Saturday, May 31, 2008

Watermelon Rind Chopped up for Composting

Compost isn't generally thought of as beautiful but I think this pile of diced watermelon rind is gorgeous. We dice larger compost items so that they break down more quickly.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Planting Tomatoes

At Ramshackle, some plants have a tendency to linger in pots. It doesn't take long to put a plant in the ground, but often the poor plants awaiting a transplant get pushed to the back of the line in the constant triage of living/life activities. I put these tomato plants near the kitchen door to keep them on my radar. Nothing like guilt to serve as a motivator. This morning, the dishes remained dirty, the toys scattered.

Today is a triumphant day for the tall heirloom Carpasian and the smaller Roma, a gift from a friend. Now, if I could just remember to water them.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Make a Box Kite

This fine flyer was made in one evening with the family. We used materials that we had on hand: drawing paper from a scroll, packing tape, cast off wood scraps near the saw, and markers to decorate. Eric bought the string.

The construction was surprisingly easy. It's not rocket science, but we looked for guidance from some rocket scientists at NASA.

The winds were fierce at Ventura's Emma Wood State Beach, but the kite sailed high.

In the end, the dirt was most compelling.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thrifted Viking Range

The coveted Viking range. I have been obsessing over the Viking range for a very long time. I pour over the specs and dream of the range that would work best for Camp Ramshackle. However, the hefty price tag of the quality Viking products creates a high bar for ownership.

Imagine my surprise when Eric and I stumbled upon this beauty at the consummate thrift shop, St. Vincent de Paul. Viking lust answered! Sadly, some early riser beat us to it. The range had a big "sold" sign on top. All I have to say is, you lucky duck.

Note to self: research Viking repair for future acquisition. Who knows with this kind of luck maybe I'll find mine on the side of the road.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Catching Lizards

Correction: The lizard pictured is an alligator lizard, not a skink. I thought alligator lizards were a kind of skink until recently.

Eric is a great lizard catcher. He's kind of become our own Jane Goodall of lizards in the Ramshackle jungle. This fine specimen is a skink, which Eric suspects is pregnant. These lizards have a wicked bite. Once they latch on to you, they don't often let go. Eric has mastered the catch. I fear that I may have cursed us by writing that last sentence. If Eric loses a finger to a lizard, rest assured I will share the gruesome tale here.

This skink, however, just fell out of the oak tree while Eric was turning the compost. And surprisingly, it lost part of it's tail in the fall.

This picture doesn't show the slight tail twitch, a final complaint as it leaves the body behind.


Monday, May 26, 2008

The Simple Pleasures of a Long Weekend

Exploring new trails of familiar hikes in the Arroyo Seco.

Hiding and seeking on the trail.

A spectacular dinner at Elf on Sunset.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fledgeling - Common Yellowthroat?

"Dad I found a bird!"

Right now there are many young birds fledging around our house. This one had either just fledged or was blown out of its nest by the high winds. If you look close you can see the poop still stuck to it's feet from the nest. It fluttered down on the ground while we were taking the pictures and we realized that we had to move it or it would die for sure. I put it up as high as I could reach into the oak tree where it immediately flew into some bushes on our neighbor's side of the fence. I watched and listened to it's parents taking care of it while I was chopping the plum tree down. I hope it makes it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tree removal -

I finally took down the dead plum tree in our yard today. Our extension cords weren't long enough to get to it with our electric chainsaw so rather then borrowing one from the neighbors I just decided go at the rotten rotten wood with an ax.

It only took about 15 minutes to get to this point where I was able to push it down with my hands. That's the trick with cutting down trees. You cut it from both sides until you get a little hinge-like section in th middle. Choose the alignment of the hinge to get the tree to fall where you want it to. You cannot defy gravity (a leaning tree will not fall the other direction) but, combined with clearing as many of the top branches as possible beforehand, this is a very effective method for landing the tree where you want without too much damage. Just keep cutting until you get it to the point where it cracks a little when you push on it. Once you push it past the point of no return, get out of the way and yell "Timber!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bee in Matilija Poppy

I caught this bee working in a Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) on a hike in the Arroyo Seco. Check out those legs laden with nectar.

Eric and I planted a Matilija poppy at the Ramshackle compound in fall. Despite it's resilient and aggressive reputation, the young poppy plant was no match for the construction crew next door who repeatedly beat the plant with rocks, moved dirt and water bottles. I love these plants--the bright color, the crepe paper petals, and long leafy stems. I hope the next one we plant takes hold.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Honey from Live Wire Farm

We just received 12 delicious ounces of Live Wire Farm honey. My mistake is I should have bought 24 ounces. This stuff is good!

I learned of Live Wire Farm through their exquisite timber products and hooks. I have aspirations to make hooks from the olive trees at Ramshackle.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Graywater Ramshackle style

Here at Camp Ramshackle everyone enjoys an outdoors bath. These two lizards come down from their nearby olive tree to get their fill nearly every time now. While we would love to install a full fledged graywater system, we are not there yet. In the meantime we do the best we can with what we've got. The outdoor baths coincide conveniently with the dry season so that the plants near our house rarely get anything other than recycled water.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Iron Bed and Lamp

Julia snapped this shot of our bed and lamp. The bed is a simple vintage iron frame from around the turn of the century. We like the no frills style but maybe more than that we like that it is made from simple, honest, durable materials. With a coat of wax applied every decade or two, this bed frame will likely last many more centuries.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Radio Flyer Roadside Score

The ubiquitous red Radio Flyer wagon is now part of the Ramshackle fleet. Cobwebs included! The flyer was found with a big "FREE" sign on it on the streets of Sierra Madre. I especially love the graphic of the downhill racer. I'm sure my young children will figure that out all too soon.

Note to self: register for first aid course.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blooming Bush Anemone

Bush anemone, Carpenteria californica, in bloom at the Ramshackle compound.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Small Organic Home Garden

Does starting a vegetable garden seem too overwhelming? You might consider getting a jump start with a master gardener lending a hand. Our neighbors and friends Jessica and Carl Bronson worked with Homegrown LA to create this beautiful vegetable garden.

Carl used his brawn and smarts to create the raised beds. And Homegrown LA supplied the plants and gardening know-how, including the strategic planting of plants for natural pest control.

And a praying mantis sack.

Even their daughter enjoys eating salads now, knowing that she has watched them grow.

American gothic, Carl and Jessica.

Jessica's inspirational pottery.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Restaurant Supply in Los Angeles - Surfas

Surfas in Culver City is a great afternoon destination. The restaurant supply store has been owned and operated by the same family since 1937. I learned about it through a member of the Los Angeles Mycological Society, and God knows they know how to party.

I took the boys for a day trip to pick up a cutting board and candles. But with Surfas, the journey is the destination. We stopped in at Cafe Surfas for eats. I asked for a high chair and the kind woman behind the counter went into the supply store and pulled one off the shelf for our use. Sure, it was shorter than the cafe table, but the youngest was satisfied.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Caught in the Gorilla's Grasp

That's me, trying to get a few things together for Mother's Day.

The real fun was at the beach, celebrating the adoption of dear friends' second son. Proud mama and comedian extraordinaire Maryellen Hooper is to the left.

And here's the man of the hour on a very special day. What a treat to be part of such an important day. Congratulations Maryellen, Mark & family.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Make Your Yard/Balcony/Front Stoop a Wildlife Habitat

As more of the world's open space is used for human habitat, the critters who were there first feel the squeeze. Creating a wildlife habitat in your yard can offer a migrating bird a welcome respite in a long journey. Lizards can roost. And you can enjoy the beauty by observation and know that you are helping the process along. It's like being a benefactor to a Western Tanager.

Whether your garden is a sizable lot or a small balcony, it can become a welcome haven. Your garden must provide water source(s), food source(s), places for cover, places to raise young, and sustainable gardening. Learn more about making your garden a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Happy Camper Shirt

The youngest got a cool hand-me-down shirt from a fashionable friend. The eldest loved how the tent flaps opened up to reveal two feet. Inspiration hit to create our own happy camper shirt for the eldest.

The inspiration:

Materials were procured. One t-shirt, Jacquard fabric paint, paint brush, linen scraps:

A volunteer was enlisted/conscripted. "He's a real pro," the eldest said of the youngest's footprint contributions:

The result..."This shirt makes me happy," said the eldest. Spy the feet down below.

No babies were harmed in the making of this shirt.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Importance of Reading & Moms & Grandmas

Every Tuesday, my family is fortunate to get a weekly visit from Grams. Out of the bakers dozen of her grandchildren, only my two sons live in California. We are lucky to be close enough to enjoy all that love up close and personal.

We all look forward to Tuesday.

My mother always brings her picks from her local library. The eldest always yells, "Grams!" when he sees her walk up the steps. Invariably, the next thing out of his mouth is, "Did you bring me any books?"

This week, we are enjoying Steve Jenkins' beautifully illustrated and written Living Color. I suspect this book will become part of our own library.

My mother has a gift for bringing books to life. Her talent is one she shares not only with us but with her local elementary school through a program called Rolling Readers. She's been volunteering for the program for about ten years. Interested in learning more or becoming a Rolling Reader? Visit

Monday, May 5, 2008

Hummingbird at Rest

Found Sunday. The hummingbird carrion was most likely a result of a mockingbird raid. One of the cruel realities of spring. Rarely am I allowed such a close examination. Fortunately, most stay in flight, out of my reach, admired from a distance.

Friday, May 2, 2008

About This Time Last Year

We rolled out the canvas tent to prepare for a Mother's Day brunch at our house. Our eldest did his share of work.

The tent was later to be moved to a platform about 20 feet from this location. But the move was delayed until the squatters fledged.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Planting Seeds

Camp Ramshackle had a bountiful oak acorn season this year. Eric harvested bags of them, shelled, ground, and leached out the tanic acid from them. His hard work yielded a delicious pancake breakfast. We hope for another one soon.

Even with the copious acorn harvest, many volunteers found a spot, shot out roots and set to grow up. Perhaps to become like their parent tree, which can grow up to 85 feet in height. Quercus agrifolia is beautiful.

We start so small, like the majestic oak, we grow bit by bit.

With small steps, stitch by stitch.