Into the trash

Last September, unable to abide any longer what seemed like the huge amount of food waste I was putting into my trash can, I invested in a composter for my back yard that I thought was the perfect solution. It was compact, rotating, seemingly sturdy, not terribly ugly, and large enough, I figured, for the organic waste management needs of a single-person household. I don’t recall the brand name, but it looked like this.

New composter

It was a simple snap-together project with a few screws to keep it stable, and I knew when I was assembling it and finding that the several interlocking panels that make up the bin didn’t fit together quite as snugly as I thought they should that this contraption was not worth the $100+ I paid for it. But I went ahead and set it up, and promptly began filling it with my daily collection of vegetable peels, pits, skins and so forth, along with tea bags and coffee grounds and egg shells and all that good stuff. I tossed in a handful of compost starter when I thought about it, gave the handle a few turns every week or so, and hoped to have “black gold” soon. I was proud of myself for reducing my weekly load of trash so substantially that I could even occasionally skip putting the can out to the curb. My kitchen trash no longer stank, and I felt I was doing my part for the planet.

As the bin slowly filled up, turning it became more and more difficult, and Clue No. 2 that this unit was poor quality was one day when I let go of the handle too soon as I was turning it and it whipped back on my arm hard enough to leave a bruise—the turning mechanism was supposed to go in one direction only to prevent exactly this action.

Also, some of the stuff in the bin turned black and gooey but other stuff seemed not to break down much at all, and my lord, how it stank! But I hoped that time and bacteria would do their jobs and break everything down eventually. After all, my parents have a compost bin so vigorously active that it could probably consume an entire human body, clothing and all, within a week or two at most. But my folks live in a rainy valley in another state. I live on the high desert. Apparently composting doesn’t work quite the same here.

I don’t know much about composting, obviously (and I was advised by someone who does not to buy this unit, so here I am, admitting publicly that you were right and I was wrong), so I didn’t know how to make my bin work better or what a more effective option would be. As I said, I just kept adding stuff and hoping for the best.

One sunny day about a month ago, I noticed a rank odor wafting from the back of the yard. Upon investigation, which Reggie had unfortunately already done by the looks of her befouled beard, I found my composter sprung open and ruined.

Broken composter

Busted

Those snap-together panels had little more than plastic tabs holding them together, and the bottom panel busted at the seams on both sides. You can imagine how much this fact was appreciated by my little poo-eating Schnauzer, who couldn’t leave the mess alone.

Broken composter closeup

I mean, really, how enticing is that?

So now I had a broken unit filled with at least 50 pounds of rotting vegetation, and there’s no way to fix the damn thing. What to do?

First I considered burying it. But that involved locating utilities (which proved to be a little too close by for my comfort), hiring someone with a strong back to dig a trench in my rock-hard clay soil, and then scooping all that mess into the ground and hoping the dogs didn’t dig it up. No.

The only thing to do was to dispose of it, all of it. And that, my friends, is a job I would not delegate to anybody because there’s no one in this world I dislike enough to foist it upon.

I pulled the barrel apart, dumped the contents on the ground, and (wearing elbow-length rubber gloves and a respirator mask), I scooped it all up handful by handful into plastic bags and then into the trash. The only job I can think of that might be worse is cleaning out a pit toilet using nothing but a gardening trowel.

In the process, I had to wave off a squad of yellow jackets that, thankfully, left without a fight, watched the biggest earthworm I’ve ever seen (I seriously thought it was a snake for a moment) emerge from under the pile, and evicted several spiders from their nests inside the gears (sorry, gals). I marveled at the dozens of bright-red and still plump cranberries I put in there last November, some exuberantly sprouting garlic cloves, and a nearly intact whole apple I tossed in months ago because it was starting to shrivel and wrinkle on my counter. Amazing how some things just do not break down.

The composter, however, did break down once I removed all its screws. I cleaned it up as best I could with a garden hose from 6 feet away, and now it’s out with the other recyclables awaiting a trip to the transfer station.

Dismantled composter

See ya.

I really like the idea of composting my food scraps, and would love to find a better, cheaper, permanent solution that not only actually makes compost, but also that I can keep contained away from the dogs. I will have to do some research on the worms option, as my neighbors who have outdoor compost bins tell me that the climate here just does not favor proper decomposition.

If you have links or suggestions for worm composting, please let me know in the comments.

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House seasons

There are many ways to track the seasons, the calendar being only the most obvious and arbitrary.

I track the seasons by how my house stays warm and cool, and how I stay warm and cool in it. Let’s begin with spring, which is heralded by Furnace Stays Off Overnight Day. As the days warm, there’s Attic Fan Kicks On Day, followed fairly soon after by A/C Kicks On Day. The passing summer is marked by Removing Wool Blankets from the Bed Day, Lisa Turns Off the Heating Pad at Her Feet Night, Attic Fan Kicks on Before Noon Day, and A/C Runs All Night, which usually occurs at the zenith of the Hot All the Time season.

As the summer wanes and the days cool, we see the A/C Stays Off All Day, after which we usually get at least a couple of gloriously temperate weeks when I don’t have to either heat or cool the house and that is our favorite season.

But before you know it, Furnace Kicks On Day rolls around, and that means Cold All the Time season is just around the corner. Eventually I have to put the wool blankets and heating pad back on the bed, usually around Doggie Daytime Warming Station Activation Day (when I put a heating pad under a blanket on the couch to keep them from getting chilled). And so begins the long cold stretch when the furnace runs continuously, the heating pads are in place all day and all night, and the piles of blankets on the bed and a lot of snuggling together for body heat manage to keep us all from shivering ourselves senseless at night.

rudy-cozy

This year the weather has been out of order for months, so today was A/C Kicks On Day with a vengeance, which should not be here for another couple of weeks. I can tell it’s too hot when I find Rudy stretched out like this on the bed.

hot

It already looks like it’s going to be a long A/C Runs All Day and Night season in these parts. We’ll do our best to keep cool.

Food overload

The trash gets picked up on Wednesdays in my neighborhood, so this morning I wheeled my big tote to the curb loaded down with heavy, dripping bags of rotting food from my own refrigerator. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and may Demeter have mercy on my soul. It was a very bad week for wasting food in my house.

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

I let my Bountiful Baskets get away from me, faithfully picking one up every week for three weeks in a row even though I still had produce piled all over my counters from the weeks before. I gave some of it to my neighbors and I did prep a lot of it into usable ingredients so I would have them available for cooking … but somehow the cooking part just didn’t come together before things started turning slimy and spotty. Which reminds me why I’ve always been leery of fresh food: It just doesn’t last that long. Not long enough, anyway, for me to 1) figure out how to use it and 2) get motivated to do so.

When I told a friend once that I like to cook, her first question was, “don’t you end up wasting a lot of food because you live alone?” I thought it was an odd query because why would my living alone make any difference? No, I told her, I am pretty good about using what I buy. And I always have been, for the most part. But every so often, my ambitions get ahead of my appetite, and much waste results.

I recently learned that food waste decomposing in landfills is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is a likely contributor to climate change. I don’t want to participate in that slow-motion catastrophe any more than I absolutely have to (and unfortunately, we all have to), so I’m thinking about getting a composter for my kitchen scraps. Maybe one like this, which is off the ground to keep the dogs from scrounging through it.

compost-bin

Tumbling Composter from Home Depot.

For all the peels, pits, rinds, seeds, soft spots, and other food scraps that I put in the garbage every week, this just might make a difference.

My fridge is now cleared of all but a few hardy veggies with long shelf lives, and my counters are mostly visible again—although I do still have a big jicama bulb and several pounds of blue potatoes from my basket that I am not sure yet what to do with. I didn’t get a basket this week, and won’t get one next week. I’m waiting to go grocery shopping until the last egg, the last carrot, the last drop of milk, and the last piece of bread are all gone. And then I’m going to be more careful about how I stock my kitchen.

food-dont-waste-it

This World War II-era propaganda poster is still good advice today.

 

New year, same old me

I’ve been living with myself long enough now to know at least one thing for sure: I suck at keeping resolutions. Especially those that involve weight loss and/or dieting and/or exercise. So let’s just dispense with the “new year, new me” nonsense forthwith because that is not happening.

new-year-new-me

However.

I do have some plans for 2015, a few modest ambitions that may redound to my greater good if executed properly. A little determination, a little luck, a lot of persistence, and possibly by this time next year I’ll be able to pat myself on the back for all I’ve accomplished.

On the professional front, my single goal for the year is to grow my existing revenue streams and develop new ones. Business Management 101, in other words. I figure I need between 6 and 10 new steady clients to keep me in the black. I know that doesn’t sound like very many, but real estate photography is kind of a big-ticket item. The key word here is steady; I need clients who can consistently give me three or four jobs a month. I have some ideas about how to find them. We’ll see how it goes.

On the personal front, I am leaning toward leaving Weight Watchers soon because it makes no sense for me to pay $42 a month and not follow their plan. I don’t have a backup plan, though, and I don’t like what I’m seeing in the mirror lately.

watching-my-figure

On the domestic front, I gave myself a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated for Christmas and my plans mostly involve cooking: using my new KitchenAid stand mixer, developing my knife skills to the point that I can make a decent tournée, learning how to make the five “mother sauces” of classic French cuisine (Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, tomate and velouté), and perhaps figuring out how to make decent beef and chicken stock (I’m not interested in ever making veal or fish stock). I would also like to try making bread, although for some reason the whole yeast thing kind of intimidates me. I definitely plan to keep getting my CSA box every week and sharing it with my neighbors because the only thing I enjoy more than eating is feeding other people—which is really saying something, considering how much I do love to eat. 😉

If I were going to make a resolution, it might be to figure out how to balance my passion for cooking with my desire to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. I’ve heard rumors that such a thing is possible, but I remain skeptical.

never_trust_a_skinny_cook

And finally, on the spiritual front, I plan to appreciate my life, exactly as it is right now, and remember that every day is a gift. As my boy dog ages into his teens and my parents pass the midpoint of their 70s, I realize that we don’t have all the time in the world ahead of us anymore. No one does, of course. This world and this life deserve my attention and my appreciation minute by minute and day by day. That’s the only way to make the passing years mean anything at all.

 

Turning the page

We here at Going Forward (meaning: me) are pleased to be finally turning the page over from 2014, leaving behind us a difficult year stuck in the doldrums, so to speak, with high hopes for fair winds and following seas to support all our efforts in the coming year.

One thing I’ve been remiss in over the past 12 months is my blogging, and I hope to be better about that. I will tell you that I’ve been having my share of struggles, large and small, but I won’t tell you all the details because, you know, the internet. My focus on surviving and resolving those struggles has taken up a lot of my time and emotional energy, leaving little left over to talk about it all here. 

I completed my certification as a nursing assistant in February, and decided not to pursue any job opportunities in that field for several reasons. I have found the knowledge I gained very helpful in assisting my parents, however, and that is the whole reason I took the course so I consider the time well spent.

My weight has been bobbing up and down all year, gradually trending upward. I pay a handsome fee to participate in Weight Watchers each month, but can’t seem to motivate myself to follow the program. Not sure what I’m going to do about that, although I think my options are, essentially, to fish or cut bait. I’ve determined that part of why I am not feeling so great right now physically is my higher weight, and that I definitely feel better when I am about 20 lbs. lighter. It’s just a matter of finding the mojo to get myself there.

My darling doggies are, as ever, the lights of my life. Rudy had a tumor on his foot this summer that required the removal of a toe, but he’s fully recovered from that now as if nothing ever happened. Reggie has maintained perfect health and excellent behavior all year, and I’m very pleased with and proud of both of them.

My parents have been holding pretty steady, with a few mishaps here and there but generally okay. I had hoped my mother would be walking on her own again by last spring, but she took a fall in her garage a few months ago that has slowed her way down and it looks like the wheelchair might be here to stay.

On the business front, I branched out from product photography into real estate photography over the summer, and got a crash course in how to light a room properly (which is much trickier than you might think). This endeavor proved profitable and allowed me to acquire a bunch of new photography equipment, including lenses and lights, that have expanded my repertoire considerably. I hope to substantially increase this service in 2015.

At home, I have invested considerable time and treasure in my cooking practice, and that has been tremendously rewarding for me emotionally. I have been creating my own recipes and riffing with confidence on others’ recipes to create dishes that delight me—and as we know, I am a huge fan of my own cooking. 😉 I spent 10 days with my folks over Christmas and cooked many meals for them that they immensely enjoyed as well, so I seem to be doing it right! I recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, and gifted it to my mom and my brother-in-law for Christmas. My sister and mom have read it and they both say that it has changed their lives. I had the same reaction. Highly recommended.

Like 2013, 2014 ended on an unexpected, expensive and stressful note. In 2013, it was Rudy’s mysterious illness over Christmas vacation, and the keying damage to my car while I was visiting my parents. This year, we hit a deer on our way to my parents’ house, which disabled my car with a busted radiator but fortunately did no harm to us. The accident occurred roughly midway between my house and theirs, so I had to leave my car in the nearest town for 10 days to be repaired and got to drive a brand-new rented Hyundai Santa Fe in the meantime, which was actually a rather nice consolation. When we came through to retrieve my car on our way back to our home this week, the icy roads and snowy weather were so treacherous that we had to stay overnight there. I have never seen such horrendous driving conditions in 12 years of going back and forth over that road, and have never in 30 years of driving hit a deer. I am hoping my deer-strike clock will now reset and I’ll have another 30 years of no trouble!

And so we begin another fresh year. I am really hopeful that the hard times are behind me and I am so very ready to move forward on so many fronts. Rev the engine, pop the clutch, let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes to all of you for a healthy and happy 2015!

the-time-is-now-lets-do-this

Getting soaked

I woke up this morning to find the sprinklers in my front yard still running long after their pre-dawn cycle should have concluded. I watched them for about half an hour before realizing they hadn’t just gotten a late start for whatever reason but that they were actually stuck on (and had been running for hours, egads). This got me feeling anxious because half the yard was being watered at the rate of two separate garden hoses set to maximum flow. I could practically hear the cascade of dollars soaking into the ground.

Naturally, the first thing I did was go to the controller box in the house and turn the system off. Nothing happened. So I unplugged it. Still nothing. Then I went to look in the controller boxes out in the yard and found a bunch of solenoids and wires but no valves of any kind that could be shut off. An hour had now passed and I was starting to get a bit panicky. I opened the local Yellow Pages (so old school, right?) and started calling sprinkler repair companies, and got through more than a dozen before somebody finally answered the phone who could be out in less than an hour.

Another 30 minutes of potable city water went into my now soggy lawn before the sprinkler guy arrived and promptly turned off the sprinkler valve located next to the outside controller box at the bottom of deep, narrow plastic pipe. There are two of these pipes: one is the drain valve and one is the water supply valve. There is no way to distinguish them by looking; one just has to know. Oh, and here’s a helpful safety tip should you need to mess with your sprinkler valves and you don’t know which is which: Always start by turning the valve to the right (“righty-tighty” or off). If the valve is already closed, leave it closed. Apparently bad things happen if the drain valve is opened when the system is on.

Once the sprinkler guy explained to me which valve was which and what they do (which was something I had heretofore never had any need or desire to know), we labeled the two pipes with a Sharpie for future reference. Inside the controller box, he found a blown-out solenoid that he was able to replace. I had looked in that box earlier and it was full of spider webs and water that completely obscured the solenoid so I couldn’t see the obvious damage.

broken-sprinkler-solenoid

For those of you as unfamiliar with automatic sprinkler system hardware as I am, suffice to say that this shouldn’t be broken-open as it is. I believe the layman’s term for this condition is “shot to hell.”

I am not even going to try to explain how this component works or what went wrong, as the entire science of residential irrigation is beyond my ken. The sprinkler guy was assisted today by his son, who appeared to be about 12 years old. I asked the kid, “are you learning the trade this summer?” and he said he was. “It’s all really simple stuff,” he said nonchalantly. “None of this is hard.”

Well, shoot. I certainly thought it was hard.

What this kid doesn’t appreciate yet is that everything is easy for the one who knows how, and impossible for the one who does not.

Want to know more about the “simple stuff” of sprinklers? Check out this page that will tell you everything you didn’t know about how they work. I tried to read through it but my focus drifted away very early on. I’d love to have the kind of mind to which this sort of thing makes perfect sense; however, my talents lie elsewhere.

At least now I know how to turn my sprinkler system off, so that will be easy for me from now on.

A room for living

The living room in my house is a tricky space. The front door opens directly into it, with no foyer. It has a large picture window facing the street on the south wall, a fireplace on the east wall, a vaulted ceiling that makes the north wall 11 feet high, and a double-width entry to the dining area/ kitchen on the west wall. In other words, it’s a big room with a lot of different energy and travel paths going through it because of all those entries and exits.

This has made furnishing the room comfortably and attractively a conundrum that I was beginning to think could not be solved. I didn’t want to block the flow of traffic through the room from any side, but just couldn’t imagine any arrangement of furniture that would not do that and yet still allow me to 1) view my little old 20″ television from less than 17 feet away and 2) entertain more than one person at a time who might want to sit down somewhere other than on the floor or on the hearth. I have had my faithful old futon from my grad-school days parked in front of the picture window from day one so the dogs would have a lookout spot, and that was fine seating for just me and them. But when company came over, it was awkward. I usually ended up sitting on the coffee table or something.

When I first moved in, I had my futon and coffee table on one side of the room …

23_living-room-couch

and my TV on the other side, with not much in between (Reggie tore up the upholstery on that chair when she was a puppy and it had to go away).

26_tv-chair

It took me a long time to find the right pieces to add to the room, and I’ll be the first to admit that my design aesthetic might kindly be called “low-budget hodge-podge.” I have many domestic talents, but interior design is not among them.

For the past three years or so, I’ve been intermittently but actively seeking a design and furnishings solution that would make this room comfortable and inviting for me and for the dogs both when we’re home alone and when we have guests. Finally, I think I’ve found the design solution, even if the furnishings are not ideal.

First, I moved the futon around to face the fireplace just to see how that would feel and look.

living-room

The dogs didn’t like this AT ALL because they lost their front-window perch from which to observe and bark at the outside world. The silence in the house that resulted was music to my ears, but the hurt looks they kept giving me from beneath their bushy eyebrows quickly convinced me that something more needed to be done.

I had my heart set on getting a sofa, but it turns out that a love seat works better in the newly opened space in front of the window, and I found one on deep discount at the Buy & Large the other day. Once I got it home and set it up (with a blanket thrown over it as a quick-and-dirty temporary slipcover), I felt that my living room was finally coming together.

living-room1

There’s plenty of room to move around and between the futon and the love seat from the front door and from the kitchen, the futon is now much closer to the TV, and the dogs have their perch again (which is moved back from the window far enough that maybe I won’t have to wash the dog snot off it every week anymore).

I realize, of course, that the area rug is much too small for the room, and that none of these pieces even coordinate, let alone match. No matter—the concept has been proven, that a cozy and comfortable arrangement of furniture that meets all my needs actually is possible for this room. In time, these low-budget pieces will be replaced with matching ones of much higher quality, along with a larger rug, possibly a square or round coffee table, and some cute throw pillows.

living-room2

On the other side of the room, I have put together a nice matched set of pieces that are just waiting for the arrival of a big new plasma TV … one of these days. 😉

living-room3

Reggie immediately claimed the love seat as her own, and settled on to her new perch looking redonkulously comfortable (it is a very comfy couch).

reggie-on-new-couch

I can tell that those back cushions are going to be sway-backed and lopsided in no time! That’s what my dogs and my parents’ dog have done to their couch …

swayback-couch

But that’s okay. Living room furniture is for living on, not just for looking at. I look forward to spending more time in and living more comfortably in the largest room in my house from now on.

Maybe my next project will be to paint it. Hmmm…