Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The ultimate free composted woodchips

A year and a half ago, a local tree company delivered a truckload of fresh woodchips at the top of our driveway. We played on our mini mountain for a week or so before spreading it out. Joe has been parking on the flattened pile, but noticed that they have softened up, evidenced by his tires spinning out this past weekend. Now, the woodchips are perfection for the garden, if we don't mind the potential for truck drippings in the mix. If you are interested in using wood chips on your garden, here are some things to consider.

1. Many local tree companies end up with loads and loads of woodchips that they would much rather give away to nearby residents than pay to haul them somewhere else.

2. Many of these tree companies have online signup forms to get a free delivery when they are working in your area. You want get to specify how much, so be prepared for a mountain.

3. These wood chips will be fresh and not color treated. You obviously don't get to choose the blend you get, so there could be hardwoods or pine, and there will probably be some leaves in there.

4. Make sure you give the company good directions to your house. The house being flipped down the road from us ended up with our free load last winter.

5. It takes 6 months to a 1 years for the wood chips to have beneficial use for your vegetable garden as they will take up available nitrogen as they decompose. The places where I spread fresh wood chips grew nothing - not weeds, not veggies.

6. If you like the ease of picking up bags at a store and dumping them over the garden, this is not the best option for you. There is the initial labor of spreading out your fresh pile, and then the followup labor of moving it where you want it. I spent a few hours yesterday filling up a garbage can and hauling it back and forth from the front yard to the back yard.

My struggle is always finding the right window of time to build up the beds with new compost and mulch. I like to let spinach, carrots, garlic and onion grow over the winter, so I have to try to avoid those little patches as I'm dumping out the loads.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Deep Winter

It is deep winter, or as deep as it gets in the Piedmont, and yesterday we got a strange yet wonderful lag in the cold after a week of no school. We drove off to a location not far out of town, a future park development site Joe wanted to visit. We arrived and walked down an old two-lane road, half grown over with the encroaching forest floor and recently blanketed in ice, giving way to sun and slush.

The road eventually dove under the water, sleepily submerged under Falls Lake, reminding us of the temporal nature of man-made utility. Where the water met the pavement was a thin, melting layer of ice. The ground was peppered in old shotgun shells and skeet disks, and boxes were strewn about either as targets or evidence of redneck libations.

Satisfied by the echoing thuds sticks and rocks made as they bounced across the ice, we turned down a trail to hike out to the point, and the forest began to close in around us. As we sloshed through, we noticed an increasing amount of rusty cans, tires and large cylinders and again puzzled at the passage of time. On our return back, we even found what looked to be the foundation of an old cabin and a chimney fallen down in the center. There was a hollowed out tree, fallen trees teeming with moss and fungal growth and massive oaks that had cast off old heavy branches but were still charting out new territory in the heights of the canopy.

When we finally reached the point, we ate our snack and found an old turtle shell, which fastened to a stick became the return hike totem of sorts. After sticking to the path, I pointed up at a ridge and told the boys to go explore, see what was just over the hill. Their inner-woodsmen unleashed, they took off and soon discovered a small ice-beach.

After a week of stagnation, trapped inside our walls waiting out the ice, we had opened the door and seen that nothing is stagnant --  not nature, not time, and certainly not decay. As we walked back to the car, Joe and I joked about we old people being tortoises and the boys being hares as we carried the turtle shell totem and the boys wove in and out of our path stopping to moan over wet socks and tired legs and then bolting ahead determined to beat us to the end.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Progression of a Mug

Friday, January 30, 2015

Little Thought for the Morning

With social media, there's a trend to announce convictions and lifestyle changes, whether it's the choice to wear leggings, the tv shows we allow our children to watch, the stores where we will no longer shop, the foods we will no longer eat, the drinks we will partake in, how we exercise, discipline our kids, etc. You get the picture. Even when I agree with these, I often find myself getting defensive, thinking of snarky responses or feeling inadequate that I'm not performing well enough. Often these changes are driven by spiritual convictions, and sometimes they are driven by guilt, but the announcement of them seems to never be driven by a desire to point people to Jesus, at least not if we deeply assess our motives. Announcements present our own portrait of morality, the face we hope the world will see. These announcements almost always throw someone under the bus. What if instead of proclaiming our pursuits of holiness, we quietly lived out our convictions showing His holiness?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why Did My Bowls Bust?

Today I opened the kiln after a bisque firing and saw an exploded 12" bowl. It was a gorgeous piece, and it was disappointing to see it shattered on the top shelf. As I unloaded the rest of the kiln, I found the other large bowl and 17" plate also shattered.

A few years ago I might have cried at such an infortuitous firing, but I just inspected each piece to try and understand what caused each one's failure. The only thing better than getting a perfect firing is learning important lessons, as painful as those may be. Usually my lesson is PATIENCE -- as in get more of it.

I'm assuming the first one needed slower drying and less thickness in the bottom as the rim was fully intact, but the middle was blown out. If the bottom still had moisture, it would have pulled away from the rest of the bowl as it continued to shrink during the firing.

The second one seemed to have a fold near the foot that trapped air.  I'm careful to compress the bottom of my pieces, but I was trying something new. Instead of trimming a foot, I tried to turn over the bowl before leather hard and throw a foot. The obvious problem here is that the rim would have to be dry enough and the base wet enough to still manipulate the clay to form a foot. The other problem is that as I pushed clay in from the bottom edge, some must have folded over on itself. You can see the pocket formed two pictures down.

The plate was simply total failure brought on by using already-been-thrown clay. The real shame in that piece is that I spent so much time on it. Isn't that usually the case though? It seems that chances of failure increase with time spent nagging the clay.

The rest of the batch has been glazed and reloaded. Losing three large pieces like this cleared a lot of room on the shelves, so fitting it all in was a cinch!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Progress on Home Office Organization

I tore into my office, which may now be called "the study" as my son has tried to take it over with his music stand and new viola. After trying out a few configurations to include him in the space, I chased him out and moved his stand to the dining room. I'm fine if he wants to practice in here, but it's too had to navigate with a music stand and an extra chair when he's not practicing.

So after several days of cleaning and organizing, The Study has come a long way. There are still some piles spilling out on the floor -- stacks of books and pottery -- but we have good intentions to build some shelves in the hallway. Amazingly, I threw out a whole printer paper box of junk, which for a semi-hoarder is a big deal. I even had Joe take a side table to Habitat Restore. I purchased six tan Better Homes and Gardens collapsible bins from Walmart, which fit perfectly in the Ikea Expedit shelves. There are bins for the following:
  • Sewing machine (it's a small one)
  • Sewing and craft supplies
  • Photography (matted prints and such)
  • Stationary, mail supplies
  • Shipping bubbles and envelopes
  • Garden seed packets
The top basket has random office supplies, and the final shelf has pottery. Excess pottery is a problem in our house. I have pieces listed on Etsy, that are waiting to be sold, but I also have pieces that I want to keep that are samples of the various stages of my skills development, and I have some that are simply too ugly to sell. I am starting to put a box together of "freebies" that I will have to determine what to do with. There's a huge stack of cardboard boxes in the corner just in case I make a sale on Etsy. The USPS will send customers free flat rate boxes to make shipping easier with them.

My only real concern now is that every time my neighbors drive by, I'm sitting in the window -- maybe even pointing the camera towards the bird feeder out front. I look like a real creeper at times. 


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