Friday, January 29, 2010

My Son's Commute

My oldest son suggested that we take a shot at using public transit to get to his school. We set out early Thursday on foot.

Our first rendezvous--the Highland Park/Eagle Rock DASH, a bargain at 25 cents fare.

Then onto the train portion of our journey with compelling views of mountains...

...and freeway commuters.

Then we boarded the Sierra Madre Gateway Coach, which was a bit confusing. There was no Gateway bus stop sign at the station (missing for three years according to the bus driver after the adjacent apartment buildings were built). It ends up the stop is on the north side of the Sierra Madre Villa Station parking structure (not at the same location of all the other transit stops). I'm still trying to figure out the logic. In the meantime, City of Sierra Madre, a sign would be most helpful. (Note to self: send email to City of Sierra Madre today.)

And a picture of the homeward journey. My youngest son is his own stylist.

As I was making the journey with these guys, I was reminded of a segment on a now defunct radio program called Weekend America (I looked for a link but couldn't find it). A young mother in L.A., I believe, made a resolution to only use public transit for a year. No cars whatsoever. No relying on friends to pick you up for a run to the grocery store on the weekend (unless your friend is a bus driver). As many know, Los Angeles is not known for a particularly efficient public transit system. To make this woman's resolution even more heroic was that she was the mother of a toddler and an infant. Add that with a bag of groceries to your commute. My hat is off to all the mothers who do that each day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Taking the Train... and a bus and another train

Since my goal of riding my bike to work once a week has faltered lately with the holidays, a couple of colds and the rainy weather, I am exploring riding the train to work. It's not that I won't continue to ride my bike, it's just that I have realized that I am not nearly as intrepid as, say fellow blogger Tarik Saleh who not only commuted to work 100% of the time this year, he did plenty of that in the rain and snow. (if you are impressed with that check out his mileage tally) My hat is off to you Tarik!

The truth is, I am too old and my commute too far (27 miles round trip) to do more than one commute a week and even that is pushing it. So now I am exploring riding the train on the other days I commute (I try to work from home on Fridays when I can). Today was my second experiment. Taking the train doubles my commute time from an hour to 2 hours a day but nearly all of that is reading time which is like gold to me.

The scenery is pretty great too. For those not familiar with Los Angeles, this is the L.A. River. It actually is a real river that we just... enhanced by completely encasing it in concrete. We love our concrete in L. A. (there is an effort to bring some parts of this back to a more natural state)

Here's a scene from the ride home. It actually takes a bus and two trains to make the entire commute but in a way it is very similar to the wet shaving I posted about yesterday, it takes a little longer but the experience is so much more satisfying.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shaving Update

Eight months ago I bought a 5 pack blade sampler from West Coast Shaving and I have barely made a dent in the 40 blades. I haven't even been sharpening them with the cool sharpener that Phoenix gave me. Originally I thought I would go through all of the blades once without sharpening to see how many shaves I got out of each and then run through the pack again to see how many times I could resharpen each type. Somewhere along the way I lost count and the rigors of my research went down the drain.

Here's a count of the blades I've used so far:
4 Derby ($0.20 ea. made in Turkey)
3 Dorco ($0.08 ea. - Korea)
2 Merker ($0.45 - Germany, note: these weren't in my sample pack but I had 3 left from my original gift and still have one left now)
Crystal Super + ($0.18 - Israel, note: I don't see on WCS anymore but I got the price from Amazon)
1 Gillette 7 o'clock blades ($0.34 - Russia)
1 Feather ($0.40 - Japan)

That's $3.00 for 13 blades used over 8 months. Gillette double blade cartridges are $1.37 each. The Fusion cartridges are $2.47 each and I don't think they'd give as many shaves. At this pace I won't have to buy blades again until April 2011.

I have learned a few things from these 8 months:
  1. My favorite blades are the Crystal Super +. They last a long time, are sharp but not too sharp like the Feathers. I also like the Derby blades and the Gillette 7 o'clocks. Merkers aren't worth the price and the Dorcos - well, see number two.
  2. I may throw away the rest of the Dorcos rather than suffer through another shave with them. They seem to start out dull and get duller quickly. Dull blades tend to nick more because they don't cut cleanly through the whiskers and deflect into the skin. They also tend to cause a rash more often. After a break I'll give them another chance, or keep them around for a year as a backup when I run out of everything else.
  3. Rinsing blades with alcohol after a shave can extend the life of the blade considerably. I guess one of the things that dulls blades as much or more than use is oxidation. The rubbing alcohol gets rid of the water and stops the oxidation that happens along the edge of the blade. Some people soak their razors in caster oil or in rubbing alcohol but I just give it a little squirt from a bottle I keep in the medicine cabinet.
  4. You don't have to buy an expensive razor handle get into wet shaving. The other day I used one of the old handles that Julia had collected in her travels and although it looks a little beat up and has a lighter feel than my Merker, it shaves just as well if not better. I think you can get these on Ebay pretty cheap. Or the RetroRazor could be a good option.

All told, I could not be happier having made the switch to the traditional double edge safety razor/wet shaving set up. I can't imagine ever going back to the over priced, over plastic, and at times hard to find cartridge type razors no matter how many blades they can glue to 'em.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hello Sunshine

We've missed you. We celebrated the sunny day with friends, food and time outside.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Still Raining...Heavily

Rain with a few spots of hail. The trenches are still holding.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rain Runoff Redirected

In the midst of one of southern California's heavy weekend storms, Eric did some heroic work digging trenches, building embankments and moats. Our property is on sloped land. As the heavy rains come down, the water builds momentum leaving a wake of erosion.

In Bill Mollison's book on Permaculture, he says the best place to store water is in the ground. He talks about building eddies that slow down rain runoff, allowing the water to soak more deeply into the earth. Eric's been working on this on our property. Eric said the benefit of working in the heavy rain was that he was able to see how the water flows. There was no guessing if one area was higher or lower, the water spoke for itself.

Another storm swept over L.A. Wednesday afternoon. The storm offered the opportunity to take pictures of the fruits of Eric's labor.

The water that was seeping into our "Little House" is now diverted to the black sage.

The smells of the rain have been delicious.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Beauty of Freecycle

In 2003, Deron Beal started The Freecycle Network in Tuscon Arizona through a small non-profit called RISE. RISE was a recycling service to downtown Tuscon businesses. However, a lot of the items offered up for recycling were still working. Instead of channeling those items into recycling, the folks at RISE found themselves making phone calls to other non-profits/charities/friends who might be able to use them. To make distribution easier, Beal launched an email service, which is now known as Freecycle.

For those of you unfamiliar with how Freecycle works. you sign up for a group near you through their website. As a registered user, you can post items to give away, items you're looking for, or you can browse.

Recently, I was reading our local Freecycle and saw a post looking for an "Sonicare electric toothbrush base". While cleaning out my tool box, I found one. (We used the brush for cleaning items. The brush stopped working consistently, so I was ready to recycle it.) Instead of channeling the entire item into recycling, the base was "allowed another chance at glory" 1.

If you haven't given Freecycle a try, perhaps now is the time while you're cleaning out your closet and/or toolbox fueled by the promise of a new year's resolve.

1. Mr. Jalopy, bike advertisement for Coco's Variety, c. 2008ish.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lamp Fix

Our living room lamp finally gave up after about a month of steady complaints. The foot switch started to get sticky and unreliable. You'd step on the switch, it might or might not turn on the lamp. Over the weekend, it finally stopped working completely.

I opened the switch case to investigate. Sure enough, when I pressed it the telltale click was silent. I removed the switch and set out to the local hardware store with my youngest son "to do some very important business for our family". The only push button switch they had was too big to fit the case. The man behind the counter suggested a couple of locations to try.

I went back to the car, thinking about the goose chase that often accompanies small part chasing. I pulled the switch out and started to fiddle with it. After about five minutes, I got it to click again. After a few more minutes, it started to click consistently. My son and I headed back home.

The lamp shines again. The lesson learned is to spend a bit more time with the actual part trying to make it work before heading out to "fix" it. This fix may not be permanent, but it's the place to start on the road to repair.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Coco's Cast Iron Cookware Sale

Our friend Mister Jalopy is having a sale on Lodge cast iron cookware this week at his shop Coco's Variety in Silverlake. He also has a nice grilled cheese recipe using Gruyere and Fuji apples.

Cast iron cookware is almost indestructible and is a pleasure to use.

In honor of the grilled cheese, Coco's is having a Lodge cast iron sale this week. Just use the secret code phrase "grilled cheese" and get 20% off your Lodge purchase!

If you live in L.A. and haven't visited Coco's Variety (map) yet you should. Coco's is really a business as a work of art: beautiful, interesting and thought provoking; oh, and they sell oil cloth by the foot.

Coco's Cast Iron Cookware Sale

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Hoary Head of the Manroot

For regular readers, you may be familiar with the annual manroot battle at Camp Ramshackle. This past weekend Eric and the boys took a proactive strike against our garden nemesis.

Although the vine is quite lovely in appearance, the manroot leaves noxious spiky seedpods that can pierce through leather gloves.

Eric took the plant by the stalk...

...unearthed the manroot and disposed of the hoary head. Hopefully, this preemptive strike will reduce the massive yard invasion typical in spring.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Homemade Necklace

My oldest son made this elaborate necklace as a gift for me. Due to it's delicate nature, I thought it best to preserve an image of it in pristine condition.

My pajama pants are my finished project from Machine Project Sewing 102. I made the pattern from an existing pair of pajama pants to make these and used a thrifted bed sheet for material.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Infant Shirts

A friend is having her first baby. In honor of the beginning of a new being, I made a little gift. I added applique patches to these side snap shirts. I love the side snap shirt. Since most manufacturers seem to stop at size 3 months, I think I'll have to make one in my size.

I got the applique idea long ago from Shim and Sons. You cut out the material for your applique and back it with Steam-A-Seam. I machine stitched the patches for contrast. In the past, I've also hand sewn them on.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tree Skirt Mend

Over the holidays, one of our dogs attacked the tree skirt we place under our holiday tree. We typically get our tree late in the holiday season and keep it up until January 1st. By the first of the year, I'm eager to say goodbye to the holiday season.

After returning from the Rose Parade, the kids napped and I went to work. Everything was taken down and put into boxes...except for the tree skirt. Knowing that if I didn't fix it now before it was stored for the year, chances were high that I would never fix it.

So the boxes sat stacked in our small living room with the chewed tree skirt on top of them. This week, I finally carved out some time to cut off the offending parts and sew a new seam.

Much better. I finished it just as my youngest son awoke from his afternoon nap.

I did leave this bite mark on the lining because I was tired of looking at the boxes in my living room. And I think it's funny. I can always fix it next year...or never.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

French Toast with Homemade Bread

This weekend Julia made the boys and me french toast on homemade whole wheat bread even though she has gone gluten free. So delicious! Thanks Julia!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bee Problems

We've been having a few (hopefully minor) problems here at Camp Ramshackle with the bees lately. First was that I've noticed some lethargic bees hanging out on top of the hive and many dead bees out in front. I thought this was likely due to a cold snap and some wind and rain that we had recently but after reading recent posts by Marianne and otherson the Backward Beekeepers Yahoo! Group I fear that the trouble could be more serious. Marianne's bees collapsed due to a mite infestation. I hope the same is not happening here and am hopeful that the small cell method we employ might keep our bees going.

This is a close-up picture of a small sample of the hive front carnage (click to enlarge). Not too bad but still the casualties number in the hundreds.

The second problem was the addition of the new box and this one is a double whammy. The most obvious problem is the huge gap between boxes. I am not sure how this has happened. The box sits flat on the floor but on the hive it teeters at the corners leaving a gap nearly as big as the formal entrance at the bottom. It spans nearly half of the front and down the side.

The thing that you can't see here is that I think I may have killed the queen. When I added the box I pulled a frame up from the middle of what was previously the top box and replaced it with an empty frame with the intention of encouraging the bees to move up into the new box.

When I pulled the frame out it was covered with bees and they became pretty agitated. I carefully slid the full frame into the new box which was sitting on a shelf just outside of the frame of this picture.

I put the new box on top of the hive and futzed with the gap for a few minutes before I realized that I wasn't going to fix it right then with the bees getting madder by the second. When I looked back at the shelf I saw a ball of bees clinging to the wall and a small gap at the back of the shelf. I gave them a puff of smoke to encourage them to go back to the hive and that's when I saw her. The queen had been on the frame I pulled, didn't like all the light and tried to climb down into a dark place for safety. I gave her a gentle flick toward the hive (probably not a great idea in retrospect) and hoped for the best.

Today the bees were ornery as all get out - head bonking and eventually stinging our son on his head. Their behavior reminds me of when Kirk brought the hive and they were not queen right. I am afraid the queen may not have made it back inside. If she didn't the bees should be able to take care of things by themselves by making a new queen. If that's what happened we could be back in business in a couple of weeks - I just hope we don't also have a severe mite problem or that the gap contributes to their difficulties in some way. For now I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two More Handmade Dolls by Kids

My oldest son made the frog on the right at my request. Then announced he must make our friend a cement ("SMENTE") truck because he loves them.

Handmade Dolls by Kids

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Celebrating the New Year

The Goodyear blimp flew overhead.

We saw some beautiful floats at the Rose Parade.

Some serious cymbal players.

The stunning Calizona Appaloosa Horse Club.

Then we went to Little Tokyo to ring in the new year with morning sake.

Some mochi pounding & kite making.

Then back home to "run like the dickens" to make our kites fly.