Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Step 3 - Breakage Fees Are Extra (Assembly)

Now we're getting somewhere. That small pile of lumber that was delivered to our house contained a lot more boards than seems possible - at least when you're the one in charge of staining them all. It took me almost an entire weekend to get them all done. I'm not complaining. I just didn't expect it to take that long.

In the beginning, when I still had energy to take a picture.

Meanwhile, my husband and sons were busy doing...something. I still haven't quite figured out what it was, but it involved a lot of running around to get parts we didn't have and trying to get the ground prepared to put the boxes down. Oh, and it also involved this:

Oooh, sparkly!

See all of those tiny, shiny pieces? Those are what's left of one of our windows. If you look closely, you can see in each piece a dollar sign of one of the bills it's going to take to replace it. Honestly, when I walked into the kitchen and saw it, I barely blinked. These kinds of things are par for the course around here, and it was kind of fascinating to see how one small stone could completely shatter a piece of glass*. The guilty party shall remain unnamed (because marriages sometimes work better that way), but I think my husband's response sums it up pretty well: The garden just got a lot more expensive.

Moving on... The assembly goes pretty quickly once you have everything prepared. The first step and biggest hassle we had was putting the landscape fabric down. Do NOT attempt this on a windy day. Even a slight breeze can be enough to send a small child clinging desperately to the fabric on the ride of his life. I jest, but seriously, this is so much easier to do when the wind is completely dead (think horse latitudes).

Next to come were all of those boards I spent hours upon hours staining (Anyone feeling sorry for me yet? Anyone? Bueller??). With a bunch of screws and some braces, we now have the containers for our plants, and, if I use my imagination, a future lush tropical island getaway mini English-type garden that's not nearly so formal or so English-looking. Ok, so I'll scratch that idea, but realistically speaking, what we have will be a well-organized vegetable garden. It's what we were aiming for, so that goes in the 'win' column. Now all we have to do is fill it with soil.

*No one was injured during the making of This Shattered Window, except for, you know, the window.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Step 2 - Go Big or Go Home (Gathering Supplies)

The point of Square Foot Gardening* is to grow a lot of food in a small space. That's a great concept for normal people, but let's not kid ourselves - nobody has ever accused my family of being normal. When you're trying to feed seven people (six males), a couple of 4'x4' boxes just isn't going to cut it. So we always go big.

Here is a list of supplies we need to gather:

  • landscaping fabric (to reduce the number of weeds)
  • wood (to keep in the dirt - this isn't rocket science)
  • stain (to protect the wood so hopefully the boxes will last longer than a couple of years)
  • braces (If you're doing normal-sized boxes, these are not necessary, but since we have 22' and 28' sections that we're joining together, we need something to stabilize them.)
  • screws (How else are you going to hold the boxes together?)
  • conduit and netting (vertical frames for vine plants)
  • soil (This is going to get an entire post to itself...aren't you excited??)
  • stones (walkways)
  • plants (We haven't gotten set up to do everything from seeds yet.)

Easy in theory, but time-consuming in reality. No one place has everything we need, so there's extra running for that. Factor in the fact that we didn't do enough research and had to rework some of our lumber needs (shocking, I know), and you have, in me, a person who is very thankful that this only needs to be done once. One more time, I mean. Did I mention we've been down this road before? One LAST time. This is the last time I'm doing this, I swear.

Once we got our lumber delivery, we put it in a very rough layout to see approximately what it will look like:

Future garden or Level 1 of the latest game craze?

After the kids got done using it to chase each other around the boards, I started feeling a lot more confident that this is going to look pretty close to what I had been picturing. Well, I'm also picturing landscaping and a patio, but one step at a time, right?

We're still in the process of gathering everything needed, but we've gotten enough of it that we can get the main structures assembled. Weekends seem to be the only time we can really work on it, so this is all taking longer than I had imagined, but I think it's going to be well worth the effort. And if we're late getting the plants in again this year (which we are), it gives me an excuse to run around like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and say, "I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!"

*Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew can be found wherever fine books are sold...or wherever any books are sold for that matter.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's Funny How Some Things are So Much Easier to Ignore

I get too much political crap in my Facebook news feed. This is coming from someone who considers herself used to consider herself to be somewhat of a political junkie. I think the last national election did me in. I don't mind a good political debate (when I'm not involved; I get too emotional). In fact, I really enjoy them. But people have to actually be debating for me to enjoy it, not shouting at and demeaning each other just to score points.

Some things I'm pretty good at ignoring. When people are constantly negative I can skip right on over their posts and move on to the people who may not always be happy but can usually find something to be positive about most of the time. Others, like anything to do with current events or politics, I zero right in on and stew about. It's a failing.

Only a few of my friends are posting political stuff right now, but each time I see it, I get anxious and queasy. It doesn't matter if I agree with it or not. It makes me sick. And this is not even political 'season'. What's going to happen when it gets closer to an election? I've taken some steps to reduce the amount of it, like removing people from my news feed, but occasionally I feel like I might be missing something from them that I'd really enjoy.

I don't want to close myself off from seeing opposing views either. I don't think the way to make progress with any of these issues is to stop talking. But how do you open a discussion with someone who is so adamant that their opinion is right that they won't even try to see another point of view? How do you have a discussion with someone who thinks it's funny to post something that demeans the 'other side' and treats the views of those who disagree with them as less-than-nothing?

I've seen people post things that they wouldn't dare say directly to someone's face, but for some reason they feel it's okay to share on Facebook. Whether the words come out of your mouth or from a stroke of your fingers on the keyboard, they have power. People may not always respond to what is posted, but they see it.

So, here's an idea - a serious one. Instead of treating people who disagree with you like complete morons and suggesting that the country would be better off if they were wiped off the face of the Earth...instead of posting those "witticisms" that you may think are hilarious but only come off as suggesting you feel you're superior to everyone else...why don't you think of a topic you'd like to discuss and put it in your own words? That shows that you are open to discussion and that you have thought about it and actually can think for yourself. And, if someone disagrees with you, instead of reverting to name-calling, why don't you ask them WHY they think/believe the way they do and start an honest discussion. You won't agree on everything - there are things you will never agree on - but you might be surprised to find out that you have more in common than you initially thought.

And if all of this sounds like a big whinefest...it is. Yes, there are solutions to this. Yes, I have thought about them. Yes, I have even contributed to the negativity myself...but I've come to realize that it just doesn't accomplish anything, other than making myself and others mad. Maybe it's time to take a step back, really think about what it is that's being posted and ask if it's worth alienating people who are supposedly friends. It might not seem like much, but having actual discussions just might be better than posting random pictures that only serve to drive a wedge between people with opposing views. A little civility can go a long way.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Step 1 - It's Not Too Late to Turn Back (Planning)

Putting a raised bed garden together should be pretty simple and straightforward, right? I mean, you just build a few boxes, throw some dirt in, plant your stuff, and watch it grow. HA! Things are never that simple. When planning the layout, composition, and general purpose of your garden with the input of other people, it can be helpful to be speaking the same language - and even if you use the same words, it doesn't always mean you're speaking the same language.

I swear there were times throughout the planning process that my husband and I were talking about the exact same things but had no clue what the other was saying. Ever feel like you're stuck in the middle of Abbott and Costello's 'Who's on First' skit? Yeah, that was us.

I blame it on him being a computer geek. He likes abstract thinking and loves to design everything on the computer. I'm completely old school and figure it's easier to spend 15 minutes drawing the design on a piece of paper than to spend 3 hours trying to get the dimensions right on a computer program I don't understand. That, and computers hate me. But that's a discussion for another day.

So the shape of the garden was not hard to figure out. Since we've had such a long history of trial-and-error (they're learning experiences, ok?), we pretty much knew what we wanted this time around. We're going to have three 4'x12' boxes in the center with a border of 2' wide boxes surrounding them. Outside of that border, we're going to have a fence (two fences actually, but I'll get into that later) which we're planning on dressing up with flowers, etc.

The details will always get you though. How deep do you want the boxes? Where exactly do you want the whole thing positioned? What are you going to use to fill in the walkways? What color are you going to stain the wood?? These and many other pressing questions (maybe just for me) need to be worked out, and just when you think you've nailed something down, someone thinks of another detail, and it all needs to be reworked.

We really thought it would be simple and the majority of the thinking would be done within a couple of hours in one night. With our *vast* experience, we should have known better.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Revisiting InstaGC - An Update and Semi-Final Decision

I say semi-final decision because I reserve the right to change my opinion, for better or worse, at any time. I like to be contrary that way.

That being said, since I last wrote a review for InstaGC almost a year ago now, I have put more time into using the site, and I really enjoy it. I'm going to review a few of the points I made the first time, with some updated information (in blue).

  • Unlike other sites, once you accumulate enough points (100 points = $1.00 and is the minimum for redemption) and want to cash out, you get your free gift cards instantly! There is no waiting for weeks before you are able to receive and redeem it, so they definitely live up to their name there! Nothing has changed here - the instant redemption of your gift cards is the best thing about the site. Although 'free' gift cards is a bit of a misnomer. Your time and effort are not 'free' but this is something you can easily do when you have extra time.
  • It is simply laid out. InstaGC is what I would consider a bare bones site. There are no frills, just the basics for your account, the offers, a chat box, and support links. This has changed somewhat. They have revamped the site and have made it easier to navigate in my opinion. It also looks more professional than it did last year, if looks matter to you.
  • The chat box is very helpful. You can talk to other members and get suggestions on what is crediting, what information you need to make one credit, etc. InstaGC is also helpful here because they automatically list in real time which offers have recently credited, with a link directly to that offer so you don't have to spend a lot of time searching for it. This is also still very helpful and a big plus for the site. The 'regular' members are very friendly.
  • Their support team is very quick to respond to any questions you may have. They are polite and helpful and are usually able to resolve any issues quickly.
  • The compensation for completing offers on InstaGC can be quite a bit better than what other sites give for the same offers. 

  • They do not have a large variety of gift cards yet, although they do have some very popular ones (Amazon, Target, Walmart, plus some others). This can no longer be listed as a 'Con' because they have added many, many new gift cards to the site. 
  • Gift cards do occasionally run out, but this is a minor inconvenience because they usually get them restocked within a couple of days.
I continue to use several different sites, but InstaGC has become one of my top two for earning extra cash. I encourage you to check it out because it's hard to beat that instant cash out!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Adventures in Raised Bed Gardening (or How to Go Insane in a Few Easy Steps)

Spring is finally in the air - I think - and that means it's time to get the vegetable garden going. In the case of my husband and me, by going, I actually mean starting from scratch. No simple planting of seeds and transferring of plants for us. Oh, no...we need to build everything.

Lest you think we are new to this gardening thing, let me assure you that we have been here before - a couple of different times. The first time we tried it many years ago, we got started late and kind of just threw everything together. We did get a pretty good harvest, but it was nowhere near what we envisioned. 

After a year or two of starting too late in the season and staying busy with small kids, we decided it was time to try again with the garden thing. We were going to be serious this time. Nothing was going to stop us. Nothing except the two dogs we now had. Who knew how much dogs like vegetables (or at least the dirt they grow in)?? Since we had decided to raise a zoo (2 dogs, 5 cats, 5 kids), time was lost, and the garden was abandoned and eventually dismantled.

Fast-forward to this year. The kids, cats, and dogs are still around, but we miss having fresh vegetables, so we're giving it another shot. And that's where the insanity comes in. We have plans, people. Big plans. Ok, nothing too earth-shattering, but the garden WILL succeed this time. My stomach is counting on it.