Posted in DIY

When coronavirus hit, we built a patio gym

You could say I was a regular at Planet Fitness. But when the pandemic hit — even before closing by state ordinance, I stopped going, just to be safe.

I was stranded without a gym to work out in. At first, unsure how long this outbreak was going to last, I made do with what I had. I started running around the neighborhood, and hastily cobbled together equipment with stuff I had lying around. That worked fine — for about a week.

Then my partner suggested to me that we build out a real home gym. It had been something was had talked about before, and this seemed like the perfect motivation to actually go forward with it. When that stimulus money came in, it was on!

The first step was making the space more accommodating. The patio was in pretty rough shape, especially the concrete slab. Since we’re on a budget, we couldn’t jackhammer the whole thing and re-pour. We did the next best thing, which was the grind down the ridges, and fill in the cracks.

At this point, we also started getting some basic, compact equipment. Evidently, everyone had the same idea about outfitting a home gym, so equipment was scarce. We were both interested in calisthenics, so we started with a jump rope, some resistance bands, a bosu ball and some gymnastics rings.

Second only to a trip-free floor, a comfortable space was most important. Being in Phoenix, heat is the number one enemy. Our answer to that was shade. We had the idea to enclose the patio with a slatted wall and barn doors, that match a wall we had done earlier.

The walls were repetitive, but easy. On the other hand, the barn doors were a bit of a bear. We really pleased with how they turned out, however.

With the space all closed in, it was back to the floor. Every gym needs a durable, yet flexible surface that can handle heavy weights and equipment, yet be gentle on creaky old knees and ankles. We settled on a rolled flooring from Rubber Flooring Inc. It’s tough, affordable, easy to work with, and from a local company.

Thanks to some steady stalking of several fitness equipment companies and Amazon, we were able to acquire the keys pieces we needed. This included a dumbbell rack (even a few dumbbells!), a squat rack, and a few plate weights.

That was plenty to keep us going, though we did later add some cardio equipment – a small treadmill and a Wahoo Kickr for my road bike. You can see those here, along with a recap of the entire build:

It’s been a year since we started this project, and it’s been one of the best ideas we have had. I do not miss the gym at all, and it is so much easier for me to show up, when all I have to do is step outside our back door.

Posted in Gardening

You CAN grow mushrooms outdoors in the desert Southwest!

A while back, I spotted some of my local gardening friends on social media successfully growing mushrooms, by adding the spawn to their raised beds. The mushrooms would poke their way out, between the wooden boards. That gave me the idea to re-create this environment, but make it even better for mushrooms.

After rummaging through the scrap pile, I scavenging some 2x4s for a frame, thin slats for the sides, and a couple pieces of plywood, for the bottom, and a lid. It only took about an hour to tack it together.

Part one: background and building the crate

It took a while for it to get cool enough for what I thought would be ideal for growing mushrooms. Then, I populated the crate with a lasagna of wet cardboard and craft paper, mushroom spawn (from North Spore), and compost.

Part two: populating the mushroom crate, and early harvests

The experiment went so well, I got a few successive flushes, and had to come up with all sorts of ways to cook and store the mushrooms. I also got some good tips from friends about how to make it even better, and other outdoor growing beds to try out.

The experiment is ongoing, as I figure out how to protect the mushrooms in the tree well, determine how long they’re going to keep producing, and consider the next varieties to try in the crate, come Fall.

The cool folks over at North Spore hooked me up a coupon code! So if you want to try a mushroom grow yourself, just follow this link, and use code SHOESTRINGMARTHA for 10% off.

If you want to read even more about the whole shebang, be sure to check out the interview they did with yours truly.

Posted in Gardening

Grow your own grain: amaranth

My first memory of amaranth was as a child, as my mom toting me along to her weekly trip to the hippie natural foods store. The products were labeled with all sorts of things I’d never heard of — including amaranth. I just loved sounding the name in my head. Once I got my greedy little hands on some carob-coated honeycomb or some such, I had forgotten all about it.

Fast forward to adult me, deep into gardening, who bought some seeds that promised to be easy to grow in our extreme summer heat, and looked gorgeous, decked out in fiery red plumes.

I have been growing it every since. Partially because I enjoy it so much, but also because it self-seeds so readily. Every season, I think, “I don’t think I’ll sow amaranth this year,” only to find it popping up in some random corner of the garden.

Here’s how I grow it, and what I do with the grain:

Later on, especially when the stores shelves were wiped out of wheat flour, I started thinking about using it as an alternative flour. I knew that it’s often used in many cuisines, as well as by people who eat gluten-free. So I tried my hand at grinding into flour, and using it in a few basic recipes.

This year, I told myself again that I am not sowing amaranth, but after I top-dressed the garden with our compost, guess what’s popping up all over the place!

Posted in DIY

The Coolest hangout in the neighborhood

In this series, we transform our sad, barren slab, with no seating and scattered with outdoor cooking gear into an elegant and functional entertaining space. We managed to fit an L shaped outdoor kitchen, including a smoker, grill, and bar onto a mere 13’x13′ foot space.

Neither of us had any experience framing, especially with steel. Lumber prices are so high now, we had no choice but the figure it out — even if it took some trial and error.

We added the cementboard next, but that step went so quickly, it’s included in the last video.

After that, it was time for the concrete countertop — another intimidating prospect — be we got it done. The process wasn’t easy, but the results were even better than expected.

In the third installment, we go back in time to share the cementboard process, and go forward with the final touches. Installing the BBQ accessories ranged from super easy to total pain in the butt! We also added some very simple drainage for the drinks trough.

Finally, tile. LOTS of tile.

Most of the accessories we used are available on Amazon:

Mophorn Outdoor Kitchen 14W x 20H Inch Wall Construction Stainless Steel Flush Mount for BBQ Island, 14inch x 20inch, Single Door with Vents

HEADS UP! The opening was too narrow for a standard propane tank. It was too late to return it, so we ended up just buying a smaller tank. Bonehead move, but we made it work. But just so you know, most propane tanks won’t fit through this door.

Mophorn BBQ Access Door 20W x 14H Inch, Horizontal Single BBQ Door Stainless Steel, Outdoor Kitchen Doors for BBQ Island, Grilling Station, Outside Cabinet

Mophorn 18×20.5 Inch Outdoor Kitchen Drawers Stainless Steel with Handle for BBQ Island, 18 x 20.6 x 12.7 Inch

The bar sink / drink trough is from Overstock

If you want to see a quick overview of the whole project, including a cost breakdown, check out the recap.

Since the build, we have been using this space all the time. It really is our favorite neighborhood hangout. Cool, casual vibes, the food is great, the drinks are cheap, and the company can’t be beat.

Posted in DIY

A Simple, affordable faux concrete wall

When I first finished it (after many, many hours of work) I adored the stencil wall in our bathroom. Two years later, the bloom is off the rose. We were looking for something much more simple and industrial.

We settled on a concrete look wall, and spent hours researching different techniques. They all came to a dead end, when they relied on a ridiculously expensive or unattainable product, or the results looked shoddy, or the technique was super complicated.

At last, we came across a video about something else entirely, when the creator off-handedly did a treatment on a new bathroom wall that looked just like what we wanted, and it seemed easy enough. The product he used is Henry Feather Finish, available at most big box hardware stores, and costs under $20!

However, his instructions were pretty vague, so it was up to us to figure it out. Here’s how it went:

Our faux concrete wall finish video

If your can’t find FeatherFinish at your Home Depot or Lowe’s, it’s available on Amazon.