Stop the junk

I love getting mail. On occasion my niece mails me one of her paintings or a person I met through LibraryThing mails a postcard. My grandparents always, without fail, mail me a homemade card for my birthday. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I love getting real mail.

Conversely, I hate junk mail. It wastes my time disposing of it, and it wastes the paper that it’s printed on. I especially dislike pre-approved credit offers. If I want a credit card, I am smart enough to do research on my own. I decided that it’s time to take charge of this situation. Here are the websites I have enlisted to reduce the clutter in my mailbox:

  • Catalog Choice is a free service that helps you request which catalogs you would like to stop receiving. As junk mail gets to my house, I open the site, search for the catalog, fill out the information exactly as it is on the envelope, and Catalog Choice files my request with the company. On occasion (I’m looking at you Yellow Pages), the company in question makes you fill out a request on their own website. However, Catalog Choice still makes a record of your request that you can access.
  • I’ve also signed up with DMA Choice (Direct Marketing Association) to remove me from direct marketing lists like campaign postcards.
  • To stop getting credit card offers, I added us to OptOutPrescreen.com. This site adds you to a list that opts you out of firm credit and insurance offers for five years. You can be permanently taken off the list, but you have to mail in a form that includes your social security number. That gives me the heebie jeebies, so I’ll just re-opt-out when I start getting them again.

None of these sites can get you out of everything. There are loopholes that can allow companies that you do business with (like your bank) to mail you offers. If you happen to be a Bank of America customer, you know that they will frequently send you offers for credit cards. The good news is that you can also opt-out of these requests through their privacy page.

I decided that it is well worth my time to put in a small amount of effort now to keep clutter and extra paper out of my home. It’s better for me, and it’s better for the environment. Win.

A new garden plot

After some serious discussion and much internal debating, we decided not to get chickens like we had initially planned. Instead, we are going to use the back corner of our yard where we were going to put a coop as a kitchen garden. That area gets the most sun and is practically shaped so as to be easily fenced in. If we can switch plots at the Shelby Farms community garden and get closer to the water and my mom’s rows, we will continue our gardening adventure out there by planting field peas and potatoes. I don’t have the time to take care of plants that need tender loving care when those plants are a 30+ minute round trip from my house. However, I can commit to taking care of some low maintenance peas that can stand some benign neglect. Planting the squash and peppers and tomatoes at the house will let me give them more care on a daily basis and will also work better with the toddler.

In order to get the backyard garden spot ready for spring planting, we spent this last freakishly warm weekend clearing out privet. Our yard was a veritable privet forest when we moved in, but we have been slowly reclaiming the power lines, trees, camellia, pergola and path for the past year. We cleared the vines and hacked down the “trees” last year, but we still needed to clear out the roots. There’s no way that we got it all, but we did at least severely damage the beast’s central nervous system.

Unfortunately for me and my hypersensitive self, I did not realize there were poison ivy roots in the mix. I’m now sporting a lovely PI rash on my neck and face. All for the love of gardening.

The Reading Chair. A Delayed Gratification Story. Part I.

We recently moved a bookcase, which freed up some space in our living room. Upon taking a step back, we realized it would make a lovely spot for a lamp and a reading chair, largely due to the inability to see the TV from that location. The thing is, we have many projects (big and small) that we want to undertake this year, which means there’s no budget for a comfy chair.
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Enter the reading chair fund. We are savers by nature, and we decided that we can reasonably take some small cash denomination out of each paycheck and wait a year. The idea is that next January, we will have enough cash on hand to buy our chair. It is a way for us to separate out some money to do something small that we simply want. Sometimes I need to be reminded that money is not an enemy, and this envelope of delayed gratification will help.

We labored

On Labor Day weekend, Greg and I decided it was time to make a change. We moved into our house about a year and a half ago, which means that we have been living in a toasted almond world. Every room of our house (save the blue kitchen and the peachy bathroom) was painted the same beige-ish shade. It looked very nice. And very impersonal, which I suppose is what you want when you’re trying to sell a house. We painted the nursery yellow before the kiddo was born, and we decided that the time had come to make our house even more homey.

So we painted some swaths of color on the dining room wall and decided to go bold. Really bold. [I generally shy away from intense color. I really dig earth tones, but for some reason I’ve always thought “earthy” meant subdued.] We ended up choosing American brick by Valspar, which is about as far from toasted almond as we could go.

It took an entire day of painting, but I’m quite happy with the end result. Completing the process of making the room “ours,” we also moved the chandelier out of the den and into the dining room. We removed the plantation shutters and replaced them with cordless plantation blinds. We also replaced the switch covers. It’s a big, bold change, and I love it.

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Pea production

We’ve hit the part of the summer where I spend my evenings watching tv and endlessly shelling peas. It’s about now when I start to wonder if I really want more peas in my freezer. Lady peas are great and all, but will I really, really want them in March?

Then my stomach kicks in and says, “Of course, so don’t be a lazy bum about it.” So I keep picking and shelling and par boiling and measuring and freezing.

If you have any inklings of wanting to put up so of summer’s bounty to enjoy come the dreary days of January, I suggest doing it now. Peas do especially well in the freezer, but there are lots of types of produce that you can freeze.

For peas: Buy some shelled peas that you like (lady and purple hulls are my favorites), parboil them for about four minutes, and put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Then measure them out into whatever quantities you like, put them in bags, label them, and store them in the freezer.

I emphasize the labeling because you do not want mystery vegetable taking up residence in your freezer. You want to use your produce within 6 months ideally, but many things will stay good up to a year. (Quick disclaimer–I’m not a culinary professional. If you want specifics about proper food safety, consult the Ball Preserving Guide.)

Why bother? Because in season produce tastes good and is good for you. I like eating peas and corn, but I won’t buy any unless it’s summer because otherwise it tastes wrong. Not bad, just wrong. The stuff in my freezer, though, tastes like July when it’s February outside.

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Summer flowers

I’ve been neglecting my backyard in favor of working out at the garden and canning. The plan is that once the heat breaks in September (or October), we will finish pulling the f—–g privet so that we can put in our chicken coop next spring. It will also give us the space to plant a few blueberry bushes. The back half of our yard has so much potential…for later.

For now, I have my Mothers’ Day hibiscus my momma gave me and some blooming surprise lilies previous owners left behind. I also have two morning glories working their way up a banister. It looks like one of them should start blooming within days.

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Raised Beds

Back in March, our friends Chris, Patrick and Claire helped us construct raised beds on the side of our house. Our neighborhood is full of mature trees, which makes it both beautiful and shady. The only place that gets consistent sunlight is the south side of the house. When we moved in, that area was planted with bushes that really didn’t do anything for me. It’s not that they were terribly ugly, but they were not adding anything to the space. We decided to make the investment in raised beds because 1) we wanted them, 2) they are a productive use of the area, and 3) it would provide a place to grow greens in the spring and overwintering crops like garlic that we can’t do at the big garden because of the rules.

Chris runs GrowMemphis and knows a whole heck of a lot about raised bed gardening. (Side note–he and Claire are making their dream of being small farmers a reality later this year when they take over his family’s farmland. I’ll miss them being down the street, but it is amazing to watch them make their farm a reality.) Claire and Patrick know a lot about gardening too and were willing to give up a Saturday afternoon to help us construct the beds with nothing but spaghetti and beer for payment. We have fantastic people in our lives.

The actual construction was on the guys because we used railroad ties (courtesy of Bob’s Tie Yard, seriously), which are heavy. They had to cut some of the ties in half to make the ends. The stacked ties are reinforced on the sides with rebar to keep them in place. One bed is tall and comes up to my waist. The other one is only one tie high and is the one that is planted with asparagus. Two weeks later, Patrick and Chris came back over and helped us get the manure and soil in place. Chris knows some horse owners in the Bartlett area who are happy to have someone take manure off of their hands. We put a layer down in the tall bed to act as fertilizer. The rest of the square footage was filled with cotton burr compost.

This spring, we had arugula, spinach, two types of lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, swiss chard and peas in the tall bed. The peas straight up died, and only half of the radishes made actual bulbs. The carrots and beets are still in the ground with plans to pull them up this weekend. The arugula and spinach were delicious additions to our salads for the past month. The plants bolted so I planted a tomatillo and black cherry tomato plant in their place. The swiss chard is quite tasty, and we will be eating our second harvest of it for dinner tomorrow night. Once I pull up the carrots and beets, I will plant two more tomato plants and basil in their place. Next fall/spring, I’m definitely going to stick with growing greens and lettuces in that bed.

Cost–High

Labor–High

Impact–High

The Gate

I’m not sure this fix even counts as a project, but we did it, so I say it does. Our gate is really tall, which is great for privacy. Unfortunately, it had no handle on the inside so shutting it was difficult. So we installed a handle. Problem solved.

Like I said, not much of a project, but my life is now easier.

Cost–low
Labor–low
Impact–low