Terrarium surgery

jar terrarium v2

My jar terrarium had spent a loveless 2½ years on our shelf. Soon after making it, I did replace the sphagnum with stringy moss purchased from a florist warehouse. But after that came months of sealed, airtight neglect.

Tiny gardening was so satisfying when I started, but that changed suddenly. I was annoyed at how hard it was to find nice moss in shops, and annoyed at having to buy it in the first place, because I didn't want to upset an ecosystem elsehwere by stealing pieces of it. My attempts at moss milkshakes sucked, and pouring milk on things seemed kind of disgusting.

More recently, I came into new moss - unwanted surface 'weeds' in pot plants, and furry green winter stuff growing between the garden bricks. Arf ya luck! Into the terrarium they went. It was a slapdash job, and in my attempt to pour out excess water, I upset a number of things.

So, fine - whatever - I'll just redo the damn thing. Cue Sunday project.

terrarium in pieces

This meant taking everything apart. Here's what it looks like when the world is in pieces.

The pebbles in the jar are the bottom-most layer of a terrarium. They provide drainage, so you don't end up with a jar of swamp - though that might be cool too.

Just below the plants in the photo is a pile of sphagnum moss. This sits between pebbles and soil like a filter, so you don't end up with a drainage layer full of dirt. In hindsight, I should have bought new sphagnum, but hindsight rarely occurs when you need it most, so I had to be very careful extracting materials for re-use. This includes the tiny chips of charcoal you sprinkle in a terrarium to absorb odours and help balance the pH.

I decided to add a plant as well, though I'm not sure what kind it is, or how big it will grow. Hopefully, at least one root will tendril down into the pebbles and help manage any water that pools in the bottom. I once had a terrarium with a tomato plant, and noticed water bogs could be taken up within a day just through transpiration. So in terrarium v2, I'm trusting the magic of science.

I'm older and more patient now, and I miss tiny gardening. :) I'm more comfortable with plants, and how much you can take from an ecosystem without spoiling it. I would still cry if milk went everywhere, but paintbrushing it on things might be okay. Did you know you can spray milk on plants to fight powdery mildew? It's not that gross if it's totally a thing.

I'm hoping for more rain and gentle shine for the next few weeks, so the garden brick moss can thrive for harvest before the season's out.

My first circuit

Arduino starter kit contents

My Arduino starter kit arrived today. I have no business being this excited - I'm no engineer - but fuck it, I'm so ready to have my mind blown. This was kind of a blind purchase, as the explanations for what it actually is aren't great for total, utter noobs. But it makes sense now, after spending some time.

Basically, an arduino is a little hardware board thingy that acts like a brain for... stuff. Say you have a circuit with a bunch of lights, and you want the lights to flash in a certain order, you attach the circuit to the arduino, programmed with instructions for flashing, and then it happens.

And you can connect sensors to it and do tricky things - like say you only want the lights to flash when you clap your hands. You attach a sound sensor, and tell the arduino, "When the sensor picks up a clapping noise, make the lights flash," and it'll take care of it.

red LED light in a hacked circuit

Tonight, I made my first circuit. It used some wires, connectors, a resistor, a push-button switch and a red light. The arduino didn't do anything brainy here, just supplied the circuit with USB power from my computer.

This was the first of 15 projects in the starter kit. I'm going to do them all, and hopefully learn some of the basic "here's how shit works" things I failed to pick up in school. The next project is a spaceship control box that you can make a cardboard chassis for. The one after that is a love machine, so I can find out how hot I really am!!

description of Love-o-Meter project

I don't have a goal in mind, but I want to learn anyway, because I think the more you understand, the more you can imagine. One day, this could dovetail nicely into my dream of connecting things. Or maybe it won't - I don't think I would wear a crocheted hat with LEDs on it. :)

It's my bedtime now, so I'll leave you with photos - night night, everyone!

Arduino microcontroller

Arduino starter kit box and PCB ruler

inset for Arduino starter kit box

intro page of Arduino starter kit book

Breathing out, then in again

whole chicken in the slow cooker

I am ready to take a breather. Last night, I sensed the creeping fingers of depression and fatigue. They tend to come after an eventful period. Even though it's good eventful, the mind and body need to rest.

Today begins a personal embargo, which involves not making any plans. Last time was a fortnight, but I'm taking a month now.

Though life is full of things I want to do, there are lots of little things I don't make time for. This is the time for those things to happen when the mood strikes. The intention is to do less, though somehow this ad-hoc approach means I end up doing more. But that's fine, so long as it feels like less, like relaxing.

This evening, I'm slow cooking a chicken. I've wanted to for a while, and the urge finally overwhelmed. Tomorrow, we'll have roast chicken, veggie & stock soup, and a stub of cheese. I must say, it's tempting to have a soft, bready dinner roll too.

On that note, foot's off the pedal with eating Primal now that we're better with our food, but I still prefer our "less bread, cake and cookie" diet. Coeliac testing week was an interesting experience. My tummy doesn't like it when I have too much... something. Gluten maybe, or sweets. Maybe certain carbs or starches? Sushi is pushing my buttons, but I can go to town on other types of rice.

Anyway, I'm not coeliac, and science says NCGS is nowt to worry about, but keeping the easy, fast, convenient wheat foods away has forced me to eat more veggies, fruits and fats. And eating more fats has made me conscious of picking healthier fats. Only time will tell if this is all just a crock of shit. :)

The house smells amazing right now, with that chicken bubbling away. I have to be up in a bit to take it off the boil, so good night, everyone.

Tree stump adventures

my tree stump

When that tree came down last year, it left us with a wide, awkwardly angled stump in the middle of everything. So my sweet dream is to turn it into a small planter box, reclaiming the space and helping the wood rot and disintegrate.

The plan was to drill holes in the stump, then chisel away at the insides. Easier said than done, of course, and I got totally schooled today.

shallow divet after 10 minutes of drilling the wrong way

Lesson 1: Make sure the drill bit is spinning the right way otherwise 10 minutes of drilling yields but a divet, plus another 10 minutes of someone laughing at you.

Lesson 2: Make sure the batteries are fully charged before starting so you don't run out of juice halfway in and get stuck.

my drill stuck in the stump

Lesson 3: Chiselling is tiresome, noisy work. That is all.

After four hours, I am nowhere near done with my tree stump planter box. The volume of wood I dug out was about half a golf ball in size.

But it's fine. I have tasted what's required. Onward, we go.

a wooden toolbox

Meanwhile, Niaal made a whole toolbox that now holds all our tools. At least one of us was useful today. :)

Mid-winter roots and leaves

baby carrots and radishes

We had a harvest last week. Four baby carrots and three French Breakfast radishes, all pickling away. Yum!

We also weeded a sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), a whole metre tall - no shitting - with stem as thick as a garden hose. And I didn't take a photo. It's in the compost now, and I could take a picture, but eeh~ creepy.

rocket, harvested

Oh yeah, we got a fuckton of rocket too - 6 servings worth. Did you know rocket flowers are yellow? Such cute.

yellow rocket flower

This week has been busy. Actually, the last month has been full of changes, outings, projects, parties, dinners. I'm game for another No Plans embargo. I want more time for house-fixing and gardening.

Work has been full on. And I like it. Started a new job 4 weeks ago, coding again. Every day, something else blows my mind about what you can do with the tools these days. All the maths and abstracting cogs in my brain are turning again, rusty as they are. This is my life now:

my code doesn't work, I have no idea why; my code works, I have no idea why

On Saturday, I had a good game of football. It laid to rest the doubts I've had in recent weeks. I've been worried about becoming uncoordinated, unfit, unwell. Matches have been sparse, with my team breaking til outdoor season is over, so there have been few opportunities to flex and re-prove.

I do feel the need to re-prove. Playing sport isn't like when you make something, and it's done forever and you have it. Maybe that's why competing for prizes and titles has such impact; winning evidence of the moment you did something really well. Even if you never get to play again, you keep a piece of it that lasts longer than the memory.

Mind, even with making something, it's easily forgotten after a dry spell. Maybe everything comes with the ongoing need to re-prove, because deep down we have a sense of how non-permanent everything is. Even with fond memories and long-lasting trophies, each season still brings change. Time still washes those moments away.

Or maybe it's just me. :)

It will soon be time to think about summer planting. I'd like to grow a pumpkin this year.

Outfit for a 1920s party

Turns out you can get dolled up for a 1920s Great Gatsby party without spending heaps. As promised, here is my outfit and cost breakdown:

home made 1920s dress

The dress was made at home. Back then, dress cuts were simple; fashion was easily DIYed, and accessible to the middle and working classes. My hem work was hokey, but the garment stayed together for the night and I brought home a compliment or two.

  • $35 on dress fabric
  • 12 hours labour, spread over 5 days

black open toe high heels

The shoes were old faithfuls. Mary Jane heels would have been a closer style match, and sometimes you'll find them at op shops, but rarely for size 5 feet. Try your luck if you're a size 7 and above.

The stockings were plain black pull-up lace-tops, bought for a party years ago and packed in a sock box since.

  • $0, shoes already owned
  • $0, never throw out good stockings

knotted black beaded necklace

The jewellery was a multi-strand black seed bead rope with a knot, found at Good Sammy's. A string of pearls would have given a nice contrast, but the dress fabric was so busy with texture, I didn't mind going minimal on accessories.

  • $12 on secondhand necklace
  • 15 minutes in an op shop

finger waves and pin curls hairdo

The hair was a symphony of finger waves and pin curls, deftly crafted by Abbey and Libby at Rebecca Oates. All it cost was the complimentary voucher from my last haircut. It was a lucky coincidence for me, but a great lesson in timing.

If your salon gives you treats after a visit, schedule your normal appointment within a week of the party, then cash in those treats on the day. Otherwise, ask what styling they can do on a wash & blowdry service.

I also learned that finger waves and pin curls are among the first things a stylist learns in hair school. When it comes to salons who charge based on a stylist's seniority, you may get awesome enough hair value from a junior or middleweight.

  • $0, be smart (or lucky) with your vouchers
  • 30 minutes in the salon

shootin' the breeze with the ladies

The makeup was... passable. I'm not skilled here, but you get away with so much in the dark! I used a BB cream, brow pencil, lip liner and lip balm, already owned. Purchased new were a Maybelline Master Smoky (not masterful) and a Great Lash mascara (pretty great).

  • $20 on new things
  • 10 minutes in the bathroom

an old couple :)

Which brings us to a grand total of $67 for a whole 1920s outfit. w00t!

The gentleman had it better: $33. He already owned the hat (corporate freebie), jumper and shoes. Purchased were:

  • Shirt - $5
  • Pants - $5
  • Tie - $3
  • Socks - $20

I won't lie - this takes effort. I consider this too much effort for just a party, but as DIY experience and skills training, it was worth having a learning opportunity that integrates with normal life.

Key takeaways for me, and for fellow budgos, wombles, opportunists and crafters:

  • Get to know the theme, as there's probably something easy you can get away with.
  • Think this way: reuse > make > buy secondhand > buy new.
  • Learn to sew - it opens up a world of options.
  • Hit op shops where you can, but remember vintage fashion is in - serious shoppers, fashionistas and vintage boutiques are likely to have found the really good stuff already.
  • Get clever with time planning, free gifts, and vouchers.

Of course, if it's down to numbers, you can do even better by borrowing something. :)