Embracing a Funky Old Tool Shed

Siding: Cedar Shakes, Trim: Cedar Shakes/White, Door: Red, Roof: Light Brown/Metal - This is a custom building.

Photo by Sheds Unlimited

When we moved here ten years ago, I was very grateful that our house had a tool shed in the back yard. It’s a luxury to have storage space for garden tools, pots, soil, the wheelbarrow and other various outdoor odds and ends.

Since I’ve written for home magazines for many years, I’m often exposed to fabulous, high-end homes and landscapes. Most home design writers will agree with me that this is both a blessing and occasionally, a challenge.

It’s endlessly fascinating to hear about people’s crazy remodels and sloping lots and zoning issues and architects and builders and interior designers. It’s a rare privilege to see their incredible, perfect homes. On the other hand, sometimes I return home with a critical eye instead of a grateful heart for all that we have.

I recently wrote about a beautiful lakefront home in Montana’s  Whitefish  Lake for Mountain Living magazine. The homeowners Orlan and Debra Sorensen built the most fabulous stone garden shed you’ve ever seen, complete with a sitting area and porch overlooking the lake. You can peek at it here, and the shed is the last photo at the end of the story.

Dreams vs. Reality

If I were going to splurge on a new potting shed, perhaps I’d consider one like the custom structure by Sheds Unlimited posted above. Something charming, with windows to let in the sunlight, and maybe even with a little table inside where I could escape and read fine literature and sip something like…oh, I don’t know… a sparkling drink with fresh mint and lavender syrup.

But the reality is that our shed is of a slightly… different architectural style. Our shed, in fact, looks like this:


Tool shed covered with reclaimed fencing | Happy Simple Living blog

It’s rectangular with a flat roof, and the exterior is covered with old, reclaimed cedar fencing. Because it is so wonderfully utilitarian and because we’re trying to live sustainably with what we have, I’ve given up trying to class up the shed and have decided, instead, to celebrate its unique flair.

I added a few metal signs to the front of it to celebrate its funky siding, and nailed the warped boards back in place.


Funky old tool shed | Happy Simple Living blog

The shed is topped with a lovely faux owl that is supposed to scare the flickers away from our siding but which, in fact, does not fool fowl or the rabbits who visit the garden.

I had the structure re-roofed, and Pop kindly added vents to keep it cooler in the summer. It may not be a magazine-worthy shed, but it’s functional and fun and I am grateful for it.

How About You?

Do you have an area in or around your house where you’ve decided to simply go with what’s there? Have you decided to keep your rare pink bathroom fixtures or sturdy Formica counters and let them become part of your home’s charm? I’d love to hear your stories in the Comments section below.

Here’s to making the best of what we have, and embracing the funky!


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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Garden Where There Once Was None

New garden | Happy Simple Living blog

My son and I tackled a big project this summer. We had a vision to create a cool, shady spot under the trees for a small table and chairs.

The location was in a wild, overgrown area of the south side of the house that had always been a jumble of weeds and vines and bushes and sapling trees. Here’s the “before” photo:


New garden before | Happy Simple Living blog

On Demolition Day, my son used a handsaw to cut and clear all of the trees and bushes. I was his assistant, dragging and piling the branches. After several hours, much of the overgrowth was gone and a sense of the new garden begin to take shape. It was a very therapeutic day.

Later, we dug and cut and yanked out smaller stumps and roots. I spent many hours on my knees hacking at the hard clay soil, and began to sense a spiritual parallel.

So I started praying and asked God to clear out the deadwood and weedy, overgrown places in my heart. I asked for help to let go of some things that still weighed on me, and asked for healing of past hurts and disappointments.

At one especially difficult point during this time of hacking and introspection, the ground was so hard I felt like there must be a brick beneath my spade. And guess what?


Digging through clay soil | Happy Simple Living blog

There was a broken brick buried in the ground!

When the stumps and roots (and brick) were cleared, I asked for a renewal and refreshing of my spirit. I prayed for inner peace to foster quiet time and reflection, and a new place for creative ideas to grow.

A neighbor was giving away an eighth-ton of rock, so I loaded three buckets in the back of the Toyota and drove the four blocks to his house. Over three days, I made numerous trips carrying manageable buckets of gravel and spread it in the new place under the trees. It was just the right amount of stone.

We hung a string of lights overhead and a hummingbird feeder in a tree. A bright green metal table and chairs from Target fit right in the space, and a coleus plant added color.


Coleus plant | Happy Simple Living blog


Our dear friends Debbie and John brought us perennial shade plants in memory of my son’s dad and my former husband, Jose, who passed away this year. This is “Sea Heart:”


Sea Heart | Happy Simple Living blog


A stray hollyhock seed blew in and planted itself at the entrance of the garden,  where it bloomed with the showiest fuchsia blossoms all summer.


Hollyhock blossom | Happy Simple Living


The garden is such a peaceful place to drink coffee and listen to the birds and write in my journal.


new garden


Several friends visited throughout the summer, and the space was as cool and pleasant as I once dreamed it might be.


Friends visit our new garden | Happy Simple Living blog


The tiny space will always need maintenance. Vines try to creep back in, and weeds push up through the rocks.

But now there is a small garden flourishing in a place that was once neglected and overgrown, and I am so very grateful.

May you find a clearing amidst the noise, space to grow, and unexpected beauty in the days to come.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

When All You Need is Love

Aster | Happy Simple Living blog

For the past few months I’ve been trying to help my teenage son cope with the sudden death of his father. I’ve also been dealing with my own emotions, along with some changes in our lives. I suspect that nearly all of you have experienced loss or hardships, so you know what it’s like to be knee-deep in challenges.

During this unsettled season, the garden has blossomed like crazy in spite of just the barest efforts from me. After ten years of moving gravel and hacking at clay clods and digging in compost, this is the year the garden chose to reward us with a most glorious display. I know there is a lesson in there somewhere, or maybe not exactly a lesson but a reminder of the startling beauty and hope that can appear at unexpected times.

The other silver lining is that I feel blessed with some of the most incredibly supportive family and friends on the planet. Our family has been so deeply comforted by the people who have lovingly cared for us. Being on the receiving end of their kindness has filled me with gratitude.

Perennials | Happy Simple Living blog

The Different Ways We Try to Help

A tragedy can bring out different reactions in people. Some people can’t cope and disappear, and I understand. Some imagine how they would handle a particular situation, and say things or offer advice in an effort to smooth over the pain. I’ve caught myself doing this in trying to comfort my son. The fact is that I can’t exactly understand his pain because my daddy passed away when I was 46 years old, not thirteen.

In times of trouble, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of others’ well-meaning-but-misguided suggestions and comments. My experience is that judgment from others in the midst of our grief adds uncertainty and feelings of guilt that are just too heavy to bear.

So I’ve been especially sensitive recently to the moments when I start to judge the actions of others. This is a habit I’m really working hard to break. I am not in someone else’s situation and I have not experienced their particular pain, so I am wholly unqualified to offer anything but empathy.

When a little righteous thought creeps in, I try to shut it right down and offer up a prayer instead. Or I do what Richard suggested to Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, and send thoughts of light and love.

To get out of my own head, I recently explored some other folks’ difficulties from an empathetic perspective.

Clematis | Happy Simple Living blog

Please Don’t Judge Me

A new business owner confides to his friend that he is exhausted from working long hours. “You need to delegate more, and stop trying to do everything yourself,” says the friend, who has never tried to start a business. Please don’t judge me, the entrepreneur thinks. You can’t imagine the responsibility I feel for each employee who’s working overtime, how tight our finances are, and the myriad moving parts I’m juggling that simply can’t be managed by anyone else.

A mother takes her mentally challenged son out for a quick cheeseburger. While they’re waiting to order, the boy starts screaming and knocks over a stack of plastic trays. The other patrons, whose children are not mentally challenged, look at her disapprovingly and shake their heads. Please don’t judge me, she thinks as they leave. You have no idea how isolated we feel. You can’t imagine how much I was hoping to successfully pull off this small outing. You don’t know how fiercely I love this boy, and how desperately I want him to have a good life.

A man learns that he has a cancerous tumor and must have his kidney removed. He is afraid, and asks for prayers about the surgery on a Facebook post.  “Your attitude directly affects your health, so stay positive!” writes an acquaintance, who has never had cancer. “Remember that God gave you two kidneys!” writes another. Please don’t judge me, he thinks. You can’t imagine facing surgery and chemotherapy while trying to work and support a family. You don’t know what it’s like to look at your children and fear that your time with them may be cut short. 

A woman is trying to work up the courage to leave her verbally abusive, unemployed husband. A long-married friend points out that at least he’s not physically abusive, and suggests that she keep working on her marriage for the sake of their children. Please don’t judge me, the woman thinks. You don’t know what I’ve endured, and how different he is behind closed doors. You can’t begin to imagine how scared I am to set this boundary and advocate for my safety and respect.

A couple loses their precious teenage daughter in an automobile accident. A decade later, they still sometimes feel sad and tear up when talking about her. The husband overhears a friend, who has never lost a child, say, “How long is this going to continue? Isn’t it about time they moved on? It’s been ten years.” Please don’t judge us, he thinks. She was our baby girl, and we never even had a chance to say goodbye. Time has lessened our pain, but we still miss her and think about her every single day.

Clematis | Happy Simple Living blog

Love is the Answer

Last week I wrote words of gratitude to a dear friend: “You listened to me, you let me cry, you cheered me up, you sent me a great book, you understood my difficult schedule and still made time to meet me for lunch and come over, and I’ve never felt like you had any judgment or criticism or agenda with me.”

Ahhh, what a blessed gift her support has been–and how it has buoyed me. Think of those who supported you at your darkest hour, and I bet they surrounded you similarly with love. When people are hurting and we don’t know how to respond, sometimes the finest thing we have to offer is gentleness and kindness.

As a result of my recent experiences, I hope to pay it forward and get better at giving simple love and solace when others are hurting.

Rose | Happy Simple Living blog

How About You?

Was someone especially helpful and kind to you when you needed it most? What made you feel supported and loved?

Did you receive unsolicited advice, criticism or judgment during a tough time? How did you feel, and how did you respond?

I always love to hear your thoughts and experiences … and I hope your garden is thriving this summer, too.

Hugs and happy June,

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About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Day 13 of the January Money Diet – Plan a Garden

Plan your garden during the January Money Diet

My sister and I talked right after Christmas, and agreed that there is something about the arrival of January that immediately makes us start thinking about seeds and plants and gardens.

Do you love to daydream about planting a garden in the spring? Now is the perfect time to begin making plans and sketching out ideas for your ideal plot.

In the Day #4 post  (“Figure Out What to Eat“), I enjoyed reading comments from a number of you who grow your own food and preserve it so you can enjoy it all year. We do this on a small scale, freezing things like tomatoes and cherries and pesto, but I’d like to get more serious about growing more fresh fruits and veggies this year.

Strategies for Every Space

If you live in an apartment, you might be able to choose plants that thrive in your climate and can be grown in containers. My friend Jerry grows cherry tomatoes year ’round from a pot in a sunny window in his downtown Denver apartment.

Do you have access to a roof or balcony? The Kitchn posted an informative article on rooftop gardening.

If you have a small yard or garden plot, you may enjoy the “Square Foot Gardening” method to maximize your yield from a small space.

If you have a typical yard, you might be inspired by the Urban Homestead website. This family grows 3 tons of food on 1/10th of an acre!

If you don’t have a yard but long to really dig in the dirt, you might check out the community gardens in your area. The American Community Gardening Association has a nifty interactive map to help you find one near you.

Time to Daydream

It’s always fun to peruse the new seed catalogs and online offerings each year to see what new varieties have been introduced. These are some of my favorite seed companies:

The site MicroEcoFarming.com has a wealth of information about growing your own food — including tips for how to sell what you grow as an extra revenue source. You may also want to check out the Happy Simple Gardening Pinterest board, where I collect photos and ideas for growing good food and flowers (with a minimum amount of labor, naturally).

How About You?

Would you like to start planning your garden? Check out some gardening sites, sketch out ideas, and make a list of the seed varieties you want to plant this year. If you don’t have a garden, daydream about what you’d like to grow someday. Leave a comment on this page if you participate in this challenge.

We’d especially love to hear about any edible varieties you’ve grown successfully in the past. If you have favorite gardening sites and sources, we’d love to hear about those, too.

Happy daydreaming,

The signature for Eliza Cross

Photo:   Elspeth Briscoe

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Close-Up View of the Garden

Snow peas blooming


In late April, I posted about planting peas.

Planting Peas


I was worried that I hadn’t gotten them in the ground early enough. A couple weeks later, we had a huge spring snowstorm on Mother’s Day weekend. This week we’ve had temperatures in the 80s and 90s. The peas are hanging in there, though, thanks to regular watering… Peas blooming in the garden


…and a dense planting arrangement around a willow trellis. Peas on a willow trellis


Despite the heat, the peas are forming. Growing snow peas in the garden


I love the way my camera helps me focus on small details. It’s amazing to see the baby pea pod emerge from the blossom.

Baby snow pea pod emerging

We should be able to start picking a few peas later this week, a thought that brings me no end of joy.

How about you? What do you have coming up? I’d love to hear how your garden is growing in this lovely month of June.


The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

A Remarkable Rose from a Sweet Grandma


Grandma C. had 17 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.

Sylvia Crosslen became my step-grandmother when her son Howard married my mom Betty, some forty years ago. If you are fortunate enough to have a special relative through marriage, then you’ll understand when I say that it didn’t take long for me to not even think about the “step” part and just call her Grandma.



Sylvia and Orville Crosslen on their wedding day in 1933

Born in 1908, Sylvia traveled to Colorado on a covered wagon from Paris, Texas when she was eight years old and married Orville when she was 25. Grandma and Grandpa raised seven kids in a simple cabin in the Black Forest of Colorado Springs; my Pop was the youngest, and only boy. We’ve heard many stories about the family’s challenges and Grandma didn’t have luxuries, but she grew a fragrant, old-fashioned pink rose in her garden. In her later years–before she moved to the apartment–she gave a slip of the rose to my Mom and Pop, who carefully carried it back to Denver and planted it in their garden. When their rose became established, they in turn gave my sister and me a slip, and we each planted the roses in our gardens, too.


old fashioned rose

The tiny stalks take a while to get established, but soon they grow into a wild cascade of canes and leaves. Once a year, for just a week or so in June, the plant blooms with the most fragrant, extravagant pink roses you’ve ever seen.


Old fashioned rose

The roses are impossibly fat and packed with pink petals, and you can smell their sweet aroma across the yard in the morning.


Old fashioned rose bush

The blossoms last only for a day or two, and then they litter the grass with pink petals.


old fashioned roses fading

Grandma Sylvia “Jean” Crosslen passed in 2001 at the age of 93, but I’m thinking of her this week because her rose is blooming once again and putting on its extravagant show in the garden. I am grateful to have the offshoot of her rose bush here with me to remind me of her gentle spirit.


Old fashioned rose

We sure do miss you, Grandma.

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.