My Unruly Garden 2015: Drought Garden

This year we decided to cut back on our usual garden pursuits. I had spent the last year very ill with Crohn’s disease and trying my best to take care of a baby and a blossoming Kindergartner. That took everything out of me, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that even watering a garden once a day was too much to ask. Elias also spent a long month trapped in a cast after breaking his elbow, and during that time the garden was off-limits. We played outside in the front yard with a gaggle of neighborhood kids, or had outdoor playdates, instead. If he went in the backyard he would sit in his unfilled pool and cry. The playing in the backyard meant playing in the water, and that was forbidden with a cast. I watered my potted plants sparingly and only when Elias napped. The garden basically didn’t exist during that long, hot month.

The drought made the prospect of growing a garden a wager I wasn’t willing to gamble. Even with a fancy water-wise drip irrigation system we had lackluster success with bell peppers and full-sized tomatoes. Our cherry tomatoes came in like gangbusters but they require dedicated watering, as does the pumpkin crop we’ve always had great success with. I didn’t want to sacrifice what little water we had on crops that may or may not turn out, and I felt that it was time to give the forever-thirsty pumpkin crop a break. I didn’t have the watering ability in me, and I didn’t want to dedicate resources to plants that might never fruit. This year, it wasn’t worth it.

But that didn’t mean we didn’t want a garden! We very much did. Instead we focused on native plants, drought-tolerant stuff, and our modest, low-maintenance container garden. I missed the cherry tomatoes all summer long, they most likely would have died from inattention due to my illness or Elias’. In May we planted a gargantuan amount of poppy, marigold, and sunflower seeds. Anthony and the kids cleared the weeds from the beds and prepared the soil while the kids and I planted the seeds and watered. We lavished them with attention for three and a half weeks. Nothing happened. Not one sprout appeared.

I’ve gone over and over it and the only conclusion I can come up with is that we were too late. By the time we got them in the ground it was already too hot and too dry, in the middle of May, for the seeds to germinate. The signs were there. We should have planted in late March, or early April in the latest, when our hummingbird friend arrived. I’ve never, never started a garden that early before, but this is the shift of the climate in action. It is real. And it is scary.

The poppies surprised us. Although we couldn’t coax any of the seeds to sprout, we had, and continue to have, a riot of poppy blooms all summer long. Our poppy crop from the year before did not disappoint and it managed to reseed itself for this summer. I’m confident that’s what happened because they are all last year’s variety (Cup o’ Gold) in places I didn’t cover with this year’s seed. This year I planted California poppies and Copperpot poppies–no Cup o’ Gold. I’m hoping all those seeds we spread will bloom next year or maybe this fall, so we won’t have to miss out on the orange and reddish poppies.

After an initial burst of blooming like wildfire in our flowerbed, the rest of the poppies seem to enjoy popping up in the barren wasteland that is our lawn. The patch of scrubby earth resembles the head of balding man: bare in the middle, still stubbornly clinging to life on both sides.  We have watered our backyard exactly zero times this summer. After years of repeated failed attempts at growing a lawn (and finally discovering a sprinkler failure was to blame this whole time) we no longer had the will or the funds to pump into the project anymore. And since learning of the severity of the drought, it seemed immoral to try. Since our poppies seem to live the barren lawn so much, maybe next year I’ll sow the whole thing over with poppies.

The kids still had a great time playing in our failed garden, before and after the month Elias spent in a cast, that is. It wasn’t beautiful to look at but it was ours, and Isobel was used to the cycle of living and dying plants from helping me with the container garden. There is always next year and always more plants to look forward to. Isobel really understood the power of the drought and how it affects her on a daily basis.

Elias was just thrilled he was allowed to use a shovel.

Though we did lose some plants the container garden did well overall, and we nursed it through these past hot months with greywater from the kiddie pool or the dishes or the remnants of water from cups and glasses and reusable water bottles. Isobel loves the experience of going out on the patio and plucking a basil or oregano leaf off the plant and popping it into her mouth. Our garden is limited by the drought, but we have still found a way to savor it.

We’ve still had plenty of backyard fun:

  • endless bubbles
  • mud (or even just sand) cooking
  • drawing in our nature field journals
  • reading books about plants to plants
  • making endless fairy houses
  • learning about new types of insects and plants
  • drawing with chalk
  • playing in the kiddie pool and sprinkler
  • laying out a blanket and looking at clouds
  • listening for birds
  • stargazing with a telescope
  • playing with the cats
  • archery
  • kicking a ball around in a sportlike fashion
  • sword fighting


The Best Craft Supplies To Look For While Thrifting

If you love crafting, or know someone who does, or even just want to amass a collection of supplies to keep on hand but don’t want to spend a lot of money, I have good news for you. Thrift stores are treasure troves of abandoned craft supplies, forgotten specialty art items, and overflowing with unwanted items from the junk drawer. I’ve compiled a list of the best craft and art items that are frequently and easily found secondhand. I have come across these over and over over my thrifting travels, from yard and estate sales to thrift stores, and without much trouble, you will, too. While you probably won’t come across all of these all at once, a few trips out should yield a decent thrift haul.


Get quality stuff for pennies with these frequently-found items.

Sequins & Glitter: Finding sequins and glitter at thrift stores and especially, yard and estate sales, is both a blessing and a curse. Aside from the difficult clean-up, they are great things to find while thrifting because they make art projects extra special, and my daughter personally cannot get enough of that sparkly stuff. Although I’ve spotted them both at thrift stores, I seem to come across them most often at yard and estate sales, probably because people probably throw them out rather than haul them to a donation center, but will bring them out if the sale is at home. I have had people give bags of them to Isobel for free, whether they were charmed by her or simply desperate to get rid of them, I’ll never know. But I love having both of them on hand to give a craft that something extra.

Pencils: I’m going to go full-blown curmudgeon on this topic and complain that they just don’t make pencils like they used to. I’m sure this is true in a literal sense, but I think it’s true also in a matter of quality. If you find a collection of pencils from ten or twenty years ago or more, jump on it. They are superior in every way. (Now is the point in my life where I realize I have strong opinions about pencils. Life is full of wonder!) Color pencils are also dumped en masse at thrift stores and I either grab them by the handful or just select a few colors, depending on our craft box’s need.

Watercolors: Watercolors are the safest bet when it comes to paints in a thrift store. No matter their age they can be revived with a splash of water and a flick of the brush. They never get (too) old.

Crayons: You can find crayons by the bag full and in varying condition while thrifting. Sometimes they can be in great, almost new condition, and sometimes you’ll find a colorful bag of wax stumps. Both have their uses! The stumps are perfect for crafts that require crayon bits or shavings. I am personally stashing away crayon nubs in order to melt and make new crayons. We go through crayons at an alarming rate in this house, so I pick them up, especially if they are in good condition, whenever I see them.

Construction & Specialty Paper: I have a theory that whenever you find a large stack of construction paper in the thrift store it’s because a grade school teacher just earned his or her retired wings. In addition to reams of construction paper I’ve also found a lot of specialty paper, particularly scrap booking paper.

Canvases: Okay, you might find a nice blank canvas once in a blue moon while thrifting, but that doesn’t mean you are entirely out of luck. If you want a canvas to paint on for practice, or to give to a child, or to add a monster to, you are in luck. Every thrift store I’ve ever been to has a wall or a corner or some space filled with super cheap terrible paintings that, for only a few bucks, could be painted over and given a new lease on life. You can get some really large canvases for pennies this way, and hey, it comes with a frame, too!

Doilies: Although you can easily find crocheted doilies at thrift stores, I’m actually referring to paper doilies. I am not sure why I always find them while thrifting–maybe leftovers from a restaurant or someone’s fancy lunch?–but they are there all the time. Usually the packages aren’t full but they are cheap cheap cheap, and my daughter L-O-V-E-S them. She likes to use them for Valentine cards.

Yarn: Chances are you aren’t going to find hand-spun merino wool in a thrift store, though you never know if you are hitting up a hardcore knitter’s yard sale while they are trying to de-stash. Most often you will come across the synthetic stuff they sell at the big box craft store, which is great for kid craft projects, beginners, and this kind of activity.

Fabric Scraps: You can certainly find significant yardage at a thrift store on occasion, but I can almost always spot a bag of scraps and fabric remnants. Great for quilters or patchwork crafts or making ridiculous doll clothing. All kinds of uses, really. Super fun.

Sea Shells: The wide popularity of beachy-decor means you can frequently find bowls and bags of shells, ripe for the crafty pickings.

Beads: We’ve found all sorts of fun beads, from tiny perfect seed beads to large, chunky wooden ones. Old necklaces are also great to cannibalize for parts.

Scrapbooking Supplies: Scrapbooking paper, stickers, and embellishments are abundant in thrift stores and especially yard sales where it seems someone has over bought and needs to rid themselves of the excess. And that stuff ain’t cheap.

Scissors: I don’t quite find them every time I go thrifting, but I’ve found them in such number and in many different kinds I wanted to include them here. I’ve found sewing shears, tiny embroidery scissors, kids’ metal safety scissors, and sharp kitchen kinds. Good scissors can be expensive, and the vintage ones in good condition are worth their weight in gold. Check for rust, how smoothly they open and close, and sharpness.

Rubber Stamps: These can also be pricey in stores and are super fun. I have some cute vintage ones but more often I find new ones that have probably been donated in a fit of decluttering. Isobel really loves stamping. It’s good, messy fun.

Incomplete Vintage Craft Projects: I love finding these! Usually it will be contained in a plastic bag and come with all the things you need to finish the craft. I found a fantastic pair of scissors in a bag for an embroidery project. Often these projects will be super cheap because they are already in some stage of completion. They are a fab find even if you have no interest in completing the project because you can cannibalize the parts. I particularly love finding half-completed macrame and embroidery.

Paint Brushes: We do a lot of painting over here, and use a lot of different kind of paints. I like finding the cheap plastic brushes for the baby but I’ve also found really nice, unused horsehair brushes for me.

Fake Flowers: Fake flowers have a ton of crafty uses and stores are positively littered with them. I like the plastic vintage kind from the 60s, while Isobel prefers anything pink or rose-shaped.

Buttons: Buttons are super fun to use in crafts, and I’m always on the look out for vintage buttons to add to my collection.

Classroom Stuff: In addition to the plethora of construction paper and sets of thirty safety scissors, I often see other items in thrift stores that had to have come from the classroom. I purchased one of those old pull-down class room maps at a yard sale years ago (haven’t found a spot for it yet!), but I’ve seen things like transparencies, worksheets, plastic shapes, and other fun stuff.


Not craft supplies per se, but stuff that will enhance your thrifted crafting experience.

Aprons: I often see kids craft aprons while thrifting, and I found one I use just for crafts there, too. Isobel’s is pink and white gingham and covers the front, back and most of the sides. (You can see it peeking out in the photo above.) It’s adjustable and has saved her wardrobe as this kid has only craft mode: messy.

Tablecloths: I bought a couple plastic-covered tablecloths at a thrift store specifically to use for covering the table during painting or any craft involving glitter. When we done I can take it outside and hose it off and dry it in the sun.

Place Mats: I grew up with an endless rotation of plastic place mats. They aren’t fashionable anymore, which means you can find really awesome vintage ones over-populating thrift stores. They are wipe-able and cheap, and as such perfect for messy activities that don’t need full table coverage, such as play dough and markers.

Craft Books: In addition to supplies, you can find craft instruction and inspiration in the many craft books found while thrifting. My personal favorite are the the vintage paper crafts books–I have found some dating as far back as the 40s!–but there are so many different wonderful kinds of craft books to choose from. From general arts and crafts projects, like parties and kids arts and crafts to books on a specific topic including crewel patterns, crafting, needle work, and sewing, there are so many craft books languishing in dusty boxes in the back of a thrift store that could use a good home. Most of the time I like to keep them on hand for inspiration, but sometimes Isobel and I will use the books to plan future projects. This is what people did before Pinterest, and I love that these old projects look new to me as they haven’t become over-saturated by being on the internet. And books, even hardback books, are typically among the cheapest items in a book store, even in national chains like Goodwill.

Craft Supply Organization: I turned to thrift stores to find organization for all my thrift store finds. It’s a problem that solved itself!


Sometimes you can get great deals on these, but they also come with a certain amount of risk. Buyer beware!

Stamp Pads: On the one hand, stamp pads are great because they are refillable. On the other hand, if you were planning on doing a project with your new stamps as soon as you got home, finding out your new stamp pad is bone-dry is a bummer.

Coloring Books: I haven’t had much luck on the vintage coloring book front, and though we have found cheap, mostly unused coloring books while thrifting, I personally can’t see the point now that we do this.

Pens: Cool vintage pens are often empty vintage pens. (Though, if you find a fantastic one, an ink refill could work nicely.)

Stickers: New stickers aren’t much of a gamble, but on more than one occasion Isobel and I have been burned by old stickers that have long run out of adhesive.

Paint: All paint, aside from watercolors, is a buyer beware item. Frequently the paint is dried beyond resuscitation or the chemicals have started to separate. There are always exceptions to this rule, but be suspicious.

Tape: See the problem with stickers.

Felt-tip Pens and Markers: Between those that leak and those that have dried up, it’s often not worth the trouble.

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