Friday Faves: Cycling Rain Gear

Cycling Rain Gear at BirdandSeed.net

I am so glad to be biking to work everyday again.  This winter was rough and I HATE the bus.  Probably because I’ve been spoiled by the absolute freedom of mobility that comes with a bicycle.  That said, in the summer passing showers and pop-up thunderstorms can throw you for a loop.  I used to live only 3 miles from work, so I just toughed it out through the rain.  But now I cycle 10-19 miles round trip depending on which lab I’m working out of.  That’s a tad too far to just grin and bear it.  I don’t mind riding in the rain.  I don’t ride when it’s coming down buckets because your breaking ability is very compromised (even though I have disc breaks) and visibility becomes an issue.  But if it’s just regular old rain and the temperature is nice, I like to ride.  This week’s Faves are some really great rain-gear options.  First of all- fenders are essential- but not all fenders are created equal.  Investing in good quality fenders means that they will keep you dry and not be a rattling noisy mess.  These hammered metal ones from Velo Orange have serious style.  Of course, preventing skunk stripe isn’t one’s only concern- your stuff needs to stay dry.  This beautiful waxed canvas pannier is awesome for that and as a bonus- doesn’t look like a ‘bike bag’.  One minute you’re on your bike, the next in a meeting, looks totally stylish and professional.  And finally, the Cleverhood Rain Cape solves the problem of wet thighs.  Rain coats just don’t cover your legs when biking and I refuse to wear rain pants (they’re super sweat inducing).  Also, I like to bike in ‘regular clothes’ and look like a ‘regular person’ to promote the idea that transportation cycling is just a ‘regular thing’ to do- rain pants are too gimmicky for me.  And yes, this rain cape is a tad gimmicky, but if you were to see a person walking down the street in this you would not immediately think ‘biker’, so it scores points with me.  Ok- time to get ready for work and hop on my bike- looks like rain today!

Where to Start in a Blank Slate Yard?

where to start in a blank slate yard

After living in apartments for 7 years, last year, when we were looking to buy a house we knew we wanted a yard.  And ultimately, this house’s yard was a big part of it’s appeal.  It’s a big yard for the area and price.  It’s sunny and shady.  It has serious potential- but it was- and remains nearly a blank slate.  After living here almost a year, and thus now having experienced what grows where and what blooms when we have a better picture for what we want to do and what needs to be done.  But its still a big undertaking- and so I’m putting this out to you all- where do you start in a nearly blank slate yard?

From chatting with neighbors and also assessing the general state of the yard, we figured out that about 10 years ago the last people who truly did any significant yard work moved out.  Since then the lawn was mowed (albeit poorly) and rarely watered in dry spells.  Bushes that were planted either died off (azalea) or grew untrimmed.  Daylillies spread everywhere.  As did the terrible invasive vine, black swallow-wort, which is a huge problem here in the northeast.  My goal is to fill in the blank spots in the beds that circle the fences, to use mainly local (or localish) pollinator-friendly perennials, and combat most of the invasives.  This is also not our forever house, so no need to go crazy.  We share this yard with our upstairs neighbors, who pretty much let us have our way with the yard, but it’s not entirely our own (and if they move, sentiments can change).  Also, we don’t need to beautify it in terms of re-sale value- that is thankfully not a concern in our super-selling area.  We want something nice, practical, sustainable.  So I’ll show you what we have, what some of my thoughts & plans are, and I welcome all comments.

front yard

This is our front yard beds.  The spring bulby things have faded, but they’re there in spring.  We recently put down new cedar mulch and the small boxwood in the lower picture.  I ripped out a half-dead yew and last fall we planted a heavily discounted hydrangea that we are pleased to see coming back hail and healthy (top picture right next to steps).  I’m thinking of planting some giant allium next to the hydrangea.  Behind the boxwood we’d like to put in a large ornamental fountain grass to cover up the foundation.  But other than that I’m at a loss.  We’re looking for a medium height sun loving hardy perennial (or three) the fill in that front bed, and lower varieties to go in front of the boxwood & holly.  Oh and yeah, we’re working on the grass- that’s where the crabgrass was killed.

backyard

Our backyard has lots of empty patches.  We recently put in a raspberry cane.  Maybe we’ll do currants too.  In the top picture you can see just a part of the daylilly problem.  Large sun/part sun perennials (or flowering bushes) are really needed to fill in this area- but maybe we’ll work on that after we replace the decrepit fence.  The area by our garden is the best off.  It is perhaps the only part that still retains the beauty and care long ago previous owners took.  There’s lots of wild violets (we even have them popping up in our grass- which I don’t mind).  Also bleeding heart, ferns, some other sort of lily that hasn’t bloomed yet so I can’t identify it and wild geranium.  The area that directly abuts our neighbor’s garage is very shady and contains sad stumps of lilacs.  Last fall I hacked apart ferns, violets and hosta to plant in this shady spot and have been pleased to see that they all came up this year.  This area will continue to fill in, but helping it along with more shade loving things – that attract helpful insects as our garden is right there- is preferred.  Also to do is edge the entire back yard.  That’ll be quite the project.

side yard

Our side yard is all sorts of miserable.  Immediately next to our deck is a rhododendron that is pretty well off- except in the month of July intense sun hits it just so to really cook it- the rest of the year it’s ok- it’s just a really funny angle tucked into the corner of our house.  You can see more wild violets popping up in the left (and our compost bucket).  But other than that, this bed is bare.  Along the side of the house is were the evil invasives grow.  There are also several clematis.  And a sad rose.  Honestly, it will take a backhoe to remove the tangled knots of invasive swallow-wort in here.  I dig them up when I can, but their roots are tough.  The clematis might be invasive too- but the planting seems intentional and there seems to be debate whether all the wild clematis in this area is the native one (virgin’s bower) or a very similar looking import- sweet autumn clematis.  We have milkweed growing here too (YEAH!) and I sprinkled in a perennial seed mix- so we’ll see what pops up.  Those beige sack planters are where our squash babies live.  This side gets a good deal of sun.  For this area my goal is to loosen the death grip the invasives have, and fill the area with perennials or self-seeding annuals- kind of let it go sort of wild- but in a good way.

So there you have it.  An embarrassing but honest look at our yard.  I didn’t even share all of its goodies (by that I mean baddies).  Ideas?  Thoughts?  Have you tamed a wild yard?  Did you battle invasives?  Have you moved into a blank slate (or worse- a jumbled mess?) I’d love to hear your stories!

I’ll be sharing this on Tuesday Garden Party at an Oregon Cottage and Green Thumb Thursday at Grow a Good Life.

DIY Lip Balm

DIY Lip Balm at BirdandSeed.net

I generally watch what I put in my mouth.  By that I mean I try to eat organically and eat real food.  I also try to use natural products (shampoos, lotions…) whenever possible.  But one hold out has been my lip balm.  Which is odd- you’d think if I was so good about watching what I put in my mouth that I’d by extension be good about what I put on my mouth.  Not so.  However, after all the bubblings to the surface about unregulated chemical use in cosmetics I’m ready to make the switch completely.  I already use mineral makeup- it’s just lip balm that is my last hold out.  My lip balm (or really, I call it chapstick just like people call it xerox or kleenex… lip balm sounds hoity toity to me…) my, ahem, chapstick purchase is usually a spur of the moment thing.  I’m in the checkout line, my lips are chapped- oh look!  Carmex!  Even faithful Carmex lovers know that they’re slathering chemicals all over their maws.  And I know there are natural varieties out there- I have had many a tube of Burt’s Bees in my life.  But they’re suspiciously pricey for beeswax.  Plus, I think they sometimes have an odd, almost gritty texture.  My own DIY lip balm however, is smooth and nourishing and best of all- cheap.

When making lip products a good rule of thumb is the 1:2:1 rule.  1 part wax, to 2 parts butter, to 1 part oil.  That will always put you in the ballpark.  Also, for lip balm, a little goes a long way, so even if you’re making a 4 ounce total product, that is A LOT of lip balm.  Assuming you don’t lose any (which, of course you will, that is the job of chapstick, is it not?  to get lost?) you’ll make a year’s supply!  So here’s what I did.

DIY Lip Balm at BirdandSeed.net

I melted 1 ounce of beeswax with two ounces of shea butter.  Both of these ingredients were organic as again, I was going to be slathering this all over my mouth.  For the oil I mixed in 1/2 an ounce sunflower seed oil, which is rich in vitamin E- good for healing all skin ailments and 1/2 an ounce castor oil.  Castor oil is so thick and moisturizing and has similar properties to our own natural oil.  From there, I split my warm oily soon-to-be balm into three batches.  The first, went straight into tins.  The second, got 5 drops of peppermint essential oil.  The last, got a shy 1/8th teaspoon of brick red oxide (which if every year I use 1/8th of a teaspoon it’s going to take me FOREVER to go through this 1 ounce jar).  This results in a subtle reddening of the lip and as I don’t wear lipstick, it is just the right amount of subtle boost I like.  In this end I made 10 tins of lip balm that cost about 2.10$ each (not including shipping the raw ingredients to me).  If we manage to save the empty tins to use again, it will be even cheaper next go around.  But more importantly, nothing scary or untested or harmful went into the making of these diy lip balms.  So pucker up!

This post contains affiliate links, however the opinions and ideas shared above are entirely my own.

Garden Update: Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Come see our yard and BirdandSeed.net

This past weekend was marvelous.  The perfect weather saw us outside a lot, doing all sorts of yard and garden work.  And after it all, some snacks and home brew on the deck.  It also reminded us that summer was around the corner.  This slow-to-start spring made planning the garden plantings a little tricky for these two nearly first time gardeners.  We were super good about starting things indoor, under our grow lights, around the times we were supposed to.  But as our sprouts sprouted and stayed kinda quiet we realized that our grow lights were just not very powerful.  Our seedlings never thrived.  The weather was so cool that I was hesitant to put them outside in the morning before I left for work.  They damped off and died.  I quickly planted what I had left alive, even though they were small and frail.  A few bit the dust, a few have hung on.  With May nearly halfway done we couldn’t start more things from seed.  We had to bite the bullet and just buy some starts.  So we’re cheater cheater pumpkin eaters.  (or rather… tomato and pepper and kale eaters)

Garden Update at BirdandSeed.net

We were going to buy tomatoes, peppers and eggplants anyway due to our short growing season.  We ended up buying a few more kale (we have some kale from seed that are going ok, but still pretty little).  Some chard- again, too few of our seed started ones survived.  A few lettuce (more of the same lame seedling story). We planted our lettuce in the most shady and cool part of our garden, in hopes of extending their season more into July.  Our direct sewn radish should be edible by next week and our spinach continues to produce.  Our neighbor gave us some extra over wintered leeks, which was great as ours didn’t do so well.  We bought a few cucumbers (using a found baby gate for their trellis) and celery.  Not pictured are our squash, which seem to be ok.  This week will have a few cooler days, which might help some of our little guys with transplant shock.  Next week I’ll do a big tour of our yard to give you a better picture of what we have growing & where.  But for now, I’m just happy to have the starts in the garden.  Yes it meant spending more money than I wanted to, but ultimately, when we’re eating mainly from our pickings (and from helping out on my co-worker’s farm and bringing home extra) I hope to see our grocery bill more than proportionately make up for it.  Happy spring growing!

I’ll be sharing this post on with the Tuesday Garden Party at An Oregon Cottage and Green Thumb Thursday at Grow a Good Life (although I don’t really have a green thumb this week- do I?)  Join me as I get inspired by all these folks awesome gardens!