Valentine’s Day flowers, to give or not to give…

Once upon a time, I told Jordan that I didn’t ever want flowers for holidays because they just die and you don’t get to enjoy them for very long and then it’s not fun to get rid of old flowers because they smell bad and they literally fall apart as you carry them to the trash and you have to vacuum up after them and if you’re really lucky you touch a slimy stem or drip stinky green water on your bare feet.

But they’re so pretty, and I like what the giving of flowers symbolizes, and I love love. Sigh.

Unfortunately, most cut flowers that you buy at the grocery store are not very good for the environment or for you. They are usually imported and thus carry a large carbon footprint and are most likely coated with pesticides because they aren’t usually grown organically. And the first thing we do is sniff them! (!) When we talk about buying locally, it seems like the conversations begin and end with food. But shouldn’t we extend the same rules to buying flowers on special holidays?

If we did try to buy flowers locally and seasonally, we probably wouldn’t have access to red roses. When did red roses became standard gifts at Valentine’s Day anyway? Is there a Society for the Preservation of Red Rose Giving on Valentine’s Day dot org or something? We should be giving each other plants that are blooming right now like daffodils and winter irises. If only we could escape our offices for an afternoon and take some time to run around in the woods, we could probably create a beautiful winter plant bouquet for free! At least in NC, where we don’t have winter winter.

The question remains: Would I say no to a beautiful bouquet of imported flowers on Valentine’s Day from my one-and-only? Probably not. Should we spend the next afternoon running through the woods looking for winter flowers? Most definitely yes.

Frugal Gardening Tips: Recycled Containers, Water Conservation, & Natural Insect Repellant

I’ve been doing a lot of aggressive reading lately. Reading becomes a sport when you check out too many books at once from the library. Trigger happy and manic, I reserved all these gardening books in about 2 minutes, not bothering to think, “Alex, is there really enough time to read all these books before they start costing you a precious $0.25/day/book?”

Now, faced with a looming deadline, I can’t afford to waste any time leisurely meandering my way through my stack of pretty books. If I put as much energy into exercising as I do into reading, I might be a really good athlete instead of someone who is overly educated on very specific topics like how to make your own worm poop. But believe you me, that information is going to come in handy soon and the ability to run for longer than a minute–well, that could be handy too… Moving on!

I did finish You Grow Girl and it’s as I feared: I love it. I love everything about it. If I were to write a book on gardening, it would be this book. If I could live inside a gardening book, I would nestle between the section on growing edible flowers and the entire chapter on how to combat evil, nasty bugs and diseases. And although it is clearly written for the female audience, I do believe men would find it helpful too. Jordan may want to skip the chapter on sewing a gardening tool belt, but otherwise it’s got amazing bits of information on every single page.

Here are some things I learned that I never knew before:

  • You can use pretty much anything as a container for seed starting and growing.
    When I first started this project, I thought I would need to buy lots and lots of expensive containers and gardening gear. That is not true! I have begun to collect pretty much anything that can have holes drilled into it. My seeds will be started in toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, yogurt cups, butter containers; tin cans, plastic buckets, trash cans, old tupperware–all kinds of junk will be repurposed into suitable housing for my veggies and herbs!
  • You don’t have to buy an expensive rain barrel to conserve and collect water.
    You can buy a rain barrel if you want to, or you can make your own. However, there are lots of ways to collect water throughout the day. We can save the water from our showers and sinks that runs while we wait for it to warm up, rain water can be collected in buckets placed on the porch, we can reuse our pasta, leftover tea, and laundry water. Who says our water bill has to be high this summer? I laugh in the face of the water company!
  • You can combat insects and woodland creatures naturally without expensive and/or environmentally harmful sprays.
    You can use companion planting, i.e. planting something that attracts good bugs that will eat bad bugs next to a plant that attracts bad bugs, to go on the offense for you; you can lay down copper pennies to keep slugs and snails at bay (I feel slightly bad about this one because the copper shocks the poor guys); and burning frankincense, yes the stuff that the wise men brought to baby Jesus, discourages birds, squirrels, and cats from taking up residence in the garden.

FYI, I am not looking forward to plotting ways to murder the bad insects that will inevitably invade my sweet garden. I already know that I will be a ruthless killer. And isn’t gardening supposed to be peaceful?

Recycled Root Beer Float Glasses

I love root beer floats. And Sprite floats (sounds weird, but it’s delicious.) Yesterday when I should have been learning about gardening, I got distracted by the sunshine and headed out in search of a small side table and a trunk/bench/chest. I went to one of my favorite consignment stores in Charlotte, Fifteen Ten Antiques on Central Avenue. I did look at a nice glass side table and a sturdy wooden chest but instead bought these spectacular emerald-green root beer float glasses.

They were inexpensive and in perfect shape, they found a new home that isn’t a landfill, and our purchase supported a locally owned and operated business. What’s not to love?

We aren’t perfect at following the three R’s when it comes to a lot of other things like new clothing and kitchen appliances (for somewhat obvious reasons.) However, if you need convincing to pry your hands off the Pottery Barn catalog, I’ve thought of some half-baked reasons to shop more often at consignment stores.

  1. It’s cheap! Usually.
  2. You find one-of-a-kind items that you didn’t know you wanted, like emerald-green root beer float glasses.
  3. Less landfill, less demand for new items to be produced, shipped and stored, less pollution.
  4. You can modify purchases to fit your decor by busting out a can of paint and channeling your inner Martha Stewart.
  5. You are giving items a new life in your home where they will be hopefully be used and thus, be happy. Do you remember the lyrics to “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast? Well I do. Lumiere, the candlestick, sings about how sad they’ve been and how they just want to work and entertain. You too can anthropomorphize your dinnerware and learn that it doesn’t like sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

We are so lucky that we have so many options to buy gently used, good quality housewares from antique and consignment stores in Charlotte. Here are my favorites that I think everyone and their mama needs to check out:

  1. Fifteen Ten Antiques, 1510 Central Avenue
  2. Sleepy Poet Antique Mall, 4450 South Boulevard
  3. Classic Attic, 4301-C Park Road
  4. Recycle Boutique, 4301-D Park Road
  5. The other five thrift stores right next door to Fifteen Ten on that stretch of Central Ave. Go on a Saturday and buy yourself something pretty.

Memory and Gardening from Books

When I suffer from a lapse in memory, I usually say, “Nevermind, I’ll look it up.” My answer to any question that I am not sure of has become, “Just google it!” When did “to google” become a verb?

I believe my dependent relationship on google as encyclopedia/dictionary is crippling my memory.  I was told this morning by my erudite other half that Plato once wrote, should men learn writing, “they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” Plato has a point.

So what would happen if the internet was disabled and our crops were destroyed from war or disease? Unfortunately, printed books are on their way out. In this fantasy/nightmare, the only people who would survive are those who know how to hunt and gather and grow their own food. That is, if our planet can withstand the destructive cycle of natural and man-made disasters.

My post-apocalyptic fears mostly come from those darn books and the news (I’d like to thank Margaret Atwood, Suzanne Collins and NPR,) and my own weirdo imagination. Nonetheless, they have all inspired me to reclaim knowledge and skills that used to be passed down from generation to generation and learned by all, not just those who grew up on a farm.

Since my first step to learning anything these days is using google, and since that didn’t pan out as well as I would have liked in the container gardening area, and since I don’t have a family member around to show me how it’s done, I went for my other source: the public library. In rapid fire succession, I reserved 5, 10, I don’t know how many books on vegetable gardening, herb gardening, container gardening, incredible vegetables, grow your own kitchen garden, self-watering containers, and a book titled, “You Grow Girl” or something equally embarrassing yet oddly appealing to my gender and generation.

I find myself feeling very literary about this somewhat mundane project. As I read these gardening books will I find myself reading as from a manual to be referenced or, by reading and participating in the process, will I commit the knowledge and skills to memory to be passed down to my future family?

Using Up Leftover Store Bought Parsley

Yesterday, I bought this beautiful bunch of parsley for the low low price of $1.79. The recipe I was making only called for a 1/4 of a cup of chopped parsley which can be gleaned from about 7 sprigs. Unfortunately, the grocery store only sells parsley in bundles of about 30 sprigs. And even though I am a neo-home economist and I will definitely find a way to use the parsley, I would venture to say that the majority of people would let the poor herb get brown and gooey and disgusting in the bottom of their crisper. Can I get an “Amen”?

I read a book last year called American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom. He traces America’s food waste from the field where the produce is picked to the trip across the country where food spoils and get squished, to the grocery stores that throw away food before it even hits the shelves to our own refrigerators where we fail to consume all the food we purchase. How is it that we have the luxury of throwing away food when there are so many people starving in our own country?

Fortunately for my old-fashioned frame of mind, being clever with the way we repurpose an item, be it food or furniture, has circled back around and is now the trendy and praiseworthy thing to do. Who knew canning could be so cool? Maybe I’m just strange, but I can’t wait to preserve my leftover vegetables.

To the task at hand, what to do with the leftover parsley?

  1. Make Parsley Pesto, strange thought but people do it all the time
  2. Make Chimichurri, fun to say and fun to eat
  3. Use it as a medicinal herb to fix yo’ stinky breath
  4. Channel your Ancient Greek alter-ego, make a wreath out of the herb, and crown yourself champion of using up leftover parsley!

I also learned something else about the curly herb on the website Simply Recipes that’s sure to make Jordan wag his tail in delight. Parsley plants don’t attract bugs and slugs, perhaps because it’s considered a “bitter”? However, according to Wikipedia, it does sometimes attract butterflies and birds. What’s not to love?

I look forward to our life together Petroselinum crispum.

Vegetable Container Gardening 101

I woke up this morning and realized in a panic that I haven’t planned our container gardening schedule. And we have no supplies. And we can’t find a good online source to tell us exactly how and when to plant exactly what we want to eat. Now, it’s still January so I think we have plenty of time to get it together, but I fear that we should already be germinating little bean seeds in homemade egg carton planters. Sigh. Often I doubt Jordan’s and my ability to successfully grow a bounty of veggies and herbs based on several factors:

1) Neither of us really enjoy getting dirty. (Very early in our relationship Jordan remarked sincerely, “I’m so glad you aren’t outdoorsy!”)
2) We are both currently obsessed with other things, see About for more information.
3) We are both really bad at killing bugs.

However, we vow to conquer our fears of the dirt and creepy crawly things and to chronicle our successes and failures so that other sustainable lifestyle seekers can learn too!

My brother Chris is a green thumb and oh-so-generously gifted me two fruit plants for Christmas. I don’t think they will bear fruit any time soon but they truly represent the beginning of my food growing mission. Note the plant on the left with the droopy leaf. I believe it’s droopy because of 1) lack of water and 2) these tiny weird bugs that are happily thriving all around the leaves.

In an effort to destroy said bugs, I passionately sprayed them with some homemade household cleaner. They are still happily alive today. After examining the plant, I backed away and whined to Jordan, “Honey, will you throw away this plant for me?”

And so begins our adventure in vegetable container gardening.