Friday, October 31, 2008

Mei Tai

I've admired the mei tai for quite some time and thought it might be suitable for my youngest. Ever since I saw the amazing mei tai on two straight lines, I've had it on my list to attempt.

I followed the suggestions from Thanks to an unexpected long afternoon nap by my youngest, I was finally able to finish it. The fabric is mostly thrifted: an Ikea pillowcase, Crate and Barrel shower curtain. The blue twill is from my stash.

What I've learned: I think the top straps need to go closer to the top, like this mei tai from Amanda at SouleMama (and look how well it has aged).

I may take it apart in the future (or not) and make that adjustment. The baby sits fine in front, but when I move him to my back, the straps seem a bit too low to hold him securely, especially if he feel asleep. But he loves it now. Last night I caught him pulling the mei tai on the floor and wraping himself up in it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Butterfly Experiment Update 1

The five caterpillars are doing well. When they first crossed our doorstep a week ago, they were only a centimeter long. Now they are about an inch and a quarter. Three have moved to the top of the container where they will begin to build their cocoon. We're all enjoying watching them change.

Previously posted on the painted lady butterfly experiment:
Butterfly Experiment Begins

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Caltech Olive Harvest

A week from Friday Caltech is hosting it's second annual Olive Harvest Festival. If you'll be in the area, the site says they are still looking for volunteers.

There will be olive harvesting, brining/pickling and the olives will be pressed on a mill and press built by a local welding company which is designed to be operated by hand (pushing 1600-pound wheels). They say it can be operated by 10 people at once.
We were hoping to harvest our own olives for pressing this year but got a late start and didn't do enough to prevent olive fly infestation. We were also caught a little off guard by how early they ripened this year. Next year we'll try again but we hope to learn something from the folks at Caltech.

2008 Caltech Olive Harvest

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Patch at Underwood Family Farms

Ever since I was a kid, my parents would load up the car and haul our family to Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark to pick out a pumpkin for Halloween. Now, I take my kids there...

to enjoy tractor rides with grandparents...

and take on the corn maze.

Underwood Family Farm's pumpkin patch, so different from the small one of my youth, continues to delight the young and young at heart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stove Maintenance

Our old Gaffers & Sattler stove came with the house. I gave it a pretty thorough cleaning when we moved in and got all of the burners to light from the pilots except for one which had a faulty valve and only puts out half the normal volume of gas at best. The broiler side has never worked and the grill in the center of the stove was missing, although that burner works fine.

Over a fairly short time the remaining three burners slowly stopped lighting off the pilot, forcing us to use a spark from an expended BBQ lighter, or a match to do the job. In addition to this, the oven never operated quite the way we'd hoped. The heating was uneven and we had to set the temperature to about 50 degrees higher than the recipe to get the desired results. We were becoming fed up with the stove and had started to dream about buying a new one.
One late night last week, fueled by who knows what source of energy, I decided to give the stove another shot. By adjusting the flow of air to the burners I was able to get them to light off the pilots again. These little doors control the flow. You just loosen the screw and adjust the door while the gas flows (not to long) until you find the right spot where the burner lights.
The other good news/bad news was that I found the griddle. It turns out it was the aluminum thing above the oven burner which I always assumed was some kind of heat distributor. I have no idea why it was wedged there, instead of it's proper place (we may find out). The bad news is that, as you can see, although it is not technically melted as our friend Phoenix pointed out, it is warped beyond repair. Just as well since we are not so keen on cooking on aluminum anyway. I guess we'll end up recycling it unless we can think of another use for the thing.

The best news is that our stove gets a reprieve from the scrap heap. And, at least for now, in theory, that's one stove that won't be built in China or Europe from raw materials and shipped halfway around the world.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

1958 Streamline Trailer - Latest Addition to the Compound

Well, now we've done it. More to come...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Road Trip from the Eye of a Four Year Old

The boys and I recently took a road trip to visit a friend. I have a great deal of empathy for the view from the backseat. We made lots of play stops, packed books and games. But when all that gets played out, nothing satisfies my eldest son like a camera in his hands.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Butterfly Experiment Begins

My son received a gift of butterflies from my sister-in-law and brother's family. He was thrilled. We received the larvae in the mail today and look forward to watching them grow, change and emerge as butterflies. We'll share the progress here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fresh Squeezed Pomegranate Juice

Our son came in with two pomegranates and asked to juice them so, we did.

We cut off the ends to make them fit in the press better.

We cut them in half. The juice looks like blood.

We help each other squeeze them in the press (Julia's grandmother's).

Voila! 8 oz. of pure juice. We usually take a sip of the pure juice and then dilute it with about half water to prolong our enjoyment. It always amazes me how the color changes so little even when cut in half. Yum!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Birthday Snail Shirt

Birthday season continues. I made this snail applique for my friend's son. He celebrates his first birthday this week. The snail was hand drawn and appliqued using Alabama Stitch Book techniques.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chipping Mulch and Compost Starter

This is me, having vanquished two mighty piles of pruned bushes and trees. I kept the piles separated into brown for mulch, and green for compost.

Here are the same piles pre-chipping. The brown is mostly dead-headed sage and other natives. The green is mostly olive suckers with some beans and squash that recently gave up the ghost.

We have a big yard and desparately need both compose and mulch. We can never have enough of either. The mulch gets spread wherever the ground is showing through, to hold in moisture and to disuade weeds. The compost is needed to extend and feed our vegetable beds.

This is what the green stuff looks like up close. It feels moist and is probably about 50/50 leaves and sticks.

The old pile is so well cooked that there is little in it that resembles plant material except for the last two weeks worth of kitchen scraps which haven't been completely digested. I pulled those out as I turned the pile, completely moving the whole thing about three feet (btw: lots of crawley backs).

Fresh kitchen scaps, the partialy decomposed scraps from the older pile and a handful or two of completed compost were added in layers to the chipped green material. The new pile is begun. Now the challenge is to see how long I can keep it hot by adding fresh green stuff and kitchen scraps.

Previously on Ramshackle Solid:
Starting a New Compost Pile
Feeding the Compost Pile
Compost Pile Update
Grub Mystery Solved

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Reading Recommendations

Stewart Cairns for The New York Times

In today's New York Times, Joanne Kaufman writes about what some people are doing to reduce their energy use and consumption. Her article is Completely Unplugged, Fully Green.

We at Camp Ramshackle are far from perfect, but we enjoy putting one foot in front of the other as we move forward in leading a more simple life. Kaufman interviews a family in Knox, NY, where the four boys all sleep together to pool heat (pictured above). For the past week, we've been doing the same thing here...not that it gets so cold...and not that we've planned it...the kids have taken the lead on this one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lizard Season

No, we don't eat them, but I can't help it, I still enjoy catching lizards and we are just entering the prime lizard catching season here at Camp Ramshackle. Lizard activity is highest during the hot months of July, August and September, but the lizards are much too fast to catch then. It's this time of year, when the nights and mornings are a little cooler, that, before they warm all the way up, an old guy like me can catch a blue-belly or two and feel a quiet sense of awe in holding something wild. Awe and at the same time comfort in the fact that I am not doing any damage in my indulgence (at least not much damage, providing I don't accidentally pluck off a tail.)

Pictured above is what we called a blue-belly when I was a kid but have identified as a fence lizard through our field guides and online. These range from tan (pictured) to charcoal gray. From my observations, the colors variance appears to break along gender lines in our yard -- males are darker and have more pronounced blue patches on their bellies. This one looks like a pregnant female to me.

Young fence lizards are all over our yard right now but this one is a rarely seen baby Alligator Lizard. We wrote about an adult skink I caught a while back - it was actually an Alligator Lizard. They have sharp teeth and bite! Here are two more I caught while engaged in what appeared to be mortal combat. I thought until recently that these alligator lizards were a type of skink but I was wrong.

We do have skinks here too, although I don't have a picture of one yet. I have also learned that what, when we were kids, we used to call a blue tailed skink is actually a juvenile Western Skink. It has an electric blue tail that fades as it grows older. I have seen them and caught them but have yet to photograph one. Maybe this will be the season.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jack-o-lantern #1

Halloween very well may be my favorite holiday. I'm not so "in" to the candy aspect, but I love home-made costumes, apple cider and the outdoors. Halloween is one of our few truly agrarian holidays. In a time where we spend much too much time indoors, Halloween takes us outside. Kids and parents alike venture to the pumpkin patch for a glimpse of plants in the ground, tractor rides, feeding farm animals, picking the perfect pumpkin and some good dirt stomping.

My oldest son drew the face of this jack-0-lantern. I cut it out. Sure, it's still early, but he is also a fan of Halloween. More pumpkins and carving are in our future after our own pilgrimage to the pumpkin patch. This early carved pumpkin seemed like the right project for the day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chickens Are in the Air

Ok, not literally, but Mark just recently posted about his Plymouth Barred Rock Chicks on Boing Boing and turned us on to the L.A. homesteader blog Green Frieda, where Tina (pictured) and Peggy have just been introduced to Lisa, and seem to be doing nicely.

Our friends at Homegrown Evolution told us about the poultry association meeting in Ventura on Oct. 25th and 26th in their fascinating post about the Plymouth Rock Monthly.

It all has us eye-ing the what-have-you again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons

One of the benefits of living in southern California is the pleasure of growing citrus trees. Our little lemon tree finally recovered from an unusual winter frost. Normally, the tree is quite prolific with almost a perpetual supply of fruit, but the frost cut into production for two years. Lesson learned, throw a blanket over the tree when the weather gets chilly in southern California. Our tree is small enough to tuck into bed.

To celebrate the return of bountiful fruit, my son and I made lemonade with mint from the garden. Delicious.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wooden Hooks Made from Our Olive Trees

A while back, Julia ordered some honey from Live Wire Farm in Vermont, and wrote about aspiring to make hooks like theirs from our own olive trees.

These are our prototypes - 2 singles and a double.

These first attempts turned out well enough to change the way I look at our trees. "If I trim that branch I could get 3 good hooks." Dangerous.

Michael Pollen on Fixing Our Food System

Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore's Dilemmaand In Defense of Foodamong others, writes in today's New York Times about what the next president should do to return our food system back to sun growth. Find a comfortable place and enjoy a thoughtful read. After you're done, plant some seeds of your own whether it be your windowsill garden, yard, head or heart.

And/or respond to Michael Pollen through his article's comment system:
Michael Pollan is taking reader questions about his food-policy prescriptions for the next president. Answers to selected questions will be posted on Tuesday, October 14 at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rattlesnake Mating Dance

When he was staying with us, our good friend Phoenix caught these rattlesnakes in an amorous mood while he was hiking to Switzer Falls in the nearby Angeles National Forest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cleaned up Purex Bottle

I have been slowly cleaning up the bottles I found in the garage. I don't know the exact age of this one but, although it looks like the average brown glass, it has a beautifully rich quality to the color. It doesn't completely come across in this picture but especially compared to a uniformly colored modern brown beer bottle, the old bottles vary from a more yellowish honey color where the glass is thinner to a deeper reddish brown where the glass is thick around the neck and bottom.

Although we don't really use bleach anymore, I wish it still came in bottles like these.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Grub Mystery Solved

Thanks to everyone who helped us with the compost grub mystery. It turns out they are larval green fruit beetles. I have seen the beetles around the yard before and wondered if they were friend or foe. It turns out they are pretty much neutral. They eat fruit but can't do much harm unless the fruit is overripe or bird damaged. I'll let the grubs stay and break down the compost although I think the raccoons or, more likely, skunks are rooting through our pile looking for them.

Ramshackle reader Josh says that his ducks and chickens love to eat them. He sent us this link to the Natural History Museum's entomology research page on the Green Fruit Beetle. Thanks Josh!

Ramshackle reader katastrophik pointed us to where the bug guy (Daniel) dropped this knowledge:

Hi Eric,

Congratulations. You have Crawly-Backs. Charles Hogue indicates in
his wonderful book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, that the grubs
of the Green Fruit Beetle or Figeater, are called Crawly-Backs. He
writes: "The adults are active from late summer to early fall and,
during this period, lay their eggs in compost piles and other
accumulations of decomposing plant litter. The larvae are fairly
large (2 in., or 50 mm, long) and C-shaped; the body is pale
translucent white, and the head is dark brown. The first two molts
are completed in the fall, the third the following spring. Larvae
move forward on their backs with an undulating motion of the entire
body. They obtain purchase on the substratum with transverse rows of
stiff short stout bristles on the back of the thorax. Because of the
peculiar manner of locomotion, they are known as 'crawly-backs.'" The
adults are beautiful metallic green beetles that have a loud buzzing

Have your own bug identification question? You may want to ask the bug guy.

And, of course, once you know what you are looking for, there is always wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

NHM Member Loan Program: Big Horn Sheep Horn

From the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum--Big Horn Sheep Horn...

investigated, observed, and worn at Camp Ramshackle.

Previously borrowed from the NHM Members' Loan Service:
Black-throated Mango Hummingbird

Monday, October 6, 2008

Homegrown Evolution's Solar Dehydrator

This is next on my list of projects right after building a worm box. Very cool.

Link to Homegrown Evolution's Solar Dehydrator

Brown Widow Cohabitation

While we are on the subject of creepy crawly things, I remembered I took these pictures of a pair of brown widows living in harmony on the underside of a roll-away I was cleaning up. The female is above and the male is pictured below.

I thought that wasn't supposed to happen, or maybe I interceded just in time to prevent a murder. Whatever the case, they were both inside the same caster when I flipped the tool chest over. If I saved a life this time maybe it makes up for the one Julia found on the dish rack?