Sunday, May 31, 2009

Late Season Manroot Removal

A while back I posted about some manroot clean up that we did. This is a follow up of what you have in store if you don't clean it up when it's still green. The pods are vicious things the size of small potatoes. The spikes will easily pierce leather gloves so I don't wear them anymore. I find that it is easier to be careful without them. Inside the pod are smooth hard seeds that I am told were used by the Native Americans as beads for necklaces.

Here are the before and after shots of the fence. Maybe next year I'll have the time to dig out the roots so I won't have to clean the fence off for a while but now that the ground is dried out it is almost impossible to find the roots. Even if I were to find one, the earth here is a clay which is chipped at rather than dug into once it is dry. Besides, I have other projects that are more pressing. like getting the new bed planted (better late than never).

Manroot Maintenance
Hedgehog from a Manroot Seedpod

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Morning Hike

My oldest son is an early riser. At one point in his young life, he was waking up at 4:30AM ready to take on the day. Everyone else in our family likes to sleep in. I've always wanted to take advantage of my son's early mornings with a morning hike. Today, we finally did.

We live next to a small hill with a short trail. We climbed up to enjoy the view, saw some cottontail rabbits, spotted and regular towees and a cairn.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Big Lizard

Alright, really it's a monitor not a lizard. Lizard Boy makes an appearance at my son's preschool each year. His visit is always greatly anticipated.

My youngest son happened to be chasing lizards outside the school when we bumped into Lizard Boy and his reptilian crew on their way out. Perhaps Lizard Boy sensed a kindred spirit in my youngest son. He stopped in his tracks and treated us to a private show.

Frilled Necked Lizard

Lizard Boy 2.0?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

And Now Presenting...The Puppet Theater

My son brought home his latest creation from preschool. The wax paper milk carton was cut with two holes on opposite sides, one high (for the show) and one low (stage entrance). First, auditions. A cast was assembled. Make up. Then on to wardrobe.

The show did go on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Baby Praying Mantis in the Kitchen Sink

This critter was so small, I didn't notice it until after I finished doing dishes. Luckily, it survived.

The praying mantis is an awesome creature. Eric has an amazing story where he witnessed a praying mantis capture a hovering bee. Locked in the mantis' green forearms, the bee struggled and strained to free itself. The mantis held fast until the bee finally succumbed to exhaustion. I see why it inspired a whole style of kung fu. Elegant, graceful and stoically fierce.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Target Practice - Ramshackle Style

After falling victim to friendly fire from the squirt bottles many times this Monday morning, I decided some target practice would do us all good. The buckets are great; they have built in bulls eyes and ring when you score a hit. No batteries, no packaging, nothing to recycle or donate - perfect.

"Go ahead make my day."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Working With Your Hands

Alec Soth for the New York Times

Motorcycle mechanic and writer Matthew B. Crawford makes The Case for Working With Your Hands in a thoughtful New York Times essay.

Newly christened with a masters degree, Crawford entered the white collar economy in the early 1990s with a cubicle of his own and the task to write academic journal abstracts. After eventually earning a Ph.D. in political philosophy, he opened his own motorcycle repair shop. Through his work repairing vintage motorcycles, he finds fulfilling work which combines the intellectual rigors of problem solving with tangible results. Crawford's essay is based on his newly published book Shop Class as Soulcraft.

I am reminded of a great interview of Mr. Jalopy on Studio 360°.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Nest Update: Then There Was One

The last finch is still in the nest. It's behind its siblings; they've all fledged and had all their feathers days ago. This one still has a bald head. It's parents and brothers and sisters are still around though so we're hoping it will take it's first flight next week.

I feel bad for it all alone in there but it won't be long.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Broodwork : Creative Practice and Family Life

We're going to try to go to this opening tomorrow:
Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock is pleased to present the exhibition BROODWORK: Creative Practice and Family Life, curated by Rebecca Niederlander and Iris Anna Regn, opening Saturday, May 23, 2009 with a reception from 3-6p.m.

The idea for the exhibit came from the personal experiences of the two curators reconceiving their creative practices after becoming parents. Parenthood changes everyone, however, since artists (like Niederlander) and architects (like Regn) invent out of their own experience, the issues surrounding the complete life change of parenthood give rise to specific opportunities for rethinking and reconsidering.

More Information about Broodwork: Creative Practice & Family Life

Nursery School Garden: Now

The obligatory "before" picture:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Strawberry Picking at Underwood Family Farms

Mild temperatures and a slight breeze made strawberry picking at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark a true delight.

Grandpa converted coffee cans into baskets.

Perfect for holding berries...

...or not.

Witness the berry thief in action.

Produce picking is open to the public. For hours, admission fees and more information, visit Underwood Family Farms.

Blueberry picking season starts this Saturday, May 23, at Underwood Family Farms in Somis. The season is short, ending mid-July. Before it's over, the Camp Ramshackle Berry Picking Crew will take on the blueberry harvest, coffee can baskets in hand.

Pumpkin Patch at Underwood Family Farms

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angeles Crest Camping Update

Ilsa Setziol of Rambling LA and her husband planned a great trip for some local camping at Chilao in the Angeles Crest Forest. We took them up on their offer to join them in the mountains last week. The camp is about 30 miles from Camp Ramshackle, which made it easier to attain escape velocity from the gravitational pull that is home base. I highly recommend camping with friends. We split cooking duties and kid supervision which really made the time in the woods much more relaxed and enjoyable. And Ilsa and her husband are incredibly knowledgeable about local plants and history not to mention master storytellers. It's like having a living guide book as your camp companion.

A few highlights from a fantastic trip:

Make-shift outdoor bath. It felt so Deadwood.

Grilled corn enjoyed with gusto.

And hammock naps for the tuckered camper. After this trip, I'm inspired to venture out more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bogie and Bacall on the Pacific Crest Trail

While we were out camping in the Angeles Forest, we had the luck to cross paths with Bogie and Bacall, two veteran hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail starts in Mexico and ends in Canada. Bogie and Bacall started in Mexico one month ago and hope to be in Canada in September. Eric and I aspire to some back country hiking ourselves. I don't know if we'll ever do a thru-hike on the PCT, but I plan to follow Bogie and Bacall's journey on for some insight on how to do it.

More updates on our camping trip soon. Great hikes, good food, great company, and camping outdoor baths for the younger set. A good time was had by all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Deja Vu - Skunked Again

It's the season.

Skunk Spray Remedy - This Works!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Nest update #2

Ok, I thought yesterday's picture was cute until I saw this one.

Previously: Baby Birds in the Tent

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bird Update #1

Ramshackle Solid has gone camping. In the meantime we thought we'd share these baby bird updates. This picture was taken 5/11. It's interesting to compare with the pictures from the previous post which were taken 5/3. Tomorrow we have an even cuter picture scheduled.

Previously: Baby Birds in the Tent

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Highland Park Community Garden Dedication

[Correction - the garden's name is actually: Milagro Allegro Community Garden]

This weekend the boys and I (Julia went too but later on) attended the dedication ceremony for the new Highland Park Community Garden. It was a fun event, we saw some friends, had some fresh veggie snacks and played but the highlight for me was the Native American dedication ceremony with prayers, song and a group dance.

Respect was paid to the four directions, the sky and the earth and the two seated drummers sang while everyone danced around in a circle with steps so the earth could feel it.

It was a good day. Here we are, dancing. (I know, it's hard to tell) My favorite moments are when people come together to do things that are out of the ordinary or asked to act in ways that uncharacteristic or even socially uncomfortable.

I can't wait to check back at the end of the summer to see what has come up.

Milagro Allegro Community Garden

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


One of the interesting thing about posting a blog about the goings on around Camp Ramshackle is that we can measure our progress on projects and look back to last year when a similar thing happened. Like when that swarm appeared in our cherry tree compared to when Kirk brought us a nuc box of bees to keep.

We'll it was just under a year ago when we posted about Trudy getting skunked and our tried and true home cure.

This time I got another picture with the concoction applied. Just be careful not to get it in her eyes. I like to work the paste into the fur the wrong direction because I think it does a better job. It also works best if you leave it on long enough to go back inside and grab your camera for the humiliating shot of the paste covered dog.

Skunk Spray Remedy - This Works!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Widow in the Barbecue

It's almost a ritual: The removal of the black widow. It occurs every year just prior to the lighting of the first barbecue of the season.

This one was guarding her brood in this neat little egg sack.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day Barbecue

We hosted our family for a Mother's Day barbecue yesterday and had a great time. Four grandmothers (one a great grandma) were in attendance and, of course, 1 super mother (Julia). These meals are truly rewarding but they are also quite a bit of work. Julia worked especially hard on a day when she should be the one being pampered. I have to say that I really do appreciate all the hard work and patience and sacrifice that Julia puts into being a fantastic mother and partner. I'm a lucky guy.

On top of that, the weather was perfect (even for California) and the long table remained in shade the whole day. Who could ask for more?

Here's the table before everyone sat down.

Judging by the clean plates and clean corn cobs I think the meal was a success.

In honor of Mother's Day we decided to give the mother bird in the tent a reprieve from having her nest moved out of the tent. We didn't want to keep her away from her chicks for 3 or 4 hours while we ate but moving the nest felt inappropriate given the occasion so we just moved the tables out to another area of the yard. We'll have wait for another opportunity to show how to move a nest should the need arise.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sugar Cane Shoot

A welcome addition to our Ramshackle garden. Our oldest son is very excited about the prospect of "growing sugar".

Sugar Cane from Solano Community Garden

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wet Shaving Update

I got some new shaving supplies in the mail today. I ordered a sample pack of blades from West Coast Shaving. They were out of the Gillette blades that are supposed to come with it so I got a little IOU in the box letting me know that they'll ship them as soon as they are available. Even without the other 5 or 10 blades this feels like an excellent value. It came to about $19, before tax and shipping for 35 blades and a cake of Col. Conk shave soap (almond). That's about the same price as 8 Gillette Fusion cartridges on Amazon (with no soap) which are mostly plastic wrapped in lots more plastic.

The 10 Merkur blades Julia gave me with the razor have lasted me since the beginning of December thanks to the sharpener the Phoenix gave me. If these new blades resharpen as well as the Merkur blades(about 5 extra shaves per blade), I won't be able to repurchase my favorites from the sample pack for a year and a half or more.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ceanothus Quandry

We have a fire pit/gathering place in our lower yard. Above a short river rock wall, we planted three Ceanothus 'Yankee's Point' shrubs with the intent that they would slowly grow and create a curtain of thick waxy green leaves. Above is the dream actualized. Below, the nightmare unfolds.

Every time I walk past this Ceanothus, my heart breaks. I haven't figured out what's wrong and what I can do to help it. So far, I've pulled off some of the dying leaves. I've pruned out the dead branches in hopes I can excise what ails it. In some areas of the plant, I see new growth. But larges swaths of the plant continue to shrivel and die.

Last year, the middle Ceanothus died. The plant was much smaller then so the drama of it's demise was not as dramatic. Eric and I thought maybe a gopher got last year's plant. We replaced that one, and it's thriving. I'm hoping we can save this one.

Tips and suggestions are welcome.