Thursday, December 12, 2013

Excellent holiday present OR device for improving your child's vocabulary OR tool for preventing inadvertent goat-cheese eating

This is a silly post. Just a filler, I suppose. I am as busy as the rest of you and there’s no time for serious thought, actual research, or clever re-writes. I didn’t want the entire week to go by without some kind of post from me. Nevermind, that I haven’t posted to my other blog in over a month (for shame). Busy time.

I like to keep this blog practical. My other blog is where I do the majority of my musing. Like you, I’m struggling to find perfect presents for everyone on my list, so I must share with you the REALLY FUN item I stumbled upon while tasting chocolate olive oil (Yes chocolate! Amazing on ice cream for the truly decadent soul I’d like to be) at one of my favorite local York shops. This may be old news to those of you who shop as a sport, but for my once-a-year serious attempt at shopping, this was a new discovery.

Wine glass pen markers! These lovely pens came in a pack of three (gold, silver, and green) for just $10. Quite the deal, I must say. They write on glass, china, porcelain, etc. and wash off with simple soap and water. I tried washing the glasses in the dishwasher, but it didn’t really work. You actually have to run a washcloth over them but the marks come off as simply as the package proclaimed.

The packaging suggested you could use these lovelies to mark glasses and mugs at your next party or label the cheese plate so no one eats goat cheese unsuspecting, but I found a better use – improving my children’s vocabulary!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Blessing of a Broken Dishwasher

Our dishwasher broke at 1pm on Thanksgiving Day. We had just cleaned up the lunch dishes. The dishwasher was crammed full and it was time to run it and clear the decks for some serious sidedish prep craziness involving all the cousins, my mom, and myself. Now what?

Every year we host Thanksgiving for my family. My cousins arrive from New Jersey and Ohio. My little brother and his family fly in from New Mexico. My parents travel over from Lancaster, and long-time friends from Germany come up from Maryland to celebrate. Everyone contributes to the meal. We’re a family of foodies, so it’s a busy, crazy, loud, happy day in my kitchen. And the dishwasher is a critical piece of the pie (so to speak).
My husband and my brother, both engineers, analyzed the situation. I headed to the barn to saddle horses
and take some of the kids on a trailride, confident that my superman-fix-anything-hubby would have everything sorted out by the time I came back.

We had a cold but beautiful ride and I arrived back ready to jump into negotiations over oven time and temperature, pan distribution, and a million questions that began with, “Where is the….”. Instead I found my cousin elbow deep in suds. No dishwasher and 21 for dinner.

I’m sure you’re all thinking the same thing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Super Simple Homemade Present Idea

I know you’re not thinking about homemade Christmas presents right now. In fact, you’re probably like me – about to be caught unawares when Thanksgiving wraps and you look around and think – “Oh my God, it’s almost Christmas and I haven’t done a thing!” Well, this year, undoubtedly, that will happen once again but I will have at least one present brewing away in the back of my pantry ready to give just in time for Christmas.

I’m making homemade infused vinegars. Specifically, white wine balsamic vinegar infused with lemons. It’s delicious. I love it with olive oil as salad dressing or drizzled on steamed vegetables. I even like to dip fresh bread in it. Yummo.

Most of the people on my Christmas list already have everything they need. I’m sure they’d be perfectly happy with a gift card or the latest bestseller. But I love to give presents that I’ve made by hand or at the very least put my heart in to. So this year, several of my peeps will be getting yummy lemon infused vinegar. A couple of them are probably reading this now, so I apologize for spoiling the surprise.

I’ve written in the past about homemade gifts here and here if you’re looking for some ideas.

Infused vinegars are probably the easiest presents I’ve made. The hardest part is finding the perfect gift bottles and thinking ahead. Infused vinegars take at least three weeks to reach their best flavors. I’ll share my ultra-simple recipe below, but I’m sure you can find other recipes online if lemon isn’t your thing. If nothing else, maybe this post will get you thinking about how you can pull together some heartfelt, handmade presents yourself this year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What to Do With All Those Leaves?!

What to do about the leaves….rake them? Bag them? Ignore them? Leaves are one of the best things about fall. It’s much easier for me to say that now than when I was a kid. I grew up in dense woods with old growth trees that towered over our world. Every fall my parents expected my brothers and I to help rake up the multitude of leaves that rained down on our yard from those great giants. I don’t know how they did this, I can barely get my own kids to clean up their rooms. The leaf pile in the back of our property was the size of a small house. Somehow the fun we had jumping in it never equaled the misery of spending your entire Saturday dragging sheets full of leaves to the pile.

My own kids love leaves. When the leaves finally fall from the woods that skirt our property, it’s time for “leaf sledding”! You’ve never heard of this sport? C’mon over, my kids would gladly introduce you to it. It helps that our entire property is a hill. There is virtually no level ground, which has forced me to be a creative gardener and eliminates the possibility of us ever renting a moonbounce, but as far as sledding goes – it’s a three season sport at our house. In the winter it’s the traditional snow sledding, helmet required because any piece of plastic carrying a small child can reach speeds well over the “oh-my-gosh-she’s-going-to-kill-herself” level. Come summer, we have the longest, fastest water slide in town. But in the fall it’s “leaf sledding” season. 

My husband uses the mower to maneuver all the leaves into a single thick lane for sledding. Any plastic tobagon or saucer will do. It’s a great way to spend a fall afternoon - great exercise for the kids and hours of entertainment. My kids like to sled down while holding a small video recorder in front of them and when they finally wear out and come inside from all the sledding, they watch these videos endlessly. The results are pretty funny, especially when a cat, chicken, sibling, or unsuspecting adult gets in their path.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Fantasy Root Cellar!

We all have dreams. My dream would be to live on one hundred acres in an old farm house retrofitted to function off the grid on solar and wind power, with geo-thermal heat. We’d have beautiful rolling pastures, immense and endless gardens, a fruit orchard, grape vineyard, and a big bank barn where I could raise my own cow, hog, horses, and chickens. We would have a greenhouse, cold frames to grow vegetables year round, and a root cellar! That’s my fantasy. That’s not necessarily my husband’s fantasy. But he goes along, good sport that he is.

Last year, in pursuit of making my dreams come true, he built me a small cold frame and I grew lettuce all winter. In the summer he rigged up a shade for the cold frame and my lettuce continued to thrive all summer. But alas, I wanted more. Late in the summer I began my campaign for a root cellar, just like Laura Ingalls. We live on this incessant hill, so a root cellar doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Until you consider that we live on a Pennsylvania hillside where the most abundant native crop is rocks. Dig up any square foot of ground and you will discover at least ten square inches of rocks to be harvested.

But this is a fantasy, not reality I’m working with, so rocks didn’t figure in to my calculations as I lobbied for a root cellar to store the seventy-five pounds of potatoes and sweet potatoes I hoped to harvest. My husband simply shook his head at my pleas. He didn’t say no, though. He did what he does best with my plans and schemes, he thought about it.

And then he built me a root cellar….in my cellar.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Water Water Everywhere, Drink More Than a Drop!

Drink more water. I know you’ve heard that before. You probably know all the reasons too. But do you take it to heart? I’ve always struggled to remember to drink more water. Sometimes I think I’m part camel because I'm able to go nearly all day without a drink. But I’m trying to do better for a multitude of reasons. My daughter drinks only water – no juice, no soda, no milk, an occasional hot chocolate or tea, but other than that, water only. I want to be like her.

I know the party line regarding water and preach it all the time.
Drinking plenty of water:
- increases energy level
- reduces joint/back pain
- prevents headaches
- aids in digestion and prevents constipation
- ensures proper circulation
-- increases metabolism and regulates appetites
- keeps us alive (we can live a month without food, but only a week without water)

But I found my most compelling reason for drinking more water in an excellent book called Stiff by Mary Roach.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Homemade Applesauce is Easy!

There’s no better comfort food in the world than warm, homemade applesauce. And once you’ve made your own, you’ll never be able to stomach another jar of store-bought applesauce again. I promise. The bonus is that making your own is simple. And the other bonus is that making your own applesauce will please your kids, impress your friends and make you feel as resourceful as Laura Ingalls. Everyone around you will be in awe. And they’ll want a bowl. Wait, and there’s one more bonus – it will save you money because store-bought applesauce is ridiculously overpriced!

We are in the throes of apple season right now. Apples are fresh, cheap, and plentiful. There are so many varieties available it’s overwhelming. I think the best applesauce comes from mixing lots of varieties together, and making applesauce from fresh apples you just picked yourself is pretty stellar too. When my kids were young we went to a pick-your-own farm each year.
Now when I suggest we go apple picking I get blank stares and “Why?”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Garlic Time!

Now is the time to plant if you’d like to grow your own fresh garlic! And you should because fresh garlic runs circles around the aged stuff you find in the store. Plus it's easy to grow an entire year's worth in a few feet of garden space that won't be doing anything else this winter. Why not tuck some in your flower beds when you clear them off for winter? If you plant it now, it will be ready by early June. Garlic is easy to grow – just as simple as planting bulbs. All you need is a head of garlic.
I like to experiment with heirloom varieties, but you can use any old head, even the one beginning to sprout in your cupboard right now. All you do is break off each clove and plant it pointy side up. You’ll want to plant it as deep as it is big, or a little deeper. I tend to err on the side of too deep when planting just in case the winter is worse than imagined.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cheez-it Hoarding

We’ve turned our children into Cheezit-hoarders. It was quite by accident. In general I’m opposed to Cheezits, partly because of their addictive quality which I came to know first hand when I was freshly out of college and in charge of my own food budget for the first time. I ate them by the boxfuls. It was quite uncontrollable, and I was young and clueless. My main opposition to Cheezits now comes from the fact that they are a processed food of epic proportions. Read the label if you don’t believe me. And while you’re at it, notice the salt content and the hydrogenated oils. There truly isn’t much good in Cheezits. But I completely understand they taste good. That said, my children and I had to come to terms in regards to the number of boxes of Cheezits I would provide on a weekly basis.

For several years now, the three boxes of processed snack food a week (primarily Cheezits, but sometimes goldfish or whale crackers) has been our bottom line. But as they all are in or approaching their teens, their appetites have increased. So has their mistrust of their siblings’ fair consumption of the Cheezits. Fights began to break out and nasty comments about who was eating how much were flung about. When my kids were little and fought over a toy I would always take the toy, place it on top of the refrigerator, and say, “If you’re going to fight about it, then I’m going to get rid of it.” That would settle that. But life, apparently, can’t go on without Cheezits. And all of them can reach the top of the fridge now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Happy Organized Homemaking

I just returned from a wonderful weekend leading a women’s retreat on the topic of happiness. It was fun to explore the idea from many perspectives and a delight to meet so many interesting, passionate, caring women. Being away from my little tribe always makes me appreciate them more, but coming home to a mess cuts those warm fuzzy feelings short every time. Except this time! This time I came home to a relatively clean home. What a nice change. The children are growing up. Either that or my hubby’s getting better about cracking the whip!

This morning as I sorted out the piles left on the counters and laundry dumped in the laundry room, I thought about one of the topics that came up over the weekend. We agreed that an organized home makes you happier. Most of us feel more content and energetic when our surroundings are not overwhelmed by clutter and chaos. I whole-heartedly agree on this one. Lucky for me I married an engineer who works for a tool company. He can build or fix nearly anything. I cannot. But I have lots of ideas! We make a great team.

Let me take you on a pictorial tour of some of the ways we’ve organized our family life. Maybe it will inspire you to organize something in your home which just might make you happier! (please note that I didn’t clean up for the tour. I figure we’re all friends here and you won’t hold the cleanliness of my counters/walls/floors against me!)

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Favorite Colorful Culinary Creation (and NO this is not becoming a Foodie Blog)

At the risk of making this seem like a foodie blog, I have to write again about yummy food I had this weekend. Every year I plant mini-sweet peppers. The first year I watched them grow and said, “They’re so adorable,” but then never figured out what to do with them and they mostly rotted on the plant. But the next year I was determined to do something with them so when my hubby’s best friend and undiscovered chef, Nate, came to visit the two of us created mini-stuffed peppers.

Now each year about this time, I make stuffed mini peps. The recipe has changed only slightly over the years. I try to pull them out for a special occasion. Last year I made them for my book club ladies who loved them (let’s hear it ladies!). This year, with the Tomato Pie stealing the show at the few occasions we’ve had, I couldn’t find the right time for the mini-peps. So last night, on an ordinary Sunday night for no particular reason I created perhaps the yummiest version yet of my mini-peps. Here's what how it went down.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

There Are Nematodes in My Wine Fridge (what?)

There are fifty million nematodes in my wine fridge. That’s not a sentence I ever imagined writing in this lifetime. The nematodes arrived in the mail yesterday and as the weatherman is predicting a lengthy dry spell it seemed best to store the little beauties in an appropriate place until the forecast changes. That only makes sense to you if you’re a biologist or a nerd-gardener. I’m decidedly not a biologist, I might be the latter.

On the off chance that you are neither a biologist or a nerd-gardener, but you are a person interested in eradicating Japanese beetles from your garden, let me explain. Nematodes are beneficial insects. In the world of organic gardening, beneficial insects are tiny friends that can save your garden.

They can silently, effectively, and non-toxically control the grubs of Japanese beetles and masked chafer beetles. They attack soil-dwelling pests like cutworms, corn earworms, cabbage root maggots, weevils, wireworms, armyworms, and even flea larvae. What’s not to love?

The reason I did not immediately rip open the package and set them loose, is that their application is important. They need to be applied just before a rain so that they can get down into the ground and do their dirty work. Sure, you could use a hose to simulate rain, but that is only practical if you’re just applying five million. We’re talking about 50 million. I don’t want to lose a single tode, so ours are residing in the wine fridge where they can enjoy their optimum storage temperature of 55 degrees until the weather cooperates.

If you’re looking for a source for nematodes, I recommend Gardens Alive. But don’t pay full price, sign up for their newsletter and get the $25 off coupon or bid your time and wait for them to make an offer (they will).

Milky Spore is another option if Japanese beetles are your issue, but it’s a little more pricey. We’ve seen better results with nematodes. A quick search on Organic Gardening website found only nematodes recommended rather than Milky Spore. One other benefit is that nematodes go after even more bad guys than Milky Spore.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Spam and the Art of Carpet Cleaning

I don’t get a lot of comments on my blogs. I probably shouldn’t write that since it’s not something to brag about and might cause a reader to think my blog isn’t worth reading. While comments directly on the blog may be lacking, I do get a lot of hits (in fact this summer I passed 100,000!!). Most people who comment on my blog do it through facebook, pinterest, or e-mail me direct if they are subscribers. Sure, I wish they’d write on the blog itself so it would make me look good, or at least popular, but honestly I’m happy to hear from people no matter how they reach me. It gives me comfort that I’m not writing in a vacuum.

Periodically, there are some comments on my blog that puzzle me. One post in particular generated a wealth of comments. It wasn’t my best post or a particularly provocative topic, but it gained momentum and had 397 hits beyond my regular subscribers. It was titled, Natural Carpet Cleaning (or the Cat’s New Digs). I suppose it was the words Carpet Cleaning that attracted the wealth of readers. At any rate, many of the comments were bizarre. Some seemed to be from people who don’t claim English as their native tongue. Some made no sense at all. I regret that I deleted the first dozen or so. After awhile it became amusing and I left them posted. Here are a few samples:

This post is so informative and makes a very nice image on the topic in my mind. It is the first time I visit your blog, but I was extremely impressed. Keep posting as I am gonna come to read it everyday!

The post is talking about natural carpet cleaning or the cats new place to live. Useful post

I am very thankful to all or any your group to share specific heartening stuff.

congratulations guys, quality information you have given!!! 

Impressive will useful for any carpet cleaning consumers.!!!!!

Many of the comments were signed by Carpet Cleaning companies. Which made me wonder, what was the point? Would commenting on my little blog actually garner more carpet cleaning business? Is there a program out there that generates comments on blogs that cover certain topics like carpet cleaning? My site’s host, Blogger, makes it so difficult for a well-meaning normal person to write a relevant comment on my blogs that I find it amazing that spammers can get around their frustrating system. Or maybe you have to be a carpet cleaning spammer to be able to circumnavigate it in the first place.

A slew of comments came from carpet cleaning companies in Australia and New Zealand. This amused me to no end. I love that my post was being flung around on the far end of the earth. Here’s a little more publicity for them:

“Your blogs are totally worth giving time and energy.” -carpet cleaning Auckland

“The is a great article  -Bond Cleaning Brisbane

“You completely duplication our mean and the difference of our information.” -professional carpet cleaning auckland   (That’s actually exactly what was written. They do speak English in New Zealand don’t they?)

You have to admire this commenter who went for the really obvious and stuck their advertisement smack in the middle of their complimentary comments about my blog:

“I enjoyed the tips you are providing on your website. Az Carpet and Tile Cleaning is the best carpet cleaner in Phoenix Arizona. It is remove of stains, dirt, grit and sand for long term cleaning. Thanks for the the information……(again, I copied the comment exactly as it was written.)

I do realize that re-posting these silly comments is just rewarding odd behavior, but I couldn’t resist, especially since one of the last comments was from someone so famous.

“Asd”  -Angelina Jullie

I looked up “asd” in the urban/internet dictionaries and here’s what I found:

1. A spam word that doesn't mean anything, but more than often typed in a spamming frenzy. 
2. American Sign-language for the Deaf.

In the hopes of inciting another “spamming frenzy” I’ve tried to type CARPET CLEANING as many times as possible in this post.

If you can shed some light on all this, feel free to comment on my comments but first you have to get past the stiff security of Blogger. I'm assuming some of you out there can explain all this - I'm not gonna ask how you know this information. The deep, dark recesses of the internet remain a mystery to me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Best Taste of Summer

I had other plans for this week’s post, but then this past weekend I had Tomato Pie. Wow. Tomato Pie is quite possibly the best taste of summer. There is an adorable little town just north east of here called, Lititz. I’m not the only person who likes this town as it was voted the“Coolest Small Town in America” this year by Visiting Lititz is always fun, but the only place I ever eat lunch when I’m there is The Tomato Pie Café. If you’ve ever had their tomato pie you understand why they named an entire restaurant after it.

I spent most of Labor Day weekend laboring over my tomatoes. Canning nearly 50 jars of sauce and salsa. I was dreaming about tomatoes and picking tomato seeds off of every surface in my kitchen and on my person by the time it was over. And yet, there still sat a carton of tomatoes on my porch and plenty more ripening on the vines that will not die (despite being besieged by the late blight!). I thought of Lititz and the café and tomato pie. I deserved tomato pie after my weekend of tomatodom. But there was no time to drive to Lititz, besides company was coming for dinner.

Luckily, I’d recently seen an obscene recipe for Tomato Pie on one of my favorite blogs (A Garden for the House). I printed out the recipe and ascertained that I had all the ingredients necessary. I even had a few more tomato eaters coming for dinner that would appreciate my efforts. My children were horrified at the idea of Tomato Pie. I asked them what they thought pizza was and they scowled and said, “Not tomato pie!” For once they could agree on something.

Friday, August 30, 2013

How To Get the Most out of your Fresh Food

I’ve canceled nearly every magazine I subscribed to in the name of sanity. It gets out of control, and really, who has time for that many magazines? It’s not as if my life is overflowing with downtime. Besides, they were piling up in the corner of my kitchen counter and nagging at my conscience. There is no way I could ever read them all, so slowly but surely I’ve stopped re-subscribing. I have to note, though, this does not stop the magazines from continuing to arrive each month with ever more alarming bright paper covers threatening, “THIS IS YOUR LAST ISSUE!” I wish there was someone I could call and say, “Relax, I’m okay with that.”

I still subscribe to a couple that I can’t resist. One of those magazines is Mother Earth News. Mother has
been around since 1970 and has always been ahead of the curve in terms of protecting the environment, sustainable living, and organic food. It’s filled with scientific research, calls to action, and DIY projects for people living in the suburbs of New Jersey to people living off the grid on a hillside in northern Montana. I get a kick out of reading the classifieds in the back too. They appeal to my hippie nature – advertisements for modern day communes, composting toilets, dome homes, and mealworms by the pound. Entertainment value aside, the magazine is chock full of information and directions I trust whether it’s chicken keeping, pressure canning, building your own solar hot water heater, fermenting food, or this month’s feature – how to get more flavor and nutritional value out of your fresh food.

I saw the title and opened to the article, curious to know how you can improve fresh food you’ve already picked. I took it for granted that Mother assumed I was dealing with organic fresh food. The article boasted ten tips. I encourage you to look it up for yourself, but just in case you aren’t a subscriber (what?), I’ll summarize: 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bathroom Etiquette for the Unenlightened (or Deaf)

Do your children listen to anything you tell them to do? They do? Wow. Great for you. You can stop reading now.

My children, on the other hand, tune me out when I give them any direction other than, “Time to eat!” All summer I have grumped around my house muttering to myself about the ungrateful, spoiled residents who can’t be bothered to pick up their rooms or put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher. As I retrieved yet another abandoned sock from the center of the living room floor, I flung it with all my strength and gritted my teeth but refrained from spewing the obscenities that pushed at my self-control. With a weary resignation I grabbed the sock, which is not very aerodynamically astute and lay next to my foot, and tromped up the stairs to the laundry room.

I’ve grown tired of my angry, ranting self, as have my children. Or they would if they heard me, but all three seem to have grown permanent ear buds in their ears. Last week, when the stench of rotting towels drew me to their bathroom, I reached my bitter end. The floor was strewn with slowly mildewing towels and clothes lying in the flood left by the last bather. The toilet had not been flushed (ew), the toilet paper holder hung empty, and toothpaste frosted nearly every square inch of the counter that was visible beneath the plethora of hair care products, abandoned flossers, wet washcloths, and tubes of skin creams and make up. Ugh. Gross.

As I maniacally cleaned the bathroom, flinging dirty laundry and empty bottles of shampoo, I searched for a solution. Withhold privileges? Sit them down and explain my expectations and their responsibilities? Remind them that they are not part of the royal family? But they don’t listen to anything I say, I reminded myself. Finally as I sat on the edge of the tub, scrubbing at the moldy grout, I was struck with a moment of brilliance. They don’t listen to anything I say, but they read anything they see!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Maybe Not Shakespeare's Hell-Broth...But Better!

                                                                                    William Shakespeare

I’ve always been good about making and saving chicken and beef broth, but this past week I made veggie broth! Well, technically it was corn broth, but it will be a fabulous base for crab soup or corn chowder or any recipe that calls for vegetable broth. If you’ve been too intimidated to make meat broth, this broth won’t scare you a bit.

This time of year you can buy fresh, local corn cheap and nothing tastes yummier in the whole wide world (except dark chocolate and a glass of good red wine…). I harvested our heirloom corn this week which was organically grown, but disappointingly tough and not so sweet. I shucked it and fed the leaves to the horses who thought it might be Christmas come early. Then I blanched the corn in boiling water for two minutes, before plunging it in to a sink full of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. I saved the boiling water to make the broth.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

And Now for the Rest of the Story.....

So whatever happened to…..

I know you’ve been wondering and waiting for updates on many of my adventures (just play along with me anyhow), so this post is dedicated to bringing you up to speed.

First off, the Buy Local experiment –
I’m happy to report that we are still buying primarily local, despite the end of our three month challenge to buy exclusively from locally owned businesses. One of the great side effects of our experiment was saving money. We were so laser-focused on only buying what we needed due to the limits of our shopping options that we spent significantly less money. Now that the flood gates are open and we’ve made occasional necessary trips to Wal-Mart and Home Depot, our expenses are right back up there.

I found myself in Wal-Mart recently to allow my youngest offspring to spend the gift card he received at his birthday party. While he agonized over which Lego set to buy (this can take hours and is very much a big part of the joy of Legos), I wandered the aisles. What a mistake! Looking back I wish I had just endured the running commentary on the pros and cons of Bionicles versus Star Wars, instead of setting off for the back of the store to buy quart-size zip lock bags to freeze all the fresh fruit we’d been harvesting.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Half-Review: Happier at Home

Right up front you should know that Happier at Home is basically a second part to Gretchen Rubin’s other book, The Happiness Project. I am a big fan of The Happiness Project. I subscribe to her blog and e-newsletters, co-led a book class on The Happiness Project, and am even leading a women’s retreat this fall about Happiness which will utilize the book. So, I’m biased. I love the subject.

Couple things you should know about Gretchen’s style and writing. First, she is the over-achiever of over-achievers. She gets more done than the average bear, and certainly you and me. She obsesses over things that might not fall on your radar. But – she does her research and her writing is accessible and inspiring, which forgives a lot of sins.

If I asked you right now, “Are you happy?” what would be your answer? Honestly? Are you as happy as you could be? And more importantly (for Gretchen’s purposes) do you appreciate how happy you are and could you be even happier?

Monday, July 22, 2013

10 Tips for Getting a Million Things Done in One Day

I am frequently confronted with a million things to do in one day. Sure, I’m exaggerating, but the feeling of overwhelmedness is real and it might as well be a million things because there is nearly always more to-do’s on my to-do list than is humanly possible. Thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more efficient. Maybe I still don’t get a million things done in one day, but I spend less time wandering through the house muttering to myself and eat less chocolate in an attempt to calm my panicked soul. Below is my ever-changing advice for getting a million things done in a day.

1 Have a list/s. Keep lists handy of what MUST be done and what COULD be done. Update these regularly. Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent control your day. Focus.

2 If you can take care of something in less than a minute, do it now, don’t put it off. You know you won’t do it later and it will nag at your soul each time you see it. For instance – filing something, putting shoes away, depositing a dish in the dishwasher, hanging a coat in the closet.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Blight Battle Begins

The battle has begun.

The battle to avoid the Tomato Blight of the Summer of 2013.

I did everything I could to avoid it. My babes were raised on homemade seed starter containing lots of organic compost. They grew strong and healthy in our basement under the lights, transitioned to the porch for hardening off and were planted after danger of frost in our best vegetable bed where no tomatoes had been grown in over three years. They were mulched heavily in clean straw and on cold nights were blanketed in buckets.

I dutifully snipped off all the branches that neared the ground. We gave each plant its own cage to protect it from flying feet chasing baseballs and to later support them as they grew.

We watered only when necessary, using a soaker setting and being careful not to splash the leaves.

And yet….

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review! Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement

I realize I already spilled the beans on the book Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiments to Rid Her Home of YOUTH ENTITLEMENT by Kay Wills Wyma, but here’s the rest of the review.

As I said last week, I loved the premise of the book. However, some of Wyma's methodology left me scratching my head and reaching protectively for my wallet. That said, I’d still recommend it to any parent and think it will have a huge impact on your parenting no matter how you feel about the strategies presented.

Just in case you didn’t read my post last week (what? Unthinkable!), here’s the premise: Our children feel entitled because we do everything for them from cleaning their rooms to cooking their meals to fighting their battles. Many times this is because it's easier and more efficient to do the work ourselves. This leaves kids with the message that we don’t think they are capable and this process snowballs into children who can’t clean, cook, or handle tasks they will need to survive as adults. We rob them of problem solving opportunities time and again.

Wills organized her plans around a list of 12 skills she wants her children to have mastered before they are adults.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Life Entitled

How capable do you think your kids are? I’m not talking about their math ability or how well they throw a baseball, but can they clean a toilet? Can they cook a meal? Can they handle an overflowing toilet? Have they ever changed a light bulb?

I’m nearly finished the book Cleaning House: One Mom’s 12-month experiment in ridding her home of YOUTH ENTITLEMENT by Kay Wills Wyma, (This isn’t the review- that will come next week), and I’ve taken her premise to heart. I have mixed feelings about her methodology, but the idea behind it is spot-on. Much to my children's dismay.

Many kids today live a life of entitlement. Very little is asked of them in terms of responsibilities at home. I know, at least in my house, this is mainly due to parental laziness. It’s much easier to do a job myself, especially if I want it done right (interpretation – the way I think it should be done). And I get tired of nagging, demanding, and threatening. I accept half-hearted efforts because “at least they did something.” My kids have very few responsibilities in the real scheme of things, yet they claim that kids at other houses aren’t enslaved as they are in our home. Hmmm.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I’m famous….or am I? No Matter, Like Me Anyway

“Is Cara Sue Achterberg a real celebrity or famous person?” This is the question that Facebook posed to me as I set up my Facebook writer page. I’ve put off the task for some time, but every time I attend a seminar, read an article, or watch a tutorial about developing your writing career I’m assailed with the recommendation to build your own website or at the very least have a Facebook page. So, in the interest of conning the IRS in to believing that I’m a serious writer (even if my writing income can still be counted in less than four digits), I’ve created the page:

Impressive I know. So far there are only a few posts, but it’s only a matter of time before I fill it with the details of my writing endeavors – successful or not.

But back to the question at hand - Am I a “real celebrity or famous person?” The options are “yes” or “no.” There is no “that depends on who you’re asking” option. Because if you ask me or my 10-year-old, I am famous – if by famous you mean “known to or recognized by many people” and you define many by more than a few.  I have had my picture in the paper. The question seems a bit rude, really.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Recycling the Un-recyclable

I have thousands of milk caps. Thousands. I’m not lying. I started collecting them about the time we began curb side recycling. I put the bottles in the recycling, but couldn’t bear to throw out the bright plastic lids. Why couldn’t they be recycled too? I figured the recyclers would figure it out eventually, and until then I’d save them. But then they never did.

The lids piled up (along with the yogurt containers, sour cream cartons, deli plastic, etc.). Slowly I found solutions to for my rapidly growing bins of plastic crowding the corners in our basement. Yogurt cups make perfect seed starter pots if you poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Sour cream containers are just about the right size to freeze chicken broth for future recipes (just under two cups). Ice Cream tubs are excellent for sending cookies to school for parties, and also for refilling with homemade ice cream.

But what to do with all those lids?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Club! My thoughts on Organic Manifesto by Maria Rodale

Maria Rodale’s book, Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, presents a clear blueprint for change. In plain language she explains the dangers of chemical farming, the misconceptions of organic farming, and calls out the government on its irresponsibility towards our health and well-being in favor of corporate influence.

“Farmers are caught on a treadmill” she writes in her compassionate defense of many farmer’s reluctance to return to organic farming. They and their land have become dependent on the chemicals, GMO seeds, and tax breaks generously offered for chemical farming. She offers two scenarios – one of a farmer trapped in a chemically dependent farming system and another that follows an organic model of farming. Painting these two drastically different pictures she calls to task all those who say it can’t be done profitably. She further disputes the tale told by big business that the world would starve without chemical farming.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Secret to My Organic Garden

“Organic gardening is too labor intensive.” So sayeth the generally ignorant population. This is the standard defense line of traditional chemical gardening (crops grown with the use of treated seeds, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides). But I would beg to differ.

I’m a fundamentally lazy gardener. I try to grow mostly useful plants, and the few flowers I cultivate are nearly all perennials that can take care of themselves. As much as possible, I try to garden organically. I choose heirloom and/or organic seeds and seedlings and save seeds each year. I use no pesticides and depend on the ladybugs, chickens, bats, and cats to keep the pests under control. Our horses, chickens, and compost provide plenty of fertilizer. But what about the weeds?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don It or Donate It and find out if you really wear everything in your closet!

Americans have too many clothes.

Okay, maybe that’s not fair. I have too many clothes, and my children have too many clothes. That’s fact.

As I hang clothing on the line to dry each morning, I have time to consider the clothing we own as I shake it out and determine how many clothespins it will take to keep it from flying off into the wind that whips up the hill from the hollow. Jeans require four, shirts two and underwear requires anywhere from one to four depending on who it belongs to. My daughter would be none to happy if her panties went sailing into the grass to be discovered by her little brother’s friends. (Three clothes pins minimum even though the panties are barely bigger than a tissue.)

Back to the subject at hand, we all have too many clothes. Our drawers are stuffed to overflowing (note picture) and our closets crammed. No one could possibly wear all of it. Or could they? I’ve devised a clothing challenge for myself and everyone who thinks they have too many clothes but are unable to reduce their surplus. It’s also for you smug people who are reading this and thinking, “I wear everything I own otherwise I wouldn’t own it!”

This challenge is called Wear It or Toss It. Or Use Ir or Lose It. Or Don It or Donate It. The name isn’t important, but the purpose is.

It’s a very simple challenge.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Join my Book Club!!

Have you ever been part of a book club? For the past thirteen years I’ve been the member of at least one club and sometimes two. When I’m reading, I underline phrases I find well worded or facts I think are fascinating. I scribble my own examples and questions in the margins. When I’m excited about a book or learning new things, I always want to share that news. Many times my patient husband is the recipient of my newfound insights or knowledge. I know that sometimes his patience wears thin and he must grit his teeth as I read him “just one more” passage from my current book crush.

Books are a passion for me and luckily, most of my family, as evidenced by the many, many, many crammed book shelves in our house (including two in bathrooms!). In a rush to get out the door this morning, I scrambled to find a paper I needed and knocked over the current stack of I’ve-got-to-read-these books that teetered nearly two feet high on the corner of my desk. They tumbled over the side, a few landing in the trash can. I re-stacked them and sighed. Some from the bottom of the stack have been there since last fall. When was I going to read these books?? I’m busy right now hurtling through the book for my women’s Book club that meets next Friday. And then I’ve got to finish the book for the book discussion I’m helping to lead at my church.

Book Club books always take precedence over the hundreds of other books haunting me from my shelves in nearly every room of my house. The ones on my desk are piled there so I’ll get to them sooner rather than later, although that phrase has become very relative in my life. I need another book club to force me to get to them. And then I thought – Ah! I have a perfect audience for a book club – my blog. You people are trapped there and have no choice but to listen to my ramblings (yes, I know you could simply click away from this post, but I trust that you won’t and choose to live in the blissful belief that you hang on my every word).

So KFOL Book Club begins this month! I’m going to do one book a month from the stack. Although Marion Nestle’s book What to Eat is so dense it’ll need two months. I’ll devote at least one post, possibly more if I get excited. You have several options for participating.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Slacker Blogger Pawns You Off on Someone Else (But wait...good stuff is coming!)

This week I am overwhelmed by my gardens, my children’s activities, and my life, so instead of an actual post, I’m offering links to some other blogs I find interesting.

Lots of great projects/ideas/recipes/inspiration mostly for women at home with kids, but also plenty of good ideas for people with no kids (like this week’s post on how to make your own re-usable produce bags). The pictures are beautiful. I aspire to blog as well as Kelly.

Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen – this blog from Rodale’s queen of organic gardening is inspiring and practical. I get lots of my ideas from this blog. (copying is the sincerest form of flattery!) Organic Gardening offers over a dozen other blogs on various gardening topics.

Kelly Rae is my favorite artist/designer who offers beautiful art, powerful messages, and inspiration like nobody’s business. I just adore this woman and her creations. I'm slowly filling my house with her work. Check her out.

 Enjoy! And have a wonderful weekend. Next month – Book Club and the Wear-Everything-You-Own challenge!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Have You Been Greenwashed?

Do you ever have the experience of buying something and wondering if you’ve been “greenwashed?” The term refers to companies that market a product as “green” when in reality it’s actually not so green. Companies can be nimble creatures when it comes to finding ways to make more money from the same product. As the public becomes increasingly aware of the need for environmentally friendly products, it’s fairly easy for an adept marketing department to slap an “all natural” or “earth friendly” claim on the same product they’ve been selling for years.

As in the claim “compostable.” Without a working definition, you could almost say everything is compostable. It might take a million years if it’s Styrofoam or a little less if it’s plastic. My discover card is compostable. When I needed a new card a few years back, I went online to choose my own personalized card. Of the many, many options, one featured polar bears and claimed to be “compostable”. In my fervor to be “green” I thought – great! I want a compostable card! Whenever a store clerk commented on my cute polar bears, I’d tell her, “I could really care less about polar bears but the card is compostable!”

In reality, my compostable card will never be composted (although the numbers are wearing off rather quickly). How likely is it that I will toss a credit card with a rather high lending limit into my compost pile when it expires? Seems like a dangerous practice. I may test out the theory when the current card expires in a controlled composting environment. Another fun project for my skeptical hubby! I don’t recall any claims as to the length of time it would take to compost my credit card when I selected it. And what’s even more curious is that when I went on the discover site today to hunt down that information, the polar bears were still available, but no longer labeled “compostable.” Hmmm.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Homemade English Muffins! You can do it too!

Today I’m attempting something I’ve never tried before. I’m making English Muffins. I know you were hoping I was going to say something a little more exciting like hang gliding or breaking some sort of Guiness World Record like the most chickens to jump through a hoop in a row, but no, I’m simply going for a soft, yet crunchy combination of nooks and crannies just like Thomas’.

This monumental moment came about in large part because of the retraining my shopping habits have undergone these past few months. It is several days after Easter and time to make Cream Ham and Eggs, which is a meal most loved by the three male members of the family (the smaller female member shudders at the idea). It’s a decidedly unhealthy creation that I make for them every time we have ham, which would be once a year on Easter. English Muffins are the required vehicle for eating Cream Ham and Eggs.

There were no English Muffins in my pantry. I had two options – one, head over to the locally owned grocery store (for the second time this week) or make them myself. The sun is shining, but the ground has not realized it’s spring yet here in Central PA, so my planned garden chores are on indefinite hold leaving me with a little time on my hands. And time, it seems, is what is most required when it comes to making homemade English Muffins. Everything else, I had in my pantry.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Distracted by a Rat and Disputed GMO Corn Study

All week I’ve been distracted by this picture of a rat with an obscene tumor. It’s been sitting on my desk freaking me out on an hourly basis. The rat in question was part of a French study of GMO round-up ready corn. I’ve written about my own concerns about GMO corn before. In case you aren’t aware (and you wouldn’t be because the USDA refuses to require labeling) about 90% of the corn in the US is GMO corn, and most of it is grown from Monsanto’s Round Up Ready GMO seed. And that corn is all over your grocery store, vending machines, restaurants, and school cafeterias.

The study has gotten an awful lot of official people, agencies, and lobbyists in a tizzy. They are busy pointing out all the errors in the methodology of the study. If you read a few of their postings on line, you will soon be thoroughly confused and certain that the study has nothing to do with GMO corn, rats, or cancer. They’ll have your head spinning so fast you’ll begin to doubt global warming, gravity, and whether you put your socks on this morning.

In honor of this poor mouse who is still gazing my way as I write, let me break it down for you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Twelve: We Did It! (and YOU should too!)

For the past three months I have been buying from strictly locally owned businesses. In the beginning we all thought this was going to be a hardship, each for our own reasons. My kids worried a cheezit would never pass their lips again and I’d feed them a steady diet of kale and whole wheat noodles. My husband worried I’d spend all the money hiding under our mattresses. I mostly worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Putting aside the handful of slip-ups in regards to hairproducts and auto-repair, for the most part we have survived on the goods sold by locally owned businesses exclusively since January 1. And once more, we’ve more than survived, we’ve thrived.

We’ve saved money, time, and gas, made new friends, eaten better in terms of both taste and health, and quite honestly, had a lot of fun. Along the way, I’ve been confronted by people who thought I was just a wee-bit overboard and plenty of skeptical people, but I’ve also been helped by people who shared ideas and local sources.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Eleven: Lamenting Our Town's Center and a Shout-out to Locals I Love

Buying locally has become second nature for me at this point and I don’t think I can ever set foot in Wal-Mart again. At a meeting last week regarding our “town” someone said they thought that Wal-Mart was our town center. Frightening, but probably accurate. Back when I made several trips to Wal-Mart a month, I always encountered people I knew. On the weekends, there was usually a boy or girl scout troop installed at the entrance selling cookies or popcorn or some other unhealthy product I don’t need, but usually buy, because I know the kids who are doing the selling.

Our town also has a small main street with art galleries, antique stores, and even a farm-to-table restaurant. To my mind, that should be our town center, and probably was once upon a time. Now it is mostly frequented by “tourists” from the Baltimore area. I suppose the reason it’s not our town center is that, other than the restaurant, the other stores are the kind you only frequent when guests are visiting. Plus the parking isn’t very simple, although it’s free. There is a park nearby, but it is hard to find. I lived here nearly a year before I discovered it, and only because the end-of-year kindergarten party was held there.

So, I suppose that the Wal-Mart shopping center is our town center. I wish it weren’t. This is a farming town at its heart. Antiques, farm restaurants, single-shingle shops and offices make a more appropriate town center.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Ten: Now's the Time

I’ve always thought that as our society has progressed (relative term), locally owned businesses have been slowly picked off one by one, leaving us with a homogenized majority of stores. The stores of my youth – the Creamy Freeze, Save-a-Cent, and Lakes Market are long gone. But as I’ve gone in search of the locally owned stores I’ve discovered there is truly an abundance of them. Something is happening now. There is an energy, a movement if you will, that is re-focusing consumers on buying local again. Much of the growth that is slowly lifting us out of this recession is coming from small businesses – locally owned.

My best guess for the reason behind the momentum is two trends I’ve observed. The first trend was made necessary by the recession. This is the trend towards simpler lives. When things get hairy in terms of financial and physical security, we hunker down and focus on what’s most important to us – our health and our happiness.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mother With a Mission (or More Adventures in Poultry Paradise)

There is a hen sitting on eggs high aloft a stack of hay bales in my barn. I do not want, nor do I need, any more chickens. This very same hen and I had a go-round last summer over this very same issue. Each night I would find her tucked inside one of our laying boxes or nestled amongst the hay, quietly sitting on the latest egg. And each night she would shriek with fury when I lifted her off her egg and put her in the hen house with the other less maternal hens.

She is a Buff Orpington. “Buffies,” as we call them, are a gentle, quiet breed with beautiful rich golden feathers and soft downy “pantaloons” that give them a plump, mother hen kind of look. This particular hen is determined. I saw it in her eyes the first night I lifted her off her eggs a few weeks ago. Chickens are not the smartest of God’s creatures, nor do they necessarily have the capacity for scheming, but I am beginning to believe they do dream. This hen dreams of being a mother. And mothers are a determined sort.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Nine: Buying Local Bottom Line

When I announced that we were GOING LOCAL on January 1, my husband’s first comment was, “Can we afford to do that?”  I assured him we could, although I was not certain of that fact. Now, with two full months of buying local behind us, we are both pleased.

While we may have spent more on items like saline solution, birthday gifts, and beer/wine, we have saved in other areas. But the biggest reason our budget looks so bright and shiny, is that there has been less impulse buying and much less oh-that’s-such-a-good-deal-why-don’t-I-just-pick-up-six-while-I’m-here purchases most commonly made at stores like Walmart and Giant that I no longer frequent  Another area of huge savings has been the near complete halt to internet shopping. It’s much too easy to add things to a virtual cart and press “next,” without considering the consequences.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Eight: Only in Generica

It’s restaurant week in York so there is a virtual smorgasbord of options in affordable, delicious local dining this week. I’m not certain why anyone would choose a chain restaurant over a locally owned restaurant. In addition to supporting your community, the food is better, and far more interesting.

Saturday night my love took me out for dinner at the WhiteRose Bar & Grill where we supped on meals served on “hot rocks” - pieces of stone heated to 650 degrees. These steaming hot stones are delivered to your table along with the fresh ingredients for your meal. You get to cook dinner yourself on your personal rock (carefully). After sprinkling the rock with sea salt, the food is placed directly on the stone. There’s no oils involved which keeps the meal fairly healthy, especially as restaurant food goes. It was an absolute treat. If you’re headed out for restaurant week (it continues until March 2), I highly recommend it.

The biggest dilemma this week has been the search for a backpack.

Monday, February 18, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Seven: Drink Local

In Pennsylvania all wine and liquor sales are controlled by state run stores. Now, one could argue that this makes them clearly “locally owned” but only if one trusted the Commonwealth to be responsibly reinvesting that money in our local economy. Big if.

Although most wine is only available at the state stores, you can buy wine directly from the vintner in Pennsylvania and this seemed like a logical solution to my local wine purchasing dilemma. Can’t get more local than buying wine from the guy who grew the grapes and stomped them himself (more or less). The only problem is that most of the PA wines that we’ve experienced are clingingly sweet. If you like dessert wine, they’ve got you covered. Even most “semi-dry” wines lean heavily towards syrup.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

GONE LOCAL Week Six: A Girl and Her Hair Products

Buying locally is not always convenient. This may be the biggest deterrent to those of us who would rather buy from local businesses than mega-stores and chains. At first, I thought it would be the price that got to me, but the difference in price is not so substantial, especially when you factor in the quality. Plus, as I’ve pointed out before, when I am shopping the smaller local markets and stores I’m looking for specific things on my list and not randomly grabbing the great deal displayed on the end cap.

For me, the rub truly comes at convenience. Ever since this endeavor began I have enjoyed the challenges inherent in finding local sources for our favorite things. I’ve met some very nice people and discovered some surprising stores. Only one item has alluded me this past month or so. And it’s not a strange product. It is not expensive or difficult to find. It is my daughter’s favorite hair product.

Friday, February 8, 2013

In the Dark, Dark, Days of Winter....Lettuce!

I know it is gray and cold and very February, but I’ve been growing some beautiful lettuce and I can’t thank the man who made it happen because I don’t know his name. So this is a shout out to the anonymous cute young guy at Brogue Hydroponics who had the brilliant idea. Plus, a thank you to the guy I usually take for granted who made it possible.

Earlier this year I announced my plans to figure out hydroponic gardening. It seemed like the last frontier and a way to grow gorgeous lettuce in the winter. Alas, there is nothing growing hydroponically in my home. It just kept getting shoved to the bottom of the to-do list for too long and now it will be next winter’s best intention.

But hydroponics do figure in to my winter lettuce growing operation. Last summer and fall as I was gathering information about hydroponic gardening, I began to badger the people who work at the Brogue Hydroponics stand at the market. One young guy was particularly helpful and I explained to him my desire to get in on the hydroponic gig and asked if it would be possible to tour their farm. He looked around and quietly said, “No, they don’t really like anybody visiting the farm.” Hmmm. I don't know many secretive farmers. This peaked my interest.

I continued to interrogate the nice young man every week. He told me that sometimes they join the summer farm tour. That was way too long to wait. Finally, exasperated by my questions, he said, “You can just re-grow the stuff you buy, you know that right?” He explained that if I tore off the lettuce head from my newly purchased lettuce. I could replant the bottom of the head, the part that is still in soil when purchased. I asked if I needed to plant it in water or if I could just put it in dirt and he shrugged his shoulders. “Would probably work in either.” I went home happy with my new information.
The previous weekend, my husband had finally built me a cold frame (don’t be that impressed, I’ve been asking him to do this for nearly ten years.). He strategically placed it on our southeast facing slope just below the blueberries. I think this is strategic, not just from a sunshine angle, but also to discourage me from adding another row of blueberries (as I did last year).

Baby lettuce about three weeks old. Yes, I  realize
someone needs to weed this.
The days were growing colder my this time, so I opened up my cold frame where baby lettuce leaves were just beginning to sprout and planted the bottom of a head of hydroponic lettuce. Then I promptly forgot about it. It’s easy to forget about cold frames when they are closed because they rarely need watering encased as they are in their own ecosystem.

Don't be distracted by the handsome cat, just look
at that lettuce!
On a sunny day near Christmas, I popped open the cold frame to check how the baby lettuce was growing and I was greeted by a huge head of butter lettuce that looked exactly like the one I’d purchased back in early November. It was, quite possibly, the most delicious lettuce I’ve ever tasted. The baby lettuce surrounding it was only about a half-inch bigger than the last time I’d looked. I’m not expecting it to grow bigger than my thumb until March or April at this rate.

Wowee - wow, wow, wow!
Of course, since then I’ve planted more hydroponic lettuce. It’s all I can do to keep from opening the lid on a daily basis to see how it’s doing. The temperatures are hovering around freezing or below this week, so I’ve resolved not to open the box for fear the cold air will be too much for the baby lettuce.

Cold frames are very simple to build. I asked my husband what was necessary and here’s the response I got. I need to warn you that he’s an engineer, so there may be more information here than you necessarily need and it may sound more complicated than it actually is. Fear not - you can do this. It's basically a classic sandbox with a lid.

2 ea 8ft 2x12 (pressure treated) for the base
3 ea 8ft 2x4 (pressure treated) for the top
1 ea 26inx8ft clear polycarbonate corrugated roof segment.  Also the 24in plastic “closure strips” to nail down corrugated (sold in same aisle of store)
Scraps for internal corner bracing, etc.
2 ea 8ft  5/4x6in Cedar deck boards (to line the box at/below soil line)
3 inch deck screws, 2-1/2in stainless screws, special fasteners for the corrugated roof material (also sold in that aisle)

Location: On a hillside facing  Southeast.  The hill is important because this box has no slope to the roof.  In order to put on flat ground it would need a roof that has a pitch to allow rain to slide off.

Base: The finished dimensions are 4 ft x 4 ft.  The base is made from the two 2x12’s, each cut to 4ft and then  screwed together with deck screws at the ends.  I squared it up then secured with scraps (diagonals) to keep it square as it was moved around into place.  An approximately 4 inch deep trench was dug to get below the grass root level; lay in the base and double check square (diagonal measurements equal).   Use the cedar (cut to length) to line the box down to the bottom of the hole, and fasten in place with stainless screws (not required but I had some left over from a previous job).  This keeps most of the pressure treated wood out of contact with the soil while taking advantage of the long life of PT and Cedar in contact with the ground.  Using regular pine or fir would only last about 2 years in contact with the ground.  I was tempted to put in the dirt and fill the sides, but one never knows what will need to be changed, so fill in after all other steps are complete.

Roof (lid):
Made a 4ftx4ft square with the 2x4’s and then put in some corner bracing as well as additional studs to allow nailing of the corrugated (trying to use as little as possible to keep it light). Put on hinges and installed on the base to make sure everything is ok, square and matching up nice.  Then nailed on the closure strips and 4ft long pieces of the polycarbonate.  Note that the poly roof is a little larger than the box, but only 1/2in or so on a side.  It creates a little bit of an overhang as a drip-lip.  You don’t want too much or it will get caught on your pants or the lawn mower over time.  Now that the box is all finished, fill it in.

I screened the soil before putting it back in the box so it is nice top soil with no rocks, weeds, grubs, etc. I used all the rocks to fill in the outside edge as this may also be considered good drainage and we have so many rocks we need places to put them. The sod goes in the woods since I don’t want to encourage any grass growing around the outside edges.  Over time, the grass will grow to the outside edge then need to be weed-wacked.  Now would be a great time to mulch around the outside of the box.

I also put a long 2x2 board on a screw to allow the top to stay propped open (like on a grand piano).  As you lift the top, the long board extends and sits on the ground so the top stays open on warm days or to weed/plant/harvest.  Also I put a few scraps of wood nearby to prop open the top just enough to let air in, but keep the chickens out. (Otherwise the inside of the box would get too hot)

Every time I go to the market, I look for the young guy who told me about re-planting my hydroponic lettuce, but I haven’t seen him at the stand since the day he passed along that information. I don’t want to promote conspiracy theories or anything, but it’s suspicious that he’s been missing ever since revealing one of their secrets. Who knew hydroponics was such a furtive agricultural practice?

If you decide to build a cold frame it can increase your growing season on both ends. Herbs like parsley and rosemary will most likely keep growing year round in a cold frame. Build it soon and you’ll be able to plant lettuce this month and harvest in late March! Oh, the possibilities! I’m hoping to convince my engineer to design me some taller boxes for next fall to ensure peppers and peas through thanksgiving. If he’s lucky, I’ll forget all about my hydroponic dreams!