Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Getting started with compost

When I wrote the post about teaching kids how to compost, I had several people comment that they'd like to learn to compost. So, here's lesson one... And I'll teach you, just like I taught the kids!

First, we should talk about why we compost. There are lots of reasons: to reduce the amount of waste that we send to landfills (my personal favorite), as a method to get rid of yard waste like grass clippings or leaves and lastly, to improve the quality of the soil. I'm sure there are others, but to me, these are the most important! If you have clay soil or sandy soil, you could benefit by using compost as an additive to the soil to add nutrients, moisture and oxygen.

Once you've decided you want to give it a try, start thinking about the "how" part of the equation. You'll need to decide where to put it in your yard. It needs to be in a place that gets sun, but it doesn't have to be 100% sun. Mine is in the back of my yard, actually in my vegetable garden. Our yard is very shady and that part gets the most sun. It also needs to be in a place that air circulates.

Next, what kind of compost bin will you have? There are lots of different ways to do it. There are the kind you buy, like tumblers; and the kind you build with pieces of fence, skids or other salvaged materials; pit or trench composting or just a heap, like mine. It all depends on how much work you want to put into it and for some, what your neighborhood covenant will allow. (I recommend checking this out, since some neighborhoods don't allow it at all!) Since I am lazy and my neighborhood doesn't have a covenant, we have a nice heap. Here's what it looks like:

As you can see, it's nothing fancy. And you can really see it unless you're in the vegetable garden. 

Next time, you'll hear about what's garbage and what's not garbage -- what to put in your compost pile!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Whatever happened with that Free State Social thing?

I came back from Free State Social last Thursday pumped up and ready to talk about all the wonderful things I learned and I woke up the next day with a terrible a spring cold. (Or severe allergies, I'm still not sure which.) So, there is no "awesomely excited to be putting this into action" post to enjoy. But, the good news is, I am feeling a lot better.

One of the things that I did think about while I was there was my personal blog. I've been having trouble trying to decide what to do with it, really. We talked a lot about passion at Free State. And some things I'm passionate about are gardening and green living. (I don't live entirely green, but I add elements to our daily life.) So I am going to be devoting the majority of my posts to those subjects. I'll try to post pictures whenever possible. Oh, and I had this old blog that I had abandoned, but it's more "me" so I merged my other blog into this one and this will be THE blog that I use... Confused yet?

And, based on the fact that I got a lot of comments from people on my post about teaching 6th graders to compost that they'd like to learn that too, I'm thinking that maybe my posts should have an element of instruction to them and not just a daily dose of what I think of things!

So... to make a long story short, that's what you should look for from now on. I hope you stick with me. Coming up next... getting started with compost!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Today I hung with 6th graders and liked it.

I've already posted this on Twitter and Facebook, but I had a really good time, so it's going here too. Today I taught 6th graders about compost and had so much fun! We had an Earth Day at the Extension Office that select schools participated in.

Kids this age are hysterical. They are curious, but trying to be cool. I was talking and one of them spotted a grub worm in the mulch and asked about it. So I reached over and picked it up and started talking about how insects help the compost process. They squealed and claimed it was gross and then they took turns holding the grub worm. Bugs were a big hit. Whenever there was an earthworm in the pile I made sure to pick it up.

Also a big hit - letting kids dig in and get into the bin. At the Extension Office we have 3-3'x3' bins and we were showing them how to turn the compost. So we'd have one group pull out the entire bin and then the next group got to scoop it back in. They were shocked that the inside of the pile was so warm. And several of them made the same connection that my niece Anna made a few years ago, "It smells like the rainforest at the zoo!"

So, it was a good day. I learned that I am good at working with kids. (I actually knew this, but I had several people make that comment to me, so that was nice!) And our Extension Agent, Bob, said he heard I was a good "talker," so I may end up doing this more often.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Where memories grow

I've been doing some volunteer gardening lately at for the hospice organization that I used to work for. They have a "Memory Garden" so those who use their services can buy a brick in honor or memory of a loved one. It's amazing to me that I can do a few hours work there and not feel the least bit tired. Not even a little. We start early in the morning, work hard for several hours. And when I leave, I put in a full day doing whatever else needs to be done that day. I suppose the feeling of good will that goes with hard labor is a good buffer for aching muscles.

Now, when I still worked there the Memory Garden was a big project. I didn't always feel warm and cozy about it either. In fact, there were times I wanted to be doing anything but think about that garden.

It was actually part of the organization before I was. I only started to feel a connection to the garden after it had to be moved. Yes, that's right: MOVED. See, because when you change locations you can't leave behind bricks engraved with former patients' names and plaques lovingly devoted to your organization's namesake. So, when the organization moved, as painful as it was, the garden moved.

It was tricky for a long time. We weren't moving to a place that could accommodate a garden. Our administrative offices were downtown so there was no room there either. So we waited. My boss, Cris, searched for options, we queried donors. And, to make a long story short, she eventually found a retail space, still in development, who would host our garden. So work began on the new garden.

With just one store there and many, many empty lots, it was hard to see anything in this space. And, it was what it was: a giant patch of dirt, with two muddy ponds, right next to the highway. We held groundbreaking ceremonies and planted trees. We put in plaques, benches and sidewalks. Even without all the amenities that our original garden had, it had peace and quiet, though, right? Well, no. It's next to the highway! It had highway noise. And two ponds with geese. Have I mentioned the geese, or the POOP? So, to say it had a lot of detractors is an understatement.
But, Cris had vision. She'd say, "Well, it's just dirt now and a couple of ponds, but think about what's going in here!" And then she'd proceed to tell you about the couples who would come from the restaurants, hand-in-hand, and how they'd walk the sidewalks and sit at the benches and linger a little longer as they watched the sun set over the pond.

Maybe it hasn't become that romanticized as she envisioned, but I can now honestly say that it is more than I thought it would be and now, I can see its potential. Yes, cynical me. There are stores nearby and traffic and there's a vet clinic next door, so people DO use the walking path. They appreciate the names there (I hope). And, I imagine that while they are there they wonder, "What if we put in a brick for Pa-Pa?" And, as more stores have gone in, the traffic noise from the highway is lessened. For the first few years, the focus was on structure. It was important to plant trees and put in sidewalks and bridges. This year, I helped put in roses and daisies. I can see that there will be beautiful things blooming there.

And maybe the reason I've enjoyed volunteering there is the sense of accomplishment growing where I never thought it would grow. I'm not too proud to admit that it was wrong to be cynical.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You won't need to fly me to the moon! I'm there.

Things are looking up! It's been a great couple of weeks. If you read my post from a few days ago, you know I was "campaigning" to be an ambassador to go to Free State Social, the forum for social media on April 29 in Lawrence. Folks, you are reading a post from Ambassador Carreen Simon! (Although, really, no formalities, I prefer just Carreen.)

I'm over the moon. I put exclamation points on everything I type - and then I remove them. (That's just bad form.) So, what this basically means is that I get to attend this really great conference about social media, for FREE. Wow! It's in Lawrence, so I can drive there.

Kris Schindler, from Start-Thinking, a marketing and PR firm here in Wichita, asked me today if I was excited. (Uh, YES!) Why did I put forth the effort? What did it mean for me to attend? It was hard to put into words at the time, really. But, when you're unemployed, you know that you should be doing things to network and to promote yourself, but it's so hard to justify spending the money. So to have this just given to me is a gift and an honor. And honestly, if it hadn't been given to me, it wouldn't have happened.

I haven't had a job relevant to my skill set in marketing and communications for more than a year, when I was laid off. (I had a job for in 2009, but it wasn't where I needed to be.) This conference will give me the opportunity to network with people from all over the state in my field and in related fields, people who see the value in social media. And does it have value? Personally, I know that it has enriched my life in the last year. I've connected with friends I haven't seen in years and I've made lots of new friends. And for businesses? The potential to directly interact with your customers is priceless.

Free State Social isn't the only reason I'm over the moon. Things just feel like they are coming together. I've had an interview in the last few weeks. Not one that resulted in a job, but it was a nice opportunity, no matter. An opportunity to show my portfolio. Also, Colleen took me to get a massage. She's just great that way! This was our pampering day:

Let's see, what else? Oh, I saw a super hero this week. Look, on the back of that truck... Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, apparently it's Super Junk Man. Seriously? What is that? It made me laugh, and that's what matters. I've been carrying my camera with me these days because it seems like I never have it when I see something really cool.

And, in the department of "really cool"... I also saw this:

Now, in case you are unaware, that is the B2 Bomber! (One of my step-dad's favorite airplanes, it always reminds me of him.) How cool is it to live in a city where you occasionally look up in the sky and see something like that flying around? Wichita, you're okay!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are you mocking me? I will not be mocked!

For three years I've wondered how to get my little magnolia tree to bloom. For three years, nothing. I watered, I lovingly pruned it. I fertilized, I mulched, I looked longingly at its little barren branches and shrieked, "Why me???" And each year, it would just be in my yard, growing its shiny leaves and mocking me. I wondered about its placement in the yard, maybe it was in too shady a spot, maybe it was defective, maybe it was actively defying me. And then, this year, after a winter I was sure probably killed even its abilities to produce just the shiny leaves, the tiny buds showed up.

It's difficult to put into words my delight. I didn't want to get too cocky. After all, it was only mid-March. I cleared my flower beds of brush and leaves, almost ensuring another gigantic snow storm, a snowzilla, if you will, and I waited. I watched first the crocuses come up and then the daffodils, then the tulips. I tried not to look in its direction, fearing any quick move might shock the little sucker and it would surrender all those little buds. And then it happened. My little magnolia tree became the little magnolia tree that could.

And, boy could it! Not just one or two little flowers, but flowers all over my gorgeous little tree. Flowers that make you happy to be alive and proclaim, "Thank heavens it's Spring!"

Then, in my weekly attempts to ward off Spring fever, I took myself to a yoga class at the gym. Just as I was leaving, tiny, innocent, little raindrops began to fall. And as I pulled into the gym, it started raining harder. I was in my yoga class downward dogging when the hail began to fall.

I stayed hopeful, because maybe it didn't hail at my house, right? As I drove home (clearly in denial) I saw what I thought was foam on the sides of the highway. "Maybe the rain has washed the salt off the roads and that's causing some foam to build up," I thought. That's possible, right? But NO, that was accumulated HAIL. Lots and lots of hail. And what of my little magnolia tree? It is once again a five and a half foot stick with shiny leaves. (Actually it doesn't even have leaves yet.)

And the moral of this story is: if you love it, take a picture!

But, hey, at least I know that it CAN produce flowers now. (It's not mocking me!)

Monday, April 5, 2010

What's growing in my garden? #FSSocial Tulips.

So, what does an indoor kitty, like Bruno, do in the Spring when the birds are chirping and squirrels are all atwitter? He dreams of a parallel universe where he is a wild animal, free to stalk his prey. At least that's what I like to think when I catch Bruno stalking birds in my gardens from the open windows like he does.

And speaking of gardens, Dave and I have decided, reluctantly for me, that this year we are going to focus on our flower and landscape gardens and give the vegetable garden a rest. I've already decided that doesn't include herbs. And tomatoes... I may grow those in pots, I just haven't decided yet. But for now, these are the crocuses that popped up in our front patio flower bed mid-March, when it was still so cold out. They showed up to keep me from going crazy. I imagine that if they could talk they would say, "Hey, not much longer now!"

And today, the tulips are coming out in the back yard. Of course, they didn't come up like the one pictured, I may have helped it along. So, what's #FSSocial? It's a Twitter hashtag for Free State Social, which is a social media forum being held at the end of this month that I hope to attend. They are choosing two "Ambassadors" to attend for free. One will be a student, one will be someone who is unemployed. And, since I am no longer working, this sounds right up my alley. What better way to network with other communicators than a social media forum?

I just hope my Twitter followers and Facebook friends don't tire of hearing about this thing and why The World Company should pick me!