The Backyard Theater


If you look up the term “boring” in the dictionary, it might mention something about “watching grass grow”. But if that’s the case, how is it possible that watching a tomato plant grow is so suspenseful? I remember the cotyledons slowly unfurling after much careful watering. The real leaves slowly growing in at first and then more vigorously after being transplanted outside. And now I feel the climax approaching. See that little yellow globe hanging in the middle of the picture? That sure looks like a future tomato. How long will it take to grow into a full-sized Roma? To turn red? Will it even make it all the way to maturity or instead be tragically struck down in its youth? Every day is a cliff-hanger in the backyard theater.

Weed Love

Today I took another trip to my mom’s house, where the raised bed in the backyard that I started months ago had some goodies waiting for me–the very last of the carrots and a few onions. The carrots were already much less sweet due either to the warmer weather or the regular storms lately, but that won’t stop me from eating them.

Overflowing handful of carrots and onion

(By the way, if you have a backyard, I strongly recommend growing some carrots. They take forever to grow but they’re extremely low maintenance and really sweet and juicy if you pick them when it’s cool out.)

Do you see what’s behind my hand? That raised bed is full of weeds! Pretty primrose. Reinvigorating clover. And other types of weeds. The weeds didn’t stop the food from growing at all. In fact, the largest onion in the bunch was one that was nearly hidden beneath a thick section of clover. It reminds me of Masanobu Fukuoka’s farm as described by Larry Korn’s intro to The One-Straw Revolution:

Some vegetables go unharvested, the seeds fall, and after one or two generations, they revert to the growing habits of their strong and slightly bitter-tasting wild predecessors. Many of these vegetables grow up completely untended. Once, not long after I came to Mr. Fukuoka’s farm, I was walking through a remote section of the orchard and unexpectedly kicked something hard in the tall grass. Stooping to look more closely, I found a cucumber, and nearby I found a squash nestled among the clover.

These veggies weren’t quite that wild, but they were just as beautiful.

Handful of carrots and onions in front of a weed-filled raised garden bed

Speaking of weeds, there were plenty of dried seedpods on the clover so I grabbed a few to use in my own garden later, as well as the dried seedpods of the peas that were too small to harvest on my previous visit. The only things left are the garlic and oregano, which I haven’t decided yet if I should just dig it up whole or leave in place and propogate cuttings. But I have at least a few weeks before the garlic can be harvested, plenty of time to decide.

Good Reads

It always inspires me to see so many people out there who are either trying out new changes for a more sustainable lifestyle or who are sharing knowledge that they’ve acquired over years of mindfulness. Here are just a few of my favorite blog entries from the past week in case any of these inspire you also.


Over at Pioneering the Simple Life, a broken plastic wheelbarrow was restored to working condition with wire stitches.

Ania has taken inspiration from a hamster in small steps to improve her quality of life and help the environment.

Mhloe has completed her second month of zero waste and confirms what I suspected was true in that you never need to buy a new pen again. (I find pens on the ground so often that buying a reusable one is out of the question.)

Dani shares her experience making a drop-off at the landfill and how she hopes to never have to do that again.


Sky is swapping out single-use tissues and single-use grocery bags.

Peggy describes some of the reasons why it makes sense for everyone to cut back a bit on the meat and dairy and why she’s vegan.


Nikki salvaged some delicious produce by dumpster diving.

And although Earth day is now past, it’s never too late to take advice from this Earth Day tip offered by Katy from the Non-Consumer Advocate.

Happy Earth Day!


Happy Earth Day everyone! Austin is hosting a big festival this weekend with talks, music, yoga, upcycled crafts, and more. Well… I could do that for Earth Day (and I do have a couple of things that could be dropped off at the electronics recycling booth), but instead this year I’ll just hang out in my backyard. I’ll watch my veggies grow, trim the areas with the tallest grass, and collect branches that have fallen during the recent rain.

On the plus side, I can drink fresh water from the tap at home (Austin water is pretty good) instead of the special feature of getting a fill-up from a bottled water company. I won’t be surrounded by exhibitor booths encouraging me to buy a new electric car. And I’ll have the peace of nature surrounding me instead of being crammed among so many people. My back yard may not be much, but it’s a still a little bit of paradise that I want to honor this Earth Day.

What will you be doing?



The birds and the chips


The fact that birds will eat chips found on the ground is not so surprising. What did surprise me is what happened before this photo was taken, which I didn’t capture on camera. The big bird walked right up to what look liked an empty chip bag, grabbed it with its beak from the bottom end, and shook it so the leftover chips spilled out onto the sidewalk. This has left me with so many questions.

Do we leave non-empty bags of chips on the sidewalk so often these days that birds know to do this without a second’s thought?

If the birds fill up on chips, how are they going to attack the nonhelpful bugs in my garden?

Is there a good way to compost greasy stuff like chips as an alternative to landfill?

Is it better to feed the chips to birds rather than to send them to landfill? Or do birds have similar health problems to humans if they eat too many chips? I can’t imagine they’re used to eating so much salt and grease.

How did this bag of chips end up on the ground? When I was a chip-eater, leaving behind this many chips was unthinkable. They were too addictive and precious.


Bluebonnets are one of my favorite things about living in Austin. The first of the season were popping up a month ago.


And now they’re out in full force.


This is the path behind the Home Depot heading over to the transit center. I’ve been passing by this field for many Springs, and it always amazes me to see it so full and lush with wildflowers. The bluebonnet fields of my youth have all been turned into commercial properties, so I’ll hang onto this one as long as possible.


I would love to have my own yard look like this but know thatwildflowers have a mind of their own. Still, I may stop back once the pods on these thriving wildflowers have dried out and grab a few to plant in my yard in October. They might just like it.

A Place For My Stuff

… So when you get right down to it, your house is nothing more than a place to keep your stuff … while you go out and get … more stuff. ‘Cause that’s what this country is all about. Tryin’ to get more stuff. Stuff you don’t want, stuff you don’t need, stuff that’s poorly made, stuff that’s overpriced. Even stuff you can’t afford! Gotta keep on gettin’ more stuff. Otherwise someone else might wind up with more stuf. Can’t let that happen. Got have the most stuff.

This George Carlin bit is something that’s been on my mind since we moved into a new house just over a month ago. It’s just over a thousand square feet with a totally unnecessary extra bedroom and tons of closet space. (I had hoped to find a smaller house, but most of the available houses around here are significantly larger. The average new house size is 2700 square feet, it’s crazy!) Anyhow, the really amazing thing is that all the closets are totally full! The extra bedroom, every closet, full of stuff. How did this happen?

I’ve been trying to avoid buying new, but there are second-hand finds, curbside finds, and hand-me-downs from family who have long been accumulating more stuff themselves. We now have extra blankets, sundae glasses, and way more caulk than we could need.

So now you’ve got a houseful of stuff. And, even though you might like your house, you gotta move. Gotta get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff!  And that means you gotta move all your stuff. Or maybe, put some of your stuff in storage. Storage! Imagine that. There’s a whole industry based on keepin’ an eye on other people’s stuff.

No way! If we move to a new house someday, it had better be smaller and easier to clean. And if you ever catch me putting stuff in a storage unit, don’t be afraid to give me a good shake. For some people it may be the right choice, but I’m one of the majority that just doesn’t need it.

Someone else’s stuff. Photo: Scott Thomas Smith

BTW, if you’re interested in reading the full Carlin rant on stuff, check out his book Brain Droppings from your local library.

Dandelion Destruction

I know, I know, dandelions have their purpose aerating and enriching poor soil, and the short ones are okay by me. But I think mine are just some evil dandelion cousins. I call them granddaddies because they’re so tall (they just grow fast), so many stems, and the leaves are super spiky.

After a recent rain, I was pulling some out of the ground and chopping the top off of others. But apparently ladybugs really do love dandelions (and I do love ladybugs).

Ladybugs mating on a dandelion plant

Fortunately chopping off the dandelion tops didn’t disturb these little guys enough to keep them from their business. So no harm done, right?

Ladybugs still at it

Of course, this week I took it a step further when my scythe arrived in the mail. (More on that later after it’s more than dry-fit together and after I learn to use the proper form.) So many dandelions and other weeds cut short in the prime of their lives.

Lawn trimming in progress

But no worries. Finally the clover underneath can share in the love now too.

Infinite Waste

In the past year and a half I’ve read a lot of books and blogs about throwing things away. In most of what I’ve read people say there is no “away”. But in real life I’ve learned that for just as many or even more people believe that “away” is anywhere that they’re not standing at the moment.

The other day I was waiting at he bus stop and since there was some litter surrounding the stop, I decided to pick up some of it and put it in the trash can that was right there at the stop. While doing this, another man at the stop asked me if I worked for the city. He was appalled that I would pick trash up without being paid for it.

“I don’t work for the city. They ain’t paying me nothing.”

“You must have clean hands.”

And he was especially offended when I picked up and threw away the lottery tickets that he had just thrown on the ground.

“You can’t pick up all the trash in the world. You’re fighting a losing battle.”

“Why don’t you go pick up that piece of trash?” (Of some trash on the divider a few lanes of traffic into the street)

This wasn’t part of a conversation. He was listening to his headphones but just occasionally making rude remarks loudly. I would have liked to point out a small hillside covered with wildflowers that was visible from the stop, but he probably wouldn’t have appreciated it anyway.

Some people don’t care about this world we live in.

And since we moved to our new home on a busy road, every day we’ve had to pick up litter from our yard. Yesterday there was a used condom on our sidewalk. It’s discouraging.

A couple of weeks ago, a large group of college students came by to clean up the creek area near our house. It looked beautiful that day, but a couple of days later it rained and the water rushing along the creek replenished the litter level from all the other areas that had not been cleaned.

Creek next to my house

I took this picture yesterday. Not all the litter is visible in the picture, but you can clearly see the beer can floating in the water and a snack cake box towards the top.

Unlike many, though, I can’t accept living in a world full of trash. These are valuable resources at their absolute worst use like this. I pick up at least some of the litter that I come across every day and recycle what I can, even if to some people this just means more empty ground to throw their litter on. Someone please tell me, what can I do to help us win?

I bought a house!

A month ago, I felt like it would never happen. And then somehow, my husband and I found the place to help fulfill our goal of getting a new house this year. It’s a fixer upper, and even just the process of moving has me a little off my game. Here’s just a few notes of our successes and failures so far at staying environmentally friendly.

Green wins:

  • Upon moving in, we discovered that the previous owners had left behind a rake, shovel, plunger, toilet bowl brush, scrub brush, broom, and dust pan. I had almost bought many of these before closing, but waiting turned out to be the smart move. No wasted purchases!
  • We’re right next to a creek. I haven’t done this yet but absolutely plan to do regular cleanups. I’ve also picked up some groundcover seed for some light work on erosion control.
  • The fridge was a bit gross, but perked up after a good scrubbing so we don’t need to worry about replacing it yet.
  • A few pairs of bi-fold closet doors were removed and sitting on the back porch. After inspection they turned out not to be in good enough shape to reinstall. I’ve half-built my first garden bed using the first pair and plan to do the same with the other two.
  • We needed some curtain rods and found a bundle of the exact number we needed at a nearby Goodwill. I plan to DIY the new window coverings from old clothing.
  • We are cleaning the cabinets for reuse instead of sending them off to landfill to install new ones from Ikea.

Not-so-green things:

  • I’ve eaten more fast food in the past week than I have in the previous couple of months! But now the gas is on and the fridge that came with the home has been given a thorough cleaning, so it’s time to start cooking and restocking.
  • We got impatient and picked up a vinyl shower curtain liner from Home Depot rather than getting a more natural option.
  • I’m already fantasizing about different flooring options for the future. We’ll see if the professional carpet cleaners tomorrow can make us put this off a while.
  • Also, I had really wanted to get metal roofing with a water capture system in the not-too-distant future, but the roof has enough damage that it needs to be replaced before we can afford it and we may very well end up going with the cheap shingles option.
  • Will my garden at my mom’s house survive without me there to care for them regularly? Or will they just wind up as food waste?

Well, that’s enough for now. I’m exhausted! And there’s so much more to scrub…