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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More Info on the Wooden House





A while back I posted a film about a Latvian gentleman named Jacob who built his wooden house over the course of three years using timber he felled himself and old joinery techniques.  It's a beautiful home.  Here is another about it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Best Tiny House I've Seen Yet

Back when I was in high school I found a book at the library which really captured my imagination, and I brought it home several different times.  It was Rolling Homes: Handmade Houses on Wheels, by Jane Lidz. For a long time I wanted this book, and kept an eye on the copy that was for sale on Amazon for $74. It's since come down in price, but when I found it for $25 at Powell's, I grabbed it. So naturally I'm a huge fan of the Tiny House Movement and have been keeping an eye on that as well.

I'm also a huge fan of Ana White.  Ana makes furniture with her husband, and they put the plans out for everything they make on her site, www.ana-white.com for free. If you're in the least (and I do mean least) bit handy and need a piece of furniture you ought to look for it in her many designs, because there are a lot and they look pretty easy to put together. Lately, she and her husband have turned their collective hand to making tiny houses.

This house is not the fanciest or the most high-end finished I've seen, but it does incorporate a lot of really clever ideas I haven't seen anywhere else.  I especially like the elevator bed and have thought this a good way to get a bed in a small space without having to climb up stairs or a ladder (think: age in place), but my idea for getting it up and down was a lot more primitive. Using a garage door opener to get the job done was pretty ingenious.  There are other smart ideas as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why I'll Never Buy Commercial Deodorant Again

I've had this post in draft form since the middle of February of 2015, which tells me that I've been using the following homemade deodorant preparation for almost two years!  I used to be a 'clinical protection' antiperspirant user, but at close to eight dollars a throw every time I needed to buy it, it was quickly burning through my money because the clinical protection versions are very soft, which means you use them up quickly. Plus, I've found that they don't work nearly as well as the homemade stuff does. As my twenty-something niece told me after wearing it through a six-hour ballet rehearsal, "no stank!" (her words).

Anyway, I'll never go back to commercial deodorant again because this has saved me a ton of money and worked phenomenally over the course of two years, so consider this a gift from me to you.

For a 4oz jar:

4 T coconut oil (use the same grade you would eat: organic, virgin unrefined cold pressed)
4 T arrowroot powder
1 T baking soda (sodium bicarbonate [Arm and Hammer) which is aluminum free- important!)
3 drops  tea tree essential oil
7 drops patchouli essential oil
5 drops lemongrass essential oil
15 drops lavender essential oil

In a bowl over a pan of boiling water (or a double boiler if you have one), melt the coconut oil. Mix in the arrowroot powder and baking soda. Remove from heat and allow to cool to pudding consistency. Then mix in the essential oils and quickly get it into the jar because it's starting to harden at that point.

Helpful tips:

  • stir well at pudding stage because otherwise the arrowroot powder drops out of suspension and settles
  • the patchouli is an antibacterial EO so if you don't like the smell of tea tree oil, skip it and add more patchouli. I find that the patchouli oil, with the lemongrass and lavender go a long way to covering most of the tea tree oil
  • apply a pea-size amount to your underarms and rub in well.  then grab a tissue or hunk of toilet paper and blot the excess off to keep it off your clothes


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Soil Health Card

A quick post for those of you wanting to improve your soil (okay- everybody).  I found a nifty scorecard online that you can use to take visual tests of your soil to assess its health. Most soil tests only ascertain the alkalinity or acidity of a soil and the amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous in it, plus some other minerals like calcium.  You could have all this information and still have pretty crappy soil, though.

The test card helps you assess ground cover, penetration, infiltration, diversity of soil life, root development, soil structure, aggregate stability, earthworms, soil pH, and leaf color. There is also a separate test for soil microbes which involves rotting a piece of cotton fabric in the soil.  Pretty easy stuff, and it all happens with some home made tools which the soil health card tells you how to make (and even that is pretty easy).

It comes to us from the generosity of the good folks at New South Wales Agriculture and the (Australian) National Heritage Trust.

The 2017 Lineup

I mentioned in my last post that I have been making plans for redoubling my efforts to get more food out of the yard.  I want to definitely add rabbits this year (more on that in another post) but not until much later after I've got the garden going.

The first thing I did was order my seed for this year. After discovering that some vegetables that I like to grow and eat were part of the reason I was getting sick, I was disheartened and lost a lot of focus and interest in my garden. But Steve and I have recently discovered bok choi, which I bought on a whim, and lo and behold we really like it.  So now I'm going to try growing it and a few other asian and domestic vegetables we've never tried before and this prospect has me all fired up about gardening again.  I can't wait!

But to order the seed, I had to first decide which of the many catalogs I receive in the mail I'm going to actually use. I cut this list down to the below.


Then I wrote down all the seeds that interested me.  The things I need to know to make a decision is the vegetable, the variety, the seed company, the days to maturity (more on that later) and any features and benefits that interested me in the first place.

Then I wrote down all the information from all the different seed companies in alphabetical order of vegetable name so that I could choose the best of the lot, or in some instance, a close second. The seeds that I highlighted are the seeds that were chosen.

Pursuant to all this was the thought that I'd better start doing a better job of organizing and keeping my seed so I came up with a plan. I created a seed record card and I'll print one for every different variety I have. The seed will go in a quart freezer bag (because I currently have ton of these and won't have to buy anything) and the card will go in with it. Then all the seed will be organized by the month I need to start planting it. I mocked up a sample card for myself, and as I washed dishes or folded laundry, something else that would be good to have on the card suggested itself and I'd get up and write that down.  Here is what the final cards look like:
You can use this as a PDF from here if you like.  The idea is to print this on card stock or at least very thick paper and cut it into four cards. I split each of the plant and harvest dates into two because I figure I can squeeze ten dates each into the same space.  Five dates for some items is just not enough.  Obviously, this will necessitate re-writing the cards for next year, but all the pertinent information will be there including the results.  The other thing I plan to do with this is to get a days to maturity on those varieties where the seed company did not divest that information, and then I can carry that information forward to next year's card.

Days to maturity is probably the single most important thing to know about your seed variety, in my view.  It's right up there with who owns the seed company or where they source their seed, and whether it's F1 or OP or heirloom. Days to maturity is important because it could make all the difference on whether you get food out of your efforts or not. It's more important for those of us with short growing windows. Actually, the Willamette Valley where I live is pretty blessed with a long growing season, but that growing season is better suited to growing cabbage and kale than it is tomatoes and eggplant, and I want to be able to grow those hot weather vegetables and get food from them, so I need to make sure I'm getting early varieties.  Our summers are fairly unpredictable anymore.

The other reason you want short season varieties is that if you plan on doing any succession planting in the same spot, you'll have better luck if the first vegetable is well out of the way when it comes time to plant the new one. And lastly, the best reason for growing short season varieties is something I learned from Carol Deppe in her wonderful book The Resilient Gardener, which is that there were two major reasons that folks survived The Little Ice Age which started somewhere in the 1400's and finally ended in the 1850's: short season varieties and crop diversity.

And whereas the current climate change we're experiencing does not seem to be tipping us toward another little ice age (ask your local polar bear if you don't believe me), it did occur to me that the same strategy would probably work just as well for the climate changes we're all going to have to come to grips with eventually. And maybe not so eventually; climate change could be the reason our summers (and winters, for that matter) are becoming unpredictable.

At any rate, the bench in the garage where I usually start seed is all set up and ready to go.  I also have a new soil blocker and soil blocker tray from Johnny's Seeds to get seedlings off to a good start.  I've never used a soil blocker before, but the advantage to using soil blocks is that as the seedling roots grow to the edges of the block they are air pruned, so the root ball is concentrated; you don't have the roots hitting the sides of a pot and growing round and round. This way there is no transplant shock and the seeds are off to a rip roaring start once they're in the ground.  I'm always of a wait-and-see attitude, but even if all else fails, I won't be fiddling with trying to get a seedling out of a container, and that appeals a great deal.  Just dig a hole, plop in the seedling, soil block and all, tamp around it and water it in. It should be a lot easier on my back.

So- there it is: the 2017 lineup.  Tomorrow is the first of February, which means I can get started. I'll start on the 2nd and 3rd (because I'm still using planting by the moon to break up the work) and I'll plant: asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, chard, choi, endive, escarole, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, and peas.  On the 13th through the 18th I'll plant garlic and shallots , and start beets, carrots*, and onions.  I'm still on the fence about whether or not to plant potatoes, but if I do it will be in some sort of grow box; I am definitely not putting them in the ground. Potatoes are the gift that keeps on giving, and that'll be great if they are coming out of a grow box, but not so much if they are coming out of a part of the garden where I want to grow something else. Which is what usually happens.



* I know you're wondering about starting carrots because we all know you can't transplant carrots. I saw a guy on YouTube who does it in toilet paper tubes and then plants the whole tube, so I'm going to try it as well. This is just to get a head start on carrots; I'll direct sow when the soil warms up enough.









Sunday, January 15, 2017

Forced Simplicity

Last Monday, our television died.  Then the very next night, Tuesday, we received our fourth snowstorm of the season which had the very bad manners to bring Ice and his very good friend, a thirty-six hour power failure, with him.  So between the TV being dead and then the rest of the house being dead, we were subjected to a kind of forced simplicity, which was actually a little stressful. It didn't help that the brunt of the power failure took place on one of our fast days which is when we have only one meal for the day. We decided that if a power failure ever occurs on another fast day, that fast day is quickly going out the window, and that it truly is a good idea to include comfort foods in your emergency supplies. Now I get why. Things would have gone so much smoother if I just wasn't so damn hungry.  And I'll also plan better for what to do the next time. If I lose another game of gin to Steve I don't know what I'll do but my story will be cabin fever and I'll stick to it.

What is truly weird about this was the timing, because for the two previous nights we'd been watching How to Live a Simple Life with Peter Owen Jones.  I was more curious than anything when I decided we needed to see it because, this will not surprise you, I haven't made any real headway with my vow to buck the consumer economy, and I was beginning to suspect that the real problem stemmed from not simplifying our life enough.



What I mean by this is that I haven't simplified my needs; I'm still confusing my wants with my needs.  If I understand the concept of simplicity well enough, then to live simply means to live within your needs. Learn what is enough and then learn to live with enough. If you get this right, then somewhere in there you're supposed to discover your own happiness as well, because getting more stuff does not make you happy. Oh sure, I'll be happy when my shearling Birkenstock Bostons show up but that's because my toes are so freaking cold.  Could I make do with a much cheaper pair of slippers? Possibly, but most slippers do not come with a cork sole and Birkenstocks do, which is more insulating on this unheated stone floor that we have, and I'm not actually paying for these shoes. Steve won some serious brownie points at work and the most sensible thing he found he could do with the award money (which isn't actually cash) was to order some Zappos gift cards, so I'm getting new slippers and a much needed new winter jacket for free, which, as we all know, is my favorite price. (Actually, I like it better if you pay me to take something off your hands, but that's all part of the negotiation, n'est-ce pas?).

And yes, I'm one of those doom and gloomers who thinks that life is going to get very difficult very soon, so I am hoping to learn to live simply sooner so that I'll be used to it later when everyone else is forced into simplicity. I seriously hope that I'm wrong here, but I don't think I am and I, for one, want to get ahead of this curve because it's going to be a doozy.

So in the meantime between now and the great Forced Simplicity, I need to get my needs understood.  And I need to learn to live within them.




The European Cookie Notice

It's been awhile since I last posted and I finally have something to share with you but things have changed since I last posted, most notably Google told me that due to some European law I have to tell you about cookie use on my blog.

I don't use cookies.  If Google is using cookies to track what you are doing on my blog, that's their thing and they can tell you all about it as far as I'm concerned.

Not sure if this covers my obligation or not, but it will have to do.

But since I want my own privacy respected, I'll certainly respect yours, and just know that I am not tracking anything.

You're welcome.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

What I Did With My Saturday

Click on the pic for
better clarity
Saturday the 24th I went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in Canby, Oregon with my buddy Rae and her friend Jodi.  I've never been to one of these and have always wanted to go, so I canceled a kitchen painting date with another friend (my kitchen- I don't think Stephanie minded much) and said yes I'd go.

It was largely dominated by women- no surprise there- but there was a reasonable representation from the other half of humanity, which was a surprise. Most of the vendors were women, who owned their own businesses- yarn goods, specialty fibers like tencel and silk, raw wool sellers, lots of rovings sellers, special dyed and combined batts, dye, weaving suppliers...all kinds of things.

Then there were fiber animals.  French and English angora rabbits, goats, sheep, alpacas and llamas. The ram here to the right was a super mellow fellow, but Rae discouraged me from patting him anywhere on the top of his head as it encourages the animal to butt. Better to scratch under their chins.

Curiously, there was no sheep or herding dog competition, presumably because the fairgrounds are pretty small.

Upstairs in the sheep hall they had the various competitions' entries.  Some of the entries were really stunning, but the entry that swooped everything and got best in show was this amazing felted hat.  A very Jules Verne-looking octopus at that. Isn't it amazing? Then at the far end of the hall they had an enormous poster of all the different fiber animals with their pictures. I had no idea there were so many.  If you were interested in starting a fiber business and wanted to raise animals for that purpose you could literally do it anywhere, north and south poles excepted, of course.  Even if all you had was an apartment, you could still raise angora rabbits in your apartment.

So by now you're wondering, well where are you going with this?  Did you buy some rabbits or a goat or something?  No,  but I did come home with a very pretty drop spindle and several bits and pieces of rovings, specialty fibers, and acid dye. None of which I needed, I know, but this is for a productive hobby.  It'll keep me off the streets and out of the pool halls, and when I'm done I can use it for another productive hobby- knitting.   However, as you can see from my example here, I still have a lot to learn.

But I'm finally spinning! Yay! New skill!

Boro Chair

Many years ago a high school buddy of mine moved to San Francisco and while living there, she trash-picked a chair off the curb, which she gave to me.  I've always really liked this chair; it's smallish, and it fits my short body well.  It's the chair of choice for me when spending time in the living room, and set up next to the table and floor lamp, it's comfortable for spending a few hours on hand work.

So I was pretty dismayed when a visiting house guest left a damp towel on it and ruined the silk upholstery. And I was even more dismayed to find that the casual way Steve had occasionally sat on it, legs spread well before him, had split the upholstery across the front of the seat.  Clearly, it needed repair.

While fretting about how to fix this I ran across boro. Boro is an ancient Japanese practice of patching things. Rural peasants in Japan didn't have enough money to run out and have new clothes made, so they patched what they had, and when that wore out, they patched the patches.  Then they handed down these garments and their new owners patched them. as well, and handed them down again. Consequently, there are examples of these garments in museums.

(Click on the photo for a clearer picture.)

 Some folks have discovered Boro and are using it for fiber arts. I particularly liked this one.
Still others use it freeform for patching, or just expressing where they are right now.

Boro seemed ideal for covering my chair. It had several advantages, chief of which was the fact that I already had the fabric on hand.  The second advantage was that if and when an area wears out or splits on the boro upholstery, all I have to do is patch it!

Last spring I got started on this project, and I've been at it steadily since then.  There are two items that I found invaluable while doing this.  The first item you need is a curved needle, like they use in upholstery and surgery, the only difference being the size and sterilization of one over the other.  But you'd need a curved needle for both events for the same reason; once you stick that needle in, you certainly want it to come back out!  There's no putting your hand behind your work to catch a needle in upholstery or surgery, so the needle needs to curve so that it comes back out of your work.  

The other thing I found invaluable was a flexible rubber thimble from Clover.  The thimble has a metal end but rubber sides, which came in very hand for both pushing the needle through and pulling it out.  I'm not going to lie to you; pushing the needle through a couple layers of denim and the original upholstery fabric was hard work, and my hands could only stand adding two to three patches a day.  I also found that I couldn't do it after doing the dishes, because my skin had softened up too much.

Finally, after roughly six months of doing this off and on, I finally finished the chair. Friday I removed the chair from its sawhorses and put rolled up towels on them, and then flipped the chair so that I could access the bottom.   Then I tacked down all the fabric that hung below the edge of the chair. 

Then I tacked on a dust cover, much to my relief.  This chair never had a dust cover on it since the day I got it, and various stringy things hung down from it which always looked dreadful. Not any more!

Later this week I'll take the chair out to the garage and clean up the legs with some odorless mineral spirits (although who thinks they're odorless is a good question because they are not), then touch up the stain and then finish it with some wipe-on polyurethane.

All done!

* I don't know where I found the first three pictures, but they are not mine.  If this is your picture and you want it removed or credited properly, I will gladly do that.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Merger News and What It Means to Me

So have you heard the news?

Monsanto is selling itself to Bayer for somewhere between $57 and $66 billion dollars, depending on whose reporting you believe.  You can believe in any case that should this deal come to pass, we are all, and I mean we in the global sense, not we in the homesteading bunch sense, we are all in trouble.

So why is this a scary deal? These articles from Vox, Common Dreams, and The Wall Street Journal all explain it better than I can.

The articles also indicate that there were other agribusiness giants who merged recently, and that was news that largely went uncovered.

I guess I'd better get more serious about saving seed.  And, in light of the fact that I just found out that my new favorite bush bean, Wyatt, was produced by Harris Moran, which is another large (but not giant) seed company, I'll be looking into heirloom seeds for next year's seed purchases.  I'll also look at Seeds From Italy, who is the only US distributor of Franchi seeds.  Franchi is the oldest family-owned seed company in Italy, and is a member of the Safe Seed Initiative, which means that they are pledged to never knowingly buy or sell genetically modified seeds or plants.  I also like Franchi because they are generous with their seed, it germinates extremely well, and I find them to be a good value.

I guess this also means that I'll have to get more serious about growing more of our food.

I'll be honest; learning I have an auto-immune disorder and that I can't eat a great many vegetables that I love to grow and eat really affected me.  It kind of blew all the wind out of my homesteading sails, which is why I haven't written much this year, probably because I haven't grown much this year.  In February I had an expensive (as in $580 out of pocket) series of blood tests that told me what I can and can't eat, and a lot of favorite vegetables were on the Can't list.  I can't eat cooked onions (or shallots or leeks) but I can eat cooked and raw garlic (thank God for one allium!); I can't eat summer or winter squash, which is a huge bummer because I loved to grow both. Now there's no point.  I can't eat Brussels sprouts (so I guess I can quit worrying about trying to grow them- I never could get it right) but I can eat broccoli and cabbage. However, they didn't test kale, or kohlrabi, or other brassicas. They also didn't test turnips or rutabagas, or parsnips, or fennel, or a whole bunch of other stuff, which means that once I get my symptoms under control, on which I've been working since getting the tests done, I can try testing other vegetables to see how I react to them, with the intention of growing anything that it turns out I can eat.

But yeah- Monsanto and Bayer merging means that food costs are likely to go up in the future. They are anyway, but this will help push that eventuality along.

Makes me glad I have some of my own soil to root around in.