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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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…

 

Spring cleaning

One of the springtime chores I kind of dread is cleaning out my gutters because it involves getting up on a ladder—always a sliiiightly risky proposition for me. But my neighbor’s enormous silver maple tree has nearly finished dumping its load of seeds (technically, samaras) that have filled all my gutters nearly to the brim, and thunderstorms are expected this weekend, so up I went.

full-gutter

No rainwater will flow through this jam.

bucket

I filled two of these.

empty-gutter

Bring on the rain, we’re ready.

This might be my one “big” project for the season, since my house is in great shape and the garage is holding steady since I reorganized it last fall. I might not have much else to do around here on the weekends except mow the lawns.

Well, that will be fun, too. 🙂

Out with the old, in with the new

Happy New Year!

I just love the first day of every year: time to clear the decks, dream new dreams, make new plans and start afresh once again.

I spent the day deep-cleaning and making minor repairs around my house, adding important dates to my 2014 DayMinder, purging too-large clothes out of my closet, and generally putting things in order in my world. A fresh air filter for the furnace and new batteries in the smoke detector. All my 2013 paperwork filed away. E-mail files purged and photo folders sorted. I feel as though I am right on top of things.

Today was the last day for my poor old bamboo plant, which I finally disposed of. In its place, I intend to put a brand-new pineapple plant, because I read on Pinterest about how easy it is to grow your own, and planting something on the first day of the year seems perfectly auspicious. I only glanced at the pin without really checking it out, so I just cut off the top of a pineapple and dropped it in dirt. How hard could it be, right?

pineapple

But after I got it potted, a little niggling voice in my head suggested that maybe I should consult a few sources to see if I did everything right because that little voice has seen so many of my projects go FUBAR for lack of research and planning. Not surprisingly, since I neither researched nor planned, I did it all wrong.

You don’t cut the top off, you twist it off. Then you trim it down to expose the little roots, then you put it in a cupboard for a week to “harden” so it won’t rot in the soil. Assuming it hardens and does not mold, only then do you plant it. And if you’re lucky and your little pineapple top takes root, you might have a new fruit in about two years!

potted-pineapple

I had no idea. But then, what I don’t know about pineapple propagation could fill a book. I always thought they grew on trees. In fact, they grow on low bushes, one fruit to a bush. It’s staggering to me that something that takes TWO YEARS to mature sells in the supermarket for $2.50.

pineapple-farm

Learn more about how to grow a pineapple at home straight from the Dole Plantation in Hawaii or from this guy, who seems to know what he’s talking about.

The pineapple has long symbolized welcome and hospitality, which are certainly qualities I strive to cultivate in my home. I shall do my best to help my new houseplant—along with all my endeavors in 2014—take root, bloom and ultimately bear fruit.

The easy part

I cleaned up the leaves in my yard today from my single linden tree.

before-raking

after-raking

It took about an hour and required only three leaf bags.

bagged-leaves

Easy!

I can enjoy my nice clean yard for about another week until the neighbors’ silver maple starts to drop its load.

neighbors-tree

At least 10 bags’ worth of those leaves will end up in my yard, probably more.

I’m still struggling with tendinitis in my right elbow caused by too much hammer swinging last month, so moving leaves around with an air rake is pretty painful and my elbow will be on ice all weekend just from my light labors this morning. Can’t hardly wait until I have to go out and do it all again.

I wish I had minions to do it for me.

super-excited_animated

We’d LOVE to!

Just puttering

Okay, I admit it: I am still feeling the physical effects of the garage project from my last post, so I am loath to take on another big project this weekend even though the list of Stuff I Need To Do Really Soon is long and growing.

Not only do the lawns need mowing again, oh yes they do, but also the flower beds need weeding, the roses need pruning, the windows and screens still need washing, and the seasonal wardrobe needs to be rotated (winter clothes into the house, summer clothes out to the garage).

The weather today was lovely and perfect for outdoor projects such as washing the windows (or the car, which is another thing on the list, dang). But even though I suited up in my work duds this morning with every good intention, I ended up just puttering around the house and garage all day, doing nothing more strenuous than vacuuming out my car. Otherwise, I went through boxes and rearranged things and did a little cleaning and added stuff to the pegboards in the garage, various sizes of which the previous owner installed on all four walls and that I have just started using after ignoring them for years.

This is one of my boards, which the previous owner marked for his own tools.

my-pegboard1

I’m happy to have all these random little things all in one place where I can see them now. I am also using pegs to hang up garden tools, buckets, and various other objects that used to just be tossed on the floor. If I had a bigger garage and/or more tools, this is a vision I’d love to manifest:

pegboard1

Or this, for the small stuff:

GE DIGITAL CAMERA

But sadly, I just don’t use my tools often enough to merit this level of organization. I am just handy enough to do what I need to do with them, such as adjustments and minor repairs. I’d have to get to the next level of actually building things with my bare hands to merit a workbench like the one above.

And that was my exciting day! Tomorrow I might actually mow the lawn, or wash my car, which will be even more exciting! This is my wild and crazy life!


to the person who has anonymously and unkindly commented on several of my recent posts: please do us both a favor and go find a blog that actually interests you and read it instead. Quit trolling mine because 1) I am never going to publish your hateful comments and 2) I’m going to keep writing about whatever I want to write about.

offended