Home Security

I had to call the police last Thursday because a man tried to break into our house. I’ve always been strict about keeping doors locked, even when we’re home, regardless of where we live, because I’m an anxious sort. This practice paid off. When he couldn’t get in the door, he went around to the bedroom windows with a metal bar and I caught him peering in. Imagine our mutual surprise when I walked into the room.

Brian had texted me just before 5:00 p.m. to say he was heading back from OKC. I was happily ensconced in his chair with a big orange cat in my lap, about to watch Dark Shadows again because it was on TV when I heard our back storm door open. The knob on the inner door turned and caught, a couple of loud taps sounded against the glass, and the outer door closed. I got up to investigate because I was pretty sure Brian hadn’t teleported home. No one was at the door, but a rather nice blue and silver mountain bike exactly like the one pictured below was sitting under our carport. At that point I figured a kid was here trying to sell stuff (Girl Scout cookies?!), so I went to look out the other windows.

The would-be burglar was standing in my flower bed (!!) with his face mashed against the window and both hands cupped around his eyes to see through the glass. He squawked when I came through the bedroom door. He looked to be in his 50s, short and skinny, with white stubble on his face and a dirty sock hat on his head. The metal bar was tucked into the top of his pants. He bellowed “Is Frankie here?” through the window at me. I blinked and asked who. He said, “Is there a Frankie here?” I said “Sorry, no.” He said sorry several times, sprinted around the corner of the house to his bike, and rode like the wind out of the driveway. The fact that he was riding in the direction of the police station makes me giggle now. At the time, I was totally creeped out but didn’t realize what had just happened.

It wasn’t until I was texting the story to Brian that I processed the situation and understood I had interrupted a break-in. We’ve lived here for ten years, and while the area seems to get worse by the day, nothing like this has ever happened to us. Also, because I’m an anxious sort, I have to actively remind myself that most people don’t have criminal/horrible intentions, so my own daffy brain gummed up the works there. Calling the police hadn’t occurred to me at all until Brian suggested it. So I did. The dispatcher was kind and professional as she took the report and set us up for an extra patrol. I was pretty rattled and she made me feel better. Thumbs up, lady.

While it scared me at the time, I know this incident was minor in the grand scheme of things, and I was lucky. The guy was equally scared if the speed of his departure was any indication. And for all I know, the police found him and read him the riot act. Some good has come of it, too:

  • Keeping the doors locked at all times turned out to be an excellent idea. Paranoia vindicated!
  • We are getting a security system. When Brian got home and asked if I wanted the one we had talked about previously, I said yes. It costs less than the video games we used to play and will allow me to sleep again.
  • We are going to move. That experience was profoundly motivating for me to make more money this year and get a new house. Our neighborhood has become Creepy McSuckville and I am freaking done with it.

This is not the post I had envisioned starting the year, but hey, learning experiences should be shared. Remember to keep your doors locked, kids! I sure will!

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The Garden

We’ve had unseasonably warm weather in southwest Oklahoma for the past few weeks. This should make me rather crabby because October is my favorite month due to its normally crisp prettiness, but this year I don’t mind as much. Why? The garden loves it. Our vegetables and flowers are making the most of this extra warmth, which makes me smile every time I set foot out the door. So, what did we plant this year? Let me show you.

Beds

Our magnificent snapdragons. Jerk caterpillars.

When we first started to work on the yard in 2008, which seems like an eternity ago, we focused mostly on the existing flower beds and started with morning glories and snapdragons. Both flowers took hold and have reseeded themselves for years, though we finally lost our snapdragons this spring to a huge invasion of caterpillars. Jerks. The glories are still going strong in the front of the house along the porch trellis and on the side along our storm cellar counterweight. Last year we planted another set of glory seeds in the south bed. My favorite aspect of them is their color change from one day to the next. They’re like little Christmas presents.

The array of glory colors from this year.

This year we decided to experiment a bit with what we put into these beds. Up front went a Shasta daisy, some marigolds, and some gorgeous little pansies. The side beds had to take more shade tolerant flowers, so we put in impatiens, a couple of ferns, white wax begonias, wood phlox, wave petunias, a foxglove (because why not?), calibrachoas, and dianthus. Most of these were rescued from the clearance racks of various garden centers, which makes them extra awesome. This bed brought a lot of butterfly and bee activity into the garden.

Pansies and marigolds up front.
First half of the south bed in June.
Second half of the south bed in June.
Planters just after initial setup.

Containers
Earlier this year Brian built a set of cedar planters for us so we could expand our container garden on the driveway. We have two vertical for tomatoes and bell peppers, and one horizontal for onions and carrots. They’ve been hugely successful and provided the ingredients for quite a few meals since he set them up. They’re really pretty and have made the driveway look a thousand percent better, especially in conjunction with the smaller planters around them. 

He also made me the most amazing garden cart in the history of garden carts. Look at this thing!

Best. Garden cart. Ever.

The smaller planters include our herb garden: three large pots of garlic chives, a pot of dill, a pot of basil, and what has become a ginormous spearmint bush. Around those he arranged two long planters of purple wave petunias, and two smaller planters of verbena and dianthus. Those lovely red daisies are also going gangbusters these days (thanks, Chark!).

Herbs and planters in full bloom, mid-June.

We were pleasantly surprised at how well the petunias, verbena, and dianthus have done in those small planters. They’re especially enjoying the current weather, blooming in full splendor every morning.

Small planters just after 8:00 this morning.

And, in a giant pot all its own along the driveway fence is a Japanese honeysuckle, because honeysuckle is the loveliest scent on the entire planet. While preparing all this Brian found a squirrel-planted pecan that had taken root in one of our petunia planters, so we decided to give it its own pot and let it grow (see pic above, left side of the onion planter). Like the honeysuckle, we’ll take it with us when we buy a house. Some things are just too cool to leave behind.

Pink lemonade calibrachoa!


Barrels
I can’t talk about the garden without mentioning how we manage to keep it alive during the never-ending draught we’ve been stuck in. Brian came up with this idea a couple of years ago: rain barrels. He started with one, hooking it to the gutter drain and (ingeniously in my opinion) to the condensation dripping from our air conditioning unit. That drip line has probably provided more water than rainfall over the past few summers. This year he added two barrels to our system, which allows us to catch more water when it does rain and to pump water from the condensate barrel to the others when it doesn’t. We hand water everything from these barrels, which lets us save money and community water. Win!

Honestly, I can take very little credit for the lovely state of our garden this year. All I did was choose a few plants. Brian did all the work setting it up and has done all of the work maintaining it over another dry, awful summer. The next time you see him out and about, give him a high five. He deserves it!

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Project: Large Wooden Planter for Green Onions

In my last post, I mentioned that while Heather was waiting for surgery over the late spring, I built her some planters and did a lot of gardening work so that she would have a nice place to rest and recover outside. I think those planters deserve a little more elaboration.  They were very simple and fairly inexpensive to build, since I made them out of 2×4’s and Western Cedar. There are a few things I would do differently now that I’ve made them, but it’s the kind of stuff I can add in later as a retrofit.
 
The basic idea was to make a simple but interesting planter to place on our driveway. We have a large concrete driveway that’s covered in potted plants. Our soil here at the house is almost solid clay and just doesn’t play well with a lot of vegetables. I wanted to make a large raised planter so that it would provide some screening that Heather could sit behind while also providing enough depth for the green onions to grow happily in.

This is the basic design I came up with.


Overview

The planter is made from just a few basic components.

  • The legs.
  • The top and bottom rails of the planter.
  • The vertical slats.
  • The bottom slats.
  • The decorative top moulding (OPTIONAL).

Part 1: Legs

The legs are made from 4×4 lumber stock. Use non pressure treated wood, since you’ll be growing things in this planter. If it’s just going to be used for decorative plants, then go ahead and get PT lumber since it will withstand rot more effectively. In my case, I used scraps of 2×4 lumber and secured them together using glue and screws. Either way works just fine. Cut four legs to size.
 

Part 2: Rails

The rails are made from 2×4 non pressure treated lumber. Get the straightest you can find, but if they’re a little cupped it’s not the end of the world. This planter is big enough and heavy enough that it’s pretty forgiving of minor imperfections in the wood, and since it’s an outdoor functional landscape piece, I didn’t worry too much about knots or nicks.
 
You will need 8 rails in total: 4 short ones for the sides and 4 long ones for the front and rear. My long rails were 48″ and my short ones were 18″.
 
Once you have the rails cut, you need to put a dado down the middle of it to accept the side slats. I used a 3/4″ straight cutting bit on my router table and cut the dado 1/2″ deep. If you have a dado blade on your table saw, that would be easier to use for this step.
 
I then took a cove bit and carved out a simple cove on the outside face of the rail. For the bottom rails, I coved the upper face. For the upper rails, I coved the lower face. This made the rails frame the slats nicely. This is a purely decorative step and can be skipped.
 
Once all the rails are cut, you can install the lower rails onto the legs. Don’t install the upper ones just yet. I secured my rails using 2 1/2″ pocket screws from below, but you can fasten them any way you would like. Using long lag screws would definitely be more secure, as would mortise and tenon joints, but I’m cheap and I’m not good enough with MT joinery yet to pull it off. Next time, I would do a MT joint, but 2 x 2 1/2″ pocket screws in each side of each rail is holding the planter very well so far. I expect those to begin to fail after 2 or 3 years however, due to rot of the wood from the moisture. A tenon joint would last a lot longer in these conditions.
 
With your lower rails installed to the legs, the carcass of your planter now looks like this:
 
Believe it or not, you’re already about half way done! Now it’s time for….

Part 3: Slats

You’re going to need a lot of slats, and this is the biggest expense for the project. You can cut this cost in half if you want to get standard 3/4″ stock and resaw it in half. I wanted to but I’m still working on tuning my band saw well enough to be a reliable resawing machine, so I just went for full thickness. Since this planter isn’t very tall, a 3/8″ thick slat will provide more than enough lateral strength to hold back the soil. If you do want to resaw your slats, make sure your dado in the rails is 3/8″ rather than 3/4″!
 
The bottom slats are made of western red cedar in order to better resist rot. I made mine 20 3/4″ x 3 1/2″.  I definitely do NOT recommend resawing these down as they will be bearing the full weight of the wet soil above them. In the case of my planter, that’s about 400 lbs.
 
You will need 2 slats with notches cut out of them to fit around the legs, and then 12 more without notches. I placed them with a 3/8″ gap between them for drainage.
 
Now you’re going to need slats for the side. There will be a total of 44 side slats, measuring 19″ x 3″ for this planter. The real one I built is a bit taller- the slats are 23 7/8″ tall each, since I could then get 4 exactly from each 8″ cedar board. In practice, I’ve found that makes my planter a little taller than I like when the plants are fully grown, since I do a lot of hand watering from rain barrels with a watering can, and I then have to lift and hold the can up at mid chest level for long periods. With 19 inch slats, you’ll get 5 slats out of each 8′ cedar board (or 10 if you resaw it). Adjust the measurements to come up with a height you like, but don’t forget to account for the height of the plants that will go into the planter!
 
Once you’ve cut the side slats, you can drop them into the bottom dadoes and place the lower bottom slats into position.
Then install the top rails the same way you installed the bottom rails.
 
At this point, your planter can accept soil and plants. I decided to make a decorative moulding for the top to spruce it up a little bit, and to provide more room to set smaller planters on it.

Part 4: Moulding/Trim

The final components are two pieces of moulding. I chose a compound moulding because I love the way cove and roundover looks, and I have the right sized bits already. You can choose any moulding you’d like, or you can omit this step entirely- it’s purely decorative.
 
The first (lower) piece of moulding is a simple cove moulding. We’ll be putting a roundover on top of that to create a classic compound profile.
 
These are the dimensions of the lower cove moulding.
… and these are the dimensions of the upper roundover moulding.
Cut out your pieces and miter them to fit as you’d like. This step is really open to modification- try using thinner stock to create steps on the inside of your planter for a cool shadow effect.
 
Secure the cove moulding with screws down through it into the legs.
 
Secure the roundover moulding with some longer screws from below.  Be prepared for this wood to swell a lot so your edges may not line up well over time. I went with a simple butt joint with a roundover on the first version of this planter for this reason, and it’s held up pretty well.  As always, tailor the design to your own aesthetics and desires.
 

Conclusion

Here’s the planter right after I built it and filled it with soil and transplanted a few onions into it.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to build a big planter with lots of room in it for tightly growing vertical plants like green onions, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. This planter cost me less than $100 to build in total.
  • 5 2″x4″x8′. 2 for the 4 legs (or 1 4×4) and 3 to make the rails.
  • 13 1″x4″x8′ western red cedar boards. 9 for the side slats and 4 for the bottom slats.
  • Fasteners of your choosing (I used pocket screws since I’ve been playing a lot with a Kreg Joiner lately.)
  • Trim for the top. This will vary depending on what you want to build. A simple, single-layer trim with butt joints will take 2 or 3 more cedar boards.
 
And here’s the same planter a few weeks later after the first crop of onions began to grow. The 2nd is just barely visible as seedlings between the big guys.
Have you made a simple planter for your home or garden?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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Dichotomy

Do you ever wonder if people intentionally let themselves drift into stereotypes because they’re comfortable with the definitions? How often do they pick up hobbies or find themselves watching shows that they think they’re supposed to like? I suspect everyone does this at one point or another because we all like to belong to something, but I’ve noticed a weird trend in myself as I get older. My likes are all over the place now.

I still love music and reading. I still love cats. I still love tripey TV shows and movies (here’s lookin’ at you, Elvira). But video games have fallen off my radar to be replaced strange new habits I never really thought I’d develop. This new stuff is great. However, what strikes me lately is how wildly different my hobbies have become. It all seems to fall into two categories: Little Old Lady and Fitness Beast.

Little Old Lady Things
Seriously, when did this happen? And why is it so fun?

Freaking glorious!

Gardening. I love to plant flowers, grow food, and feed the legion of tiny birds that now inhabit our yard. Cardinals and finches are my new mascots, and my morning glories are freaking glorious. Oklahoma Gardening is one of my favorite shows now. Tending to my plants and the neighborhood cheepers brings me peace likes nothing else does. It just makes me happy. You should see my gardening gloves. They are lavender, for feet’s sake!

Cooking. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned to cook and have really come to enjoy it. I’ve always loved to bake, but branching out into foods that won’t put you into a sugar coma has been rewarding. I wrote about this when it started and am glad to say it’s still going strong. Thanks to cooking shows and Allrecipes.com, our menu has become much more varied than it was in the distant Hamburger Helper Era. It’s actually fun now!

Homing. As in, home improving. Yes, I know that’s not what homing means, but I like consistent headings, so nyah. One of my other new favorite shows is This Old House. Watching it and planning for the things we’ll do to our own home when we buy one is fun to the point of making it a hobby. I even get This Old House Magazine! And read it! What?!

Fitness Beast Things
And now for something completely different (not The Larch). Getting fit makes me feel like a total beast. I *love* it.

Strength Training. The gym started out as a means to an end (weight loss/health), and I am still very dedicated to that goal. But the feeling of power when I picked up the first iron plate and started lifting has grown exponentially every session. It has become a part of my weekly routine and I have no intention of ever stopping. The benefits are just too awesome, which leads me to the next beast thing.

Muscle Definition. Okay, I am vain. Call it a character flaw, but at least I’m honest. Being able to see the muscles in my arms and legs, and the beginnings of a defined core line in my stomach, is the most incredible physical accomplishment I’ve ever had. Even as a skinny kid I was never this strong or defined. After spending the last 20 years in various states of lardery, I’m ecstatic over this change. /flexflexflex

Endurance Training. This part has been slow to start because of the aforementioned lardery, but the progress is so gratifying. I’ve begun running in intervals, increasing the time and number of sprints every week, and have been amping up the distance/speeds in the bike rides as well. My heart rate during burns has vastly improved. Thanks to this training, I’ll be more able to survive the zombie apocalypse (because cardio)! Bonus!

So, WAT
You see what I mean, though? These two categories are what most of my free time is split into now. I’m always researching when I get a bit of downtime, and it’s either about gardening/cooking/home stuff or fitness. Sesame Street called and sang “one of these things is not like the other” to me. This stuff shouldn’t really go together. But for me, it does, and I embrace the weirdness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go do bicep curls while watching Antiques Roadshow.

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Pew Pew Pew!

One of my clients texted me with a question last Friday. When I answered him, he asked what I was up to and I answered honestly: shooting bandits in the face in a video game. My response led to a brief but spirited game discussion and his pronouncement that my status in his eyes was now elevated. Of all the ways I’ve managed to impress clients, this one was both new and unexpected. I love honesty.
I also love shooting bandits in the face in video games. Maybe it’s my utter lack of tolerance for thievery kicking in, but any type of bandit gets extra blasted when I roll through a game level that has them. They’re almost more fun to kill than zombies (almost). 
 
Lately I’ve been playing Borderlands, which has both! Although we don’t play games nearly as much as we used to, Brian and I have been pecking away at the last two downloadable content packs to finish up the game before we move on to Borderlands 2.
Borderlands 2 happens to be in the game list of one of my other clients, who has more Steam games than I’ve had MMO characters (hint: that is a lot). Who knew other face-shooting aficionados were running around in this industry? Finding them has been a pleasant surprise and makes my work even more fun than it normally is. Oh, and if you’re wondering, my favorite weapons are combat rifles and shotguns. BOOM-shaka-laka!
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In the Kitchen

Let’s be honest. When Brian first started watching Kitchen Nightmares, the show’s concept horrified me. Reality shows are inherently confrontational, and I…well, I’m inherently not. They tend to make me uncomfortable, even the ones that don’t involve lots of yelling. He started watching this show while I was doing something else nearby and I started listening in spite of myself. Gradually I found myself sitting on the couch next to him, and now I’m completely enthralled. Argh.

What got me hooked? Certainly not the yelling, though it’s always justified. Believe it or not, it was Ramsay’s enthusiasm. He seems to love what he does, and his energy infuses people with excitement for whatever it is they’re doing (managing, cooking, etc.). After working with him, people seem to be totally thrilled to be in the kitchen. Watching him get people to open up and listen to reason is fascinating. Each show is usually a horrid situation turned into a happy ending.

The other hook factor is his MO for most of these places: simple, fresh food. After watching a fair number of episodes on the DVR, this idea got to me and I started thinking of different things we could do in our kitchen to get away from the preprocessed box-dinner thing. I started to experiment with fresh ingredients, with new recipes, and with foods I had never dared try to make, and you know what? It’s a blast.

The reason for this post is my realization the other day in the kitchen starting a meatloaf and homemade mashed potatoes with green beans: I was excited and happy to be in there making real food. That was a first. Well done, Chef Ramsay. Well done.

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