Monday, April 26, 2010

Holy Garden Obsession, Batman!

Okay, this is the last gardening post for a little bit. I promise. But I had to share some pictures of the plants all coming to life for the year. :)

mosaic

1. nepeta, 2. blueberry blossoms against sky, 3. purple lamium, 4. columbine, 5. fern, 6. red seedless grape, 7. blueberry blossoms, 8. red raspberry, 9. russian sage, 10. bleeding heart, 11. blackberry bud opening, 12. red seedless grape new growth, 13. blueberry blossoms, 14. sycamore, 15. peony blossom, 16. false indigo, 17. maple, 18. pots, 19. pink lamium, 20. polemonium

And some of the other stuff I just planted:

new plants

And as of yesterday, I built my grapes an arbor!

grape arbor

I cheated a bit (because I am not the best carpenter) and I bought cedar mailbox posts at Lowe's for the end pieces, sunk them into the ground a little, screwed them to the shed and then added cedar boards as cross pieces. It rained on it all day today and it smelled SO GOOD. I think cedar is one of my most favorite smells ever.

I also put these in at the end of the yard, but I think I am moving the lilac to the other side of the yard and moving the willow over to the middle. After building the arbor, I found that the willow gets in my way when I try to walk back to the compost house...

more new plants!

And some herbs!

herbs

And I saw this cute little birdie enjoying the seating area yesterday. :)

tucked in birdie

Okay, I promise to do something that doesn't involve plants, dirt or kitchen scraps over the next few days and do a post about it...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trash Picked Ladder Project

A little while back, our neighbors across the street put this ladder out with their trash:

trash picked ladder

Under cover of darkness, I ran over and grabbed it. It was very sturdy and only had one partially broken rung, so I sanded it down and planned to do something I've been dying to do with an old ladder for years: make a plant stand.

Then when I found myself with a red honeysuckle to plant the other day, I thought maybe the ladder could be both a trellis and a plant stand.

the plan...

So the honeysuckle got planted under the ladder.

almost there...

The next day, we went to Lowe's and got some hardware:

hardware

I pulled out a bunch of my old pots:

old pots

And I drilled some holes in the steps of the ladder:

holes drilled

Each pot got a bolt and washer on the inside:

bolt and washer

And a wingnut underneath to hold them in place:

wing nuts

This was my big brainstorm in response to my worrying about the wind knocking all the pots off and breaking them. We seem to get a lot of wind...

Anyway, here it is with all the pots attached and ready for plants!

almost done!

I plan to start some Four O'Clocks from seed in the pots and I scattered some seeds (wildflower mix, dwarf sunflowers, shasta daisies and snapdragons) all around back there, so if all goes well, we will have an overflowing flower garden beside our shed!

I even started a little seating area so we can sit back there and enjoy the blooms.

very old chairs

Those chairs were trash picked right before Ethan was born when we were still living up in Dunmore and that plant stand was found under our porch at our house in Scranton. I'm thinking moss in those pots? Anybody had luck transplanting moss into pots? I've done it a few times, but it never did very well...

That's it. Expect a LOT more garden pictures soon, because this is apparently all I do right now...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Compostin'

When we bought this house, we were lucky enough to have previous owners who had done a great job updating the interior and cleaning EVERYTHING (even the ceiling in the basement was clean!).

Except for one thing. There is an adorable little shed in our backyard that sits about four feet out from the corner of the fence.

my shed at sunset :)

The area beside it that faces the neighbors' yard was filled with crushed white stone and gated off. The area behind it that faces the grass alley behind our yard was filled with sticks, leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste. Like, a lot of it. From what the neighbors said, the previous owners had been dumping stuff there the whole time they lived here, which was three years. As you can imagine, that was lot of organic material. I bagged up the top layers, which were primarily grass clippings and sticks and ended up with twelve contractor bags full.

However, under all that not broken down stuff was some beautiful soil! I spread it over the white stones beside the shed and removed the gate. It is a narrow space, so I will be putting a wildflower and sunflower garden there in the hopes of attracting some butterflies. :)

As for behind the shed I thought, "What better place for a compost pile?"

And then I thought, "What could be better than a compost pile than a little compost house?" Okay, I didn't actually think that, but that is what my structure turned into when I decided to use all free materials to build it.

It started out normal enough. The pallets were free from Lowe's, the stakes I used as braces to hold it in place were leftover from the raised bed and the black plastic mesh was left behind by the previous owners.

sides in place

You can see in that first picture that I added my first scraps to it before I was done building it. I am that excited about compost. You can also see that there is a lot of other partially decomposed material in there. That is all the stuff I found under the great mounds of grass clippings that wouldn't fit in the soon-to-be flowerbed. Also, the pallet at the back side is on its end because it wouldn't fit sideways between the shed and the fence. So to make it less horrible looking, it is going to have some morning glories growing up it as soon as I buy some seeds and plant them. :)

Okay, now here's where it gets weird. I had been planning on putting a pallet on top so it would be less encouraging to skunks and raccoons, but then I found a piece of plywood in the shed. And some shingles...

a roof

So now it is a compost house. The roof is not attached, it is just sitting between the sticking-up pieces of pallet wood and staying in place. That way I can lift it off to have easy access whenever I need it.

Then all it needed was a door to discourage critters from walking right in and having a look around.

door!

The structure is obviously not airtight, so I think my compost will enjoy a good airflow but still get the benefit of the hot sun due to the shingled roof on top. I can easily add water when needed, or just lift off the roof during a rainstorm. I will be burying the fresh waste as it is added so I don't attract all the neighborhood vermin. And I have PLENTY of newspaper to shred and add to it when I get a chance. Most of what I used to move down here is folded in a big box in the basement and being meted out with the recycling every other week.

Now I figure that I may generate more compost than we will need during the coming years, so I am hoping to find a community garden to donate some to if or when the time comes. I'll keep you (com)posted! (Couldn't resist!)

finshed compost house

Next up: Trash-picked ladder project.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The gardening post.

Well, the first of many is more accurate.

Anyway, when we moved here in December, during a cold snap, one of the first things I did between painting and unpacking was design a raised garden bed. I was so excited about spring I just couldn't wait. I had this puppy measured and drawn up for months before it was finally time to build it.

I decided on a raised bed for a lot of reasons. The major ones would be pest control, avoiding soil contamination, ease of maintaining and feeding plants, and a big interest in trying out square foot gardening (but probably not until next year when I actually have time to research companion planting).

I started with some untreated lumber. These are 12 foot long boards which came home with me tied to the roof rack of my wonderful little Subaru. Even though I don't live far from Lowe's, I tied these suckers tight and while they were probably terrifying to behold on the highway, they didn't budge an inch.

lumber

I decided on hardwood stakes for support for now. Not a wise choice, I'm sure, but I was looking to save myself some money and labor. I had been planning on using studs, but I realized I'd have to pre-dig holes for them in order to sink them in the ground and I don't have a post digger. So stakes it is! (And landscape plastic and metal corner brackets)

stakes and brackets

Some shorter boards for the ends and some rust free screws.

lumber and screws

One side assembled:

front assembled

Three sides pounded in place. The sight of me wielding a sledgehammer that probably weighs half as much as I do was pretty comical, I'm sure...

pounding the sides in

All sides in place and corner brackets attached inside:

assembled

Lined and ready to fill!

lined

The fork and the hoe helped me break up and mix the soil inside the bed and the shovel helped me get the peat moss out of the huge and very heavy bags.

fill 'er up

Almost full! I used a mixture of topsoil (nice and inexpensive), peat moss, composted cow manure and garden starter soil blend at the top. The resulting blend feels nice and loose and looks black and fertile when wet. Fingers crossed!

almost full!

All filled up and ready to plant!

ready to plant

The kids and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather today to plant some of our seeds:

planting started!

And we still have plenty of space to do some other stuff once the weather warms up!

Up next: The Compost House.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Speaking of awesome friends...

So you all are totally wonderful. I mean it. Thanks for some really amazing comments on my self-pity post. I means so much to me.

Recently, three of my fabulous internet friends sent me some special goodies when they knew I was feeling pretty down.

My Ravelry (Pants! Woot!) friend sent all this great stuff:

sparky package 1

There are some fun science-y things for the kids, some DELICIOUS fruit snacks and some Canadian Cadbury mini eggs. And... And...

A pair of hand knitted socks!!!

sparky package 3

And these cool rainbow-making glasses:

sparky package 4


My Facebook/blogging/soaping friend sent me these FANTASTIC bars of soap. Michele! These soaps are so perfect in every way I just cannot even express how wonderful they are. Not only do they smell like nothing I've ever used before, they just feel SO good. Thank you so much for such a terrific surprise. :)

tierra verde's amazing soaps

tuscany soap side

tuscany soap top

tierra soap swirly top

And last (but certainly not least), my blogging/soaping/Facebook/you-name-it friend Joanna sent me this:

goodies from Jo

This is Yuzu scented whipped shea butter and it is AMAZING. The scent and the texture are just heavenly:

whipped shea

This is the beautiful top of a soap named simply "Nut" due to its fragrance, but I couldn't stop chuckling at what an apt choice it was to send this to me while I was feeling, well, nuts...

top of "nut" soap

And the most special thing of all in Joanna's package were these beach finds:

beach finds

I am so grateful for all of you and so, so touched by these presents. Thanks for thinking of me and thanks for helping to cheer me up. :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hard Stuff

So that was a long two weeks. I have been "not myself" to say the least. I have been doing a lot of moping lately (and therefore a lot of thinking) and I have had to face up to some unpleasant facts. Unfortunately for you reading this, that means no pictures in this post. To make matters worse, I have replaced the space normally allotted for photos with some dreadful and tedious introspection. You've been warned.

1) It has really really hit me lately that I am not having any more children. I am so very thankful for the two I have and that they are happy and healthy and so smart and fun and in a way that makes things even worse, you know? Noah will be two in just over a month and my brain is exploding with disbelief. Ethan will be FOUR at the end of September. I can still remember my pregnancy with him so vividly it is like it just happened yesterday. But this happens. The challenge for me right now is to not let myself get so wrapped up thinking about that "one more baby" I'm never having that I miss out on the amazing things my beautiful sons are doing right now.

2) My business. What can I say? It was an exciting thing when I started because I love making soap and hand balm and I had big plans for lotions, salts, sugar scrubs, lip balms and maybe a few other things and you know what? I'm not actually allowed to sell anything but the soap according to the FDA. Unless of course I spend great gobs of money to prove that my products are not going to eat away at your flesh or kill you in any way.
You know what else? I don't have it in me right now. I started an LLC because I had big plans and tons of enthusiasm and a goal of opening an actual retail location. In Scranton. And then we moved.
Not that I am not happy here. On the contrary, I am so grateful to be back in farm country and so glad we were able to buy a house. It's just that now I was starting from scratch again but this time it felt like more of a burden. I feel like I can never find time to make soap (or anything else for that matter) and I am realizing that I no longer try to make time. My children require more of me than I could give them if I were trying to aggressively grow a business right now and when push comes to shove, I choose my family. I plan to continue making and selling things, but with the intention of being a hobbyist who makes a few bucks off of her wares, not an entrepreneur.

3) Very much related to all that is the fact that I am not earning an income. I am a stay at home mom right now, and we get by, but we could be so much more comfortable if I were to earn some money.
Many moons ago, I started an online certificate program in medical billing and I now intend to complete that in the next few months and try to work from home. Computer work is something I can do with the children awake and right next to me, as opposed to soap making which cannot happen with little ones nearby for so many obvious reasons...
Another factor in my renewed interest in completing the program is that before too long, I will have to re-enter the work force. With Ethan only a year away from kindergarten and Noah only two years behind him, this will happening rather soon. And without this measly certificate, I will have nothing to help me get a job. I never finished college and I have no special training. For all my hobbies and jack-of-all-trade tendencies, I am still a person with no realistically marketable skills. I have had enough retail and waitressing jobs in my life thus far to tide me over for a good many years, thank you, so I am looking to avoid positions like those at all costs.

Having said all this, I actually feel a lot better. I like getting things off my chest and while I try not to do that too much here, I needed that.

Now here are some positive things.

The past few days have been much better. I have been feeling like I have come to terms with my little quandries and I am ready to get back up and do things again. Freeing myself of the business obligation will allow me to enjoy my other hobbies again. (Oh sewing machine! How I have missed you! Knitting? What's that?)

Yardwork has been plentiful and very therapeutic. There is honestly nothing I would rather do than dig in the dirt and plant things and watch the magic happen. There is a doozy of a post coming with some really crappy pictures of the raised garden bed I built and THEN the compost bin I am still building out of all free materials. Bonus!

But mostly, I owe the biggest thanks to my amazing friends. So many people on Ravelry and Facebook have been around at just the right times to lend an ear or just keep me company when I needed it the most and I am so thankful for all of you.

If you've made it this far, thanks for listening. If you skipped to the end and are now holding out for a picture post, I don't blame you one bit. I promise to get one up very soon. :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A few new things

Mostly pictures today. First up is a cutter quilt I found on Etsy that I don't think I'll be cutting.

cutter quilt detail 1

cutter quilt detail 2

cutter quilt detail 3

cutter quilt detail 4

Those are my favorite parts but the whole thing is really neat. It doesn't flow very well (much like my thoughts today), but in a cool way (very much unlike my thoughts today).

cutter quilt

It's actually in decent enough shape that I think I will be patching the holes and leaving it intact. This is the backing:

cutter quilt backing

It's almost threadbare in that really perfect and awesome way that only a vintage item can achieve. You know?

Okay next are some pictures I took of some natural colorants and botanicals I ordered from Southern Soapers recently. They were just too pretty not to share.

annatto!
annatto

indigo powder!
indigo powder

turmeric!
turmeric

lemongrass!
lemongrass

calendula petals!
calendula petals

chamomile!
chamomile blossoms

A big thing is that Van Occupanther finally gave his all. His list of maladies was long: leaky head gasket, leaky, dying transmission, weird electrical problems. None of these things were affordable to repair and would not have been worth sinking the money into for a Dodge minivan of that age and mileage.

So in an effort to avoid car payments, I bought yet another aging, high mileage, used vehicle. No, I do not learn my lesson easily, but thanks for asking. But listen! This one is different! It's a brand that is built to last and has been well maintained and only had two previous owners. It is also one of my dream cars:

Meet Oliver James

It's a 98 Subaru Forester and seems to be in very good condition and his name is Oliver James, after the Fleet Foxes song, and he is an absolute pleasure to drive and we love him. The End.

Other big thing! This was the the kitchen floor when we moved in. It was in good enough shape I guess for stick on tiles, but I really, really despised it.

old floor

So I picked something a bit more my style and I am in love. :)

done!

Here it is with the stuff moved back in:

moving stuff back in

That's all for now. We've been busy playing outside in the unseasonably warm weather and enjoying all the sunshine and happy little plants.