Archive for ‘Comic relief’

July 23, 2013

A Lesson Learned

Friends, I am a stubborn woman. A lot of what happens in the garden is mostly done by yours truly; it’s not that Boo doesn’t want to help but often he has other things that keep him busy. So, even some of the tough digging and manual labor is up to me.

Case in point: on Saturday, I wanted to use my “new to me” toy (a Honda Harmony 100 mini-tiller that I got a really good deal on used) and get the cabbage patch and the raised bed ready for fall gardening. It’s a small machine, and it’s really not THAT heavy; I needed a walk-through on getting it started so Jason hauled it out to the garden for me. We got it running and I shooed him away so I could get the hang of it without him laughing at my comical attempts to keep the thing from getting away from me.

The tiller works like a complete dream – I’ll be blogging about it at some point. Within twenty minutes I had tilled a huge section of the main bed into a fine crumb that far surpassed anything I could have done even with hours of digging. I decided to move onto the cabbage frame.

This is where it got ugly.

I have a bountiful crop of Mexican Gherkins vining all over one side of the frame, so I couldn’t really move it while I tilled. The frame’s lowest height is somewhere around 3 feet, and while the tiller isn’t unbearably heavy it was now weighed down with muck from the other garden. I somehow managed to hold it next to my body, swing my leg over the frame, and let it down safely without any craziness occurring. I bounced it around in the cabbage patch for awhile and got things ready for some fall root crops – beets and carrots. Then came the difficult part – lifting it OUT of the frame with even more dirt caked on the tines and muscles that weren’t all that fresh after an hour of tilling.  I tried lifting it once or twice and was dismayed at how heavy it seemed.

Something in me quietly said, “Just ask Jason for help.”After all, he was just inside doing some computer work for his job, and he usually likes an excuse to get outside for a break. But laziness, impatience, or downright stubborn pride got in the way. I nudged the thing up next to the frame, jumped over on the outside, and lifted.

You guys, I know how to lift. In high school, most of my jobs involved a lot of bending and picking up boxes. When I work at the Berry Patch, I’m constantly doing that. I KNOW that the the proper way to lift something heavy is to squat down, keep it close to your body, and then lift with your legs. But in my furious determination to NOT ASK FOR HELP…this vital piece of common sense somehow escaped my brain and I lifted the tiller while bending over the frame.

Well, I got it up and out. Yay me? It felt pretty intense and I stopped to evaluate the state of my muscles. My lower back felt weird; not exactly painful, just weird. Sort of sore and numb. I thought nothing of it and continued on with my day – tilling up more areas of the garden, mowing the community garden, dragging hoses around, planting beet seeds…by the time evening came I did feel a bit stiff but assumed that a good night’s sleep would help and I would be able to go for my weekly “long” run the next morning.

Well, when I woke up on Sunday I quickly realized any sort of run was NOT happening. My lower back was so stiff and inflamed. I was still able to walk, but standing for too long made it hurt. Sitting for too long made it hurt. The transition between standing and sitting, or vice versa, REALLY made it hurt. I was both entertained and mortified by the fact that my 27-year-old body was behaving like a 77-year-old’s body.

Needless to say, I didn’t do much on Sunday. It’s a good thing I got so much accomplished on Saturday, huh? I ended up spending some time sitting out in the yard playing guitar, which was kind of a nice change of pace.

Thankfully, I woke up on Monday feeling marginally better, and was able to go throughout my work day without too much grief. I took a long walk on my lunch break because they say that walking is a good, gentle way to help your muscles heal. This morning, I’m feeling about 75% like my normal self. I have a much greater range of motion, and even when I do move the wrong way and use those sore muscles it’s not anywhere near as painful as it was on Sunday. I’m hoping to be back to normal by Saturday. Granted, I think it will be a very cautious normal – no tilling or heavy lifting for awhile. But maybe I can finally get out and take that long run I’ve been wanting to do!

On a side note, I’ve been packing LOTS of tart cherries into my smoothies this week because they are really good at reducing inflammation. I don’t know if they’re making a huge difference but I like to think that they are!

I’ve learned my lesson from this one. It’s much better to SLOW DOWN and ask for help than to risk your muscles! I’m a very active person and it was pretty discouraging to not be 100%. It’s better to be humble and aware of your body’s limits than to plow through on your own and make things worse.

July 1, 2013

More Hipster Homesteading

I was at it again! Visiting suburban/rural farms and hauling messy stuff in my backseat. This time, it was straw bales for mulching and compost:

Some garden centers sell straw in the spring, but after making several stops throughout the city all I could find was bagged, chopped straw for $12 a bag. Yeah. I got on Craigslist and within ten minutes had gotten in contact with a farmer out in Menominee Falls selling some beautiful, huge bales of straw for $2.25 each. He was out in the field working when I called, and arranged to have his wife meet me back at the house. It was a neat farmstead – totally reminded me of going to Breakfast on the Farm when I was kid. His wife, a stout farm woman, met me in the driveway, clad in patched jeans and a flannel shirt, and escorted me around to the back of the barn, where she proceeded to load two bales into my car for me as I stood there awkwardly rubbing my scrawny arms and stuffing my hands into my fancy jeans. I paid her, thanked her, and went on my way, taking heed of her warning to watch out for traffic on the country road they lived on because it was “just crazy” sometimes. I drove home with the windows open because it was a nice day and quickly realized that I was creating a straw tornado in my car and would have to vacuum the entire thing out.

This straw has been doing a great job of keeping the weeds down in the garden, and now that I know where to buy it cheaply, we’ll be using this for our carbon source in the compost bin.

June 6, 2013

Salad Fail

Greens are easy to grow. I’ve grown them many times in the past couple of years, and normally I don’t have a problem at all (aside from foraging squirrels digging up my spinach seeds).

You may recall that last year I topped off my big raised bed with a hefty layer of leaf mulch. Overall, it really seemed to help the soil – I noticed so many more earthworms, and the texture was better. However, there was one thing that I didn’t really account for. One techy, sciency, but very obvious thing: in their final stages of decomposition, leaves will take nitrogen up from the soil. It’s usually just a surface issue, so if you don’t till or turn the leaves under (which, uh, I did.). And when they do finally decompose, that nitrogen obviously goes back into the soil and makes it even better.

But…it’s probably not a good idea to seed a large area of a leaf-mulched bed with a shallow rooted crop of something that requires LOTS of nitrogen. Spinach, lettuce, and arugula would probably all fall into this category, by the way.

Case in point? Everything sprouted well – that wasn’t an issue. However, it never really got bigger.

I noticed that it was looking a little sad and somewhat yellow but I didn’t make the connection myself. Jason mentioned the slow growth and yellow leaves to hi’s business partner, who actually used to be a chemistry teacher, and well, you can probably guess what he said.

Boy, do I feel dumb!

I’m also kind of bummed about it. I’d been dreaming of fresh spring salads ever since I seeded the greens patch back in early April. I’m going between laughing at myself and kicking myself (figuratively). I really should have figured this thing out sooner!

I gave them all a good dose of fish fertilizer this past weekend to try to salvage things, but if they haven’t shaped up by next weekend, I’ll just count my losses and move on to using the space for warmer-weather crops  (mainly cukes and squash). I’ve also learned that, for the time being while the leaves finish composting, everything will need a good dressing of composted manure and a dose of fish emulsion!

I may try to give my carrots a chance- they look tiny, but they are maturing, albeit very slowly:

Oh well. There’s always fall for another round of greens!

May 28, 2013

I need your help!

Hey readers! I recently visited a clothing shop in Door County, and they had some awesome Wisconsin-themed t-shirts. Sadly, none of them fit me well, and even though I’m able to alter t-shirts quite easily I couldn’t justify paying a lot of money for something I would have to hack up and tailor.

However, I’ve since decided that it’s high time I get myself something that bears testimony to my love for my great state. To give you an idea of how much I love living here…I almost always cry when I happen upon photos of Wisconsin. Yeah. I’m that much of a sap.

Anyway, this is where you come in! I need some input – with so many designs out there to choose from, I decided to let you all vote for your favorite design. The shirt with the most votes will end up in my closet at some point in the near future. My birthday is at the end of June, for those of you who were curious 😉

So, without further ado, here are the options (click on the links for more pictures):

Option #1:


Option #2:

“Born and Raised”

Option #3:

“Midwest is Best”

Option #4:


Option #5

“Milwaukee Skyline”

And then, just for giggles, here are a few silly shirts that I don’t think I’d ever buy but found entertaining:

Mighty Midwest

Beneath Us

I’ll pick the winner next Tuesday!





May 7, 2013

Spray Paint Madness

Awhile ago, I blogged about our re-do of the front garden, along with the process of refinishing our garden swing. Progress on the swing was fairly slow – the weather was too cold for me to continue priming and painting it.

Well, we finally got some warm weather two weekends ago. I was able to finish priming the metal frame and apply two coats of the actual color, Paprika.

Jason had the bright idea to hang the pieces from the garage rafters so that I could get at all sides at once.

Please disregard our messy garage. Cleaning it is on our to-do list for this year…

It all worked out well, except that this method seemed much more conducive to me getting spray paint everywhere – on the floor, on my arm, in my hair, on the garden tools, even on my face. Most of it washed off ;).

The following Tuesday, we had temperatures in the high 70’s well into the evening. Wanting to take advantage of the weather, Jason and I sat out in the driveway and reassembled the bench. It took us awhile, but we were able to haul it to it’s final resting place and have a nice long “porch sit” as the sun went down in front of us and the world entered into dusk.

And here is the finished product. I took this photo the next morning. I’m really, really happy with how it turned out! I also love that we can sit in the front yard now. Unfortunately, these next couple of weeks are going to be so busy that I may not have many moments to enjoy a good sit. Hopefully when we head into summer we’ll be able to do that more.

For reference, here is an idea of what it looked like before. Sorry I don’t have a more “complete” photo of it. I think you’ll agree, the new colors and boards are a big improvement!


April 29, 2013


We have a big Box Elder tree in our backyard that we’re going to cut down at some point. Last summer, we noticed swarms of box elder beetles crawling all over it, and I knew from experience that they would likely be making their way into our house over the winter. My parents had the same trees in their backyard when I was growing up in rural Wisconsin, and every fall the little guys would move indoors.

They’re completely harmless bugs – they don’t bite, aren’t poisonous, don’t spread diseases, and don’t even bother any of our houseplants.  They do smell sort of funny when you squash them, but mostly they’re more annoying than anything.

Clarice has taken to playing with them and batting them around once in awhile, but her passing interest isn’t enough to keep the population at bay. Because I grew up with them in our house, they don’t really bother me – I actually find it entertaining when they turn up in random places (like the bathroom sink!).

They tend to get on Jason’s nerves, though. On Thursday, he went around the house with a fly sweater and decimated their population. When I got home, he apologized for all of the bug carcasses laying around. Ha!

Do you have any harmless pests in your house or yard?

April 22, 2013

Onion Fail

So, I’ve gotta confess something: I stink at growing onions.

In past years, I’ve used onion sets and never got much out of them in terms of size. I’ve heard that starting onions from seed tends to produce larger onions and stronger plants, so this year I set out to start all of mine in flats. No store-bought sets for me! I ordered two types of onions back when Peaceful Valley was having their 2012 clearance sale, not realizing that onion seeds have a pretty short shelf life.

My germination rates were super low – out of a 128 cell flat, I think maybe 20 seeds germinated. Even less grew into a healthy plant that went out into the garden.

So, after realizing my mistake in using 2012 seeds, I ordered two more varieties from Baker Creek, packed for 2013. My germination rates weren’t much better with these guys. I moved them out into the poly house about two weeks after starting them in the basement, and their growth has completely stalled.

At this point, I’m kind of at a loss. I used a store-bought starter mix that didn’t seem to affect the germination rates of anything else (cabbages, broccoli, etc). I tried to follow the directions for planting depth and soil temperature as best as I could. I know it’s not very warm out in the poly house but I assumed it would be a better environment for them than under grow lights in my basement.

I guess not everything is bound to do well! I’ve had a lot of luck with my brassica crops, and am having good results with the eggplants and edamame I started in the flats last week. I guess one crop out of the many I’ll be growing isn’t so bad. I will try buying some plants to supplement my own. I’d really like to have some onions from our garden to store for the fall and winter.

Any tips and tricks do starting onions from seed?

April 20, 2013

Hipster Homesteading

Warning: there is talk about poop in this post.

Being that I was so inspired by attending the MUG workshop this past Saturday (you can read about it here), I decided to do something I’ve never done before: put poop on my garden. Horse poop, to be specific. This time of year, there are lots of horse ranches cleaning out their barns and offering free manure for the hauling. One happened to be a few miles from our house, in a northern suburb. After the workshop, I called them up and asked if I could come and get a few buckets.  That was fine with the farmer, so I moved on to the next obstacle: hauling the stuff in our tiny Honda Civic hybrid.

When we haul wood chips, we just lay a sheet down in the trunk and fill it up. However, manure was a whole different thing. I had two five-gallon pails and a 17-gallon tote, none of which fit into our tiny trunk. So I finally decided to lay down a plastic tarp in the backseat and set the buckets on top.

I arrived at the ranch and was escorted through a mucky pasture (good thing I remembered to wear my rubber rain boots!) to a pile of wet horse manure.

“This,” I thought to myself, “Is the real thing.”

The farmer fed his horses “so they would leave me alone” (were they planning on harassing me for stealing their old poop?) while I filled the two buckets. Jason was busy that day, so I couldn’t fill the tote the whole way or it would have been too heavy for my chicken arms. The farmer did help me lift the buckets into my car, remarking that it would make it smell really good in there. He also mentioned, with some sense of puzzlement, that he’d had many people like me stop out with their cars and haul the stuff in buckets. I pictured tons of hipster homesteaders from the city showing up in their fancy clothes and hybrid cars to get free poop for their organic gardens. Like something out of “Portlandia”.

I thanked him for his help, and he told me I was welcome to come by anytime to get more. Maybe I’ll take him up on that offer. You know, if we ever get a decent vehicle for hauling…

Anyway, I set off on my merry way back to north Milwaukee, with the windows down and a scarf over my face. I kept hoping that I wouldn’t have to brake suddenly or get into a car accident because, well, that would have been crappy. Pun intended.

The irony of the whole thing was not lost on me. Because, honestly, it’s funny that I hauled horse poop in buckets in my backseat with my clothing-swap scarf over my nose. I never want to take myself too seriously! Stuff like this keeps me grounded.

Because I didn’t haul much, I only put a thin layer down in the garden. Which is fine – it will help it compost easier. The bed that got the poop treatment is the one I dug last September – it will be where I plant warm weather veggies like eggplants and tomatoes so it still has a good two months to break down into the soil.

For the record, I left the car windows open for a few hours and then took it to the corner gas station to vacuum it out. I’m happy to report that no traces of manure smell remained. AND – I dragged the big tote out of the backseat and into the backyard all on my own! When Jason came out to take a look later, he looked down at the garden bed and exclaimed, “Poop!” Well, he used another word but I’m trying to keep this blog somewhat PG ;). He was amazed at my manure-hauling feat. Naturally.

March 28, 2013

Earning her keep…and then some

I’m well aware that on a traditional homestead, everyone and everything should contribute to keeping the place running – including the animals. So,  I do sometimes feel a small degree of annoyance towards our resident feline:

I mean, seriously, that cat has never set foot outside since she was rescued from a field by my brother as an orphaned kitten. Jason fills her food dish every single morning. She’s even finagled her way into our bedroom and spends most nights curled up on my side of the bed purring away. Any time one of us is sitting down, she immediately jumps onto our lap and makes herself comfortable. She certainly lives a cushy life, in my opinion! There’s days when I’ll be running around the house getting things in order, or working my tail off in the garden, and I’ll see her snoozing away on the couch and ask myself, “how does she rate?”

I will give her this – she does a really good job at hunting down pests. One not-so-great part about living in older homes is that we tend to see those nasty house centipedes on an occasional basis. You know, the ones that keep twitching after you kill them. Ugh. However, Clarice has always been persistent in tracking them down and either cornering them for us or wounding them enough to slow them down so we can finish the dirty deed. She does the same with earwigs, ants, and spiders – basically, any creepy-crawlers that you wouldn’t want in the house. She tends to ignore the harmless Box Alder beetles, though.

When we first moved in, we had a little problem with mice. Nothing out of control – we set some snap traps and caught two or three and pretty soon all signs of them disappeared. I think they maybe moved in when we moved in and had the doors open. Clarice had never seen a mouse a day in her life, so we were skeptical as to her effectiveness at guarding the house. However, one day we came home from work and found her sitting at the top of the stairs next to a dead mouse, proudly circling her kill. I guess there is something to be said about animal instincts!

Yesterday I was already feeling pretty proud of her – she’d helped me corner and kill a centipede on Tuesday. As we were eating supper last night, she kept going down in the basement and making a strange yowling noise. While we were a little confused, we figured she was just in a weird mood and let her be.

Sometime during the night (like, 3am sometime…) I woke up because I heard her rustling around in our bedroom. It sounded like she was batting something around, which was unusual because she’s typically in bed with us at that time of night, and even if she’s not, she’s not much for batting her toys around. Eventually, I realized that she was scratching at and under a little box that I keep near my side of the bed, and it occurred to me that she had probably cornered another centipede. Jason woke up as well, and hauled himself out of bed to help her take care of the invader. He flipped on the the light and lifted the box up quickly, ready to smash the creeper. The only problem was…it wasn’t a centipede.

It was a mouse.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly human beings move when there is something unpleasant in their general vicinity. I threw myself across the bed and hid on the other side, and Jason was up off the floor and on the mattress in an instant. I may or may not have uttered a famous curse word that my mom’s side of the family uses. Meanwhile, the mouse didn’t bolt across the room like we expected. It just sat there for a moment. Clarice didn’t go in for the kill right away, either. All four of us remained statue-like, not wanting to be the first to make a move.

The mouse casually began to pick it’s way along the wall, crawling over my journals and up onto and behind the trunk where I keep my extra winter clothes. Clarice followed it, but didn’t go to attack. I think maybe she knew she didn’t have a good angle or something? I don’t know. Jason and I were so stunned that all we could do was watch the darned thing play out until the mouse was wedged securely between the trunk and the wall.

The cat went into action then. She circled the trunk over and over, sticking her paw into the gap by the wall on one end and then quickly going to the other end to do the same. Obviously, no matter how far she reached or how fast she went from end to end, the mouse was out of her reach. Jason went to grab the broom and a bowl, and I commenced huddling on the bed unable to process the horror of the situation. The whole thing would have worked out splendidly, had the cat realized that Jason wanted her to stay at one end of the trunk and guard it while he tried to pull out the other end and catch the vermin. She just kept going back and forth, and eventually, Jason realized he was going to have to try something different. He pulled the trunk out just enough to get a good aim with the broom handle…and, well, I’ll spare you the gory details. There is one less mouse in the world as of 3:30am this morning…

Obviously, after this traumatic jolt out of a sound sleep, I wasn’t willing to get back into bed until we’d set traps in all of the usual places and checked under the furniture in our bedroom for the late mouse’s cousins. We didn’t find any, managed to set traps without snapping our fingers in our tired stupor, and tucked ourselves back into bed.

Just as we were falling asleep again, we realized that the beast had been awoken in our docile cat. There was some, er, carnage still on the floor behind the trunk, and I think the scent was driving her crazy and making her think that the mouse was still back there. She was circling, scratching, sniffing, and all sorts of predator-like things. In an effort to calm her down and let us get some sleep, Jason coaxed her onto the bed and actually let her lay in the middle (gasp! He always banishes her to my side). She purred away for about 30 minutes, but just as we were finally falling asleep AGAIN she got up to work her rounds once more and fixated her attention on the trunk. I realized that she wasn’t going to leave it alone until we did something about the scent, so I grudgingly got out of bed, pulled the trunk out, doused the whole thing with vinegar (which is the best non-toxic way to neutralize odors, in case you didn’t know) and wiped the mess up. This seemed to do the trick, because she commenced with checking the whole house once more (I could hear her sniffing) and then finally settled into bed for the night. She did give the trunk a good going over when we woke up, but that was the extent of it.

When we left for work, she was still on the prowl; sniffing along all the walls and in the basement. I’m really, really hoping this is just due to her being on “high alert” and doesn’t mean there’s a whole army of vermin lurking in the walls. In addition to the traps, I’ll be setting out some cotton balls moistened with peppermint essential oil (a scent that mice hate). Between that and the traps, we should be able to keep the house clear. Even though I don’t like the fact that we had a mouse within arm’s reach of our bed, it was a big relief to see that Clarice is so persistent and attentive. I joked in the car on the ride to work that she and Jason were like a hunter with his hounds.

I might add that, while I was falling asleep for the final time, I was ruminating on cats and their instincts and thinking about lions stalking their prey. I had an odd dream which, among other things, involved huge mountain lions roaming the fields of Door County with their cubs. What a night!



March 8, 2013

Waiting for a thaw

Sorry I’ve been pretty quiet around here lately. We’ve gotten three heavy snows in the past month and as much as I enjoyed the snow we got in December, getting 5-6 inches in March is a little depressing. We’ve mostly been busy shoveling ourselves out. Blech. I haven’t done much around the house other than general cleaning – it’s hard to work up motivation to finish up some inside projects when you’re struggling with feeling cooped up already. I would love to be out digging in my garden but it’s currently buried under a foot of snow!

One of the snowstorms was really wet, heavy snow. We lost quite a few branches off of the birch tree in our front yard. One fell on the roof but thankfully didn’t do any damage. Our neighbor Ben came over to help Jason pull it off the roof. It was pretty fun to watch the whole thing out the front window – two bearded Milwaukee men being manly, ha.

Sadly, Jason and I decided that we should probably cut the whole tree down soon. After trimming off the broken branches there really wasn’t much left. While it’s always sad to have to cut down an established tree, we’ve had fun researching and dreaming about different trees to replace this one with. I would love a crab apple or some other type of flowering tree.

We have two Box Alder trees in our backyard, one of which is enormous. I don’t really consider these trees anything more than an overgrown weed, and we’ve been talking about cutting them down ever since we moved in. The big one lost a huge branch during the snowstorm, so it’s a good excuse for us to borrow or purchase a chainsaw and get rid of them. We’ve been dreaming about replacing the biggest tree with an oak, which is our favorite deciduous tree. While we know it will take a long time for it to reach any significant height, it’s nice to think of being an old, grey couple and sitting under a giant oak tree in our backyard.

It is kind of nice to have a big pile of birch branches and logs. I’d like to use the thinner branches to make some more trellises for the garden, and maybe build some furniture out of the thicker branches/logs.

The cabbage and broccoli seedlings are doing really, really well. I’ll be transplanting them into larger containers this weekend, and I’m hoping to move them outside into the poly house before the end of the month so they can start hardening off and acclimating to the outdoors. The onions, however, are germinating very, very slowly and sporadically. I’m thinking it’s because I used seeds packed for 2012. This doesn’t always make a huge difference with other seeds, but I did some research and noticed that onion seeds have a very short shelf life. I ordered two new varieties from Baker Creek that were packed for this year, and I’ll be seeding those over the weekend as well.

I’ve also been doing a fair amount of food making – homemade hummus, bread, and soups. I’ve been trying to eat less processed food (enriched flours, sugars, etc) and dairy, so this weekend I’m going to attempt homemade English Muffins and coconut milk yogurt. I’ve never had much success making cow milk yogurt, so I’m hoping the whole experiment isn’t a terrible waste of time. I’m a pretty good bread baker, though, so I’m confident the English Muffins will be tasty.

So, that’s what we’ve been up to around here lately. I need to make some curtains for our bedroom and dining room, and work up the nerve to tackle the sofa covers before the ground thaws and all of my free time is spent outside. With the amount of snow left to melt, I probably have a good long month left to get these things done!