Surest Way To Make Sure It Doesn’t Rain

Over a month ago Hubby and I embarked on a rainwater harvesting expansion project in order to help cut the amount of household water that would be needed to maintain my garden. At the time I felt rushed to get the project up and running so as to get the most savings possible out of this new endeavor.

Last year our rain barrel supplied me with hundreds of gallons of water, thus saving us lots of money on water bills. My hope was to eventually have so many rain barrels full of water that I wouldn’t need to use the house water at all. A huge hope, but one can certainly dream.

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Hubby wanted to keep things a bit more realistic in our expansion and we compromised from my suggestion of 10 barrels to 5. I don’t know that this is really a compromise though because eventually, if things work out the way I think they will, Hubby will see things my way and we’ll be up to 10 in no time.

For two days we worked on the project, leveling, cutting, measuring (hopefully not in this order), and piecing together garbage can to garbage can. Although we had a few mis-drillings, which resulted in those cans becoming the “Compost” bins, in the end we ended up with 5 ready-for-rain rain barrels. For more information, check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardening Rainwater Harvesting.

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Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

June came and went with not so much as enough rain to make a dent in one of the rain barrels, let alone five of them. I began to wonder if I’d jinxed us getting any rain at all by putting in so many rain barrels.

Then came July and again we waited.

And waited.

And waited for seven days. Then, last night it finally happened.

IT RAINED!

For joy, for joy, we have been blessed!

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Yep, this morning I woke to five completely full rain barrels, a rain drenched garden, and inspiration to begin collecting more garbage cans for… “just in case!”

Happiness is a rain barrel full of water and a garden NOT in need of watering (that’s what I call security), and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Gadget Crazy

It doesn’t matter if it’s a kitchen gadget, a gardening gadget, a scrapbooking gadget, a house cleaning gadget, or really any sort of gadget — I love them all. So when I came across this little gadget to help figure out if I was watering my tomato plants too much or too little, I had to have it.

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It was cheap enough, compared to some that I saw online for over $30 and the one they had at Home Depot for $24.99, so I snatched it up when I found it at Wal-Mart for around $6.

Don’t know if it will be a tomato-saver, but along with some new pertinent information about my tomato plants, I’m hopeful that tomato leaf curl will become yet another stepping stone along my gardening journey. Check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener Tomato Leaf Curl Epiphany.

Some gadgets are bought and then get lost in a drawer or forgotten in a cupboard. This is one I think will be worth it’s weight in — let’s go with TOMATOES here — and for this I am, Simply Grateful.

Look What I Did!

For the past few days I have been working on completing a garden project that I am very excited about. I built a fence around my garden.

I know, this might not be the most exciting news in the world, but boy am I excited about it. Not only does it look so much nicer than the sagging, flimsy chicken wire I staked around the garden last year, but I made it all by myself!

What do you think?

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It’s made from PVC pipe and connectors, the same flimsy chicken wire that was around the garden last year, and a ton of zip ties. And, wait for it, I even made a gate for it! Never underestimate the power of a woman who wants a nice looking fence around her garden!

This was really a cinch to build. It took more time that it should have only because of the exhausting heat I’ve had to contend with for the past week. Actually, if the weather had been more cooperative, I probably could have finished it in a day or two. As it was, it took a bit longer.

Plus, it cost only about $50. I swear the chicken wire alone for my 16′ x 32′ garden would probably be half that, but I got mine at a garage sale and from a little neighborly garbage picking.

If you’d like to read how I made this, check out my post at Simply Grateful Gardener for Building A Garden Fence With PVC Pipe. Maybe next I’ll make a new A-frame for the cucumbers and then a smaller one for the zucchini. The possibilities are endless.

Finally, something in the garden going right, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Addiction

I have a problem.

There, I’ve said it. Now, isn’t that supposed to be the first step, half the battle, or count for something anyway?

Yes, I have a problem, an addiction really, and I didn’t realize it until just recently. I had an idea that perhaps there might be a small issue, but actually, now that I have faced the facts, I realize this is far more serious than I ever allowed myself to believe.

Sure I put up a good front, not letting on that lurking just below the surface, behind closed doors, heck even under the mattress that there was a secret I couldn’t bear to reveal to anyone. Not even myself.

Most of the time I keep it in check. Out of necessity really. I mean, addictions can be very expensive. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and somehow I find a way more often than I should.

Now, I’m not discounting that there are many addictions out there far more worthy of attention than mine. This is by no means meant to poke fun at such a thing. But in a way I think everyone has an addiction of some sort be it to sugar, television, smart phones, working out, or even gardening or say cooking (yeah, I’m definitely borderline when it comes to those last two).

My addiction isn’t serious in the sense that I could hurt myself or others, unless of course I find myself somehow trapped under the fruits of my addiction or Hubby finds out and tries to perhaps “help” me, in which case, YES, he could get hurt. For the most part though, the only consequences of my weakness are a lighter checkbook and the continuing shrinkage of space available to enable me. Although I don’t think there could ever not be enough room for just one more…

So, here it goes…without further procrastination…there’s no time like the present to fess up…it’s time to be brave and acknowledge one of my many shortcomings in life…

I am addicted to…of course to many of you out there this will probably come as no great surprise and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this and many of you share this same affliction…

Where was I?

Oh yeah, I am addicted to —

COOKBOOKS!

I know, I know. This isn’t the end of the world. Things could be worse. But if you only knew how many cookbooks I really have and how I never think I have too many. Sure I have those few gems proudly displayed on my baker’s rack in the kitchen, and a few sparsely placed about the house for show, but if you were to sneak a peek into the cabinets in my dining room or open any of the many binders hidden among the books on every bookshelf in the house, you’d find cookbook after cookbook after cookbook after personally compiled cookbook. And this is after I vowed to scale down and get rid of my collection.

Actually I’ve down scaled my collection twice thus far in my lifetime. The first time was after Hubby and I were married. I’d collected hundreds of cookbooks prior to our marriage with the good intentions of using each and every one of them until my fingers bled. Throw in a new house, two kids, home schooling, part-time jobs, and life in general, and cookbooks became the least of my concern. So at a garage sale I sold off more than 3/4 of my collection, keeping only those I truly used or just couldn’t part with.

Then, as the kids got older I began volunteering at our local library for their used book sales. What a little piece of heaven that was. Not only did this enable my cookbook addiction like never before, but I also acquired a passion for children’s books (here I managed to collect more than 5,000 children’s books), mysteries (who knew there were so many mystery series that included recipes), and Christmas books (everything from decorating ideas to cooking to traditions from around the world). In all, over the course of ten or so years I managed to fill our house and every bookshelf in it with more than 8,000 books.

When the kids graduated from home schooling and began schools outside the home, I began downsizing my children’s book collection. I donated more than 1/2 of them to an elementary school and then sold the rest to a book dealer for practically nothing. The Christmas books too have nearly completely been donated back to the library. I have only two bookshelves of children’s books and one of Christmas books in the basement. All of the mystery novels have been donated to local charities, except for a few that have recipes in them I don’t want to just copy and stick in a binder.

The cookbooks…well, this is another matter. While I did go through and scan recipes out of nearly 1/3 of them and then donate them to St. Vincent last year, there are still lots of cookbooks I just can’t seem to part with. And to make matters worse, a good friend of mine introduced me to America’s Test Kitchen and now I am addicted to their cookbooks, their website, and even on occasion their shows. (Thanks Suzanne!) So far I have bought five of their books off Amazon, found two at the library book sale, and have three or four in my cart on Amazon for whenever I get the money to buy them.

For me a cookbook is not just a collection of recipes. I read them like books and because of this, I prefer cookbooks that share the history behind the recipe, the theory that makes the recipe work, or any personal insight an author is willing to share. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to read where a recipe originated, what ingredients were tried and then changed because they just didn’t work well, or how someone’s great-great-grandmother brought the recipe over from England when she came here with her husband seeking a better life. Danielle Steele, James Patterson, and J. K. Rowling have nothing on Mark Bittman, Julia Child, and Christopher Kimball.

Addiction, obsession, or quirky hobby — whatever you want to call it, for me cookbooks are it. There have been many other addictions through the years, but none have held on so long or so strong and I do believe this is one that is going to stay. It does go in spurts. Especially if someone happens to entice me with say watching an episode or two of America’s Test Kitchen (which opened up a whole can of worms — America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country, Cook’s Illustrated) or perhaps sharing a movie with me (Julie & Julia – which led to a near obsession with Julia Child!), then all bets are off. (Again, thanks Suzanne!)

Anyway, I just had to get this off my chest. I’m really in a hurry now because I just got a delivery from the mailman. He has a box of three brand new cookbooks I got on sale and the evening is young, I’ve got a hot cup of caffeinated coffee, and Hubby is working in the office — and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

A Sweet Indulgence

As of late, one thing I have decided is there are just some things in the kitchen that should not be skimped on and my grocery bills have reflected it. Not that I’ve gone out and bought the most expensive everything and anything, but each trip to the supermarket, or maybe more like every other trip or every third trip, I pull out a list of what I consider “sweet indulgence” ingredients and buy something from the list — especially if I happen upon a sale.

Not everything on the list is expensive. Some items are just ingredients that I would not use very often, making it hard to justify purchasing them. Others are a bit on the pricey side but there are some ingredients you should NEVER buy imitation or knockoff’s of, it’s worth spending the extra money.

The other day while picking up a few items at a specialty fruit market (someplace I don’t usually go unless there is a sale of some sort), Hubby and I found a sale on mascarpone cheese. This cheese is best known for its use in tiramisu, but is a wonderful addition to many other rich desserts. A container that would normally be anywhere from $6.50 to $8.00, was marked $3.50 and the expiration date was not until the end of May. What a find! I picked up two containers knowing I would find a use for them.

Some nights I go all out on dessert for the family and spend half the day working on something special. Other nights they are lucky if they can find packaged cookies buried in the freezer. A day or so after finding the deal on the mascarpone cheese in between putting the finishing touches on dinner and serving it, I whipped up a mascarpone cream and soaked some fresh fruit in sweetened Marsala wine. Talk about a rich, decadent dessert!

Although this particular dessert was not something Grace could enjoy with her sensitivity to dairy, Hubby and Zeb devoured the custard bowls filled with the fruit and cream combo. If you’d like to see how I made it, check out my post on Simply Grateful Cooking for Mascarpone Cream with Sweetened Marsala Berries.

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This dessert could probably be made with a less expensive cheese such as ricotta, but the rich, smooth mascarpone, albeit typically pricey, made this dessert “company worthy,” and for this sweet indulgence I am — Simply Grateful.

The Tenth Day of Christmas

On the tenth day of Christmas there was freezer space I found

And lots of pork and chicken that needed to be ground.

Remembering ‘not to sweat the small stuff’ is really important when something unexpected happens. This was really put to the test when I decided to grind some meat to fill our freezer.

Since we bought our meat grinder last summer I have enjoyed grinding all sorts of meat and filling our freezers with it. So when I noticed that the freezers were looking a bit empty, I knew it was time to pull out the old meat grinder and set to work.

The meat grinder we selected is a manual, heavy-duty one and quite heavy. Because of this, Hubby told me to attach it to our marble dining room table when I used it so it was at a height that was comfortable and where it could be attached to the end easily with clamps.

All summer and fall I did this without incident. I admit though that cranking the handle on our grinder certainly wasn’t easy. In order to get the meat to go through the blades easily, it had to be partially frozen, which certainly made the turning hard. The end result however made it well worth the effort.

Ground pork at the store goes for nothing less than $3.00 per pound but more often $4.00 per pound. I can buy boneless pork butts for $.99 a pound and grind it myself. I think a little bit of work is worth saving $2 to $3 per pound, especially when we use more ground pork than ground beef.

Well, the saying ‘All good things come to an end…’ took a shot at us on the tenth day of Christmas. As I was cranking away at the meat grinder yesterday the unthinkable happened – CRACK! Yep, I broke the corner right off our dining room table. And it wasn’t a clean break. Basically the corner crumbled into pieces, leaving me holding the meat grinder by the handle and shards of marble all over the dining room floor.

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I suppose most people would probably freak out if their table were to break as they were grinding meat, but after the initial shock, I just shrugged and moved my grinder to another corner of the table. What else could I do?

Before you start thinking “Wow, this girl really knows how to keep her cool” I should tell you, this isn’t the first break we’ve had in our marble table. When we tried moving it about 10 years ago to change the carpet in the dining room, the table broke in half. At that break I went into hysterics. Hubby assured me he could fix it and did. He attached a large sheet of plywood to the marble base and then placed the two pieces of marble on top of it and somehow cemented them together. Viola! It was fixed. This time however, I seriously doubted this table was salvageable.

Marble is not the best material for tables. We had a coffee, two end, and a couch table made of marble and every table cracked after just a few years. The cracks did not go all the way through, but they were cracked none the less. And this wasn’t from abuse or misuse. You might argue that perhaps this was from wear and tear, but if that were the case, then how can you explain the cracks in the bases as well. There certainly wasn’t any wear and tear on those. They just sat there, undisturbed, never being moved, never being touched. Nope, marble is definitely off my list of materials I will ever buy furniture made from again.

Hubby wasn’t upset at all when I told him about the break. In fact, he right away asked me if I wanted to get a new table. I flatly told him NO. We rarely entertain anymore so why spend money on something we don’t need. I’m more concerned with where I’m going to attach my grinder.

He broke up the rest of the table, which basically crumbled when he tried to pick it up, and we are left with the board he had put on the base years ago. Good enough!

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I threw a table-cloth over it and no one is the wiser. It’s slightly narrower than I’d like, so Hubby said he’d get a bigger sheet of wood and attach it to the top and we’ll be all set.

Even though my meat grinding didn’t go as smooth as I would have liked this time, I still have ten packs of ground pork in the freezer, and for this I am – Simply Grateful.

The Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas the time did come to can

Fresh pineapple marmalade and jam.

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A few weeks ago a local grocery store had a sale on extra-large fresh pineapples — $.99 each. So being the ever vigilant bargain hunter, I bought 16 of them. What could I possibly do with 16 pineapples you wonder? Well, can them of course.

Now pineapples aren’t typically ready to eat right when you bring them home, at least this hasn’t been my experience. This being the case and knowing that I wasn’t going to be in a position to can them right away, I picked out pineapples as green as they came.

For two weeks they sat on my dining room table waiting, ripening, until a few days ago. As I entered the dining room, the sweet smell of pineapple overwhelmed me and I knew right away it was time to set to work.

Some of my favorite things to can with fresh pineapple include crushed pineapple or using the juice in sweet & sour sauce, but with this batch of pineapples I decided to start with some Fresh Pineapple Jam and a Mixed Winter Fruit Marmalade, both recipes can be found at Simply Grateful Canning.

These recipes made only a dent in my pineapples, so I’ve got lots more things I can make, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

PS:  Happy New Year!

The Best Garden Gadget For Staking Tomatoes

Several weeks ago while at a garage sale I happened upon two bags of these garden clips.

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At first I almost didn’t get them.  They were $1.00 per pack after all and at the time I was happy with the way I had been staking my tomato plants.  I did buy them though thinking I could use them to quickly hook cucumber vines to the A-frame if nothing else.

Well, after my fiasco with using the twist ties to stake my tomato plants (see my post  Staking Tomatoes – A Near Devastating Mistake) and then using torn up sheets, I remembered I had these this morning and decided to give them a shot. Even though I staked my tomatoes just a little over a week ago, they have already become unruly and several of them were starting to topple over from the weight of the unstaked stalks that have grown well above the strips of sheet holding the plants to the stakes.

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Taking just a few with me to the tomato garden I found the plant that was in need of staking most and snapped a clip on it. OH MY GOSH!  That’s all it took.  Less than 5 seconds to grab on to the stalk, hold it against the stake, and attach the clip. No fighting with the stalk while I try tieing a flimsy piece of material around it and the stake, all the while doing my best not to allow the tomato plant to touch any of my bare skin because I get terrible hives from tomato plants. Nope, just straighten, hold, and clip.

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What a great invention.  These are definitely a garden-gadget-must-have for me!  I found several types of these on Amazon and have ordered three packs of 20 with 2 different sizes in them. They cost $4.94 per pack with free shipping, so I guess the $1.00 per pack of 15 was a phenomenal price. I won’t hesitate to pick these up again if I run across them in a garage sale.

I’m thinking once my pepper plants take off, which I’m hoping will be any time now, I can use these clips to keep their stalks in line with the stakes too.

This plant needed two clips because the main stalk split into a V and I left both to grow. Looks like I'll be needing another stake for this plant now.

This plant needed two clips because the main stalk split into a V and I left both to grow. Looks like I’ll be needing another stake for this plant now.

Sometimes it’s just a little thing that can make life easier, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Daily Grind – Breakfast Sausage

A few months ago I blogged about buying two new gadgets for the kitchen.  The first was a meat cuber/tenderizer and I have used this countless times already.  The second has been used just as much, probably more, but without the success of the cuber.

This second gadget — a meat grinder, was purchased so we could take advantage of the great price on pork butts that seems to be an almost weekly occurence lately.  Hubby and I researched various options and chose a grinder that was heavy-duty so we could grind the pork to make our own sausage.

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The first time we used the grinder we discovered that although heavy-duty and literally “heavy” it would not sit on the counter while we cranked the handle.  This led to us using several clamps to hold it firm while we worked. Next we found that the grinding plate with the smallest holes continually got jammed with fat when we tried using it. I read up on it online and found that putting the meat in the freezer for 45 minutes or more would make the process of going through the grinding plate easier.

I cut up the meat, put it in a pan, and tucked it in the freezer for an hour.  When we fed the partially frozen meat into the grinder, it was better, but still not very good.  The meat still jammed and we were getting quite frustrated.

In order for us to grind the meat, we had to use the grinding plate with the larger holes. We did this and the grinding process went much easier. When we used the meat in burgers that night however, I was not happy with the texture of it.  It was chunkier than I like and still had a good amount of grizzle that had not been ground up.

Because of all the trouble we had with the grinder, it became more of a thorn in my side than an asset.  I didn’t want to use it.  I didn’t want to make more work for myself.  The purpose of the grinder was to save us money on buying ground pork, but in the process what I had really done was make a lot more work for myself.

After letting the grinder sit for about a month, I finally recovered from the initial disappointment of our purchase and decided to suck it up and try again.

First I cut all the fat off the pork butt I planned on grinding.  Next I cut all the meat into 2 or 3 inch pieces and placed them in a bowl with the fat.  After an hour in the freezer I was ready to start grinding.  With the large hole grinding plate in place I began to slowly feed the pork into the grinder.  The meat slowly eased through the machine and produced a coarsely ground meat.  Once all the meat was done I began feeding the frozen fat through the machine. Fat is a necessary component of sausage, so grinding the fat along with the meat is a must.  About 3/4 of the way through the fat the machine began to jam.  I forced the remaining fat through as best I could then put all the ground meat and fat back into the bowl and returned it to the freezer.

While the meat cooled in the freezer I disassembled the grinder, removed all the unground grizzle and fat, discarded it, and then cleaned the grinder.  Once it was clean I reassembled it and removed the cold ground meat and fat from the freezer.

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With the clean grinder I began to feed the ground meat and fat through the machine again to grind the meat finer.  After all the meat and fat had been fed through for a second time I again disassembled and cleaned the grinder. Then I got out my food processor and began to process the ground product in small batches.  This ground the meat fairly fine, removing most chunks of meat and fat that might have gotten by the grinding blades in the grinder.

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This procedure of grinding twice and then processing with the food processor worked!  I made pork burgers one night and moussaka another with the ground product and everyone agreed it was as fine as ground pork from the store, but far tastier.  Success!

With the grinding process down, I decided to set to work on a recipe for homemade breakfast sausage.  After several attempts, this afternoon Grace confirmed that the recipe I ended up with is a keeper.

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

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8 lbs. Freshly Ground Pork Butt

3 Tbsp. Salt

3 tsp. White Pepper

6 tsp. Rubbed Sage

3/4 tsp. Ground Ginger

2 1/2 tsp. Nutmeg

3 tsp. Thyme

1 tsp. Dried Rosemary

12 Ounces Ice Water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.

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Mix well.

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I made small patties of the mixed sausage and fried them in a pan.

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I purchased a pork butt this morning for $1.19 a pound – 10 pounds.  After trimming, removing the bone, and grinding the meat we ended up with 8 pounds of meat. I used all of this for the sausage and now we have four bags with two pounds each in the freezer.  It works out to be less than 1/3 the cost of what breakfast sausage costs in the stores.

Although the process of grinding my own pork is not as easy as I first thought it would be, now that I have a procedure to work with the task isn’t as daunting. I don’t mind having to do a little work to save some money and produce ground meat that I believe is of a higher quality than can be bought at a grocery store. With fresh breakfast sausage ready for cooking in the freezer, my next task will be to test recipes for Polish sausage and begin learning how to stuff sausage in casings.

New gadgets are great, most of the time, especially when I finally get them to work the way I need them to, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Garbage Picking Treasures – Potting Bench Work Top

Sundays Hubby and I head out around 6:30 p.m. to cruise around our neighborhood in search of treasure. Monday morning is our garbage day, and with over 1,1oo homes in our subdivision, we have lots of curbside mountains of trash to survey.

For years garbage picking has saved us money and enabled me to get some things on my “Wish List” that would otherwise be out of the question. For Hubby’s business he has found at least 10 perfectly good toilets that were being thrown out because of bathroom remodels, 6 – 27″ or larger perfectly working televisions with remotes, 2 working vacuums, 3 office chairs, 2 lazy-boy recliners, and countless other odds and ends.

My favorite finds would be the 10′, 6′, and 4′ ladders, a brand new bolt of upholstery fabric that I used to make slip covers for the couches, tons of garden pots and planters, garden stakes, wood for garden frames, entertainment book shelves that we put in our garage for storage, a commercial vacuum, and a leather chair and ottoman.

Even after so many years of going out every Sunday night, it never ceases to amaze me the perfectly good things people throw out.  I’m not complaining, in fact, every week when we head out, both Hubby and I have our own little wish lists of things we hope someone just might be throwing out.

About a month ago while Hubby and I were on one of our Sunday night drives, we happened across a house that was obviously remodeling their kitchen.  The driveway was filled with cabinets, cut up linoleum, and counter tops.  As soon as I saw the counter top, I told Hubby to stop.  I knew right away what that would be perfect for.  Without hesitation, I popped the hatch on our truck and slid it into the back.

Last summer I bought a potter’s bench on clearance and have been using it all spring.  Trouble was that although the sunken top is great for keeping dirt from getting everywhere, it isn’t easy on the back when I have a lot of planting or other work to do.

Putting the counter top over the potter’s bench gave me a work space where I didn’t have to hunch over for long periods of time.

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Hubby cutting the counter piece in half and attaching some hinges, allows me to access the inside of the potter’s bench when necessary but still leaving me a work area.

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This garbage treasure works perfect for me and looks neat and clean, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.