New York Times best-selling author, slow cooking expert, mom of three
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Totally Together

Backyard Container Composting

March 5, 2014 by · 10 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!

 

Chores. aka: but that’s why we had you!

June 17, 2010 by · 21 Comments 

age appropriate chores for children of all ages

But That’s Why We Had You!

Children make messes. It’s part of their job.

Before I had children of my own, I ran preschool centers for under-privileged children. Because I could get a room full of twenty-four kids to mind me and pick up after themselves, I thought that certainly my own flesh and blood would follow suit and tidy up without complaint.

I was dead wrong.

It takes daily effort to get my children to put their clothes, toys, school stuff, and random paraphernalia away. That’s just how it works. If I slack off, the kids slack off. If I put my dishes onto the counter because it’s “too much work” to open the dishwasher and stash it away, the kids do the same.

they’re awfully smart and crafty, those buggers…

That said, here is a general guideline of age-appropriate chores. Do not expect your kids to instantly adhere to a strict list of chores. Monitor closely and always show your child exactly how to perform any new tasks.

One to Two Years of Age

Babies and young children enjoy being “big helpers,” and can begin to participate in the following household chores with adult supervision, help, and guidance:

– sort laundry

– empty wastebaskets

– bring in the mail/newspaper

– match socks

– pull up bed clothes

– empty spoons and plasticware from the dishwasher caddy

– put toys away in appropriate containers

– “dust and clean” with a baby wipe

Three to Six Years of Age

Preschool-age children can continue to help with all of the chores listed above, along with the following added responsibilities:

- make their own beds

- load and unload the dishwasher with assistance

- help younger siblings clean up strewn toys

- feed and water pets

- pull weeds

- water plants

- use a whisk broom to clean up crumbs under the dinner table

- use a handheld vacuum cleaner to spot-clean, or to vacuum the stairs

- put away their own laundry

- set the table for meals

Seven to Ten Years of Age

School-age children are capable of fulfilling all of the tasks listed above, as well as these new additions:

- complete an entire load of wash

- help younger siblings put away laundry

- vacuum their own rooms

- maintain order in their bedrooms

– sweep the kitchen

- load and unload the dishwasher independently

- walk the dog

- clear the table after meals

Pre-teen through Teenage Years

Although teenagers would rather lie around and talk on the phone (or text, whatever) all day, they are fully able to help their parents out with most of the housekeeping duties, inside and out, including these new ones listed below:

- vacuum the house

- sweep the house

- clean the refrigerator

- wipe down the bathrooms

- wipe down the kitchen countertops

- help younger siblings as needed

- perform more strenuous work in the garden

This may seem like a lot (and it does to me, now that I see it all in writing!), but remember back in the “olden days,” children were expected to be productive members of the household. Whenever I start to feel “mean,” I think of The Long Winter and remember all that Laura and Mary did to help out. I also think of my friend Alison, who homeschools her nine children. Alison once told me that a parent’s job was to raise adults, not children. By the time children leave for college, they should be able to make a meal, sew on a button, do laundry, mow the lawn, and milk a goat.

 

Raising kids is part joy, part guerilla warfare. –Ed Asner

 

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!