Jun 14, 2011

Travel: Roadtrip Snack Attacks

ROADTRIP!  I love a good roadtrip.  There is something exciting about heading out on the open road, full of anticipation about getting to the final destination.  Within reach are all the things to keep us occupied for the journey ahead: music, radio, DVDs, books, books on CD, activities for kids and a pillow/blanket for naps.

But what about snacks?

How many times have you regretted eating that king-sized candy bar, or a day-old, shriveled up hotdog at the gas station because your mouth was a little bored? Or perhaps YOU have the will power to purchase a questionable looking apple, but your kids are whining for snacks that will rocket them into hyperspace (only to send them crashing down into a sugar coma a few minutes later.)

If you pack a snack box in advance, you can avoid wandering the gas station for goodies.  Instead of Moon Pies and Pecan Logs from Stuckey's (those who have been through the South will get these referrences) you can have at your fingertips things that are good for sustained energy: water, Gaterade, nuts, fresh fruit, whole grain crackers, cheese, granola/granola bars, healthier versions of trail mix, etc.

I also like to pack a thermos of coffee with the perfect amount of milk, rather than settling for old coffee with those creamers that have a half-life of 3 kazillion years.  Granted, 10 hours into a trip I might drink anything resembling coffee, but will avoid the powdered machines if at all possible. 

My friend Jeff and I took a road to trip a couple of years ago - while listening to NPR and a few CDs from each of our collections, we shared various sandwiches, grapes, clementines and of course, a little bit of chocolate. There were no internal discomforts that often accompany eating on the road, and we saved a little time as well. It was great!

If you absolutely MUST pack junk food, at least you've saved a little money by buying it ahead of time.

Jun 7, 2011

Mulch: Making a Big Job Faster, Smarter

Every Spring, we play a guessing game at what quantity of mulch to buy, and how much of our weekend will be spent toiling away in the yard. We usually guess wrong at both.  We have to reorder more mulch (which means a second delivery charge,) and spend more of our precious free time spreading it than we bargained.

Recently, we got smarter, thanks to a little help from my husband's workmate, who used to work in landscaping.  We never realized we were using ineffective tools, making the chore more arduous than necessary.  Perhaps you seasoned gardeners know all about a thing called a pitchfork, and how is SO MUCH easier to use than a shovel?  Revolutionary!

Steve picked up a 10-pronged pitchfork at the local Tractor Supply Co., but I imagine they are available at home improvements stores as well. The prongs make it easy to drive anywhere into the mulch pile and pull it out with ease. (With a shovel, you pretty much have to go in at the top, which is harder on your back.) Since it also works like a rake, it makes the mulch easier to spread. Any time we can cart around one tool instead of two is hit. With the time we saved, the $40 price tag was worth it.

We also switched from dyed bark mulch to cedar.  Cedar is supposed to last twice as long because it's shredded and therefore sticks together, which means it isn't washed away or disintegrated by rain. When it does break down, it adds nutrients to the soil.  Because of its aromatic scent, it repels insects such as termites and roaches that are attracted to other kinds of mulch. Cedar's natural tendency to mat, keeps the sun out (discouraging weed growth) but allows moisture to seep in and retains it (less watering for plants.)

We will have to aerate the cedar with a rake (or pitchfork!) next spring so that mold isn't allowed to set in. And we paid $12 more per cubic yard than the other mulch. However we will see the savings next year when we don't have to mulch. The only true con I can think of is that, though I'm fine with the color of cedar when it goes down (blond,) it will eventually fade to a silver gray - our house doesn't need more gray.  Taking all into consideration, I can overlook the aesthetics of the mulch in favor of everything else it has going for it.

Finally, there is a way to effectively estimate how mulch you will need. I have included two links to explain the process (just in case one is discontinued.) The steps are also mentioned below:
  • Measure the area to be covered in feet. (Rectangles: L x W = A, Circles: R x R x 3.14 = A. Measure from the middle of the area to the outside to get "R", or the radius.)
  • Multiply the result from step 1 by the depth you want the mulch in inches (typically 3-5 inches.)
  • Divide the final number by 324, the number of square feet that a single cubic yard of mulch will cover if spread 1-inch thick. The result is the number of cubic yards you need for sufficient mulch coverage in your garden or landscape.
  • You can work backwards if you've already ordered the mulch and want to see how coverage you will have.
  • There are online calculators that will do the math for you - just plug in the measurements. For more information, see http://www.kamlar.com/calculator.html


May 30, 2011

Best Time of Day for Yard Work

I love working in our yard, but I don't like getting super hot and sweaty. Becoming overheated will not only send me to a state of unnecessary, perspiring grumpiness, but it's dangerous too, especially if you are older, have a heart condition or other sensitivities aggravated by heat.

Here are a few tips I've picked up over the years, and though there is no new information stated here, it's always good to be reminded:

  • Get up early to tackle all quiet chores such as weeding, watering, planting, mulching, etc. There's no noise to bother the neighbors, and it's THE coolest part of the day. Catch up on any missed sleep during the hottest part of the day, if you can. Weeding or turning sod is always easiest right after a good rain - take advantage of it if you can!

  • Twilight is also a great time for working in the yard and no one cares much about the noise if you are using the mower or the blower. (Be careful about what kind of watering you do before nightfall though - without the sun to burn it off each day, there is a greater chance of mold, mildew, diseases, etc.)

  • Try to avoid doing any kind of strenuous work outside in the heat of the day (10am-3pm.) If you must work midday, stay in the shaded areas: north and west during the mornings, east and south in evenings. Even during the coolest parts of the day, if I'm getting warmer than I like, I'll work back and forth between sunny and shaded areas to cool down periodically.

  • Stay hydrated with lots water or sports drinks. Your body perspires as a way to cool itself, but needs replenishment often. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these will dehydrate you, no matter how refreshing at the time of consumption. However, there's nothing that says you cant enjoy a tasty margarita or cold beer when dehydration is not an issue!

  • Wear light colored, loose fitting, moisture wicking fabrics.

  • Protect your skin and eyes with sunblock, sunglasses and a hat if needed. Remember the often forgotten areas: back of the neck, ears, scalp, hands, and feet.

  • Avoid next day stiffness and muscle fatigue: stand up and stretch often.

I hope you have a great summer!

May 26, 2011

Work Through A Dibilitator - Striving for Perfection

Today I had two simple goals: start working on the website for my professional organizing business, and clean the house. In my planner, I dedicated the a.m. to web building (the best time of the day for me to take on new projects) and the afternoon for everything else. So simple.

I sat at the computer, armed with water, coffee and my best thinking music playing in the background. I was ready to rock the world wide web with my stupendously amazing site! Except I really wasn't ready at all. I sat there, staring at the screen, guzzling my beverages and replaying the music that was supposed to motivate me. I caught up on emails, cruised Facebook for awhile, and made a batch of really good pancakes. However, there was no progress made on the site, and half the morning was gone.

I had to change my strategy because what I was doing was NOT working. I had to do something productive or risk the possibility of losing the entire day. I put in some teeth whitening strips, set the timer for 1/2 hour, and started some housework.

In that 1/2 hour, I had a little talk with myself. I asked the same questions I might ask a client who was having a hard time getting started on a project:

What is holding you back?
Is it fear of failure? Fear of success?
Is it lack of experience?
Do you feel intimidated by the scope or complexity of the task?
Will a little research help?
Do you have the help you need?
Do you have the time you need?

With a little introspection, I realized the pressure I was putting on myself was to be perfect coming out the gate. I didn't want to type a word, or drop in a picture on the site, unless it was 'perfect.'

Identifying what was holding me back was half the battle - I could now work on fixing my hangup. I know I'm a perfectionist and it consistently holds me back from getting more accomplished. Do you ever find yourself saying: 'I wont do it until I know I can do it 'right'" or "it's not done until it's perfect.'" Well then, we have something in common!

But what is perfect anyway? Does EVERY task require the excellence needed to launch a rocket or perform brain surgery? To me, perfection means more than without flaw - it's a higher standard than anything else out there, excellence cubed, if you will. Even though I know these are unreasonable expectations, I continually fight the same battle repeatedly for the most mundane, unimportant tasks.

So this afternoon, I talked myself down from the perfectionist ledge:

Striving for perfection is keeping me from progress and the level of production of which I believe I'm capable. Because I want to do it 'right' I may not get anything done at all, which is unacceptable! Perfectionism may bog me down on one thing so long I cant move on to anything else, which is impractical. To move beyond perfection, I need to look at the overall goal, and constantly prioritize what is, and is not, truly important. So start. Start somewhere. (I can usually change it later if needed.)

Unless I remind myself to change my thinking patterns to focus on what's really important, the perfectionist ideal will be illusive, even pernicious, to the ultimate goal of progress and production. I can do many things well, as we all can, but I wont get anything done at all if I strive for the impossible!