Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's a com-Post!

Ok, Gina, I finally got out to that compost bin last night! Here's all I know:

There are not many things that I love more than passing on a good tip. And this is the best gardening tip I ever got from my friend Sarah, who has a yard around a newly constructed house (which means yucky clay soil) in which everything grows like it's the tropics. For a few years I quizzed her about her fertilizing & feeding habits. I wanted to know how often she watered and how she pruned. But after a while, I finally figured out the difference between her garden and mine: she had been using compost!

At first, composting sounded like a lot of work, and I wasn't terribly interested in having a large bin of rotting food and plants anywhere near my house. My grandpa (who has grown many a garden in his day) told me I was asking for a pest problem. But I decided that if Sarah could do it, I'd give it a try, too. I mean, I didn't notice a horrible smell and an army of mice or raccoons in her yard.

So I bought a bin on-line. That was only after going to every garden and home-improvement store in our area only to be told that they don't sell compost bins. What can I say, it's Central Illinois and we're kinda behind the times down here. This is a listing for my type, but I swear I payed way less than that 3 years ago. I've also seen announcements in the paper these last couple summers about an environmental organization that comes to the Peoria mall one day each summer and sells bins for super-cheap. Also, if you have a big yard, you could just make a pile somewhere and compost that way (although I don't know if that would increase your chances of inviting pests). You could even cut the bottom out of a garbage can, drill holes in the sides and use that. But I do love my bin because of the sliding door on the bottom that allows me to get ready compost out before the stuff at the top of the bin is broken down.

I know there are "recipes" for composting, but if you just follow the general rule of "not too much of any one thing at a time" you should be fine. Here's a link to an on-line list of what things are/are not compostable. For us, our main ingredients are garden waste (like weeds that haven't gone to seed yet, flower stems from flowers that have bloomed and faded, and errant grass that was growing in the wrong place), kitchen scraps (we keep a big bowl in the fridge and dump produce & grain scraps in there until the bowl fills up every few days, then we take it out to the bin...and no, we don't do that in the dead of winter), and dry leaves and grass clippings. Those are basically the 3 categories of stuff that you can compost, and you just have to remember to always bury your kitchen scraps, and stir up the whole mixture every few days. If you do start to notice a smell (normally, it should just kinda smell like dirt) that means you've put too much of one thing in there and you need to break it up with other ingredients.

I think this is our 3rd or 4th year of doing this now, and I've never noticed an ant or mouse near the bin, much less anything scarier. The bin is outside my son's window and we're a family that has the windows open in the summer in all but the very hottest couple weeks of the year, and I have almost never noticed a bad smell wafting into his room. So if you want free, nutritious plant food, or if you just want to produce less garbage (once we started composting our food scraps and recycling all paper trash, we got our family of 4 down to one plastic bag of garbage a week that we set out for collection) this is a really great, and fairly easy way to do it!
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Diaper Cakes

I told my brother over the phone that I was making a diaper cake, and he said, "That... Is the most disgusting thing I've ever heard in my life." (And for someone who rented every horror movie that was available at Video 102 in the eighties over six times each, that's saying something.) No doubt he envisioned the SNL skit in which Kristen Wiig cooks up "edible Pampers" as a recycling solution. But no, as I'm sure the two people who read and contribute to this blog are aware, diaper cakes are not for eating. They're for smiles! And also, pooping on.

When Ruby was first born, I did my Gina thing of trying to "getting ahead" and be a prepared, good mommy. So I bought the giant cases of diapers because they are less expensive, not realizing that what I'd given birth to was Giant Baby, who would rapidly outgrow each size in a week or two, pick them up and look at me as if to say, "Can I eat these, or what?" So I ended up with lots of extra teeny diapers that will not so much as cover one of her thunderous little thighs. And then I Googled "diaper cakes," and ended up with this video on YouTube. I knew lots of people locally that were having babies, so I decided it would be a good way to give gifts.

The video was very helpful, though I'm not sure the numbers that she gives for each layer are what I ended up with. You can use any size diaper, and as a tip, the pampers newborn ones give you a totally white cake, while some of the Huggies give you a patterned one. I used 66 total for each cake, with a center of eight in each layer. The middle layer has 20 total, with 8 in the center and 12 outside that, and the bottom layer has the 8, then the 12, then another 18 around that. Here is my general list of supplies:

about 66 diapers (if you have a couple less, you can insert presents inside the cake)
a 14" cake round, or other base, such as a wrapped box flap, cake pedestal, or books
a roll of ribbon (Joann has some on clearance, usually)
wooden cake dowels (one bag does several cakes, and these are necessary)
tulle netting (one roll, again, does several cakes. I got lavender because it is neutral) or cellophane wrap
assorted rubber bands (these are available at Target)
various stuffed animal toppers, outfits, blankets, whatever

So, what you do first is sit in front of "Biggest Loser: Couples," and roll up the diapers, open end first. I'm a little obsessive and I fold the sides in a bit so that I get a roll with flat ends, and they stack better. Center the bands on each diaper, and then gather eight together, with one in the center and seven around it. Put a larger rubber band around that. Do that three times, then build the middle and lower layers around two of those. Turn all the diaper seams to the inside. Stack the layers and push two dowels down through them. This really works well to stabilize the cake. If they stick up above your cake a bit, no worries, just pop a topper up there. Put the cake on your base, tie the tulle across your cake one way, put the topper on, and tie another tulle ribbon across the stuffed animal or topper's "lap."

You can also take out some of the diapers and put surprise gifts inside the cake. (The Mustela products work really well for this, because they are cylindrical, and fill the center on two of the layers.) Or, you can roll an outfit and tie it with a rubber band, etc.

I was making a cake for my friend Jenny, when I realized that I had enough for two. Our brand new next door neighbor had just had a baby boy two days before that, so I tested out my first one on them. I used leftover blanket quilt binding for the ribbon around each layer (this hides the rubber bands), and wrapped a box flap in foil for the base. (It can be square, as long as it is smaller than the cake). This one is all white, and I didn't even need to make a second trip to the store! I delivered it with a giant pan of manicotti, and I think I made some new friends.

The second one I made was the one that I spent a little more, for my friend Jenny. She had a circus theme to her shower, and I had so much fun making this one. I got a circus receiving blanket on Ebay, as well as Wilton circus cake toppers, an "M" for the baby's name (Milo), and an outfit for the monkey. I doubled the ribbon for that circus look (the bows are all made with hot glue, not actually tied. And everything is hot glued to itself, never to the diapers). I put the blanket on top of a plastic cake pedestal, and the cake on top of that. I tied the monkey's hands together around the cake, and stuck the "M" in between them.

I was going for Kong scaling the cake, but I asked Chris if he thought it looked like the monkey was humping the cake. He said, "Oh, I hope so."

The third cake I made was for my friend Beata, who had a safari-themed shower. I got the animals on sale after Valentine's Day, although the dollar store has some good little topper animals, too. I stuck two books together with Zots (removable sticky dots) so that the books aren't hurt, and used that as the base. I also put Mustela shampoo in this one.

I found the ribbon on sale. I hope I don't sound cheap - but the idea is that the diapers and the baby supplies are really the gift - you don't want to spend too much decorating the cake.

Maybe it is really "suburban mom" of me, but I have lots of fun making these. I used all my extra diapers, and then some!