Sunday, February 22, 2009

Compost Primer

I put some kitchen scraps in my compost bin yesterday and found it full. It's the middle of a cold, snowy winter where I live, so there's not much chance that it will break down any time soon. Looks like I may need another bin. Cool.

Approximately 30% of an average American household's garbage is made up of compostable material. In landfills, this organic matter breaks down and combines with other toxic materials that can leach into groundwater and streams. So why not keep it out of landfills and turn it in to soil for your gardens?

I have two composting operations: (1) yard and garden waste (sticks, pine needles, leaves, vines) that I just throw in a big pile in the snow-free seasons, and (2) kitchen waste that I put in an outside bin year round to help keep the raccoons (and my dogs) from scavenging.

The yard waste pile has two sides -- one side with new material and one side of already composted soil. In any given year, I use up the soil side and cover it with new waste in the fall By the next spring, the other side has usually generated enough new soil for my gardens. It's just a flip flopping of the piles from year to year. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Since I don't really pay much attention to the rules of composting -- layering, soaking, turning -- my food bin requires a little more patience. I do turn it with a pitchfork occasionally, but it takes a little longer to break down. When it's ready, I harvest the wet, clumpy soil through a door in the bottom of the bin and put it in the outside pile to help it dry out and mix in with the outdoor recipe for a more balanced soil. (There's no science behind this idea...I just think it sounds good.)

I use a few products that help make composting a little easier, both from the Gardner's Supply Company: In the spring, I pour some Compost Starter on the outdoor piles and in the bin just to get things moving after a cold winter. In the winter, I use biodegradable BioBags in my under-the-sink kitchen bin. When a bag gets full of scraps, we just tie it up and put it outside on the porch for a time when someone has their boots on and wants to venture out to the compost bin. (In the summer, we usually do an evening run out there every day or two).

A few other tips, techniques, and topics of wonder:

  • I never put any waste containing fat in the compost; that attracts animals.
  • Grass clippings are like vitamins in a compost pile.
  • I also have the advantage of lots of fat-free chicken poo for my piles. It's also like vitamins.
  • For some reason, my compost (both in the kitchen and outside) doesn't smell. I think it's because I keep the fat out.
  • I buy unbleached and unscented napkins and paper towels, and we compost them too.
  • I sometimes compost paper plates, but only if they're not greasy.
  • We haven't used an in-sink garbage disposal for five years, and I don't miss it.
  • I think a lot of communities or waste services offer deals on compost bins.
  • Summer rains give my piles all the moisture they need.
  • I have a pretty prolific garden in the summer!
  • My garbage is 30% lighter!
Altogether, composting is really easy. If you're not really into "tending" to a compost pile (like I'm not), then it only requires a little attention and a lot of patience (like at least six months before you'll get dirt; probably a full season for really nice dirt). The end result is way worth the effort. You'll always have a pile of rich, beautiful, homemade soil on hand, and you'll have helped save the world in your own backyard. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

What Would You Say?

Honeypiehorse as sent me some interview questions for The Interview Meme. She's a prolific blogger and a smart, curious person. (I fondly use "curious" in all its meanings here.) I agreed to keep the interview chain going because I enjoyed the peek into her persona, and I wanted to peek at my own too.

If you would like to be interviewed (by me), here are the rules:
1. Leave me a comment, and I will send you some questions.
2. Update your blog with the answers to the questions and link back to this post.
3. Include the rules in your post.

If you're not a blogger, let's do it through email or Facebook just for fun...

Honeypie's questions and my answers:

1. Without mentioning names, describe someone who annoys you and someone you like a lot.
There is a locally-owned candy store in my town, and every time I go in there, the lady who works there calls me “m’lady”. “Can I help you, m’lady?” “Thank you, m’lady”. I’m sure she’s a very nice person, but I find this annoying.

I really like all of my kids’ teachers. When I see what they accomplish and manage on any given day, I’m awed -- and a little envious that I’m not giving my time to kids like that. We’ve been lucky to have great teachers from the start of our school days for all our kids.

Interestingly, I know one person who easily fits into both categories: Husband. (And I admit this fondly too.)

2. If your husband asked your best friend what the perfect gift for you would be, what would you want her to say?
A family vacation to a place with all-inclusive meals (i.e. buffets) and a beautiful beach where we could hike, explore, snorkel, and read our days away.

3. If someone visited your blog only one time, which posting would you want them to read and why?
Antisocial Networking. Because social networking is a new norm in our society – it has even moved into my generation in a big way recently – and the rules for online relationships aren’t written. Or even unwritten. So thinking about how Facebook – and blogging – affects our relationships, work, and personal growth is very interesting to me. I honestly believe the online exposure/access has enhanced my life in many ways. I was a late adopter, a disbeliever. I had lost touch with many people, and I thought I preferred that. But now that I’m back in circulation, I’m enjoying the experience tremendously.

4. Describe two vivid childhood memories, one good and one bad.
Good: My grandparents owned an apple orchard, and when I was around 5 or 6 or so, they let me sell pumpkins from their garden at the barn. I don’t vividly remember hawking the pumpkins, but I do remember happily having a fat handful of coins that I had earned. If my memory serves me, I was very fond of being at the farm. My cousins lived right next door, and we walked down a lane among the apple trees to visit them.

Bad: When I was in 4th grade, a 5th-grade boy that I had a crush on was murdered while fishing with his cousin. The town named a baseball field after him. The memories are still shocking and sickening.

5. What is your favorite smell?
Spring. Fresh, new, different than winter.

6. If you had absolute power for a day, what would you do?
I can’t decide between education or world hunger. So let’s combine the two in a sort of “teach a man to fish” scenario…

I’d provide all the tools, technology, information, and land necessary for people anywhere to run small, sustainable farms so they could properly feed themselves and each other. No person should ever die of hunger. Problem is, how would I control the weather so crops would grow? Can I have another day for that one?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Catching the Curve Balls

I had my "termination" appointment with my therapist last week. I've been visiting with her for nearly 18 months, and I felt like it was time to go it alone for awhile. So far, so good.

So, yeah, I've been in therapy. First time. I called the practice looking for an appointment at a time when I wasn't feeling as though I was keeping my "stuff" as balanced as I would've liked, and I just wanted someone with whom to talk over the daily curve balls life throws at you. I think after you hit 40 -- and you're a woman -- you want a clear path through the woods; you want to palpably enjoy your days and dispose of any crap that pollutes your pond. Others may call this "living in the moment."

The first psychiatrist I talked to -- a man of more traditional practice -- tried to figure out what my medical condition was. "I don't think I have a medical condition. I just want to talk some things out." He persisted, and I decided that maybe he wasn't a good match for me and maybe therapy itself wasn't what I was hoping for. He gave me seriously cold feet.

Later, another doctor from the practice called, and I immediately felt comfortable with her. She asked the right questions and seemed to understand why I wanted to come in -- even if I didn't really know myself. "Just come in, see if we like each other, and we'll go from there."

In our sessions, I did most of the talking. Sometimes, I agonized over little things -- like whether I should drive the extra distance and pay extra money for organic tomatoes. Or, should I serve white or brown rice? (A complicated issue in my family -- and probably a whole 'nother blog in itself someday.) Other times, I asked advice on something that was happening with the kids. Her professional perspective and access to information that I didn't have on hand was interesting, wise, and reassuring, especially her insights on the emotional development of pre-teen girls. (If you have one, you know they're a challenge -- and that they're facing some critical crossroads in their lives.)

For most of the topics I brought to our sessions, I found that just talking about them made them lighter, less overwhelming. Sometimes, just hearing myself say something made it go away.

Over time, I also discovered -- and/or rediscovered -- a few things that have helped bring me around to a more comfortable place.

1) I'm wired in a way that doesn't really allow me to have an easygoing approach to most things. While I'd love to let water roll off my back (I clearly remember my mom recommending this when I was an anxious kid), it's not likely to happen. Instead, I tend to agonize over things in my own head; it's just who I am.

2) Whenever life/work/home/health/etc. gets chaotic, mindfully calm it down. When I told my therapist how much I appreciated this advice -- and how well it usually worked -- she suggested that she didn't give this advice to me; rather, she felt that being able to find a more peaceful, grounded place was a particular strength of mine, but that I had trouble finding it sometimes. I had never really considered that. Good to hear. (I tried to offer this advice to a drama at work a few weeks ago, but the person who needed to hear it wasn't open to it at the time. Too bad for him, really. I'm certain it would've helped.)

3) Irrational fear is pretty senseless. "If [something bad] happened, what would you do?" she asked. "I'd figure out how to pick up and move on," was always my answer. Then something shocking and distressing did happen in our family. And we picked up and moved on.

4) Prying myself away from my computer and work is difficult for me and usually takes a concerted effort. Working at a desk in our family room is part of the problem, so there are times when I need to just close the lid on my laptop and walk away. The work will be there tomorrow. The first few times I did this, I found myself going back and staring at my computer. (OK, so I'm obviously a little obsessive.) But with a little practice, I got better at managing my work boundaries. Or at least I don’t feel guilty about it now.

5) I can tend to be overly of critical myself. "If you wouldn't say that to your kids, don't say it to yourself," my therapist advised.

6) I also tend to "shut the door" on things I don't want to talk about. "Why go back there? I'm looking for joy, and that's not joyful." She suggested that it doesn't always help to unlock the skeletons, but in my case, it probably did. Took off a little of the unconscious pressure, I suppose.

So while my regularly scheduled appointments are over -- my engine has been rebuilt -- I'm sure I'll need tune ups. All in all, I find great comfort in knowing I have this resource out there who can validate my turmoil, offer interesting empirical data on life, and show me ways in which I can just let it be.

Five out of five stars.

Husband says if I post this, it'll ruin my run for president someday. I told him that my intention is to show therapy as a positive experience -- something that would make me a better president. Then I suggested that he needs to see a therapist. He just went running instead. Men are from Mars indeed...

(950 words)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review: "The Giver"

Kids and I finished reading The Giver this week. Written by Lois Lowry, it won a Newberry Medal in 1994 and is the first in a three-volume series.

A little A Wrinkle in Time, a little The City of Ember, the book follows the days of 12-year-old Jonah who lives in a fear-free, conflict free, violence-free, inequity-free society. Everything is controlled -- meals, relationships, jobs, births, deaths. And everyone is happy -- and the same.

Later in the story, we find that this utopia may not be so perfect after all. The members of the society can't see colors or feel love. And their management of their population is chilling.

The greatest thing about this story for me was the discussion it provoked with my kids. We were like a tween grad course on futuristic fiction. We spent a great deal of time talking about whether we'd choose utopia over our own lives. Early on in the story, I picked utopia -- mostly to see if I could sway the kids to my side. They never wavered however, and preferred to see colors and feel deep emotions over the alternatives. Later they were proud to prove their point when the story took a dark turn.

Do we recommend it? Mia rates it a 9.5 (after a slow start), and Will, a 9 (out of 10). I add that it's probably not a good choice for anyone younger than 9 or so. I haven't heard anything about the two other books in the series, Gathering Blue and Messenger (so it you have, please share). I'll have to do a little research before we decide to tackle them. I don't want to spoil the great experience we've had with this book.

Next on the kid reading list: Maybe Hatchet. Maybe Harry Potter (which I've read, but they haven't).

(310 words)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Heart Very Little About V-Day's Valentine's Day in two days. The day my romantic side is supposed to shine. Unfortunately, that's too much pressure for me, and I'm just not very romantic in that cosmetic kind of way. Lucky for Husband, neither is he.

Altogether, with the exception of making of valentine's with the kids (see this year's heart fish above), I'm really turned off by Valentine's Day. Two shining examples of why, both overheard on TV yesterday:

1) In a Pajamagram commercial: Some blah, blah blah about "we know how to get her to take her clothes off."

2) In a Vermont Teddy Bear commercial: Some blah blah blah about "where can I get a guy like that?" (One who gives Vermont Teddy Bears.)

I'm being a little overly sensitive to both of these ads, to be sure, but I'm glad my kids weren't home when they ran. How pathetic are both of these messages about the roles of women in romance? Not to mention the shallow suggestions that Valentine's Day is all about getting naked or getting your guy.

Early on in our relationship, Husband and I flirted with Valentine's Day. Because we were supposed to, I suppose. One year -- about 22 ago -- he gave me a red bear with a white heart on its chest. (I'm pretty certain he shanghaied it from his mother's bear collection.) And every year since then, he reminds me that he once gave me that bear. I heard about it again just yesterday, and frankly, it's good enough for me.

I fully know that I'm being an old goat and that it's a little sad that we don't really give a shiz about celebrating our relationship. But heck, we could do that any day of the year, right? If we wanted to. If we were both in great moods all day. If the kids weren't home. If, if, if...

Like I said, too much pressure.

(321 words)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Look, Look, A Monk

A week ago yesterday, a Saturday, I was busy doing laundry, cleaning the house, and getting packed for a business trip to California.

I left on Sunday, arrived back home on Friday night, and spent yesterday, a Saturday, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and unpacking from a business trip to California.

Just one of those funny little inner circles of life...

Sidebar: While I was gone, Max celebrated his 100th day of school. As you can see from the picture, he made a 100th-day crown. Five days later, he's still wearing it. He loves to don hats/headbands/crowns -- especially ones he crafts himself. My other kids wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything other than a ski hat or a baseball cap. Not Mr. Beat of His Own Drum.

So I've been traveling back and forth to/from California for about 3.5 years. At first, I flew out about four times a year. For the past year, I've been out there every six weeks or so. The trip sounds a lot more exciting than it usually is. I'm typically gone for 5-6 days; two days of travel and three to four days of relatively intense work/meetings in the office. I almost always stay at my friend Romy's flat where, as I've often said, I live the life of a single urban girl for a few days. (Really, we eat in, wear sweats, play with her cats, and watch a lot of TV, so maybe it's really the life of middle-aged woman having a sleepover...)

A few observations/experiences from my most recent visit:

On people and diversity: "Look, look, a monk." This, a quote from Romy as we were driving down the street. Funny thing was that the monk, walking down the street, was carrying a new DVD player and a bag of purchases from the Office Depot. I thought monks lived a life of austerity, but maybe they watch movies too.

On food (and drink): Romy and I usually try to
squeeze in one nice meal together, and we almost always order sparkling wine. So "city" of us, don't'cha think? The other "must have's" on any trip include a good burrito and a Zachary's deep-dish spinach and mushroom pizza. "Nice to have's" include a morning bun from the La Farine bakery in Berkeley.

On transportation: I never rent a car, choosing public transportation so that I don't need to fight the traffic for which I no longer have the nerve. Riding the BART train presents a perfect opportunity to listen to my iPod, which Husband always loads up for me when I travel. This past week, I most enjoyed on BART an NPR Fresh Air podcast of a Bruce Springsteen interview and a recent podcast of Chicago Public Radio's "This American Life" radio show.

On weather: 60s in California; 10s in Vermont. Not much I can say about this that isn't obvious.

On work: I always enjoy connecting up with people in the office, but the intense vibe makes me forever grateful that I work from home.

On shopping: Once in a blue moon I splurge at the Anthropologie store in Berkeley. My suitcase always suffers from a visit to Target though. Vermont is the only state in the lower 48 that doesn't have a Target. Not much I can say about this that isn't obvious either.

On friends: During my past two trips, I stayed at my colleague and friend Amy's house for a few nights. She has two kids, fourth and second graders, and I always get a big kick out of talking to her kids and seeing that I'm living a somewhat parallel parenting life on the opposite side of the country.

On coming home: Always the highlight of my trip. It takes a day or two to re-enter and adjust back to the time zone and my roles at home. Surely, the complete opposite of Urban-Girl Loft Living. Plus, it's cold right now, and it's not likely I'll see a monk walking down the street. But I wouldn't trade it for all the Targets in the world. Clearly, I need a pair of ruby slippers...

(686 words)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just Another Monday

I'm traveling this week, so Husband is running the homestead. The following is an email he sent me describing his Monday:

"3:00am - Cat starts whining. I finally get up at 4am to scold her and close the bedroom doors. I don't get back to sleep until 5am. Of course, I find out later she peed in the bathroom again. We're changing her litter box crap back to whatever worked before. In fact, tell me what it was and I'll go get some tomorrow. Think I'm leaving her outside tonight.

I get everybody out the door just fine. I'm beat, so I took a nap. Struggled to get some work done; not a very productive day.

Take the kids to TKD. Max and I go to the grocery store. I take my time so as to eat up the hour. Get to the check out and I don't have my wallet. Now, I gotta rush home, get the wallet, blah blah blah.

Come home with the groceries intending to make hamburgers. Turns out, after all that, they didn't give me my hamburger buns (and a few other things). So, we have hot dogs. I later find out, Mia brought in one bag of groceries and left it in the mudroom; the bag that contained the buns.

Off to piano. Max and I come home. He's playing Wii. He starts yelling for me because he has crapped massive amounts of diarrhea in his pants. At least nothing leaked and he was in the basement bathroom, so I threw him in the shower and threw his underwear away. The dogs were good today."

There is so much here that is a "welcome to my world" reality. I'm not really laughing, but it is a little funny that the string of bad luck ended in diarrhea, because I just can't imagine that it gets any worse than that for Tom.

All I can say is that that goodness for the dogs that they had a good day...

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