Backyard Projects: Outdoor Sink (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

This morning I said to myself: “Natalia, you should blog.” And since the weather is rapidly descending into Autumn — and before we Montrealers know it, Winter — I figured I’d better get this summer-themed post happening. Anyhow, back to finishing my potting nook:

First I laid out the wood:

Then flipped it over to create the frame/rigidity:

Murray and I notched out the wood to fit the sink and accommodate the HydroQuebec tubing that leads to the meter. At this point, my daughter thought this construction was the window to some mythical clubhouse I’d built her:

The next big step was the plumbing. It was blazing hot outside and wearing shorts while soldering in a tight space, I later discovered, was a bad idea. I must have burned myself around six times with dripping molten solder. Still determined to “freecycle” all my materials, I limited myself to the valves and pieces around the house. At times during the plumbing step, I felt like I was a contestant on Canada’s Worst Handyman. It was laughable. The final product, however, boasts no leaky connections! TA-BLAOW!

Add legs and here she be! Drainage, at the moment, is into a “grey water” bucket that I use to water the garden. We wash vegetables out here when we’re cooking outside. In addition to planting and potting, and this area has been super useful to keep the kid’s hands clean when mucking about before dinner!

The end.

Backyard Projects: Outdoor Sink (Part 1)

This summer has been partially dedicated to “busying myself” around the house. There are a million little projects I wish I had time for, but one of my biggest ones was completed early in the season: The Outdoor Sink. The goal was to free-cycle, recycle and up-cycle all the parts. So aside from a box of deck screws, this whole thing was built for around $15.

Step 1: Draw up some plans.

There were a lot of plans. It is a small space and I was restricted to the materials I had on hand. Which brings me to:

Step 2: Materials.

I had a bunch of cedar planks and 2 cedar 4X4 posts Murray had left over from building our recycled barn wood backyard harvest table. These would be the main parts of my work table, and the big challenges were fitting into the small space, minimizing cuts, and attaching the legs. As you can see from all the designs, I tried to integrate the legs into the structure, when in the end I settled on using two metal post plates (another thing I had to buy) to attach the legs to the top. I would also need a sink. I had my craigslist/garbage picker’s eye out for a few weeks, finally finding this small stainless-steel bar sink for $7 at a garage sale.

Step 4: Asess, measure, plan.

Hunh. Here’s the nook. It was used basically as a place for the hose winder thing to hang out. Also, not the greatest place for the hose to be. Generally, water + electric mains = bad idea. But it was like that when we got the house so I wasn’t about to start drilling holes in the exterior wall. Ghetto-styles rule this Park-Ex project.

Up next: Commit to the lumber & my hilarious plumbing skillz.

Black Locust Redemption

About three years ago my mom brought me a young sapling from her garden in Toronto. She assured me it was an acacia tree – one that flowers exquisitely. I was excited for an ornamental tree (our lot is treeless), and I planted it in the front, in order to fulfill my homeowner’s fantasy of looking out my bedroom window to leaves and a lofty canopy.

After two years, when the tree had hit almost ten feet tall my mom basically straight up told me it was not an acacia tree. Betrayed by its thorny branches, the tree was identified as a common weed: the black locust.

Cool name, but a weed? What constitutes the distinction? Something that just grows where we don’t want it to, that can’t be contained (also known as invasive)? Except for the fact that my black locust’s roots are choking out my peonies, astilbe and irises, I don’t feel like the tree is weedy at all.

Being on tour for part of the spring and summer means oftentimes things in the garden will bloom and I’ll miss them altogether. I missed this last year (we were on tour all of May), but check out the black locust’s redemption:

Good news: The tree is totally covered in these delicate, cascading blossoms. And they fill the air leading up to our front steps with a sweet aroma that I totally dig. I feel like the success of this plant validates my role as a gardener.

Bad news: I’ve just learned from Wikipedia that the robinia pseudoacacia is totally toxic if ingested, from branch to leaf to seed pod to root (except for the flowers). Keep your horses away, or risk them experiencing depression! Note the Latin name confirms this plant is an acacia fake-out. My mom did tell me to rip it out last year, but I don’t have the heart. It’s too pretty.

Besides, bees love this thing, and those little guys need all the help they can get.

Bring Back the Victory Garden

Why did this stop? North Americans in the 1950’s got so obsessed with consumerism and plenty vs. constant rations and shortages, that they forgot about the earth…which I guess after a world war is forgivable. But taking is always easier than giving. So while reading the Economist I was reminded about the Victory Garden: a WWII effort where Americans were encouraged to turn their backyards into vegetable gardens and grow their own food. Could you imagine? What would Michael Pollan say?

I was listening to the CBC news and they said a report issued by the city of Montreal on climate change and reducing our individual carbon footprints recommended Montrealers wash their laundry in cold water and eat less meat. Though, of course, I can’t find a link to back it up, because asking an entire population to eat less meat, while inspiring and groundbreaking, is also kind of unbelievable.

My friend Jason sent me this interview with Louis CK – a comedian – on Conan last year: “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy.” And I kind of agree…we should be more grateful for our lives, live less with a feeling of entitlement and more with a sense of giving, sharing and community. We should rely on ourselves first, rather than on Wikipedia to answer all our questions (of which I am so guilty). Imagine if we reconsidered our real estate: not just a house full of things and stuff and the right paint colours, but as land. Could you imagine?

Less PS3 and more gardening…except in winter when we can’t get to the soil for six months. Although the “Victory Garden” does sound like a level in Bioshock….maybe that’s what I like about it…

Long Weekend-ey Things To Do

Being Easter weekend and all, my inbox was empty aside from my e-mail news alerts and Malaysian spam. Nobody is updating their blogs, and judging from my stats, no one is reading them, either. So I decided to try and do some Easter weekend-ey, internetty type things.

My mom was in town for a few days, and she brought this quilt she made for my sister and I like when we were kids. I remembered it and when she found it again in the house I asked her if Neptune could have it. Problem is that it’s pretty ratty in places, so my mom and I did the ultimate, Easter weekend, family thing: we quilted. We went to the fabric store and matched the almost garish pink and light green squares with a retro pattern that added a yellow element (to match Neptune’s room, of course). My mom did most of the sewing and it still needs a bit of work but it’s looking really good and I’m pretty proud of my mom and I for fixing it up. It’s gonna look great. Thanks mom!

Today I spent my free time in the afternoon redesigning our oppressive, concrete backyard. Murray and I have been toying with how to revitalize it on a budget, including taking up the concrete. Because we’re not really up for backbreaking work, and since the reasonable quote from our contractor was still too much, we’re opting for some decking, raised bed planters, pot gardening and zen-like pebbled borders. I downloaded this 3D drawing program called SktechUp, which I’d seen once before when a carpenter designed some really nice built-in bookshelves for us. It’s a neat program, and is surprisingly easy to use. Last summer I had taken precise measurements of our backyard’s ground plan, and just started working on the layout and adding the third dimension. I haven’t take any Z-axis measurements so there’s a bit of eyeballing going on…can’t wait for the four feet of snow to melt so I can get out there again!

Anyway, if you care, then Happy Easter, and if you don’t, then enjoy the long weekend!

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OUR WEIRD CEMENTY BACKYARD

It’s a Friggin’ Snowstorm!

Having a baby makes you sleep a bit lighter, sleep with one ear open for one cough too many, or for that “for serious” crying out. So this morning, while Neptune was still asleep, my slumbers were stirred by the prickly sound of tiny ice pellets against the bedroom window. I opened the curtain to an intense snowfall. The cedars in the front all weighted down and saggy, and I don’t know if the acacia tree my mom brought from her garden last year is going to make it…the branches keep snapping off. We can’t bully the forces of nature, I guess.

This could be dangerous weather; this could transform into some kind of mini-ice storm overnight. Over the past few weeks, around when I bought firewood for the season, I felt pangs of survivalism, a hanging desire for emergency preparedness. I went to the Government of Canada’s getprepared.ca (does that mean I’m cynical?). I think we already have all the stuff they recommended so I didn’t feel so bad. I was a bit weirded out by the idea of making the emergency kit ready to go. Evacuation seems really extreme but…tap tap tap…knock on wood, you never know. The notion of a 72-hour survival kit hurries my desire to move to the country.

Yesterday, It Snowed

It was the kind of snow that’s very round, like lightweight fertiliser pellets, but that just blows away and is gone forever. I always curse the first signs of winter; though here in Montreal there is only one sign: snow. It dictates the beginning and end of each season. Autumn ends when snow falls; Spring starts when it melts away. So officially winter started yesterday. Suddenly my coat didn’t feel thick enough, I needed a real sweather, and maybe some real gloves. Anyhow, it’s the beginning of the end, time to hole up, get some new video games. Murray might get an XBox 360; I might get the new Zelda for DS. Time to get cozy.

The Environment

I try to be environmentally conscious. Really, I do. When we moved and had to buy appliances, we bought all of the most enegry efficient ones we could afford. We put in flourescent bulbs in almost every room, and installed all new programmable thermostats to keep our energy usage down. We updated our windows and now our house is somewhat of a sealed tomb against the elements. If we could afford to put solar panels on the roof, trust me, we would have done that already too.

On a smaller scale, we get most of our fruit and veg at the Jean-Talon market, buying local whenever we can. We use cloth shopping bags, or opt to not take a bag at all. Of course there are a million other things we do, or could be doing (next year we plan to grow our own veg in the backyard), but some efforts will just have to wait until we move out to our hobby farm/off the grid compound in the mountains (aahhh, dreams).

Anyhow, this whole train of thought started as I was loading the dishwasher (Energy Star rated) and remembered my recent stint with eco-friendly dishwasher detergent. Basically, if you have a kid, then you will instantly recognise the necessity of having a dishwasher. You don’t know how many pre-dishwasher hours I’ve spent sterilising Neptune’s baby bottles and cups in pots of boiling water, when now I just toss them in with a load of dishes. SO…that eco-friendly detergent? It was basically useless. I don’t prescribe to the “wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher” method…it wastes tons of water and defeats the purpose of a DISHWASHER. Just get the big bits of food off and that’s it, in the dishwasher. But the eco-friendly stuff demanded a severe pre-wash of the dishes and I had to ask myself which is worse: using double the amount of hot water or dumping trace amounts of phosphates (we use Cascade, which has 4.5%: 2.2% being considered “phoshate free,” 18% being the most damaging, according to the Gazette) into the water stream? The debate is prominent.

My paranoia escalates as I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which talks about the industrialisation of food. Already I look at corn differently. We don’t eat processed foods as a general rule (when we’re on tour, we are forced to eat truck-stop crap all the time so when we’re home Murray cooks), we’re vegetarian, and as I mentioned try to eat local produce (even organic foods aren’t as eco-conscious as we think). My friends Bryan and Lis who recommended the book said it would make us bigger food snobs, and they were right! What a true dilemma. My first slip back towards the bottom of the pit happened with coffee beans: social responsibility twarted by flavour.

What happened to the real life notion of the earth as a living organism? Now it’s every person for themselves. Universal misanthrophy is impossible: the earth and its people need each other. Sadly, money and capitalism has obscured our purpose here; it has, in fact, replaced it. North American society has forgone the agrarian ecosystem for success and progress. We are so lost. We would rather drive to Wal-Mart than walk to the General Store, but we’re not even sure why. It’s just been created that way for us. Dependence on petrol has usurped how much an individual is allowed to control their own life.

Oh, wow, this is turning in to one of those beastly posts with a million tangents waiting in the wings. To be continued when I finish reading my book…

Projects: The Hose

This past Thursday I fixed the hose. The pipes in the back had all burst. It was just like that when we moved in, so I’ve spent the past two years watering my plants with a watering can filled from the kitchen sink. I would have to go in and out of the house about eight times, and also fill a smaller watering can for Neptune, too, so she wouldn’t feel left out.

So getting a hang of the blow torch, and hot, dripping metal took a bit, but soldering pipes is really kind of easy. I burned my finger and there is solder everywhere, but it’s kind of like the bad guy from Terminator 2, so that’s pretty cool. Before I made a move, I would call my dad to get all the info…it was pretty hilarious. I had a scrap of paper that in big writing said:

1. Clean pipe
2. Flux
3. Heat pipe
4. Solder

Those were my instructions, and I referred to them before connecting each joint. I did the plumbing for the kitchen sink with Rob when we moved in, but I was pretty terrified. That time, I did the solder and Rob did the blow torch. But with the hose, I was outside so aside from leaving some burn marks on the bricks, I wasn’t really too worried about setting the house on fire or anything like that. Honestly, it was fun and I felt really good about it when it was done. I now water my plants with pride, but also realised that this sprinkler I got is totally lame. It’s one of those arching ones that goes back and forth, and the places I need to use it are basically not big enough. I was in the back yard yelling: “This sprinkler is BOGUS.” Good thing I only paid $10 for it.

Murray’s Food Blog?

Since we’ve been home, we’ve been watching a lot of Food Network, and doing a lot of cooking. I actually started a very normal habit of buying Martha Stewart Living every time we go to the Costco (it doesn’t get more normal and boring than that, really, and I apologise if that doesn’t meet your expectations). Anyhow, my department in the kitchen is baking. I do desserts, cookies, pies, etc. Next week my friend Stacey is teacching me how to make preserves. Murray, however, has really excelled. He makes amazing dinners, and last night cooked some killer roasted veg with leeks, potatoes and orange and yellow carrots. We get our produce from the market and try to buy everything local, or grown in Quebec. Then there was BBQ corn, veggie sausages with tomato sauce, and arugula and radicchio salad with cherry tomatoes we grew in the backyard. Then he made this Nutrageous and Haagen Das Blizzard that was really just too sweet, but I had to eat it. Him and Rob sometimes get together and plan out a whole menu; Rob rocked a killer Grandma Pizza last week (inspired by one they had in Brooklyn with Scott when Murray was mixing GOL) and the Ceasar salad is near perfect. So we are eating well, but I’ve been trying to convince Murray to start a food blog. He wants to pitch a cooking show, but I think he should start with a blog. Anyway we’ve been taking pics of his dinners once they’re plated (yeah, that’s right, he plates) so maybe I will take notes, or video short clips, or just let it be. In any event, I love it…so there will be news to come on whether or not that blog happens…