Little House In the Suburbs

2014-12-21 09.50.57

Today is not a good day to start things. Jon is down with the flu and the house is recovering from an influx of Christmas decorations and presents, and the general chaos caused by two working parents with various hobbies and two small children with more toys than a small nation.

While writing this sentence, I’ve set up Jessie’s paints and found Maddox orange and red for a volcano, fielded a disagreement about whether to wash your brush in between paint colors to keep the paints from getting ugly, cleaned up the paints off the floor with Maddox, duct taped a sword back together thrice, narrowly avoided milk on the rug with a hasty switch from a glass to a sippy cup in a cardboard block construction zone, heated up leftover pizza (yes, for breakfast) and demystified the “green specks on the top” as oregano. This is after everyone gets up and dressed, had iPad time, and mom’s had green tea and cleaned up the inevitable cat puke off the rug. I’ve also admired some “very handsome burps” and pretended to eat a block for breakfast and the amusement of a small, pink tyrant who is currently “stuck” to a green chair in order to avoid having to fetch things for herself.

2014-12-21 09.43.07

This is a pretty normal weekend morning, aside from Jon being sick, and is actually pretty great (again, aside from Jon being sick). I wouldn’t change the pace of our life, and would add to the chaos with #3 and #4 if it didn’t mean college debts for everyone and the whole gestation/lactation gig again. I would, however, like to continue to make general changes, even if it’s a slower process than it might otherwise be.

2014-12-21 09.41.13

Having less stuff. For a minimalist, or at least a parent and crafter (two labels that are not generally associated with less stuff), I’d like to have less clutter around the house. Seeing all of the surfaces in our house is never going to happen, but unburying them periodically (and having and getting less stuff to bury them with) is a good thing to keep up. Also, it helps to continue to move out stuff that is no longer beautiful or useful (and not just bagging it and leaving it but removing it from the premises entirely). This is a difficult thing to work on during the holiday season, but I hear it’s entirely possible.

2014-12-21 09.50.30

Reducing the evil presence of flour and processed sugar in our diet. This is particularly difficult for me, as I love sweets and baked goods. Also, the kids love baking, and it’s an activity we can all get behind because, I mean, cupcakes.

Finally, I’d like to simultaneously provide stronger limits on the kids’ iPad time while also encouraging them to play more on their own, or with each other (i.e. with less helicopter parenting). I love pretending to be a banana that is eaten by a monster plant then flushed down the potty into the ocean as much as the next girl (seriously, you should try it) but one cannot emulate a fruit (a starch? I dub thee a fruitstarch.) for all waking hours. For one, you start questioning whether you do actually need to wear pants because do fruitstarches need pants? I think not. For another, your kids grow up with the added expense of needing to hire a troupe of entertainers at all times and they have to save all that cash for professional gambling at Foxwoods (see, we have a fallback in case we have an oops baby and college doesn’t work out for someone).

Life will indeed smack us in the face with a good or a bad something (a last minute birthday party to shop for, sickness, potty training, another fruit fly explosion, overloading our work schedules, anything) but the thing is to try to continue to grow, even with everything going on, but with generosity to ourselves and the understanding that choices and change are part of the every day march, not a extra to do list, or a standalone project to try during free time.

Playing with Garbage

Maddox and I decided to start off the day by playing with rotting old trash and food bits. Typical Friday.

I read a little about lasagna beds yesterday (essentially, you put down cardboard or newspaper, cover it with organic material, and then you water), which seemed like a lovely, lazy way to start a garden.

We picked a site that was covered in weeds to test just how lazy we could be with this method. Then, we ripped apart some boxes and dumped the contents of our compost bins, which we’ve been adding to all summer, on top.

lasagna bed

We’re going to let the patch sit for a year, and then plant oregano or thyme as ground cover. If it works (i.e. doesn’t totally turn into a revolting, cardboard-y gardening failure), we’ll cover up the rest of the space with lasagna beds and enjoy eating things grown in a space that was previously covered in weeds, followed by trash, which is just cool.

It was a fun but dirty job – you know you’re really making a mess when your three year old insists on a bath after an activity!

Updates from the Garden

This morning, the garden surprised us with teeny baby peppers (I’d rescued some seedlings from our compost bin, but until today, wasn’t entirely sure what they were) and some beans on a plant that I thought had given up the ghost.

peppers

IMG_2853

The first cherry tomatoes are coming out (although the larger tomatoes are still green):

cherry tomatoes

And our lettuce is still growing, even through the heat – mmm! That is probably the plant we’ve eaten the most of this year, going through a whole packet of seeds (we just finished it up this morning).

lettuce

(The stem next to the lettuce is a giant sunflower, that snuck into the container back in the spring):

sunflowers

I think our raspberries are done for the season (aww) but hopefully, they’ll be back, along with our new strawberries:

strawberries

We tossed in a few cucumber seeds this morning, to see if we could still get a few going before the end of the season. It’s been a nice long summer for growing (at least for what our family can eat!) and we’re looking forward to next year. Fall is probably coming just in time, as Maddox, after planting a dozen seeds this morning, told me that he was, “tired of growing food with Mommy” for the day. And it’s only 11am. He’s done so much gardening this year that he’s earned a break! Also, without the motivation of fresh raspberries (he doesn’t care for the tomatoes) it’s not quite as much fun.

I’ve had to admit a few truths about what I will and will not maintain in our garden, and which plants will be better in containers again next year vs. in the yard. I’ve also got to solve our gnat population problem (whenever I bring in houseplants, we get an army of fungus gnats) and am excited to do some seed shopping for the winter and spring for my new birthday grow lights. More on all that later – we’re going back outside to throw water at things and to play with sticks (which, come to think of it, sounds a heck of a lot like what gardening is, too).

Musings on Gardening

I’m making a move on our yard.
I’ve slowly started to clear out patches of garden bed – mostly of 4 years worth of weeds, moss and clover that have grown and expanded until they completely cover the dirt. Container gardening has been so much fun (and I think I’m sincerely going to miss being able to water in just one concentrated location) but I think it’s time to start planting things in the rest of our yard.
We have a ton of huge perennial bushes that do all right with no care whatsoever. There are two enormous hollies, countless leafy plants with pale purple, bell-like flowers, riots of daisies, and so much ground cover, mini trees and grass plants that it is absurd. I’m going to start with the ground cover, since it’s so good at expanding and, hopefully, would be able to grow back and cover my mistakes if my new plants don’t survive the winter.
We have lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and herbs in our deck container garden. The basil in particular is extremely happy, and we just added two strawberry plants as well. The first move I made (Maddox, too, since he diligently helps me to weed and loves repotting plants and spraying them with water) was to transplant the raspberry bushes from two holes that I’d randomly dug in the lawn, back when I didn’t have a shovel. Needless to say, the spot was shady and the plants were choked with grass, and while they survived, they didn’t seem very happy.
The raspberries are flourishing in their new, sunny, actually-in-a-garden-bed spot, and have rewarded us with a handful of berries this year. Next year, I might fence them off to give them additional support, and if they do well, I’ll let them slowly expand to the right, pulling out ground cover to make room.
This morning, we started clearing out one of the beds by the fence to the left side of our property – I let Maddox pick the bed we would work on, since pretty much everywhere needs some help and weeding anywhere would be a good start. We only weed for about 20-30 minutes at a time (it’s pretty hot and buggy out, plus I’m 7 months pregnant with Jess) plus I use lawn chairs to avoid continuously crouching on the ground. We toss weeds onto another lawn chair to dry out so I can compost them on top of our 2 years-dead Christmas tree Barry (did I mention that we haven’t done a lot with our yard?) in the corner behind the shed.
The space around one of the purple flower plants is 3/4 of the way cleared, and I explained to Maddox how happy the plant was to be able to breathe now. We found a cool green grasshopper and oodles of moss, and uprooted a tree that had started to take over the fence. There were a lot of brown leaves in the bed, and big sticks that I’d tossed in there for convenience while mowing, and once we cleared some of that out, we were able to find actual plants to pull out – mostly clover and wild strawberries, which I’d keep, but they don’t produce fruit in that shady section of the yard, and when I moved them to the deck, the fruit that they did produce was mealy and flavorless.
Once this area is clear, I’ll pull back a little bit extra ground cover, remove the maple seeds that become huge surprisingly fast, and sneak my mint plant into the ground. I hear that mint does well in shade, and if it does TOO well, I can pull up the rest of the ground cover and turn that bed into a yummy mint haven. I find nature to be incredibly beautiful, but have not yet progressed to the point in my gardening where I can grow flowers. I would much rather snack on my yard.
It’s thundering now, which is a complete tease because my tomatoes need water. I haven’t decided whether to add these to the actual ground or not – these have done so well on the deck that it’s almost a shame to move them – plus it might be more fun to do a raised bed for tomatoes, beans and cucumbers next year in which case, clearing spots in our beds for tomatoes might not be worth it.
I do want to find a place to hide my basil plants (two are doing well, one had a fruit-fly altercation and is still recovering) but haven’t yet unearthed a sunny spot that is just right for them. Someone on freecycle asked for yellow and white flowers, so maybe if she comes by and clears out some of our daisies and brown eyed susans, I’ll have space to pop in a basil plant. I’m not optimistic, though – the daisies are over three feet tall and are crowding onto the lawn, and the susans are cropping up in random places all over the yard, even crossing stretches of grass and weeds.
So far, I’m not brave enough to mess with the front yard – we have two Japanese maples and a lot of green plants that look good even in the winter, while requiring pretty much no maintenance. I’d like to replace the patch of ground cover next to our steps with lavender eventually, but Jon is attached to it, plus I need to see what lavender looks like through the different seasons before doing anything drastic to our neighbor-facing landscape areas.
It would be funny if, in 5 years, our front garden beds were entirely tomatoes and basil, and our side and back were squash, cukes and beans. All of our ground cover would be replaced by herbs and berries, and the asparagus plants that I’m tempted to try (even though it’s a long term labor of love, at least three years for the plants to get ready) would be growing alongside our deck, instead of our gigantic hollies.
We have a row of poplars that provide shade and privacy from the neighbors behind us, and they are somewhat impossible to mow under, due to how the lawn tilts down to where their roots are. I’d love to replace all those weeds with shade-friendly (poplar-friendly) wildflowers, but lack the motivation to crawl under low-hanging poplar branches to clear them out. Pretty, delicate ones, like morning glories (the non-poisonous variety) so long as they can take the shade.
It’s fun to plan a yard. I frequently envision the rooms of our house in my head, mentally rearranging and then leaping up to try it out. I hadn’t tried it outside before, but it’s kind of similar, and has the added benefit that gardening is kind of zen, and it’s a very peaceful task to do on a day-to-day basis. There’s a chance that I may be receiving a grow light set for my birthday (cross fingers!) and, while I’ll be sorry to scale back for the winter, it will be fun to plan, order and start seeds, and to see how many of my herbs I can keep alive over the long New England winter.

Or, Slowly Making My Backyard Completely Edible

I’m making a move on our yard.

I’ve slowly started to clear out patches of garden bed – mostly of four years worth of weeds, moss and clover that have grown and expanded until they completely cover the dirt. Container gardening has been so much fun (and I think I’m sincerely going to miss being able to water in just one concentrated location) but I think it’s time to start planting things in the rest of our yard.

Our Yard Now

hollies

We have a ton of huge perennial bushes that do all right with no care whatsoever. There are two enormous hollies, countless leafy plants with pale purple, bell-like flowers, riots of daisies, and so much ground cover, mini trees and grass plants that it is absurd. I’m going to start with the ground cover, since it’s so good at expanding and, hopefully, would be able to grow back and cover my mistakes if the new plants don’t survive the winter.

Our Deck Vegetables This Year (April, June, July)

April

deck

now

We have lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and herbs in our deck container garden. The basil in particular is extremely happy, and we just added two strawberry plants as well. The first move I made (Maddox, too, since he diligently helps me to weed and loves repotting plants and spraying them with water) was to transplant the raspberry bushes from two holes that I’d randomly dug in the lawn, back when I didn’t have a shovel. Needless to say, the spot was shady and the plants were choked with grass, and while they survived, they didn’t seem very happy.

Pissed-off Raspberries After Transplanting, then Happier, Settled-in Raspberries

raspberries (pissed off right after transplanting)

raspberries (settled and happier)

The raspberries are flourishing in their new, sunny, actually-in-a-garden-bed spot, and have rewarded us with a handful of berries this year. Next year, I might fence them off to give them additional support, and if they do well, I’ll let them slowly expand to the right, pulling out ground cover to make room.

This morning, we started clearing out one of the beds by the fence to the left side of our property – I let Maddox pick the bed we would work on, since pretty much everywhere needs some help and weeding anywhere would be a good start. We only weed for about 20-30 minutes at a time (it’s pretty hot and buggy out, plus I’m 7 months pregnant) plus I use lawn chairs to avoid continuously crouching on the ground. We toss weeds onto another lawn chair to dry out so I can compost them on top of our 2 years-dead Christmas tree Barry (did I mention that we haven’t done a lot with our yard?) in the corner behind the shed.

The space around one of the purple flower plants is 3/4 of the way cleared, and I explained to Maddox how happy the plant was to be able to breathe now. We found a cool green grasshopper and oodles of moss, and uprooted a tree that had started to take over the fence. There were a lot of brown leaves in the bed, and big sticks that I’d tossed in there for convenience while mowing, and once we cleared some of that out, we were able to find actual plants to pull out – mostly clover and wild strawberries, which I’d keep, but they don’t produce fruit in that shady section of the yard, and when I moved them to the deck, the fruit that they did produce was mealy and flavorless.

Operation Stealthy Mint Attack

mint

Once this area is clear, I’ll pull back a little bit extra ground cover, remove the maple seeds that become huge surprisingly fast, and sneak my mint plant into the ground. I hear that mint does well in shade, and if it does TOO well, I can pull up the rest of the ground cover and turn that bed into a yummy mint haven. I find nature to be incredibly beautiful, but have not yet progressed to the point in my gardening where I can grow flowers. I would much rather snack on my yard.

It’s thundering now, which is a complete tease because my tomatoes need water. I haven’t decided whether to add these to the actual ground or not – these have done so well on the deck that it’s almost a shame to move them – plus it might be more fun to do a raised bed for tomatoes, beans and cucumbers next year in which case, clearing spots in our beds for tomatoes might not be worth it.

Making Some Room

daisies

I do want to find a place to hide my basil plants (two are doing well, one had a fruit-fly altercation and is still recovering) but haven’t yet unearthed a sunny spot that is just right for them. Someone on freecycle asked for yellow and white flowers, so maybe if she comes by and clears out some of our daisies and brown eyed susans, I’ll have space to pop in a basil plant. I’m not optimistic, though – the daisies are over three feet tall and are crowding onto the lawn, and the susans are cropping up in random places all over the yard, even crossing stretches of grass and weeds.

So far, I’m not brave enough to mess with the front yard – we have two Japanese maples and a lot of green plants that look good even in the winter, while requiring pretty much no maintenance. I’d like to replace the patch of ground cover next to our steps with lavender eventually, but Jon is attached to it, plus I need to see what lavender looks like through the different seasons before doing anything drastic to our neighbor-facing landscape areas.

Yard-Farming in the Future

holly

It would be funny if, in 5 years, our front garden beds were entirely tomatoes and basil, and our side and back were squash, cukes and beans. All of our ground cover would be replaced by herbs and berries, and the asparagus plants that I’m tempted to try (even though it’s a long term labor of love, at least three years for the plants to get ready) would be growing alongside our deck, instead of our gigantic hollies.

We have a row of poplars that provide shade and privacy from the neighbors behind us, and they are somewhat impossible to mow under, due to how the lawn tilts down to where their roots are. I’d love to replace all those weeds with shade-friendly (poplar-friendly) wildflowers, but lack the motivation to crawl under low-hanging poplar branches to clear them out. Pretty, delicate ones, like morning glories (the non-poisonous variety) so long as they can take the shade.

It’s fun to plan a yard. I frequently envision the rooms of our house in my head, mentally rearranging and then leaping up to try it out. I hadn’t tried it outside before, but it’s kind of similar, and has the added benefit that gardening is kind of zen, and it’s a very peaceful task to do on a day-to-day basis. There’s a chance that I may be receiving a grow light set for my birthday (cross fingers!) and, while I’ll be sorry to scale back for the winter, it will be fun to plan, order and start seeds, and to see how many of my herbs I can keep alive over the long New England winter.

Happy, rained-on tomates

To Compost or Not to Compost?

After once again deciding to put a bunch of green things into pots this year (it’s funny, only the ones with leaves seem to grow, my literal money tree was a complete non-success), I read up on container gardening online and ended up subscribing to @CanarsieBK (an urban organic container gardener) for his interesting ideas and creations.

"We must be new, we're still alive."

(My plants: You can tell that they're new because they're still alive.)

Today, he mentioned his new worm compost bin, which got me thinking about composting again.

I love the idea in theory: you save on lawn and garden materials (we just bought 8 bags of black mulch), it’s pretty easy to use, and you have a healthier yard. We could use all the help we can get in this area, as we have this huge patch in our backyard that looks like we recently raised several undead, due to the area being totally sun-scorched and completely unshaded.

grass

It seems pretty cheap to start and you can put in all kinds of things into it, which for me is the major perk – I can see myself and Maddox having way too much fun pitching organic food waste into a big bucket on a regular basis. Also, I have this thing about laundry lint, which can go into the compost heap – I feel like it should be useful for stuffing bunny toys or insulating walls, but you can’t keep it around inside the house or you’re just asking to be set on fire.

I would probably start pretty small, since buckets around here aren’t $15 (they are like $40 at home depot) and I already have a few medium-sized plastic containers that are just dying to have drill holes in them (read: I am dying to use my drill to ventilate them).

My main concern is the grossness factor. We’ve had fungus gnats in our plants before, and although I’d have this outside on our sunny deck, who knows what weird things might grow in it? Also, what if it really smells? Then I’ll have to pour the half-digested contents of the bucket into a trash bag so we can dispose of it, or bury it silently in the night (or, more likely, cursing loudly) in our backyard.

Finally, worms are all helpful and good for gardening, but they are gross, and I don’t really ever like being reminded that they have a large role when it comes to growing my herbs and vegetables. Who wants to think about that? Thomas Rockwell, I shall cringe in thy general direction forever.

What do you think? Have you ever composted, or do you know someone who has? What’s it like and is it worth the effort?

Amendment April 21: We are off and running, on a small scale! Thank you to everyone online who posted with advice, and to my friends who chimed in with their own composting stories.

compost

Image credit: skeleton photoshopped into my backyard

Zero Garbage Project: Cutting Down on Postal Mail

1sexy ad

I think the only time I benefitted from a mail order catalog was when I taped a large poster of a sexy girl into our shower to freak out Jon when he opened the curtain the next morning.

In actuality, the only reasons I check my mailbox at all are A) because Maddox likes to check the mailbox B) sometimes my Mom sends me holiday cards, and obviously, C) so squatters don’t think our home is vacant and move in.

DMA, All the Way

(Catchy, no? You’d think, as an association of marketers, they would have thought of this one.) Anyway, in an attempt to cut down on the amount of postal mail we receive, I checked out greendimes.com, which directed me to the Direct Marketing Association.

Using DMA, I did the following:

  • Removed my name from credit card offers
  • Removed my address from catalogs
  • Removed my address from magazine offers
  • Removed my address from other mail offers
  • Removed my emails from national email lists

It’s cool (is it, Leanne? Is it really) because you can also manually opt out of places you’ve purchased from, since I guess those places are allowed to spam you once you buy. You can also report companies who haven’t stopped sending mail after 90 days, which appeals to my sense of justice and also my need to make trivial matters personal crusades.

Other Neat Tricks

While I was down this particular internet rabbit hole, I also reregistered with Do Not Call and read a Consumer Alert on How to Protect My Identity from Being Stolen.

This lead to checking my credit report after finding out that, by law, you get a free report each year. Way to feed my paranoia, FTC.

This was actually pretty helpful, as I found out that my Victoria’s Secret Angels Card had never been canceled, despite a request filed a year or so ago, which brings us full circle, back to sexy hotness.

2sexy

Still More, But Not As Neat, Tricks

From here, I realized that I needed to renew our passports and get one for Maddox, which lead to a pile of unsexy paperwork and several OCD lists of all the documents I have to fill out or gather. But let’s pretend that’s just as hot as catalogs and Angels, shall we?

3sexy

Original image credits: H&M, Victoria’s Secret & random blog with shirtless men.

365 Days of Trash and Other Stories

Contrary to the title, the blog 365 Days of Trash could actually be called 365 Days of Zero Trash, or 365 Days Without Throwing Crap Out, But Also Without Hoarding In Scary Amounts. Come to think of it, 365 Days of Trash is a lot catchier than either of those titles, so rock on, Dave.

About 6 months ago, I decided to stop doing really extreme things that absorb my attention entirely for a span of 6 weeks then become so repugnant that I give them up entirely and subconsciously rebel against these activities from that day forth. To name a few:

  • Horticulture. I used to have gorgeous container plants that bloomed even when they weren’t supposed to (purple flowers!), the product of intense research of optimal plant conditions, matching photos to identify of label-less plants, and mixing huge quantities of soil on my living room carpet (Jon is a very understanding house-mate.) Fast forward to now: there are several dead or dying plants in my basement (next to windows, I’m not a sadist!), our own yellowing, chlorophyll versions of Mrs. Rochester, but thankfully, without the benefit of matches and opposable thumbs with which to light them.
  • Real Estate Closings. As part of my first post-college job, I learned all about title processing for mostly residential properties, tax certifications, and peculiar state laws for refinances. This stopped when I was enrolled in a Notary Public course so I could conduct closings, and I realized that the part I was most looking forward to was getting one of those cool seals that made the paper stick up in a circular pattern.
  • Sewing. To this day, I enjoy running off very simple sewing projects (hemming, no-nonsense curtains, basic pillow patterns) but at one point, I was making dresses and shirts, and stockpiling old patterns like a couture-obsessed squirrel.

Anyway, you get the picture. I have more or less done this since childhood, when my very tolerant parents used to allow me to fill my bedroom with paper chains (literally fill, you had to crawl through it to the bed) and spray paint in my room (a habit that persisted until college, when the size of my dorm room exacerbated the fumes, knocking me out).

So, instead of being all intense about this new thing, my Zero Trash But Anti-Hoarding Project, I’m just picking a few things to try, and seeing if they have any impact on our lives and those of polar bears. It’s conveniently complementary to my nature, as I frequently go OCD on my house and dump piles of things on the curb – or, in the case of the last time our friends Chris & Lauren visited, surreptitiously  fill their bags with items from my pantry in hopes that they’d carry them off when they left. (They did. Muahahaha hope you guys like carbohydrates.)

Also, if I don’t ever collect this stuff in the first place, it’ll free up my time for other OCD tasks, like arranging my books alphabetically by author (then title) and moving all the living room furniture around when Jon’s out of the house. (Which is kind of how I clean – cleaning is boring, but if you combine cleaning with moving furniture that is taller than you and three times as wide, it’s a lot more entertaining.)

So, stay tuned for updates as I give this a shot – I’ve already tried writing a holiday eletter with Mailchip instead of sending a postal letter (like I would have bothered to do that anyway) and my next task is to sign up for  a service like the DMA’s opt out of junk mail or greendimes.com. Or, I might just call a bunch of the companies that send me mail and pretend to be a leftwing nut who believes aliens live in the post office and getting off the mailing list is the only way to stop their communication with the mother ship, which of course, wants to eat our brains. Wish me (and whomever I call) luck!

For aspiring world conquerors everywhere