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Totally Together

Backyard Container Composting

March 5, 2014 by · 5 Comments 

Make a backyard composter out of 3 stacked wooden crates -- can be found at Michael's or garden supply store. No tools needed!

You’ve heard of container gardening, but how about container composting?

I’m on a writing deadline, which naturally means that I am procrastinating by spending way too much time looking up gardening stuff on Pinterest. (that makes sense, right?)

wait. Don’t answer that.

We have a bit of a blank slate with the backyard in this new house, and I’ve been pinning up a storm on my small garden ideas board, and came across a pin for a container composter made from 3 stacked plastic milk cartons– the thick plastic cubes that the dairy provides to ship the milk to the store.

I was instantly intrigued. I’ve wanted to compost (I can use that as a verb, right?) for a few years but only wanted to do it without involving my husband. I liked the idea of the compost bins made from pallets but knew that even if I could find a pallet (and pinterest makes it seem like there are pallets lying around all over town, but even if they were, wouldn’t they belong to somebody?) I’d need Adam to use the saw and make it for me, which defeats my purpose of wanting to do EVERYTHING all by MYSELF.

(I’m sort of like a preschooler that way….)

Anyway — back to the milk cartons. I liked how they were stacked three high, and I liked how no sawing or nails or anything mathematical was involved. But I couldn’t get past the whole stealing them from the back alley behind the grocery store thing—-  so I went to Office Depot to buy some crates.

The only types they had were made out of terribly flimsy plastic and the bottom was solid, which wouldn’t work for what I wanted. I wanted the bottom to be open so worms could get in and for airflow between the stacked bins. Bummer.

plastic milk crate

In a pinch, I figured those could work, but I’d need holes drilled into the bottom, and my worry was that the plastic would begin to wear out pretty quickly in the sun.

I went across the parking lot to Orchard Supply Hardware and looked at their plastic crates. They had some pretty durable ones, plus they had some really cool cubes made of plastic-coated wire that would have worked. The cubes were $14 each, which are a bit pricy, but they would have worked.

And then I saw the bulb display by the door leading to the outdoor garden. In these beautiful wooden crates there were daffodil, garlic, and tulip bulbs for purchase. I didn’t want the bulbs, though, I wanted the display crates. I found three empty ones under the table and brought them to the front of the store. The lady at the counter wasn’t sure what to tell me, and didn’t know if she could sell them as “miscellaneous merchandise.” I was asked to wait about 20 minutes until Sam came back from lunch.

So I did.

The kids and I used the potty and daydreamed about patio furniture. We also picked out a few new paint chips (I limit the kids to 3 chips each — I think it’s wrong to take every color for an art project, but I see that kind of stuff online all the time…  but that’s just me. I got hit pretty hard with the ethics stick.)

When Sam tracked us down, he said that I wasn’t the only person to inquire about the crates and that I could just have them. He said his manager told him yesterday that they had no use for the crates in the store.

wooden crates from Orchard

SCORE!

The funny thing is, that I totally would have paid for them. I had already decided while I was waiting that if they wouldn’t let me buy them I’d go get wooden crates from Michael’s.

I got the crates home and the kids and I got to work rather quickly getting the crates ready to go outside. I wanted the bottom slats to be uncovered, but used garden fabric that we had leftover from our old house to line the 4 sides. This keeps dirt from falling out of the cracks, protects the wood a bit, and keeps the compost ingredients insulated and warm to get them to “cook” faster.

IMG_0776_1

IMG_0779_1

I cleared a space in the backyard against the fence and stacked the three bins. Since the dirt wasn’t perfectly level, I ended up propping up the front of the bottom bin up with two bricks. Not only did this make my stack pretty darn level, it also provides a bit more air flow to the bottom bin. Compost breaks down faster when it gets more air.

I’ve been reading an awful lot about composting and this stack method seems to work well when you don’t have a bunch of square footage available in your yard. To use, simply place your yard trimmings and kitchen scraps in the top bin, and once it’s full, move it to the bottom. Continue rotating the bins until all three have been filled, and hopefully by the time you are ready to use the first one again, the yardwaste and scraps have broken down enough to get incorporated into your garden. Your compost is fully “cooked” when it’s super dark and looks like a moist crumbled chocolate cake.

make a compost pile out of three wooden crates

make a backyard compost stack out of three wooden crates

I ended up putting a small piece of plywood that I had lying around in the shed for a top, and put a heavy terracotta pot on top. This is to discourage the cats or raccoons from digging through the compost and to keep rain out of the bins. You can help break down your kitchen scraps and yard clippings by adding worms to the pile. If the worms don’t find you on their own, you can purchase worms from a fishing supply or garden store, or simply go on a puddle walk with the kids after a rain!

I’m excited about this project — it was something that I really wanted to do for quite a while, but kept getting bogged down with the details. This method is simple, and if I run out of room, I can easily make another one on the other side of the yard.

I go through so many produce scraps when I’m cooking and since we no longer have guinea pigs (they lived a good long life, and were terribly well-loved!) I am happy to be able to put the scraps to good use.

DIY 3-part container composter in the backyard. No tools needed; crates can be found at Michael's or a garden supply store

 

 

 

How to Combine Gratitude with Goal Setting

January 1, 2014 by · 3 Comments 

How to you maintain an attitude of gratitude but still continue to strive towards achieving new goals?

 

It’s a brand new year! Congratulations, you made it!

 

I have a rather radical suggestion for you this new year. I know I’ve shared my love for lists and charts and goal setting in the past, but I wanted to share a new idea.

Gratitude Goal Setting.

I’m sure you’ve heard of keeping a Gratitude Journal ~~~~ Oprah talked about them a lot on her show and she (I believe) talks about them in her magazine (I don’t subscribe to magazines, but read them on planes. and while getting my hair cut! And that’s only because I don’t like spending money and I don’t like clutter and big magazines feel wrong to throw out so then I hoard them on a shelf and then I worry I might turn into one of those hoarder people on TLC.)

(but you should totally subscribe to Simply Gluten Free Magazine because I’m a contributing writer and Carol, the founder, is absolutely wonderful).

Anyway.

So how to you combine an Attitude of Gratitude with Goal Setting? How can you be simultaneously happy, thankful, and thrilled with your current life situation but still sort of want something different/better/more prosperous?

Don’t the two cancel each other out?

No. I promise.

It feels wrong at first to want more when you have a non-leaking roof over your head, your children are healthy, your marriage is (above) average, and you aren’t scrounging to put food on the table. I struggle with this, and do make a conscious effort to give more than receive.

And if you are reading this article, then you ARE VERY BLESSED. You have internet, and you probably have accumulated an awful lot of “wants” to go along with your “needs.”

Take the time to be thankful. Take inventory of all that is right in your world. If writing it down helps, do so. Life is so very very very good, and we are the only species that is able to pontificate our lives, and to self-reflect.

We are also the only species that can decide what is working and what needs tweaking. As Dr. Phil says (I met a camera guy who worked on his show, and heard some interesting stories.  Ahem.),    ”how’s that working for you?”

If you have a New Year’s Resolution to work out more and eat healthier, try writing down this year’s goals in the positive — and in a thankful way.

For instance, instead of:

I need to lose my muffin top and start running.    Try:  Thank you for my strong, healthy body that allows me to plank for 90 seconds and run a 10-minute mile.

I need to drink 8 glasses of water a day and cut out alcohol.  Try:  Thank you for fresh, clean water that tastes even better than margaritas.

I need to not yell at the kids.   Try:  Thank you for the patience I have with my children.

I need to put away the phone/tablet and hang out with my spouse.  Try:  Thank you for my awesome spouse who I like spending quality time with.

(I ended that sentence with a preposition. Thank you for not being  OCD.  :-) )

If you are looking for a BIG change, try being thankful for it before it even occurs. Before there is even a glimmer of hope that it can occur.

Here’s a few examples:

Thank you for this home that we all love that we can easily afford.

Thank you for this new job where I am respected and properly compensated.

Thank you for the opportunity to take this dream vacation that has been fully paid for upfront.

It is hokey. It feels childish, and it doesn’t seem like a simple change such as this could possibly work, yet there are TONS of anecdotal and scientific studies that show that your sub-conscious doesn’t know if something has actually occurred or not when you focus on it. This is why dreams feel/seem so real. Yes, you can rationalize them to death and assure yourself that a monster isn’t under your bed, but your harddrive doesn’t know the difference.   (need research? google “do positive affirmations work?”)

So try it.

There’s really nothing to lose.

Give yourself 10 days of writing 10 positive affirmation/goal setting phrases down in a notebook. Don’t refer back to the previous day — your ideas, needs, and goals change sometimes on a whim. What was important three days ago might not be important today. But if you track your thoughts and wishes for 10 days you’ll find a pattern.

This pattern is what is the most important to you. And you only. Your goals are not your neighbor’s, not your mom’s, and not the current Pinterest trend. Your goals are your own and are private.

We are all a work in progress, and it’s okay to acknowledge where you could use some tweaking.

lots of love and a very VERY happy 2014.

related:

How to Have Balance when Looking for Balance

How to Create a (non-cheesy) Vision Board of Your Very Own

Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

This is Real Life, Not a Magazine

30 Days to an Organized Life

December 29, 2013 by · 6 Comments 

Get a JumpStart on Organizing Your Life in Just 30 Days. Simple, daily activities and goals.

 

In my household shortcut planning guide, Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life, I’ve tried to break down all of the daily, weekly, and monthly THINGS that float around in our heads into one day-planner/book:  Call your mother. Schedule a hair cut. Get the house painted. Vacuum under the couch cushions. Drink more water. Perform a self-breast exam.

But sometimes you need a 30-day jumpstart in order to feel like you are really being productive, and sometimes the thought of adhering to something for a full year is absolutely daunting.

I know. I get it.

and it’s okay.

So here you go!! This is a 30-day jump start checklist to get your home and family life in order —-  not everything is listed, but enough things are here that you can go from disarray to company-clean in only 30 days. You don’t need to do all 30 days in order if you don’t want to, and you don’t need to do all 30 days all within a month. If it takes you 45 or 60 days to get through this checklist, whatever.

No big deal.

This is YOUR house and YOUR family. Do what works for you.

I’ve tried to hyperlink the above graphic with posts explaining what the different tasks are. It didn’t work. So here are all the past articles that have been underlined above.

The Daily 7

Punch List

Family Meeting

P.R.O.M (purge, remove, organize, maintain)

Meal Planning

Chore Charts

Vision Board

Here are some organizational guides for help and inspiration.

You can do this! Please let me know how I can help in any way.

 

Want even more? Buy the book! Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life is available now. This handy-dandy weekly planner will hold your hand throughout the year and will give you all the reminders and helpful prods you need to have the Very Best Year, ever. No need to wait for the New Year to start your organization mission, you can start at any time. Enjoy!

 

 

The Art of Saying No

August 26, 2013 by · 16 Comments 

art of saying NO

 

It’s back to school season, and this is usually the time of the year where I re-prioritize my goals and daily activities. I’ve got a seventh grader, a fourth grader, and a preschooler this year.

The preschooler is only in school 6 hours a week, because I’m just not ready to let her go for more hours, yet. This means that I really need to manage my time wisely to make sure I meet all of my assigned (and self-assigned) tasks.

I’ve not always been the best about saying NO. I used to try really hard to get people/aquaintances/complete strangers to “like me” and ended up over-extending myself. I wanted to be the go-to responsible person for the PTA, or for girl scouts, or to help volunteer at the library. I wanted to be the trusted afterschool  babysitter, and I wanted to be the carpool mom. I thought that was who I was, what my identity was.

And then I snapped.

I shared through email with my friend Crystal, of Money Saving Mom, what my tipping point was and after typing it out, thought perhaps it’d be best to share it “out loud” —- because I do believe we are all on our own personal journey. We are all just trying to do the very best we can on a day-to-day basis. Crystal helped me to remember that I have not always been the way I am now. I used to hold my breath to get through my day — as she words it: I wasn’t living; I was surviving.

Anyhow. Back in 2008, when I was in the final quarter of my Year of Slow Cooking, I kind of had a breakdown. It was September, and it was back-to-school night. Things were going well with the site, and I had just signed a book deal for Make it Fast, Cook it Slow. I had appeared on The Rachael Ray Show, and because of that, the site traffic had quintupled. I was working on the site, working for BlogHer ads, and was working for Bay Area Parent. I only had two children at the time, but I was fully responsible for all things in regards to them — afterall, I was home.

I came home from Back to School night and crumpled to the floor. I had on a cute outfit, I remember changing my clothes a few times before leaving the house to man the PTA table. My hair was straightened, and I had spent more time then I care to admit on my makeup. My goal was to look breezy and put-together, and  trendy-but-not-too-trendy. I shook hands and made small talk.

I probably looked the way I wanted to look. I probably fooled a bunch of people.

but the second it was all over, I remember hugging my knees to my chest in the corner of my bedroom and sobbing. For hours.

the very next day I quit almost everything. I’m sure I disappointed quite a few, but I took back my time. I took back my priorities.

and to this day, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

This “take back” of my time is why I don’t have a personal Facebook account. This is also why I don’t own a smart phone.

 

 

excerpt from Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life

 

It is a wonderful feeling when a trusted friend, co-worker, or supervisor asks for your help. It is difficult to not let ego take over when you are told that you are “perfect” for something or that the school’s Popsicle eating contest “can’t be done” without you.

Don’t get talked into doing something that your heart isn’t in. Someone else will step forward, and if not, the world will not stop spinning if the Popsicle eating contest doesn’t happen as scheduled. If somebody complains, let that somebody be in charge. It is not worth stretching yourself thin to please other people—you and your family come first.

Say no to the committees, say no to the bake sales, and say no to anything that you don’t really and truly want to do. If later on in the year, you find that your time is a bit more free, there are numerous ways to ease back in to service. It’s always better to say “no” right away than to say “yes” and then fall short of the required responsibilities.

Learn also to say “no” when choosing sports, musical instruments, enrichment classes, or out-of-school camps with your children that might stretch your calendar thin. It is so easy to sign up for more than you or your child can handle, and the outside obligation can quickly take over family life.

Pick and choose carefully, and ensure that you and your children completely understand the commitment and responsibility required. Some families have found that limiting choices to one indoor and one outdoor activity at a time works well.

 

My days now feel more balanced. I’m not perfect, and I still lose my patience and temper more than I probably should, but I feel much more at peace than I used to.

and that’s a great feeling.