Monday, August 31, 2009

Tough Week for Birds

My youngest son made these grim bird discoveries. He brought the first carrion to the outdoor dining table proudly announcing "Bird." I believe was a sparrow or a finch.

The second small critter most likely came from the same nest. She/he was found the following morning.

The fire continues to blaze uncontrollably to the north in the Angeles Crest forest.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nearby Fires

I took this picture on Friday morning from our porch (with a zoom lense). That's not smog, that's smoke. The last several days have been apocalyptic with triple digit temperatures, billowing smoke and the flames of the 0% contained La Canada fire visible from just down the road.

Everyone thinks about earthquakes when they think about California disasters but our fires are scary and destructive every year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rainforest Wind Chime

Our friend Phoenix is back from the rain forests of Peru and brought this ornament home with him. It looks like a wind chime to me but Phoenix says he was instructed to turn it into a lamp by adding a bowl. Whatever it is it looks pretty cool. It was made by Shipibo people near Paculllpa from seedpods, fish scales and a gourd - all indigenous to the area.

Welcome back Phoenix and thanks!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gifted Compost

Our friends at Rambling LA gifted us some compost this weekend. They got more than they could handle from friend with a connection to a stable. The compost is horse manure and wood shavings.

I counted seven wheel barrels full when bringing it down to the garden. It's kind of funny because I was just thinking that with the number of beds we want to plant it would take years for us to generate all the compost ourselves. We have enough now for at least one more 4x8 raised bed, or maybe we will deep mulch some of the fruit trees with the addition.

Thank you Ilsa and Valente for the compost!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


These are some of the best tomatoes in our garden. We received a seedling as a gift from our Backwards Beekeepers friends Steven and Christine.

Unfortunately our watering has been a little less than regular so the fruit split.

That cracking just means you have to eat them right away. Oh well, yum.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Youngin's First Lizard Catch

The kitchen door slams.  Fast footsteps.  My oldest son rushes in.  "Mom, I just caught my first lizard."  

"Wow!  That's great!" I say filled with the thrill of a "first" of a young life that will experience many more.  

My son extends his hand to show a tiny lizard barely an inch and a half.  His enthusiasm bubbles over.  I peer over his small outstretched hand.  

My heart sinks.  The lizard sits frozen.  Eyes shut.  I swallow; breathe in.  The conversation I fear dangles in front of me.  Death doesn't scare me.  Or rather, I'm not afraid to talk about it with my son.  We've had that conversation before and will again.  What I fear is one small dead lizard as the casualty of a first lizard catch; the harsh lesson that our achievements can come at a drastic cost.  

What am I going to do?  

I lean forward and clasp it's tiny tail in my index finger and thumb.  And like the fabled Lazarus rising from the dead, the impossibly small lizard kicks it's legs like crazy.  I watch it's sides pulse with life.  My heart races with gratitude. 

My son practices catch and release of his first lizard after finding that it can hang upside down.

Then he retells the story of the great catch.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

el Rio Charter School Public Meeting Today

El Rio is a K-8 free public charter school in development to be located in northeast Los Angeles.  Today is the first public meeting at Audubon Center in Debs Park from 2:30-3:30PM.  Doors open at 2:00PM.

For more information visit

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ramshackle Improvements: Laundry

Our solar drying options have improved from hanging on the fence to a longer line.

I think we could use at least one more line.  Still, I'm surprised how much this raises our quality of life.  We bought our cord from the local hardware store by the laundry supplies.  It cost under ten dollars.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Garden Knife

One of the most useful tools I have in the garden these days is this cheap Chinese made stainless steel folding knife. It is perfect for cutting out squash or trimming those big hollow stems. I use it to dig with sometimes or to check the soil moisture.

It has a clip which makes it easy to keep handy - I don't have to dig in my pocket with dirty hands. I like the serrated section of the blade which is good for cutting through woody stems and the hemp twine that I have been tying the tomatoes up with.

Even though it is very rugged I don't care too much about what happens to it so I'm not afraid to actually use it to it's full potential. I've had this knife for a few years now but it has just entered into near daily use as a most favored tool. I only wish it was a more local product - but then it probably wouldn't have been $12.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Powdery Mildew Rescue Attempt/The Zucchini Experiment

This Zucchini has been hit hard by powdery mildew. It doesn't visibly affect the fruit but I don't want it to spread and, since we have more than enough squash right now, I decided to try a radical intervention.

Here is the back of it where I have been trimming old or infected or dead leaves.

Here it is after all of the larger leaves have been removed. I left only 3 squash, 2 flowers and a newly emerging leaf. We'll see if it survives. I think soapy water is a treatment for powdery mildew but I'm going to look it up and treat what's left with an organic solution.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier

A few weeks ago, the lens on my camera broke. I took it to the local camera shop. The diagnosis: fee for the service and four to six weeks for the repair. The reason for the delay? The camera would have to sent to Nikon for service in El Segundo just a few miles away from Manhattan Beach. My camera shop said I might get a speedier repair if I went directly to the factory. I decided to make a beach day of it. I dropped off the camera then the boys and I headed to Manhattan Beach for the day. It was surprisingly easy. When we went to pick up the camera, we invited friends.

The Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium sits at the end of the pier. It is a small aquarium with a few tanks and a couple of starfish and anemone touch pools. On our first visit to beach, it was open. When we brought our friends, with promises of an aquarium visit, it was closed. Broken hearts were consoled with ice cream.

Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium hours of operation:
Monday-Friday 3PM to sunset
Saturday & Sunday 10AM-sunset

As for the camera, it was repaired within a week and under a surprise warranty. All fees were waived.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Baby Lizard Caught in the House

Yesterday I saw this baby lizard in our bedroom as I was reattaching some lines to the back of the stereo. Then in the afternoon I saw him again sunning himself in a small patch of sun on the floor in the late afternoon. But both times he scurried under the bookshelf that holds the stereo.

This morning I got my chance to catch him when I found him on the laundry pile next to the bed. Although this one could probably be easily tamed since it's so young we followed the catch and release program in place here at Camp Ramshackle.

He left us a little souvenir.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Welcome Home

One day this week, after a regular day at the office, I returned home to find this beautiful welcome home sign. Wow! What a great thing to come home to.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

Our friend Mark Frauenfelder wrote a nice review of the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.

Mark writes about how he has been putting Shell's recommendations into practice for the last couple of years:
"When I start thinking I need to buy something I first ask myself if owning it will truly make my family's life better in some way -- Will it save us time, or consume time? Do I have to learn a new user-interface to use it? What am I going to get out of it? What would happen if I put off buying it for a year? What else could I spend the money on that might be a better choice? Is it something I can hand down to my kids or will it break? Can it be serviced and repaired at home? Will it make our household environment more pleasant, or less pleasant? Will it clutter the house? how much storage space will it consume? These are then kinds of questions I now ask myself before buying something. The one thing I don't consider is how "cheap" something is. As a result, I don't buy nearly as much stuff as I used to (it turns out that my decision not to be cheap has made me more frugal and thrifty) and the things I do buy more often end up being well-made and improve the quality of my family's life.

We couldn't agree with this approach more. I think I'll check out the book if I ever finish Infinite Jest.

Link to the complete review on Boing Boing

Fresh Picked Figs

Eric picked these figs last night. Our fig harvest is balanced between ripening on the tree versus birds as eager to eat them as we are. Two figs are still on our tree, the birds' portion of our harvest.

Correction (Eric here): Actually the birds have only gotten two - there are plenty more, we just have to watch closely as they ripen. I left the two bird pecked figs on the tree in hopes that they will finish those easy to reach, nice and ripe figs before moving to the others. (Sorry Julia, for the misunderstanding)


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Handsewn Logs

I have long admired My Imaginary Boyfriend's DIY log pillow kit.  I remember seeing a beautiful handsewn stump by Stephanie Barnes' now silent little birds handmade.  The stump I remember was larger than the one I linked.  I believe it was a birthday gift for her son.  It looked like it was about a foot tall and at least as wide with dark felt bark, all handstitched.  It looked like an object made with so much love.  Perhaps I'll allow myself the slightly kitschy indulgence of the log pillow kit before creating a version of my own.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sewing Safety

Safety is a priority for my youngest son, although I suspect his love for his helmet is really a fashion choice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yesterday's Harvest

Keeping it simple here at Camp Ramshackle, here's yesterday's harvest getting a bath.

Julia whipped some of it (the assorted tomatoes) into this pasta with additional lemon and basil from the garden. She added capers and kalamata olives from a jar - salt and garlic and olive oil.

It was delicious.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More Carboy Cleaning

I think it's finally clean. Home brewed beer is a tremendous motivator.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Backyard Birdsong Guide

I picked up a copy of The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Western North America at an overpriced gardening store now shuttering it's doors. I have contemplated the purchase of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology audio field guide for quite some time but balked at the purchase price. The Western North America version is considerable smaller with fewer birdsongs. But the birds are exactly the ones we see on our property, so I made the dive and bought the book at a 20% discount.

The battery cover was missing. This was the last copy. I hemmed and hawed, then made the purchase. I figured I could make my own cover. I used a scrap piece of cardboard cut to size and covered it with flowered origami paper. The book is enjoyed by all.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Baking Bird on Kombucha

photo by The Baking Bird

I recently discovered the lovely The Baking Bird blog. What's to love? Santa Cruz, Shopper's Corner, food, food and more food, great photographs and kombucha. Kylie shares well researched information on brewing your own kombucha with many helpful links, especially one on balancing your kombucha. I look forward to adding more fizz to my fermented tea.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

First Batch of Kombucha

My fondness for G.T.'s Organic Raw Kombucha is an expensive habit. I love the fizzy fermented tea and recently discovered Botanica No. 9. I've read about making your own kombucha, but I was intimidated by the process. After reading Mark Frauenfelder share his kombucha tales, I thought I take a shot.

Eric and I bottled our first batch. And it is surprisingly delicious. I bought the culture from KombuchaAmerica. With the bottling of this first batch, the purchase has paid for itself. Now, I'll enjoy kombucha daily without breaking the bank.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Getting Ready to Brew Beer

For father's day this year I got a brew kit and supplies minus the carboy (large glass jug). Julia's dad had given her an old Arrowhead water bottle a few years ago and since she knew it was sitting in the garage there was no need to buy another. All I had to do was clean it out with the my new large bottle brush and I'd be in business. Here's the rub: there was an strange looking dried out black substance stuck to the bottom of the bottle.

I filled the bottle a few inches with soapy water and let it sit a while. The strange substance didn't budge an inch. Next I used pure vinegar with some baking soda (and a little soap). That worked a little better but after a few hours of work distributed over the course of several days, I realized that I needed something else.

Last night I went into the bathroom and notice some rubbing alcohol on the counter. I poured it into the bottle and voila! the gunk began to dissolve. By the next morning the gunk has almost completely dissolved. I figure I have another hour or so to go get the remaining gunk and residual off the bottle but am now getting a little more excited about brewing my first batch of beer. (BTW for IPA lovers I tried a special Sierra Nevada brew named Torpedo on our vacation and loved it. )