Monday, May 22, 2017

The Myth of the "Extra" Tomato

So it's happened again. I mentioned the number of tomato plants I put in this year (60, as of last count), and a well-meaning, generous soul has responded by suggesting a charity that I could donate my "extra tomatoes" to.

This isn't the first time I've heard this.  Every year, one or two people have a local charity or food bank that they would like me to send my garden produce to. In general, I think it is a lovely idea. I like the idea of helping those in need have access to fresh, organic vegetables instead of packaged crap, and I may very well decide to make a donation of vegetables as I see fit.

The problem I'm having is this idea of the "extra" tomato. I have never, at any point of my life or at any success level of my garden, looked at my tomato crop and said, "I have no use for these." So, I've set out to attempt to prove or disprove the existence of the "extra" tomato in a scientific fashion.

Hypothesis: There is such a thing as an extra tomato in the FC&G universe.

Proof:
There are 52 weeks in the year.  Let's say we don't eat tomato products for four of those weeks, which typically accounts for the period during which all we eat is cucumbers while we wait for the tomatoes to ripen. 

Let us further assume that ripe tomato season lasts for eight weeks. During that time, the plants need to produce at least six tomatoes per day to feed the two of us; I can eat that many slicers by myself each day, but let's assume that Mr. FC&G and I each have one capresse salad per day made of three sliced tomatoes, basil, and cheese, which is not unusual at all.  

Then, let's look at how much canned and dried tomato product we would consume if rationing were not an issue.  We would easily drink a quart of tomato juice each day, for a total of seven quarts. Then, we would use a certain amount of chili sauce, salsa, dried tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and plain tomato sauce in our cooking. For ease of calculation, let's say that we would consume eight quarts of tomato products per week.

8 quarts = 2 gallons per week
2 gallons per each of 40 weeks = 80 gallons of tomato products

Therefore, my tomato plants need to produce 80 canned or dried gallons of tomatoes in addition to the 336 slicers we will be eating fresh.

Lest you think that the bottleneck will occur at the canning end, let me point out that I have a 7 quart large canner and a 7 pint small canner.  I can do two batches a day in each of those with no problem; I'm a writer who works from home, and I have no fewer than four laptop computers that can move easily into the kitchen.  I can spend August in the kitchen.

Let's assume, again for ease of math, that I can two batches totalling 10 quarts on each of five days during each week in August.

10 quarts x 2 batches x 5 days = 100 quarts, or 25 gallons

So, during the month of August, I have the capacity to can 100 gallons of tomato products if need be.

Now, I have great hopes for my 60 tomato plants, but I don't believe for a second that they are going to produce 80 to 100 gallons of canned tomato product.

Hypothesis disproven.
There is no such thing as an "extra" tomato.
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How the World's Best Ballroom Dancer Picked My Kitchen Sink

Note: In response to a conversation I was having about the joys of home ownership, I wrote this account of the tragic winter of 2008-09 when we replaced a sewer pipe.  While not strictly a sustainability issue, I thought you all might enjoy laughing at our misfortune.  It's OK; really, we don't mind!

Mr. and Mrs. FC&G Replace a Sewer Pipe: A Tragedy in Four Acts
Or
How the World’s Best Ballroom Dancer Picked My Kitchen Sink

Act I

It all started when we thought we’d gotten lazy about the compost.

Like a lot of DIY sustainability types, we have a compost pile, and that means we have a compost bucket. Now, one really needs to empty that bucket every day, especially during high gardening season, but sometimes you get lazy. So, when we started to smell rotted food in the fall of 2008, we immediately blamed the compost.

We started being vigilant about emptying the bucket every day. Then, it was every time we put a scrap of food in it. Then, it was a thorough washing outside before the empty bucket dared to come back in the house. By the end, we were pretty much carrying individual tomato peels and cores out to the compost pile as soon as they were cut, then sterilizing the compost bucket and sunning it for extra measure. But the smell continued.

Mr. FC&G insisted that the smell wasn’t a clogged drain pipe (spoiler: he was right), but I was unconvinced. So, one day I bought a bottle of Draino and dumped it down the non-disposal side of the kitchen sink. I was quickly rewarded with the fresh, chemical smell of Draino wafting through the house every time the AC kicked on.

“See, I fixed it!” I crowed! “Now you can just smell how clean that pipe is.”

Mr. FC&G didn’t so much react as wilt, visibly, on the spot. “Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of,” he said.

I will always remember this moment of my life as the last time I was truly innocent about the horrors of home ownership. “Whatever do you mean, my darling husband?” I asked. (I may be remembering that moment a bit better than it actually was.)

“You didn’t clean the pipe. The sewer pipe from the kitchen sits on top of the ductwork that returns to the HVAC system. We have a pipe that is leaking, and you just leaked Draino into the air ducts.”

After a bit calm discussion (or else I’m intentionally misremembering that part too), two things became clear: First, if the heat had been on instead of the AC, I could have sent a stream of Draino into the heater, and, second, our sewer pipe was located in our slab.

“What do you mean, ‘in the slab?’ Is there a crawl space?”

“No,” Mr. FC&G said defeatedly.

“Then how do you get to it?”

“Exactly how you think. You jackhammer up the slab.”

The rest of the day is pretty much a blur. I don’t have any desire to remember anything else about that day.

Act II

Well, all was not lost, because first we needed confirmation that the sewer pipe was indeed broken. For that, we just needed someone with a flexible camera that could be threaded down a pipe. I had no idea there was such a thing, but there is. Apparently, it’s kind of like a colonoscopy, except no one offers you anesthesia and you have to be awake for the entire invasive procedure.

Not that we would know this first hand, mind you. As it turns out, there was precisely one plumbing company in town with such a camera, and they would not, for any amount of money, consent to come to our house to scope our sewer pipe because – are you ready? – if they stuck their camera designed to view the inside of pipes down our sewer pipe, it might break. No appeals to logic, or, indeed, offers to just buy them a whole new camera that they could throw away if it broke, would change their minds.

So, after approval by our insurance, we found a company that would handle the whole deal. With their help, we moved the entire back half of our house into the front living room. Every cabinet, every picture on the wall, every piece of furniture, all of it moved into the living room or up into the spare bedroom. Then, our workers sealed off the living room and various entrances with plastic and tape, and they prepared to jackhammer up our slab.

At the time, I was working part-time as an instructor at a local college, and I left that day thinking that this wasn’t going to be too bad.

I returned from work and, hand to heart, it looked like someone had been re-enacting The Grapes of Wrath in my house. Dust clouds hung in the air, swirling and obscuring your vision. And, once I made it through the dust and into the kitchen, there it was.

There was a three-foot deep, 15 foot long trench through my house, running from the kitchen, through the pantry, across the downstairs hallway, and into the guest bathroom.

To their credit, the workers had done an impressively neat job of the work, once you took into account that they were wielding a jackhammer in places a jackhammer was never intended to go. But, as it turned out, they started at the bathroom end and excavated the pipe toward the kitchen until they found the break: at the joint where the sewer pipe met the drain pipe from the sink.

Let me let you think about that for a minute. Had they started in the kitchen – or, had we had someone with a flexible camera willing to shove it two feet down our kitchen drain – we would have known that the break was essentially right within the slab under the kitchen counter. Sure, there would have been some destruction, and I probably would have freaked out anyway, but it would have been a problem that required relatively little in the way of jackhammering and pouring of concrete. But now the damage had been done, and we had to live with the repair.

Act III

The problem with not having a sewer pipe hooked up in your kitchen, in addition to a gaping trench in there, is that you lose the use of your water, your disposal, and, until they haul it back in from its temporary spot in the dining room, your stove. This makes eating a little difficult because, while you can still microwave, cleaning up the dishes requires washing them in a dishpan and then taking the dirty water outside and throwing it in the yard. Since it was now December, this was no one’s favorite job. We spent part of the subsequent May rescuing flatware from the yard before we started mowing that year.

Our workers proceeded with, well, absolutely no speed at all. Part of this was because it was now Christmas. I had to call them and ask nicely if they would hook up my stove so that I could make us something more than reservations over the holiday.

Part of it was because my tile shop was mad at me. I wanted to replace the vinyl, Formica, and nasty carpet that were originally in the kitchen, on the island countertop, and in the hallway, but I wouldn’t opt for any of the expensive choices and complex layouts that would make this a good before-and-after story for their design portfolios. So, since I didn’t want granite and mosaic tiles laid on the diagonal, they were going to make me wait.

In the meantime, Mr. FC&G started having to go out of town for work, and I was left home to manage this. I was only going to be out of class for a couple more weeks of Christmas break, and I pushed to get the big parts of the job done while I was home, but of course the project dragged into the beginning of the semester.

“Oh, ma’am, we’re bonded! Just leave the house unlocked and we’ll let ourselves in!”

Like hell. Pardon my French.

So, I spent the next two months giving the workers set hours that they could be in the house and shooing them out when I had to leave. This made for some interesting schedules. For one thing, it necessarily made me the first stop on their route each day, so I was getting up at about 5:30 to let workers in the house so they could do a little bit of work and leave by lunch time.

I tried to disguise the fact that I was home alone without my husband, but I was running out of places he could possibly be at 7:00 every morning. At a certain point, I resigned myself to the fact that my life had turned into a situation in which every day I waited for a panel van to show up in my driveway, and I would let two or three strangers into my house to do heaven knows what while I tried to write. One day, I went downstairs to get something and found my tile guy rummaging through my cabinets looking for a coffee mug. When he grabbed one of my good ones (mostly I only have printed coffee mugs that people give me as speaker gifts; no one ever thinks to give the guest speaker a bag of coffee beans), I offered to make a pot of coffee.

“No need,” he said. It turned out that he just wanted to use my good mug to measure the water so that he could mix a batch of mortar. I just sighed and went back upstairs.

Act IV

As I mentioned, Mr. FC&G was doing some travelling for business and was on a per diem (read: paid restaurant meals), but I was home alone. And, since my kitchen facilities were limited for most of this endeavor, I had pretty much stopped eating. There were a good three months that I subsisted on granola bars, cashews, and cookies – anything that wouldn’t require me to do dishes and throw flatware into the yard.

So, when May arrived, the project was nearly done, and I was literally on my last nerve. I was having panic attacks and was basically shaking all the time. And that was when a man I’ll call BK came to town.

BK is the world’s best ballroom dancer, or at least he was. A professional ballroom dancer and body builder, BK has won championships in every ballroom discipline available when he was competing. BK doesn’t walk across the floor; he floats while the angels sing and small birds come and light on his shoulders. And he is an absolutely ruthless ballroom coach, but he is not one that you dare miss if you have the slightest opportunity to take a lesson from him

When our project was nearly complete, BK was in town, and we booked lessons knowing full well we didn’t have the time or the mental stability for the usual dressing-down one gets from him. But go to our lessons we did.

BK, who had relentlessly critiqued us and our sub-par cha-cha the previous visit to town, apparently figured out that we were not at our best, and he asked us what was up. We told him a highly abbreviated version of this story, ending with, “and that’s why, once we finish up here tonight, we still have to go to Lowe’s and pick out a kitchen sink.”

He leveled his gaze at us and said, “stainless?”

I agreed and said that I had my eye on one of those three-basin sinks with the vegetable sink in the middle, but BK said no.

“Nope. What you want is a single basin sink. The whole thing, one basin. You won’t ever use the others, but if you get a single large basin, you can defrost a turkey or wash your puppy.”

We left the dance studio that night and drove to Lowe’s and said, “BK wants us to get a single basin stainless steel kitchen sink” and handed the guy the measurements. And that’s what we got.


I’ve never yet defrosted a turkey in that thing, and I don’t have a puppy. I don’t care. At least I know the world’s best ballroom dancer picked my kitchen sink.


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Friday, April 28, 2017

More of DIY Weedkillers



 Last week, I wrote about using DIY weed killers in place of commercial herbicides that are available for a premium price stacked in your local garden center. If you are maintaining your own property, it only makes sense to use the cheapest and safest thing you can, and that often is something you make yourself.

As I mentioned, loyal reader L. has gone the extra mile to experiment with a gallon of vinegar and a tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  She shared her results with me and gave me permission to share them with you.

In the top two photos, you can see how beautifully this solution worked on both driveway seams and on mulch around posts. I might mix some of this up just to do a strategic kill of the grass around the stop sign in our yard, because I'm getting mightily tired of weed whacking around it!

The bottom is your cautionary tale. The solution will kill grass, so if that is a concern for you,  you will want to exercise caution. But, if you look closely in the bottom photo, you'll see some lovely little violets popping their heads up, which I always think is so pretty in a yard!

 For us, we are well on our way to polyculture instead of monoculture in our yard. No big expanses of uninterrupted bluegrass for us! We do all we can to invite violets, wild strawberries, clover, and all sorts of groundcover plants. (We even love our dandelions, although this time of year we do have to keep on top of mowing the deadheaded ones.)

Not only do the bees love the spring flowers, but encouraging the low groundcover reduces the amount of grass we have and therefore the amount of mowing we have to do. As I mentioned last week, we have whole patches that we no longer have to mow regularly just because we've encouraged the grass to depart in favor of something prettier. It isn't for everyone, and if you absolutely love a yard that looks like a golf course, you should go for it.  To each his own.

In any event, thank you to L. for sharing her findings with us!


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weed Killers without Poison

Spring is finally here!  And along with the ability to wear flip flops, get out in the garden, and sneeze my fool head off because of the allergies comes the phalanx of neighbors and their weed killers.

Sigh. As you know, I'm no big fan of herbicides. And it's none of my business what the neighbors do on their own properties, as they march up and down their driveways and side flower beds with the big spray dispenser of Roundup, gleefully dumping five gallons of glyphosate preparation on perfectly innocent plants that happened to grow in the wrong place. (And spraying their own feet and legs in the process, so good luck with that, guys.)

It's none of my business, but I get cranky when I think of herbicides in the water table, to say nothing of potential impact on my garden. But all I can do is treat my property without the herbicides that make me uncomfortable. So, here's my top five ideas for controlling weeds without any chemical nasties:

Reframe your perspective: Those dandelions and purple deadnettles? The bees love them, and they are the first food for our pollinators in the spring. Give the bees a break and let your weeds grow a bit. We have some of the friendliest bees in our garden every year, and I think it's because they know they can always come eat at our house.

Mow: I know the good people who sell chemical lawn products don't want you to know this, but there's very little visual difference between a yard full of grass and one that has clover and other "weeds," especially if you mow it short. Once you think you've attracted the bees and are ready to get rid of some lawn weeds, just lower the blades on your mower. We have whole patches of our yard that basically never need mowed any more, because the low-slung clover has taken over the grass.

Boiling Water: So, having weeds in the yard is one thing, but having them in the cracks of your sidewalk or driveway is another. I get it. Every year, I take the boiling water from the canner outside and dump it on patches of offending weeds as my last step in putting up my produce. The weeds stay gone for a long time, and there is no worry about runoff. Just don't accidentally dump on your toes!

Salt Water: Ever heard of a "salted earth" strategy? That refers to the fact that salt will keep your land from growing anything. I occasionally take the leftover brine from making pickles out to places with really stubborn weed growth.  The hot vinegar and salt will pretty much kill anything; just make sure it doesn't run off into your garden!

Vinegar and Dawn: Thank you to my loyal reader L. (I wasn't sure if she wanted her name used) who experimented with a gallon of vinegar mixed with a tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  According to her report and the pictures she sent, it does a bang-up job on the weeds, which are dead in a couple of days. She also shared how it will kill grass, so exercise caution. But the best news is that this solution costs about $3, compared to ten times that amount for Roundup!  That's a FC&G win!
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Salted Caramel Applesauce Cookies

Some of my favorite cookies are those with chips in them. There are just so many flavors of chips out there, you can come up with a ton of different flavor profiles. And, even though I haven't found a good source for organic chips, the rest of my ingredients are typically organic, so I know we're avoiding some of the pesticides, herbicides, and other nastiness that might be on more processed, commercial treats.

That, and they just taste better.

In any event, I recently discovered salted caramel chips, and these things are a wonder. Riffing a bit on the traditional Tollhouse Cookie recipe, I devised a salted caramel applesauce cookie that is soft and sweet with just that hint of salt to balance things out.

Salted Caramel Applesauce cookies

1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cup organic raw or turbinado sugar
2 sticks organic butter (either salted or unsalted will work)
1 t. organic vanilla extract
1/2 cup applesauce (I used homemade)

2 1/2 cup organic flour
2 cups salted caramel chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix first six ingredients together until smooth.  Mix in flour and chips to make a reasonably stiff batter. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes.  (My oven requires about 12 minutes; you should see just the barest hint of brown on the tips when they are done.)

Makes 3-4 dozen.

Correction: there is no butter in this recipe, but there are two eggs. So sorry!
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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ferrying the Tomatoes

Somewhere between Groundhog Day and St. Patrick's Day, depending on your growing zone and how impatient you are, is the right time to start your tomato seedlings. Mother's Day, in this growing zone, is the traditional time for setting them out in the garden.

In between, April is the month of Ferrying the Tomatoes.

That first month, the tomatoes are so easily contained. They sit in their little starter pots in the nursery incubator that I've hauled into the dining room for its seasonal use in the the sunny window. Grow lights and a heat mat provide a cozy, sunny environment, and all is right with the world.

Inevitably, the repotting starts, and this year I have been more diligent than ever before in not letting my little darlings get at all root bound. This means that I'm currently in the process of repotting an estimated 100 tomatoes into four-inch pots and hoping they can get some decent growth before planting time.

But 100 tomatoes in four-inch pots aren't going to fit in the nursery incubator; they won't even fit in the dining room. So, every day, I ferry tomatoes from place to place, hoping to get them each a chance at the ideal amount of light, warmth, and natural exposure to begin hardening off.

We have a pop-up greenhouse that will ultimately hold all of the tomatoes, but right now, it is only warm enough during the day. So, any tomatoes in the greenhouse get carried back inside at night.

I have the cozy incubator, and it has a nice shelf underneath, but it will only hold a few tomatoes under its grow lights.

There's a sunny window available, but the shelf under it will only hold a few tomatoes as well, and it doesn't get quite enough sun during the day to make it a long-term solution.

The sunroom is also a likely candidate, because it has both natural sunlight and a grow light, but the shelving situation doesn't allow enough room for all the tomatoes.

So, even as you read this, you can imagine me taking tomatoes from place to place, rotating them into different environments, inspecting them, fertilizing them, and hoping that this year I've got them off to a good start.

I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Thursday, March 16, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: January and February 2017

As always, winter is a slow time in the garden, but that doesn't mean there's nothing happening. In fact, the year has started off with some harvests.

Overall, I harvested a laughable three ounces of produce over the first two months of the year, with most of that coming from my kale plants that I seeded last February (2016) and kept growing for an entire year. An infestation of aphids made me pull the plants, but I think they gave their all.  I also harvested a single small pepper and experimented with growing some microgreens, with little success.

Expenditures were confined to seeds so far, so we are starting off economically. My tomatoes are on their first repotting, enjoying their larger homes after getting started in their baby pots. The photo at the right was taken a week ago; today, I looked in to discover that I had some tomatoes that were already four inches high.  At this rate, I may finally have some really respectable tomato plants by the time planting season comes along. In fact, I plan to put up the outside greenhouse at the end of the month, in hopes of weather warm enough that I can move larger pots of tomatoes outside into their protected pop-up greenhouse to harden off and keep growing. In the meantime, one of my daily jobs is to rotate the tomato plants to make sure they all get a shot under the grow light, and to keep topping up their soil, watering them, and fertilizing them regularly.

Cumulative Totals to Date
Total Ounces Harvested: 3.0
Total Pounds Harvested: 0.1875
Total Value of Harvest: $2.30

Total Expenditures: $26.70

Total Profit (Loss): ($24.41)
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Friday, March 10, 2017

On Using the Good China

I was looking at some advertising from the 1940s and 1950s the other day, when post-war affluence met demographic trends to create the bridal industry that we know today, and I started thinking about how much I love my good china.

It grieves me, on some level, to think that I may be part of the last generation of brides to even want good china. The day after we got engaged, Mr. FC&G and I went to the department store and registered for our china, silverware, and other items. I remember how excited I was to finally - finally - get this lovely, delicate stuff and to have it displayed in my china cabinet. (Buying the china cabinet, which I had done years earlier, should have been my first clue that I was on the end of a demographic trend, because it took trips to many, many stores to find something that would function as such. No one offered a "china cabinet" per se.) Receiving the beautiful boxes of china as wedding gifts thrilled me, and, to this day, I stop and look at my china every time I walk into the dining room.

It made me sad when, a decade or so ago, I started reading reports of how people were no longer buying good china. They were afraid of breakage, they didn't want to wash it by hand, and they wanted the money to spend on something else. More power to them, I suppose. However, I also became aware, through personal experience, that no one knows how to act around good china any more.

I have let myself become shamed out of using the good stuff, because it invariably sparks some sort of contentious moment in which I either be a good hostess and let my guests have what they want, or I stand my ground. Since I am of the school of thought that holds that a good hostess, upon seeing her guest drink from the finger bowl, resolutely takes a swig out of her own, I usually wind up capitulating.

I have had guests hand plates back to me, asking for something not so precious and saying that they can eat off anything - and that's just when I'm using my second-best, "everyday" china that was my "good stuff" from when I was single. I have nearly bitten my tongue off to refrain from saying that, if they can eat off anything, surely they can figure out how to eat off a plate that I didn't buy in a boxed set in grad school.

I have had visitors charge into my kitchen and plunge their hands into my everyday silverware drawer, unwilling to wait until I retrieve a matched set for their use.  "Oh, don't go to any bother; I can get it," they say. But maybe I wanted to offer something nice for their use, and it's not like I don't have a couple of complete, matched sets of dessert forks that I can use to serve people.

I have even had people hand cloth napkins back to me and ask for a paper napkin. On that one, I have no choice but to protest, because I don't own any paper napkins, save for maybe a pack of birthday-themed ones shoved into the back of the pantry. I haven't otherwise purchased paper napkins in over a decade. I've learned to hide the paper towel roll if I have people over for a summer cookout, because they will invariably refuse to pick up a cloth napkin from the buffet and tell me that I shouldn't have to wash the cloth napkins. Really, folks, it's no trouble; I put them in the washer and hang them outside to dry. I'm not exactly washing them on a wash board and then starching and ironing them.

In short, I have let myself succumb to peer pressure to not enjoy and share my finest possessions, even though doing so brings me great joy. I want people to know that they mean a great deal to me, and that they are worth me creating an elegant experience. Am I going to serve picnic food outside on the good china?  Probably not. But I derive a lot of pleasure from using the china, the good silverware, and the pretty cloth napkins to enjoy a meal with friends or family. To me, it is my reward for serving my guests.

So, no more of this. From here forward, the good china is coming out of hiding once in a while, if only just for Mr. FC&G and I. We have long planned that, when we retire, we will get rid of the kitchen table and take only the good dining room table to our new home, and that we will likely use the china as well. I think that should start today. We deserve the joy of using the nicer things, and, if you are invited to our house, I hope you will do so too.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Reusable Swiffer (TM) Mop Covers


For a long time, I've been intending to crochet some reusable covers for my Swiffer mop,.  And, since the weekend past was boring and cold and yucky, I had time to do just that.

I love my Swiffer mop.  There's just something about that ball joint that lets you mop in corners and around furniture legs that is so pleasant-feeling, you really want to use it more often.  But the disposable dry and wet (especially) cloths will break the bank!

For a long time, I've attached cut up flannel and fleece rags to the mop head, and that solution works pretty well.  But these reusable covers are another level entirely.

I made them with pockets on the ends that hold the cover snugly on your mop head, so they don't slip off like the disposable sheets do.  Plus, I made the cover ridged, so that it picks up dust and dirt more easily.  Afterward, you just slip the cover off and wash it with your towels or jeans, and it is ready to use again.  If making or having a couple of these saves you from buying a single box of Swiffer wet cloths, you will have saved money.

If you like to crochet, you can design a pattern that works well for your particular mop and needs and work through these pretty quickly.  (I might write up the pattern when I used when I get time.) I recommend using cotton yarn, as it is more absorbent and easier to wash.

I made up a few for myself, and then, with the encouragement of a friend, I have listed a few in my Carrot Creations shop.  The link is below.  In their initial day, they seem to be selling pretty briskly, so check back if you don't see what you want.  I have lots of leftover yarn and have priced these to be FC&G!

https://www.etsy.com/shop/CarrotCreations?ref=hdr_shop_menu&section_id=21202397

The Analysis

Fast:  Quick to make, quick to use.

Cheap:  If you buy these from me and spend $10 (plus S&H) on two, you will break even once you forego buying one box of wet mop covers.  If you make your own, you will be in the black even more quickly.

Good:  I adore a project that helps me keep my house clean and saves me money while keeping junk out of the landfill!




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Thursday, February 16, 2017

On the Value of Going Old School



This week has been an odd one for me regarding technology.

I was researching an article about certain kinds of tech, and I started looking into fitness watches. You know: those strap-on devices that only incidentally tell time; their real purpose is to count your steps, use GPS to track the route you walk or run or bike, and maybe even gather certain biometric data like heart rate.  I have to admit they are cool, and there's part of me that wants one.

A couple of days later, I was in a conversation with some college instructors who were admitting to going old school.  One, like me, uses a paper planner. Another uses a traditional, paper grade book. For these instructors (and for me), there are certain kinds of information that we find most accessible and easiest to manage by using a pencil and paper.

It got me to thinking about the role that technology plays in our lives. I like to think that I'm not a technical Luddite; the other day, I posted a picture to Facebook of my office, in which I had no fewer than four screens spread across three computing devices open, active, and in use. My favorite device right now is my iPad mini, which has replaced a laptop in a lot of situations for me.

But, for other things, I like to go old school. I like my paper planner; I can't quite get the same grasp on the cycle of my day and my to-do list by flipping back and forth between apps on my phone. My all-time favorite laptop replacement, which I have written about before, was my AlphaSmart; sadly, I can no longer get it to sync with any of my more modern devices, meaning I cannot write on it and extract what I have written. I've been thinking fondly of the days when your cell phone could make and receive calls, maybe do some very clunky texting, and play a game or two, instead of operating as a mobile office, productivity suite, and entertainment center that costs several hundred dollars and which you are terrified of losing or breaking.

Technology is great. If we were to completely eschew technology and took this to extremes, we would not have the wheel, the loom, or the most basic of knives. Technological progression helps us move forward as a species.

But sometimes, technology leads us instead of us leading technology. What good is a productivity device if you spend all of the time you have saved reworking your work flow and buying new connectors, adapters, and chargers that fit an ever-changing array of devices. For example, I have "solved" the problem of how to work on an airplane and on vacation no fewer than six times over the past 20 years, and every time devices change, I have to rethink my preferred solution.

I don't know the answer, but maybe the next time I go on vacation, I'll take a legal pad and a few pencils. They'll work anywhere, they never lose their charge, and I don't have to worry (much) about them being stolen. And, my writing always was better when it occurred at the pace dictated by my own hand and when I edited it while I typed up the final version.
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Plan the Work and Work the Plan

It should tell you something about my general motivation level today that I've put off writing this blog piece because I couldn't figure out what photos to use.  So, you're getting a promo photo for one of my books (that's available on Amazon and through the link at the right, thankyouverymuch!), and we're going to plug ahead.

As a college instructor, I notice that we spend a lot of time telling young adults to follow their dreams and to find work that they enjoy so much they "never work another day in their lives." I love the sentiment.  May we all find pursuits in life that are the most pleasant and rewarding ever.

However, even your favorite job - even the best aspects of your favorite job - will sometimes drag you down.  Sometimes, there are days when you are simply unmotivated; sometimes, work hits a rough patch or you simply have to do things you are not in the mood to do.

I'm not immune to these feelings, and it is never easy to struggle through a patch of low motivation, but I do have a system that helps me stay productive during those times.  I divide my work into roughly two "moods:"

Dreaming and Executing
These are the days when motivation is high.  It's not that these days don't involve work; indeed, some of my best productivity comes during my planning days.  But these are the days that the clouds part and I can see the big picture, and one thing I'm sure to do is make lists.  I make lists of all the things that need to be done to reach my long-term and intermediate goals, and I break everything down into individual tasks, ranging from making copies of documents to outlining new books.  Everything goes on a list.

I also execute the difficult stuff that requires a lot of brain work.  So, I won't make copies on days of high energy, but I will do a book outline (I must have 5 books in the queue behind the one I'm currently writing), rework a lesson for class, design a new product for my Carrot Creations store, or market for new work.  These are also great days to get lots of writing done, and these are the days to make lots of necessary phone calls, because I'm probably feeling gregarious.

Work the Plan
Inevitably, though, I will have a day when work seems insurmountable, and I just don't have the energy to go forward. The goals seem so impossibly far away, to say nothing of the dreams.  Working hard seems an exercise in futility.

That's when I pull out the lists.  I tell myself that I don't have to do anything big or far reaching; I just have to cross things off those lists.  That's when the photocopying comes in, or the filing.  These are the days for research that involves looking up specific facts for an article or sending bunches of emails to people who need information or who I need to get information from.  And these are great evenings for simply sitting and churning out crocheted items for Carrot Creations.

The ultimate point is that these lower motivation days may not be the most fun or the most inspirational, but work keeps moving forward.  Tasks keep getting done, and I'm making progress toward the goal, even if it doesn't feel like the goal will ever be reached.  Then, the next time I'm well-motivated, I have all of the little tasks done, and I can once again think big because I can once again see the big picture.

What do you do when you have a low motivation day?
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Friday, January 20, 2017

Crazy Gardener Tricks

January means a certain amount of "twitchiness" among gardeners.  We console ourselves with seed catalogs and plot planning, but, at least in my area, true seed starting can't begin for a few more weeks.

What am I doing to break the tedium?  Well, one project I have is saving and crushing my eggshells.

Eggshells are a great addition to your garden; I like to put some in the holes with my tomatoes when I transplant.  When in the soil, they add calcium, which helps the cellular structure of your plants grow strong.  Sprinkled on top of the soil around the base of your plants, they also help control slugs, because the sharp edges of the little pieces cut their little slug bellies.  (Graphic, I know, but gardening is war, people!)

Because I'm saving these egg shells all winter, I rinse my shells and let them dry thoroughly before crumbling them in my hand and putting them in my jar.  In the summer, I just take the fresh eggshells directly out to the garden and crumble them at the base of the plants.  For this batch, I will crumble them more before spring planting.

It's a quick and easy project to do to get you ready for gardening season; I love the thought of getting out there in the dirt in my bare feet, putting in this year's garden.

The Analysis

Fast:  It doesn't take much more time to rinse, dry, and crumble your eggshells than it does to throw them in the compost bucket.

Cheap:  As you know, my favorite projects turn waste into benefit.

Good:  If this helps ensure a good harvest next year, I'm ready!




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Thursday, January 5, 2017

The 2016 Garden Wrap Up: How Much a Garden Didn't Grow

2016 Cumulative Totals

Expenditures: (-$232.88)

Total ounces of harvest: 1280.5
Total pound of harvest: 80.03125
Total value of harvest: $310.11

Total net saved: $77.23

Ladies and gentlemen, that stunk.

I mean, I had a better garden year the first year we moved into this house, and the garden was a 6' x 8' patch the previous owners dug up, and I still got something like 8 quarts of tomato juice and a few quarts of pickles out of it.

This year, I got bupkis.  And I worked my tail off.  I mean, if I hadn't put the gym membership on hold while I gardened for six months, this wouldn't have been worth it financially at all.  (If you are keeping score, I did cut $150 off my total yearly gym fees this way.)

It was all that stupid oak tree.  I think.  I hope.  My theory is that my garden just didn't get enough sun, so I'd get healthy plants that grew until the tree started to shade the garden, and then they just sort of stopped.  So, that tree is gone, and we'll see what happens.

I'm also going to go back to using a rototiller this year and dressing the garden with manure.  My heart breaks at not being able to make a go of my modified lasagna gardening with the eco-friendly broadfork, but I think maybe my soil is too full of clay to let that happen.

What did work well this year?  Well, I brought in $32.12 worth of greens, mostly from a batch that I planted last February and I'm still getting harvests from.  Greens (kale, in this case), are very shade-friendly, so you do the math on that one.

I also harvested over 5 pounds of blueberries for a retail value of $30.78, which I think is pretty good for three bushes.  The blueberries also sit in the one remaining sunny spot (pre-tree removal) in the yard.

Cucumbers and zucchini were relatively good, but I didn't really get to make pickles.  That said, there was a very solid 6-8 weeks there where I ate a plate of cucumbers for lunch every day and had something zucchini-related for dinner most nights.

So next year is the big test.  I may be exaggerating a big, but with the new, expanded, sunnier garden, I swear I'm going to plant 75 tomato plants.  I told Mr. FC&G that we were going to spend the month of August buying nothing at the grocery but pop, cookies, and canning lids; everything else is coming out of the garden, and I'm going to can around the clock.  We are going to have one of those garden years where I finally get to make those Facebook posts in May that say, "Oh, the new tomatoes are in, so we'd better hurry up and finish eating the canning from last year."

Hey, if the Cubs could win the series, I could hit one out of the park too.


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