Category Archives: Coping

Sunday Self-Care: Making the beds

As I mentioned several weeks ago, I don’t stop gardening in the winter. Time spent working in the sunshine is a necessity if I’m to keep seasonal depression at bay, and winter is an ideal time to work on a garden’s infrastructure. My focus this year has been adding raised beds. I had six last year, and my goal is to have a dozen by planting time this year — a task that should be accomplished easily enough, as we generally buy one every paycheck, and we’re still five checks away from Planting Day.

I think the bird's-nest concept takes up too much room to work in the garden itself, but it'll be cute around a raised bed in the front yard later on.
I think that bird’s-nest concept takes up too much room to work in the garden proper, but it’ll be cute around a flowerbed in the front yard later on.

I’ve been filling the beds with compostable materials, peat moss, and finished compost. A third of a bale of peat on the bottom provides filler as well as drainage and aeration, and three bags of compost on top will just about fill up the bed, for a total cost of about $8 per bed.

I can’t say enough good things about these beds, which are just plain old 36-inch fire rings. They run between $30 and $45 apiece, depending on where you buy them and whether you catch a sale, and they’re lightweight, easy to position (just roll them where you want them), and make planting and weeding very easy. I installed them out of necessity — the juglones from the neighbors’ black walnut and pecan trees have rendered the soil in my backyard worthless for growing most vegetables — but they’ve proven so advantageous in so many directions, I’m not sure I’d go back to traditional rows even if I had the option.

As you can see in the picture, I’ve also started mulching with cedar shavings in between beds. They look neat, discourage pests, and smell nice when I walk over them.

Emily

 

P.S.: The tin cans you see in one of the rings in the top picture are leftovers from last year’s plantings. Besides being a good way to start seeds, the cans help protect young plants from marauding squirrels, which love to dig through my raised beds in search of nuts. My tomato plants wouldn’t have survived without them last year.

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Scaling back

Late Saturday night, I realized I’d spent nearly 10 straight hours doing blog-related stuff and STILL didn’t have a whole week’s worth of posts filed, and I ended up so tired and frustrated, it literally made me sick. It occurred to me that I’ve taken something I started for fun and made it stressful. That’s really screwed-up.

My New Year’s resolution was to do less, live more, and hopefully spend less time battling the stress-related health problems that plagued me for most of 2016. To that end, I’m making some changes around here:

Vegetarian Friday. When I started this feature in 2014, my goal was to try one new vegetarian recipe every week for a year in an effort to incorporate more plant-based meals into our diet. Posting them was a way to keep myself honest. Three years later, a good 80 percent of the meals I cook are vegetarian, probably a fourth are vegan, and I’ve learned a lot about staging food photos. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I don’t like staging food photos. I see no point in doing something I don’t like if I’m not being paid for it, especially if other people are better at it. With that in mind, if you enjoyed Vegetarian Friday, I would encourage you to visit Oh She Glows and Minimalist Baker. If I dream up something really exceptional, I’ll still share it like I always have, but it’s probably not going to be a weekly occurrence.

Eco-Saturday. I’m not getting rid of this, but I’m changing it. Like Vegetarian Friday, Eco-Saturday was supposed to run for a year. Three years later, I’ve gone about as far as I can where I am, so I’m going to focus more on reviews, recommendations, links, and daydreams about things I’d like to do someday. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, feel free to suggest it in the comments.

Make-It Monday and Tiny Tuesday. You’ll get one or the other each week, but probably not both, because they overlap a lot, and separating them out is starting to feel forced.

I hope that doesn’t disappoint anybody too terribly. At this point, trying to do too much is easily my worst habit, and I’m trying very hard to break it. Bear with me; down time is still an alien concept for me, and self-care isn’t really one of my strengths.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: A virtual ride down Route 66

I have kind of a long-term goal — nothing really pressing, but just something I’ve thought might be cool to do — of pedaling the equivalent of the length of Route 66 on our stationary bike. About a year ago, I got on Google Maps and planned rides in increments of anywhere from 7 to 35 miles, following the road from landmark to landmark. I entered that information into Excel, printed out a chart, and hung it in the basement, where it’s been sitting, mostly ignored, for months. I noticed it a couple of weeks ago when I was testing out the new bike Ron bought after the old one broke down, and I decided to give it another go, just for fun.

I’ve logged over 100 miles in the past couple of weeks. It was easier than I expected, even with the tension turned up on the bike, and it’s a comfortable way to burn a few calories and generate a few much-needed endorphins while I wait for spring.

I don’t have the time, money, or endurance to go out and take a real ride down Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles right now, but this virtual trip is kind of a nice way to revisit favorite attractions in my head and daydream about where I’d like to explore on our next road trip.

By the way, 100 miles puts me somewhere south of the Route 66 Museum in Pontiac. If I were really on Route 66, I’d have started at the “Begin 66” sign in Chicago and passed the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, the site of the late, great Wishing Well Motel, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, White Fence Farm, Haunted Trails, Route 66 Raceway, the Gemini Giant (pictured above), the site of the fabulous Riviera Roadhouse, Ambler’s Texaco, Odell Station, and the Pontiac Route 66 Museum.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Hand me the wine and the dice

I’d planned to make a long list of goals for 2017, but if there’s a lesson to be learned from 2016, I think I found it the other day in the lyrics to a song from one of my favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals:

If death were given a voice,
That voice would scream through the sky:
“Live while you may, for I am coming!”
So …

… Hand me the wine and the dice.
The time is racing away.
There’s not a taste that’s not worth trying.
And if tomorrow it ends,
I won’t have wasted today;
I will have lived while I am dying.

— Don Black and Charles Hart

“Hand Me the Wine and the Dice” is sung at the funeral of one of the central characters in Aspects of Love, a wealthy painter and patron of the arts who is driven, perhaps by the premature death of his first wife, to enjoy every day to the fullest.

After losing so many people I admire last year — some I knew personally, and some I knew only through their work — I found myself thinking about that song the other day.

I’m often guilty of spending so much time regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow that I miss today, and it literally makes me sick: I wasted a big chunk of 2016 battling tension headaches and muscle spasms I suspect were entirely stress-induced.

I’m not doing that again.

My goal for 2017 is to do less.

It feels strange — selfish and unproductive — to say that, but just last week, I found myself passing up a volunteer opportunity because I wasn’t confident I’d be healthy enough to pull it off. Taking care of myself isn’t selfish; it’s necessary if I’m to be of service to others.

My hope is that a few months of systematically removing stress from my thought — resting more, being more present in the moment, and giving myself space to enjoy the life I have here and now — will improve my health and recharge my batteries to full power.

If it doesn’t? Well, as the song says: “I won’t have wasted today.”

There’s something to be said for that.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: White noise

About a year and a half ago, a friend recommended a smartphone app that generates white noise to help people sleep better. She said it was great because it offered a lot of different sounds, which you could mix and match to create combinations that remind you of places where you feel comfortable.

I’d never considered the possibility that I might sleep better if I drifted off while listening to sounds that remind me of places I love, but the idea was intriguing enough that I downloaded the app and discovered my friend was right: It is great.

I spent the first couple of weeks staying up later than I’d planned while I dinked around with the app, trying to find just the right combination of sounds to make me think of wherever I wanted to be right then, but the end result was a nice assortment of places more soothing than my bedroom.

Several combinations were evocative of places I’ve stayed on vacation: the Blue Swallow during monsoon season; the Ocean Park Motel in San Francisco; the Lincoln Motor Court in Mann’s Choice, Pennsylvania. Others reminded me of places or situations from years past: a snow day when I was teaching; a trip to the laundromat on a rainy day; a visit to the late, great Nature Company.

As useful as white noise is for falling asleep, I think it might be even better for relaxing while I’m working on other things. I’m prone to muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders and tension headaches, and I think a lot of that is because I tense up when I’m concentrating. Sometimes I put on headphones and listen to music while I’m working, but the other night, I got the bright idea to take it a step further and listen to white noise.

I can’t say it solved the whole problem instantly, but between that and a cup of chamomile tea, I was a lot less tense and a lot less irritated by the usual barrage of annoyances while I was working. I expected the combination of white noise and chamomile to make me sleepy, but instead, I think it just helped me relax and filter out distractions so I could focus on what I was doing.

I’ll definitely use that strategy again this week and see how it goes.

Emily

P.S.: In case you’re interested, the app I use is Relax Melodies by Ipnos Software. I like it a lot, but I haven’t tried any other white-noise apps or machines or anything, so I don’t know how it compares to other options.

Sunday Self-Care: Seed catalogs

It’s the third-most wonderful time of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year is the first Saturday after Tax Day, when we put the garden in the ground.

The second-most wonderful time of the year is the day Cubs pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

But the third-most wonderful time of the year is now, when the companies that sell seeds for the garden and beekeeping equipment for the apiary start sending out catalogs, which means I can start dreaming about spring in specific detail and figuring out how many times we’re going to have to eat enchiladas or sauerkraut to save up enough cans for all the seeds I intend to start. (Tin cans with the bottoms cut out make the world’s greatest seed-starting pots/squirrel deterrents. Unfortunately, about the only products that still come in cans with identical tops and bottoms are Ro-Tel tomatoes; certain brands of sauerkraut; and most enchilada sauce. This means for about two months every winter, my grocery list revolves around my gardening needs.)

Gardening and beekeeping catalogs are my saving grace every winter. Gray skies and short days don’t do anything positive for my mental health, and after a while, I start to wonder whether I’ll ever get to put my hands in the dirt and bask in the sunshine again. When that first seed catalog lands in the mailbox, I see the first glimmer of hope.

We got catalogs this weekend from Seed Savers Exchange and Betterbee, so I’ll spend the next few months dogearing pages and circling varieties that sound promising and drawing scale diagrams of the garden while I dream of spring.

Emily