Sunday, May 31, 2009

We Want Your Yard!

I just heard about this great organization taking off in Canada.  It's called Sharing Backyards, and it matches folks with gardening instincts but no space with folks with space but no time/resources/interest to garden, or perhaps they garden, but have space left over to share.  If you think about it, this idea is incredible on so many levels: 

  1. Unused garden space is utilized for food (and/or flower) production
  2. Community members are put in regular contact with each other - you get to meet new folks who have yard space, or you connect with old friends regularly as you use their yard
  3. It beautifies the neighborhoods
  4. It lessens the greenhouse effect with increased production of produce and vegetation, and less need for produce to be trucked cross-country
  5. A stronger message is sent to the 'BIG Grower' that we want more variety, more organics, and more locally grown produce
  6. It offsets the economic crisis at hand by lowering the cost of food
  7. It gets more people outside in the fresh air to move their bodies as they grow their food/flowers
  8. As the typically manicured yard space is used for garden, less gasoline hogging lawn/yard tools are necessary for maintenance
  9. It helps people of all ages become more aware of how they nourish their bodies, and how much energy is necessary to produce their food
Oh yes.  I can think of so many great reasons for making use of such a program.  Currently, I believe the bulk of Sharing Backyards' programming is in Canada, with a smattering of connections in Portland, Oregon, Washington DC and Boise, Idaho.  But they are looking for others willing to offer their yards, and will assist in connecting them up with eager gardeners.  According to the Sharing Backyards website, 40% of our communities have no access to soil to grow their own food, while a full 60% have access but do not always make use of it.  
Do you have space for gardening that you are willing to share with others?  Below are the considerations from the Sharing Backyards website for becoming a land partner, which is free.  They do support organic practices, and are looking for those who do the same.

Considerations for Sharing your Backyard Garden

There are no restrictions on how you might choose to share your space - however there are a number of issues that you might want to consider when making arrangements to share your gardening space with another member of your community.

Time Considerations

  • How many hours per week will the garden space be available?
  • On which days of the week?
  • What time(s) of the day?

Tool Considerations

  • Do you have tools to share?
  • Where will they be stored?

Soil Considerations

  • Is there enough soil?
  • Who will pay for soil amendments?
  • What types of amendments or additives are acceptable?

Seeds / Transplants

  • Who will provide the seeds and/or transplants?
  • How will decisions be made about what is grown?

Water Considerations

  • Can the gardener use the hose and water?
  • Who does the watering?
  • When?

Harvest Considerations

  • Who will harvest the food?
  • How will the harvest be distributed?

Privacy and Security Considerations

  • Who can enter the garden? (children, partners, friends, pets)
  • What space can be used? (shed, basement, bathroom)
  • What about locks and gates?
  • Emergency contact numbers?
Make sure you check out their website if you are interested: Sharing Backyards.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hobbies and My First Giveaway!

It is so challenging to find extra time to do the things I love to do.  Making music for children all day definitely gives me a creative outlet that most folks do not enjoy on a daily basis, but I still yearn for time on my own to do what I want, just for me.  My sister-in-law, Lisa, recently began making the most beautiful jewelry with beads.  It made me think of my grad school days when I sat around at night, not knowing a soul in NYC, entertaining myself while making sweet little anklets and bracelets with tiny beads and stones.  One look at my sister-in-law, and I was bitten by the beading bug again.  I have spent the past few weeks making my own necklaces, earrings and such, having a wonderful time.  Going to second-hand stores has taken on new excitement (as if it needed any!), as I peruse old jewelry for pieces that can be repurposed in my beading.  

So I thought I would share my joy with you all, and offer a piece as my first blog giveaway.  This necklace is made of glass leaves, blown glass and amethyst beads.  The length is approximately 20 inches.

In order to qualify for the giveaway, comment on your favorite hobby, and how you find time for it.  The random drawing will be held on Wednesday, June 3rd, 10 pm EST.
Good Luck!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Day of Reflection

What does it mean to be mindfully simple in today's world?  In looking back at my reasons for starting this blog, I revisited my vow to make life for myself and my family a bit more thoughtful, more kind and more generous in a non-financial manner.  I wanted to find ways to give of our time and energy without leaving us exhausted and broke.  I wanted to find ways to involve our children in our community, to help them feel firmly planted in something real that you didn't have to turn on with a switch.  What I find challenging is balancing all that good thinking with the actuality of raising a family, holding down a couple of jobs and trying desperately to keep my head above water at all times.  (How do other people do this?)
First, I took a hard look at my habits for time management.  Knowing I wanted to retire early, I have been making plans to hold on to as much money that we bring in as possible.  In order to bring in more with little time spent, I have had to piggy back a few jobs, working harder for shorter periods of time rather than spreading work out over the whole week.  In this way, I can spend more time in the afternoons with my kids and feel that I am a steady presence in their lives.  After that, I looked at how I keep our home.  A while back, I complained that I am a rotten housekeeper.  I hate wasting my time on keeping our messes cleaned up - always have.  There's always something more exciting to do than fold laundry.  However, I really do love a clean house, and hate the embarrassment of friends stopping by unannounced, so we have jumped into super organized mode at our house for the past 4 weeks.  We have pulled out the stops to get the house and yard pulled together - not bad after living here for 10 years.  Where there were no curtains, we now have lovely and colorful cloths that shade our rooms.  Where there was a pile of styrofoam and packing materials, we now have a clean and clear closet.  Our camping equipment is within easy and organized reach for our inexpensive summer jaunts.  Our dressers hold only seasonal clothing, with the rest packed neatly away for the next turn or New England weather.  Coming home to less clutter makes me want to (gulp) vacuum.  I'm serious.  
Over the past few weekends, I have made sure I found time to garden. I find it so meditating, it is imperative that I get out in the yard regularly, no matter how chaotic our lives feel.  It is also so important that I be able to add to my family's diet by providing nutritious, organic vegetables.  My yard is not quite suitable for all this growing what with all the shade and such, so I am investing all my gardening energy into the new deck as my canvas.  With some coaxing, I think I can produce enough produce to keep our food costs low this summer.  

Beyond this, I am finding more time to consider community service for my family.  There are wonderful websites that offer connections to get started in volunteerism, even for children.  It takes some time to get started, but it is well worth the wait, I am sure.  I notice that just about every magazine I pick up these days has some article (or more) about living green.  It bothers me that our current economy situation has fueled a craze to 'go green' - bothered me because although it is high time someone notice the condition of our global economy, I know these things tend to blow over when the next fad bows in.  I suppose I have the same fear about my own new habits, but I hope they are all unfounded.

What are your reasons for living mindfully?  What makes you choose to be more careful each day with your purchases, diet, thoughts?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Warning!!  The following pictures may be disturbing.  You will get to see some of my very messy and not too clean basement.  For those afraid of clutter and mess, please avert your eyes and scroll on down...!

Our dryer broke last week.  This is the dryer I was so happy to get for free back... uh... only 4 months ago.  I was torn between wanting that cherry red front loader or looking for another free one, knowing that I'd probably be taking on someone else's problem again.  Ohhhhh.  What to do??  I felt like my right arm was cut off as the dirty laundry started piling up.  My teenage son was miserable that he had to wear something virtually spotless, but not having been through a recent wash meant it was hideous and gauche - Yikes!  Unfortunately, we really don't have that super flush savings account to buy new appliances - nor would that be our first choice (all in the effort to be mindful and such), but I really didn't want to add to my appliance cemetery in the basement (this dryer would join the one that died in January that I just haven't moved yet - I have a really big basement that has tons of space) and get another 'free' one - to have that break down in a few months as well.  So I had to do some research and find some courage to fix the darn thing myself.  
First, I had to take off the front cover (after unplugging it, of course):

Yes, folks.  That's what the inside of your dryer may look like.  You too can get the gumption up to fix your dryer - even with clothes still inside!  It sure does get dirty in there!
And this is the part I though needed fixing - the blower wheel:

As you can see, it looks pretty worn and dirty - but what did I know?  I started getting nervous with my hands in the belly of my dryer, so I called in my husband for moral support when going to the appliance repair place.  The guy behind the counter - very knowledgeable -only talked to my husband even though I was the one asking the questions.  I hate that.  But anyway, we replaced the blower wheel, and started putting things back together.  Here, my husband is putting the face guard back on - because I was taking pictures:

And here it is all back together - and oh my.  It works.  Like a charm.  And so quiet, too.

Don't throw that old dryer away!  I encourage you to look your model up online when it breaks down - there is so much information for repairs.  One posting said - do these 6 things and your dryer will run for another 20 years!  Imagine that.  All this just in time to begin line drying for the summer.  But it will be ready for the colder weather!

But... I just received notice that our tenant's washer is broken.  Something tells me I need to change my line of work...!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I Think I Figured It Out!

I have to celebrate.  I have made a revelation about my time and my expectations.  Typically, at this time of year, I make a list, either mental or physical, of all the things I 'need' to get accomplished, it being Spring and all.  Most of the time, it included clean up the yard, plant the garden, clean out the basement, etc, etc.  I would then get overwhelmed and exhausted, just considering my list, and quit.  This year, tired of never getting past the first thing on my handy list, I decided to take things much slower.  It wasn't really a conscious decision, more of an accident, then the revelation.  I went to the garden store last weekend and vowed not to purchase more than a couple of flowers and maybe a tomato plant.  You may recall from this post, that I love to go to the Gore Estate sale, but I have not yet been able to make it (coming up this weekend - hurray!!).  Knowing that I would have time to plant this past weekend and not having been to Gore yet, I snuck off to the local garden store to grab a few lovelies to tie me over until the plant sale this weekend.  And instead of coming home with armloads (and trunkloads) of plants as usual, I came home with what I said I would: a patio tomato, some foliage plants and a petunia.  I was able to get them all into soil that afternoon without feeling overwhelmed.  

Last weekend, as you may recall from this recent post, we were able to score some old chairs from a 'free' pile after a yard sale.  I promised a post on the project I had in my head, and here it is.  
I have seen this idea a few times in gardening magazines, and I always said if I found one of these antique chairs without a seat, I would do this project.  And of course, this past weekend gave me the exact tools to proceed.  I gathered my chair, weathered beautifully, some organic potting mix, a basket planter I had lying around, and assorted plants.  I chose to go with only foliage plants, with interesting color, but you could use anything that caught your eye.

It was SO simple - put the plants in the basket with extra soil, place the basket in the seat.  But although simple, it makes a dramatic impact - don't you think?

Here are a few other things I have planted this week:
These are the baby bush cucumbers in an old washtub-

These are more foliage plants in an old cooking pot (last year I put tomatoes in it as a little joke.  I may have been the only one who noticed...).

And here is my first attempt at basket and moss wall planting, with a planter picked up for .50 at a yard sale last year.  It will be interesting to see if the petunias live all summer as when I water, the water comes running out the sides.  They still look good, though, four days later, so they must be getting something!
Perhaps as the season progresses, I will update you all on how these projects and others are coming along.  I have plans to go to the Gore sale this weekend - do you think I can stick to my small is better approach at a once a year heirloom plant sale??  Time will tell.

Do you have garden projects that you want to share?  If you email me your pictures, I will post them here!  And check out the makeovers on Sanctuary Arts At Home

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Person's Trash...

This weekend was the town wide tag sale (garage/yard sale to you westerners).  I had soccer-mom responsibilities, so I was unable to go (boo hoo).  However, I was able to participate in one of my favorite activities - finding the REAL bargains around town by driving by later on at night and scoping out the 'free' piles outside where the sales took place.  
Talk about fun - we had the list from the paper of all the houses having sales earlier that day, not to mention that many of the flyers were still hanging on the telephone poles through town.  We got lucky pretty early on.  I had spotted a sign that stated 'antiques' and went there first.  We found a beautiful old rocker - we passed on that as the wood frame was broken.  Then we found an old, tall dining chair with no seat - I have plans for that (will post that soon).  My husband really liked a nice old desk chair with a split seat - he's convinced we can fix that.  And then we saw a beautiful, hand carved occasional table with no top and one leg off.  I have the beginning of an idea of what to do with it that might make 2 tables out of the one (will post that soon).  I have my summer ready for projects.  I can't wait to share them all with you!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oh Yes...I love a New England Spring

I have two absolute favorite times of year.  The deep Fall when the leaves are at their peak of color and the air is crisping - no more humidity.  And the Spring when it's almost summer, there is no sign of frost and it's time to plant the garden.  My family, out on the West coast, has been gardening for months now.  But me?  I can hardly plant until Memorial Day weekend.  This year, it looks like I might get to plant a whole week early - Oh Joyous Day!  
Above is a picture of the plants I purchased at the Gore Estate Plant sale last year.  The sale starts this weekend, and I can hardly wait to go.  They sell heirloom and organically grown vegetables, herbs and flowers at rock-bottom prices.  I have so many perennials in my yard thanks to them, and love watching them spread and flower: Thistle, bronze fennel, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate (a victorian-era towering flower that reseeds every year), black hollyhock, sage, oregano, lemon thyme and flowering maple (this one needs it's hand held all winter and is tricky for me to keep alive).
When I worked in the greenhouse at my job, with the preschool children with vision impairment, we went to the Gore sale and purchased many different but related herbs to put in barrels.  We chose several citrus-scented herbs such as lemon verbena, orange mint and lemon basil.  It was a great experience for the kids to explore the plants, which have varying textures and scents.  Another barrel was full of different mints - pineapple, curly and peppermint.  The mints are great since they come back after a hard winter with snow, and find it challenging to spread since they are in the barrels.

What is it about plants that makes some of us so happy?  I get so jazzed about planting that I can hardly breathe steadily at garden centers.  When someone tells me of a plant swap, I clear the calendar to attend.  I start to swoon at the first smell of mulch... crazy, I know. But don't you just love knowing that the tomato on your plate was warmed by the sun, and can bring nourishment to your family?  This year, I'm pretty sure more folks will be planting their own garden with the economy in the slump.  In planning my garden this year, I vow not to be swayed by the fancy tomatoes and eggplant - I really just want the 'easy to take care of' organic varieties that will do well and feed my family.  At this point, I don't feel we have a choice - we all need to do something about feeding ourselves in order to break the pattern of putting pesticides and additives in our bodies.
My heart will be singing this weekend as I linger over the incredible offerings at the Gore sale.  I will post photos once I get back.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Bit of Identity Theft - Or, Do You Know Where Your Money Is?

It's 10 pm...Do you know where your money is?

I thought I did, until I looked at my bank account last night and found $100 missing.  Actually, not missing, paid out to PayPal in 2 $50 installments - something I never authorized.  I'm not really one of those folks who assumes this will never happen to me.  However, I always thought I was taking precautions to keep theft at bay.  Apparently, this is not so.  I had an old PayPal account, one that I hadn't used in years.  Someone somehow accessed it and charged a couple of video games to it.  How people do this, I will never know.  I have since been able to redirect my money with the help of the fine folks at PayPal - who never let the transaction go through at all in the first place.  The money went out of my bank account alright, but never to the seller (poor thing).  PayPal told me that the seller is really the odd 'man' out here, as it's really the buyer who stole from them, not the seller from me.  I marvel at how calm the guy at PayPal was - this happens all the time.  Sad.  
I have since changed all my passwords, and will cancel the old PayPal account once the money is completely reversed and back in my bank account.  Have you looked carefully at your money lately?  Do you have any crazy money stories to share?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Day At The Dump!

We had a great time this weekend, unloading my mother-in-law's house of it's recyclable material.  I always feel so good when I recycle, and this semi-annual event in her town is quite inspiring.  It's the 'drop and swap' day at her town recycling center, where you can bring along any number of recyclable materials to drop off.  We tossed various metal pieces and parts, lots of styrofoam, papers to shred.  We saw parts to playhouses (the nasty (but apparently recyclable) plastic kind), old, rusty bed frames, spent computer drives and monitors - you name it, we saw it.  If it had a recyclable element to it, it was there.  And the organization with which everything (except the parking) was handled was amazing to watch.  I was thrilled to see so many people out in droves to recycle everything they could.  They clearly had been saving up their items, as I watched several cars and trucks full to the brim with stuff piled on stuff -all recyclable, of course.  
The best part of this even is the swap part.  If you are a town resident, you can peruse the useable items that still had life left in them, but were unwanted.  We saw all sorts of electronics: stereos, computers, tvs, appliances.  We saw all sorts of interesting looking furniture and doo-dads.  We saw luggage, pictures, fishing and sports equipment.  We even saw a man and young child making art from the 'found' objects just outside of the swap area. 
The event lasts most of the day , and is held both Spring and Fall every year.  I can't wait to go again!
Does your town have a recycle day?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Art of Bartering

The ancient art of bartering is getting a new life.  Couldn't we all use something in exchange for something we no longer need?  For those of us in the frugalista chronicles, this is a no brainer.  But it is still a new-ish concept for some folks.  So here's a crash course in bartering 101 for those of you out there not so comfortable with the ins and outs of it.
Bartering is basically trading.  You have something I want and I have something you want - let's trade.  It's a bit like baseball cards, but on an adult scale.  I figure the following rules are pretty much common sense for those interested in bartering:

1. Make sure you have something to barter with before asking for the exchange.  Make a list.
2. Make sure your barter is worthy of what you want (and vice versa).
3.  Not all barters need to be taken care of immediately.  Remember to think about 'over time' barters - such as a loaf of home baked bread each week for a month in exchange for a couple of hours of accounting help, for example.
4. Make good on your barter:  If you say you have something, produce it.  If you are going to do something, do it.  If you are going to provide a service, provide it.  It is bad form not to come through with your side of the bargain.

The following barters may not be such great exchanges (but rank high on the learning-how-to-do-it scale):
1. A box of heirloom seeds for your best friend's uncle's old socks.
2. A new book on saving money that you received as a gift, but already had for a really bad, bad haircut.
3. A pair of used soccer cleats for a meal of sauerbraten and cabbage... no offense, but we were vegetarians at the time.  Ugh.
4. 3 lovely batches of home made cookies for a painted room, which seemed to be totally in our favor, except the room was not painted well and not the color we had chosen, nor one we liked.

What interesting barters have you participated in?  We were able to secure day care for our youngest son by exchanging a weekly music class for the whole program.  We exchanged car care one year after giving weekly music lessons to the mechanic's child.  I have made delicious meals for people who watched my children for a few hours.  I also made very sweet knitted hats for young children and traded them for a dinner out.
I am currently enjoying beading, and would love to trade handmade jewelry for something in the near future - just not sure what yet.

What I love about bartering is the feeling I get afterward - the win-win I feel and (I hope) the other person feels as well.  Everyone gets something they need (or want) and you learn a bit about the other person in the process as well, if you are lucky.  And if it doesn't work out, at least you have a funny story to tell later.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

No! Don't Throw That Out - It's A Treasure To Me!

There is a 7-family house next door to me. Recently, it completely emptied of all it's residents as the owner prepares for renovation this summer. He will be constructing 4 condos where the 7 apartments stood, either to rent or sell sometime next year. While I am not looking forward to the crazy noise we are going to endure this summer, I have already become giddy with trash-pickin' delight as my moving-out neighbors began depositing their unwanted goods on the sidewalk for trash pick up. Oh my. I have already benefited from this experience - my son grabbed a punching bag, I found a beautiful, antique oak dresser which I will refurbish, we grabbed 3 sturdy drawers from a broken dresser that will be our first outdoor vegetable planters for the deck (a project blog for another time), and we are now proud owners of a motorized scooter without a key (hmmmm - not sure if that will turn out positive in the long run). And all this without one wall coming down! I spoke with the contractor and owner yesterday and admitted to my trash-picking habit. Really, I was just warning them that I will be looking through their cast-offs the minute they let go of them... They just smiled and said - You'll make our job easier. Wow. Do you know what comes out of an old New England house? Old panel doors. Real wood molding. I can just visualize my 'new' greenhouse coming from 3 floors of old 4-lite windows. I'm thinking about old doorknobs. Beadboard paneling. Old light fixtures. Oh yes. This girl's gonna be dumpster diving pretty regularly this summer. Mmm Hmmm. Can't wait. As I look outside tonight, I see a headboard that might become something else. Oh...there's a small coffee table just screaming to stay out of the trash truck.

Last Monday, I was home with a sick child. As I often do when home in the morning (rare), I watched out the window as life woke up and began moving around in my neighborhood. The trash truck comes on Monday, and my sons had diligently put out the trash cans the night before. As I dazed out the window, I looked at the enormous pile of 'trash' next door - a definite sign of someone moving: an old rotten couch, tables, lamps, trash bags galore, old phone books, old clothes strewn about. I heard the trash truck coming, and decided to sit and watch. I had already gone over the pile with a fine-toothed comb the day before, so I knew that what was left was pretty much trash (so glad I grabbed that antique dresser!). The truck pulled up and CRUNCH went the couch. CRUNCH went the desk and broken dresser. The bags of clothes and trash disappeared. The phone books (which could have been recycled) were tossed in the truck. In a poof, everything that to me represented 10 years of people living next door was gone. Gone. There was no longer any residue of anyone moving out, or living there at all. I looked over at the house, now empty, and felt so sad. Sad that the bulldozers will come soon to rip it's siding off. It's not a pretty house to look at, and a renovation is long overdue. But I felt sad knowing that the work will be done without much thought to keeping and reusing anything. So my mission is to find homes for the useable materials, to the best of my ability (it's not MY house, after all...)
I look forward to posting upcoming projects from the materials I have already gathered. Stay tuned for fun!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Something To Chew On

When I have the time, I read a magazine or two. Actually, I look at the pictures, and only 'read' when the picture is engaging enough to get my attention... My brain gets that fried sometimes!

Anyhow - I came across a couple of interesting items in the April issue of Vegetarian Times that I wanted to share with you.

Palazzo Versace Dubai, the hotel and condominium complex situated in the United Arab Emirates will be opened either this year or next. Not that I am planning a trip to the Middle East anytime soon, but I have learned that due to the excessive heat, they are planning to REFRIGERATE THEIR BEACH!!. Yes - it is true. They are currently installing a 'network of computer-controlled heat-absorbing pipes under the sand to keep the complex's guests and residents comfortable in Dubai's sweltering temperatures'. Oh my. According to the article in VT, the project will add to the already enormous carbon footprint in Dubai which amounts to 44 tons of Co2 per person per year. It also points out that America's per person carbon footprint is 'only' 20 tons.

What's next?? I never thought we could go this direction. Not with Al Gore and his crusade to get us thinking pro-environmentally. It is disturbing and puzzling. If your outdoor temperature gets to 122 degrees, maybe you don't have a good spot for vacations... It is sad, in this case, to see how the backward minds of a few can alter the lives of many.

Buyer's Alert:

In the same issue of VT, I found a listing of reusable water bottles without the dreaded BPA's (bisphenol-A). The chemical is put into most hard-plastic reusable drink bottles, which have the capacity to leach into the fluid being consumed by us. BPA's are connected to a myriad of health disorders, including birth defects, cancer and other very serious issues. The following four companies make reusable bottles without BPA's:

1. SIGG's Make Love Not Lanfill $24.99/33oz.

2. The CamelBak Better Bottle $14/.75 liter

3. Nalgene On The Go Bottle $10/24oz

4. Earthlust Bottle $16/13oz

Rethink using all those purchased plastic bottles of water. Take a hard look at that reusable hard-plastic water bottle for your workouts. Every time we put something in our bodies, don't we deserve the best and cleanest? Makes you think...

Have a great and thought provoking day!