simple shortcuts for you and your family
  • Follow me
  • Subscribe via RSS or Email
  • Follow me on Pinterest
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • Become a fan on Facebook
  • Follow me on Google Plus

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

Bloggers and Narcissism

July 18, 2013 by · 9 Comments 

are bloggers inherently narcissistic?

original photo credit: The Secret of Narcissism

This is part of the Business of Blogging Series. You can see all of the posts, here.

 

I’ve done a bit of speaking this summer at various conferences, and I’ve said a few times to the audience (and been met with great laughs),  “Let’s face it. Bloggers are narcissistic.”

While I do love laughter responses, I’m completely serious when I say that in order to be a good blogger, or to put yourself out in the public eye, you’ve got to have a part of your personality that believes that You Are Better Than Others.

and this is a challenge. It’s a struggle for me, and I know it’s a struggle for many of my friends. It feels wrong, it feels fraudulent, and it feels deceitful to decide when you wake up in the morning that you are going to make and write about THE WORLD’S BEST BEEF STEW.

or the best way to fold a fitted sheet.

or write about a completely ordinary trip to Walmart but in a way you just *know* your readers will appreciate.

or heaven help you, post a #selfie on instagram.

I wasn’t raised to seek the spotlight, I was raised to sit quietly with my hands folded while the grown-ups talked and not to interrupt. And that is how I’m raising my children. Nobody likes a know-it-all who interrupts. Blogging is about interrupting.

DID YOU HEAR ME?

gah. It’s loud, it’s annoying, and it feels icky.

So what do you do? How do you balance the self-doubt, the negative voices, and the twingy feeling that you are doing something wrong when you decide to put your heart and voice online?

I can tell you that it gets easier, but I can also tell you that I personally stress and analyze every time I write anything online. This is the list I weigh in my head before posting (on any of my sites, on facebook, on twitter, and even on pinterest)

1) How does this help my audience? (and helpful can just be a feel-good moment. there doesn’t need to be a lifelesson in everything you put online, nor does it have to be a how-to tutorial.)

2) Am I writing this only because so-and-so has written about (kale) a lot and I feel like in order to stay relevant I need to write about (kale)?

3) Am I jumping on the bandwagon about a certain event that has a lot of drama and I want people to link to me when they, too, write about this certain event?

4) [related to #3] am I stirring an already-bubbling pot? Is that what I want to be known for? Pot-stirring?

5) In 3 days, will I still be proud of my writing?

6) Am I writing this because I’m getting paid to write about it (like a sponsored post)? Have I told my audience this truth?

7) Will my writing be search-engine-friendly? If not, how can I massage my words to help with SEO?

8) and then back again to #1…. am I being helpful to my audience?

If you respect your audience, they will respect you.

If you jump in front of the camera keyboard every single time any fleeting thought passes through your head, you might gain lots and lots of followers initially, but they will leave in the longrun. Build a lasting legacy — something that you enjoy, that you can see yourself working on as your life’s work.

As for the negative thoughts? Embrace them. Listen to what they have to say. Maybe you are posting too often, and without anything valuable to offer your readers. Maybe you are only tweeting 7 times a day because some expert told you that’s how many times a day you should tweet. Maybe you are solely only writing about the latest conference drama because you want to be in the spotlight and want to be someone “in the know.”

and if after some soul-searching you realize that you don’t like your current path, then tweak it a bit.

But don’t let the voices win. We ALL have something to offer. We are all on this life-living journey together, and we all have something to share and to teach. Differing perspectives are fantastic — that is how we, as readers, as humans, make decisions. That’s why we read Amazon reviews — our culture needs to know as much as possible about pretty much everything right now. Right this instant. We can’t even wait to get home to our desktop, we have to whip out our phones in the middle of the store and tweet a picture to the masses to see if these shoes are actually a good buy.

This is a great time to be writing online. Do not let self-doubt or shyness prevail. Yes, bloggers are inherently narcissistic. We have to be.

And that’s okay. Just make sure to acknowledge it.

Patience, and Other Blogging Virtues

May 1, 2013 by · 22 Comments 

Patience (and other blogging virtues) -  Part of The Business of Blogging series

This is another installment in my The Business of Blogging Series.

I have been blogging full-time since 2008, and have been hesitant to share my successes “out loud” with very many people because I worry about 1) jinxing it and 2) being show-offy

and I’m not a show-offy person, and I worry a lot about karma and good will and even feng shui.

But I’ve gotten to thinking about why I do what I do and why I started what I started. And honestly, I just like helping people. Specifically other moms.

I like to help people.

I wrote the proposal for the Totally Together Journal way back in 2004 (I was pregnant with my second). I wanted a way to help other mothers, and thought I could be of service in some way. It took YEARS to get that book to the market.

In the mean time, I started the slow cooking site, and wrote the corresponding cookbooks. The very best part of my day is waking up to Thank You emails and tweets. I love that I can somehow help other busy families get healthy, satisfying, budget -friendly (and gluten free, to boot!) meals on the table. I am proud of that.

I worry sometimes about being too proud. I worry about being a braggart, and I worry that others will feel that my success isn’t warranted or that somebody handed me something. I worry that someone, somewhere will think that I must “know someone” and that’s how I got on tv or got book deals, or how I get a lot of people to my website.

and so I don’t talk about my achievements.

or yet I haven’t, much.

 I’m beginning to realize that while I can’t write HTML to save my life, I actually do know a lot about blogging.

I spent last Saturday in Los Angeles with Adam. We flew in so I could speak at the Latina Lifestyle Blogging Convention about Ethics and Blogging (they knew I’m Scottish…!).

And I realized, I know an awful lot about blogging. An awful lot. I’ve learned through trial and error and have been very lucky in my blogging and social media endeavors.

And I figured that EVERYBODY who has blogged for as long as I have has achieved similar results, and am finding out (through talking to friends/acquaintances) that this is not the case.

I make a very good living at this. And I’m having fun.

I make over 100k directly from my websites.

and I do this all, from home, in my pajamas, while I care for my children.

And it’s not that hard.

This post is titled PATIENCE. Because I truly believe that ANYONE, ANYWHERE can have this level of success if they map out a business plan and are patient. The money is out there. The opportunities are out there.

Don’t worry about what so-and-so is doing. Don’t compare your site to anyone else’s. Learn how to write for SEO and give your readers what they want.

I want to help —- my hope is that I can somehow help other people/moms create additional streams of income for their family’s budget.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be living the life I am living, and I would like to help.

If you have questions about future installments for this series, please let me know in the comments below. I’ve finally gotten the green light from Adam to talk candidly (sort of. LOL) and I would really like to offer any help I can. oxox steph

 

OH! and I should probably explain the above photo of the grape vine. I planted that vine 4 years ago, and the leaves promptly all fell off. I kept watering and fertilizing it even though it looked like a dead stick. For 4 years. And this spring? Not only are there leaves, there are teensy tiny grape bundles! Patience. It’s a virtue! :-0

 

This is part of 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

Next Page »