Thursday, May 31, 2012

Turn a Trash Can Into a Rain Barrel

We started with a 32 gallon trash can, with lid, that we had in our shed that wasn't being used.  Our city went to garbage and recycling carts for automated pick-up several years ago which left us with a trash can we had no obvious use for, and didn't want to throw away (because how weird would that be?).

Our climate in Southern Wisconsin has always been one of extremes: below zero temps in the winter and hot, muggy temps in the mid-upper 80s, with a few 90s, every summer.  July seems to be getting drier and drier each year which meant my water bill was getting higher and higher.  A rain barrel seemed like a small way to catch some rain and put it where I needed it for my vegetable gardens. Plus, I wouldn't be using potable (drinkable) water on my plants.  Now if I could figure out how to legally do the same for my toilets...why do I need potable water to flush our family's waste down the toilet?  Ridiculous.

Scrap wood base, yup it'll work

Anyway, we cut a hole in the lid for the downspout bendy thinger (highly technical term), cut a hole and shoved in a cut up garden hose (which after the first rain, we realized was NOT big enough and we modified it to a bigger diameter hose), I put in a spigot at the bottom and my hubby built a 7" wooden base.  

Before the overflow modification.  The ugly concrete with metal tubes is all that remains of the original clotheslines.  They're for stability.

 You don't have to have a spigot, or even a lid.  The mosquitoes are terrible in my area.  TERRIBLE. So a lid is absolutely necessary for us.  Home improvement stores sell connector kits to connect multiple barrels (which I may want to do soon as my barrel is full after a few minutes of moderate rainfall.). 

The first few years of using a rain barrel were done very simply.  I had no base, no spigot, no overflow.  I had the lid and the bendy thinger.  All watering was done by removing the lid and dipping my watering can (and arm) into the rather disgusting water full of bits of roof and God knows what else.  I'm just happy I can finally hook a hose us to this!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Container Gardening

Every year, I run out of garden space.  Every year I think I have too much garden space.  Every year, I end up having to plant a lot of containers.
Homemade self-watering container for bell peppers

Above, is one of the ways I use my ginormous deck as a place to grow food.  I also use my deck to lounge in the hammock and to drink beer, but...

The lid of the container, repurposed.
 Basically, you cut the edges of the snap-on lid, off.  Cut a hole for the "foot" (a cool whip container with holes drilled all over the sides) and attach wood to keep it up. Drill some drainage holes into the top of the "water base" of the large container. Slip the base and a piece of PVC on a cut out corner into the container, fill with soil, and plant.

Water into the PVC.

I've had the most success with this self watering container.  My deck is south facing in a VERY windy backyard, so keeping container plants evenly watered can be a real challenge. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Growing Season

My suburban homestead in May: 10 raised beds, berries and fruits

Summer has arrived in my gardens!  I have flowers and small berries on my strawberries, raspberries and ground cherries.  My apple trees have small fruits forming on them, though fewer than usual because of the warm temperatures in March.  (Anyone who was celebrating the warm temps in March, without knowing there would be a price, obviously doesn't care too much about local food.)

My salads that I planted in the cold frame in February have a few weeks left.  By then, I should have peas to harvest (also planted in the cold frame, on St. Patrick's Day).  The farmers' market ought to get us through the leaner early part of June for veggies.  Judging by my strawberry plants, I ought to have berries in early to mid-June.  That reminds me...I'd better start using up all the strawberries that I froze from last year's crop!

The strawberries are about all that is left of last year's harvest.  A few jars of assorted jellies, syrups and pickles, are all that are left in my pantry.  I did find a bag of broccoli buried at the bottom of my freezer that's only good for soup judging by the ice crystals encasing the florets!

I tried something new this year.  Instead of investing in seedlings from my local nursery, I planted hundreds of seeds.  I surprised myself with how well they all did.  For the first time ever, I won't be buying any annuals and I don't plan on buying any vegetable plants (unless I see a cherry tomato plant at the farmer's market on Saturday.  I forgot to plant that).

I started my seeds under a regular florescent light fixture in my basement.  Then in April, I moved them to a freestanding, greenhouse (the kind you buy for $30 at the store).  A few days ago, I did a big 5 hour day of planting all the seedlings except the tomatoes and peppers.  The soil temperature just isn't warm enough for those plants yet.  While planting them now won't kill them, they will just not grow until the soil warms up to about 60 degrees (and it'll probably be there by Sunday).

Earlier this week, I planted broccoli, carrots, more salad greens, black beans, pole beans, bush beans, spaghetti squash, pie pumpkins, zucchini, acorn squash, peas, herbs, giant sunflowers, and a large assortment of annual flowers in flower beds and in my vegetable gardens.

The jalapeno peppers will be planted in the vegetable beds, along with the tomatoes but the sweet bell peppers (and a cherry tomato plant, if I buy one) will be in containers on my south facing deck.  My deck runs at least 10-15 degrees warmer than the rest of my yard which makes it an ideal spot for bell peppers which oddly enough, need more heat than hot peppers.

Also on my deck will be a variety of herbs: cilantro, basil, thyme, sage, lavender and more.  Seems most herbs like a well drained soil and they like to completely dry out in between waterings.  Deck is perfect for that and they have always done well on it.  Plus, it's just pretty to look at and I'm all about my surroundings NOT being ugly!

Looking forward to a gorgeous weekend.  Tomorrow it's supposed to get near 90 which means I'll be getting out my solar oven and baking some brownies.

Yay for the growing season!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

30 Day Yoga and Meditation Challenge End

Me in crow pose

Today is Day 30 of my yoga and meditation challenge.  My goals seemed easy enough:  every day I would meditate and do yoga for AT LEAST 10 minutes each.  Seemed like an achievable, not too difficult goal.


Week one went by quickly.  I looked forward to sitting for 10 minutes each morning.  I take 2, hour long yoga classes a week so that left me on my own for only 5 days each week.  It was lovely.

Then came week two.  I noticed that I was pushing off one or both things until later in the afternoon.  By day 15, both were becoming yet another item on my long "to-do" list.  I began to dread making myself sit or do even 10 minutes of yoga.  It was after meditation one day during the 2nd week where I realized that I was thinking about both activities wrong.  Instead of being a chore that had to be done, I realized that these were times to indulge myself in completely selfish activities.

So I redid a storage room in our basement to be my own space, no one else allowed, to care for myself with yoga, art, music, etc.  Amazingly (or not) meditation and yoga became something I looked forward to again now that I was surrounded by my own things, in my own space.  

I had hoped for great insight at the end of my 30 Day Challenge.  I think I got insight.  My mind races around fast.  I have a very hard time slowing down and keeping still because my monkey brain is constantly going going going.  Once I slowed down, on a regular basis, my thought process changed or opened up.  

I realized I absolutely NEED time and space away from other people and even from an empty house.  I figured out that fear rules most of my decision making (fear is being afraid, guilt, worry, etc.). I haven't figured out how to change that yet, but being aware is the first step to becoming awake.

Away from stress, I could observe my thoughts, in a mostly nonjudgemental way, and see that I do not want to live in Wisconsin the rest of my life.  I want to live somewhere with mountains and a different sky than we have here.  Flat land does nothing for my spirit.

Lastly, what I gained from these past 30 days, was the ability to stop myself from reacting to stress by pushing it away or denying it's existence in my life.  Don't get me wrong, I still get stressed.  I have three teenage daughters, one of whom has a severe mental illness, so there is no chance of eliminating stress...but stepping back to observe it is different.  Being aware of how I begin to tense up my hips and neck and physically relaxing those muscles in a daily yoga practice has calmed me the hell down.

I still am running from the time I get up until the time I go to bed-it's just my nature to not sit still-but I am able to go from full-speed to rest in seconds now, a pretty amazing feat.

As for the future, I'd like to think I will continue with a daily meditation and yoga practice.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Raspberry Scones and Chocolate Snickerdoodles

A couple of healthier sweet foods that I love are these scones and cookies.  Whole grains get used in both recipes and no one in this house has ever complained.  I wish I remembered where I found both of these recipes.  I am certain they came out of a book from my public library.


1 egg 
1 cup buttermilk (I add a little vinegar to regular skim milk)
3 T. oil
2 t. orange zest
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 1/2 cups fruit or nuts (or chocolate)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet and set aside.
2. Beat the egg in a small bowl and mix with buttermilk.
3. Add the oil and orange zest and mix to combine.
4. In a large bow., mix together the oats, flours, sugar, baking powder and salt
5. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together.  Do not over mix.
6. Fold in fruit and nuts
7. Scoop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes or until slightly golden on top.

*I like to make a glaze of milk and powdered sugar to drizzle on my scones once they are out of the oven.

Chocolate Snickerdoodles 

1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1 egg 
1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup whole-wheat flour

cinnamon-sugar mix: 2 T. sugar + 1t. cinnamon

Beat butter with sugar.  Add baking soda and cream of tartar; beat until combined.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat until combined.  Stir together the cocoa and flour in a small bowl.  Add the flour mix into the wet.  Roll into walnut sized balls and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture before placing on cookie sheets.  Bake 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Homemaking in 2012

I am a feminist homemaker.  I am at home, doing important work, and it's my own choice.  My children are in public school and college, which seems to make me a target for some people as my children are not home with me all day.

I have worked full-time and part-time.  I have gone to school full-time and part-time. I've served on multiple volunteer boards and committees of private and public institutions. I've done combinations of these while I had small children and when I did not.  During one semester, I went to school full-time, worked full-time, and had a toddler (totally sucked, by the way).

Suffice it to say, I do know how to work hard, for long hours, and for a variety of wages.

Which is why I am always offended when anyone (usually it's the extended family or in-laws)  suggests that perhaps I should "try to get a real job" which is often followed with some version of "because you being home is not fair to your husband" or "because then you can buy your daughters more things" or "what do you do all day?". Clearly these people mean to let me know that what I am doing is completely worthless in their eyes. 

First, my husband is the first person to say that he  likes me being at home.  He probably would like it if I worked, if I'd ever had a job (besides teaching piano) where I didn't come home stressed out and venting.  I have a tough time leaving work at work, whether it's paid work or volunteer work.  I stew.  I fret.  I stress.  Which means I unintentionally make everyone in the house stew and fret and stress.  When I'm home, everyone is happier. 

Second, my daughters may not get everything they want but who does?  It's better they learn that you have to work and save and delay gratification now than when they're 23 and then complain how unfair life is.  Plus, I am not a fan of "things".  I want experiences, not stuff.  If that means student loans for my kids instead of me paying for their tuition, well then maybe they'll take school more seriously.  It's not in my children's best interests to see that they get every opportunity or thing available to them.

Thirdly, I work hard every day, 7 days a week.  I see being a homemaker as a vocation.  It is my job and I treat it that way.  It is not easy to turn a home into a comfortable, beautiful space for people.  Beauty is very important to me.  Creating is very important to me.  A cluttered home is not beautiful, so I make sure mine is clean and tidy.  I use my artist's eye on every piece of anything that enters this house.  I created much of the artwork in this house and many of the fabric pieces are my creations, as well.  The yard and all of it's gardens are mine (with some help from my husband's muscles).  It is important that my family eats as much organic healthy food as possible and so I grow and preserve almost all of the produce that we consume and I bake almost all of the bread products that we eat.  These things are not "hobbies" as I'm damn serious about them. 

None of this is to say that I think people who do not have a partner who is a homemaker are wrong.  What's right for one household is not always right for the next.  I am simply puzzled at how many people want to let me know how lazy I am simply because I picked a different path for this particular part of my life. Just because something is different, doesn't make it wrong.  It's just different.