Thursday, April 30, 2009

Built a Better Bird Feeder

My oldest son and I followed Bert's instructions in Big Bird's Busy Book at the weekly meeting of the Sesame Street Pigeon Lovers Club.

We built a simple bird feeder and filled it with some seed and apple slices.

Now, we wait and watch for birds.

Big Bird's Busy Book Pinwheel Project
Cherished Childhood Relic Resurrected

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lizard Skin Found While Chipping

While using the chipper on Sunday, I found this lizard skin entangled in one of the dried out plants. It had probably used the branches to scrape it's skin off. It's front legs are intact and if you look closely you can see it's eye. Click on the image to get a bigger version.

Here is what I saw as I was breaking the plant up to stuff into the hopper.

Then I noticed this larger section on the tarp I use to keep the dust down. The leaf wrapped around the skin is now a part of it. Taking the leaf off would almost certainly break the skin.

This is a big alligator lizard - about as big as they get around here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Highlights from

If you follow this blog you know that the beekeeping club we belong to has a blog at I occasionally post there but am becoming increasingly intimidated by the high quality of the posts.

Kirk gives audio dispatches from the field that are fantastic. Each day I check back to hear the latest. It's like getting a message on your answering machine from a friend Actually now that I think about it, it is exactly that. Russell, Amy, Leonardo, Steven, and everyone else who posts do an awesome job conveying their excitement, enthusiasm and passion.

Now for my latest faves here is Fernando in his homemade beekeeping suit.

You can read and hear about it here: Bees for Fernando

The only thing cooler than Fernando's beekeeping suit is his bees current home - an old paint thinner can. Too bad he can't keep them in there permanently but there is no room to expand and I think the residual chemicals might taint the honey.

You can read and hear about the can discovery here: Bees in a can, and other adventures.

I think the photo credits go to Pshaz, Kirk and Russell, but I'm not quite sure. Apologies if I've gotten it wrong - please someone let me know.

Update: Next Bee Meeting - Sunday, May 3rd

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weeds Fight Back

Sunday I started on the chipper. I had a bunch of native plants (sage, buckwheat and toyon), some suckers from the pomegranate tree and olive trees, and some non-native invasive plants that hadn't gone to seed yet - mostly horehound.

Everything was going well until, as I was pushing a big bunch of horehound and sage through the shredder, the port where the shredded material is expelled became clogged and the whole thing exploded into a huge cloud of vaporized herbs.

Here it is several seconds later expelling a steady stream of vaporized allergens, like some evil villain's depraved weapon of mass congestion. Holy antihistamines Batman!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weed Whacked

Don't be alarmed, it's only me decked out (the family says I look like the "Weed-a-Bomber") for my annual weed warfare. This time of year is really tough on me. First it's taxes in mid April, then fire inspections start on May 1. We have to have our whole yard trimmed up and cleared of weeds and grasses.

Here's the before picture. I think it looks pretty nice but this will get us a big fat fine and the fire dept. will come and clear it themselves, then bill us for the work. The only reason some of the grass is still green is due to the shade from our trees. In another two weeks this would all be straw like you can see in the background.

Here it is immediately after trimming but before I raked it all up. This is one of 5 areas that have to be trimmed each year. It takes about 2 solid days of work get the whole yard into compliance.

My legs look like pin cushions when I am done. I am also allergic to the type of grasses that I have to cut so, even though I wear a bandanna, I sometimes get shortness of breath for a while afterward - yea.

We used to have much more work to do. Then we planted an area about twice the size of the one pictured with California native plants. The natives really keep the grasses and other weeds to a minimum - not weed free but workable. Eventually we will have much more of the yard planted with a mix of natives and edibles which will displace the grass and weeds.

Next year we will seriously consider a goat contractor. First we need to figure out how to protect the desirable plants from the goats, and the goats from the dogs before we go that route.

Tomorrow I get to haul out the "Patriot" chipper and make mulch from the branches and plant material that is suitable for mulch. Normally I perversely enjoy the chipper, but tomorrow, after a solid day of swinging the weed whacker, I hope to get through as quickly and painlessly as humanly possible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Finch Trapped in Trailer

Upon returning home from picking my son up from school, I saw our trailer door was open. I shut it and went inside the house to make lunch. Little did I realize my simple housekeeping measure had created a trailer aviary.

When I headed back outside within the hour, I saw a bird fly up to the front window in a vain attempt to escape. In that glimpse, I figured it was a sparrow or a finch. My oldest had already discovered the bird and was inside the Streamline with it. My youngest and I joined him and saw our captive was indeed a female finch.

We opened the front door to the right of the louvered window and stood to block the off the rest of the trailer. We watched her confused frightened search for escape. She flew from the side window to the front, pausing and perching after each flight. After about three minutes dancing back and forth, she ventured farther and found freedom. For a brief moment, her tiny body was framed by the door. She greeted the world with an excited trill.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great Gardening Books

A friend recently started gardening and asked if I had any books to recommend. The absolute workhorse in our house is the Sunset Western Garden Book. It covers vegetable gardening, native and non-native plants. I also consistently refer to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Care & Maintenance of Southern California Native Plant Gardens which is printed in Spanish and English.

But the best gardening education is to do it. Stick it in the ground, give it water and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Big Bird's Busy Book Pinwheel Project

After pouring through the pages of my childhood copy of Big Bird's Busy Book, my son was compelled to make a pinwheel.

We continue on our quest to make every single project in this book.

Cherished Childhood Relic Resurrected

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Checking on the Bees

A few weeks ago I wrote about opening the hive without smoking the bees enough. I learned my lesson about the smoke and, at Kirk's advice, I added another box (sorry no documentation) in anticipation of a large part of our garden coming into bloom. In the picture above the smoker is fueled with a torn up egg carton.

Here you can see the smoke wafting up after a gentle puff into the hive.

I could hear the bees get a little excited as I lifted the lid but from peeking in I could see that no comb had been drawn in the top box yet.

I pulled one frame to get a better look down into the second box and could see plenty of activity down there. I'll check again in a week or two. If I still find that there is no comb in the top box, I may move a frame or two from the lower box up into the top box to encourage the bees to use the extra space.

Recent bee posts:
Bee Update - A Learning Experience
Feeding the Bees
The Bees Have Landed

BTW - If you haven't visited lately check out the fantastic posts at the Backwards Beekeepers Blog

Monday, April 20, 2009

Outdoor Bathing Season Is Officially Open

One of the great delights where we live is an outdoor bath. With the temperature breaking ninety degrees on Sunday, it was a perfect day to clean out the tubs and let the young guys soak. At first, we only pulled out one tub thinking we'd rotate the kids through. But the youngest would have none of it.

So both tubs were cleaned out, add warm water and a kid, and you've got a pretty good thing going on. Our oldest son opted to stay in the tub until he could see the stars come out. A good thing indeed.

Graywater Ramshackle Style

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pozo Blue Sage

Salvia clevelandii x leucophylla

On the other side of weed abatement is the fantastic show from our California native garden. I wish I could share the smell of this sage. I love how the kids get caught in fragrant arms of this plant while exploring the yard, the dogs burrow into it while chasing lizards and I brush up against it while working away in the garden. When we return to the house, the intoxicating musky scent follows us throughout the evening.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nasturtium vs. Foxtail

Eric and I continue to battle the pervasive weed invasion that is part of our spring ritual. He was in the upper yard hacking away tall invasive grass. I was in the lower yard pulling weeds.

Now the plants have joined the fight. I found this foxtail in a nasturtium chokehold as if holding back the foxtail from dispersing seed. My money's on the nasturtium, and, frankly, the foxtail was double teamed. I pulled it out after this picture. I feel much better knowing the nasturtium's got my back.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Flowers Pressed

The pressed flowers are done.

California Native Flowers for Pressing

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cherished Childhood Relic Resurrected

I received this book as a Christmas present when I was six. My mother brought it over recently. I didn't recognize the cover of Big Bird's Busy Book but immediately remembered it when I opened it up. I spent hours and hours pouring over this book. I love the classic Sesame Street optimism captured in the pictures, stories and projects. My oldest son is captivated by the book.

Published in 1975, the book is "full of things to make and do" as Big Bird says on the first page. Oscar the Grouch opens the book with a "Save Your Junk" letter.
Dear Reader ...It has come to my attention soMe of YOU have been throwing away valuable TRASH! Well, STOP!
Oscar lists trash items to save for the projects in the book. Projects include "How to Make a Grouch-O-Phone", Luis's Fingerprint Pictures and Cookie Monster's Butterfly Cookies among others. While my youngest son napped, my older son and I went to the kitchen post-haste to make Butterfly Cookies.

We decided we will make every single project in the book.

The youngest was impressed with our confection. He looked at the cookie and in his nascent speech said, "Butterfly."

One project accomplished. We look forward to the next one.

Big Bird's Busy Book Starring Jim Henson's Muppets is out of print, but I saw some for sale on Amazon through third party vendors. The price range is extreme, starting at less than a dollar and going up to $190 for a mint condition copy. I'm so glad my copy is worn and ragged from use but still holding together so I can share it with my kids.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Armed with a piece of chalk (and in some areas crayon) my son added some flair to Camp Ramshackle.

The modified interior of the tent:

He pimped his car inside and out.

Then moved on to mine. I plan to be a sensation when I hit the streets.

Previous chalk manifesto:
Tour of California Chalk Score

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sugar Cookies of Spring

Our oldest son loves sugar cookies. To celebrate spring, we made some cookies.

Everyone lend a hand, from making the dough, rolling it out and decorating.

This recipe is from my mother. It truly is one of the most delicious sugar cookies ever.

White Sugar Cookies
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Mix sugar, butter, egg and vanilla thoroughly. Blend in flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Cover and chill 2-3 hours.
2. Heat oven to 375°. Divide dough into thirds. On lightly floured board roll each third of dough about 1/8" thick. Cut dough using cookie cutters. Place about an inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar (or leave plain and frost after baked and cooled). Bake 7-8 minutes until light brown. If frosting cookies, cool completely.

Sugar Frosting Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons milk
1-2 drops food coloring, if desired

Mix together, adding milk by drops to get desired consistency (like a thick milk shake that's just starting to thaw).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cool Handmade Woodburning Stove

Ben Lepley is building a one room work studio in Tuscon. I love the building but most of all I love the stove he built for it. The top white section is an enamel sink. I love the simplicity of the bent copper pipe for a spigot.

Here it is in action before the sink was enameled. I really feel compelled to learn welding so that I can build something like this.

See the flickr set of construction photos of Ben's rammed earth and adobe studio here: Ben Lepley's studio

Via Reference Library