Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 27/365 Keep My City in Your Thoughts

Being a government brat, I moved a lot when I was a kid. My dad worked for the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, under the Department of the Interior. I was born in Iowa, moved to an island off the Maryland shore, then bounced around Louisiana, while Dad worked with various
wildlife refuges in the swampy bayous. During most of my pre-school to middle school years,
I was someplace in Louisiana - more often than not in New Orleans. After we left Louisiana,
we moved to Colorado, back to Iowa, then Minnesota. I claim New Orleans as my home, and that's the first place I went when I was old enough to leave home.

The pic above is one my Dad took in the early 1960s. The ship is moving through the levee system, and the dirt levee is all that's holding back the Mississippi. Most of the ships that move through NOLA are incredibly huge freight vessels (oil tankers and the like), nevertheless, when you walk across the French Quarter, you can then climb up a staircase that will take you to Moon Landing, a levee-top walk, where the river laps about a foot below the top, and you are on
equal footing with the deck of the tankers.

This is a wet corner of Bourbon taken in the 1970s. I like it because there are no tourists. When you live in a tourist city, you have a love/hate relationship with the constant visitors. You love them because.....well.....because they make your city exciting and alive, and they help you pay your bills. And you hate them because they are *always* there, especially in NOLA because it's open 24 hours a day. You also get tired of the tourists who take things. Like, bricks out of your steps, to serve as souvenirs.

This was where I stayed while I was in college - the one second from the left. I'm still not sure whose house it actually was, since there were at least eight other people living there, and the roster changed from time to time. Everyone was responsible for either throwing money in the jar for rent, or bringing home dinner. At the end of the month the jar disappeared, and came back empty a couple days later. No idea who paid the bills, but there were always friends to hang with, and the eternal pot of gumbo on the stove, complete with crayfish and crab floating in it.

Again, no tourists. Probably because it's about 5 or 6 am and I took it on my way home from work. It was a couple years after this I ended up majoring in abnormal psychology, and I have always considered my employment during this period as what pushed me towards that field. Waiting tables in a bar in a 24 hour tourist town will give you a peanut gallery perspective of people and events that you never dreamed existed.

My favorite NOLA sign. The food and music are unlike anywhere else in the world, and more than ample reason to live in what can be an incredibly crowded, crime-ridden, poverty-stricken city. The previously mentioned seafood gumbo, baskets of crayfish scooped up fresh, andouille sausage po boys, shrimp jambalaya, crawfish etoufee, Cafe DuMonde beignets - I have never lived anywhere else with food as incredible as NOLA's.

At any rate, the next day or so I'll be watching the news channels watching to see if Gustav decides to take out what's left of my city. The people I was closest to there died in Katrina, so this time I don't have to worry about them. Now it's just landmarks and familiar places I hate to see disappear.

Keep them in your thoughts and hope the dirt levee keeps the water out.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day26/365 My Greek Runneth Over

My Greek(s) are running over! We have RAIN - massive amounts of rain - all 8 barrels are full, plus another extra barrel, with gallon and gallons running over! Today is our second day,
with hard heavy rains, unlike yesterday when it rain steady, but not all that hard - it's a perfect combo, since today the ground is softened up, and a lot more of the moisture can be absorbed (our soil is red clay here, actually almost exactly like the stuff you can buy for kids to make models from).

The photo below is from the front porch this morning:

Our house sits at the top of a 45 degree hill, and in spite of that, there's a 4-5" deep water pocket across the street, just because there's too much water coming down. There's nothing daming up the gutter, except the water that came down before it -just too much at one time.

Even the gnomes are back in color!

But the one constant to having serious rain is the schnauzers intense dislike for it. The entire day(s) becomes a long series of "coax-them-out-coax-them-to-go-poop-take-them-in-leave-them-in-the-kitchen-till-dry-coax-them-out-again". They hate rain. So when I had the rare chance to photo Millie pooping in the rain, I couldn't pass it up. At this moment she is plotting what to do to me when she gets back inside, since she is certain it is my fault that she is wet and miserable and has icky mud all over her paws.

Up to yesterday our mandatory water conservation has been the unofficial urging from the water department via the newspaper. However in yesterday's mail the OFFICIAL LETTER came, spelling out what we can and cannot do. At the precise moment I stood in the driveway, reading the letter, it started to sprinkle. If that's all it took, they should have sent the letter weeks ago.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 25/365 Where Did I Leave the Pruning Shears? Or the other Pruning Shears?

If you garden, there's a good chance you are constantly laying some garden tool down, and wondering where it is. Where you left it. Who took it. Why they didn't put it back. Or if you're like me, wondering if you remembered to get it in the first place, or if that was yesterday when you had it.

To solve my problem, I buy several of the tools I use most often - pruning shears, scissors to use when the pruning shears get dull and I won't take the time to sharpen them because I am impatient (at some point in life, you have to just own your faults and move on. Being impatient is one of mine), the moisture meter (or the DUH meter as we are calling it around here, as in "it's too dry: DUH"), twine, and occasionally gloves (although I've usually lost those by the second week of April).

To solve the balance of my problem - namely -where did I put it, or, where's the best place I'll have a chance of finding it, DH made me a garden box. The top photo is of the box at the midpoint in the yard (about halfway to the greenhouse and big gardens, visible in the background), under the locust tree, by the log benches and in the shade. It's sealed against the weather, has one hinged door that fits tightly, sloped gable roof, and several hooks inside to hang things on (which I never use because I am not a hanger-upper, I am a piler-upper (another fault). It sits on a post that's just dug in and then stabilized with rocks and gravel. At the beginning of the season, I spray the inside with wasp spray to keep any of them from getting too interested in nesting inside.

Inside, there's the moisture meter, the skinny trowel, scissors, and the always-misplaced pruning shears. The gloves would be in there but I'd lost them by the time the box was made.

It's also big enough to put a big mug of ice tea, or ice water, and keep it convenient while working but just out of reach of the bees.

And just because I like it, this is the log bench at the bottom of the garden box, covered in morning glories and lichens. It's also known as the site of the Great Bee Attack of July 2008, in which I was stung several times, but eventually emerged victorious the second day, thanks to a fresh can of hornet spray (fresh is the important word here as hornet spray goes stale over the winter - a fact the fine print on the label failed to mention during the first skirmish).

Now the bench is once again mine, and I can enjoy sitting in the shade. Of course the bees have regrouped and now live in the garage soffit, in a tiny place I cannot spray. And they called their friends - the yellowjackets, the wasps, and some sort of cousins that may be tiny hornets.

As long as they aren't in the bench or the garden box, or the Swing Garden, or the house, the truce will keep, at least until the first frost, when I win by default.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 24/365 Max and His Bee Go To The Rodeo

On this happy day of ebay chaos, I had planned an entirely different post - one of books and love of books - but serendipity took the stage and instead I am writing about The Bee and Max the Schnauzer.

All those previously-posted lovely garden photos are so peaceful, so tranquil, so relaxing, aren't they? That's because the macro lens on the digital doesn't catch the inch-and-a-half-long carpenter bees buzzing about.

Max the Schnauzer however, DOES catch the carpenter bees.

This morning I had my regular "let-the-dogs-in-let-the-dogs-out-let-the-dogs-in" routine.
During the last "let-the-dogs-in", four of the five came in, then turned and sat in the back hallway, watching for Max. Max, normally a somewhat stodgey, walking-definition-of-old-curmudgeon, 10 year old dignified schnauzer, is coming in the doggy doors, twisting and leaping, bucking and kicking, doing a marvelous imitation of a Chinese contortionist at a Wild West show.

I am amazed and impressed. I didn't think he had it in him.

Then it dawns on me he must have a flea biting him, so I corral the other four dogs in the kitchen (sounds much easier than it was as they are all immensely entertained by Max, and want to see what he does next), run and get the flea spray (which was in the bathroom, behind the baby gate, which I trip over), then run back into the kitchen (through the other baby gate, which I also trip over) to get paper towels to rub the spray into his coat (the other four dogs are trying to help me, and I am forced to yell *explicit* directions to them on exactly how to get out from under my feet), and then,finally, I am isolated with Bronco Max (bouncing off the floor and doing back flips at this point) and the flea spray.

Holding his collar, and saying encouraging things like: "WOULD YOU JUST #$*$&% STAND STILL!!!" and "%#*&(*&% MAX!!!" (neither of which calm him, no idea why), I spray his back and sides with the flea spray.

Immediately he stops doing his bucking bronco routine, and calmly sits down, looking at me like I'm crazy.

Then he moves slightly to one side, and then I see past him, to the *HUGEMONGOUS* carpenter bee (close to two inches) crawling across the hallway rug, somewhat stunned by the flea spray, but still enjoying his long ride on the bucking bronco that is Max.

Max clearly looked at me (as pack leader) and said - in English - I kid you not- "KILL IT."

Although I felt The Bee deserved something - perhaps a little silk winner's sash saying "Buckin' Schnauzer Bronco Champ 2008", I promptly ground him into the rug, producing a solid round of woofs and cheers from the peanut gallery observing from the kitchen.

Max is now sleeping in the kitchen while the other pups are telling grandiose stories of the Bronco Bee Rider, and toasting to the most famous rodeo schnauzer of them all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 23/365 Our Day At the Farm

Back in the 1700's, this was the centerpiece of a homestead cabin. The cabin stood until the mid-1960s or so, then collapsed on itself. The chimney still stands -part rock, part handmade brick. Surrounding the chimney is a rock-outlined rectangle, maybe 20 feet long and 15 feet wide - those rocks are the original sill rocks of the old cabin.

Here in the 2000's, my mother's iris bed surrounds the chimney, and my dad's cold frame sits off the the right, ready for starting the fall broccoli and lettuce in the next couple weeks.

We spent yesterday out on their farm - approximately a little over 50 acres - full of their "retirement projects: orchards, a huge vegetable garden, catfish ponds and grape arbors.

At the moment our drought in town is bad, but nowhere near as bad as the one at the farm. Because they are close to a large lake, they have received no rain at all for 4 weeks (the lake effect and the differing temperatures over the water have a way of pushing storms away towards the north and southwest). The water levels in the ponds are down almost 4 feet, and within the next couple weeks dad will be moving the catfish to a much smaller, but spring-fed pond, in hopes of saving them.

Thanks to our trip out there yesterday and my parents generosity, we now have a frig and counters full of various heirloom tomatoes, blackberries, Asian hoisan pears, mountain apples, blueberries, Crenshaw melons and crisp huge green peppers.

So I'll be cutting, chopping, freezing and blending for a few days (while of course my own garden keeps pumping out those veggies). It's a lot like treading water at this point in the year.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day22/365 Our Last Back To School Photo and The Bitter Homeschooler's List

This is DD's last official year of homeschool, even though she's officially started college. She will not be happy I've put her pic on my blog, but I think it's disguised enough so she'll enjoy it.
It's just the perfect illustration for 10 years of swimming upsteam from the current everyone else follows, doing things the opposite of the way most other people do it, and in general, schooling outside of the box.

To go with it is this exasperated article sent to our homeschool list today - I couldn't have said it better myself:

The Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List

By Deborah Markus, from Secular Homeschooling, Issue #1, Fall 2007

1 Please stop asking us if it's legal. If it is — and it is — it's
insulting to imply that we're criminals. And if we were criminals, would
we admit it?

2 Learn what the words "socialize" and "socialization" mean, and use the
one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now.
Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization
means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and
pleasantly. If you're talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in
fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the
planet, and you can safely assume that we've got a decent grasp of both

3 Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir
practice, baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H
club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to

4 Don't assume that every homeschooler you meet is homeschooling for the
same reasons and in the same way as that one homeschooler you know.

5 If that homeschooler you know is actually someone you saw on TV, either
on the news or on a "reality" show, the above goes double.

6 Please stop telling us horror stories about the homeschoolers you know,
know of, or think you might know who ruined their lives by homeschooling.
You're probably the same little bluebird of happiness whose hobby is
running up to pregnant women and inducing premature labor by telling them
every ghastly birth story you've ever heard. We all hate you, so please go

7 We don't look horrified and start quizzing your kids when we hear
they're in public school. Please stop drilling our children like potential
oil fields to see if we're doing what you consider an adequate job of

8 Stop assuming all homeschoolers are religious.

9 Stop assuming that if we're religious, we must be homeschooling for
religious reasons.

10 We didn't go through all the reading, learning, thinking, weighing of
options, experimenting, and worrying that goes into homeschooling just to
annoy you. Really. This was a deeply personal decision, tailored to the
specifics of our family. Stop taking the bare fact of our being
homeschoolers as either an affront or a judgment about your own
educational decisions.

11 Please stop questioning my competency and demanding to see my
credentials. I didn't have to complete a course in catering to
successfully cook dinner for my family; I don't need a degree in teaching
to educate my children. If spending at least twelve years in the kind of
chew-it-up-and-spit-it-out educational facility we call public school left
me with so little information in my memory banks that I can't teach the
basics of an elementary education to my nearest and dearest, maybe there's
a reason I'm so reluctant to send my child to school.

12 If my kid's only six and you ask me with a straight face how I can
possibly teach him what he'd learn in school, please understand that
you're calling me an idiot. Don't act shocked if I decide to respond in

13 Stop assuming that because the word "home" is right there in
"homeschool," we never leave the house. We're the ones who go to the
amusement parks, museums, and zoos in the middle of the week and in the
off-season and laugh at you because you have to go on weekends and
holidays when it's crowded and icky.

14 Stop assuming that because the word "school" is right there in
homeschool, we must sit around at a desk for six or eight hours every day,
just like your kid does. Even if we're into the "school" side of education
— and many of us prefer a more organic approach — we can burn through a
lot of material a lot more efficiently, because we don't have to gear our
lessons to the lowest common denominator.

15 Stop asking, "But what about the Prom?" Even if the idea that my kid
might not be able to indulge in a night of over-hyped, over-priced revelry
was enough to break my heart, plenty of kids who do go to school don't get
to go to the Prom. For all you know, I'm one of them. I might still be
bitter about it. So go be shallow somewhere else.

16 Don't ask my kid if she wouldn't rather go to school unless you don't
mind if I ask your kid if he wouldn't rather stay home and get some sleep
now and then.

17 Stop saying, "Oh, I could never homeschool!" Even if you think it's
some kind of compliment, it sounds more like you're horrified. One of
these days, I won't bother disagreeing with you any more.

18 If you can remember anything from chemistry or calculus class, you're
allowed to ask how we'll teach these subjects to our kids. If you can't,
thank you for the reassurance that we couldn't possibly do a worse job
than your teachers did, and might even do a better one.

19 Stop asking about how hard it must be to be my child's teacher as well
as her parent. I don't see much difference between bossing my kid around
academically and bossing him around the way I do about everything else.

20 Stop saying that my kid is shy, outgoing, aggressive, anxious, quiet,
boisterous, argumentative, pouty, fidgety, chatty, whiny, or loud because
he's homeschooled. It's not fair that all the kids who go to school can be
as annoying as they want to without being branded as representative of
anything but childhood.

21 Quit assuming that my kid must be some kind of prodigy because she's

22 Quit assuming that I must be some kind of prodigy because I homeschool
my kids.

23 Quit assuming that I must be some kind of saint because I homeschool my

24 Stop talking about all the great childhood memories my kids won't get
because they don't go to school, unless you want me to start asking about
all the not-so-great childhood memories you have because you went to

25 Here's a thought: If you can't say something nice about homeschooling,
shut up!

Day 21/365 The Rooster

Quick post today as I am off to take DD to the final meeting of the science camp volunteers.
They will be collectively heaving a huge sigh of relief now that the 2008 summer science campers have gone home for the last time (this year). Plus we get ice cream, and a free viewing of the Lewis and Clark IMAX film.

Today's photo is of The Rooster. This not just any 9 foot tall fiberglass rooster - this is the one that brought the county's board of supervisors to its knees. Said rooster had been comfortably situated in its parking lot corner, serving as both a local landmark, as well as publicity for the restuarant that put him there (note that there is no lettering on rooster at any location).

Our little rural county got all full of it's self, and enacted a sign ordinance to "protect us from development and visual pollution". What resulted from that ordinance was a restriction for business signs: anything basically larger than a 12" x 24" sign was illegal.

They did not grandfather in existing businesses, or make exceptions for Walmart.

This ticked a lot of businesses off, plus making it impossible to find a store you were looking for, especially if you were older and had less than wonderful vision (like 80% of the county residents).

So Walmart starts calling lawyers, businessowners started calling up to complain, citizens went to town meetings. None of this got the board of supervisors attention.

Then someone called and reported The Rooster. An anonymous caller insisted it was A Sign, since everyone referred to that restaurant as "the one with the rooster".

Obviously it is larger than 12" x 24".

This led to a county-board-of-supervisors-fieldtrip, and resulted in a newspaper photo of the county-board-of-supervisors gathered around The Rooster, staring up at it, contemplating it in all it's fiberglass red-and-white glory.

Of course, this was a publicity windfall for the restaurant owner/rooster wrangler. So he debated the topic endlessly at town hall, all the while, making sure The Rooster was kept bright and shiny, so folks could spot it easily.

People were talking about The Rooster all over town - is it or isn't it a sign? Is it an eyesore, or a local landmark, perchance a piece of kitschy art? **DD has reminded me that at one point the rooster was sitting on top of a 1950's pink convertible - the kind with tail fins - pretty sure that made it kitschy art at that point**

Turns out people loved The Rooster (although many call it The Chicken, not being familiar with barnyard specifics). People honked when they drove by it, got out and had their picture taken with it, hung banners on it saying "SAVE THE ROOSTER!!!" Business at the restaurant was never so good.

In the end, our community's loud clucking and gushing appreciation for giant fiberglass fowl won out - The Rooster is now exempt from all county signage laws, and safe in his corner, although minus his pink convertible.

The moral of the story is: sometimes it's a sign, sometimes it's visual pollution, but either way, this time it's a Rooster.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day 20/365...Or...My Big Fat Greek Barrel

My new online-ordered, specially-designed rain barrel arrived yesterday. I love it. If it wasn't $89 (reasonable though it is), I'd order 5 more.

It's a beautiful terracotta color, sort of like one of those amphora-shaped jugs you see in underwater shipwrecks in the Mediterrean.

The black snap-on lid has quarter size holes, with screen attached to the back, to keep out small animals, bugs, trash, whatever.

The three connector plugs are along the top, for overflow or connector hoses to other rain barrels. They're all silcone-sealed, built-in, and can be capped or used. On one bottom side there's a bottom drain, and about half-way up, there's another connector for a brass spigot that just screws in. The spigot came with the barrel, and even had the teflon tape already wrapped on it.

But my most FAVORITE part is this stamped label. This barrel is recycled. It's first job was bringing olives and peppers from Greece to the U.S. in the hold of some cargo ship.

The barrel waswashed and cleaned, but you can still smell the faint spicy aroma of the olives,and it kinda makes you want to go out for gyros.

The label says HELLAS, and it has a Trojan soldier picking olives, with some Greek-inspired designs around it.

We've got it installed now, in place of the one we had problems with. I figure coming from Greece, it's used to hot sun. And I may get another one to use on the other side of the garage, just so they match.

Nothing like two Greeks in the hot sun. Two Greek barrels. What did you think I meant?

To get your own Greek in the sun:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Day 19/365 My Water Barrel Obsession, Part 2

My Obsession - Part 2 - Go to previous post to below to read Part 1

So now you have a trashcan on wheels with faucets sticking out of it.

The wheels are useless, except when positioning the barrel. When it's full, no one will be able to move it.

Now, about the Romans.

If you happen to be a homeschooler, this is an excellent chance to do a unit study on the ancient Romans, and their development of water hydraulics. They knew what they were doing, and
you'll be imitating them with your water system.

The key to remember is: water seeks its own level, and will always run to the lowest point.

Place your barrels accordingly.

With multiple barrels, use garden hoses to run between them. Remember, you can buy one hose, and then the female connectors to make shorter lengths to run between the tanks (no need to buy a separate 25' hose for each connection),

If the highest volume collector is at the lowest point, it will just overflow. The water will not back up in the hoses and go into your extra tanks. So, you need to know which end of your garage is lowest, or which side of your house roof has the greatest runoff. Easiest way to do this is just watch the flow during a rainstorm. The ones that gush over should be where your highest tank is place. You can build wooden platforms for it like we did, or you can just buy cinder blocks and stack them under it to lift it higher.

When that tank fills, the water will overflow down into the next lowest tank, and from that one into the next one and so on.

Above is a finished tank. Remember when you tighten the faucet in place to point it in the direction of the incoming or outgoing hose (and leave enough room for your fingers to screw the hose on and off - I've actually had to put quick connectors on a couple of the first tanks we did just because I forgot my fingers have to fit in there).

This tank is at the back corner of our garage. It has an access faucet on the side (also one of our first - put yours up higher - makes filling buckets easier), the middle faucet is the connecting hose to the tank on the front of the garage, and the faucet on the right is the connecting hose to the other tanks on the back end of the garage. It's sitting on a platform of plywood and cinder block.

These are the overflow tanks along the back side of the garage - one hose in, one hose out, plus one access faucet higher on the side.

Closeup of the gutter connection to the lid - just cut a hole the same size as the guttering, and insert the flexible gutter (it comes in colors - here we have white, brown and green).

This is a finished tank - sitting on its little treated wood platform (our driveway is sloped here, so the platform raises the tank, plus gives it a flat surface to sit on, and looks nicer than cinder blocks sitting in front of the house. To the right you can see the previous drain pipe sticking up where all this water use to just run into the street and be wasted.

Another thing we have learned - try to position the barrels in the shade, or at least where they will get no more than half day of sun. This particular barrel gets sun all day from morning to night, and its very hard on the plastic. The barrel gets very hot and flexible (water stays nice and cool - go figure), and we will probably re-position it in the fall, to the side of the garage, in addition to replacing it with a standard water barrel that contains the weight of the water with less stress on the plastic container.

When we start digging the pond out this fall, watch for Part 3 of My Obsession.

Day 19/365 - My Water Barrel Obsession, Part 1

Those of you who know me offline know that I have been obsessed with designing and building our rain water collection system this spring.

This morning I picked up our little small town paper and we are officially in Stage 2 of our Drought. The local water department is predicting mandatory conservation next week (Stage 3) including no car washing, no filling swimming pools, no watering gardens and no lawn watering. Stage 4 will include cutting off water to the houses that use excessive amounts, fining people who use too much, a Water Abuse Hotline, and overtime for local police to ticket those who insist on using water for any of the banned activities.

(Yes, I am feeling a little smug at the moment, and yes, I am whispering "I told you so" under my breath. Okay, maybe sometimes not so whispering, and not so under my breath.)

One of the suggested things the Water Dept offered up was using a rain barrel water collection system. HAH. I assumed they would have further suggestions, including a resource to buy the barrels from, so I asked when I went to drop the water bill off this morning. The lady looked very confused, and asked didn't I have water at my house? And added that maybe I could set a tin tub out in the yard to collect the rain. She was very nice, and very clueless.

I came home and called Lowe's - no rain barrels. Called our local hardware (who historically have everything, much like an old timey Amish hardware store type of place) - no rain barrels.

Called the Virginia State Extension Service (a block away from us) - no rain barrels, because people here "don't go in for that kindof thing". Apparently rain barrels are some sort of communism. I gave the guy a heads up that the local paper was calling for folks to use rain barrels, so he might be getting more phone calls.

On the off chance that someone else needs to know how to build a low-cost rain barrel system-here's what we did, and how, and we made the mistakes to save you money. For those of you that have heard all this before, you can clickout now, skip part 2, and wait till tomorrow for my next post.

These are the first 2 barrels of what is currently 8 barrel system, overall capable of collecting
and holding just under 500 gallons of water. After a 30 minute soft rain, they will be full and overflowing. These two sit on either side of our garage, with direct flexible drains leading into them (one end is connected to the gutter, and the other simply inserted in a cut hole in the lid.)

Ours are black, so they match the rest of the house/garage trim.

Below is the back end of the garage, with another tank on each corner (also connected to the gutters) and two extra storage tanks in the middle, conencted with faucets and hoses. This fall,

these tanks will be connected to underground PVC piping, with a small subpump in one tank. The pump will turn on when the water level is full, and pump the water out to a small 3000 gallon pond we're planning on digging.

The small pond (this will be approx 10 in diameter,and 4 feet deep) will sit on higher ground than my gardens, so that I can run drip irrigation out of it, and turn it on as needed. The pond will also be set up as a wetlands, with waterplants that will filter the water and remove any "acid rain" residue before it hits the plants. The depth means we can add goldfish to it to eat mosquitoe larvae, versus using a tiny bit of oil like we do for the plastic tanks. Global warming being what it is these days, I fully expect to be able to winter over the goldfish in a 4' depth.

Below are the workhorse tanks (there's another 55 gallon on the other side of the fence in back of this one -it's connected with hose, so that both fill during a rain, but I only have to draw out of one -when the level in the first one gets to a certain point, the second tank flows into it). These two tanks collect water off the carport roof, and take care of all the plants in the Swing Garden, plus two fountains, plus the hollyhocks/forsythia beds by the house, plus fresh rainwater for the pups when they're outside. These completely fill and overflow within 10 minutes in a light rainfall, collecting from just one 16' gutter length that pulls from a one-car wide carport roof.

This is the expensive way to make a system: go online and order a rain barrel from any one of a dozen companies. It will cost you upwards of $99 to $250 for a 55 gallon barrel, plus shipping (as of 8-08, shipping is usually in the ball park of $55.00 for each barrel).

****UPDATE: I've just found an online company out of Indiana with excellent prices on recycled food grade 50 gallon barrels - total cost for 1 barrel was $89.95 - price includes snaptop lid with mesh filter, brass spigot, and 3 overflow male connections in top to connect to other barrels, bottom drain plug AND FREE SHIPPING. (Other companies with same price barrels are charging $9.95 for each spigot and connection, many barrels are closed head (meaning you can't get into them to put in spigots yourself), no drain plug, and $55-95.00 for shipping. You can order online, or call them toll free at: 1-877-888-5609. On the net at:

(That was a lot like a commercial, but I'm having to replace our full-sun tank, it just can't handle this Virginia heat, so I have actually purchased one - i should arrive in 5-7 days)

Or you can do this (our entire system is built the following way, with no problems except as regards to the heat mentioned above for one tank):

If all you need is one barrel, maybe to water a small number of plants, or soap off your car on the weekends, buy one Rubbermaid barrel as explained below ($33.00), and a length of flexible guttering at Lowe's ($8), then set your barrel under your downspout. Disconnect the downspout, and connect your flexible guttering. Cut a hole (same size as end of flexible guttering) in the lid and insert the flexible gutting. Voila! You have a basic rain barrel. Once it fills (only takes minutes), remember to occasionally add a teaspoon of cooking oil to the surface to prevent mosquitos.

If you need a larger system, you're going to want to link several barrels together:

Go to Walmart and buy two or more 55 gallon Rubbermaid black square trashcans (the kind with wheels) with lids. Stop at your local hardware store and buy plastic faucets. Note the diameter of the faucet they come in different sizes- 3/4", 1/2". etc -tell the guy you want the size to fit the average garden hose -usually 1/2"), and buy PVC plastic bolts that screw on to the straight connection end of the faucet. Buy a tube of waterproof silicone sealant, and either a sheet of plexiglass, or rubber gaskets that fit your faucet diameter. You'll need a power drill, and a hole cutting drill bit, again, the bit should be the diameter of your faucet.

The idea is to have a barrel that has one faucet connection for a hose to run in, and if you think you will ever want a third barrel, another faucet connection for a hose to the third barrel. If you have multiple barrels, each barrel will have a minimum of two faucets inserted. Think: one hose in, one hose out.

We found it was also convenient to add access faucets, just higher than bucket height, eliminating the need to scoop water out from the top. I've also connected short lengths of hose, and can run that hose down to the fountains to let it slow fill while I do other things.

This is a completed faucet. You can see the silicone under the plexiglass collar - this stabilizes the faucet. There is another collar on the inside, as well as the PVC nut, and all of this holds the faucet steady. We found Lowe's only had brass faucets -DON'T get those - much more expensive, and too heavy for the plastic can.

The first barrel you put together will go slowly. Once you get the hang of it, it takes about 5 minutes to do one.

If you're still with me in my obsession, go to part 2.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Day 18/365 I Live Next Door To Dolly Llama

Short sweet post today - then back to listing. This sweetie pie of a dog (boxer mix) is our new neighbor's dog. She was previously an indoor dog until they had their baby, who is now a year old. She tends to jump up (her worst habit), but otherwise is totally silent, and very observant and calm.

She lives in their backyard, in the perfect spot to look through my greenhouse window and watch me work. She also is interested in watching me weed my cucumbers, and loves to nap on the compost pile.

That calm, peaceful disposition is what contributed to my misunderstanding of their choice of names. They told us her name was Dalai. I immediately thought "Oh, like the Dalai Lama!"
And yes, she does have that all-knowing Zen, existential, quizzical look about her. I thought it was a wonderful name, and a perfect fit.

A couple days ago (about a month after learning her name), my DD corrected my perception (once again illustrating the huge gap between most of our neighbors and ourselves): Turns out the lovely pup was not named after His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She was named after DOLLY Parton.

Personally I just don't see the resemblance at all.

Now, all I can think of when I see her is Dolly Llama.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Day 17/365 Paris Hilton, Greta Garbo and Grandma Ethel

Spent this afternoon mowing, in and around our 8 foot tall and 8 foot wide butterfly bush, home to what looks to be hundreds of butterflies. These are a few of those flitting around today - they aren't shy at all, several fluttered right up to the camera. All of these were shot by my
daughter who is kind enough to let me display them.

This one posed like a Paris Hilton wanna-be - got into everyone else's shots, danced on every flower, and flirted shamelessly.

This little guy below was my favorite - his wings were black and white stripe like a zebra, but underneath, he had bright red streaks running all through the black and white. He was shyer than Paris, more of a Greta Garbo type. This was the closest he allowed the camera.

This butterfly bush was planted as a thin twig long with 5 others approx 5 years ago, in an effort to solve a problem of no fences to stop the horrid neighbor kid from cutting through our yard. We lost one during a particularily dry summer, but the other four have flourished, and together the four form a huge living wall, as well as being the guardians of our personal pet cemetary (Grandma Ethel and Sweet Girl both sleep here, under the butterfly bushes and ivy).

Every year, hundreds of butterflies cover the bushes. Apparently it's listed as *the* place to stopover during the annual migratory run and that's exactly what I designed the yard for: an safe ecological oasis without any sprays, pesticides, and all the floral buffets any self-respecting bee or butterfly could wish for.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Day 16/365 The Butterfly Effect

This is a rarely glimpsed private moment in the life of two butterflies. We've planted butterfly bushes that have grown and grown until they are almost 8 feet in diameter. This morning they were loaded with all sorts of butterflys. My DD caught this shot of two of them mating on a morning glory leave, against an old log. The process seems to go on for awhile - they flew away in tandem.