library love.

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There are so many good reasons to should use and support your libraries. They are amazing! But I was talking to a friend the other day about a documentary, and I mentioned that I had borrowed it from the library. She was surprised – “they have new movies at the library?” It made me realize that not everyone treats their local library as an extension of their home like we do in our household. Especially since striving for zero waste and more minimalist, the library is really one of our favorite resources.

This post is absolutely written from the perspective of someone who has access to great libraries. It’s one of my favorite things about my community – it really invests in libraries. Sadly, not all are created equally, but you should still not neglect even the shabbiest. Support it! Visit and use it, vote YES on measures to improve it, donate to it, and advocate for it! They are super important to communities. And if you don’t use them, you could be seriously missing out.

Here’s my list of our favorite things to do at our local library:

  1. Books-books-books. We always check out oodles of books. I read to Hannah every night at bedtime, and often during the daytime, too. I can only handle reading the same books so many times before I lose my mind – so I love having a new stack every week to rotate through. And I generally grab a few, too. I at least glance through every homesteading/gardening/food preservation book I can get my hands on, and I am always reading one or two novels at a given time. I add my name to the wait list for popular books, and eventually will be notified when I’m up in the queue- I love this service. (This and this are the books I’m currently reading).
  2. Research. Not just for students. When I want to learn how to do something, I hit up YouTube and the library. Since I switch interests weekly, it only makes sense to “get my learn on” with free resources.
  3. Audio books/ebooks. I borrow audio books for car trips, and can borrow ebooks for my Kindle from the library website without leaving the house. It’s the BEST.
  4. Music and movies. Our library has a great selection of both. I love picking up a few CDs to listen to in my car for the week (lately I’ve been picking up 90s rap) and a movie or two. Sometimes we never get around to watching the movies, but at least there’s no guilt over a wasted rental fee.
  5. Toys. Our library has toys you can borrow! They are pretty much limited to educational toys for babies and toddlers, so eventually they won’t be of any use, but for now they are great. Borrowing and returning is clutter-free, and a great way to gauge what your child finds interest in and what they don’t, without buying something.
  6. Kid play/Socialization. Our library has a great kids section with fun, good quality toys (wooden dollhouse, legos, magnatiles..). We always sit and play for a bit when we visit. It’s good for socialization/sharing teaching for our only child. They also host a “Discovery Time,” a teacher-led activity time with songs, books, and active play with the group. We have been quite a few times and it’s really fun. A great wintertime activity (or those hot hot summer days).
  7. Pre-preschool curriculum. I’ve just started to use the library to assemble very informal “curriculum” on a various subject or theme. One week I’ll seek out materials on a specific topic (both fiction and nonfiction). We will look at those books together and discuss them. (I’ll also try to come up with or seek out ideas online for activities that reinforce the topic). I will be doing more of this now that Hannah’s closer to 3. (I also discovered my library has books of curriculum in their resources, so I won’t even have to do all the work myself to put this together!)
  8. Meet ups. My mom’s group meets up for play dates at the library really frequently (after Discovery Time). It’s the perfect venue because it’s free, the kids love it, and we can return/pick up books while we are there.
  9. Quiet work space. I work from home, and when I can sneak away for a few hours on the weekend to work from the coffee shop or library to get some done, it feels like a great luxury. My library has a café, so that is my spot of choice. (I also take the opportunity to leisurely browse the non-kid stacks while I’m there and end up with a pile of books for myself).
  10. Teaching responsibility. One thing I love about the library is that it provides a great opportunity to teach your little ones how to take care of things. I teach Hannah to treat the library items carefully so other kids can enjoy them later, and she’s always been so good about this (of course, when she was a baby we only brought home the sturdy board books).
  11. Yearly book sales. Admittedly, I haven’t really taken advantage of this. We went to one recently, and while the selection/prices were great, I didn’t prepare for the time it would take to dig through boxes and wait in the checkout line! With a toddler in tow, it wasn’t reasonable. Next time I’ll plan accordingly and go by myself – it seemed like a real goldmine for used books!

How about you – are you a library lover? What are your favorite things about your libraries?

little ZW things (cloth napkins and bread storage)

Outside the home, zero waste is HARD, you guys. People will still give your kid plastic-wrapped, plastic toys. Restaurants will still give you a straw when you ask them not to. But at home, it’s getting easier. It probably helps that I like to make things, and that IMO the reusable option is much more beautiful than disposables. It makes this transition seem less like a chore and more like I’m treating myself.

Last weekend I whipped up a few cloth napkins from some random fabric I had. I made 5 and need to make a few more, but I love how they turned out. There are many basic tutorials out there, but I followed this one.

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We don’t really use napkins very often (I use Hannah’s baby burp cloths still, as rags, to wipe her hands and face after meals). I don’t know who these people are who really go through all that many napkins. Our default setting is no napkins at the table, and if we need one, we get up and get one. But that’s hardly ever. So, the point is, having a few cloth napkins on hand is sufficient for us. Over the course of the last week I’ve only used one.. to dampen and wrap around spinach in the crisper. I plan to make more really only for instances we have people over and want to convince them we are civilized.

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Another addition to our kitchen is our new-to-us bread box. I’ve been struggling with how to store bread zero waste style and came up with two options in my research: bread boxes, and linen bags. I am going to try both. I’ve been scouting thrift stores for linen items I can chop up, with no success yet. This cute turquoise breadbox popped up on a Facebook yard sale page, and I snatched it up.

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The previous owner did all the embellishing of it. I don’t hate it at all. 🙂 So far, I’ve yet to actually try it to store “naked” bread, but I’ll certainly update later once I do. All across the Internets are foodie people who swear by breadboxes, saying that the fridge, and plastic, cause moisture that make breads mold quickly. Breadboxes (and linen) are breathable, but still keep bread fresher, longer (I imagine compared to leaving it out in the open air). So this isn’t a long-term bread storage solution. If we only have one bread item to use up per week it seems like it will be a good solution. That’s kind of how our meal plans are going now, anyway (buy little and use it up that week). I’ve yet to even attempt to find a place to buy naked bread (where I can have them out it in my own cloth bag). I do make my own in a bread maker, and I even made my own tortillas a couple weeks ago. I’d just been storing them in a few lingering (washed and reused to death) Ziplock bags until I found another solution. Hoping this is it!

I’m finding a few food groups incredibly frustrating when it comes to packaging, and breads/rolls/tortillas are a big one. Even in my health food store, fresh baked breads are sold wrapped in plastic. I’ve been reading Plastic Free Life by Beth Terry. She makes a seriously compelling point that, given how toxic plastic is, manufacturers should not be allowed to mark foods as “organic” if they are packaged in plastic, no matter if the ingredients in the food itself are organic. I have to say I agree! By the way, I really like the book and highly recommend it, and her blog.

book review: zero waste home

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson.

This was the first book I purchased for the Kindle I got for Christmas, and it has truly sparked a change in my life. Upon finishing it (or perhaps even before I finished it), I was off and running on implementing so many of Johnson’s tips, not to mention stalking Pinterest and Instagram for further inspiration for the zero waste lifestyle.

Bea Johnson is the author famous for reducing the trash her family of four generates to a yearly quart jar. I’ve stumbled upon mentions and articles by and about her over the years, and I always thought it was impressive, but never considered it would be doable for me. But I’d been meaning to read the book anyway, thinking it would give me a few more ideas on how to minimize our possessions and be more environmentally friendly (no quart jar goals). This book makes it seem possible! And not only that, it makes clear not only how important it is to reduce our consumption, but how many problems it can solve.

Think about this:
If you eliminate plastic packaging in your life, you are making a dent in all these crises: plastic toxins in the household and leeching into your foods; oil consumption to manufacture plastic items; ocean and sea life devastation; and lack of landfill space. You are reducing your consumption of fake, processed non-foods, meat, and dairy; supporting local farmers/ sustainable agricultural practices; reducing the number of miles your food travels to get to your plate (saving further resources). And you are saving money, as you stop buying single use products and instead buy products that can be used again and again, not to mention real foods sold in bulk are much cheaper that packaged foods.

The zero waste lifestyle is about much more than just eliminating plastic, but that was such an obvious place for me to start. This book lays out how and why to eliminate the waste in all areas of your life: eating, cooking, housekeeping, entertaining, holidays, wardrobe, junk mail, etc. The wastefulness of our culture is directly CAUSING (not just contributing to) environmental devastation, human suffering, animal suffering, health problems, and an unsustainable economic climate, not to mention our smaller day-to-day problems such as clutter and distraction overload. I read her book and had such clarity of mind. I can’t solve the problems of the world, but I can make a huge impact just by being more mindful of my consumption. Reconnecting to the impact of my actions.

Bonus: you’re also totally rebelling, and it’s my favorite part. You’ll feel marketing-proof! I highlighted her take on marketing campaigns as intended “not to create satisfactions, but to create dissatisfaction with what people possess.” This was key for me. Not because I’m some slave to brands or fashion, but because sticking it to the Man is my favorite thing. Johnson gives a zero waste alternative to the stupidly-expensive ladies razors: a stainless steel men’s safety razor. They last FOREVER and all you do is change the blade (and they are pennies!) I’d literally never considered there was an alternative – this is just one example of an idea that was so liberating to me!

If I had any critiques of the book, it would only be that all her tips are lacking for regions outside of California, but I didn’t read the book thinking it would be the answer to every potential hurdle I would face. Therefore, the fact that some of her suggestions didn’t apply to my household, in Suburban Utah, didn’t deter me from jumping in. For example, I cannot take my used wine bottles down to my local winery for a refill. And we don’t have curbside compost pickup. I’d imagine most people around this country would have a closer experience to me, in that we have to work a bit harder to seek out the best alternatives. But that’s ok. This book started me on the path with something to really aspire to. It sets the bar really high, but there’s no competition.

It’s been hard for me to look at anything in the same way since reading this book, and difficult not to become obsessed. Each little action encourages the next. If you want to embark on zero waste, or just do a little better, this book will inspire you and save you time. Johnson has given us so many solutions she’s found only through doing the legwork, and the results that show it’s possible.

be the change in 2016

GandhiHappy New Year! I hope everyone had a great holiday season to end a great 2015. Our holidays were fantastic. Hannah was a blast this year! The rumors are true that toddlers love the box the toy came in as well as the toy itself, if not better.

Every December after Christmas I agonize over my resolutions for the New Year. Last year I didn’t post anything regarding my resolution, but it was basically a decluttering to do list. I did pretty well, actually tackling many areas of the house. I must have made 6-8 donation runs and I sold off quite a few items on Ebay.

What I did poorly, however, is restrain myself from bringing more stuff in to the house; as a thrift shopper I easily justify the bargains. It occurred to me sometime around the holiday preparations that I am overwhelmed with stuff. I am good at decluttering and organizing/hiding things out of sight, so it can seem like we don’t have an excess of stuff. But I fight with it daily. Toys and books and dishes. Wrangling clothes and shoes takes up SO much of my day.

Adding the Christmas acquisitions to the accumulation of stuff led me to another quick clutter sweep of the house earlier this week and another donation run. Just to keep my sanity intact. Between the stuff guilt, there’s the added wastefulness-that-is-Christmas guilt. The boxes, the cards, the wrapping. The made-overseas crap that will get donated over the course of the next few years, but remain in landfills for 1000 years after its useful life. We kept our family gifts minimal and fairly responsible, but it was so obvious on Christmas day just how out of line with our values we can behave on Christmas just because we get caught up in what everyone else does.

One of my awesome Christmas gifts this year was the Kindle Paperwhite. I was excited to download my first book, which has been on my list a while – Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. She’s rather famous as being the matriarch of the family that generates just one quart jar of garbage per year. It just seemed like an obvious choice given my guilt over wastefulness. The book is great (I finished it within 2 days)– her entire life is inspiring. Following her on Instagram has led me down a rabbit hole of a whole AMAZING zero waste community. It’s made me feel both uber guilty and incredibly empowered and motivated to change. I decided it’s not enough to do those minimal and easy things I’ve been doing forever and really make an effort in our household.

Zero Waste

So, my goal for 2016 is striving for zero waste.

I have lots of big ideas for the year, many taken directly from Zero Waste Home, and it’s easy to want to jump in all at once, but I am going to break it down because:

Continue reading “be the change in 2016”

bad gal book club

I want to preface this post by saying I am not terribly good at discussing books. I took the English studies track with the littlest literature discussion, and I rarely discuss books with people in my real-life, because few people I know like the same types of books. I’m also rarely reading what’s current, because I wait-list at the library rather than purchase most books. But, I’ve been wanting to discuss books lately. Maybe it’s due to spending my days with a toddler, but this mom desperately needs some intellectualism.

And maybe you can tell by the books I’m going to discuss but apparently this mom needs some bold and brash female friends quite badly. 🙂 We will see how this goes, and I may do more posts like this. If you’ve read anything I discuss and want to talk about it, please comment. Or if you’ve got recommends along the same vein, I’d love to hear those, too!

men explain things1. Men Explain Things to Me.

This book is a collection including and named for Rebecca Solnit’s most famous essay. I’d actually read the essay before somewhere, but was glad to come across it again because it’s so very good. The premise of the essay is familiar to me: Men often wrongly assume they correctly understand things, and often wrongly assume women don’t. It’s a phenomenon that crops up daily in the workplace and elsewhere if you pay attention. Solnit’s anecdotes are every woman’s anecdotes; I’ve been at parties or the office, and have listened to men wrongly explain or interpret subjects I know a great deal about, with great authority. More often I’ve been in meetings and have had what I’ve said ignored only to have a man rephrase the same thing later. The essay is rather lighthearted in nature compared to those that come after, the theme of which are darker takes and consequences of the silencing of women. Then we get into domestic violence rates. Rape statistics. The lack of female literacy and education throughout the world. Shocking and sickening. The book left me with so many emotions. It’s an awkward position to be a white, middle-class, educated feminist. It’s heavy with guilt. There’s a guilt associated with knowing how far white American women have to go and realizing we still have it better than women of color, LGBT women, and women and girls in the third world. There’s guilt about not doing enough about it. Solnit lays it out very beautifully and in my opinion did a great job acknowledging cross-sectional feminism in such short pieces of writing. It’s actually of no small significance to shed light on the struggle for all women; many white feminist writers do not bother. Admittedly, I didn’t even notice that until reading Solnit, which made me realize I very badly need to diversify my own book consumption.

One of my favorite, and timely, essays in her book was about marriage equality, arguing that there really IS a threat to “traditional marriage”.. because it threatens the patriarchal power arrangement that we’ve been burdened with since the 1700s, when women literally gave up their identities, wealth, and voice to their husbands when they married.

She says: “Gay men and lesbians have already opened up the question of what qualities and roles are male and female in ways that can be liberating for straight people. When they marry, the meaning of marriage is likewise opened up. No hierarchical tradition underlies their union. “
Her point is that like so many other issues in our society, hetero, Christian white males don’t want to give up their power. Redefining marriage to include same-sex makes the definition one that leaves room for unions that are egalitarian in nature and that scares them. I think her theory makes so much sense. I’ve never understood what the “threat to traditional marriage” could possibly be and it’s never been fully explained to me. Solnit explains that a shift in our society to acceptance of different kinds of unions might plant the idea in the heads of women or unmarried young people that marriage doesn’t have to mean subservience to men or traditional gender roles. Roles can be “assigned” based on actual strengths, talents, etc as they should be. Also explains why people who already think there should be equality WITHIN a marriage (feminists, humanists, social liberals) by and large are advocates of marriage equality. Really fascinating take on how marriage equality is a threat to those in power who really just fear gender equality.

yes please2. Yes Please.

Everyone loves Amy Poehler because she’s hilarious and adorable. I love her because she’s hilarious, because she’s Leslie-freaking-Knope, and because I feel like I know her. I love that she wrote a book about her life as an improv comedian. She didn’t write a hyperbolic memoir with the “that-dialog-is-funny-but-didn’t-actually-happen” style that most comedians use. (Though I don’t mind when they do. In fact I was surprised Poehler’s wasn’t more that way when I dove in.) The book wasn’t actually all that funny. It’s good, and it’s entertaining, but didn’t have me cracking up. Instead I got a glimpse of Amy as more than funny. She’s a professional who worked her ass off. To achieve her level of fame as a female comedian she has worked that rare combination of ambitious and easy going. She didn’t overuse self-deprecation to endear me, but she didn’t brag. I mean, there were a few “I can’t believe how cool my life is” moments, but they were so completely genuine. She spends so much time gushing and thanking people in her professional life throughout the book and I loved that. If this book were a manual for how to be Amy Poehler, the success formula is to be hard-working and grateful as much as clever.

How to be a woman3. How to Be a Woman.

Feminist comedy nonfiction has to be my new favorite genre. It’s as though you realize how much female perspective is lacking in the media when someone can make you laugh while thinking critically about tampons and pornography. Overapologizing is the plague of womankind, so we need more icons that refuse to. Caitlin Moran is raunchy and real, but in a way that doesn’t make you hate yourself. For that reason I feel like something like this book should be required reading for young girls. Probably most people would disagree. But, my reasoning is this: sometimes accidentally as a kid you stumble upon things that are well out of your maturity level and you can never un-see it or un-hear it. This was the case for my generation, and I would imagine it’s even worse now given that anything can literally be pulled up at any moment on a phone or computer. Sex isn’t going away, ever, but it’s not our preoccupation with it that is damaging to both women and men: it’s the narrow, male-dominated perspective. This book kind of helped me better understand that hard-to-wrap-my-brain-around concept (that censorship isn’t the answer, but rather inclusion of more perspectives). I just picked up another Moran book, How to Build a Girl, and I’m looking forward to starting it.

4. Gone Girl.

gone-girl-book-cover-medI finally broke my non-fiction streak and read Gone Girl last week, then watched the film this week. And, um? What can I say without giving spoilers, but .. twisted. It’s a guilty-pleasure type read.. it read quickly and hooked me. It’s well-written and well-mapped. It’s hard to read a book or watch a film where I have no character to root for unless the story can suck me in (like Palaniuk can manage to do) and I liked the twists and folds Gone Girl.

One thing I kept taking issue with throughout was that the unspooling of Amy and Nick’s marriage was supposed to be a result of the real and recent economy problems in the US, but theirs were so completely and self-consciously (to me) rich white people problems. Both had lost their jobs in the print magazine industry, but Amy had a (dwindling) trust fund, and they left New York for Missouri to sink the last of it into a dive bar and a McMansion in a mostly foreclosed neighborhood. The first half of the book includes Amy’s diary entries complaining of leaving her beloved Brooklyn Brownstone, and the tacky processed-foods appetizers she now had to endure at social functions in the Midwest. She’s hardly a likeable victim from the beginning.

The film was decent but different in the tone. David Fincher (who I love) directed and it’s artsy and dark, sharply edited and the Trent Reznor score gave it a really fast-paced thriller vibe rather than the slow, unraveling decent into madness vibe of the book. Recommend them both for a quick summer diversion (beat the heat with chills?)

So.. what are you reading these days? 🙂

decorating with scarves and pashminas

headwrapOne of the perks, or hazards, of my job, is I am gifted with an excess of souvenirs. I work with – and do lots of paperwork for – people who travel overseas. Many of them bring me back pretty scarves and pashminas, which is so thoughtful! I also am frequently gifted with scarves for holidays and I pick up pretty ones at thrift stores. And as a result I have a LOT of scarves. Somehow I’ve amassed a pretty ridiculous (-ly awesome) collection.

I wear scarves pretty often, and I use them as head wraps. But I have so many pretty scarves and so few places to go these days that I hate seeing them tucked away. The fabrics and colors are so pretty! So I’ve rounded up a few ideas (some that require cutting and sewing for the thrifted ones, but most that leave them in tact) for using and displaying a scarf collection more frequently.

how to tie a scarfMy friend Cassie actually got me a cute book, How to Tie a Scarf, for Christmas. It’s full of fun ideas. There are also tons of tutorials on Pinterest, including how to tie and knot scarves stealthily to turn them into kimonos and vests. Really awesome! There are plenty of head wrap ideas or tutorials on braiding scarves into your hair, too, though I don’t have enough hair or swagger to pull off many of them. I just go for the super simple wrap-styles.

But the ideas I’ve been collecting are more for decor purposes. I love the casual vibe that different patterns and fabrics give off when layered around the house. I suppose you could use any textile for most of these, which makes them even more awesome. I like scouting textiles. They are so versatile. So.. here we go:

I LOVE these huge pillows made from big scarves {plus the link has tons of other ideas I love for scarf-upcycling}.

big pillows - dishfunctional designsSmaller pillows wouldn’t require sewing; you can wrap the scarf and twist/knot the back. The link for this one didn’t work (found on Pinterest), but it directed me to All You.

all youI like the idea of using scarves to cover poufs and ottomans, like these ones: (left from from Urban Outfitters, now sold out; right from Plumo). The Urban Outfitters version is something I’ve wanted to make for a while now. A less pretty “collection” I’ve got going on is 5 gallon buckets (I know, random), and I think with a little creativity I could make a similar ottoman with some patchwork scarves/other fabric.

UO Pouf   Plumo pouf

I use one pashmina as a runner on our dresser top to keep the surface from getting scratched. They are nice for table runners over a table cloth to keep them from sliding.

table runnerThere are lots of images out there for patchwork curtains made from scarves and handkerchiefs, but just hanging one in a window is really pretty and will allow it to be worn later.

windowI loved framed scarves like these, because you can see the entire design. It would be simple enough to switch out, too. (I wish I owned both of the ones below):

framed scarvesYou can hang a scarf on a wall without framing or doing anything special, like below. No cutting into the fabric for the special scarves I’ve got. I love this for the huge silk pashminas I’ve got from the Middle East.

wall hangingStoring scarves in plain view lets them be part of the decor and still keeps them usable. I’ve done this before in the bedroom, but it’s a great idea for an entryway.

hanging scarvesAny other ideas I’ve missed?

welcoming spring. daily routines.

ONC viewEven after what’s been a really mild Utah winter, I’m anxious for springtime. I love summer and fall, but I still think spring is my favorite because the winters just drag on for me. By February I’ve had *just* about all I can take, and then suddenly and mercifully there are signs of spring and I snap out of my funk. I love the chilly-but-sunny days, the beginnings of gardening, and feeling like I can once again be a part of nature. Hannah and I have been enjoying daily walks. She loves to look at animals, and our neighborhood is smack in the middle of farm country, so there are nearby horses, chickens and cows to visit. We also just got a family membership to our local nature center (ONC), which is definitely going to be a weekly adventure. We went last week and Hannah LOVED it! And so did I. Even though things are only *just* greening up here and there, it was still beautiful and peaceful. Insta ONCAs Hannah gets older it will be so fun to take her to the nature center for the kids camps and crafty events, but for now we just enjoyed wandering the trails and seeing the birds and deer.

ONC pathAround the house, I’m switching up the baby-proof surfaces with some spring-time touches. I finally got the mantel stained, and put out some random spring-y objects I could find around the house. Plants, flowers, butterflies and birds are kind of a theme around the place right now. I’ve also been able to have the windows open for part of the day. Fresh air and natural light makes such a difference to my mood.

Spring mantel

I got a couple new pillow covers at IKEA – I love the biology textbook-style birds and bugs. (I’ve had the green pillow for years).Spring pillowsAnd the IKEA Varde shelf got a little switchup from the pink-and-red Valentine’s Day decor to some green {and my eating’s been greening up with more vegan recipes in the mix}.

Spring ShelfMy stack of reading reflects the season quite a bit, too. Some gardening magazines of course, and two new books I really recommend. Mindfulness and the Natural World is just one woman’s philosophical view of nature from a “you aren’t in nature, you are nature” kind of standpoint and I am really enjoying it. And mindfulness is the other theme right now, because I’m also enjoying implementing a daily yoga practice (only about 15 minutes during Hannah’s nap time, but it’s really helping me feel better); I really like the book OM Yoga: A Guide to Daily Practice. There is a short practice for each day of the week, and they are challenging enough for me that I am getting something out of just the short stints. Getting back into yoga has been so long overdue! I used to think to do yoga I had to go to a studio for a class or at least follow a video in its entirety. Silly right? The idea that it’s something you can do anywhere at any time, for any length of time is so freeing!

Spring readingIt’s not much, but adding a few routines to my day (a walk, some yoga, and a bit of inspiring reading) has been good for my soul and my sanity and I’m feeling like myself again! Seed-starting is on my to-do list this next week, and I am vowing to get some time outside in the garden just to start cleaning it up and prepping the beds with compost. What’s everyone else got planned for spring?