love growing basil. it is great in pots and also in the ground. the best thing about basil in the ground is that, if you leave it, it will grow little basil babies. it is so easy to grow and it is fabulous in so many recipes. grow it now to make some amazing pesto in the fall to enjoy all winter long. it is also easy to grow from seed. give it a few weeks and you'll have happy basil plants.

9) carolina jasmine (aka: gelsemium sempervirens): this sunny yellow vine has the most spectacular blooms in the spring. it starts out small and then takes over a trellis, a fence and nearby trees. plant it in a location where there is plenty of room to grow and then trim back areas where it grows beyond it's limits. it's a perennial so plant it one year and enjoy forever. took over the tree...

10) trailing petunia: did i mention i love butterflies? these trailing petunias come in a variety of amazing colors and they attract the most beautiful and fearless butterflies. they are annuals so you will need to replant each year after the final frost and they will survive until the first frost of the winter. get your camera ready to catch some beautiful butterfly action.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

diy medal display

my one and only sweet girl has become a bit obsessed with gymnastics. if she's in the house, she lives on her hands. cartwheels, handstands, back handsprings, and splits are a constant in our house. she started competing in gymnastics this year. while we are still getting used to the costs of all these gymnastics endeavors, we are embracing her absolute love for the sport. she managed to accumulate quite a few medals over the last year and we had them hanging from every possible location in her bedroom, stuffed in her drawers, and at times worn around the house by her little brothers. it was time to get organized. 
here is our solution to our medal dilemma. if you have a little athlete of your own, it can be altered for a boy or a girl and it takes up relatively little wall space. here's what you need to do:

diy medal display

purchase a pre-cut wood board. i purchased our board at michael's for about $15.00. the larger the surface area, the better. 
stain the board with your desired color of wood stain. i wanted a white washed look so i chose this particular wood stain. it gives a white color to the wood while still showing some of the wood grain.
purchase a stencil for your display, a stencil brush and come craft paint. i purchased this crown stencil on etsy. you can find it here. center the stencil on the board and, using the stencil brush, tap the paint onto the board in a thin coat. 

using the same brush, i used the paint that remained on the board to outline the stencil to give it a little more definition on the board.
allow the stencil paint to dry completely. carefully paint the board with a polyurethane top coat. to keep the stencil paint from smearing, i put the topcoat over the sides of the board completely first and then lightly painted over the crown stencil paint.
purchase pre-cut wooden letters from a craft store. i liked these letters from michael's because they are tall and thin. each letter should be painted. i chose pink, of course, for my sweet girl's pink bedroom. when the painted letters are dry, glue them into place. i used basic elmer's glue to put them in place and allowed the glue to dry well. 
measure the board and place pencil marks two inches apart along the bottom of the board. do the same a second time approximately an inch and a half above the first row, with holes alternating within the other holes.
purchase hooks. we found ours at home depot in the garden section. drill pilot holes where the pencil marks are. make holes slightly smaller than the hook diameter. screw in each of the screws so they are facing up and are able to hold the medals.
drill a 1/4 inch hole in each corner about one inch from the edge of the board. thread through a ribbon matching the painted letters. tie a knot to secure the ribbon on each side of the board.
tie a ribbon bow at the top of the ribbon and hang in a secure location. medals can be hung 5-6 per hook. hang and enjoy! no more medals flung around the bedroom!

Monday, April 21, 2014

facts up front

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this is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the facts up front program.

as is the case for most mamas out there, i am the one that does the grocery shopping in our home. i have never been a "foodie" or a fantastic cook, but i do love the feeling that putting a homemade meal on the table for my family gives me. since i am not that comfortable in the kitchen, that level of discomfort also can extend to the grocery store and my into shopping experience. i want to watch what i am feeding my family and know what the nutritional facts are, but when i go to look at the nutritional facts panel on the back of a product, i get a little overwhelmed and lost. 

the facts up front initiative has made my grocery shopping experience so much more enjoyable by adding a simple label to the front of many of the products we love. that confusing nutritional facts panel on the back has been enhanced with the addition of a simple label that displays clearly, on the front, the key nutritional information: calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar in a product serving. some labels even contain the fiber and calcium. 

i can easily make healthy, informed decisions for my family without spending the amount of time i did before pouring over the label, trying to decipher what i was reading. if nutritional information still seems confusing to you, the facts up front website also has a unique interactive label that explains everything from calories to sodium to make the process of finding healthy choices even easier. 

i was happily surprised to find out that many of the brands and products i already use are participating in this initiative and making it so easy for me to confirm that i have been making the right choices for my family.

the, website is truly an invaluable resource for mamas like me to not only learn more about the nutritional label and how to read it, but they also have a lot of other tools that have made my life easier. the nutritional calculator was so simple to use and provided me with personalized guidelines of what my nutrient needs are to stay healthy. 

the facts up front website also contains a vast amount of recipes to access for everything from appetizers to entrees. with a gluten allergy in the house, i personally loved the gluten-free section. 

i, like you, want to make informed decisions on what to serve my family. i believe that the new front of package labeling is vital to making not only my shopping experience more pleasurable, but to keeping my family healthy as well. what are some things that you do to keep your family healthy? have you noticed the facts up front labels yet on your favorite products?

this is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of the facts up front program.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

i love rachael ray. she gets me.

this is a sponsored post for nutrish. all opinions are my own.

i don't believe in reincarnation. however, i sometimes wonder what i did wrong in my past lives to have deserved this. my name is mr. darcy. my very name screams dignity and hierarchy. yet, my life so far has been so much less than what i expected when i was born this pretty.

not to bore you with my sad story but i was abandoned by my mother. i had to look after my siblings and we ended up in the most humiliating of places, the humane society. we were wondering if our crate was the best we were going to get until a family came along to take us home. i thought things were looking up when i saw the adult of the group. then i noticed the four smaller people accompanying her. i should have made my protests then but i went along with the new arrangement. how bad could the four little people be? 

well, let me tell you, it has not been an easy road. first of all, they added a fifth little person to the mix. this one was really little, crying all the time, requiring all of my attention. he refuses to this day to use a litter box. this only got worse as he learned to walk. then he started eating my cat food, playing in my water and incessantly chasing me around my house. seriously, doesn't he realize how much beauty sleep i require to maintain my rugged handsomeness? 

i have documented some of my hardships. please take note of what i have endured.

this is what the fifth one does with his blanket each morning. can't a guy just nap on occasion? smothering is what it is. absolutely smothering.

this is how the fourth one carries me from room to room. 

can't i just sit on the couch in peace? does it always have to mean this particular brand of torture?

they started to craft me toys that are homemade. let me just make one thing clear. this is:

i wish i could say the older ones are better. they are not. this is what bedtime for me looks like. these conditions are just horrible.

one of the worst things about my life? i am forced to share it with my sister. she is not only clearly less attractive than i, she is also quite a bother, instigating playtime when i want to rest and stealing all the best places on the sofas.

i have tried to communicate my discontent with those i share this home with. first i started to refuse to drink the horrible water placed in a bowl by my cat food. that was just ridiculous. only fresh water from the faucet will suffice.

still, no one seems to understand me. until now. working with a team of pet nutrition experts, rachael ray created nutrish super premium food and treats for dogs and cats. made with simple, wholesome ingredients like real meat, nutrish foods are inspired by tasty recipes from rachael's kitchen. rutrish contains no by-products, fillers, or junk ingredients. finally, someone who makes products that meet my regal standards. it is about time.

they created naturally dry cat food. real chicken or salmon is always the number one ingredient in every bag of rachael ray rutrish® for cats. there’s no ground corn, wheat or soy. and there’s never any by-products artificial flavors or artificial preservatives. just wholesome whole grains and veggies plus the vitamins, minerals and taurine that i need to be healthy and happy.

i have been given wet cat food less times than i can count. still, rachael has made the wet cat food especially for me as well. inspired by recipes from rachael's kitchen, these delicious recipes are made with simple, natural ingredients like real chicken or fish. there's no grains or anything artificial either — just essential vitamins and minerals for a tasty food i will love (if they ever buy the wet food for me).

the best part for me? rachael ray has created rachael's rescue, an organization created for all the forgotten pets who may not have someone who smothers (i mean loves) them. rachael's proceeds go to help these cats. to date, proceeds from sales of nutrish have gone toward food, medical supplies and treatments for animals in need. many more shelters around the country need help, and through rachael's rescue, together we can make a difference in the lives of many four-legged friends. thus far, rachael’s rescue has donated more than $6 million to pets in need. 

i am making it my mission to spread the word. rachael ray gets me. we are soul mates. i think i'm in love. i'm looking forward to staring at her picture on each bag of nutrish. here is what you can do to help your own cat feel the love. head to to find out where to purchase the food we deserve. you can also head to the "switch to nutrish" webpage for a coupon to make your shopping even easier:  finally, just go buy the food. you can find it where you buy groceries. my owners have claimed target as their second home. shopping should be easy. finally, post your pictures of your cat with the hashtag #nutrishforcats. i will live vicariously through your pampered pets. 

until next time, i will be hiding underneath some piece of furniture in the hopes of avoiding detection...or trying to eat my nutrish cat food before the smallest person beats me to it. wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

the worst memories

there are some days i will never forget for all the worst reasons. i will never forget where i stood in my classroom as a teacher on 9/11. i will never forget sitting on a soccer field as the ground started rolling during the california earthquake of 1989. my grandparents could recall in detail the news of the bombing of pearl harbor. certain moments are stamped indelibly in our minds.

for me, one more moment is forever etched in my mind. i was pregnant for the first time and my husband and i had embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. we had moved to cartagena, colombia for my husband's job and were living temporarily in the amazingly beautiful santa clara hotel. at about 3:30 in the morning of april 6th, we were woken by a phone call. i was closest to the phone and, in my sleepy stupor, did not even register that a phone call at that hour could possibly mean something horrible. as i tried to clear the sleepy fog from my brain, my father-in-law started speaking. his words were short and to the point. phil, my husband's younger brother, had been working an extra detail that night at his job as a sheriff's deputy. he was shot. he is dead. he was 25. i sat there trying to comprehend the words and then took in the weight of it all. the most distressing fact for me at that moment was that i had to pass the phone to my husband knowing the news before him and wishing with everything in me i could shield him from what he was about to hear. i looked over at him beside me, now awake in the bed and before i passed the phone to him, whispered the words, "i am so sorry." the memory of that moment still takes my breath away. 

this weekend marked eleven years since that night. eleven years of missing someone. eleven christmases. eleven birthdays. countless moments of wondering what he would be like today. i still find myself longing to pick up the telephone and call him up to chat and laugh. he was more than my brother-in-law, he was my friend and i miss him. i can't, however, even claim to know a bit of the loss my husband has suffered. so, each anniversary comes along and again, all i can ever really think to say is, "i am so sorry." it seems silly and inadequate and yet, nothing i say could ever fill the hole left by his death. 

a few years ago, we decided to work on filling up some of the holes surrounding the anniversary day with good things. we fill up the day with joy and happy moments for our family. my husband typically takes the day off of work and we fill it with activities. this weekend meant we filled it with a trip to the donut shop with the kids. a trip to build bird feeders at home depot. dinner with friends and neighbors. a movie night out. the day was filled with hugs and kisses, sunshine, conversation. we fill the day with life and family in honor of someone who is still a part of ours. somehow, bringing fun to a horrible day turns it around. i can imagine phil in all of the moments of our day, laughing with his niece and nephews, talking with his brother, enjoying it all. we had so many april 6th's in a row that were filled with so much sadness. there is something redeeming in filling years of april 6th's with something more. 

and so, we will continue to do so. we will continue to remember him and miss him while loving on our kids. we will play and laugh and hug and kiss more than we normally do. we will fill the day with life and remember him in all the greatest ways. we will remember to keep living. i think phil would love that.