Friday, December 31, 2010

Year's End & Beginning

The "suncatcher" in Portland, OR

I was listening to NPR this morning and all the year end recaps of events, passings and landmarks.

I've been thinking about my own year end inventory and wanted to share a few posts from others that inspired me and remain in my thoughts: Mastastico's My push foot big toe has gang green; Holy Scrap Hot Spring's Home Sweet Home: T or C, NM; Homegrown Evolution's Slaughtering Turkeys for Thanksgiving; and Our Yellow House's picture of her girls at the beach (entire post: I Left My Brain in Maine).

Thank you to Mister Jalopy & Dinosaurs and Robots, Homegrown Evolution and Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing for the props on Ramshackle Solid's Etsy store.

Thank you for visiting these pages and joining us on this journey. On behalf of Ramshackle Solid, happy new year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Annals of Home Improvement: Screen Clips

Eric made an ingenious clip out of a fallen toyon branch to keep our bathroom cabinet door from swinging open a while back. The screen on our living room window has been plagued by a similar malfunction. It keeps falling out. The ledge is too small to hold a traditional clip, so after picking the screen up and putting it back in place the third time on one day, I realized two toyon-inspired clips could remedy the problem.

I pulled out Eric's Japanese saws and split a felled branch scavenged from the yard, drilled it & counter sunk the top so that the screws would be flush with the clip. I fixed the screen. Next, paint the house. Well, that one will have to wait. I'll just bask in the glow of a fixed screen right now.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Vacation

The kids are out of school for the next few weeks, the holidays are over, it feels like a real winter vacation around these parts. A stack of new to us books are being read, projects attended to and the ever growing weeds being pulled. I realize a lot of the world is under snow right now, but it's a busy gardening time in southern California. The native plants emerge from hibernation as do the prolific invasive grasses despite a heavy layer of mulch.

I'm wondering if I can adopt the Winter Wonderfarm model of Hayes Valley Farms & try to entice some kids to help with weeding pulling under the aegis of a "permaculture-centric" day camp. The Hayes Valley Farm experience is for kids three to thirteen. I think Camp Ramshackle's hypothetical model just boils down to child labor:

San Francisco's first urban farming day camp for kids. Set to run from December 20th to 30th, the permaculture-centric program will be held at Hayes Valley Farm, a community-run experiment on an empty lot in the heart of the city.

Participating children should be ready to get their hands dirty; the program features a number of "farm-to-fork" activities, including processing compost, planting seedlings and cooking with local chefs. There will also be some yoga, naturally (this is San Francisco, after all).

via: Fast Company

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And to All a Good Night

Happy holidays & a very merry Christmas to all who celebrate. Like all in southern California, we have been inundated with rains (more to come including the Great Olive Deluge), but we enjoyed a wonderful sunny day with the evening turning to strong rains. I'm listening to the rains falling inside my chimney as I write. We wish a safe journey home to all those out on the roads.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Lovely Eye Documenting Growth

Photos & composition by Lisa Wagner

I must confess, this time of the year is a challenge for me. My pursuit of slow happiness, spiced cider and quality family time is shaken by the roar and speed of the season. Somehow reason & scheduling aligned and I found myself with youngest son and friend Lisa Wagner in my son's preschool garden for the grounding and recharge needed to make sense and take delight in the hustle and bustle of the season.

Lisa Wagner has a beautiful eye, amazing mind and a sparkling crisp pen. Her writing reminds me of a walk outdoors down a dirt path with fresh leaves splayed out like prayers. As you walk down the path amid all the beauty, it is the smell of fresh earth and fallen leaves that grips you and seeps deeply into your soul. It's a place I always love to be.

She captured our time together in the garden and posted it on Facebook. I don't know if she allows uninvited friends to view, but I will post a link with her lovely sourced quote. Her photos & captions are beautiful:

Among Lisa's many accomplishments and talents, she is also the creative mind (with her delightful daughter) of the Fall Googly Eye Festival.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beautiful Handmade Jewelry

Our friend Mark just posted about the new Ramshackle Solid Etsy Store (thanks Mark!). But since our store is now temporarily sold out, shoppers might also like the work of our friend Maidel offered in her Etsy shop Millennium General Assembly. Really Lovely stuff.

Items on Top of My Grandmother's Dresser

In no particular order...wagon designed & constructed in my early childhood, doll from Ecuador, rag twine, box constructed in my twenties, Tivoli speaker/clock, birthday bouquet, change jar, books.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weather Proofing the Front Door

One of the best things you can do to conserve energy is to weather proof your house. Our house is old, ramshackle and very leaky. We try to seal it up but it can be difficult. Before this project I think the gap around our front door probably added up to a full square inch of open space even after a previous attempt to seal it with foam tape. We had been using a kind of beanbag thing at the bottom of the door to seal that part but I hate those things; they are always in the way when you are trying to get through the door, especially when entering from the outside and we were less inclined to use it in the summer because it's harder to feel the effect when it's not in place.

I was installing a permanent solution to the gap at the bottom of the door when I noticed this gap along the side.

The store bought sticky-backed foam weather stripping stuff never really did the trick. Our gap is not uniform so tape thick enough to work at the bottom blocks the door from closing at the top and if it works at the top it doesn't really help at the bottom. On top of that the foam partially disintegrated over a couple of years, especially where the dogs rub against it as they pass by. As you can see in the picture even with the foam, the gap is very obvious in places.

A while back our good friend Mr. Jalopy gave us some used inner tubes from his bike shop/everything store Coco's Variety. We asked for them so we could make some slingshots but as I looked at the gap and considered a time and money sucking trip to the hardware store I wondered if the bike tubes could work as weather stripping.

The solution was to trim the tube so that it's natural curve keeps it in contact with the door when it closes but goes completely flat where the gap is pretty tight. I had to cut around the door catches but it still swings shut easily and even buffers against slamming a little.

Now thinking back I probably could have done something similar with the gap at the bottom of the door but I had already bought this squeegee-like thing from the hardware store for $10. It worked like a charm. I took this picture of the gap after having marked where the screw holes needed to be drilled.

The new seal works like a charm. It's completely invisible when the door is shut and kind of adds to our ramshackle aesthetic when it's open. I probably could have been more careful with the installation but the first time through I didn't want to spend too much time on it in case it didn't work. We have several casement windows that could use a similar treatment around the house which I can do individually as time permits.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

After Dark

The end of November and December are especially full. In addition to the holidays, our house celebrates two birthdays. Mouths full of cake, we begin another orbit around the sun. Utor iter itineris.

And thank you for all the etsy love.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vinho Espumante: Professional Boxer



with a badass.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Scoby Gone Wild

This is what happens when you let a kombucha scoby grow for three months. I am currently reading Paul Stamets' 1995 article "Kombucha The Manchurian Mushroom My Adventures with 'The Blob'" (originally published in Mushroom, The Journal Winter 1994-1995). The article has me questioning my use of kombucha. Still, I have another fresh brew on the shelf (not with these scobys).

Thanks to Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen the Homegrown Evolution duo for the reading recommendation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saving Pants from the Flood

I picked up a pair of pants from Out of the Closet thrift store last week. For six dollars, they seemed good enough for the sartorial demands of my casual life. However, they were a bit short. Not drastically, but short enough to have a vaguely Pee Wee Hermanesque flood quality to them.

I ripped the hem out. There wasn't enough material to lengthen the pant leg and keep a proper hem.

To address the issue, I used some bias tape I scored at a local yard sale a few years ago. I machine stitched the bias tape on the raw edge, created a half inch hem & hand sewed the hem. The hem looks neat and keeps the length. Now I have a new pair of pants for a fraction of the cost.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Avocado Redux

Back in February of this year we planted a Haas Avocado in this spot and a Stewart at the bottom of the yard. Everything was going pretty well for the tree at the bottom of the of the yard but the one up here was struggling. Then in late September we had the hottest day on record in Los Angeles and neither tree recovered.

Even though the heat is what finally killed the trees I think our poorly draining soil was responsible for their limited success to that point. If they had grown more vigorously prior to the heat wave they may have been big enough to survive. This time I created a truly ramshackle 18 inch retaining wall using a technique that was influenced by gabion walls. It was made using only materials we had on hand in about half a day.

This time we went with a Zutano at the top of the hill and put another Haas at the bottom. I expanded the previous efforts to amend the soil and ensure that the drainage is as good as it can be.

At the top of the hill I built a retaining wall to hold in a much larger quantity of amended soil. I reused some of the T-posts we were no longer using to hold up the concrete reinforcing wire fence that Phoenix replaced with wood a few weeks ago. I doubled up some chicken wire and ran that inside of a scrap piece of galvanized wire fence. The doubled up chicken wire helps hold in some of the smaller rocks that would pass through the thicker wire fence otherwise. Then I filled the space with rocks, broken cement pieces and bricks.

Carting the rocks up that steep hill was a pain in the neck. I'll add another course when I recover. I back filled the wall with home made potting soil made with our compost, perlite, gypsum and some organic fertilizer formulated for avocados. It's almost like a raised bed now and I hope it will drain better this time.

So far the tree looks pretty happy and the wall looks good enough from the distance that most people will see it. I'll add another row of rocks and more soil mixture in a week or so and keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fence Addition

Our friend Phoenix finished the fence on the east side of our property that butts up to the newer developments.

In 2004, fueled by repeated dog breeches and terrorized mail carriers, Eric and I built the fence surrounding the lower east, south & west sides of our property. We left the east side open because it was amusing to us that the big new mansions had a lovely vista into our yard with a decrepit chicken coup christened the "What-Have-You" by the developer. Our yard kind of matches the neighborhood. On the hillside to the south of us, one neighbor has about three abandoned station wagons and two VW bugs on blocks...our neighborhood Concours d'Elegance.

Thanks, Phoenix, for the beautiful fence. I think I see the developer next door crying tears of joy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Craft Fair Debut

My sons' preschool holds two very low key craft fairs each year. Part of the proceeds are donated to the school. There is no booth fee. So it makes it pretty easy to participate. Since my oldest started at the school three years ago, I've contemplated participating with a table of my own.

I finally got it together this year. I made some bamboo utensil holders and two tiffin carriers. Eric gave me a utensil kit three years ago as a present. I use them all the time. I thought I'd share the love and make some for others.

I added a few plants to fill in the table: nasturtium grown from seed harvested from our yard and some succulents also from our yard.

The boys contributed the fishing poles. The idea was conceived by my oldest son. Many were made over the summer and became gifts for friends. When I mentioned the pending craft fair, I asked my oldest if he was interested in making some. My youngest jumped in and harvested the bulk of the branches. We had a great evening putting them together. The boys were thrilled that people bought them.

Ironically, the year I finally get it together to participate, the craft fair was shut down early by the police for lack of proper permits. A real renegade craft fair.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Annals of Home Improvement: Kitchen Reorganization

Eric and I reworked our kitchen space a bit with a few small improvements. Above is the kitchen before shot.

We thoroughly cleaned out the dryer and flipped the door so that it opens to the left. We use our laundry line outside the house, but we still have a dryer in the house. We've had it since we moved in.

Whenever I think about the To Have and Have Not debate surrounding a dryer, I am reminded of Kelly Coyne's funny recap of the ongoing debate in her house. She writes about it in her and Erik Knutzen's wonderful book The Urban Homestead.

We added some simple hooks. I originally suggested we use some of the beautiful hooks Eric made from our olive trees. But he suggested something simpler would be better suited for the space. I agree.

I had picked up an old green metal cabinet a few years ago from a garage sale (the date stamped inside reads July 4, 1910). We had it on the ground in our kitchen to house a few tools frequently used around the house, gardening gloves and a few other items. Eric built a stand with casters for it, which makes cleaning around it much easier. We can just pull it out to sweep and mop.

Eric counter sunk the bolts and threaded on the casters to a piece 2x4 then glued them to a cut piece of plywood.

The original cabinet is on the bottom. Eric remembered another cabinet from a work table I picked up at a garage sale over a decade ago and sagely suggested we put it in the kitchen on top of the other cabinet. This very small project has greatly improved how we use the space in our kitchen. Plus, I just love the way it looks.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oil Lantern Fix

Step aside slothfulness, there is work to be done. We just returned from a trip to Portland OR. Details to follow. I love trips out of town. A new town offers a new perspective. As much as I love departures, I equally love the return. A few days away always makes me see my home in a new light. Projects seem less like an endless list & more like something that just needs a bit of dedicated attention.

The weekend before Portland, I picked up four oil lanterns at a garage sale for $1.50 to add to our collection if three. We use them for patio lights. All were in need of some TLC. Upon returning home, I took to cleaning, replacing wicks as necessary and refilling them with citronella oil.

Four are now back in action. One, a Paull lantern (from the 1920s, I discovered), is awaiting a new globe. The Czech-made Meva 864 & one Dietz Comet #50 need new burners. From my research, the Dietz #50 may be a lost cause. According to (where I bought the new globe for the Paull), Dietz does not make a replacement burner for the #50. I did, however, locate a replacement burner for the Meva 864 from the manufacturer in the Czech Republic. I sent an email of inquiry & hope for the best.

I have not given up on the Dietz. The burner is manufactured without the intention of letting it be opened (unlike the other lamps). But perhaps I might be able to figure something out. Until then, I have four in action with a fifth to join the working lantern posse soon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Annals of Home Improvement: Trailer Hook Up

Plumbing is one of those tasks where I depend on professionals. It seems like it would be so easy to hook one pipe up to the next, but it never works that way for me. I was impressed by Jeremy's work at Rancho Garbanzo where he replaced his house's main line to the city sewage. Nevertheless, the pros dug in to attach the trailer to the main sewage line.

Having the right tool for the a jackhammer to remove the helpful. Prior to this job, we ran a camera down the sewage line to see where we needed to dig. Some people opt for general ballpark digging. We figured it was worth the cost to know exactly where the connection would be made.

By turning the trailer around, the distance to dig was reduced from about 20 feet to about five feet.

Pedro our plumber made quick work attaching the pipes. (The sinister gouge to the left of the pipe occurred about a year ago after some serious rainfall. The trailer fell from the jacks and landed with a crunch. Fortunately, the trailer was unoccupied and no one was hurt. The gouge was the extent of the damage.)

He exchanged the solid pipe for a flexible hose. Although it may be the soundest structure at Camp Ramshackle, it's a trailer and bound to settle. The flexible pipe allows for a bit of movement.

The dirt was replaced on the driveway. Next, we'll need to repair the asphalt.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Annals of Home Improvement: The Trailer

When the Streamline trailer was hauled to the Ramshackle Compound in 2008, Eric and I discussed the idea of hooking it up to a main sewage pipe to make the bathroom completely functional.

A Main House pending bathroom remodel in our one bathroom home made the trailer sewage hookup a priority. Before we set to cutting the driveway to attach the trailer to the main line, we wanted to change the orientation of the trailer so that the doors opened to the north and faced the house.

Eric and our friend Phoenix pumped up the tires, lowered the trailer and took her out for a short voyage down the street. I had envisioned a mad loop around the neighborhood to turn the trailer around.

Instead, Eric wisely rode down the street, backed it up about 30 feet and drove the beast back in with the hitch facing towards the garage. I don't see how people drive these trailers on vacations. They seem so huge and unwieldy.

And who needs to vacation when you can be right here?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mixer Is Back in the Mix

Slothful confession #1. My Kitchen Aid mixer has been broken for over a year. While using the mill attachment to grind tapioca into flour (not an approved grain in the mill instructions), I stripped the gears. Rebelliously, I willfully ground unapproved grains in the mill. And the mill did well for quite some time. But the round tapioca balls proved too much for the machine. With great sadness, I inadvertently rode the nag until she dropped.

I felt guilty for killing the Kitchen Aid and stymied by the prospect of figuring out what was wrong with it. I called upon professionals, not a psychologist who may have been better equipped to deal with the problem, but a certified Kitchen Aid repair shop only to find the cost of repair would be about the same cost of a new mixer.

So I realized I needed to crack the thing open and figure out what was going on. If I destroyed it while surveying the damage, no harm done. It would cost about the same to buy a new one as to repair it.

But I didn't do that. And the mixer sat on my counter eying me as I hand-mixed cookies, pizza dough and bread for over a year. I'm not proud of it. This is a Slothful Confession, after all.

Enter the Pity of Friends. Our friend Phoenix is in town. Unencumbered by guilt of destruction, he broke open the Kitchen Aid waded through the grease and diagnosed the problem.

Two gears were ordered & replaced. Grease was changed. The mixer rides again. Thanks Phoenix.