Thursday, December 9, 2010

A TV-less Life

It was 10am, nearly two months ago. I had just finished volunteering at a local hospital and headed home to get some chores done. As I pulled into our driveway my heart skipped about 10 beats. The smashed glass, easily apparent from the busy road we live on, screamed "YOU'VE BEEN BROKEN INTO!" I immediately got my wits together and called 911. Jason was of course 30 minutes away at school and not answering his phone. I waited outside for the police to arrive. There was no way I was going to investigate the house on my own, even though I was sure no one had decided to stick around since they made the whole operation so blatantly obvious - even from the road.

It took about 15 to 20 minutes for the police to show up. During that time I made a mental list of all of the things they could have stolen. I was just so grateful that no one was home when the break-in occurred. My eldest son was actually supposed to be there (though no cars would have been in the front hinting of this), but in a strange turn of events earlier that morning plans changed and he left about two hours prior. The police arrived, pulled their guns (that made it all the more real & scary), and explored the inside of the house.

When the "all clear" was signaled I followed inside and was relieved to find the only thing stolen was our TV. Let me re-phrase that - Jason's TV. In a previous life, his pride and joy. Well, I probably shouldn't put it like that, but he did like it. It was a large flat-screen he had purchased almost 4 years back in our higher income and more-mindless-consumerist days. It was quite expensive at the time as the technology was fairly new. It killed me to purchase it, but it was one of those "I've worked so hard [and indeed he had] and I deserve to relax" kind of arguments, and it was hard to disagree. He was the sole bread winner and extremely hard worker, and I wanted him to be able to have something he could lose his mind in now and then. Fast forward 4 years - we'd never buy a TV such as that now. But we've changed alot since then, too. The loss of that TV was a blessing in disguise - and no, I don't mean because of a large insurance pay-out. We ended up not even claiming it as our deductible is so high. So new window - check. New door - check. But did we get a new TV, you ask?

We have now been without that TV for two months. Other than the fact of feeling violated because someone broke into our home, honestly I couldn’t be happier. The kids (ages 3, 10, & 11) haven’t suffered in the least. Our 3 year old, especially, would be in a catatonic state when the TV was on. And when it wasn’t on, he would almost constantly ask me to watch something. He NEVER asks now, and just plays by himself or with his siblings. There wasn’t even a hard transition period – we were like “We no longer have a TV,” and his response was “OH NO!!!... Well, OK!” (scampers off to go play). That surprised me the most. I figured he’d be scarred for life!

The benefits are endless. No more ads encouraging us to eat crappy food. No more ads telling us our clothes aren't the hippest styles. No more Victoria's Secret commercials popping up while my kids are watching when I can't find the remote. No more worthless entertainment & celebrity "news". No more reality TV that so easily draws you in. More family time. More time to draw, read, and play the piano. More time to cook. More time to clean! Well, that may not be a positive, but you get the drift. People – including kids(!) – can survive, and even thrive, without TV. I swear! I can’t promise we’ll never have a TV again, but it is definitely now on the bottom of our “wants” list. Note I didn't say "needs"! -Carrie

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bike Thieves - Beware!

Anyone in North Oak Cliff (Dallas) know these guys?

Stealer #1

Stealer #2

There's a great story over at Bike Friendly Oak Cliff about a thwarted bike theft. Well, a theft did indeed occur, but the bike was recovered by the neighborhood bike shop as the thieves were trying to sell it to them. And the bike is now back in the loving arms of it's rightful owner - a nine year old no less! Shame on them for stealing from a child! Great job, Oak Cliff Bicycle Company! Keep up the good work! -Carrie

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New (to me!) Blog!

Well, apparently my gardener-extraordinaire brother of the Is Your Yard a Looker or a Feeder? post fame has had a "secret" gardening blog for the last 6 months! Who knew?!? Now I don't have to constantly call him with my gardening woes, I can just check out his blog!

Give it a look-see! He gardens on a small suburban lot in Zone 7B and has far more experience growing vegetables and fruits than we do. I know he'd be happy to answer any questions you may have!

Click on this link -

Monday, December 6, 2010

And the Gleaning Continues...

According to, gleaning is "the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest." We continue the tradition right here in the suburbs of Dallas, TX, though on a much smaller scale, by gathering foods we come across (with the owners permission, of course). These are fruits or vegetables that would otherwise be left to rot on the ground or just dumped into the trash. We can't stomach either of these options, so we choose to put ourselves out there and relish what comes our way. Here's two perfect, recent examples:

Deja vu, right?!? Here is yet another load full of pumpkins resulting from my pumpkin recycling efforts. I could not be happier with the response. In fact, I've received so many pumpkins that were otherwise destined for the landfill that it is seemingly impossible that I'm going to be able to process them all in a timely fashion. I've recently even had to turn some down because I've run out of space. If you're in the North Oak Cliff area, seriously drop me a line and I'd be happy to pass a few on.

Jason was recently doing work on a customer's property when he noticed a large pomegranate tree covered with fruit. Many had already fallen and were spoiling on the ground. However, he was able to glean an entire grocery store bag's worth. (Unfortunately the only thing he could find in his car to carry them all - we need to remedy that ASAP! I hate those bags!)

Since bringing them home and cracking open a few, it appears that the freezing temp or two we've had have ruined a few of them, but the majority seem fine. The customer got a small discount on the job and Jason brought home enough pomegranates to make some jelly. It's a win-win! Do you have a memorable gleaning story you'd like to share? -Carrie

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Making Inexpensive Floating Row Covers

We're pretty new to this whole gardening thing, but I knew I wanted to make some sort of cold frames or floating row covers in order to try to protect some of our vegetables this winter. It's a learning experience to say the least. About a week ago, on the night our first freeze (and thus a pretty strong cold front) was creeping towards us, Jason and I realized we wouldn't be able to put it off any longer. So at 10pm that night, we headed out to the garden to try to turn it into a greenhouse of sorts. Of course it was dark and very windy. Not good conditions to try and stretch plastic over the structure we made out of 1" PVC irrigation pipe. It quickly became apparent that our plans were just too grand in scale to execute on such short notice. We were never able to completely cover the structure, and within 2 days the cover had blown off of the frame. On to plan B.

You can see in this picture part of our original "greenhouse" -
made out of 1 inch PVC pipe

I recently checked out from the library two great books by Eliot Coleman - The Winter Harvest Handbook and Four-Season Harvest. I highly recommend them both. He discusses how to inexpensively make floating row covers out of 1/2" metal electrical conduit. I had to return something to Home Depot and decided to take a peak. Turned out Mr. Coleman was right, metal conduit was inexpensive (under $2 per 10' x 1/2" section). But you pretty much need a special bending device in order to make the straight poles the appropriate shape. They seem to cost anywhere from about $35 to $70 (Johnny's Select Seeds sells their version for $69). I didn't want to spend that right now. However, sitting right beside the metal conduit was 1/2" PVC conduit at only $0.88 for a 10 foot section. I purchased three for a whopping total of under $3 - figured I could spare that in the name of attempting to protect the fruits (or veggies as it were) of my labor.

So our three beds are each 4'x8'. Ideally I would place 4 PVC conduits in each bed. But since I only purchased 3 I didn't quite cover an entire 4'x8' bed. It was so easy. All I did was push the 1/2" pipe into the ground. Our beds are 12" high, so down the pipe went 12". I simply bent it over and pushed the other end into the opposite side of the bed. I didn't secure them in any way to the wood part of the bed itself. They fit in perfectly and seem sturdy enough. If you have a 6" high bed you may want to do some additional securing, but it fortunately wasn't necessary in our situation. The plastic is an old painter's tarp we had on hand. It's not too thick and probably won't quite do the trick in an extended deep freeze, but for our weather here in Dallas it seems near perfect.

Inside view of the floating row cover.
Not too impressive, but it does nicely protect what meager vegetables we do have!

I wasn't quite sure how I was going to attach the cover to the PVC. But while working on it and looking around our property, I realized I could use the wooden clothes pins from the laundry line. Turns out they fit over the conduit like a glove! However, as a warning, they don't ALL fit! We have two varieties for our laundry, and while the one works great, the other doesn't even come close to being able to open 1/2". So keep that in mind if you are going to try and reproduce our results! You can also purchase "Snap Clamps" from Johnny's if you want something more formal and perhaps slightly less ghetto!

It will be interesting to see how this lasts in our climate through the winter months. I don't think it could handle much snow, but unless we have a once in a generation Dallas snow storm like last year, I think we'll be OK. -Carrie

Note: For those of you interested in what is exactly planted in the bed in the last picture, it is as follows, from the back of the bed to the front:
  • Rainbow Swiss Chard - purchased & transplanted because the Rhubarb Swiss Chard I planted from seed didn't take.
  • Green Oakleaf Salad Bowl Lettuce - planted from seed but didn't take hardly at all. Pretty much only grew on the right side of the bed, and even then not very well.
  • Red Sails Lettuce - planted from seed, by far the best producer this year.
  • Red Oakleaf Malawi Lettuce - planted from seed, sort of the same results as the salad bowl except it mainly grew on the left side of the bed.
  • 4 Green Salad Bowl Mix - got for free as transplants. They've only been in the ground for about two weeks. They are in the middle & left of the very front of the bed.
  • Kale, 1 single plant - also got for free as a transplant. On the very right in the front, almost out of the picture.
All of the lettuces & chard I planted with the intention of using them as cut & come again. Since it's the first time I've planted lettuce it will be interesting to see just how many times I can come back. The Red Sails has already been cut twice but is coming back strong yet again.