Monthly Archives: November 2008

Iron Shelf: Before and After

Iron Shelf: After, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

I snagged this old iron outdoor wall shelf from my parents. They have more outdoor furniture than they can use, and as you can see it had been a long time since it was in use.


I used a wire brush to remove most of the rust and then spray painted it black. Three glass shelves 3/8″ thick with polished edges cost $45 from a glass store.

The inspiration to hang it inside came from a story I tore out of Metropolitan Home magazine a few years ago. I’ve been trying to base my living and dining areas off this design, which I might call grown-up retro modern. More sophisticated and less spunky than the poppy retro mod that seems so prevalent and available now.  This house has blue walls and black iron rails on the staircase, and some swank iron-looking lamps on a mantle.  I recently scanned the pages because I’ve taken them to the fabric and paint stores so often I’m afraid they might get lost or fall apart.



I may not have a fancy-pants staircase rail, but I do have blue walls.  And now I have an old outdoor wall shelf made new!  And a retro silver tea & coffee set to boot!  I am quite pleased with how it turned out.

Iron Shelf

Inexpensive, Eco-friendly Shelf Organizers

Garage Organization Project, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

A couple weeks ago Oprah and her organizing guru Peter Walsh started a “clean up your messy house” series. Their goal is to help viewers organize and get rid of clutter.

I am a bit of a clutter bug myself. Not horrible, like some of those they had on the show. But I do have a lot of project tools and estate sales goo-gaa’s and stuff I pick up out of brush-and-bulky collection. At some point the glue gun and the compost tea aerator and the spare twist-ties and the lamp harp end up in the same garage pile. That’s when I can’t find any of them.

So Oprah and Peter motivated me to start cleaning up the garage. I have built in shelving, but it’s so open and deep that stuff just gets piled up. I needed something to help me separate and manage items.

The solution? The free product display boxes from Sam’s Club!

At the back of the shelves I set a row of sturdy boxes upside down to act as a raised platforms. On top of those, and in front of them on the actual shelf, I arranged more of the boxes to hold and display tools and other items. It creates a second level of shelving and allows me to see everything. Free and fabulous!

The people at Sam’s let me take as many as I wanted, and I even found some uniquely shaped boxes good for separating tools:

Cheap Tool Organizer

Most of these boxes are incredibly sturdy, and I know from watching how much work Michael puts into product packaging design that someone really thought about how to design each box. At first I thought all the different package printing would look junky, but I have come to think of it as an ode to Warhol. It’s my green reuse of something that otherwise represents excess consumerism. Perhaps that’s overthinking it. They seem to work well either way.

Makeshift Greenhouse

Makeshift Greenhouse

I’ve grown more attached to my little veggie garden recently. It’s done much better this fall than it did in the spring. I’m getting a few small red tomatoes every day, mainly off the “porter” and “momotaro” plants. The “homely homer” tomato has a ton of large green tomatoes on it, several of which are nearly red.

Unfortunately it’s starting to get pretty chilly, and a hard freeze could be just around the corner. It’s supposed to get down into the 30s tonight. How can I bear to let this fun end? I know I can ripen some tomatoes off the vine, but I’d like to keep them all going as long as possible. Since I had already built a frame around my raised bed using electrical conduit, I decided to take it one step further and make it into a mini-greenhouse!
I bought two rolls of 6 mil. clear painter’s plastic from Home Depot and attached it to the conduit frame using clothespins and big utility clips they sell for around $2 each.

Utility Clip

It’s not pretty, and I am not certain of the outcome, but it should help extend my season a bit. I understand from talking with a couple others who’ve done this that the plastic shouldn’t touch the plants, as plastic conducts the cold and the plants will freeze. That may become a problem for me, as my plants tend to spill over the sides of the box.

The most awesome general resource on DIY greenhouses I’ve found thus far is the Gardenweb forum on the topic.
More great greenhouses I found online:
So many options!

Meeting Martha Stewart

On Tuesday this week I met Martha Stewart.  The encounter lasted about two seconds, and I’d hardly said, “I’m Erin, it’s great to meet you…” before I was shuffled away.  But it made me happy all the same.  Notice tiny Martha in the background below.  (Photos were quite difficult there!)

Martha Stewart in the background

 She was at the Dallas Sur La Table signing her new book “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.”  I bought a copy there a few weeks ago as soon as they announced they’d give a ticket to the signing with purchase of the book.
It was not the first time I’d seen her in person.  About six years ago, during my short-lived career as an investment researcher in New York, I saw her up close at a conference the bank was sponsoring.  She looks the same today as she did then — tall and striking.  She has a presence in a room that is magnetizing.  I feel like she’s in that category of people who can draw attention and respect just by their stature and looks and mannerisms.  I think the same is true of Bill Clinton.  I can think of a few nonfamous people I know who can captivate attention in that way.  Everyone probably knows someone with that sort of charm.
I estimate that there were about 250 people in line.  When I first arrived, the small circle of people around me chatted a bit about their thoughts on Martha.  I was surprised that the lady in front of me immediately mentioned Martha’s experience in prison.  It struck me as odd because I never really associate her with her time in prison.  It seems she’s more fabulous now than ever, so perhaps that’s why it surprised me.
The prison topic also raised this thought:  what situation would we all be in now if the financial regulators who came after her had instead poked their noses into those who were creating and peddling credit default swaps?  Or the bankers pushing loans to those who couldn’t afford them? I wonder if Martha herself has wondered this as the economy crumbles.
It was especially interesting when her team of helpers arrived in a big black suburban.  I watched from the line in the parking lot as a sharply dressed woman with a black bag full of big round brushes rushed inside the store.  How fabulous to travel with a stylist!  Martha does have great hair.
I considered bringing Martha one of my huge nearly ripe tomatoes as a gift, and it turns out I should have, because those who brought gifts were rewarded with lengthier conversations.
Instead she politely told me it was nice to meet me too and slid the signed book across the table.  No handshakes.

Erin and Martha at the booksigning

I’d like to eventually cook my way through the entire book, and so far have done the following dishes the Martha way:  chicken stock and grilled T-bone steak.  Both were great, and the book is very clearly written and loaded with nice magazine-like photos.  Tonight I am planning to cook stir-fried shrimp with Asian black bean paste.  Thanks Martha!

Fall Leaf Chores = Free Compost Material

Shredded Leaves, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

On Thursday last week a story I wrote about leaf collecting tools ran in the newspaper. The timing was good because that very day was quite windy, and everywhere I looked outside there were leaves whirling in the air.

More than a couple gardeners told me this year that they add leaves to their beds every fall. The decomposing organic material is a natural fertilizer.  My large tree is a live oak, and it doesn’t lose its leaves in a typical way, so I’ve been hoarding and whirring up leaves I find bagged on the sidewalk waiting for brush-and-bulky pickup.

It’s amazing how many leaves one can collect in this way. I could build a leaf mountain with what I saw out by the sidewalk last week. Unfortunately I have only the room for a leaf molehill or two.

Chipping Leaves

Thus far I have processed probably a dozen bags of leaves. I suggest being picky when choosing discarded leaves. Go for the bags that are clear so you can see what’s inside. The fewer twigs the better; the drier the better.

Fall Bagged Leaves

For this story I tested a leaf chipper sold by and a Black & Decker leaf vacuum/chipper/blower. Both were efficient at chipping leaves but probably not worth the extra dough if you already own a mulching mower.

Thus far the leaves have gone into my various composting piles where they are mingling with manure and various microorganisms. They have shrunk considerably, taking up about a fourth or less than what they originally did all bagged up. I am hoping that during this next go-round of leaf collecting I will find and process enough to cover the beds in my side yards and around the perimeter of the backyard.

Fall Harvest Eats Continue

Nov. 4: Bowl O Green Beans, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

I’m continuing my experiment to eat something from the garden each day during November. I celebrated Election Day with this big bowl of string beans. These are the “Kentucky Wonder” pole variety. I have about 6 or 7 plants that I grew from seed, and they are producing a lot. Enough had grown since Tuesday that I had another bowl today.

During the days in between I’ve been focusing on (and eating) fall tomatoes. This is a smallish Porter tomato, and I ate a couple of these every day this week:

Little Red Tomatoes

I have one interesting tomato plant I bought at Calloway’s called “Homely Homer.” It’s the oldest plant of those out there now. I planted it as a replacement for one of my spring tomato plants that died in early July. It took until late September for it to start setting fruit, and now there are at least a dozen large tomatoes like this one on the plant, but they refuse to turn red:

Big Green Tomato

It’s a problem because freezing temperatures are on the way, and that would be the end of red tomatoes for me, unless I intervene with more drastic climate control measures.

November Challenge: Garden Eats

Nov. 1: Greens with Breakfast, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

To connect better with my garden, I’m challenging myself to eat something from it every day during November. Ideally, I would automatically do this. Unfortunately it’s often much easier to choose alternatives or not go to the trouble of harvesting daily, especially if what’s available is just a few (frequently bitter) leaves or beans.

Goals for this experiment…

  1. Understand the garden better
  2. Move toward higher yields and better produce in the garden
  3. Eat fresher items, even if it’s only in little bits
  4. Take better garden notes
  5. Blog more about the garden

Nov. 2: Salad with Dinner

Salad with Dinner

Nov. 3: Fall Tomato

Fuzzy Fall Tomato