Garden Progress

We have officially eaten food grown in our little garden — and it was good!

Early July progress (I need to get a picture now, things are much fuller):

Last week the harvest from those green beans gave us our side dish for dinner. And again — they were surprisingly good. The plants themselves seem to be losing leaves and color fast… I’m guessing pests are having at them?

Our strawberries aren’t very sweet, but this is the first year. I’m hoping a year establishing roots will give us a better crop in 2018.

There are surprises too. Last week I pushed aside the enormous carrot leaves and was startled to find a nearly full-grown pepper biding its time:

I’m already thinking about next year — both crops and aesthetics. We visited friends last weekend, and their small garden produces a solid crop and looks beautiful. I’m taking notes…

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Garden Update: It’s All Happening

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I shouldn’t say how long this plan took, but it was all of January.

Thanks to a 65 degree Saturday in mid-February, things got underway! First up: the bed for strawberries. Off to Lowes for lumber.

To keep my costs down, I wanted to make a bed out of a single piece of wood. I settled on a 3×3 bed made from a 2x12x12 untreated southern yellow pine (standard lumber). Lowes will cut lumber for free, so I had them cut it into 4 pieces to fit the wood into the car. I also had them cut a 2×4 into 18″ lengths so I could secure the corners of the bed.

Total cost: $22.

Screwing things into wood is about as handy as I get. This project took a little over an hour to complete.

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I am curious to see if a 12″ board will pull away from the corners or split over time. If it does, well… lesson learned. But this was much faster than joining 6″ boards together.

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This bed will sit near the fence on the northern border of our property in the back yard, which gets the most sun. When I’m sure this is the right spot, I’ll flip the bed over and bury the 6″ of overflow to keep the bed from moving.

Then I’ll hope I can grow something worth eating…

2017: Bumper Crop or Bust

At least once a year I spend an unreasonable amount of time romanticizing vegetable gardening and making my plans. “Everyone says homegrown vegetables taste delicious! Think of the money we’ll save not buying carrots!” I imagine the kids, faces smudged with sweat and mud, filling baskets with our yard’s bountiful yield without throwing dirt on one another or “accidentally” spraying anyone with the hose.

I’ve attempted container gardening twice. Let us not speak of the first try. The second time two baseball-sized watermelons inexplicably rotted on the vine. By late summer, however, our watering efforts had produced something “edible”: bitter cucumbers and flavorless carrots.

img_3883Bless our kids, they chomped down the resulting cucumber slices with gusto. I took one bite and threw mine away. Later I surrendered the remains of my carrot to my oldest daughter.

“Turns out you have to harvest the carrots late in the fall,” I read aloud to Renate from a gardening post. “For the best taste you should wait a frost or two.”

“Ah,” she replied, her tone suggesting she might not be all that interested as to when carrots should be harvested.

It’s going to be different this year. This year I’m PREPARED, and it’s only January. I have researched seed companies; I have identified the simplest plants to grow; I know my USDA Plant Hardiness Zone (6a); I have researched wood with which to build a raised vegetable bed, and loamy soil with which to fill it. “Loamy” is a word I now know.

Also I have three garden companions aged 4, 6, and 8 who like to fill the watering can and dump it out. If the cucumbers are gross, at least we will have made them gross together.

But the cucumbers won’t be gross. This year the cucumbers are going to be DELICIOUS. Loamy soil!

Let the Jokes Begin

When we learned we were expecting another child, our first impulse was to have the young’uns share a room. We arrived at this decision partially because we figured it had been done by millions of others, but also because we’d run out of rooms.

“We can always convert the office to another room if it doesn’t work out, and I can just work… somewhere else,” I reasoned.

And then, in a moment of Not-So-Big-House inspiration, I struck upon an idea.

“We could convert our closet into an office,” I tossed out, not sure if the suggestion would be met with derisive laughter, or actual consideration. While there may have been an initial smirk, I could see the wheels turning in Renate’s head.

And so we set out to convert our banana-yellow, L-shaped, smallish walk-in closet into a working studio.

First thing, though — we had to stop calling it a ‘closet’.

“The Annex,” Renate suggested.

“Yeah. Good. I can’t be working in the closet.”

The Annex, pre-construction:

before

Since moving in a year and a half ago, we’ve painted nearly every room in this house and put up a wall in the basement (well — my Dad put up a wall in our basement). But this was definitely the largest home renovation project we’d undertaken, and I relished the idea of ripping out those built-ins. DEMOLITION…

First, though, everything in the closet had to be relocated. We made our way to Ikea (two hours away in Cincinnati) twice during the same weekend to buy new wardrobes for the bedroom. We also picked up a new light for the closet annex, and about five pounds of Swedish chocolate.

After three long nights of wardrobe assembly, followed by several days of spackling, priming and painting, we were ready to move in the furniture. I learned a few things along the way, namely that painting trim is certainly a pasttime in one of the seven circles of hell.

The Annex, post-construction:

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settling in

I have to say, I love working in this room. It’s peaceful and filled with natural light. Plus it’s just the right size; it doesn’t feel cramped, but it doesn’t leave much room to pile up papers, so it stays tidy.

Still. I’m working in a closet. If I hadn’t come up with the idea myself, I might wonder what this communicates about my spot on the family totem pole.

Freelancing in Retrospect

After a successful two years working for myself, I left the freelance world last December for a full-time job with this crew here.

The decision was surprisingly easy; having contracted with the company for awhile, I liked both the folks I’d be working with and the work itself. Plus, I relished the idea of being part of a team again. I really enjoy working collaboratively, and that was missing when I was on my own. I suppose I’m a social beast at heart, though I still work from home and use IM for most of my communication with my coworkers.

Looking back over those years on my own, I’m struck by a few things:

  1. If you have the chance to work for yourself at some point, you absolutely should. Two sizable freelance projects simultaneously knocked at my door, convincing me to take the leap. It was the best thing that could have happened. I was forced to build out  my skill set, learned a bit about business, and met a ton of people (including my current employer). It was freeing to know I could work for myself; my decisions became focused more on want to’s vs. have to’s (though of course there was a healthy dose of the latter).
  2. Working for myself was easier than I expected. I say that to underscore the reality that there’s a lower barrier to entry to self-employment than I initially thought, not that I’m a savvy entrepreneur. I’m sure it depends on the industry, and there’s plenty of web work out there. But I did little marketing beyond my online portfolio and business cards; every project or client I took on came through friends, clients and a trusted network of fellow freelancers (who also fall under the friends category). Anchoring project-based work with regular clients made things a bit more predictable and sustainable.
  3. Meeting other self-employed folks was huge. I got involved with IdeaXchange in Chicago, a fantastic group of writers, artists, designers and PR folks, most of whom worked for themselves. We met monthly to talk shop and share ideas, and it didn’t matter that we all worked in different industries (though I got mixed up with crew of local web design freelancers shortly thereafter, which was/is great for talking nerdery that no one else understands).
  4. The benefit of setting your schedule when self-employed is only partially true. There’s a glaring catch to this concept; time off actually costs you double, as you’re paying for travel expenses while not working, and thus not billing. I probably took a total of two weeks off per year, partly because I enjoyed the projects, but also because every hour was billable. My experience was definitely not cocktails at 2pm every Friday afternoon.

By and large I felt challenged and engaged by my work, and that’s fortunately still the case with my new role. Now if only the company would move to Indianapolis so I could fully enjoy the team lunch on Fridays…

These Go to Eleven

Popped in to the hospital today for a quick EMG on my LUE, or Left Upper Extremity. If you’ve never had the pleasure, an EMG is a test whereby doctors (in my case, five) cram into an exam room and shoot electricity into you for a good half an hour to determine if your nerves work.

“It’s not the most pleasant procedure,” my doctor said apologetically last week.

I’d made an appointment to see the doctor due to some recurring numbness in my left hand combined with a dull ache in my upper left arm. For my trouble she also talked me into the first flu shot I’ve had in thirty-one years on this green earth.

“You’ve got a little one now,” she said. “You don’t want to bring it home to him.”

It is surely a low blow to use one’s child against him in this way. For the next two days it felt as though someone had punched me in the Left Upper Shoulder.

Turns out it was good practice for today’s session.

One of the lab coats stuck a few sensors to my hand while another doctor was brought in to show them how to reset the computer. For the next 30 minutes they talked mostly to one another, asking which knob did what, sharing keyboard shortcuts (“so I just hit pulse twice?”), wondering why the results didn’t show up on the monitor, etc. Apparently the approach during an EMG is: crank the intensity up until you get a result or the patient can power their own appliances.

“Uh, that hurts,” I had to pipe up at one point as the dial went past 15 to 30 to 45 to 60.

“Oh yeah,” one of them laughed, “it is up kinda high.” Ha ha, good times! It felt like someone was continuously snapping a rubber band on my arm from six feet away. My hand flopped about as if in its death throes.

Finally satisfied, they all left the room to share results with the Head Honcho doctor, who returned only to zap me a few more times. Then she turned to me and said, “now they will put the needle in the muscle.”

And thank goodness, because silly me thought the unpleasantness had ended. Nope! For the next twenty minutes they stuck a needle into various spots on my arm, twisting it around as if it were a key and the corresponding keyhole was around here somewhere…

“This next spot is kinda tender,” Lab Coat said before sticking the needle into the flesh between my thumb and forefinger. “Now try to relax this hand. Heh, I know it’s tough, I got a needle in there.”

I mean we had fun today.

Raise the Drawbridge

“Ferris – he never drives it. He just rubs it with a diaper.”

When I turned 30 last September, both sides of the family kicked in to help me get a new bike as a present. Touched, I decided to wait until this spring to make the purchase; no need for the bike to sit in the garage getting creaky in the cold Chicago winter. I would take care of this gift.

Last month, after several weeks of comparison shopping, I finally bit the bullet and brought home a new hybrid road/commuter bike. It cost a bit more than I wanted to spend, but it rode so smoothly and leapt ahead like a racehorse when I’d pick up the pace. I envisioned long rides up and down the Lake Shore bike path; me and this bike, we had a bright future.

The next morning I took it for an inaugural spin, not bothering to remove the plastic wrap protecting the handlebar brake controls. I just wanted to enjoy the newness of it for a bit, like those first few days of a new pair of shoes, when they’re scuff-free and you look good.

It didn’t last; the bike was stolen out of our garage the following day.

Continue reading “Raise the Drawbridge”