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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

 

 

 

Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

February 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

new year resolutions

We’re approaching the end of February. Do you know where your New Year Resolutions are?

I’ve gotten pretty good at making and keeping my resolutions each new year — and while it’s still not super easy for me to stay on track, each and every year I have a bit more resolve to keep on course.

It doesn’t matter that we’re near the end of February — there is still plenty of time to get your new year goals and resolutions back on track. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, here are some tips to climb back in it and buckle up; there’s a long road ahead until the end of the year.

If you haven’t made any new year resolutions or goals for 2013, or don’t like to because you don’t think that’s “your thing” — okay. But you also can’t change for the better in any way unless you make the conscious decision to do so. And regardless of your personal journey or path, I believe we all could do a bit better each year.

This is it.

You’re not going to get today back again, and it’s okay to want tomorrow to be slightly better.

How to make New Year Resolutions that You’ll Keep:

1) Write it down. This is such a simple step, yet the majority of people don’t do it. Yes, there are plenty of people who have stuck to their resolve to lose weight or get out of debt by not writing down their goals, but if you DO write it down you have a greater chance of success. And who are we to fool around with statistics? If it feels hokey, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to share what you’ve written down to anybody — just keep it in a notebook or folded up in your purse.

2) Tell Someone. I know. In suggestion number 1 I said you don’t have to share your written resolution or goal list with anyone and now I’m telling you to tell someone else your personal wishes and dreams. I promise I’m not losing my mind— you still don’t have to share your written out list, but you DO have to share what you’re working on.

Accountability to someone else is a much stronger motivational drive than an intrinsic one. This means that you are more likely to disappoint yourself than you are someone else. That’s just how human nature is. We are also much more forgiving to others than we are to ourselves —- so if you veer off track, having a supportive someone in your corner is just who you’ll need to confide in and who can help you retain confidence.

This is what I did with the slow cooker site, and what Jen did with her cocktail site. We told the Internet — it’s a pretty big group to be held accountable to!

3) Review your resolutions every single day. However you do this is up to you. You can pull out your list of goals, or rewrite them every morning. Some people have excellent results by writing their resolutions out as if they have already happened. For instance, if your goal is to lose those final last ten pounds, you might start your day by thinking about  how thankful you are that you can fit into the dress hanging in the closet. You can go a step further and visualize  yourself wearing it and hear in your head all the complements you’ll get from your friends.

I have a vision board. I make a new one every year, and I keep it in the bathroom. It’s personal, and I have sayings and quotes, and magazine cutouts on it. I only share it with Adam, and even he kind of rolls his eyes a bit at how particular some of my visions (picture cutouts) are. But that’s okay. Because my vision board makes me smile and keeps me focused on what it is I’m working towards —  I look at it quite a few times a day, and somedays it spurs me on to take action on a certain writing assignment or to go do a few pushups. Other days I just zone out. I’ve decided to believe that even on my zone out days my subconscious is working on something. ;-)

4) Pretend you’ve already succeeded. Or fake it till you make it. This might seem phony at first, but you’ll get used to it in practice. If your New year’s Resolution was to work out every morning, act like a person who works out every morning. What time does that person wake up? What does she wear? Does she sleep in her workout clothes and works out before getting dressed for the day? What does she eat? Do you need different food in the house?

If your resolution was to write every day on your All American Novel, start acting like a novelist. What does a novelist do? Does she get up before everyone else in the house and write for an hour? Does she have a set of index cards with character names and traits? Does she spend 3 hours a day surfing facebook or pinterest, or does she buckle down and work?

5) Reward yourself. This doesn’t need to be elaborate, nor does it need to be expensive, but you have to find a way to celebrate the tiny steps and milestones along the way. Day to Day life is hard enough as it is — trying to change or adapt is even harder, even if you know it’s for the better.

Human nature is to find the easiest and least resistant path. It’s easier to lay around on the couch than it is to lace up your shoes and go for a walk. So reward yourself. Walk to the grocery store and after making a few laps get yourself a pack of sugarless gum. If you’ve gotten through the entire day without yelling at the kids, take a bath. Paint your toes. Do something just for  you that’s a reward. And there is no harm in using the reward as motivation to keep to your goals — “if I don’t use my credit card but instead pay it off, I can use the extra savings in our vacation fund.”

I’m sure you see what I mean.

You don’t have to be in the first week of January to decide to be a New You. Or a Newer Version of You.

You can do this. I know you can.

and it’s not too late.

It’s never too late to accomplish anything you put your mind to.

xoxoox

Use an Ironing Board to Create a Homemade Standing Desk

February 13, 2013 by · 9 Comments 

DIY standing des out of a ironing board

How to Make a Standing Desk out an Ironing Board

For the last week or so, I’ve been using an ironing board as a desk. I wish I was smart enough to have thought of this as a DIY alternative to a standing desk — but I’m not. It just sort of happened.

I’ve wanted a standing desk for a while –  I’ve scoured pinterest and DIY sites for ideas, have looked at websites advertising these type of desks (WAY expensive), and even have sent Adam links to how to make them at home using cheap wood and laminate.

So I put this idea on hold.

But then last week happened, and we each had different work trips to go on, and we had unexpected company, and the ironing board that I set up in the corner of the master bedroom got left up. And the computer armoire where I plug everything in at night (my current work desk is the kitchen table, but we have a computer cabinet where we hide everything at night so the “work day” is over by dinner time) got a bit cluttered so I needed another flat surface for charging the laptop.

And I used the ironing board.

And then left it on the ironing board while I was answering email in the morning, and even used it as a table for the last slow cooker recipe I photographed —- and although it’s not the prettiest thing in the world to keep up in the master bedroom, it might very well might be the most practical thing I’ve ever come up with. :-)

What I like about standing versus sitting:

* I’m burning calories — there are studies that prove that standing exerts more energy than sitting
* I’m naturally stepping or swaying while I work — my pedometer (this is the one that I LOVE, and it’s cheap!) is showing that I’ve added a good 2000-3000 steps to my day with very little effort on my part
* I am now finally ergonomic. Since I’ve never owned a desk chair, my table to chair to floor ratio (don’t even know if that’s the actual terminology, but I’m going to assume you know what I’m talking about…) hasn’t ever been proper. I’m exactly 5 feet, so there are very few chairs that allow my feet to sit flat on the floor the way they are supposed to. And our dining chairs are a bit large in the seat, so my knees are at a funny angle if I lean all the way back, which causes me to perch on the edge of the chair while I write, causing my shoulders to slump. With the ironing  board, it’s adjustable, so I can raise the keyboard to the actual right spot for my eyeline and shoulders/wrists.
* BUT. My wrists aren’t supported, I know. Honestly, I’ve never had supported wrists or elbows, so that’s not an issue for me,  but I can see how it would be for others.
* The other really big benefit is that I’m not spending as much time on the computer. It’s just not as comfortable to stand at an ironing board and read gossip sites, or twitter, or online news as it is to curl up with the laptop on the bed or couch. But that is something I need to work on, personally, anyway. I waste a lot of time on frivolous Internet surfing, and my time could honestly be better spent sticking to my to-do list and goals.

                  (this might actually be the biggest benefit)

So there you go! Super simple (and actually kind of stupid) brilliant idea!

Easy Way to Clean Silver Jewelry

January 26, 2012 by · 16 Comments 

how to clean a whole box of jewelry in just minutes!

 

I’m not that much of a girly girl, but am realizing that I can get away with wearing the same plain shirt and jeans quite often if I switch up my jewelry. Recently, my friend Jennifer’s (yes, I realize ALL my friends are named Jennifer..) mom started selling jewelry, which means I’ve started to buy more pieces.

I love my new jewelry, but find that real silver tarnishes much too quick for my liking, and I stop wearing it completely after a few months. After a bit of googling, I discovered the quickest and easiest way to wash it all at once to remove the tarnish: a salt water bath with aluminum foil. The hot water and salt loosens the dirt and grime, while the aluminum foil attracts the tarnish (for the super-geeky, this is an ion exchange), and it then wipes away from the jewelry (or silver pieces) easily with a soft towel.

This wiki post intrigued me, but it was the testimonials from this message board that won me over.

I would not use this method to clean jewelry with precious stones. All the stones I dropped in the solution were made from glass.

The Ingredients.

tarnished silver jewelry, silver pieces (flatware, etc) (I also threw in a hammered copper pendant, which cleaned beautifully)

aluminum foil

1 tablespoon table salt

hot water

glass container or jar

 

The Directions.

Fill a glass jar or container with hot water, and stir in a tablespoon of table salt. Make sure the salt has dissolved completely, and throw in a few (I did three) 1-inch aluminum foil strips. Add jewelry. Let soak for a few hours, stirring every so often to remove dirt (the water will get brownish in color).

Dry jewelry completely with a soft towel and store in a silver cloth or tarnish-free tissue paper to keep this from happening over and over and over and over and over again. Sigh.

 

The Verdict.

This worked much better than I expected it to– the dirt and tarnish just wiped away with the towel. I found some of my really badly tarnished chains needed to soak longer, but they still were ready to go in a few hours. I only wish I was gutsy enough to tie the crockpot in with this one…

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