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