Unwanted Gifts, Ahead by a Whisker

slinky on the desk

Slinky lounging on my desk

I’m ready to pull my hair out, but I’m having a hot cup of tea instead. I’m trying to sooth my nerves. A curled up Slinky sits next to me on the desk and the leaves outside my window are finally turning orange. Breathe, Alys, breathe.

We have a standing joke that when my husband travels on long business trips, something in the house breaks.  I think of myself as capable in a crisis, but computers and home appliances are generally outside of my purview.  He left town late Thursday, and on Friday the dishwasher stopped working. Initially, I refused to believe it. It was one of those weeks. I played with the buttons, hoping it was just the light. Next I went outside and checked the fuse box. All appeared to be in order, but I reset it anyway and came back inside. No luck. I got down on my knees to see if the machine came unplugged. Isn’t it nice when it’s something that obvious? That’s when I saw the frayed cord. Chewed, actually. Did I mention the unwanted gift?

mouse looking round

Mouse doing his Butterball turkey impression

Mouse (a cat) likes to catch rats (alive and well) and bring them in the house. The cat flap is now firmly closed and any open door carefully monitored. You know what they say about hindsight. Mouse brought us a gift anyway, and it’s alive and well, living in a little condo formerly known as my under-sink cabinet. There is a small hole to allow the hose and plug to the dishwasher to pass under the sink. The other side of the cabinet has a similar opening for a water pipe. For a week  now, the rat has been passing between the two holes, but firmly out of reach.  My oldest son made a humane rat trap based on internet research, but the rat apparently has a Ph.D. and refused to fall for it. We tried two different containers, baited with delicious peanut butter and crackers but to no avail.  We put down a ‘test cracker’ to be sure he was still coming around and that cracker disappeared.  Clever rodent.

Last night I found a small, humane trap online at Home Depot. I stopped by the local store this morning, but it isn’t in stock. The smaller size is only available online. The store clerk, a kind and helpful man, tried to order it for me three times using my credit card. The system kept sending a message that the account number and address didn’t match. Of course they did, but we reentered it again and again to no avail.  After several more attempts using two different credit cards and finally PayPal, the annoying message persisted.

Back home I called around, still hoping to get my hands on a small, humane trap in town. The Humane Society doesn’t sell them, and the traps available at Lowe’s and Home Depot are for larger animals.  Desperate to get my hands on a trap, I called the Home Depot 800 number and explained the problem. She said I would have to call my financial institution to clear the hold on my account.

I called my credit union and they told me I didn’t have a hold on my account. I logged on to see if there was  a problem with the first credit card I tried using and found four separate charges to Home Depot, each for one dollar.

target home depot screen capture

Pending transactions?

Don’t worry, the tea is helping and I still have most of my hair. I’m trying to breathe in and out with the rhythm of the cat. Breathe…breathe…breathe.

I made a note of Target’s 800 number and gave them a call. I pushed numbers and pound signs and cycled through the proffered choices. A recorded voice told me my balance, the date of my last payment, my recent charges…pretty much everything but what to do about those charges and how to make my card work again.

The game’s not over yet, but I’m sitting on the bench for a spell. I don’t know the current score, but I’m pretty sure the rat is ahead by more than a whisker.

Organizing Garden Tools: Bucket Jockey® Goes “Green”

Bucket Jockey® where have you been all my life!?

In all my years of gardening, I’ve simply “made do” with my tool storage.  For the past several years I’ve used a small plastic caddy intended for cleaning supplies.  Not bad for a two dollar investment.

So I can’t tell you how excited I am with my upgrade: an all-in-one tool storage caddy from Husky® and Home Depot.  I’m not sure why I assumed this would be a costly investment. I grew up in an all-female household, so I never really learned my way around a hardware store.  For just ten dollars I was able to create this system, below.

For starters, I wanted to personalize my new tool organizer.  I have nothing against Husky who made this fabulous system, but you must admit they have a grouchy-looking logo.  Since I’m organized at heart, I used a jewelry finding full of hearts.  I blacked out the logo with a permanent marker, then attached the hearts with a safety-pin.  Now I can change out the bucket jewelry when the mood strikes.

Husky Bucket Jockey

I hid the logo with a jewelry finding (with apologies to Husky®)

I used the inner pockets to store my freshly cleaned and sharpened hand tools, including spades, pruners, saws and weeders. My garden fork hangs from an outer pocket, originally intended for a drill. I cut an unused garden glove to cover the prongs so I don’t scrape my leg on the rough edges as I carry it from place to place.

Bucket Interior

Bucket Interior houses tools

Gloved garden fork

Gloved garden fork

Drill holder doubles for tools and gloves

This would typically hold a drill. It works well for gloves and a garden fork.

The Bucket Jockey includes a strap attached to the exterior. I don’t know its intended use, but I’ve re-purposed it for twine. One of the tricks I learned on a garden tour was to cut several lengths of twine ahead of time so you have them at the ready when you need them. I threaded several pre-cut lengths of twine through a couple of binder rings.  They’re attached near the ball of twine.

Strap and Hook
Strap and hook attachment
Garden Twine and binder ring

Garden Twine

strap holds garden twine

Strap holds garden twine

"Bucket Jockey ®" for garden tools

“Bucket Jockey ®” transformed

What a joy to have all the tools sharpened, cleaned and stored in one easy to access, portable system.

On the subject of organizing, I recently launched my new and improved organizing website and blog, Organized at Heart. If you’re interested, please take a look.  If you would like to follow along, you can subscribe to receive regular updates.

Tumbling Composter: Some Assembly Required


As I excitedly ordered my tumbling composter, I failed to read the inevitable fine print. You know…some assembly required. I kept a watchful eye for the UPS driver, ready to pounce on that box. My kitchen scraps were taking on an odoriferous scent and still the composter didn’t come.

I eventually dumped the scraps in a bucket in the garage, and covered them with potting soil. It’s funny but two weeks ago I would have tossed those scraps or ground them up in the garbage disposal.  Now the scraps had a real purpose. My garden was counting on me.

UPS At Last

The day my husband, and resident handyman left for a business trip, the box arrived. I came home that afternoon to a damaged box on the porch, with one of the parts sticking out of the side. Oh-oh.  I was afraid to open it. The good news: no harm done. The bad news: so many parts. I was facing eight panels, two end pieces, six leg pieces and a bag with 56 washers and screws. I unpacked all the pieces, then left the room.

damaged box

Lindy sits on the directions

Lindy didn’t think she could help, either.

My son, in his sweet and gentle way, asked me if I would be moving it as it was blocking his path to the living room. Okay. I can do this. I fumbled around with my husbands various tools, found what I hoped would work and got down to the business of building a composter.  It went together beautifully, and was over half done when I called it a day.  I finished assembling it with my son’s help on Thursday. At last the fun could begin.

compost assembly instructions

Some assembly required

assembled tumbling composter


I had a bucket of “brown” from the pumpkin patch ready to go and a decent sized bucket of “green” to go with it. Into the bin they went.  I closed the door, gave it a spin, and smiled. Who knew rotted apples and dead leaves could bring about such happiness?

Do you compost too?

The Compost Recipe

I’ve seen several variations on the mix, but here are the suggestions from tumblingcomposters.com:

The composting process works best by mixing moist greens (nitrogen rich) with dry browns (carbon rich) in a ratio of approximately 2 parts greens to 1 part browns.

Greens are:

  • kitchen scraps
  • grass clippings
  • garden and house plants

Browns are:

  • leaves
  • straw or hay
  • saw dust
  • twigs

Do not compost:

  • meats/fats/bones
  • dairy products
  • trash/plastic
  • wood ashes
  • invasive plants or weeds

Serves several plants.


Thwarting Squirrels: A Different Kind of Screensaver

Screened In

I headed to my local garden center this week in search of Floating Row Covers (I blogged about them here).  I got lazy, and drifted into the Home Depot parking lot instead since it’s closer.  After a frustrating search on my own, then with the help of an employee,  it was apparent the cupboards were bare.  Sure, I could have come home and called around town or simply ordered row covers online, but I really wanted to find a solution pronto for my sunflower seed challenge: keeping squirrels at bay till the seeds grow.

I wandered the store looking for inspiration, and found a role of screening used to repair screen windows and doors.  I still wasn’t sure what I would use to support the screening, but at least it would fit two of my requirements:  it would allow air to circulate and the seeds would be easy to water.  While kneeling in the aisles comparing materials and dimensions, I noticed adjustable window screens and had my ah-ha moment.  They were perfect in every way.  The light wood and aluminum frame offered the support I needed and the screen would deter the four-legged pests.  Hurray!

With a bit of trial and hardly any error, the plan worked.  I tied a pair of the adjustable screens together using garden twine.  I folded them tee-pee style over the planter boxes and determined the angle and width of the sides.  I made a template using the back side of one of last year’s calendar, then cut scraps of an old screen into the correct shape.  Mike helped me staple those in place along the ends.  I now have functional, reusable tents for my planters.  The last step was to figure out a way to secure the tents to the planter boxes.  I found my answer on my husband’s work bench: sliding window locks!

I will bravely plant more seeds this week.  Once they emerge I’ll report back.  Wish my luck.

Assembling the Squirrel Barrier

Squirrel Barriers


Magic of Swing

I dreamed of a garden swing for years, but it seemed like such an extravagance. Stylish and pricey swings graced the pages of Grandin Road catalogs and the garden section of Sunset Magazine, teasing me with the seductive possibilities of life with a swing. When my youngest son was still small we would “test drive” all the display models at our local Home Depot garden center.

Then in 2009 I spotted a swing in town for under $200. Though it wasn’t a high-end model it looked sturdy and it was comfortable. The seats were cushioned and the back had built-in head rests and a canopy to fend off the sun. It was perfect! We snapped one up and my husband assembled it for me for Mother’s Day.

Had I known that swings had magical powers I would have splurged years ago! Whenever I wandered outside to sit on my swing, a kind of hypnotic trance took over. Suddenly, swinging was more important than answering email or tossing a load of laundry into the dryer. Invisible hands lulled me. I could barely move.

My boys were drawn to the swing, too. I would trek outdoors and before I knew it I had company on the swing. Back and forth we would go, swish-swish, swish-swish, swish-swish. Feuding cats set aside their differences and joined me on the magical swing, paws curled in as they settled into the deep cushions.

If I had to make a phone call, I figured I may as well do it from the swing. I pretended to read my book out there, but in short order the sun and swing led to slumber.

After three seasons under the noon day sun, my swing needs a little TLC.  I’ve got my eye on some new fabric, part revitalization, part disguise.  If the shopkeeper ever learned about the magical powers they would undoubtedly find a way to double the price.

Mother's Day Two-Fer