Monday, June 30, 2008

Flag Making at Camp Ramshackle

At Camp Ramshackle we're all about letting your freak flag fly. Although this flag is not so freaky, if flies proudly at Camp Ramshackle.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Giant Wolf Spider

Hogna carolinensis found in Ramshackle latrine. Strictly amateur i.d. thanks to the NWF Field Guide to Insects and Spiders and National Audubon Society Pocket Guide Insects and Spiders.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Urban Homestead Party

Erik Knutzen of Homegrown Evolution talks about the virtue of fun while pursuing a green lifestyle.

If you missed his talk, you can still buy the book. Signed copies are at

Also, LA Eco-Village offers an upcoming tour on July 5th. Learn more about the 15 year old sustainable community development in Koreatown. For more information and to make reservations, visit

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Tinkertoys continue to enthrall after almost 100 years of fun. First introduced in 1914, the toy was meant to let children's imaginations run wild. Our set is a thoughtful Christmas gift from Mister Jalopy and family. My son has enjoyed it so much, we bought an expansion set to create even larger structures.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Two-for-one Lizard Catch

In the left corner:
In the right corner:

Eric caught these vicious lizards at the same time. A relatively easy catch as the lizard on the right was in the locked jaws of the one on the left. Ironically, the one on the left was missing a leg.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mystery Grain

When this grass sprouted, I didn't pull it right away because I could tell it was a little different than what I usually see sprouting up each winter. I thought it might be a native "canyon prince" blue rye volunteer from one of our plants up the hill. When our neighbor mentioned that she was putting out seed for the birds, I realized that some of the bird seed must have set.

Now I am curious exactly what it is. I think I have convinced myself that it is common wheat (also known as bread wheat). If anyone has an idea about what it might be we'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to post a comment or email us at

Monday, June 23, 2008

Raised Bed: Almost Done

Just a few finishing touches to go. I wish it had been done months ago but as my father-in-law says, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which fills up faster.

Today was probably physically the hardest part - digging out the slight slope so that the box will sit level. Yesterday I put the sides on and stapled the hardware cloth to the bottom of the bed to keep the gophers out.

Hopefully we'll be planting next weekend.

Previously on Ramshackle Solid: Raised Planter Bed Progress

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saint Catherine's Lace

Erigogonum giganteum in bloom, proudly spectacular. A California coastal scrub indigenous to Santa Catalina Island but quite happy at Camp Ramshackle.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Another Organic Garden in the L.A. Times

Christy Hobart writes about a small kitchen garden in Pacific Palisades in the L.A. Times.
photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times

Artist at Work and Play

Friday, June 20, 2008

Homegrown Evolution Book Signing and Lecture

Thursday, June 26th, Homegrown Evolution will sign and read from their handy The Urban Homestead book at the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

Talk, Slide Show and Book-Signing with Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
Thursday June 26th 2008 7:30pm at Los Angeles Eco-Village
117 Bimini Place, LA 90004
Directions at
Suggested donation $5, no one turned away for lack of funds
Books sold separately for $15

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Power Pole Replacement

The Water and Power guys have been outside our house off and on for about a week. They are replacing the existing power/telephone pole with a taller one. This morning they made my son's day by gifting him with a real hard hat and safety goggles.

A young boy's dream come true. He wore them all morning.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kid Tipi

This tipi was built for a preschool auction fundraiser. I was happy to see it sold for a good price with a bidding war. I hope it is loved and used frequently. It's about time for Ramshackle to build one for our own outpost. The construction was surprisingly easy. I bought my pattern at They also sell organic wool for stuffing toys.

Media: duck cloth, harvested bamboo for polls.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Trash Can Repair

When we bought our stainless steel CanWorks trash can we did it because we felt that this would be the last trash can we would ever buy. It won't rust, won't crack, it's almost all metal so it is recyclable... almost all metal. The one part of the can that gets actual wear, however, turned out to be plastic. The hinge piece between the vertical rod and the rod that connects to the foot pedal broke after about 2 years. I refuse to either throw the can away or buy anything else from CanWorks as a result.

Instead I made the replacement hinge pictured above from some scrap galvanized sheet metal brackets and a bent finishing nail. I used tin snips to cut the pieces out and pliers and a hammer to bend the flaps around the rods. It didn't hold well so I used duct tape to try to keep it in place. The tape lost it's stick a couple of weeks ago. That's when I remembered the portable butane soldering iron my father-in-law gave me as a gift.

I heated up the rod and the bracket and fed as much solder in as I could.

Voila! Better than new. Sure, its ramshackle but it's solid. Until it needs another patch it's our small triumph over planned obsolescence.

Back in action.

Monday, June 16, 2008

No Dig Gardening in the L.A. Times

(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

There was a great article in the L. A. Times this weekend about Pat Marfisi's Hollywood Hills garden planted in alfalfa hay, straw and compost.
"Since he began gardening in this fashion, he says, he has been 'inundated' with food. With the exception of some recent losses to raccoons drawn to the soil's abundant grubs and earthworms, Marfisi's garden is thriving with beets, collard greens, chard, celery, tomatoes, chives, peppers, basil, chives, lettuces and leeks. He estimates he grows enough food to feed three people daily."

Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Thanks to Mark Frauenfelder for bringing this to our attention.


Raised Planter Bed Progress

job-site supervisor

We've been planning to build a raised planter bed for months. I wasn't able to finish it this weekend but we are very close.

The bed, when finished, will be 8 x 4 feet and about two and a half feet high. I used 2 x 10's for the sides and 4x4's for the posts. It is made of douglas fir so it will rot though in a few years, but that's how we like it here at Ramshackle Solid - kind of dilapidated, but in a nice way. Once it has completely fallen apart, we may decide we want to change the location or the materials.

I'm always happy when I get to use my Japanese hand saws. This time I used them to finish the cuts made with the skill saw.

The pieces of the box are cut, drilled and half assembled. Next I need to finish assembly, cover the bottom with hardware cloth to keep the gophers out and paint and prep the inside to slow the decay a bit. More to come.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Fathers Day

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bee in Tree

Weekend worker at Camp Ramshackle.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Alabama Chanin Bandana Complete

Done! In a house with two young kids, projects such as these can stretch out for a l--o--n--g time. I have learned in my early parenthood that the journey is the destination. I find I enjoy the process much more when it's not focused on completion. I've also learned that projects do get finished, they just take a long time. What that bandana doesn't show, is all the pauses to play in the dirt, admire bees, study leaves and build houses out of cardboard boxes and tape. Lots of tape.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Homemade Granola

Today is the last day of the first year of preschool. A tender day, for sure. I hope the most important lesson my son has learned is that school can be incredibly fun.

As a thank you to the teachers, I made some homemade granola and included a recipe card.

Homemade Granola (from the now defunct Blueprint magazine)
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl, stir together oats, almonds, pecans, cherries, cranberries, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

2. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, and sugar. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Drizzle syrup over oat mixture; toss with a wooden spoon. Pour granola onto sheet pan and spread evenly. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 25 minutes). Let granola cool completely on a wire rack. Break it into chunks and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Family Nature Swap

These treasures were carefully picked out by my nephew on a hike in Colorado and gifted to my sons. We talk about where they came from, who gave them to us, and take turns making up stories about them.

This gift has sparked the desire to start a nature swap with the cousins, little do they know. As my sons and I have been hiking, we've been keeping an eye out on what to gather to share with our relatives in Colorado and Alaska.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Father's Day Gift Idea: Traditional Double Edge Razor

If you are wondering what to get your dad (or yourself) for father's day, you may consider a traditional double edged razor. The initial cost is a little higher than disposables or disposable cartridges but these fall under the "pound wise" category of purchases.

The cost of disposable runs about $2.00 per cartridge depending on what you buy while the Merkur double edged blades are about $0.60. That cost difference means that in 1 year you will have made up the cost of the set pictured.

Lets say you shave 5 days a week (5 x 52 = 260) divided by 2 uses per cartridge or blade - remember, the blades are double edged so you always shave with a fresh edge (260/2=130)
The cost of the cartridges would be $260 ($2.00x 130 new cartridges). The cost of the blades would be $78 ($0.60 x 130)

Savings: $182

The complete set pictured is on sale for $189

From what I understand it takes a little practice getting used to the fact that the head doesn't swivel like the cartridge blades do, so your wrist has to find the right angle, but from what I hear, the shave is equal to or better than the disposable cartridge type shave.

Other advantages: less material is thrown away than with a cartridge but, even better, the entire disposable blade is metal and therefore entirely recyclable. It doesn't require electricity and there are no messy batteries. It is a solid "real object" - no chrome plated plastic, no swooshes, graphics or embedded marketing. It forces you to slow down a bit, to develop technique, to be present and engaged in the activity.

If you budget is higher and your commitment stronger you may consider this seven day straight razor set from Dovo.

They'll run you about $1,200

Once you've gone that far you are only steps away from an artisan created family heirloom in the neighborhood of $1,000 for a single razor. Amazingly beautiful!

Caterpillar in the Mist

This fine specimen was discovered by Eric on Friday while weeding in the garden. Earlier in the week, my sons and I stocked up with identification books at Vroman's. My eldest son voiced his desire to know the names of the insects in the yard. Thanks to the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America, our strictly amateur i.d. guess is the caterpillar of the White-lined Sphinx moth (we are open to suggestions).

Field guides offer endless hours of exploration in our house. We enjoy the process of identification and learning more about the small critters we stumble upon in our yard and on our hikes. The naming generates a familiarity about their habits and life cycles.

A few of our picks:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Planting Succulents

A bit of early morning replanting. From windowsill to pot.

Much better.

These little cuties I've heard called "hen and chicks" (if anyone knows the real name, please let me know). If the conditions are right, they grow like crazy with many small pods nested against each other like bubbles of boiling water. They push up and a few will dangle from the sides of the pot. I plucked these from my mother's plant. I hope they will be as prolific as hers.

Update: Thank you, Doc Quinn. Doc Quinn notes the plants in your photo are Sempervivum. Check out comments for more information.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rebar Bean Poles

Ever since reading The Year I Ate My Yard by Tony Kienitz, I have wanted to experiment with using rebar in the garden. I like that it is an unromantic material which can actually be unexpectedly beautiful as it ages from new iron to a dark rusty brown. We have also discovered that it can easily become a whimsical yet still practical addition.

"Three-eighths rebar can be curled and coiled, bent and boxed in just about any direction and it can be done by hand...

...Rebar gives the garden a sense of age, of decay, and ruin, but ironically, it is sturdier and easier to negotiate than bamboo stakes, redwood or any of the other manufactured verticality offered."

Tony Kienitz - The year I ate my yard

We decided to try it out on two wine barrel green bean plantings. The concept was to create a vine or tendril-like top to the typical teepee shaped bean support. The supports were fun to make. We'll see how they look once the vines have climbed to the tops.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Free Youth LACMA Membership

Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio David Hockney 1980, LACMA collection

While we are on the subject of museum membership benefits, the Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art offers a fantastic free membership to youth 17 and under. I am a big fan of early exposure to art and nature to children. Start now in hopes that a life time of curiosity and respect ensues.

NexGen LACMA is the nation's only free youth membership program. If you are a parent with a child under 17, join. If you know someone under 17, sign them up. Youth membership includes admission for one adult.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Carnage at Camp Ramshackle: Rabbit's head found this morning

This morning as I was waiting for our son to come into the house, I noticed that he had paused to look at something right outside the door: a severed rabbit's head.

At first we thought it was the work of one of our dogs, but on further investigation, it was more likely the scraps from a hawk's breakfast that the dog simply brought to our attention.

I went to look for the rest of the remains and was searching in the right area of the yard when our dog Trudy (the skunk chaser) found the leg of the rabbit. I could tell it wasn't her kill because she wasn't going nuts the way she does with one of her trophies. It also looked like it had been dropped neatly right where it lay. If the dogs had gotten it, it would have been dragged through the dirt and been covered in mud.

It is pretty gruesome but that's life. Hawks eat rabbits - most of the rabbit anyway.

A few minutes later, after we cleaned everything up and buried it, our son yelled "I found another piece of the rabbit!" When we went out to investigate this is what we saw:

What a morning. Maybe that hummingbird jinxed us?

Update: Several hours after publishing this post we found out that Mark Frauenfelder had kindly linked our humming bird post on Boing Boing. We have updated this post to move the most gruesome images of nature in action a click away. Our apologies to anyone offended by the graphic nature of the post.

Natural History Museum Members' Loan Service

One of the greatest benefits of membership to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is the Members' Loan Service. Downstairs across from the Discovery Center, the museum offers a lending library from their collection, ranging from plexiglas encased stuffed bobcats to a canine tooth of a saber-toothed cat.

If I had run across the Black-throated Mango hummingbird at the museum, I might have walked right past in my haste to see the giant T-Rex skeleton. But at home, on my bookshelf, the exhibit receives the attention and respect it deserves.

The loan period is two weeks and costs $5 for up to three exhibits. Memberships to the museum start at $60. Learn more about the Members' Loan Service and lending hours.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Skunk Spray Remedy - This works!

Tonight our dog was sprayed by a skunk.

We think skunks are living in our yard. If not they are near enough that each year our dogs are sprayed between 5-10 times. Initially we didn't have a clue about how to get the smell off the dog. We tried tomato juice, enzyme solution, tide, you name it. Nothing worked until we tried the following:

1 box of baking soda
1 container of hydrogen peroxide
1 or 2 table spoons shampoo

(other recipes call for a quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda, etc. - we've found the 1 small box of baking soda to one small bottle of hydrogen peroxide to work well)

Mix ingredients in a bucket (You may want to wear gloves because the solution has a drying effect on the skin). Work the resulting paste into the fur of the sorry-ass-dog starting at the snout and working back toward the tail. You'll need to stir the solution a bit each time you apply another handful since it settles quickly. Make sure to get the ears, front legs, neck and chest since these are the areas most likely to be hit by the spray.

Trudy here is resolved to the fact that she is about to be decontaminated.

If you have solution left, sniff around the dog to try to find areas that need a second coat. Leave the solution on for a about 3-5 minutes once you have coated the animal. Rinse starting from the head and moving back. Make sure you get it all off otherwise she will itch a lot due to the dry skin.

You may not be able to get the smell completely out but from our experience this takes the odor down to the level where the dog can be allowed back in the house and it works better than anything else we have tried. If you are not satisfied try sniffing around the animal to see where the smell is still coming from. You may need a second coat in some areas. You will definitely not be able to get it out of her nose if she took a direct hit to the face but this is usually a small enough area that you'll be able to live with it.

Good luck.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wee Wonderfuls Paper Dolls

Hillary Lang's Wee Wonderfuls doll and toy patterns are always a treat. Clearly written without that weird pattern-speak, even a novice sewer such as myself can get good results. I recommend the Big Footed Bunny and Olive and Oliver doll patterns. And now, she offers paper dolls with three outfits each "a saturday afternoon", "kicking' around" and "cousin cindy's wedding".