My Wood Chip Garden

As I was planting my garden this spring I realized I’d been nurturing this same plot of ground for about 15 years! That’s a neat feeling, to see the reward of steady care over the long haul.

Last year I really struggled with keeping up in my garden. I hate spending time weeding which could be spent visiting family and friends, dancing, making music, or helping others.

I’d heard about wood chip gardening from the documentary back to Eden last year, and tried to acquire wood chips last spring to no avail. I called every tree company I our phone book, all of them said they’d deliver, and none of them showed. Finally, in desperation, I made a sign one morning before work, and put it up by the road. By evening we had our first load, and since, I’ve received two more which provided plenty of fresh wood chips!

I’d already planted most of the garden, but quickly set out to cover it in the mulch. I used two layers of newspaper down first, then about 4″ of wood chips on top. It took me about 6 hours of work total. I would spend and hour or so in the garden before work, weeding, laying newspaper and hauling the chips. It really was very manageable, and the time savings since those initial few hours has been immense.

I’ve not had to water once since I planted nearly 7 weeks ago and the soil has stayed consistently moist below the wood chips. Everything that sprouted except a couple tomato plants that seem to be messed up is thriving. Weeding only takes a couple minutes once a week…really it’s just a bit of grasses that poke through and thistles. The thistles are very persistent creatures and will clearly require constant care to keep under control, but, it really only takes me 10 minutes once or twice a week to pull them all up. The mulch keeps the soil moist enough that they pull out easily.

I’m taking pictures to help document the progress–failure or success– of this experiment. I found it frustrating that there are lots of people who talk about starting their garden with wood chips, but hardly any talk about the final result. I want to know how it works long term. What will it be like in the middle of August? How difficult will it be to harvest my potatoes? How well will everything grow? What will fall clean up look like? What about planting again next spring?

So, here come my pictures to date!

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This is from a couple weeks ago. I’d just finished my first hulling of the potatoes in the fore ground.

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This is from the same place taken this morning. I’ve hulled my potatoes twice now. As you can see, they appear to be thriving!

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These are pinto bean plants and some onion sets. I have fishing line and bird netting set up as deer protection because they decimated these poor plants once. Thankfully, they recovered once I put up protection.

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Kale on the left and Swiss Chard on the right. I used old seed for this which is why I think only about half the seeds came up! I’ve sown more Swiss Chard, and will sow more Kale August.

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Two of my tomatillo plants in the foreground and my raised bed of onions in the back.

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Two more tomatillo plants and two hills of spaghetti squash with two plants per hill.

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Tomato plants. These are a hodgepodge of ones I started, some I bought from Home Depot and some I purchased for a coworker. The ones I started got hailed on and only a couple survived.

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And last but not least, my Concord Grape Vine! It’s covered in grapes! I’m so excited for harvest this year. In a couple days I’ll be putting up a bird net to keep them off the grapes.

Sun Hat Makeover for Long Hair!

If you have ever experienced the frustration of trying to find a sun hat that fit with your long hair, this post is for you!

I decided it was high time to take matters into my own hands and with a couple hours of sewing, I altered a sun hat from Marshall’s with a lovely straw brim and a cloth center.

I removed the cloth center, set the brim on my head in the position I wanted, and measured front to back and side to side.

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On my fabric, I traced out the two lines, connected them and cut out the resulting slight oval.

Beginning with the center back I pinned the fabric to the hat edge, pinned the front and both sides.

Taking the excess I now had, I made a neat pleat in each quarter. The pleat ran for the center down. I pinned the pleats and tried it on for fit. A couple pleats needed taken in a bit farther to fit smoothly.

Carefully un pinning it, I hand sewed the pleats with a sturdy back stitch to secure the shape. The top took a little work to make it lay nicely, but it wasn’t too bad. On the inside, I tacked the bottom two thirds of each pleat down as well to keep everything neat and tidy.

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Once the pleats were sewn, I took bias binding and bound the edge with it.

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Then, I used large basting stitches to attach to the brim by hand. Using a jean needle, I then used the machine to firmly attach the crown to brim, and removed my hand basting stitches. I attached a ribbon that goes behind my hair in the back to help hold it in place.

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Very Long Hair and it’s Care.

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With the blogosphere being so full of advice for long hair care you might wonder why I'm bothering adding my two cents to the mix. Well, much of it is, well, not very practical! Also, not much is geared towards those seeking a simpler, less consumer driven life. And let's face it, for many of us ladies, we will buy nearly any product that promises beautiful, shiny, tangle free, sweet smelling, silky hair!

I began actively growing my hair when I was eleven. It took me eight years to get down to knee length, which was my goal, and I've hovered in that area for quite some time now.

At this point, I've narrowed down my hair care to a happy standard. It's not always super shiny, and it will never be tangle free thanks to natural wave, but most of the time I am very happy with it.

Styling Tools. I don’t require much in this department.

I have a wide toothed shower comb I use for basic detangling.
For finshing, and basic styling I use a Tangle Teezer. I LOVE this brush, it detangles and smooths hair beautifully, and nearly painlessly. Seriously, if you don’t have one, get one.
I always keep a fine tooth rat tail comb as well for getting clean parts and sectioning hair for accent braids.

To hold my hair up, I use two products. When it’s wet from washing, I put it in a bun held with steel hair pins. These are the work horse of hair pins, last forever, and are gentle on the hair.
When it’s dry, I put it up in various twists and hold it with a Flexi8 Clip. This is my go to hair clip. I work in a restaurant and need my hair to be kept up firmly, for many hours at a time, and this baby does the trick. I own four, and wear them about five days a week. They are the BEST hair clip for very long lengths.
Last, I keeps some standard hair pins, and small elastics around for accent work.

Products. Again, I don’t like many different products. After many years of trying hundreds of different things, these are what I currently use.

Giovanni Triple Treat Tee Tree Shampoo is what I’ve been using for a while now. Every once in a while, I will switch to a different flavor in the same brand just to keep things from getting too settled. I tend to use a more moisturizing one in the winter months, and the tea tree in the hot summer months. I only apply this to my scalp, not the length. The length does not need to have to oils stripped from it on a frequent basis. Regularly pulling the shampoo down your length is setting you up for a hopeless attempt to grow your hair past that ‘certain’ length it never seems to get past.

Suave Everlasting Sunshine Conditioner is my go to conditioner. I use it every wash.

Every couple months I clarify with Neutrogena Anti Residue Shampoo. This is very important. It removes all the build up from my shampoo and conditioner, and starts me back at square one. Unlike my regular shampoo, this I apply to the entire length. It can be quite drying if used frequently, so use judiciously. When my hair is feeling dull, extra tangly, limp or coarse, I clarify, and one or two washes usually fixes everything.

Oil. I like to oil my length of added moisture and protection. For many years I used Virgin Coconut Oil and had great success with it. However, I developed a severe topical allergy to it, and since, have yet to settle on any one particular oil. I switch between Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Shea Butter and Castor Oil. I’ve tried many others, but they are all expensive and don’t work any better than these. If you don’t oil, I would highly encourage you to begin. Very little oil is needed, but it makes a big difference in the long term for your hair.

Routine. So, I don’t wash my hair too often. I’ve experimented with many different times, and for the last few years this has worked best for me. In The cooler months I wash once a week, when things start to warm up and I’m sweating everyday, I wash twice a week.

I shampoo the scalp hair, condition the length, leave in a micro fiber towel for a few minutes, detangle and damp bun for the day.

At night, I put my loose hair into a silk sleep bag I made for it. This has majority cut down my my tangles. Some folks have success sleeping with their hair in a braid, but I find it highly annoying, so the sleep bag has been a much better way for me.

Trims are done sporadically, usually I’ll trim a few times a year. Since I’m maintaining, this is no problem. Back when I was growing, I still trimmed, but only twice a year, and only an inch at a time. Trimming does not help you hair grow faster. However, by trimming off the worst damage on a regular basis, it allows the hair to grow longer without the stress of rough ends.

So, a few points in closing.

Never:
Shampoo length on a regular basis.
Use heat such as blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron. These will FRY your hair.
Drag any old brush through it. Take the time to invest in a brush that will not rip or damage your hair. I strongly recommend the Tangle Teezer, but you could also try the Denaman brush or a quality Boar bristle brush.

Try:
Condition, condition, condition. I never get my length wet without applying conditioner.
Clarifying when hair seems rough and tangly and your ready to chop it all off.
When you need to cover your hair, try using a Buff. I use these everyday in the restaurant as the standard uniform hats don’t fit over my hair. They come in many colors, and several different material options. I find the UV protection, when dampened with water actually helps cool me in the heat of the kitchen.
Keep hair up an protected most of the time. It won’t look it’s best if it’s subjected to the rough life of being down, stuck between chair backs, caught on door knobs, tangling in the breeze and such.

Happy growing, and if you have any questions feel free to ask.

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Sleeping surfaces

In my late teens I, when I first started down the path of simplifying my life, I decided to go on an experiment. I ditched my bed, and slept on the floor for over a year. My initial goal was to prove to myself I could do it.

I loved it. Once I got past the first couple weeks, I began to sleep better. And I thoroughly enjoyed the extra space.

When I switched bedrooms in my families seemingly unending version of musical chairs, it fell to me to maintain the mattress that my mom was keeping for when our grandmother would come live with us. It was exceedingly soft, to the point that, I turned it over (it was one of those single sided mattresses) and slept on the firmer back.

When my grandmother did move in with us and I again changed rooms, I soon switched to a futon. That is what I currently sleep on, but lately, I’ve been dreaming of returning to my floor sleeping days. There are several reasons I’m excited about this.

Better sleep. I slept much better on the floor once I’d acclimated to it than I did in a bed. In looking up about it recently, I was surprised to find that there are several good ideas out there now for why it is more comfortable. I’m not sure how much I believe them, but it makes for an interesting read.

Less stuff. I’m trying to simplify my life for many reasons. A major one being, having less stuff to move, and being able to comfortably fit into a small space.

Ease visiting friends. I can sleep nearly anywhere and get restful sleep.

So, I’ve been thinking seriously about practically implementing this for long term use. After lots of research I’ve ordered a sheep skin rug, and a 1/2″ thick yoga mat. These two items will roll up small, but provide enough padding to allow me to very comfortably sleep on my hard wood bedroom floor. Between them, my down comforter and my buckwheat pillow, I should be set in sleeping arrangements for a long time.

I’ll update in a few weeks with how things are going. In the mean time, I’m looking forward to picking back up on hula hooping with the extra room granted by no bed!

Update on cold showers.

I’m still going strong on cold showers. However, I find them harder to bear in the warmer weather! And I’ve yet to find a happy solution for shaving my legs. Still working on that one and enjoying my maxi dresses in the mean time.

Laundry and Me.

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I hate doing laundry. Always have. I thought I always would. Lately though, it began to dawn on me that what truly frustrated me was HOW I did laundry. I tackled the problem head on, and have settled on a system that is working pretty well. It involved getting rid of lots of cloths, changing how I wore what I did have, and changing how I cared for them.

As a middle child in a large family (12 members) laundry was the truly never ending chore in my eyes. Everyday, laundry was top of the priority list, and every night found us retiring to our chambers with dirty laundry waiting to be washed, dry laundry needing folded or put away, and the inevitable newly dirtied laundry that must be collected in the morning.

As I’ve grown into a young woman, developing and indulging in my love of simple, beautiful and organized living, my clothing and laundry habits were becoming glaringly out of character. You see, I’ve been using the policy “If you haven’t worn it for a year, pass it on.” and it has served me well, except I always seemed to have an enormous amount of clothing. Than it struck me. My reluctance to do laundry had driven me to collect enough of every thing I wore that I only needed to do laundry once a month or so.

I seriously had enough clothes, all of which were worn on a regular basis, to only wash them once a month. That, my friend, is absurd. Even more crazy was the fact that I had multiples of the same thing! Being quite picky about clothing styles, I apparently would buy multiples of the same shirt if it fit great to make sure I would have enough of them! So here I was, with a closet and dresser full of a ridiculous amount of frequently worn clothing.

Deciding this had to change, I began researching how to tackle the problem of laundry. I found a lot of tips on how to pair down ones wardrobe, but the one I found most valuable was the idea, if you don’t truly LOVE and item, or have a very good use for it, get rid of it. And the second tip most helpful was to wear things longer between washings.

There are a few points I kept in mind while going through my things, most importantly that my occupation is a line cook in a kitchen.

1. I have a set work uniform, which is not reflective of my own personal style.
2. Working around stoves, ovens and grills means I’m sweaty a good deal of the day, providing unique challenges to stretching between washings
3. I love to sew and design clothing.
4. I reenact in several different time periods and have the appropriate clothing for each one.
5 I have many hobbies which do not lend themselves to shared clothing.

So, right off the bat, it’s clear I’d never narrow my clothing down to 33 items, or something like that! Instead I created lifestyle categories and worked to have only a few items in each one. The idea of having only just as many items as needed to keep a clean set on hand really appealed to me. Here are the categories I settled on.

1. Work. This was my biggest pitfall. Because I make my own skirts to wear at work they did not require sorting as I only have a few. For my shirts, after removing all I did not LOVE, I also got rid of all that were stained, leaving a vastly reduced number!

2. Casual. There are about 4 casual skirts I wear over and over. And they share the same color schemes, so this section was easy to shrink as the same few shirts and skirts make lots of different outfits. These cover all my day to day activities outside of work. Cleaning, visiting friends, gardening running errands…you name it. You will notice that I have work and casual shirts. That’s because my work shirts are worn under rough chef jackets that wear heavily on them. So, the colors are mirrored between the two categories, but they do not get mixed.

3. Dressy. I dress nicely for church every week, and with a love of music, culture and fashion, I wear this type of clothing a couple times every week.

4. Dance. I love to dance, and do it often enough that I wanted to keep my clothing that fun to dance in. This does see a lot of overlap with casual and dress but has a few items of its own. mostly shoes.

5. Undergarments. This category is what saw the truly fundamental change. I only kept around 5 of each item, socks, slips, tee shirts and underwear. Each night, I hand wash what was worn, and hang them to dry on little clothes line hung in front of the windows. I purchased 3 black and white tee shirts that I wear under my outer shirts, and these absorbed most of the sweat, which means the outer shirts don’t need washed after every wearing.

These changes have completely revamped how I view laundry! No longer do I face mountains of it. I wash my little things everyday, it only takes a few minutes, and every couple weeks I wash my skirts and shirts, but there’s still only a few of them, thanks to practical use of undergarments.

I still have about twice as many clothes as I want to ultimately, but over the summer I hope to pear it down even more. Each week collecting at least one bag of items to pass along. ANd I’ve set myself a clothes buying freeze for a few months. I have enough in each category to last me a long while before anything should need replaced.

Why I Started Cold Showers

My original intent with this blog was to encourage my self to pursue my hobbies. Contrary to what it would appear, I have kept up with them over the past couple years! But not to the extent I would like.

I first came across cold water therapy years ago in an old (published 1881) book called “The Rich Poor Man and Poor Rich Man” in which the sickly daughter was instructed to religiously bathe every morning in cold water as a means of strengthening her health, improving her moods and imparting energy. Now, I read this book repeatedly for the story line in my early teen years, but it drifted out of my conscious memory over the years.

Then, a few weeks ago my mom let me go through her books to pick out ones I would want before she began slimming down her own collection. I discovered the book and re-read it with amazement at how deeply I had ingested its ideology. And I was reminded of the supposed benefits of cold water bathing.

Naturally being a product of the generation raised with internet, I began to do some research into it. I honestly thought if I found anything, it would likely be debunking this Victorian myth. But what I found shocked me!

Not only is it apparently a current fad, it’s been proven to have the benefits touted so long ago! I began reading every article and blog I could find on the subject. This blog has a great deal of info and easy to access articles.

I’m not going to go into great detail on the studies proving the health benefits, I’m simply going to share the why and benefit of my own journey.

My interest being thoroughly quipped, I decided to try it out for myself. Now, like most people, I adore my hot shower. I can creat a fogged mirror on all but the hottest days of summer. But thinking about the possible benefits was a little heady. Silkier hair and skin? More energy? Improved immune health? Increasing mental toughness through routinely facing a physical challenge? Sign me up! I’ve been wanting shake my life up…I’ve been sinking deeper and deeper into a rut and loosing sight of what’s important.

So I did it. I read lots of different advice. some recommend starting warm and slowly going hot. This was no good. I couldn’t find the wherewithal to go cold after soaking in the sauna!

Start with Luke warm and shower by shower go colder? No good. For me, there is something particularly chilling about water just warm enough it doesn’t set your blood racing and heart pounding.

So I settled on the hard core method of using the water as cold as possible from the tap. Yeah, it’s stinking cold. It stings my skin for the first five minutes. It actually makes me head ache to rinse my hair. And I have lots of hair! It feels like I’m gonna hyper ventilate and die. But I learned some tricks. Jump right in. The longer you dawdle with one or two limbs under the arctic stream, the more freaked out you will make yourself. Focus on relaxing. Breath deeeeeeeply. Wait it out. After a few minutes it gets easier. And it feels so invigorating that you might find yourself grinning!

I’ve been doing this nearly everyday for two weeks now. And it’s amazing. My hair is shinnnnnny! My skin is getting softer. I’m sleeping better. And you know what? It really is changing how I face challenges at home and at work. It’s been playing a big role (along with a few other things I’ll save for a different blog post) in helping me re-prioritize my life. Suddenly things like laundry, which once were so daunting seem more manageable! (Laundry will be the subject of a future post)

Savor the Memories

I am house sitting for my brother this week which means I get to drive through our lovely rural countryside here in southeaster PA.

Today on my way back from my parents home after Sunday dinner, the weather was so lovely I decided to take the back roads and found myself lost in memories…

As early as I can remember, my mother loved back roads and would explore them all the time. Even coming home from the grocery store, on particularly lovely days, she would take the extra time to drive the back roads, pointing out the lovely landscapes and beautiful homes we would come across.

My favorite drives though were when we drove to the west. Where we lived, driving east or south meant driving into more urban areas whereas driving west meant traveling through the gorgeous farm and wealthy horse country. My parents banked with a small local bank out to the west and I have many memories of drives to it. Instead of taking the main roads, my mom would drive through some of the most beautiful back roads.

As we rolled along I would watch the passing world with such wonder and excitement. The beauty in the rolling hills, the sunlight that played off the fields and ponds, the gigantic old trees that graced many borders of the really old farms, the rich palette of color that simply saturated the countryside, all awakened my imagination. The stability, beauty, and sense of history in the old stone barns that dotted the fields captivated me. I would imagine the entire workings of imaginary families that lived in the large, solid homes close by. I would name the horses in the fields, imagine the life of the children, the chores they did, the excursions they went on… it never grew old.

Mother would point out the particularly beautiful spots, praising God for the glory of His handiwork and the intelligence he gifted to man.

In those drives, she taught us to seek out the lovely things in life, and appreciate them without jealousy or greed.

To this day, few things calm my soul and refresh my spirit like a drive on a beautiful day. I still find myself imagining the lives that are lived in the homes passing by! Likely, they are nothing close to the pictures in my brain, but they keep me dreaming of ways to improve, and inspired to seek out the beauty in those people and things around me.

 

It’s been a while.

Alas it has been a great while since I’ve posted here.  However, life has been going along at a speedy clip and I’ve certainly not left my hobbies to the winds.

In a few short weeks, I will be entering upon an entirely new path for my life when I move to NYC and begin studying the culinary arts in earnest. I’m hoping to be chronicle my experiences while there in this blog for future reference and for my friends and family to keep up with me and my doings.

Swing dancing, sewing, reenacting, irish sessions, family, friends, and gardening–all have kept my life full with wonderful memories in the last year. Hopefully this next will be the same.

 

Of Vests and the Art of Tailoring.

Or at least, attempting the art of tailoring! About three years ago my Dad asked me to make him a couple nicer vests that he could use to spruce up his outfits. There were a couple personal requirements he wanted in his vests which he was having trouble finding in modern, ready to wear. Namely, he needs them long enough to cover items carried on the belt.

I’m finally getting around to making  the first one. It’s a charcoal grey wool that I’m lining with black silk taffeta (the real deal, no polyester here!) and interlining the front with hair canvas. So far, my only tailoring experience has been making two 1860s era vests for my younger brother. I did all the period tailoring details because I’m a stickler for authenticity when possible in my period reproduction sewing. That is the limit to my tailoring knowledge. And the instructions which came with Simplicity 4762 are not at ALL designed for tailoring!

I’m going to try and document my progress. I sense that this will be a steep learning curve for me, so I’m sure many  mistakes will be made, but hopefully if I’m documenting them I can see what went wrong and how to prevent it next time!

Today I cut out the pieces and worked on securing the canvas to the vest fronts. I used fusible interfacing on the pocket welts because I didn’t want the bulk of the hair canvas on them. It always caused me lots of headaches on the period vests I sewed, so since it’s not required here for authenticity’s sake, I took the short cut!

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You can see in this picture that my initial sewing was a bit shaky! I wasn’t certain how to get the effect I wanted so it took a bit of trial and error. The idea behind this stitch is to secure the canvas to the fashion fabric, adding stability and body. But, your stitches can’t show through, so you’re just barely catching the fashion fabric on the under side.

The next step is to sew in my pockets. I’ll be doing single flap welt pockets.