Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hand Made Gifts

After a brief unanticipated hiatus we are back to posting. Holidays, colds, exhaustion, excuse, excuse, excuse...

We normally wouldn't gloat over gifts we receive but the hand made gifts we received this year are worth mentioning.

Origami Crane ornaments from the Alaskan Poseys. (We plan to post more about them soon. They are homesteading on Pennock Island off of Ketchikan.)

Stuffed dogs also from Ketchikan Poseys. There is a story behind the one on the left but we'll leave that for another time.

Money clips for the whole family from Papa Posey. They are made from paper clips and California Quarters soldered with silver solder so that there is no lead. We are just keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to keep them all full.

From our talented friend Lynette, a robot for the small fry (this is actually the back - the front has the button eyes and an embroidered kind of atomic symbol) .

This one was not exactly made by anyone we know but it is an apron for Julia handmade by a very talented unknown seamstress and obtained at a garage sale by some good friends of ours.

We received many great gifts this year and love all of them but there is is just so much personality and sentiment embodied in a gift created by hand. We are especially grateful.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Composting with Worms

I was recently talking to a coworker about worm composting and then today I came across this vermicomposting video on the blog 365 Days of Trash after reading this story about the blogs author Dave Chameides. Dave stores all of his trash in his basement. That might sound a little gross but according to the article:

Rather than the 1,600 pounds of trash the average American family produces each year, Chameides, his wife and two daughters have amassed only 32 pounds over the last 12 months.

Go Dave!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eric's Embroidery

Two years ago, I gave Eric some embroidery floss, a hoop and Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches after he expressed some interest in stitching.

He quickly drew the picture of the bird and just went for it. I'm thinking maybe Eric, Mister Jalopy and Mark Frauenfelder might launch a men's sewing circle.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wooden Spool Painting

The wooden spool gift making project continues. My oldest son took to the task with gusto.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shovel Fix

The handle on this small shovel broke. Eric used some of the eucalyptus branches left over from the tipi and bed top bivouac to make this handy and handsome repair.
[Actually this was a piece of toyon but I have been using the eucalyptus a lot. - Eric]

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hiking in the Arroyo Seco

Before the rain, the boys and I enjoyed a hike near our home in the Arroyo Seco.

The youngest started making music with a stick and the log. The oldest and I followed suit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wooden Spool Gift Making

I picked these increasingly hard to find wooden spools up last week at an impromptu garage sale stop. My oldest and I are working on a gift for his younger brother.

First we need to get the thread off. A task of great joy.

I've always been told that old thread is too weak to use for sewing. Any ideas on the shelf life of thread? Some of this thread is just too beautiful to part with. My oldest is enamoured with the color of thread as well and wants to make something with the thread. He says it will involve glue. I look forward to seeing what emerges.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bed Top Bivouac

The other day our son wanted to build his own house with a blanket. Remembering that we had some leftover eucalyptus branches I had cut to use as poles for the tipi Julia made, I came up with the idea of a bed top bivouac.

I cut the sticks using a pruning lopper, tied the x where they cross with twine and then used another piece of twine to tie the cross member on top. The bottoms of the vertical supports are held in place by the mattress rails. Then all you need is a blanket wide enough to reach across the whole thing.

It was fun to make, it is completely natural and it didn't cost a thing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

LED Holiday Lights

I like Holiday lights but lately I can't help feeling that they are a little bit wasteful - especially the really extreme displays. I don't have time to find the article or post but I recently read about LED holiday lights on Yahoo!

Generally I think it is better to keep what we have working rather than buying something new but here is a case where it's even though it is financially a break even proposition (over 5 or 10 years) it probably makes ecological sense to upgrade from incandescent holiday lights to LEDs.

Here are the benefits:
  • LEDs use only 10% of the energy of incandescent lights
  • They last 25 times longer (50,000 hours vs. 2,000)
  • They are not hot so there isn't as great a risk of fire (on a dry Christmas tree for example)
  • They don't break as easily
  • One light going out won't take the whole string down

At least one online vendor will recycle your old strings of lights.
They estimate an $8.00 savings for lighting 5 strings of lights for one season. The cheaper, plain LED 25 foot string of lights costs about $17, that's $85 for 5. If energy prices remain constant (which of course they won't) by your 11th year you'd save 3 dollars and about half a ton of CO2. I would guess with energy inflation you'd probably break even in about 6 or 7 years.

What do you think? Does it make sense to upgrade?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shaving in Style with the Merkur Safty Razor

Last spring, around father's day, I dropped a not so subtle hint that a Merkur razor would be a really nice gift. Well, a couple of weeks ago, for my birthday, Julia gave me my new shaving kit and I love it. I am now shaving in style. It doesn't clog, there is no plastic involved anywhere, and the blades are 50 cents each.

I have only shaved a few times with the new set up but I can say this: it is not fool proof. It takes a little care to use this razor without injury but it is easy, you just need to pay attention to what you are doing. I am so happy to be off the expensive cartridge habit I could sing. Thank you Julia!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Turnip and Parsnip

I stopped in at Figueroa Produce, my neighborhood's local green grocer, right before Thanksgiving. The store was filled with people and charged with that day-before-the-party energy. As I picked up the freshest ginger I've ever encountered, a woman next to me put turnips and parsnips in her basket. I asked her how she prepared them.

Parsnip and Turnip Deliciousness
1 parsnip
1 turnip
1 potato
1 T butter
nutmeg, freshly ground to taste

Cut parsnip, turnip and potato into 1/2-1 inch chunks. Place chunks in sauce pan and cover with water. Boil until tender (15-25 minutes). Drain. Mash cooked parsnip, turnip and potato. Add butter and a bit of freshly ground nutmeg.

"It's very French country," she said. I went home and followed her instructions. So simple and insanely delicious. I find some of the best recipes for vegetable cooking/preparation come from people in the produce section of stores.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Acorn Hats and a Gall

I love oak galls left by gall wasps. I remember the first time I saw one. It was an unexpected discovery, a roundish organic shape about an arms length away in a scrub oak. Since that day long ago, I keep my eyes open for them. This one was found under our small Coastal Live Oak and is destined for a nature swap.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Homemade Tipi

Each year, my son's preschool holds an auction fundraiser. Last year, I made a tipi. The organizer graciously remarked how much she liked the one from last year. So here is the 2008 tipi. I think the next one I make should be for my kids. Who knows, maybe I'll bid on this one.

Materials: duck cloth, harvested eucalyptus branches from our yard. Modeled by our dog Moxie, who introduced Eric and me. She's sweet.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Holiday Lights

My son and I changed the white bulbs on our outdoor string of lights to blue, red, green and yellow. A simple decoration to celebrate the December holidays. As far as holidays go, Christmas is not my favorite. I'm not a complete Grinch, but I am often overwhelmed by the frantic consumption that surrounds the December holidays. Even if you and your family don't subscribe to that way of life, it is everywhere you turn.

Ilsa Setziol of RamblingLA wrote a wonderful article for the Verdugo Monthly "Less in the Season of Excess". I should mention she interviewed me for part of the article as well.

As the season unfolds, I hope you can find meaningful ways to celebrate that reflect your values. Although I'm not a fan of Christmas, I do like the ritual of Christmas cards. For quite some time, I've made cards (simple ones) and included a note. Now my oldest and I work on the cards together. I've never written a end of the year letter, although I love receiving them. They remind me of David Sedaris's take on the annual Christmas letter as read by Julia Sweeney for This American Life. The book is Holidays on Ice.

What about you? How do you make the season yours?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bulb Planting

My son and I recently read a book that mentioned amaryllis. My son was curious what it was. I showed him a picture and shared a story about his late great grandmother (Eric's grandmother) and how she loved amaryllis and always had one in her house this time of the year. We decided we would like to be like Nana and plant an amaryllis too.

Standing in the bulb section of our local hardware store, my son was mesmerized by the pictures on the tulip bulb package. "Mom, I want to plant this." I showed him the amaryllis, but he was smitten by the tulip. We decided on both.

Upon returning to our house, my son rushed inside. In the short time before I joined him, he had already opened the package, filled these glasses and put the "seeds" in the water to grow.

We decided they would do best in soil. The tulips have been planted. The amaryllis is in a pot.

And now we wait.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

One Big Radish

No - it's not a turnip or a beet - that's a radish! An all organic, hero sized radish.

It may have gotten bigger but we weren't sure if a huge radish would be as good as the smaller ones - plus, I couldn't stand it anymore and just had to see the whole thing.

We're going to give it to Julia's dad, a radish lover, who is known to eat several at a sitting. We'll see if this one is up to his standards. I will be surprised if he is able to eat it in one sitting - if he does, he'll be a hero to me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Drainage Project: It Finally Rained!

We had our first appreciable rain of the season last week. Here in L.A. we get about 5-10 rainstorms with an inch or two of rain each. It creates a dramatic feast or (mostly) famine situation. Besides a little half an inch tease last month we haven't seen any rain at all since the spring. We'll have more posts about the positive effects of the recent rain on our native garden later but first comes this maintenance project.

We have some steps that lead down to the vegetable garden by way of a decomposed granite path. We love decomposed granite (DG as the pros refer to it) most of the year but when it rains the paths are muddy and are easily contaminated with other dirt or mulch that can float onto it from other parts of the garden. Even worse than the contamination is the erosion that the flow of water directly over the paths creates. You can see that a little river ran through our path in the picture above.
I added a small break before the steps which should divert most of the water to the side, away from the path. It also creates a nice spot to locate the hose which is currently feeding the trailer. You can see in the first picture that it used to just run across the path.

I also cleaned out some of the dirt in front of the first step and angled what was left slightly so that it would drain to the side into a little adjacent swale.

We'll see how it does in the next rain storm. I'd like to place another similar break/step a few feet in front of this one. That won't happen until it reaches the top of a long prioritized list.