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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.

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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

 

 

 

Back to School with Staples — $60 backpack giveaway!

August 20, 2013 by · 154 Comments 

staples back to school backpack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This contest is now over. Thank you for all who entered!! The winner has been notified via email. Have a great school year!! –steph

Thank you to Staples for providing a backpack for me to review  (and for my daughter to keep), and for providing another backpack for a reader give away. Your generosity is appreciated.

It’s back-to-school frenzy season. I have a bit more time with my kids before they head back — our district isn’t beginning until after Labor Day this year. In fact we JUST got the supply list this past week and I was startled when I checked around that the local stores were already picked clean and were gearing up for Halloween!!

wowsers.

I don’t host very many reviews or giveaways on this site, and opt to keep them on the review page, but wanted to make sure that you don’t miss out on this cool offer.

I’ve got a seventh grader this year.

A VERY PICKY SEVENTH GRADER. (said with love, lots and lots and lots of love. I was picky in seventh grade, too.)

Her chosen backpack last year didn’t hold up to being jammed into a locker and kicked around after school during soccer practice. The bottom seam ripped and I ended up securing it with duct tape in April.

super classy.

The backpack that Staples sent over? It’s wonderful. It’s terribly durable (it’s made by SwissGear, the founders of the Swiss Army Knife) and meets the seventh-grader-it needs-to-look-cool-but-not-too-cool-like-I’m-trying-to-look-cool-test.

I like that there’s a padded pocket in it for future laptop use, and I like that since we don’t have a laptop for her, she can stuff an extra binder into that slot. The straps are nicely padded and don’t dig into her shoulders even when it’s weighed down.

back of backpack

There are a few “secret” compartments, which is quite helpful since she just got braces and needs to carry around dental supplies.

I think you’ll really dig this backpack — it looks like it will hold up for a very long time; I’m impressed.

inside backpack

  Staples has got pretty much anything you might possibly need for back-to-school supplies, and

would like to offer a backpack for the student in your home. One lucky winner will receive a brand new backpack of their choosing — up to a $60 value.

You can choose the one I chose, the SwissGear, or any others from this list, up to $60.

To enter this contest, simply leave a comment below with a valid email address in the email line. I’ll randomly choose a winner in a week — so this contest will end on Tuesday, August 27th at 5pm pacific time.

I’d also like to throw in a copy of my Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life book for the lucky winner since it follows the school calendar. This is it! This is the year you’re going to get organized! :-)

good luck to all!

this will be the best school year, ever. I promise!

 

A Review of Kiwi Crate Art Projects for Kids

March 14, 2012 by · 8 Comments 

 


Spring Break and Summer Vacation are sneaking up on me. We’ve got Spring Break the week leading into Easter, and then have another day off to recover from the holiday. That’s 6 days of me being home with all three kids that I’ve got to figure out how to fill so I’m not subjected to days upon days of Netflixed episodes of The Wizards of Waverly Place or (#someonepleasehelpme) Caillou.
[side bar: did you know there was an I Hate Caillou page on Café Mom? Hysterical.]

Anyhow, when BlogHer asked if I’d test out the subscription-based Kiwi Crate art box, I said #yespleaseandthankyou right away.
[another side bar: I had this as a work-from-home business idea back in 2003. I was going to call them Preschool Packets and make up worksheets and art projects and sell them online, and on Ebay. I think I have a domain name or two that I'm still paying for...]

My idea was complete amateur hour compared to the Kiwi Crates. This is a very well designed and executed product. I initially thought the art boxes were kind of pricey at $19.95 each, but once I saw what they entailed, I changed my mind.

The “crate” is a thick cardboard box–the kind a really expensive pair of shoes comes in-and the kind that my kids COVET for all of their collections (more often than not the “collection” is gum wrappers, or Popsicle sticks, or soda can tabs. #Icantevenexplainhowmuchthisannoysme) and the art supplies are wrapped in tissue paper.

The presentation worked on my kids–they were instantly excited and could hardly wait to dig in.

Our box contained three art projects: a stained glass mosaic, a color-your-own spinning top, and a canvas art bag that was colored by wetting tissue paper squares with a water dropper. Totally cool. The box also contained two bluntish Fiskars kid scissors, markers, and 3-D glasses.

We invited our neighbors over, and pulled out some construction paper and stickers to keep the babies busy. I had 2 seven-year-olds, a ten-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 2-year-old all sharing the supplies from this box (along with the aforementioned stickers and paper for the little guys).

The kids worked straight for about an hour, and really enjoyed themselves. The markers were small and were a bit dried out; so I replaced them with our own Crayola washables.

All the kids occupied themselves long enough for my friend Jen and me to make and enjoy two cups of coffee. And gossip conversation.

That is so worth $19.95.

Also, we have enough leftover for a few more collage projects, and the kids are enjoying the canvas art bags (good quality; the baby put in a bunch of pointy rocks and dragged it around outside) and the Fiskars scissors will last a life time.

If I wanted to buy everything at Michael’s and put this together myself I’d spend more than the $20 and would have to prep everything–not something I’m honestly going to do.

I really like this as a gift idea. I’m going to see if I can get the grandparents on board and get an annual subscription for the kids for Christmas this year. I think the kids will get a kick out of opening a new box with a new activity/project each month and the anticipation of awaiting a new arrival. They really like mail as it is.

In the mean time, I’m going to sign up to get us through the summer months. We’re laying low again-I hate paying for lots of activities, and I really like having the kids home with me, even if they argue and bicker more than I’d like them to. (socialization! in action!)

And the projects are cool. My tweenager (#notmymostfavoriteterm) was all into the art supplies, and I can definitely see her and her friends working on these types of art activities together out in the yard.

Before they head off to middle school next year.

Which isn’t okay with me.

I wonder if Kiwi Crate has some sort of time machine project where I can have the kids on “pause” for a while?

Pinterest and Feelings of Inadequacy

February 17, 2012 by · 46 Comments 

I admit it. I got sucked into the Pinterest bubble. I find this site *fascinating.* I’m fascinated by how quickly it’s grown, what a monumental force it is in driving web traffic, and how it’s such a colossal waste of time.

fascinating. utterly fascinating.

I must admit, though, that there is definitely a feeling of anxiety and insecurity when it comes to Pinterest. It’s easy to feel that if you aren’t already engaging in the site you’ve missed the boat (not true), or if you are on the site that you aren’t doing it “right.” Again, not true.

I did a little work for BlogHer this week. I spoke on a social media and how it effects women’s commerce panel, and wrote a little fluff piece on how Pinterest is a big traffic driver and shouldn’t be ignored. I still feel that way–this site should not be ignored.

I stayed away for quite a while (I joined last month at the encouragement from an IRL friend) because I was scared to get sucked into yet another THING. I’m kind of tired of having to “check just one more thing” before logging off the computer.

And then I started tracking my google analytics and realized that this THING was driving a crapload (technical term) of traffic my way. Pinterest is now my #2 traffic driver to the slow cooker site (after google) – I easily get thousands of hits a day from it. This isn’t someTHING to ignore.

(embarrassing disclosure: I’m not a typical BlogHer member. I’m a very late adopter to technical things. My slowcooker url is still on blogspot, I don’t have a facebook account, I was late to join twitter, and I don’t own a smart phone).

That said: If you aren’t on Pinterest yet, I’m going to boldly suggest that you poke around a bit, and create an account—even if you’re just doing so to claim your name. To see what from your site has been “pinned,” type the following into your browser bar:

http://pinterest.com/source/yoursiteurl.com/

It’s important to see what has already been pinned so you can then maybe re-link or refresh these particular articles, and to see what type of writing is currently the most appealing and most likely to be shared.

I wrote those words on Wednesday. Today is Friday. I still stand by them, but I have one caveat: be careful. If you are the type of person who gets intimidated easily by women sharing all the (perceived) wonderfulness of their lives, tread carefully.

Don’t follow as many people as you can; follow your friends (maybe even your in-real-life friends, not your blogging friends). Don’t believe that just because so-and-so repinned a photo of a “fabulous mudroom” her mudroom actually looks like that. Don’t assume that EVERYONE is doing art projects with their kids every hour of every day. Don’t get sucked into wanting to throw away all of your clothes to buy all new ones. Don’t make the mistake of judging a person’s bank account because they repinned a pair of $450 boots. They probably didn’t click through to see what the boots cost.

at least I hope that’s the case. otherwise my own boots feel terribly unworthy.

Pinterest is women-driven. And although most people (men) would think that men are the competitive sex, I’m going to suggest it’s actually women. Women want to do everything well all the time. Or at least we want to make it look that way. The fact that Pinterest is actually a vision board is quite telling. This isn’t real. This is a fantasy. Take a deep breath and remember that you are already good enough. You don’t need to have rockhard abs while whipping up 37 different varieties of cheesecake in order to feel good about yourself.

just be you.

further reading:

56 Ways to Market Your Business on Pinterest on CopyBlogger

Stop Being a Pinterest Sexist on Clever Girls

How I Grew a 1000 Visitor a Day Source of Traffic to 3000 Visits a Day on ProBlogger

You Need Pinterest. I’ll Bet You a Bubble Bath on BlogHer

What are your thoughts on Pinterest? Important? A Waste of Time? Just another social media THING? (my pinterest page is here, pinterest/stephanieodea)

 

 

The Business of Blogging series:

Part 1: The Business of Blogging

Part 2: Figuring Out Your Internet Voice

Part 3: Writing for Search Engines Doesn’t Mean Selling Your Soul

Part 4: Is Self-Esteem Tied into Sitemeter?

Part 5: Patience, and Other Blogging Virtues

and other stuff:

10 Best Business-y Books

Creating a (non-cheesy) Vision Board

Working from Home with Small Children in the House