Sunday, May 29, 2011

Raising a Garden

One of my many projects this weekend (besides pouring cement countertops, pouring a new front doorstep, planting rose bushes and making a duvet cover) was installing a new raised garden box.  I solicited the help of my muscle man, Mark to do most of the labor since the majority of it was digging and lifting.  I'm claiming the title of designer, and have to admit that I did a great job of taking pictures and barking orders.

We used green treat 4x4's for the posts and cedar 2x6's for the main box construction.  This box was made to match our existing 4x8' box, but we wanted this to be 4x4' instead.  Eventually, we'll have 3 boxes total, but we're taking it in steps.

We wanted the front of the box to be roughly 11 inches tall to match the height of our existing box.  Because the area in which we installed the box is on a slight slope, 3 sides of the box (the back and sides) had to be 6 inches deeper.  We cut eleven 4-ft long cedar planks and the posts were cut to approximately 32" long with a slight angle.  The angle, we found later, to be absolutely useless, since the soil was so rocky and hard that pounding it in with the point was impossible.

We used decking screws to put it together since they don't rust, making sure to pre-drill holes.  It doesn't really take two people, but it sure does make it go faster.  Then came the hard part: Installation.

We lined it up with the other box using a 2x4, a tape measure, and our eyes.

Then we (Mark) marked around the box with a spade. 

After removing the grass from the area, Mark dug holes for the posts.  I dug down the sides while he was digging the holes, since some of the sides would be buried slightly since the area sloped.

After making sure the holes were deep enough, and the sides were deep enough, we set the box in place.  Tapped down the corners and edges until it was level on all sides.  It was significantly easier to do this smaller box than the larger one we had done last year.  We also had to make sure it was set at the same level as the existing box.

Here you can see how the terrain slopes and how we had to make one side of the boxes deeper than the other.

We lined the box in heavy plastic using a staple gun, leaving the top inch or two unlined.  We did this for two reasons:  1) The boxes are for fruit and veggies, so we wanted to make sure any chemicals from the treated wood did not seep into the soil (we used green wood to make sure it did not rot as we were burying it).  2) Even though cedar is a great outdoor wood, it will eventually rot like all other wood. The plastic protects the cedar from rotting faster than it needs too, since there is more moisture in the dirt than would be on a fence or deck.

 Then we all filled it in with top soil and compost.  By the way, Lynde Greenhouse & Nursery in Maple Grove is a great place to get compost and topsoil if you need it and live in the Twin Cities.  A cubic yard of compost is only $25 (and you can get a half yd or a full yd).  Oh, and if you were wondering, we ladies did all wear cute sundresses while working.

All ready for fertilizer and plants!  Next year this will be my very own strawberry patch.  Off to the farmers' market! 

Thanks for your muscles, Mark!  Whew! I'm exhausted from yelling and snapping pictures.  I need some ice cream and cookies now.  I've earned them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

More lessons from a child

This might take a more serious direction.  For those who came looking for a daily dose of snark, you may not find much.  Just warning you...

There is so much pain in the world these days, so much devastation from natural disasters that we have no control over.  Many of us watch the news and wonder what we can do to help.  There are volunteer and donation opportunities and yet many of us are left confused as to where to start.  Yesterday, I spent the morning on the phone and on email talking to people asking how I can get involved, how my family can help.  Where can we give, where can I go to move branches, can I house someone for a while, and how do I get organized and get a fire burning under my friends and colleagues to do the same?

Then I learned that my friend's basement had flooded over the weekend.  My plans of picking up a chainsaw (as if anyone would let me use one!) took a bit of a turn.  My friend needed childcare so she could spend the morning dealing with her basement.  Another girlfriend offered to watch her boys, but she didn't quite know what to do with them in her limited space.  Since the wet weekend, the park seemed too messy, so we came up with an idea to have a "pizza party" at my place with all 6 of the kids.  They had a blast and it was easy for the most part. 
My point is this: sometimes, when you're looking for an opportunity to help, it comes from a source that you don't necessarily expect, but is just as important to someone.  I had set out to help strangers and ended up helping a friend.  My heart still aches and will continue to ache for the victims of the tornadoes in Minneapolis, Joplin and LaCrosse and I still want to do something to help.  Sometimes our desires to help and our budgets, calendars or logistics of children/family care just don't match up enough to allow us to do what we desperately desire to do.  My daughter taught me a lesson today, like she so often does.  Sometimes it's best to simply pray. 

When I showed my sweet daughter some of the pictures of the devastation, she became very sad.  She asked me if she could "draw a note for the hurting people who lost their houses."  She was so worried that no one would get her message, so I promised her that I'd send it out on FB and ask my friends to share it with their friends and the people who needed it would get her note.  She sends this message (with a little spelling help from Mom).
We do want to get more actively involved.  Today, we brought some water and work gloves down to Urban Homeworks, an organization in Minneapolis that is organizing volunteer crews (yesterday, May 23, they had 600 people show up to work!)  To all of you who have been affected by the disasters around the world, we are praying for you and intend to keep on doing so!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The question I face on a daily basis as a parent is this:  Am I having an impact on my children by teaching them what's important and how to grow up to be functioning members of society?   Ok, well, this question isn't really a daily basis type question, it's a once-in-a-while type question.  The daily questions I face are more along the lines of "will we all survive the day?" and "what are we having for lunch?"

Lately, I've noticed how intensely my oldest daughter (nearly 5 years old) has clung to my words.  Two of the lessons I personally have been trying to drive home to her are 1) that beauty is on the inside and 2) that we shouldn't sweat the little things - remember what's really important in life.  The beauty thing is probably my fault.  From the time she was a baby, I'd put a cute dress on her and make a huge deal about how adorable she looks.  "Oh, you look so cute; go show your daddy."  It's also exaggerated by her obsession with Disney princesses.  The sweating the little things is because she still stresses to tears when she's frustrated at the smallest tasks.  She's terribly impatient - I can't figure out where she gets that trait.  Either way, I know she's getting it, so I'm feeling pretty good about myself and my amazing parenting skills.  That is, until she pulls her sister's hair so hard that it comes out of its ponytails.  Ouch.

During the past month or so, my sweet daughter has been the one reminding me of these particular two lessons, and though she understands the concepts perfectly, the lessons might need a little tweaking.  Today I told the girls that we were going to go to the grocery store.  They were pretty happy because that means a free cookie at the bakery (of which one child lost for pulling her sister's hair).  Here's how the conversation went down:

H: Let's go to the store right after breakfast, Mom!  Hurry!
Me: Well, I have to take a shower before we go.
H: No, you don't.
Me: Yeah, I really do.  I haven't showered for two days.
H: Mom, it doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, it matters how you are on the inside.  Like being nice to people and sharing.

Yep, she's absolutely right.  But...

I explained to her that it's kind of rude to be around people when you're stinky and dirty.  She also said the same thing to me when I was combing her hair.  Next lesson: Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

So, lesson number two is about the same tempo.  She really is getting it, but the application needs some help.  When I was making a cake (the baseball cake) last week, I had a small stressing out moment because something I tried didn't work.  She informed me nicely that "it doesn't matter if the cake turns out pretty because it's not really what's important, Mom.  The only thing that matters is that you love Jesus." 

Well, yes. I can't argue with her on the last part.  She has a point.  Ultimately, that is what's important in our family.  How does one effectively explain, however, that in the short term moments of life, it does matter if the cake turns out pretty because people are relying on me.  My best explanation after affirming her knowledge was that God gives us skills and gifts and He wants us to do our best with them.  Part of loving Jesus is doing our best work and keeping our promises.

This parenting thing is tough.  She's only 4 and already reminding me of what I tell her.  I shudder to think of the life lessons she's going to hurl back at me when she's 15 and 18 - when she sees that I'm not as wonderful as I am now.  Probably by then, I'll stop being "I love you! You're the best mom in the whole world" and start being "I hate you! You never let me do anything!"  But, hey, at least she's listening to us for now, right?

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Outta Here

Another day, another cake.  This one was challenging, but fun.  The challenge was in the measuring and geometry.  Kids, whenever you think to yourselves, "I'll never use algebra or geometry in real life."  Think again.  I use it all the time and unfortunately, I stunk at it in school and still do, so I'm constantly online to remind myself of the basics.

There's not much to say about this cake other than it was for a Grandfather of 9 who's a Milwaukee Brewers fan and who's turning 60.  He didn't want to really make a big deal of his age, so we left that out and kept the black out of the picture. 

Anyway, here's the cake.  My husband was impressed, so I take that as a great compliment!

 Vintage Brewers Logo

I don't know much about baseball, so I asked my husband who the good players were.  He gave me two names, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.  I chose to forge Fielder's signature on the baseball bat, and 5 minutes later, my husband called and told me that Braun was the better known player.  Oh well.  I can't tell who the signature is anyway, so whatever!  And who knows if he actually uses a Louisville Slugger.  I probably should have flown in the whole team and had them sign the cake, but I don't have my own Food Network or TLC show.  Still waiting to be discovered as the next big deal...along with the other millions.

Tried to copy the Brewers' logo and font to an extent.  It's not exact, but I like how it turned out.

The sign was designed by my friend who ordered the cake.  It helped cut down on the amount of work for me, so that was nice.  You can't see well from the picture, but there's a picture of each of his grandchildren.

It was a challenge to get the "sand" to stick just to the frosting mounds and not to the rest of the cake.  I'd be interested in seeing if there's such thing as a mini vacuum out there that I could use on food only.
More details.  I loved the little baseballs around the edges of the cake. 
They took a while, but they were worth it...


Friday, May 6, 2011


The only thing worse than swimsuit shopping is...well, maternity swimsuit shopping, but let's not even go to that dark, dark place - it's much too painful.  Shopping for swimwear is the absolute worst and I dare any fully developed woman to disagree with me.  Throw in post-children swimsuit shopping and it's a near-suicidal experience.

First of all, I am of the firm belief that unless you are on a deserted island, no one belongs in a bikini.  No one.  NO. ONE.  I don't care if you're on the Bachelor or you're little miss Hollywood that works out all the time.  Chances are, there's still something that you shouldn't show.  You're probably not in the 0.001% of the population that can wear one because you're probably not 14 years old without a stitch of body fat with nothing yet sagging to the floor.  And if you are 14 and wearing a bikini, please go put some clothes on because boys should not be looking at you like that.  Ok, yes, a tiny bit of my belief system stems from jealousy in the fact that there was a day when I was able to wear a two piece suit and show a little of my belly and now I can't, so admittedly I'm feeling a little envious of the young beach bodies that have yet to be destroyed by pregnancy and age.

Let's first discuss the prices of the modern swimsuit, shall we?  I am stunned at how much we pay for so little.  The tiniest pieces of fabric stitched together designed to make you look your worst and you can pay upwards of $400 for it.  Is something wrong with this?

Then there's the physics of the suits, if you do happen to find something affordable.  Anything under $50 has no support whatsoever.  I don't know who these women are, but if you've had children and still have nothing on top, you still want more than just a thin piece of Lycra covering you.  There are the shelf bras that work for 30% of the population.  For the rest of us, they are just comical, cutting us in half, creating a look of 4 where there should be 2.  Then there is the "soft cup" which is no support at all.  It's just a way to make your sagginess look even more mis-shapen.  There are a few suits with under wires, but if you're not the perfect size, forget it.  I did manage to find cup-sized support on a couple websites, but they're either bikinis (BUZZ! wrong answer!) or they're cut so low that you might as well go topless.  And who really wants to mail order a swimsuit anyway?

There's also the leg cut to consider.  The boy short is fine for the stick skinny woman with no butt.  And, I'm sorry, but I don't care what the magazines say about leg lengthening, the high cut leg makes everyone's thighs look 4 times wider than they are.  Then there's the regular modest cut that, for some reason, has elastic so tight that it creates a bulge over and under it.  Now THAT's beauty.  There are skirts, but even some of those are unflattering, falling at the thickest part of your thighs, and have you seen one that's actually cute?  I did happen to find a swim "dress" at Target last year.  It worked on the bottom, but the top had other issues that needed attention.  It was in the teen section, so what can I expect?

And answer this question for me.  What genius decides where to put the security tab?  You finally find a suit worth trying on and there is a giant chunk of plastic taking up half of the bra in the suit!  And when you need the annoying overattentive commission-based saleswoman, she's nowhere to be found.  Please, someone take the horrible ink-filled ball out of this suit so I can actually see what it looks like!  Yeah, I'm really going to steal it when I can't even see how awful I look in it.

So, for online shopping, I found two options below, both of which you have to supply your own under support.  One you can wear a regular bra, the other a strapless.  You decide.

Though I think the latter is about the cutest thing I've ever seen, it's been sold out for months, and again, it's mail order; do I really want to buy it without trying it on?  I do believe I may have to stick to sewing my own - not my favorite thing to make, but I do what I must to avoid suicide.

Swimsuit shopping can be summed up in one word for me.  GRRRRR.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

let there be light

I dabble in electricity.  My brother taught me how to wire outlets and lights when we finished our basement in our old house, and so we wired the whole basement.  We hired a professional to inspect it all and hook it up to the circuit box before the inspector came.  The only mistake we made was that we put the outlets every 6 feet instead of every 12 feet.  Who's ever complained about too many outlets?

Since the moment we've moved into our new house nearly 3 years ago, I've had a hate-hate relationship with the track lighting fixture in my kitchen.  I hate track lighting.  It's stuck in the 90's and I don't know why it still exists.  If I was world emperor, I would annihilate and outlaw it.  I hate the particular pendants in my particular kitchen casting tiny little spots of light down the center of my kitchen island.  I hate that the power source is on the end of the island instead of the center. I hate the tiny light bulbs that if you touch with your bare hands ruin the bulb and shorten its life expectancy significantly.  I hate that one of the pendants quit working 3 months after we moved in and another after a year, so now I only have 2 tiny spots of light.  I hate the giant tubes of plastic at the top of the pendant with writing all over them stuck in a long ugly white track and an ugly white box at one end.  I hate the orange globes.  I hate hitting my head on them because they're hanging too low.  I hate that I can't see a blasted thing in my kitchen once it's dark outside.  It's like having 4 little orange glow sticks hanging above my counter.

I shopped for months at stores and online and came to the conclusion that I was stuck with track lighting unless I wanted to rip my ceiling apart and rewire to put the power box at the center of the island.  My husband was not on board with this idea.  I finally found a website where you can build your own track and add whatever you want to it.  I decided I needed both spots and pendants.  I was so tired of living in darkness for so long.  I found a system that was not hideous and added matching spots and somewhat decorative pendants that I didn't despise and finally got it to an acceptable appearance.  The total before shipping came to $1586.  WHAT?!  For something that I don't love?  For something just to get by?  I'd be better off hiring an electrician and a drywaller to rip the kitchen apart and buying my favorite fixture at the most expensive lighting store I can find.

A couple weeks ago I visited my husband's cousin in her new house and saw that her husband had built his own pendant light fixture out of some scrap wood and inexpensive fixtures.  I loved it and found new inspiration.  Little did they know I would practically copy theirs.

I bought four fixtures for $10 each, re-wired them.  I then bought some wood for $13 and built a trough of sorts to house the wires.  The wood covered the electrical box.

I wired it all together, screwed it to the ceiling, painted it and voila!  Ok, so I shouldn't leave out that my father came over and helped me put it together because two minds work better than one.  And I can't claim that it was even my idea at all because I stole it from my cousin-in-law, but I'm just thrilled that I have four, count them, FOUR 60 watt light bulbs casting light over the entire room.  I can see what I'm doing on a cloudy day and even at night!  And if I want I can use energy efficient bulbs that are even brighter.

The power source is on the right side of the fixture below, just above the end pendant:

And just look when I them on!
 I think I can actually hear the angels in heaven singing with the glorious light!

And scene.
Oh, Thank you!  Thank you!  Oh, stop it some more!
I have SO many people to thank!  Thank you, Beth and Jon for the idea.  Thank you to my Daddy for the help, to my Mom for watching my children and making dinner and folding the clothes, to Lowes for the advice, to the grumpy man at Home Depot for cutting my lumber, and to the friendly checkout lady for ringing up all the little pieces.  Thanks to my husband for graciously receiving all the Christmas and birthday gifts of power tools and saws that I really wanted.  And thank YOU for your endless support!

Bow. Wave. Gracious smile. Blowing kisses and exit.