One of the best things I've done for myself in this stage of my life is sign-up for the Master Gardener course through the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Office in Black Hawk County.
Plug the word "garden" into the search bar of my blog and you will find that gardening has become a huge passion of mine. It has always been an interest, but until I had the space of our acreage, I didn't have a chance to explore it fully.
I wanted to start the Master Gardener journey now versus later (most members are 50+) because I thought having a formal education about gardening would benefit me tremendously as I continue to expand our little farm. Having "book knowledge" to combine with my practical knowledge and apply to my future experiences will be wonderful.
When signing up, I did not know what I was getting myself into. After taking the required pre-assessment before classes started, I REALLY didn't know what I was getting myself into. Essentially, the pre-assessment taught me that I knew NOTHING about gardening. I was a complete rookie. Which was humbling, motivating me even more to do well in this course.
Our classes were primarily in the classroom, watching educational video presentations by experts from Iowa State University. Sprinkled in were a few live classes ranging from private gardens of Master Gardeners to established greenhouses. Those classes were my favorite because hands-on experiences are the what my brain absorbs best. These trips were also the most inspiring to me, seeing how others were applying their knowledge about gardening in so many different ways.
Our trainings all led up to a hands-on class on the Iowa State University campus. Over 300 Master Gardener trainees from across the state came together to learn and share their knowledge. It was amazing! I got to know the people in the Black Hawk County group better (funny how we never talked in class but when put into a new situation we were inseparable!) which was very nice.
I loved every minute of the on-campus training. The dots started to connect for me when we were able to apply what we learned in a variety of different labs.
My favorite labs were Botany:
And surprisingly, Entomology:
I also really enjoyed Plant Pathology, identifying diseases in plants. I didn't snap a photo of that because we had to circulate through 10 stations really fast!
Overall, the experience was even better than I expected. It was nice to be with like-minded people who daydreamed about their gardens as much as I do.
I passed my post-assessment (WOO-HOO!):
So what this means is that I am now an official Master Gardener Intern. I'll complete 40 hours of volunteering and 10 hours of continuing education in 2019. In January of 2020 I'll officially be a Master Gardener. It will definitely be worth the work and the wait.
I will be honored to hold the title and share what I learn with others. I can already tell this is the beginning of a fulfilling journey! My heart feels full. Like I'm doing something I'm meant to do. And that's nice.
Hit me with your plant questions, I'd love to help you (probably learning a thing or two myself while I'm at it)!
Joel and I recently celebrated our NINTH wedding anniversary! We’ve been together almost thirteen years total. I have repeated this fact to myself over and over again the past few days. It seems surreal. Especially since I never thought I’d get married in the first place! But goodness, am I glad I did.
We always take time around our anniversary to stop and reflect. Escaping for a few days to explore, our favorite thing to do together.
This year was one of the best anniversary trips we’ve taken! We traveled around Iowa and Wisconsin over five days, our primary home base being my family’s cabin in Lansing, Iowa.
Before I dive into what we did, I want to tell you how the morning of our vacation started before we left because I think it’s important that some real life gets thrown into this shiny, happy post! We got water in our basement. A LOT of water. The dogs lost their minds at the vet, Madison had to get muzzled. I had a nail in my tire that needed to be fixed before we left. The dogs lost their minds again at home and pushed a glass platter down the stairs, breaking it. Something come up at work that they needed to contact me about. All before noon. After some big breaths and an undying will to continue on as planned, we made it out of the house!
We started out in Madison, Wisconsin. We both love Madison. Great city. College town. Pretty hip. Lots to do. We didn’t have much time to wander around this time because we were in town to see Jeff Tweedy from Wilco perform at an art museum. I had been to a Wilco show before and Joel is constantly listening to them so I had a good idea of what we were getting into. But wow. What a show. I was in tears several times. Jeff is a king lyricist. And for as serious as his lyrics are, he’s actually a pretty funny guy. Time flew and neither of us wanted it to end!
We had to venture home after staying the night in Madison because Twins had a show in Des Moines. So on our way back we hit up Chris Farley’s childhood home in Madison and then the Field of Dreams in Dyersville! I had never been to either, so it was pretty neat.
The following day we traveled to La Crosse, Wisconsin – our favorite Wisconsin city hands down. We hit up our regular haunts, napped in the park (beyond relaxing), and then ended the day taking a walk with “Mark Twain” as he told us about the Mississippi River. This one man, outdoor play was wonderful. I never realized that Mark Twain was a humorist. For a humorist, he was quite an insightful man. Some of the lines spoken were extremely moving and very relevant in our current political state.
We finished the trek where three different rivers intersect at the end of the La Crosse river walk. Mark Twain said this is a sign of a sacred space according to Native Americans. We were in a hidden garden. The sun was setting over the water. Ducks were peacefully swimming nearby. I was with Joel. Mark Twain was standing in front of us. A sacred space indeed.
On our last day before packing up to go home, we went south into Wisconsin. We checked out some spots just outside of and in Prairie du Chien. We stopped by an apple orchard/pumpkin patch, walking away without any fresh fruit, but with a bag of fresh bakery items instead! Then we ventured into an area that we hadn’t been before, off the beaten path. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but essentially we found a large equipment graveyard. I may have broken a couple of rules and committed a minor crime while we were there, but I made it out without being arrested!
We were also excited to find an antique shop we hadn’t seen before. If you are in that area and like reasonably priced antiques, check out Checkers Antiques! Nice people, amazing selection, open for 50 years – so they know what’s up.
Overall, it was a very relaxing trip. In between adventures we made sure to reaffirm our commitment to one another, celebrate victories, learn from challenges (like the five in a row we experienced before leaving!), and look into the future.
I’m lucky for this man and all he brings to my life. We seem to feel happier each year we are together, which I am immensely grateful for. Being by his side is my favorite part of living. We’ve built a simple yet incredible life together that only keeps getting better. Here’s to staying aligned and in love for many more years, J! Glad you’re on my team.
I’m giving the project addict in me a tiny bit of a break for the rest of the Summer.
We resumed outdoor projects on our acreage the moment the weather felt the slightest bit like Spring this year. Since then, we’ve been busting our butts in the limited spare time we have had to continue our progress on fixing up our almost 100-year-old home. And you know what? We’re tired. Our minds and bodies and budget need a break. So we’re taking it!
As we’ve slowed our pace a bit, we’ve actually been able to step back and appreciate all that we have done in a little over two years. I wanted to share some of our outdoor progress with you in the form of some before and after shots!
Front of House
Back of House
Around the House Paint & Landscaping
I’ve also spruced up some awkward spaces on our property with vignettes and flowers:
Hope you enjoyed a little look into the work we’ve been doing! I think I’ll pull together a post that shows before and afters of the interior of our home as well, since that has evolved so much in two years as well. And even though I said we’re taking a break…I have a few DIY projects that I want to complete and share soon.
Have a wonderful and relaxing rest of the Summer!
Becoming a gardener has been one of the most rewarding hobbies I’ve ever stumbled upon.
Flowers have always been my favorite. I worked really hard in the yard and flower beds of our first home to establish landscaping that made me smile each time I was outside (while adding charm to the exterior of course). When we moved to our second, and potentially forever, home on two acres of land my head started swimming with ideas of what I could do with so much space.
In a little over two years’ time, my plants have been the best teachers. As I’ve sweated over landscaping around the entire house, planted a huge vegetable and wildflower garden, and made plans to fill in spots begging for the chance to host perennials – nature has spoken to me.
There is so much to learn from the simplicity of the outdoors. It exists. If you allow it the basic necessities to live – off it goes. No pomp and circumstance. In its own time and at its own pace, it grows.
I spent a few hours in my vegetable and wild flower garden last night since I haven’t been able to be as hands on with it as I was last year. I was missing it. And you know what I realized? Even though I wasn’t there to pluck every single weed, prune every little tomato shoot, or thoroughly water every one of the plants – there they were – growing stronger before my eyes. The control freak inside of me softened. There were weeds, the tomato plants were out of control, and it could have used a watering – but it was my garden and my tiny seedlings were well on their way to bearing their fruit without any handholding from me.
In their own time, they will bloom.
And sometimes…they won’t. Enter – the humbling part of being a gardener.
I tried starting seedlings this year. I was off to a great start – everything was sprouting. And then it wasn’t. I tried more water and less water. Airing them out. Time outside. Every combination I could think of. Unfortunately, only six green bean seedlings were the sole survivors out of 54 pods of seedlings. The seedlings that once showed promise shriveled away and the egg shells I started them in were worked into the dirt around the seedlings I was forced to buy. Ouch. My mighty green thumb wasn’t as mighty after all. Turns out I’m not naturally good at everything. Sometimes, even if you use all of your charm and try all you can, you fail. Fall right down on your face. Into a pile of dried up seedlings.
In addition to pride, humility, and more patience – my plants have given me a feeling of purpose and contentment.
If you have read my blog, you know I’m my worst critic. I beat myself up a lot. But since becoming a gardener, especially at our new home, one of the most comforting things I can say to myself is, “You may not be good at everything. You might not do everything perfectly. But you are good at something. And after you’re done with X, Y, Z – you can come back here, to your garden, and you’ll be OK.”
Having something in my life that makes me feel that way is truly priceless. I suppose you could say I’ve found my happy place in the garden. The place you can close your eyes and visualize and smile about.
I hope you’ve found your happy place, too. And if you haven’t – take time to reflect on what makes you feel and keeps you grounded. Run towards it. Throw everything you’ve got into it. I promise the lessons it teaches you along the way will be worth it.
We had a pretty nice holiday at the Sires' household. We soaked in the glow of our Christmas tree, watched lots of holiday movies, snuggled in with our pups, and indulged in too many treats!
To balance out the peaceful calm, we threw some chaos of our own making into the mix. As usual, we were the people out shopping for ALL of our gifts the week before (up to the day before) Christmas. Never fails. We never mean to wait so long and we're not unthoughtful people, it has truly just become a laughable tradition of ours. At least we're experiencing the madness together!
This year was a little different for us because some of our normal traditions with family shifted slightly. The shift meant that we had Christmas Eve completely open, no commitments. (!!!) We tried to be intentional about what we chose to do in hopes of creating one or two new traditions that we could carry into the future.
It was a pretty laid back day. We slept in, rose slowly, had brunch, wrapped the last of our gifts, napped, took a walk, and went to church in the evening. The pace was dreamy. It felt so strange to have such a leisurely day in the middle of the busiest few days of our year, but I think we both welcomed and needed it.
My absolute favorite part of our Christmas Eve together was our walk. We took a walk around our property, taking time to stop, look around, and breathe in the crisp air. We fell in love with our acreage in the winter, so winter always feels an extra kind of special around here. Our dreams for this place took shape in the quiet, cold, and snowy months before we made it our home.
This type of reflection as a couple is undoubtedly the best new tradition that sprouted from our extra eight hours together during the holidays. My love for him, who we've become as individuals and as a couple, and the life we've built together has never felt stronger than in those stolen hours.
I hope you embraced new traditions along with the old this holiday season and were able to be present in both. Wishing you a wonderful holiday and happy new year!
Here are some “family photos” we attempted on Christmas Eve! Attempted being the key word. No amount of treats can persuade our dogs to take a photo!
I recently turned 33. I'd love to share an upbeat story about what a beautiful day I had and how wonderful I felt, but that would be a lie. I spent the first day of my 33rd year in the midst of a swirling mix of emotions. Mostly anxiety, some sadness, with an undercurrent of feeling special and overwhelmingly grateful. I cried. Hard. One of those deep down cries that catches you off guard and ends up being a welcome release of emotion.
I couldn't put my feelings into words. I'm not normally a person who is bothered by birthdays. I actually look forward to them as times for reflection, looking back and setting personal goals for the future. Wanting to be a better version of myself year after year. But this year was different. I'm hoping for good reason.
Over the past few months I have felt a major shift inside myself. I've been faced with messages of overcoming fears, embracing change, the importance of connection, of showing up. All things I'm admittedly not very good at. Actually, I would identify all of these things as my top weaknesses. But over and over again, I'm hit with truths about how in order to live in a full and authentic way I should embrace these things. And I believe this is true.
There will always be characteristics about ourselves that will be hard to face, but need to be faced in order to grow.
I don't want to make any declarations about what I'd like to see from myself over the next year, but I do have some thoughts:
Whew. That was much more of a download than I was expecting.
Even though I recognize there's still work to do - I also have to appreciate the good things that have occurred within me this past year. Limitless patience, recognizing the impact and power of my reactions and words, finding outlets for my anxiety, being present, finding the best in everyone and leading with the positive when referring to them, showing love without expecting love back. Good things. Good strides. Good vibes.
Two things in closing:
The first - I felt so very loved on my birthday due to the calls, texts, messages and hugs I received from my friends and family, both near and far. I also got some of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever gotten - which made me cry even harder.
And second - I've covered a lot in this post, but I feel the quote below best captures who I think I am at this time in my life. This is my 33.
We have been frantically trying to wrap up some big projects before winter arrives. I had high hopes for this summer in terms of our landscaping and I have to say - we did good! We didn't have time to get to the fire pit, but the space will be there waiting for us next year!
Here's a little peek at our landscaping. There was nothing around the house before, so what we did was a huge upgrade!
We also did major work on the trees all around our property. The wind did a number on them last year - tops broke off, full trees fell over, large branches partially fell but were still hanging on...I acquired a fear of wind after awhile...
With the help of a family friend who owns a tree trimming business, Joel and I were able to get everything cleaned up! It was A LOT of work, but everything looks so much nicer.
I had a bit of a hard time losing a few of the trees, but when a tree's dead, it's dead, and it's got to go.
We also had help from my uncle, Joe, who came over and ground all of our stumps for us! My goodness we are so lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who take good care of us.
Joel did most of the work cleaning up the aftermath of the stump grinding, including removal of the final tree we'll cut down this year.
Last weekend, I spent a lot of time cleaning out the gardens. I started tearing out everything except for our strawberries. Those I covered with hay, they'll come back next year.
I had the most fun harvesting our sweet potatoes! They vine out and take up so much space, so I didn't know what to expect. We had a good crop from four plants. Most went to my sister for baby food, but I kept the rest to enjoy myself. I love sweet potatoes!
My hydrangea bush did really well this year and had several blooms left before the frost, so I cut them off to use as decor indoors.
You are supposed to put them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight to dry. I chose to hang ours upside down, and so far they're doing really great. They have a beautiful burgundy color and go really well with our decor.
Although I'm really, really going to miss spending time outdoors - especially in my gardens - over the winter, I suppose winter happens for a reason. We all need a chance to hibernate and rest so we can come back as a better, stronger version of ourselves when the snow begins to melt. I'll try my best to welcome this slower pace and take in the beauty of country living in its next season.
I'm getting really excited for Summer to arrive! I spent all Winter daydreaming about the projects I could get to once the snow melted. Two big goals of mine for this year was to get some landscaping done around our house and start a garden. I'm happy to report that both are well on their way to being finished!
I started with the garden space, choosing to till two large plots. One for food, one for flowers. Thanks to my amazing uncle Rick who lent us his tiller, my dad and husband knocked out the plots in minutes flat.
I also got to try out the tiller, which was fun. I love all of the new equipment I've been able to operate on the farm! (Don't mind my outfit...matching hasn't been my biggest strength lately!)
I have some starter plants already purchased for the fruit/veggie garden and scored on seeds for the flower garden. I want happy pollinators in my backyard, so I'm crossing my fingers that both gardens succeed! I haven't started planting just yet. My grandma has always told me to wait until after Mother's Day - and this old wives' tale has never been wrong.
The next thing I tried my hand at was laying out plans for landscaping around the house. I had a blank slate to work with. An absolute dream...and nightmare...because the ideas just keep coming!
To plan how far out I wanted to go out from the house, I used two main tools: Weed Killer and Spray Paint! I measured and eyeballed how I wanted to lay everything out first. I then used spray paint to draw a line around the house where I wanted the landscaping to reach and sprayed weed killer between the house and the spray painted line.
I'm filling in the mapped out area with rock, surrounding several buried pots that I'll fill with flowers. I also plan to build some simple planters to place between the buried pots to add some height variation.
I wanted the front yard landscaping to be simple and easy to maintain since we have a lot going on in our backyard (a more "wild/native" plant approach) to support my B's (bees, bats, butterflies, birds). You could say I'm following the "Mullet Philosophy" for our landscaping - business in the front, party in the back!
Like the gardens, this is still a work in progress. I'll post a full DIY tutorial on both when they're finished!
I'm happy with where we're at for only being at the farm for a year and two months! So much has changed already, with so much more yet to come. We love this little place of ours that continues to feel more and more like home. We don't take a second of country living for granted, and take as much time as we can pausing to give thanks for the beauty it has brought into our lives!
If you read my last "Wren Picks" post about Minimalism, you'll know that simplifying has been on my mind a lot lately.
I took my first steps towards becoming more of a minimalist by weeding out my closet. I love clothes. And shoes. So much. I thinned out my collection before moving to our acreage, but I still managed to fill the bulk of two closets, three of four drawers of a dresser AND had shoe overflow in our hallway closet...I feel so embarrassed as I write that! NO ONE needs that many clothes or shoes!
I'm going to be honest - I had to mentally prepare myself. Saying you want to be a minimalist and taking actual steps towards becoming one are two very different things. Very easy to think about. Anxiety inducing when taking action on it.
But I did it. After thinking about how much more space we'd have, how much easier it would be for me to get dressed in the morning, how much lighter I'd feel without so many "things" - I was all in.
You also have to be in kind of a ruthless state of mind. No connections or sentimental feelings allowed. Just a desire to toss, throw out and purge.
I started on closet one, moved to the dresser, then the second closet, and lastly, my shoe overflow. Four garbage bags of items for Goodwill. Two bags for the trash.
There is probably opportunity for one more round through which I'll do soon. Just have to get through the shock of what I've already gotten rid of first.
I do love it though, having less clothing and shoes. It simplifies things so much! In the morning, I don't think about it. I kept things that I know look good on and work for me. It's grab and go. I love combining what I have left to create fresh new looks - it's a challenge I've enjoyed taking on.
I'm waiting for spring to fully be upon us before tackling other parts of our home that need to be cleared out, but I have a plan. For me, the earlier I have a plan, the earlier I can come to terms with what I'm letting go of - which makes it easier.
What could you let go of to free up some space and create a simple(r) life for yourself? If you have things you are holding onto that don't bring value to you or your life, why are you holding on to it?
Joel and I had our first sleepover with our sweet, three-year-old nephew, Max, this past weekend. We were mostly excited and a little nervous. We've never babysat a child overnight before, so it was uncharted territory.
We anxiously awaited Saturday morning when we were set to pick him up. We discussed an itinerary full of the fun things we could do together. I bought everything we needed the night before - kid-friendly food and craft supplies.
His parents are great, Joel's brother Harper and his wife, Sara. They do a wonderful job of preparing Max for new adventures he goes on so he knows exactly what to expect. He's a really smart little guy, too, so he understands everything they're telling him.
When we arrived to get him, he had picked out two "Minion" buttons from the store - one for each of us. He had his bags packed and he was ready to go!
We started off the day at Bloomsbury Farm (highly recommended if you're looking for a day trip somewhere that is sure to keep little ones entertained). There were activities galore (some pictured at the end of this post), and Max loved it all. He took a little snooze on the way home and when we got back to our house he settled in with Joel to watch a movie before noticing that I was working outside (I needed to water my flowers). He wanted to "work hard" so he asked to help me, which of course I said "Yes" to! We did a little work and explored our property before coming in for supper.
Bath time and bed time were a breeze - and get this - he actually wanted to go to bed...How much more perfect can this kid get?! Joel read him stories until he fell asleep and he slept like a log all night long.
We enjoyed a pancake breakfast, pumpkin painting, and "band practice" before leaving for a family member's birthday party where we were set to drop Max off. We made a pit stop at the mall to walk around and ride the children's rides, including the cool train that drives around Crossroads Mall. It was the cherry on top of a great weekend with Max.
Throughout our adventures in babysitting, we both made some interesting observations that gave us some insight into what being a parent might be like. The primary observation being we now understand how some couples can become "disconnected" from each other when there are children involved. Obviously, the joyful experiences that children bring outweigh the bad and make everything worth it, but because your focus is so much on the happiness and well-being of the child, it's easy to lose sight of your partner, their happiness and well-being.
We noticed this in two days. In our minds, I know we both multiplied that disconnected feeling by 18 years. That was eye opening for us, who at this point in our lives, are so connected we literally can predict each other's thoughts and actions 99.9% of the time.
I'm happy that we both observed the same things, took time to reflect, and discussed how what we observed made us feel. We both agreed that although we had an absolute blast, returning to our "me and him" normalcy was welcomed.
We treated ourselves to some activities that he and I like to do together to top the weekend off. Library, movie, dinner, Hulu. I think we both had a renewed feeling about how much we mean to each other, how lucky we are to have each other as a best friend, and how happy we are doing our own thing as a two person family right now.
There's nothing wrong with being thirty-somethings with no kids. To each their own. Maybe tomorrow, next week, next month our tune will change - but in this present moment - we have each other and that is enough.