Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quick garden make over

The garden by our front walk has been an unsightly eyesore since we moved in.  Twenty years ago someone laid down a layer of rocks and planted ivy.  I'm pretty sure it hasn't been touched since.  If the ivy ever climbed the wall it had long since fallen down.  It was a mass of dirty, leafy, ugly, brownness.  I've slowly been ripping it all out, one trash barrel at a time.  Yesterday I came across a pile of free iris plants.  This was exactly what I'd been waiting for.  It took the girls and I about three hours to pull out the rest of the ivy and all the rocks.  I laid down one bag of dirt and planted my new plants.  I do love a good inexpensive project.  All it cost me was three hours of my time and a bag of dirt.

They should perk up in a day or two with some water.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The accidental urban girl's Tuesday guide to thrifty and natural living

Saving water...
Colorado is the first place I've ever lived where I've had to pay for water.  I've always lived places with well water or where the cost of water was such a pittance it was included in the rent.  But here we have to pay for water and may I say it ain't cheap!   We've tried to curb our water usage.  We take fewer showers.  But while I've hoped and prayed and strived to make less laundry it just keeps coming.  Drat!

I know it's a silly thing to get stuck on but I'm not looking forward to paying for all that extra water to keep our garden green.  We have a southern exposure and it is hot and DRY here in the summer.  I've made it a bit of a game to think of ways to save water for our plants.  So far I've come up with two things.  The first is saving the rinse water from the dishes.  The second is showering standing in this giant green bucket you see above.  We have seventeen pots of plants on our upper deck that will need watering.  It's only a few paces from the upstairs bathroom so using shower water makes sense right?  I'll get back to you on whether it actually works or not.  I'm not sure Phil will go for it.  Does anyone out there have any other ideas for me?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Painting and drawing with children

 It was another rainy day here.  In between wet, muddy adventures we took time to do some art.   We all sat down together with paints, crayons and pencils and came up with some pretty great stuff.  Hoping to make drawing a part of our regular summer routine once school is out.   Love this entry on the Camp Creek blog, on teaching kids to draw.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The accidental urban girl's Tuesday guide to thrifty and natural living

Bulk shopping...
It can save you a ton on grocery bills.  Bulk stores generally carry dry goods.  We buy our whole grains, flours, dried fruits, nuts and beans, among other dry goods at our local bulk store.  Between shopping once a month or so at a bulk foods store and shopping weekly at our local farmers market, we break the need to shop weekly at the grocery store.   The less I go into the grocery store, the more we save.  I have a tendency to pick up 'extras' when I grocery shop.  I find we eat more healthfully when shopping this way too.  (Quick note:  I often find the bulk section at traditional grocery stores to be more expensive than actual 'bulk food stores'.  Compare prices!)

Another nice thing about buying in bulk is that you don't have to pay for the exorbitant layers of packaging. Therefore, said packaging doesn't end up in a landfill.  I like to take my own containers when I can so as not to end up with extra bags.  Most of the above jars were actually a wedding gift from Target of all places.  But jars from peanut butter, honey and pasta sauce work just as well.

One might think buying in bulk like this adds too much extra time to cooking.  It can, but the money it saves, the health benefits of eating whole grains and unprocessed foods and the lack of packaging all make it worth it in my mind.  There are also a few tricks to it.  Prepare things ahead of time and in larger quantities.  Then they can be frozen and defrosted at will.  A crock pot is also a great friend. You can put things in before you leave for the day and come home to dinner already cooked.   Prepared beans and rice both can be frozen and reheated as needed.  I cook mine in big batches and freeze in small quantities.  A tip for cooking beans faster: add kombu(seaweed) to the simmering beans.  Remember to cook fully before adding any salt or seasonings.  Sometimes that can inhibit the amount of water the beans soak up and leave you with hard beans. Yuck!

Once you go into a bulk store the possibilities are endless.  You'll find interesting things to try every time you go in.  Do keep in mind that prices change each month on various items.  Once you've been going for a while you'll know when something is a good deal and can stock up that month.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A day of hibernation

One of the things I miss most about New York is the gray days.  I know you must be thinking "is she crazy?!" But here where we rarely get a gray day, where it is sunny all winter long, I miss the quiet days inside.  It is almost impossible to be inside on a brilliant, sunny day.  And so we spend all day, every day outside.  Let me tell you, it can be exhausting.  Today we will curl up with tea and blankets and books.  We will watch it rain and be grateful for the water in the gardens.  We will have chicken and dumpling soup for dinner.  And if it is still raining tonight we will sleep peacefully under the pitter, patter of rain on the roof.  Thank goodness for gray days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The accidental urban girl's Tuesday guide to thrifty and natural living

I'm going to start a new Tuesday topic on urban, thrifty, natural living.  Check in each Tuesday for another installment. 

Some ideas this week on home-made planter boxes.  To double our planting space Phil and I decided to build two raised planters on the deck.  We also decided to try and trellis several things to maximize our space and grow as much as possible in our 15 x 30 foot back patio.
It should be noted that neither of us have a tremendous amount of wood working experience.  But we figured we could slog our way though it.  We started by measuring our space and drawing up some sketches.  We then visited our local used building supply store to see what kind of materials were available.  We purchased  the wood, screws and nails for the white planter for somewhere around $30.   The tools we used consisted of a skill saw, drill, measuring tape, hammer and some good old common sense. We borrowed the skill saw from some neighbors.  We could have rented it from a local hardware store or the reuse center if that wasn't available.  We own our drill but that too could have been rented if we'd needed to.  The large planter box is about 8 feet by 2.5 feet and 18 inches deep.  It does have a bottom.  We ended up making a frame out of two by fours and nailing white picket fence rails around to hold the dirt.  It is also lined with plastic to keep the dirt in place.  We made sure to punch lots of holes in the bottom of the plastic for drainage.  The trellis type thing going up to the deck is just that: a trellis.  The nylon rope was less expensive then building or buying a wooden one. We are also working with a sometimes very windy place.  Our hope is that the rope will be more flexable then wood.  The embellishment on the front of the box was just something we had kicking around.

The materials for the smaller cedar planter were free.   A couple days after we finished the white planter  some neighbors took down their perfectly useable cedar fence and redwood deck.  They were going to trash the wood until we offered to take it off their hands.  It is about 2.5 feet by 3.5 feet and a similar construction to the larger one with a 2 x 4 base (just built a little better).  Hey we're quick studies.

If you don't want to buy wood look for a local yahoo freecycle group.  (I recommend entering your town and state instead of your zip code.) Frecycle is a national organization with local chapters.  It uses yahoo groups to distribute information.  It's purpose is to reuse things that might otherwise go to the landfil.  You can offer things you no longer use or want and also ask for things others offer.  It is all free!  If freecycle doesn't yield wood keep your eyes open.  Ask builders at building sites if they have wood they won't use or have pulled out of the building project.  Do be careful with what you choose though.  Remember you'll be planting food in these boxes and some woods have been treated with things you don't want to eat.  An example of what not to use would be old railroad ties.  They are treated with creosote and you don't want that leaching into your planter soil.

The dirt was the most expensive part of this endeavor.   We ordered it by the cubic yard and went in on it with neighbors to share the cost of delivery.  I recommend ordering from a landscape materials supplier if you'll need any kind of large quantity.  Ask questions about the dirt you are buying.  You want to know what is in it and where it came from.  Ask if you'll have to amend it or if you can use it just as it is.  For $35 we got one cubic yard (that's 1500lb). One cubic yard filled both our planters by the way.   Bagged that quantity would have cost us between $100 and $200 depending on the kind of dirt we chose.

The plants we'll be planting were all started from seed in March.  Much less expensive than buying starts.  Our seedlings are ready for planting now if only the weather would cooperate.

Good luck building and planting.  Here's to growing our own food!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On the road again

We decided yesterday to take the next day or two and travel west.  Don't know how long we'll be in this part of the country but it could be as short as another year.  We've got to soak up the west as much as we can while we are here.  With Phil and Lil in school it's hard to find the time to hit the road.  But we decided to pull Lil out of school and take a quick trip down to the Great Sands National Monument.  I haven't been in years and the girls and Phil have never been there.  Can't wait!  Now here's hoping the weather is stupendous.  If it is we may just stay all weekend!

Above the lined stuff sacks I made last summer for our road trip.  I put different prints on the bottom so we could tell who they belonged to without pulling them all out.  The prints are Anna Maria Horner.  Love those fat quarters!  Good for a splash of color for not much money.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the back patio

 We seem to spend a good portion of our days out in back now that the weather is getting nicer.  Today we planted seeds, made yarn art on nails in logs (Lillian's own project) and worked on the patio I've been laying.

 Phil made this spot for Rupert a while back so he could see what was going on in the greater yard.  He loves this vantage point.  He can scope out the evil neighbor cat before he gets scoped first.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The bag

I had a bit of a chuckle at my own expense today when I looked through my purse for something.  It's contents say so much about me.  I mean sure there are the usuals, kleenex, sunglasses, wallet, keys, cell phone.  But then there are the unusuals:  the half finished knit sock, the plastic harmonica, elastic thread, that invisible zipper foot I was telling you about.  Not to mention the Joann fabric coupons, fish magnet and race car.  Mother and crafter are chief among my professions or so says my purse.  Can anyone out there top the wacky things in my purse?  It is a  Maruca bag by the way.  It has been one of the best gifts I've ever received.  It's stylish and can hold a lot of crap.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tips on dying silk scarves with tissue paper

Had a go this morning at dying a silk scarf using Japanese silk tissue paper.  If you want to attempt it you'll need:

* A silk scarf
* Japanese silk tissue paper
* Vinegar water in a bowl (I used a 'glug' of vinegar in a half full bowl)
* Spray bottle - with one to one vinegar to water
* Plastic to cover your work space
* Plastic gloves if you don't want to dye your hands

1. Soak the scarf in vinegar water for a bit.  I think I soaked mine for 10 or 15 minutes
2. Wring it out and lay it on your covered surface.  Anywhere the scarf isn't totally flat will result in a bit of a marbling effect.
3. Tear or cut the paper into pieces and place at random or in a pattern on your scarf.  (I promise there is a purpose for the pattern on mine.  I'll show you in a couple days) You may need to spray a bit with the spray bottle as you go to keep the paper in place.
4. Once you've covered the scarf spray the entire thing to dampen the paper enough to stick to the scarf.  You don't want to spray too much because you don't want it to run when you pick it up to hang it to dry.
5. Press the paper into the scarf to get the color to soak in more.  I covered mine with the plastic and pressed over the plastic.
6.  Hang to dry.  The paper will start to fall off once it dries.
7. Remove any hold out paper and rinse to remove the vinegar smell.
8. For all intensive purposes you now have a beautiful scarf.  But it's not entirely color fast.  I rinsed mine for a while waiting for it to run clear and it never did.  I'm going to do a bit more research but so far I haven't found a way to make it completely color fast.  I just wouldn't recommend wearing it over a white outfit in the rain.
Little hands love to help rip paper.

The paper after it was all said and done.  It was like a work of art in itself.