Our Edible Front Yard and a #WorkWonders Giveaway

My husband and I have a deal. He cuts the grass and I garden. I told him early on that if it was up to me, any grass that was not useful (i.e. not used to run around and play on) would be removed and replaced with either a garden or something low maintenance like rocks and shrubs. I have no desire to toil to maintain something I get no pleasure from and has no use to me.

Until this house, it was never an issue. For the first years of our marriage, we lived in townhouse condo where, other than a small back garden, all the outdoor maintenance was done for us. Now we have a fair sized front and back yard. The back gets lots of use…the front not so much. A few years ago my husband got tired of cutting the front grass for the sole benefit of the neighbours and started researching grass alternatives. He settled on clover and went to work. Our front yard now sports a full and lush crop of drought tolerant clover which, other than whipper-snippering some of the taller weeds that pop up every once in a while, doesn’t even need to be cut. People walking by stop to knock on our door and ask us about it.

This year, we decided to go a step further and make our front yard useful. When I was a child, we lived in the country with about 2.5 acres of land. Much of that was taken up by a large vegetable garden and mom would allocate a corner for me where I would plant cucumbers, pumpkins, carrots and zinnias to my heart’s content. I loved it and thought now would be a good time to get back into it.

We face south so our front yard is much sunnier than our back yard and since it wasn’t being used for much else, it made sense to think about putting the vegetables there. Last year John and I had many discussions about building the gardens. My criteria was that they needed to be raised a minimum of 18 inches and couldn’t be more than 3 feet across to accommodate my bad back. I also was leery of building them from wood as I envision us staying in this house for the next 25 years and don’t want to have to rebuild them when we’re old and decrepit. They need to have some staying power. We settled on galvanized steel and John found a place in Toronto that makes raised garden beds.

We lured family to our house with promises of food and beer and put them to work moving the big dirt pile from our driveway into the raised gardens. Even the kids were put to work!

I only managed to get 1 of the 6 containers primed before they got filled with dirt as it kept raining on me. Which is okay I suppose as my ideas for how to make them look less industrial and more blended with our home keeps changing. At first I was just going to paint them a dark brown colour, now I’m leaning towards doing some outdoor mosaic work. This may not get started for a while but eventually, they’ll look awesome!

Back in April, I started some indoor seeds in defiance of the winter that stubbornly stayed  with us until late into the spring.

John rigged up some florescent lights in a mobile greenhouse frame which we set up in the kitchen.

Not all my seedlings made the transition to the outdoor gardens (I’m still learning!) but it was great to see them sprout up and share the wonder of nature with the boys.

Our gardens are now growing blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers, sugar peas, eggplant, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, Swiss chard, garlic, onions and herbs. Whew! I’ve also planted nasturtiums in the two gardens closest to the road to spill over the front and be ornamental as well as delicious.

We’re starting to see some of the “fruits” of our labour growing – here’s hoping we get to eat some of it soon too!

There’s a lot to keep track of – which seeds I used, what worked and what failed, what I did when, etc. I looked at a number of options to use as a garden diary but in the end, I came back around to my favourite tool – OneNote. Combined with OneDrive to sync my notes between my phone and my notebook and it’s been invaluable. I’m sure I will be thanking myself immensely next spring when I have my notes and photos to read through. This is what I love best about technology – when it transcends being an end in itself but instead becomes an enabler for making life that much better and richer. 

For full disclosure, I need to tell you that I’m part of a Microsoft Office 365 advocacy program. But anyone that knows me will also know that I love technology and I love Office – I live and breathe this stuff. What I write here are my own opinions.

That’s why I’m so excited to be able to host a special giveaway from Microsoft as part of this blog. The prize is a one-year subscription for Office 365 Home donated by Microsoft. All you need to do is think of something you’ve accomplished lately. It can be big or it can be small. The Office team at Microsoft have put together a #WorkWonders site which highlights all the things that people accomplish and it’s quite inspirational. I invite you to be part of the conversation and to inspire others.

Here’s what to do: Take a picture that represents your accomplishment, think of a caption, put it together with the #WorkWonders hashtag and my twitter handle (@ruthm) or tag me on Facebook. For example, have you coordinated the family calendar online using Do you balance the budget using Excel? Have you delivered a presentation to the parent council using PowerPoint? Have you researched or organized a home project using OneNote? Then your entry might look like this on Twitter:

“Finally did it! Everyone can access family schedule & Billy won’t get left at school next Tues after all <picture url> #WorkWonders @ruthm”

Have you accomplished a number of things lately? As long as they are distinct and you can put each entry together with a picture and caption as detailed above, send them my way for more chances to win! The giveaway will end at 11:59PM EDT on Monday, June 16, so be sure to get your entry(s) in before then. I’ll be making a random drawing from all the entries I receive and will announce the winner the next day. And remember you must tag me or use my twitter handle or I won’t know that you’ve entered!

I can’t wait to see your entries!


Fine print:

No purchase necessary. Open to legal residents of Canada excluding Quebec who have reached the age of majority in his/her province of residence. Enter promotion before June 15, 2014, 11:59 PM EDT. Entry details can be found in the blog post above. Void where prohibited.

Getting organized in a digital age

I’ve always been a visual learner. Couple that with a diminished capacity to remember anything other than which son likes cheese and which prefers vanilla yogurt over blueberry, and I tend to forget anything that I haven’t written down. Hearing it isn’t enough, I need to see the words to take it in. Better yet, see the words and visualize the scenario or object in my head – then it’s in the vault.

For years I carried around paper notebooks of various sizes and shapes. These helped me remember things, although having to flip through them to refer back to the details I had written was always bothersome. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I left Microsoft and started my new job with Compugen that I fully embraced a digital solution. Sure, I had dabbled in OneNote while at Microsoft but I never gotten into it for my own personal day to day work.

However, in my new role I attend a lot of meetings. A *lot* of meetings. Many of these are customer meetings and so I quickly adopted OneNote as my go to tool for keeping track of who attended, which customer it was about and the salient points for later recall. And from there, I started adding to and organizing my digital notebook into something that makes sense and works really well for me.

So now I’m a OneNote junkie who can’t function without it. I live in it every day. However, whenever I’ve espoused the wonders of OneNote to others in the past, I’ve always been aware that there are free tools like Evernote that do an ok job too. They may not be as feature rich as OneNote, but hey they’re free – that’s hard to compete with. Until now!

This week, Microsoft made a few exciting announcements:

  1. OneNote is now a free download – yay!
  2. OneNote is now available for the Mac. So now it doesn’t matter if you are on a PC, Mac, Windows tablet, Windows phone, iPad, iPhone, Android or using a web browser. You can use OneNote and each device will always be in sync.
  3. There is a cloud API for OneNote which means that OneNote apps can be created in the cloud, compared to add-ins which are installed and used locally on each OneNote installation.

If you’re looking to try it out or you’re already using OneNote and would like some ideas of how to use it better, I’ll share how I do it. This may not be the best method for everyone but it definately keeps me sane.

I keep one notebook for work and one for personal activities (vacation planning, shopping lists, volunteer work, etc.) and save both to OneDrive so that I can access them from anywhere. I’ve organized my work one by types of meetings – customer meetings, 1:1 meetings with my manager, meetings with partners, etc., and activities – event notes, blog ideas, etc. Below is a screen shot of my Compugen notebook opened to the Blog tab, where I jot down and develop ideas to write about on the corporate blog (click for larger image).

Screenshot of my OneNote workbook

Along the right hand side are the titles of each idea, but also there is a Submitted page, with several blog idea pages as subpages under it.  I can show or hide subpages as needed. On my customer tab (which I can’t post here for obvious reasons!), this allows me to have a main page for each customer with sub-pages organized by date underneath for each meeting or conversation about that customer.

One more thing I have to show you. For any free form folks reading this, OneNote also works great with a stylus. Here is an example of an intense brainstorming team meeting I participated in. As most doodlers know, far from being distracting, doodling can help focus concentration and increase retention so every once in a while, I break out my stylus and go to town!

OneNote Doodle

Any other OneNote aficionados out there that would like to share how they use it? I’d love to hear your methods, tips or tricks.

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