DIY Rain Barrels from Garbage Cans

You know what's better than making sure your garden has all the tasty water it can drink, thus ensuring giant lush plants? Why, doing all that and cutting your water bill in half too! Enter the rain barrel, one of the best garden ideas ever invented. Hook it up to your gutter, wait for rain, and then sit back and enjoy all that eco-friendly goodness.

The only problem is that have you seen the prices that they're asking for rain barrels these days? It's insane. And because I'm all cheap budget-friendly, I was like, "Forget that! I'm making my own". And since I love you, my dear Interpeeps, I'm going to share with you my surefire DIY recipe for making homemade rain barrels out of garbage cans.

Ohhhh yes. Hold on to your keyboards, Quirky fans! It's project time!

Quirky's Super Duper Budget-Friendly Rain Barrels

Gather the following provisions:
  • 32 gal rubber trashcan with lid (you can technically do any size you want with these, but I've found that the round ones hold their shapes the best, and 32 gallons gives you about two weeks of soaker-hose watering ability, so that's why I went with it).
  • Y connector with open/close valves
  • 3'-5' of 5/8" OD garden hose with male end connector
  • plumber's waterproof glue
  • screen (I used some left-overs from my screened-in porch)
  • 3/8" drill bit with drill
  • knife or other hose-cutting tool
  • 2 FHA cinder blocks
  • duct tape (optional)
  • twisty ties (optional, but recommended)
  1. First, cut the male connector part off of the hose. Get as close to the metal part as you can. (In case you aren't sure which is male and which is female, the male part has the screw threads visible. It screws into the female side. Your Y-connector should be female. You might want to check to make sure these two parts go together. They'll be partnering up in a minute). Once you've effectively separated the male from his, um, hose, snicker uncontrollably and dedicate that to feminists everywhere.

  2. Next, grab your drill and make a 3/8" hole in the side of the trashcan, as close to the bottom as you can get. Now take your newly castrated male connector, and stuff it through the hole in the barrel, screw threads on the outside. (Note, at this point, you're trying to stuff a 5/8" hose connector through a 3/8" hole, and you're thinking that I've completely lost it. Well keep stuffing. If you push hard enough, the rubber will give and the connector will go through the hole. This part has to be water-tight, so a snug fit is key. If it absolutely isn't budging, wallow the hole just a smidge with the drill bit.)

  3. Once you have the connector through the hole, go ahead and seal all around it with the plumber's glue, inside and out of the barrel. Remember, the name of the game is water-tight, so be liberal with the sealant. Set aside to dry.

  4. While that's simmering, turn your attention to the trashcan's lid. Now, if your lid is flat, you can put the lid on the normal way, or if it's domed, you can invert it. (I personally like inverting it because it does a better job of catching water, but the choice is yours). Either way, you need a screen in your lid to keep the debris out of your barrel. Cut a 6"x6" hole in the center of your lid. Take an 8"x8" square of window screen and glue it to the lid. (Hint: if you're inverting your lid like mine, be sure to glue the screen to the top of the lid. If your lid is flat, glue the screen to the bottom. I also like to reinforce the edges with duct tape so that the glue adheres better.)

  5. Now put your inverted lid on your trashcan and drill four evenly spaced holes through the rim of the lid and the lip of the can. Run your twisty ties through the holes and secure. This keeps raccoons, cats, neighborhood kids and other critters from pulling the lid off and falling in. If you have really pesky critters, you may want to go to something more deterrent than a twisty tie, but just remember that you will want to remove the lid from time to time, so make sure that you can still get it open.

  6. Take up that trusty drill again, and this time drill a hole in the side of the can that is up near the top. Make the hole even with or just below the screen filter. Stick the end of the 3'-5' hose through the hole. This is your overflow hose. If the water gets this high, the overflow hose will divert the water away, (or into a second rain barrel).

  7. By now, your glue should be dry, so screw the Y-connector (that's the female, remember) to the male part that you attached to the barrel. From there, you can attach your soaker and/or regular hoses for all of your watering needs.

  8. Last thing. Position your fancy new rain barrel under your gutter spout so that the water runs into the lid and down through the screen. Oh, and rain barrels work with gravity, so put your rain barrel on the two cement blocks (make sure they're level!) to increase water pressure to your hoses.
So that's it! One super-duper rain barrel that cost about $15 to make. I have several of them all over the place so that none of my flowers ever go thirsty. And let me tell you, it's made a HUGE difference with my tomatoes. Plus Tony likes it because I'm not running up the utility bill by watering all the time.
If you make one for yourself, let me know how it turns out!


I played in a fountain today.

I was coming back from the gym, walking along Clinch, overlooking the World's Fair park, and all these people were out enjoying the weather. They were tossing a Frisbee around on the grass, or sunbathing, or playing in the giant fountain. And I thought, what the hey, it's not like I have anywhere else to be.

So I joined them.

I have discovered since I've quit work that I spend a lot more time just experiencing things. I go to the art museum. I take walks around the city just for fun. I watch flowers grow. I go outside for the sole purpose of feeling the sunshine on my skin. I volunteer. I read only the things that interest me. I sit in the park and watch children that aren't mine play on the swings. I play on the swings. And now, I take my socks and shoes off and stand in the World's Fair fountain.

And I love it.

Not working has been a constant tug-of-war of emotions for me. I feel guilty that I'm not working, but at the same time, I love the freedom of just being able to experience the things I would have missed while chained to a desk. I feel like I should work, but I really really enjoy not having to.

Our society places huge emphasis on working. The first question that anybody asks when they meet you is, "What do you do?" Our jobs define us. They're supposed to be who we are. A function of our net worth. Always has been, always will be. But, as I sit here barefoot under the shade of a tree, watching toddlers run through the spray and listening to the birds singing, I have to wonder exactly how much of ourselves we give up in chasing that corner office.

I know that eventually I'll go back to work. Truth be told, I enjoy working. I miss the challenge. But when the time comes to exchange the shorts and flip-slops for pantyhose and dress heels, part of me will also miss the freedom of just living in the moment.

And the sheer joy of being able to run through a fountain on a Tuesday afternoon.

The Noticer

So I have a book club (don't I sound all sophisticated and smart-like?) and they send me books to read if I promise to blog about them. And since I'm not only an avid reader but also out here on the Interweb blabbing about all kinds of stuff anyway, it turns out that it's a match made in Heaven.

The most recent book to show up on my doorstep was The Noticer by Andy Andrews. (Just as a disclaimer, Andy Andrews was a friend of a friend of the family when I was growing up. I don't remember if we ever officially met, and it was really before he was a world-famous inspirational speaker and all that, but he was a household name when I was a kid, and I can still recite large chunks from Tales from Sawyerton Springs).

Anyway, The Noticer is about the mysterious "Jones" (not Mister, just Jones), who shows up in Orange Beach, Alabama, to offer a bit of perspective to its various citizens who are going through a rough patch in their lives. It's a bit of a cross between an inspirational story and what I call self-help fiction, which is basically like one of those self-improvement books made more palatable with a story and characters. (Which if you ask me, is the best way to get your self-improvement).

Here's the thing about this book through. You'll be reading through, following the characters, minding your own business, and all of a sudden, WHAM! Jones will toss out some little nugget of common-sense wisdom, and it will smack you right between the eyes and you'll be all, "Holy Moses! That applies to me too!" It happens over and over again. For instance, somewhere around chapter three, Jones is talking to a couple that is having trouble communicating in their marriage. Jones spits out this lovely little nugget about how everybody communicates love in one of four different "dialects". Some people need to hear it...they need someone to actually tell them that they are loved. Others need to be shown with favors, like washing the dishes or cutting the grass. Still others need to feel it through touch, like hugs and pats and the like, and the last group needs love through distraction-free quality time with the other person.

And I kid you not, when I read that, I almost fell off the couch. Because I know people who fall into one of each of those categories, and all of a sudden it made sense why they kept doing the things that they were doing. (In case you are wondering, Tony falls into category 2, the favor-doer, and I'm category 4, the quality-timer. It was interesting to see ourselves through that lens).

The whole book is full of little nuggets like that...ones that make you go back and read them again because they are so profound, yet at the same time, so glaringly obvious that you'll wonder why you didn't realize it before. It's short too, a little over 150 pages, so you'll be able to read it cover to cover in a single sitting. (Or at least, I did).

By the way, there's also a website and grassroots movement that goes along with the book. It's call the Noticer Project, and it encourages people to take the time to "notice" 5 people who have greatly influenced your life. You can find out about it here.

The Garage Sale

Ya'll might be wondering where I've been recently. I know it seems like I totally dropped off the face of the earth. Well, I have two words for you...

Garage sale.

See, about two years ago, my grandparents downsized from a big sprawling house with stairs into a much smaller, non-stair house in order to be easier on their little old-people joints. And that was very good, except that the laws of physics and good decorating clearly state that what fills up a big sprawling house will never fit into a smaller, non-sprawling house. And so there was a lot of good stuff left over, and somebody said, "You know what we need to have? A garage sale".

And we all foolishly thought that was a good idea.

And since we were going to have a garage sale for my grandparents, the rest of us in the family all naturally started eyeballing our own junk priceless heirlooms that we hadn't touched in years and envisioning the money that we could trade it for, and began setting it aside in a pile marked "garage sale".

And it was all well and good. I found purging for the garage sale to be an energizing and uplifting experience. (Which just goes to show you that I live with waaaay too much junk priceless heirlooms). But I happily moved from room to room, looking at everything with new eyes, and decluttering all the closets so that I could feed my ever-growing pile of garage sale booty. Except there was one little teensy problem. Did all of you observant types notice that I mentioned that all this started TWO YEARS AGO?

While it seemed that we had mastered the gathering stage, we tended to fizzle when it came to the actual planning of the garage sale. Oh we tried several times. We'd sit down and try to pick a date to have the blasted thing, but schedules would never line up, or the weather would turn bad, or someone would get know how it goes. So in the mean time, we continued to gather...and gather...and gather.

For two years.

We probably would have just gone on like this forever, faithfully gathering, before eventually returning to the dust of the earth and leaving future archaeologists to discover our bizarre piles of random crock pots and queen-sized comforter sets and wonder just what kind of complicated religious ritual we were up to were it not for one thing:

The neighborhood sent out flyers announcing that it was planning a giant, subdivision-wide sale.

And everyone knows that the only thing that trumps a multi-family sale is a neighborhood sale. There was no way we could miss out on that.

So suddenly, with the glance of a single flyer, we were catapulted out of the gathering stage and into the next: organizing and pricing. And oh my goodness, I though this was going to be the part that killed us. Organizing and pricing probably isn't all that bad at your average garage sale. Sure, it's a pain in the rear, but you get it done eventually.

Unless of course, you have gathered junk priceless heirlooms for two years and now have more stuff for sale than a Mall of America. THEN, my friends, it will take you two solid weeks of working 8 to 12 hours a day, (and in the case of my mom, a couple of flat-out all nighters) pricing and organizing and cleaning and trashing because, my word, who in their right mind thought that someone would actually buy all this stuff?

We had stuff piled four feet deep in some areas. Tables were groaning under the load of our junk priceless heirlooms. We'd say things like, "How much do you think a book entitled, "Modern Cooking", copywrite 1942, would go for?" and "Sure, this table is missing three of the four legs, but somebody'll still buy it, right?" And I'll be honest with ya'll, there were more than a couple of times that I'd look around in wild-eyed derangement and think to myself, "Let's just set it all on fire! Enough of this pricing and organizing! Burn baby burn!"

But amazingly, people came. And in 25 and 50 cent increments, the junk priceless heirlooms left. Even the one-legged table and Modern Cooking left. It was a garage sale miracle.

And I suppose, all in all, it was a pretty successful sale. I was impressed with the amount of money that people traded for my stuff, right up until I figured out the amount of prep time up front meant that I worked for approximately $1.87 an hour for two weeks.

I figure I'll use my hard-earned riches to run out and buy more priceless heirlooms.

I Still Love You The Girl From Mars

Do you ever come across a song that you loved back in your youth, but somehow the two of you lost touch and suddenly you haven't heard it in YEARS, and then you rediscover it again by accident, and you love it all over again?

Yeah, me neither.

I'm kidding! Actually, I just did that. My particular song is Girl from Mars, by Ash, which came out sometime during my sophomore/junior year of high school. We shared a brief but intense love affair for about two months, and then I callously tossed them aside for my next music fling. (Actually, while I loved Girl from Mars, I couldn't commit to the other songs on the album enough to actually shell out the $15 for the entire CD. This was the time before mp3s went mainstream, so if you wanted one song, you had to accept it's geeky song friends with it. I seems barbaric now, doesn't it?)

Anyway, back in the day, those over-the-top guitar riffs were the perfect head-banging, room-cleaning, homework-doing accompaniment. Just hearing it took me back to sunny Saturday mornings of stuffing enough piles of dirty clothes under my bed to clear a walking path to the doorway.

Not that I ever did that, Mom.

The song in question happened to stage it's comeback tour in my life as a background song on a rerun of Gilmore Girls on ABCfamily the other night. (Ironically, Gilmore Girls is also staging a comeback tour for me...I quit watching out of protest when Lorelai and Luke broke off their engagement, but the reruns come on while I'm cooking dinner, and they have managed to suck me back in all over again). Anyway, the song started playing, and like long lost lovers spying each other from across the room, I immediately dropped the spoon and slow-motion ran towards the tv to embrace in it's annoying catchy, lyrical arms.

Now, tell me. What songs have you recently reunited with? Are there any songs from your past that have shown up and seduced you all over again? Pray tell. We'll form a support group.

PS- Here it is, in case you have ever loved and lost also. Give it a few times through and I'll guarantee you that you won't be able to get it out of your head.

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Temperature Killed The Internet Star

So the past three days have been crazy annoying for me, seeing how I broke my Internet and immediately sunk into major web withdrawal.

It all started when I was "improving" my total home computing experience and downloaded a lot of helpful programs...and thus crushed my Internet under the sheer weight of all my connectivity. Everything slowed to the point that the pages would time out before they would load, which is mui mui exasperating, in case I haven't mentioned that already.

Plus, I wasn't sure what had caused it, so I spent the last 72 hours running and rerunning my anti-spyware/malware/generally-disruptive-to-my-life-ware programs, looking for the culprit. The good news was that I don't have any viruses. The bad news was that I finally traced the computer-juice hog back to my very lovely desktop weather program from (You know the constantly monitors the temperature and whatnot and displays it in a little box on your task bar. I loved being able to sit at my computer and go, "Look! It's 58 degrees! Oh look, now it's 59 degrees!" all from the comfort of my office chair).

But alas, it was not meant to be. The weather was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back. It had to go if I wanted my Internet life back.

So goodbye desktop weather! I already miss you more than you will ever know, but your all-consuming existence and co-dependent tendencies had isolated me from my Internet friends, facebook games and ebay shopping, and I just couldn't give that up.

Instead I have to rely on a completely analogue way of getting my weather updates...the window.

Quick Takes (vol 1)

One- Those of you who have been around for a while may remember 10 on Tuesdays. We haven't done one in a while...mainly because I tend to blather on too long about everything, and the post ended up being 45 pages long. So I had kinda let those fall by the wayside. But then I saw where Conversion Diary does a 7 Quick Takes on Friday, which is not only less than 10, but also "Quick". (And on Friday). So I thought I'd try it out.
Two- I stopped by the Knoxville Museum of Art today. It was totally on a whim. I was walking by after my exercise class at the gym and happened to notice the "Free Admission Today" sign out front. And since it's been YEARS since I made time to stop and go to an art museum, I was like, why not? So I popped in and absolutely LOVED IT! That may just become a weekly tradition on free admission days.

Three- While I was at the above-mentioned KMA, I saw the most awesome glasswork. The exhibit features artist Josh Simpson, and it Blew. Me. Away. Seriously, I almost cried. His signature stuff is what he calls his planets, but I think I loved the New Mexico glass the best. If you get a chance to see his work, by all means GO!

Four- My wonderful glass-induced high was totally destroyed upon arriving home and finding that "somehow" all of my handmade stepping stones managed to end up in the bottom of my pond. And while luckily nothing was hurt, I am greatly annoyed that a) someone does not respect other people's property, and b) it is hard enough to keep stuff out of that pond without someone deliberately throwing stuff into it, and c) I had to get my arm all wet when I reached in to pull them out. I have no proof, but I suspect that this is the work of the little brats across the street.

Five- You know what? It wouldn't be hard to set up a camera that focuses on the pond. My office window looks out over it. And I'd love to have video evidence with which to confront the pond perps. Unless of course I'm totally blowing this out of proportion and need to get a grip. I mean, I don't want them messing up my pond, but I also don't want to be the crotchety old neighbor who yells things like, "Get outta my yard you rotten kids!" I think I'll let this time go. If it happens again though, I'm pulling out the security surveillance.

Six- One of my biggest gripes about going downtown is that I can never find free parking. Well today, I found a lot that offers just that, and I am sooooo excited about it. (The small things make me so excited). Victory dance for not having to shell out a dollar an hour anymore.

Seven- The whole family is getting ready to participate in a giant garage sale on April 17 and 18th. I've been ruthlessly scouring the house, sweeping stuff into my "garage sale" box. I'm very excited about all the stuff I'm clearing out. Some of this stuff is still closed up in the boxes from when we moved here five years ago. I say if we haven't needed it since then, we don't need it now. It'll be so nice to get it out of my house. Don't you just love spring cleaning?

Tree Stylist to the Stars

Every morning before Tony goes to work, he kisses me goodbye and tells me to behave. I interpret that to mean, "I'll miss you with every fiber of my being while I'm at work". He interprets that to mean, "Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone".

And while he's never actually articulated exactly what his definition of "doing something stupid" is, I'm pretty sure by the look on his face when he pulled into the driveway yesterday afternoon to find me leaping from tree branch to tree branch, 20 feet in the air, while brandishing a chain saw that that might be somewhere in the ballpark.

Well, that and the fact that he threatened to have me enrolled in a daycare so someone could keep an eye on me during the day.

But I have a totally valid excuse.

See, it all started when the local tree trimmers for the power company came out to trim tree limbs away from the power lines. (Yes, my neighborhood is too old to have buried power lines like everyone else...we just aren't that highfalutin' around here). They do this every few years, and they cut away all the branches within so many feet of the wires so that the trees don't interfere with them. All well and good.

Anyway, I have some trees in my front yard, but I wasn't really worried about them because they are way far back from the power lines. One of the trees might have a few branches that needed a trim, but nothing drastic. A snip snip here, a snip there, and viola! Nothing to fret about.

Except that they completely scalped my tree.

Apparently the tree trimmers get their cutting techniques from the same school as those stylists at those EconoCuts places who offer the $6 haircuts because before you could even say, "Just a little off the top", half of my tree was gone.

(Oh, I wish I could have caught them doing it red-handed, because even three burly guys wielding chainsaws is no match for a woman whose tree has just been mutilated. I would have so gone The Matrix all over them. Alas, by the time I glanced out the window and saw the damage, they were already gone, the cowards.)

This, of course, left me no choice but to try to even things up by doing an emergency tree haircut. I mean, the tree was just begging me to do something! I couldn't just leave it like that! It was either add some layers to disguise some of the more drastic cuts, or figure out how to fashion a giant baseball cap for the tree to wear for the next two years.

So I got my ladder out, grabbed my chainsaw, and climbed the tree. And while I would normally suggest that people limit tree climbing with power tools to the professionals, it just so happens that I am an excellent tree climber, and very handy with my little chain saw.

And I was totally wearing safety glasses, so that counts.

And I even remembered to move my car out from under the tree before I started, which just shows that I am boiling over with responsibility and forethought.

So there.

And just so we're clear, I was completely fine. I successfully removed several branches and drug them over to the curb for pickup, and I did it all without cutting off my leg or falling to my death. And I was happy, and the tree (with it's new short Shannyn Sossamon do) was happy, and there was absolutely no need for exasperated eye rolling and melodramatic hand waving. I may have even found a new calling.

Now if you'll excuse me, Miss Patty says that it's time for my nap.

Spring Break 2009: The Ant Version

Well, the ants are back again. Every year around this time, the ants make their spring break travel plans to our house. And every year, Tony goes all blitzkrieg on their little ant butts. This year the ants are taking advantage of the terrific travel deals and instead of only vacationing in our kitchen like in years past, have now decided to see the world and invade the living room and the upstairs office.

(Can't you see the little ant travel agents with their little ant travel posters? "Oh if you loved your trip to The Kitchen, you're going to LOVE The Office! It features an all you can eat buffet of exotic foods like kitty kibble...I know!...and several visitors have told me that you can also find potato chip crumbs right around the computer this time of's just faaaabulous! And you're never gonna get a better deal on a 14 day cruise to The Office than right now...)

Meanwhile, Tony has diversified in his arsenal of ant killing chemicals. We have the sprays, we have the traps, we have the exterior line of defense, we have the bait that they're supposed to carry back to the queen. It's gotten so bad that Raid is bypassing the middle-man completely and sending their sales guys to make house calls directly to us. (Tony's negotiating a deal for a Raid distribution center to be erected right in the back yard).

I'm not sure what it is about these ants that bothers him so much. I mean, nobody really likes ants, but they aren't fire ants, or biting ants, or those ants from Australia that can carry off chickens and small dogs and the like. They're just your run of the mill little black ants. And when you think about it, if they're down eating all the potato chip crumbs, then that's less vacuuming for me, right? As long as they don't get greedy, I say live and let live.

Not that Tony would ever go for that. Nonononono, the ants must be annihilated, and it must be done NOW! He even went as far as to talk to the professional exterminator at work, and that guy told him that the best over-the-counter ant destroyer is this liquid stuff called Toro. You put it out, the ants come roll around in it, take it back to the colony, spread it around, and eventually it sterilizes the queen ant so there will be no more baby ants. (Basically, it's like liquid Chlamydia). So now we have Toro. And Tony gleefully smeared it all over the house. And then laughed his evil maniacal ant-killing laugh.

But here's the rub:

You can't kill the ants. You have to let the ants live so they can make it back to the colony. According to the plan, the ants come in, they backstroke through the liquid, and they invite all of their ant friends over for a cookout and pool party, they hang out, but YOU CAN'T KILL THEM! You just have to wait until they get sunburned and decide to call it a day. It's making Tony crazy.

"WHY WON'T THEY LEAVE?!" he yells, "LOOK AT ALL THESE ANTS! AND I HAVE TO LEAVE THEM ALONE!" He spends hours every evening checking on our ever-growing ant kegger. He is the quintessential grouchy old neighbor on the street full of poorly supervised high-school kids. "GO HOME!" he orders them. "THIS PARTY IS OVER! DON'T MAKE ME CALL THE COPS!"

The ants ignore him. They are too busy doing a conga-line around the "pool", drinking too much and gettin' jiggy with it. According to Toro, it can take up to two weeks before the ant population is under control. Tony is livid.

It's going to be one heck of a party.