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Archive for the ‘Getting Crafty’ Category

Do you ever buy onions or citrus in plastic mesh bags like these? Do you hoard them under the sink like I do?

More than a year ago now I figured out how to turn a pile of these into a scrubbie and I have been washing dishes with one ever since. I finally gave up the nasty *dish sponge* and I have not missed it. In fact, I still have to keep sponges around for the occasions when My Man washes up, and I am not even tempted to use them anymore. What a gross and unnecessary invention, that nevertheless took me many years to figure an alternative to that I liked using.

(Many people use a wash cloth and like them just fine, but I found them too flappy aroundy. I did eventually find some terry cloth diaper inserts that are a good size for dish washing, and I use them often, but this scrubbie fits perfectly in my hand and has the full force of scratchy nubs to clean the dishes!)

So, to turn your pile of bags into a scrubbie:

Step 1: Cut off all the end closures so you have just plain sleeves of mesh.

Step 2: Starting with one, curl the ends around itself so that it rolls up into a circular sausage.

Step 3: Repeat with each sleeve until you have a big fat wad, much bigger than you think it should be (it will get scrunched up).

Step 4: Reserve you longest, nubbiest one for the last. Instead of rolling it in like the others, tie a knot in one end to reform the bag, turn it inside out (so the knot is on the inside bottom of the bag) then insert your sausage roll. Work the knot up into the center of the roll. Scrunch the wad up inside the bag until it feels like a good scrubbie size and density, then tie up the top of the bag, fold the top back under and tie again so that your outside bag is wrapped twice around the whole shebang. Tie again, but this time attempt to not pull the end all the way through the knot so that the scratchy ends are not pointing up into your hand.

Scrunch the knot down flat and then use with the knotted side cradled in your palm.

 

Didn’t I say it was perfect?

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Before I move on from January’s Quiet Riot focus of electricity, water and garbage, I want to review a great energy book– The Carbon Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Reduce the Fossil Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren. I had looked past this book several times, something seemed too fad-ish about the cover and I expected the projects to be along the lines of ‘replacing your incandescents with CFLs’ and ‘setting up a recycling system.’

But when I finally bit the proverbial bullet and got it out from the library, I realized I had been duped by a good cover designer to think it was fashionable. When in fact it’s a meaty book with loads of substantive projects! The authors are approachable and honest, clear and thorough. I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy.

The book includes a full range of projects– from insulating your fridge to installing solar heating tubes. Each project has a list of stats including the approximate cost, time and potential energy savings. Some are appropriate for renters, though I think the book is much more useful for homeowners who can really re-cap their investment over time. The small to medium sized projects are the stars of the book, in my view– the low to no cost things that most folks could do if they set aside a weekend for set up. The more complex projects would require considerably more information, but this book provides an overview of what’s involved as well as just plain inspiration for things like masonry stoves (yummy).

I look forward to outfitting our own home back in Alaska when we return. I never wanted to live in town, in a real sheetrock and plumbing house (I was going to build a log cabin in the woods), but over time as I’ve come around. I’ve realized the usefulness of it, given the way things actually are. I’ve re-written my goal to owning this modern system, knowing how my plumbing works and how to fix it, and eventually how to divert it into gray water garden irrigation! This book is not just empty inspiration for beginners though, as these books can sometimes be, it’s got real meat.

If you are thinking about putting a little time into the energy efficiency of your home, this would be a great place to start.

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So. I know you’re all wondering. Have I been busily crossing important things off of my list? Reigning our filthy house into order and keeping my precious babes’ eyes from dvd-vegetation? Reinstating yoga and atheist prayer practice?

Nope. Yet another sick bug hit our house last week, even though the kids were still coughing like old smokers from the last doozy. What is it about this time of year? Everyone I know is either sick or recovering from being sick, literally! And it was exactly the same story last winter at this same time. I know the line about how everyone stays inside more in the winter and breathes everyone else’s stale air, but here in the tropics we do the exact same thing in the summer. And we hardly get sick at all in the summer! So? What is it?

I shouldn’t say I failed completely in crossing things off the list. I did get a little quality time in my kitchen with a shaker of baking soda and an old rag, on two separate occassions. I didn’t make it all the way around, only 2/3 before I got sick. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s to accept change in small quantities– that’s the only way it ever comes.

do i need to explain the significance of a clean cabinet?

Besides those shimmery beacons of 2/3 joy right up there, guess what else I made the time for? (Quite predictably.)

Yup, I used my Saturday afternoon off to put together my very first punk homemaker’s journal. I was going to compile my specific arrangement of papers and take it to Kink*s to have it spiral bound, but then I accidentally found a Miraclebind notebook. I’m not sure I’m prepared to rave about it yet, but if it holds up I will. It’s a spiral notebook with good stiff covers, folds nicely in half for couch cozy-ing, and each piece of paper has slits behind the holes so that you can take the paper out, move it to a different spot and put it back in. They call it a “miracle” and say it “self-heals,” but really there’s nothing miraculous going on– the paper pulls out because it’s not really in there very good to begin with. They claim you can re-position each piece of paper several times, but honestly I will be surprised if it holds up all year.

The notebook was just plain lined paper and I had to gussy it up quite a bit. I printed out calendar sheets on heavy paper (so that they would hold up better), double sided– January on one side, February on the other– then punched holes along one edge, using a piece of the notebook’s original paper as a guide. I snipped the edge of each hole so that I could stick the page into the spiral binding. Then I put one calendar sheet, one lined sheet, calendar, lined, etc so that each month faces a lined page for notes.

Then I used some cheap pocket folders to divide the remainder of the book into Kitchen, Garden and Home. The folders were hard to punch holes in, but worth it because they provide plenty of space for sticking random stuff in. A very important feature, me thinks.

The Kitchen section is just plain lined paper for keeping track of recipes and experiments. The Garden and Home sections have alternating one piece of lined with one piece of graph paper (added in), so that I can sketch out garden layouts or my latest wood butchering project and write notes opposite. I considered adding calendar pages to my garden section, but decided it’s just as easy to use a piece of lined paper– each line = one week, four lines/month means you can schedule quite a lot on a single piece of paper. Note that I don’t ever, ever follow my planting schedules, but my oh my I do enjoy making them.

As described thoroughly in the comments on the original post, this journal/planner is an extremely individual thing. Everyone has different stuff to keep track of. Some of you would want menu planning pages, knitting paper, homeschool project sheets. An infinite number of subjects. I kind of wish my journal had ended up a bit more… more, but the notebook I started with could only fit so many add-ins. There’s just barely enough room in the spine left for turning the pages. If I had it to do over, I might go with the original plan to have Kink*s bind my perfect layout. But really, this one is fine. Lots of space in there for whatever hair-brained schemes I might imagine in a year.

Such as this sneak-peak. Because did you know Mardi Gras is approaching fast? And did you remember that I am in love with it? And had you realized furthermore that this would be my last Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and if ever I was going to go all out baby, it would be now!

My sister, my ex (our costuming days go way, way back) and another very close friend are all coming to visit and we are pulling out all the stops. My original idea was a hot air balloon, but alas that one was too big even for me. We settled instead on a Chinese junk. Are you familiar with these awesome old-school sailboats still in use today? But we can’t just take a thing straight on, we like to give it flavor, perversion. Our theme is ‘post-apocalypse,’ an old favorite because you can blend primitive, vintage and post-industrial all together. So my style.

The boat is going to be 16 feet long from bowsprit to stern, made out of pvc pipe and tarpaper, mobilized by a pair of jogging strollers. This may seem completely insane to you, but people do this sort of thing here at Mardi Gras. A lot of people. It is awesome.

My brain does feel very fuzzy though. What with the boat plans, quiet riot, cloth diaper post, packing and mailing zines, house scouring, movie stopping,  mucus congestion and wow–! Thank dog I have a place to write it all down.

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I don’t want anyone to panic after that DIY vs BUY post. It’s still me– same old, same old. I still believe in and love the ethic of DIY. Especially when it’s something that you couldn’t buy even if you wanted to. I didn’t make my daughter’s Christmas dollhouse because I found one used, and I never got to that train table either. But I did manage to slap together this brilliant little water saving device.

Kids love water, there’s nothing to be done about it. My 2yo son’s favorite thing in the entire world is a hose. Turned on full. And he knows how to turn it up himself when I attempt to lessen the flow. This summer we were going through a truly shocking amount of water. Here at the mouth of America’s largest river, it’s not such a big deal to waste water, but what a lot of energy is wasted to pump it and purify it just so my 2yo can spray it back into the gutter.

We had a plain old kids’ waterplay table, as well as a small plastic swimming pool. Not to mention sinks and tubs. But nothing could compare to running water, and the 2yo would have a fit whenever I turned the hose off. And what’s more wholesome than playing in water? How could I want very hard to stop him? So, I thought, couldn’t I make some kind of perpetual system? Like a fountain, but not remotely fancy. Just a faucet of sorts that would run into a container and get pumped back up, closed loop.

Lots of kinds of containers could work, but we had the water table so I decided to go with that. I went to the store for a small pond pump, not knowing anything about ponds or pumps. It was rather intimidating and confusing, and I almost gave up when I saw the price range was $30-$260!!! But I ended up settling on the $40 size and so far it works just fine and is well worth the money.

Components:

waterplay table or any kind of bucket or tub that can hold at least 3 gallons

small pond pump– 80 gal/hour or greater (A pond pump is a small, submersible electric pump. There is an inlet and an outlet, make sure to get one with a sponge filter guarding the inlet.)

2 feet flexible vinyl tubing, whatever diameter fits snugly onto your pump outlet

1 hose clamp to fit tubing

2 feet rigid pipe, pvc or similar, whatever diameter the tubing can fit into comfortably

2 elbows

some piece of wood for mounting

plumber’s tape (the stuff that’s not like tape at all, but a thin strip of metal with holes)

1 small shelf bracket

associated screws

Directions:

Heat one end of the flexible tubing in hot water to relax. Remove cover and filter to get at pump outlet, then jam tubing onto outlet. Slide the hose clamp down over and tighten. My pump barely had room for the hose clamp under the filter cover. If yours just doesn’t fit, I think it would probably would work fine without a clamp, as long as the tubing is very snug on the outlet.

Cut your pvc into three lengths to form a “faucet” high enough above the water container that the kids can fill buckets and things under it. I cut mine approximately 11 in, 5 in and 2 in. Slide the long piece onto the flexible tubing, right up to flush with the pump. Now slide on an elbow (not as easy as it sounds) and seat it firmly onto the end of the pipe. Be careful as you do this that the other end of the pipe stays flush with the pump. Continue with the medium length pipe, another elbow, and lastly the little piece of pipe. When you are sure you’ve got it right, cut the end of the tubing flush with the end of the pipe.

Sorry I didn’t take more pictures of the process, but like many DIY projects, it’s much more straightforward when you’re actually doing it than it sounds in description. Fear not.

Now attach the wood to the tub however you can figure. It should be pretty well secured. Set the pump in with the “faucet” sticking up where and how you want it. Use a section of plumber’s tape to secure the pipe against the edge of the wood.

Then mount the corner bracket onto the wood so that the sticking up side is flush with the pipe. Use wire to secure. You want this whole apparatus to be as tight and strong as possible if your kids, like mine, are likely to yarf on the faucet.

Fill the tub with water and plug in the pump. Does it work? Hoorah! Allow kids to play to their heart’s content. They will still waste water, filling buckets and watering cans and dumping it everywhere, but you’re looking at one or two gallons per play session instead of 50 or 60. Do keep an eye on the water level, as the pump shouldn’t be let to run dry while it’s on.

I didn’t add any chlorine or anything, so I have to dump and refill every few days. But it’s worth it not to have to worry that the kids might drink the water (they do) or pour it on my garden plants (they do). I consider it just watering the grass anyway.

If anyone gives this a go, please come back and tell me how it went, what changes you made, problems, etc. Good luck!

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Do you remember how I said I was building my daughter a dollhouse for Christmas? Back at the beginning of the month I carefully planned it out on graph paper, borrowed a friend’s power saw, cut the pieces and stacked them in the garage.

Then on my last Saturday afternoon off before My Man’s crazy test weeks, instead of diligently working on the dollhouse, I met a friend downtown to check out the New Orleans Fringe Fest. In between shows, we were wandering around the ridiculously charming art/punk part of town and got swallowed into the looming maw of an enormous junk shop. There were a few pieces of furniture for the 4yo’s dollhouse I wasn’t sure how I was going to make, so I asked at the front if they had any. Another wanderer overheard and practically accosted me, “Are you looking for a dollhouse? We still have my daughter’s up in the attic, it’s got a ton of furniture. I’d love to get rid of it.” He pressed his card at me.

I was still convinced I had enough time to make my own– hell, I’d already started! So I gave him an incredibly non-comittal answer and went about my day. A few days later, beginning to accept my oncoming fate of two weeks of 24/7 parenting, and listing in my mind all the things I would still need to do to make this dollhouse (let alone any other Christmas presents) I dug out the card. Maybe I’d just see how much he wanted for it.

The end of this story is evident, right? $75 dollars and a trip across town later, I had the 4yo’s present all taken care of and stashed in the back of the closet. No impending work, no need to borrow a jig saw, no tiny furniture to figure out. All done.

I was so sad I almost cried.

Perhaps you need some background for this story. You already know about my die-hard desire (unfulfilled) to make everything at home and by hand. You can probably guess at my dislike for the relatively low quality construction of the house I bought, and the two boxes of furniture and tiny accessories that came with it which will be strewn across the floor of our entire house by this time next week.

But what you are not likely to understand is that I adore dollhouses, and miniatures in general. I loved them far beyond girlhood, as evidenced by Dumpster Diver Barbie (yes, those are tiny bagels in that tiny plastic bag). In fact I have been waiting until my daughter was old enough, fantasizing about this moment when I would make her the perfect, sweet, old fashioned dollhouse. I’ve been cutting and sanding little chunks of 2×4 in my mind, and adding batting and squares of fabric to make tiny beds. No joke!

But in a heavy duty consumer world, where people buy more new crap all the time and consequently clean out their closets regularly to “pare down and simplify,” buying what you need second-hand is always easier, and usually cheaper than making it yourself.

Consider my dollhouse. I was going to use scavenged wood, beautiful 3/4 inch oak faced plywood that I found on the side of the road for free. That’s well and good, saved me at least $40, and I could borrow the tools I needed. But, I wanted to make this dollhouse a little bit fancy, since my girl is getting old enough to care now. I was going to buy scrapbook paper to “wallpaper” the walls and paint for the outside– an easy $10, probably more. And there were a few pieces of furniture I wanted to buy, mainly a toilet and bathtub– $20 right there. Then if I fell for the cast iron wood cookstove I ran across when I was looking online for the bathroom stuff, another $15. I could easily see myself spending $75 by the time it was said and done. And purchasing and consuming new materials, as far as that goes.

This lesson has been driven through my mind at least 94 times since I became an adult, and it’s still only half lodged. It’s why knitting never took for me. Spending $30 for yarn when I could buy a perfectly serviceable hat at the thrift store for $3? Why on earth would I do that? But apart from knitting, I am still hopelessly stuck in my youthful fantasies of almost anthropolgic handcrafting. Particularly once I started mothering, those fantasies blossomed with a whole new meaning. I would be that mother, the one who’s well mannered children are always wearing hand sewn clothing and playing with hand carved wooden toys.

Wow. Motherhood. If nothing else, parenting will lay bare your ardent (and often completely unrealistic) expectations for How the World Ought to Be. And then rip them to shreds.

Every project is different, don’t think I’m knocking DIY unilaterally. But of course it makes no sense whatsoever to spend 3 hours sewing my kid pants from $5 of purchased new material when I can buy good quality pants second-hand for $4. No sense at all to spend hours on handmade wooden toys that will just get shoved under the couch to make room for the plethora of brightly colored plastic toys that seem to breed on their own.

No sense at all. Unless I enjoy the making.

Because, all else being equal, it comes down to how we want to spend our time. When you are a mama, with the implicit drastic limitations on your time, it often distills quite clearly. Do I enjoy my DIY projects more than I enjoy say, an afternoon at the coffee shop to write? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

There are other important reasons that I believe we should keep doing this stuff. All kinds of handcrafting traditions are being lost, and anyone who can keep hold of one is a kind of living time capsule, an asset to humankind. And certainly all those handcrafted items offer a superior sensory experience. Even though a hat from the thrift store costs a tenth as much, it is vastly inferior to one hand knitted by someone who knows what they’re doing.

But moralizing aside, it’s still a matter of doing what makes sense for the time and place we’re really in. Letting go of my wholesome handmade mama image has been painful, but I find more and more often it just makes more sense to B.U.Y.

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Hallelujah. We made it through. My Man finished his last test Thursday– beginning almost 30 days of semi-freedom and familial bliss!

I have so many (many) posts in my head, gathering to a complex hurricane of thoughts. But I’m really trying to relax just a bit, instead of charging into my free time with the panic of starvation. Instead of diving straight off the deep end, I thought I’d start with this simple, season-appropriate DIY project.

Up until recently my kiddos largely drank out of plastic. It always bothered me, bothered the shit out of me in fact. I hate to drink out of plastic, so why was I allowing my tiny budding babies to pollute their otherwise pure systems with leaching chemical compounds? I’d give them jam jars when I could, but so often I just couldn’t face up to the possibility of yet another wipe-up of spilled fluids, number 57 of the day. So I’d defer to plastic, oh beneficent god of the spill-proof sippy cup.

But a few moths ago I was grazing Simple, Frugal, Green and I found these kids’ cups made out of jam jars (half pint mason jars) with a hole punched in the lid to put a straw through. Brilliant! How had I never thought of that?

My mind worked at it a bit more though, and I thought, why jars? Why not these cute apple shaped bottles I’d gotten at the store to use as small sized glass water bottles? And instead of just a plastic straw, like Abby used, why not invest in a set of stainless steel straws?

Thus, my (half mine anyway) brainchild was born.

Don’t you want one? Don’t you want half a dozen, since 5 are always lost under the couch anyway?

As you might imagine, this cute apple shaped bottle was sold with apple juice in it. For $1.75. How’s that for a cheap sippy cup? With free drink no less!

The stainless steel straws get you though. $10.99 for 4. I strongly recommend you get ones that come with a special straw cleaning brush. (You know I hate to link to Amaz*n, but here they are if you don’t want to mess around looking for them.)

So, how to punch that sweet little hole that brings it all together. Of course drilling a hole just the size of the straw would be the logical way to do it, these lids are pretty soft metal and would be easy to drill. But my drill bit chuck is stuck tight, I can’t get the phillip’s head out to put in a drill bit. (Any advice?) So short of that I used the phillips head bit and a screw to make a hole, which wasn’t big enough, so then I used a phillips head screwdriver by hand, just yarfing it back and forth, to open the hole up enough to get the straw through. Don’t overdo it though, the tighter the hole around the straw, the less leaking action you’ll see.

And no, these aren’t spill-proof. But then, no sippy is. Even the best ones we found (Playtex) would start leaking after the kids chewed the plastic mouthpiece enough. These apple bottles are a good shape for the sippy, partly because they’re squat– low center of gravity– but also because if they’re less than half full when they get tipped over, the level of the liquid doesn’t reach the hole, and they don’t leak at all! But even when mostly full, if you’ve been careful to make the hole perfectly fit the straw, the leaking isn’t too bad.

4 apple juice bottles $7

4 straws + cleaning brush — $11

no more worrying about poison laced orange juice — priceless

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Kyce from Old Recipe for a New World (she doesn’t write often, but always wonderful) wrote a great post a few weeks back called Letting Go: The Christmas Edition. Oh honey, don’t I know it!

I (love)(hate) Christmas. I really do. I’ve written about it every year since I began blogging [here, here and here], and lord knows I don’t want to repeat myself. Suffice it to say, I seem to be finally catching on that this infernal holiday of compromised values begins in November. It’s taken me a full 34 years to get my head around that. I am determined to be prepared this year, thinking ahead for quality gifts in order to avoid getting caught by the last minute Icky Gifting.

I want to share my few ideas, and get your ideas. If we pool mental resources here, maybe we can pull this off without too much heartbreak. Well, it gives us something to hope for. I’m putting it on my list anyway,

Dear Santa,

This Christmas, please just let me relax and enjoy the generosity of loved ones without too much ethical compromise, personal angst, or familial alienation.

Yours,

CJ

We are spending our Christmas at home this year, with my mom coming. That will help right off the bat. My in-laws, godbless’em, have too much money to restrain at the holidays. My mom would probably go as crazy as them if old-hippie poverty didn’t keep her in check.

For whatever reason, Christmases with my mom are always much smaller than with the in-laws. In fact, it’s one of the best times of year for our otherwise very strained relationship, at least we can bond about Christmas and how it ought to be.

Which is sparkly lights, the smell of evergreen and cinnamon, whispered secrets and The Animals’ Merry Christmas.

My list of secrets so far looks like this:

For the 4yo– a dollhouse. She wrote her first ever letter to Santa asking for one. I am making it myself of course, more on this soon as I realize how in over my head I am.

For the 2yo– a train table. He already has a nice wooden train set, just needs a table and a way to semi-permanently attach the track to it.

For My Man– Oops, tut-tut, he might be reading….

For my mom, sister, MIL and sister-in-law– freshly ground and personally mixed organic spice set. I’m pretty excited about this idea. If you’ve never smelled or used freshly ground spices, it’s an epiphanal moment. It makes you want to sweep your arm through your (inevitably stale) spice cabinet, straight into the trash. All these ladies like to cook, but don’t get to do that much complicated cooking, and I think will appreciate really kick-ass, unique spice blends. I’m going to do a Mexican mole, Moroccan ras al hanout (unbelievable! the smell makes me swoon!) and a not-your-average-Italian blend with juniper berries and fennel. All these are fantastic with meat, but can also rock a pot of beans. I even ordered a pound of fancy Hawaiian finishing salt. Part of reason I’m excited about this idea is because I’ll get a share too! I never order fresh spices for myself because replacing a whole collection is expensive, and I don’t use that much over the course of the year. Fresh spices make much more sense for a group of people than for just me in my lonesome kitchen. I spent almost $80 on organic, fair trade spices, which sounds like a lot (feels like a lot!!!) but then I have four of my important gifts covered, plus plenty leftover for my own pantry.**

The father and brother-in-law I think My Man will cover. Hopefully at the local artisan market, lots of awesome stuff there.

Grandparents get the standard (they love it) calendar of cute kid photos.

I made a batch of homemade soap (it’s gotta cure for 3 weeks, so do it now!) and some lip balm for those last minute little gift moments. It’s good to have tricks up your sleeve. The lip balm takes all of 3 minutes once you secure the beeswax.

That leaves a 4yo cousin and a 12yo half-sister. Any ideas?

I will be filling you in more about all the above gifts over the course of the month. I have lots of Riot-y ‘stuff’ subjects to cover, as well as lots of good Christmas ideas, like the adorable songbird tree ornaments me and the kids made this morning out of tag-board and poster paint! In fact I’ve been feeling inspired to do a series, “Christmas– It Doesn’t Have to Suck Ass.”

Please leave your favorite homemade gift ideas in the comments, especially for children. If you have posted anything on your own blog, leave a link. We can all use some extra inspiration this time of year!

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**If anyone else thinks this spice mix idea is brilliant and wants to tag along, I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs. you would think organic spice would be more expensive, but the Mountain Rose prices averaged around $3.50/4oz, which is quite good. I ordered the spices whole in 4oz bags (the smallest size available), I’ll grind them in our coffee grinder and package them in 1/2 cup (the really tiny size) canning jars. This wouldn’t be worth it for less than 4 or 5 gift recipients, and I think could cover more like 6 or 7. I will give y’all the recipes when I get to that point, but if you want to follow along, here’s what you’ll need to order:

  • allspice berries 4oz
  • black peppercorns 8oz
  • whole chile peppers, or red pepper flakes 4oz
  • cinnamon sticks 8oz
  • whole cloves 4oz
  • cumin seed 8oz
  • ginger, ground 4oz
  • juniper berries 4oz
  • whole nutmeg 4oz
  • fennel seed 4oz
  • thyme 4oz
  • rosemary 4oz
  • sage 4oz

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We’re settled in back home after the pandemonium and ecstasy of a 6 day vacation with little kids. We covered all possible bases– train travel, model train museum; mountain hike, mountain farm museum; camping, deluxe B&B. The mountains of North Carolina were very satisfying. I was worried I would be disappointed, I was not. We enjoyed spanning views of hazy ‘blue mountains’ and deliciously chilly breezes. It was wonderful.

As I mentioned before, in the process of packing the camping stuff last week, I had a dilemma about our stove. Since we’re traveling by train as far as Atlanta, we would need to pack as light as possible. We have a tiny backpackers stove back in Alaska of course, but here in New Orleans with the two itty-bitties in tow, we only ever go car camping, so we just have the family style 2-burner propane monster. I just didn’t want to bring that behemoth for a mere two nights of camping. We’d cook sausages over the fire for dinner, but what about breakfast and most essentially, what about coffee?!!?

DIY camp stove-- first model

I have been wanting to make a new improved hobo stick stove since I made this first one two years ago, and necessity was the mother of my ass-whupping once again. I had a rectangular olive oil can saved for just that purpose, so I broke it out the morning before our trip, with a tuna can and some tin snips, and put together a real beauty. Oh I do love design. I think maybe I was meant to be an engineer. Of small, practical, recycled home stuff. This kind of project makes me positively giddy.

There are lots of ways to approach the stick stove, depending on what materials you’ve got around. My first one was a large size tomato can and although it worked, it was not quite big enough. I had this olive oil can saved, but when I took it out and played around with orientation I realized that it was too big. Then I got the idea to cut it in half. Perfect! Oh joy!

The other main problem with the first model was lack of air flow. As you can kind of see in the photo, I had set sticks across the open top of the can to lift the pot up and create the ‘chimney,’ right under the pot itself. In case anyone is embarking on this project without knowing much about fire-making in general, here’s an important fact. Fire needs a lot of oxygen. To get oxygen to flow through your fire, there has to be what’s called “draw” which means hot air going out (at top) pulls air in (at bottom hopefully). The size of the exit hole is what determines how much air your fire gets. A huge entrance hole makes no difference if the exit hole is too small or otherwise constricted.

My exit hole on the first stove was inadequate. A fire without enough oxygen will never get very hot, and that’s a lot of why it took so long to boil water. This time, I had an idea to use a smaller can to create a grate on top, like on a regular stove. Something to hold the pot well up off of the stovetop, and let the hot air and smoke flow out relatively unimpeded between the tines.

I also added a grate underneath the firebox (where the sticks go) so that air can get in easier too. I was so excited when I finished I almost peed my pants.

Sadly, we seem to have lost the camera cord on our trip, so I can’t add in photos of this fucking adorable stove in use. But at least I can give the full report.

It worked great. Certainly better than the first model, though I feel there’s still lots of room for improvement. Even with the ‘burner’ at top and ‘ash grate’ at bottom, it still had air flow problems. I think that just as important as the design of the stove itself is the knowing how to use it, and just like every other of these homemaking/homesteading pursuits, and maybe life as a whole, practice is the definitive factor.

Here’s a few tips for use I discovered in my relatively brief stint:

  • Use only crackly dry sticks, this stove doesn’t have room for lesser fuel.
  • Size matters. It seemed like a mix of pencil to fat finger sized sticks worked best.
  • Have everything ready and at hand. This stove needs more or less constant feeding.
  • The time to add more sticks is just when the fire is flaring it’s highest and looks like it doesn’t need any. If you wait till it dies down and looks ready, the new sticks will cool it down too much and you will just straggle along never getting hot enough to boil water.
  • Keep the firebox mostly full of wood for the fastest cooking, but don’t pack it in there too tightly or you lose your air flow again.
  • Because of the already difficult air flow, orientation is everything. You have to be catching the breeze, not blocking it. Since morning and evening breezes are often in flux, I had to rotate my stove a lot. Any elevation off the ground will help, but bear in mind this sucker gets hot, so no setting it on wooden picnic tables like I did in that photo up top. Char mark. Bad girl.

Enjoy the primal experience of cooking on a tin can with a bundle of sticks! It’s great fun.

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I patently hate sewing. I do know how to sew. I sewed my own (blood red silk velvet) wedding dress. More recently I’ve been known to borrow a machine so that I could sew bridesmaid dresses in the middle of the night, in between nursing sessions, when the time came and it had to be done. There was even a brief liaison with an organic cotton toy “company” (who was I kidding?). For someone who hates sewing, I’ve done an awful lot of it.

The thing is that I love designing. I love dreaming something up. When I was 10, I stole away upstairs in my Aunt’s house and emerged hours later with a dress I had cut out and “sewed” with a desk stapler. As an adult, when it comes to the sewing machine part, I just bite my lip and force myself onward.

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to a sewing project, the less sewing the better.

A couple of weeks ago, in the course of my cleaning binge, I came across a small stack of favorite shrunken sweaters (apparently I continue to believe that wool sweaters can be washed in the machine on cold, something which I’ve proven wrong to myself a number of sad times). One of the sweaters requires a long explanation. There’s no two ways around it. Here we go.

When I was traveling in New Zealand, oh about umm… 9 years ago, I fell in love with a wool hat at a gift store. It was red. It was mohair and possum fur. It was the softest thing I’d ever felt in my life. When I put it on I felt like I was getting the biggest, sexiest hug ever.

I’m not usually an impulse buyer, in fact I was somewhat infamously stingy. But, I had been recently– devastatingly– heartbroken. My love of 6 years whom I had left in Alaska for this two month trip had just broken up with me, over the phone, just after Valentines Day. I needed that big red sexy hug, and I didn’t really care how much they charged for it.

I returned to Alaska, found a new town to live in, and eventually (much sooner than I had expected actually) found a new love. I kept the hat though. For awhile.

Then, as hats go, it became lost to me. Where it went, I will never know. The town was small, our friends all accounted for. I searched high and low to no avail. Goodbye sexy red hat.

But I never forgot that hat, as you might notice. So when a friend held up a red sweater at the thrift store here in New Orleans last year and said casually, “Do you like this?” And when I had my hand on that softness and my eye on the tag that said 65% mohair 35% possum, Made In New Zealand, it was like homecoming.

Now.

Now, you are properly prepared for the rock through my belly when I pulled that shrunken beauty from the washer’s depths. Now you understand why I squirreled it away in the closet for some kind of use, later. Now you can understand why, even in the midst of a madhouse of purging, I could not let go that gorgeous red.

So, with my old shrunken sweater to baby clothes repurposing in mind (link takes you to a scanned article from my old zine, Subsist/Resist, posted on my last life blog by the same name. Ancient history!), I layed out two sweaters. I got my best scissors. I cut. Not for any baby this time, but for myself. Two classy punk sweater vests, one with an already installed zipper! And the red one awaiting some fabulous buttons. Even though they were too small as sweaters, they work perfectly as vests. The arms of the beige hoodie became leg warmers, the arms of the red possumlove became both armlets (ever so vogue punk-wear on the west coast) and two necklets. And if all that woolie winterwear seems an odd choice in New Orleans, read this. And know that I have worn and been thankful for all of it already.

so punk-vogue

The big bonus with shrunken sweaters is that the “shrinking” is also “felting,” the washer’s rough movements working all those errant hairs together so that cut edges do not fray! This means that sewn things like baby pants (two arms sewn together) do not need to be hemmed, and that things like grown up vests don’t need to be sewn at all!!! Oh yeah! A sewing project without any sewing. Now, that’s my kind of sewing project!

If you have a stack of sweaters in some dark closet, favorite beauties seemingly ruined by the wicked washing machine, I really encourage you to play around with repurposing. It’s some of the funnest and easiest sewing around. Not to mention satisfying. You might even start leading perfectly good sweaters astray, just for more material.

That adorable and super soft lambswool baby sweater was soooo easy. They have such big heads that the adult neck hole is already the right size. I kept the original buttons on, just recut the sleeves and sides to fit her. Those pants are the two sleeves sewn together concept. Fabulous.

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We just got back from our little road trip, cut a day short by a flu bug. My Man got it yesterday, and was puking out the tent door. Never fun.

I’ve been meaning for awhile to institute weekly, or at least regular, updates on Things In General. I get all lost in my over-thought subject posts, and forget to let you all know what I’m up to and how I am. I used to fantasize about writing to enrich the world with my hard-won (half)knowledge. But I have come to terms with the fact that there are plenty of other places in this enormous blog-o-sphere to get better directions on making your own soap, bread and yogurt. The only unique thing I have to offer the world is my own unique self. And while y’all might be interested in my soap making adventures, I suspect you come back because of my winning personality and stunning social graces.

Errr… Because you are curious about what hilarity The Toddler is creating in the other room as I write?

Oh.

Ok then, let me share with you the first day of our (3 day) road trip. After a morning of running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to pack for a three night camping trip with a two year old and a six month old, we finally made it into the car. But then, of course, came the stops. The grocery store for a few last items. The smoke shop for My Man. The gas station to tank up. Finally, ready to roll. Except how do we get OUT of this god-forsaken city?!

Then, the driving at high speeds, the confusing signage, the wrong turns, the swearing.

Finally, on the freeway, heading north. The Toddler says,

“My belly hurts.”

A minute later, and a bit more urgency, “My belly hurts.”

Another minute. In the front seat there is much pointed ignoring of the gathering information.

“My belly hurts!”

“BLEAAAAACHHHH”

I managed to get a cup under the flow in time to catch the last of it. But the first of it went– oh you parents out there, you know where.

How in the hell are you supposed to clean car seats anyway?

So we are on the side of the freeway for some 15 or 20 minutes, while I try to clean the puke out of the nooks and crannies of the relevant buckles and straps. Because nothing makes you want to puke like the smell of puke, am I right?

Almost two hours after leaving the house, we are finally on our way.

Homochitto National Forest, in Mississippi. An old campground in the woods, on a swampy lake. Great combination of nature and man made. Pure pleasant. Warm sun through the trees, nice breezes, no bugs miraculously. We lolled.

I played with fire in my twig stove and read Radical Homemakers with gusto, every chance I could get. She is a little over the top defensively researched, sometimes it reads a bit like a dissertation, but the stuff she’s talking about is fantastic. Unsaid, and really needs saying. And it must be scary to put yourself out there like she has, breaking taboos and stuff. I can see why she’d want to have a heap of backup. But it is sad that she has to use what I consider the male system of facts, figures, clinical research and statistics to defend what I consider the female system of intuitive care and nurture.

I’ll post more about the book soon. Promise. My head is literally swimming with thoughts on it. But back to my week in review!

Unfortunately My Man, who did not fare so well as the Toddler with her singular puking episode, could not much enjoy the third day out. So, we came home early. I spent Wednesday unpacking and cleaning. Yesterday gave My Man a day of his own, and today is my very own. Supposedly. You know, as much as a nursing mama can hope for.

And as much as the wife of a night owl/late sleeper can hope for…. He did manage to pull himself up by 8:45, which is really great. And I split ASAP, to my fave coffee joint for some writing.

Next on the agenda, transplant my starts, which are all big and ready, to my community garden plot! Which is sure to make me very happy.

And that’ll probably be as far as I get.

…But if I did have any more time, I’d weave a little. Because yes, I did finally re-warp my loom last week, after yet another ripping out of a project that wasn’t working and I swear I will not try to use a shaggy warp again! Really, I promise. Okay, fine. Actually, I restrung it with a shaggy warp. But! I’m following a pattern this time. The warp is shaggy and sticky, but skinny and far spaced. And the weave is super loose. It’s meant to look lacey. The yarn is one of those super divine luxury yarns, mohair and silk, expensive, but at such a light weave, not bad for the overall project.

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I’m back to work on my garden plot, and oh am I ever excited. Got the bed frame built today (and yesterday, thanks to a good Husband who took the wee ones for long walks, which is about all that makes the Babe happy these days). Now I just have to wait for the dirt. Which could be awhile. Bacon said two weeks (the non-profit in charge of all the community gardens is getting a giant soil donation), which could mean significantly longer…. boohoo.

garden bed in progress

I hate to be an ungrateful mother, I do love those little buggers like nothing else, but man oh man do I love working on a project without kids around! Having the time spread out before you, and a task at hand that you can actually concentrate on is sheer bliss. Bonus that the sun was shiny and warm through the nippy edge of the air. Sawdust, dirt and sunshine– is there anything better?

While I was blissing out on the memory of myself as someone who got shit done, the woman with the tidiest bed in the garden came to water it. She introduced herself and we chatted for quite a while. She’s really cool, a slightly older punky artist type. I liked her immediately, and we got right into it. She was surprised that I live so far (about a mile) and said, without malice, “I thought the garden was for people who live in the neighborhood, there’s a long waiting list…” I explained that there are no community gardens closer to me (if that is in fact an excuse, I don’t know) but had no explanation for why I had been floated to the top of the waiting list. Tenacity? Sheer force of will? Black magic? We talked about the ilk of your average community garden tenant, what a shame it is that people who aren’t using their plots are allowed to keep hold of them, and the prevalence of chemical use (I had been worried that my organic gardener self was about to be shocked out of it’s naivety by some bonafide bugs! But she gardens organically, and as I said, has the prettiest bed of all. Phew. It is possible).

So after all the discussion about available beds, and the trouble of building a new one, the one next to mine has just come available, and the coordinator says I’m welcome to it. He’s volunteer, and I know he gets quite disappointed and frustrated by how little people actually use their plots once they get one, let alone that they don’t help in the general upkeep of the communal space. I like to think he is impressed by how much work I’m doing. I have put in a lot of hours already, and I don’t even have dirt to put a seed in yet!

If I were in charge (notice I’m not stepping right up to volunteer), I’d first off make the plots about a quarter the size (they’re huge, my newly built one is 4×12, but the rest are 8×12 or bigger). I think a little plot, like 3×3 is perfect for most people. Enough to get their hands in the dirt, and grow a few heads of lettuce and a tomato plant. Most people have big ideas, but little time or desire to actually do the work. And that’s fine, they should still get the opportunity to get some dirt under their nails. But then any extra spaces could be divvied up between those who really work their plots. Of course, I myself feel that 4×12 is hardly enough…

Secondly, and more importantly, I’d mandate 5 hours of communal space weeding before anyone could get into their own dirt. That’d knock the top 90% off the waiting list!

Speaking of weeding, I followed my epic acetosa removal in November with layers of cardboard and leaves. Today I pulled back some cardboard, to dig a little hole for a corner post, and the dirt underneath was just rife with that wicked stuff, regrowing as thick as if I hadn’t spent so many hours on my hands and knees sifting those damn little corms out. Holy Shicksa Baby! That is downright creepy.

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As much as I am ready to be in my very own Home, and out of someone else’s very own home, I’m not ready for the fun of my DIY Crafting Vacation to be over. Yesterday I got a panic attack that I only had two more days and all I’d done was make, well, okay, five scarves on my new loom. That’s well and good, but what about my wax cloth kitchen bags and my soap making venture?

The soap making process is sort of simple, but intimidating enough that I wanted a stretch of at least two hours of completely kid-free, kitchen monopoly to embark. I kept waiting for that perfect moment, and it never came. It was always easier to just pick up my loom* which is how I made 5 scarves and zero soaps.

But! Last night, in a fit of procrastination inspiration, I stayed up late, after the kiddos were asleep and the kitchen cleared out, and I made my first two (small) batches of soap! They have currently had well more than the prescribed 15 hours to sit (more like 20 hours) and they’re not set up yet enough to take out of the forms. They are still seeming to make a slow progress…. Oh, please, please. I have to pack them tonight!

I made one batch following a recipe with all olive oil and one experiment with all canola. My frustration in researching soap online is that all the recipes are for hand/body soap. I wanted a basic, cheap, deep cleaning soap that I can use for dish soap and laundry detergent. I nixed the coconut oil in so many recipes, because I thought it was there to give soap a luxurious feel and make your skin nice.

Oooops. As I sat down to do my last bout of research before begining (at 9pm remember) I found out that the opposite is true. Coconut and palm oils both are added for their cleansing effect. (In fact, I read that if you use too much of either, your soap will dry out your skin.) Both olive and canola are listed as having just fair cleansing properties, but lots of conditioning.

Well, too late for that. I proceeded with my olive and canola batches. I had found very little info about canola oil in soap making. It looked to have a similar profile to olive oil, but I found hardly any recipes using it, and none with 100% canola. Is this because it’s somehow inferior, or just because it doesn’t sound as glamorous? The one piece of info I did find is that it takes longer to trace. I was a little worried that would mean I would be up all night mixing and waiting. But, not at all. It did take a little longer than the olive batch, but not by much. And, in fact, now it is the more set up of the two…?

Making soap certainly did infect me with The Bug. Mostly I am thoroughly intrigued. I mean, what the–? How the hell does that work? How does oil turn into something that takes oil off? You wanna know something weird? You have to use soap to wash up the soap making dishes. I mean, wouldn’t you think that the stuff clinging to the pan would, well, be soap? But no, somehow, the soap magically forms as it sits. And why do you need to mix it? What would happen if you just let it sit? How do you make liquid soap?

Hopefully you will find answers to these and more pressing late night soap making questions in future posts. For now, I’m off to pack for home! Yippee!

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How come so few people ever talk about their failures? Not only is failure often darn good entertainment, it’s an essential part of the learning/growing/living process. I can say all this with authority, because I am the type of person often paralyzed by the fear of failure. It’s unfortunate. Imagine how much I could accomplish if I could bottle up all that fear and pitch it out the window of a fast moving train!

As my dad always said, “Your successes cannot exceed 50% of your failures, so get out there and fuck up!”

I do my best.

Having woven three beautiful scarves, I was due for some fucking up. And here’s just how it went down.

In the projects book I got with my loom, there was a pattern for some cool looking placemats with a loose and gap-ey weave. The pattern called for stout linen thread. As you may recall I am practically incapable of following recipes, and patterns ditto. I had some gorgeous silk yarn, single spun with wispy threads of every color going every which way. The spirit of the yarn went perfectly with the spirit of the pattern, I imagined it was going to be divine. Table runners, I thought, or maybe even wall hangings. I set out to warp the yarn so that I would use the whole skein, and be able to get two finished pieces for x-mas gift giving. This meant that I spent half an hour warping, and the next hour and a half pulling the extra through, bit by bit, to use up the whole skein. Of course it was hard to warp such uneven, rough yarn at all. Let alone pull through several yards of extra. But I forged ahead, straight through knowing I should stop to feed the Toddler, straight through knowing I should stop to feed myself, until we were both on the very cusp of Total Meltdown, but I was finally goddamn done goddamit.

Later on, after beating down the Meltdown Beasts, I returned to my loom with weft in hand. I wove a few rows. Huh. Why does that look…. crappy? … Surely, it’s going to come together in a minute and knock me dead with fabulousness.

I wove a few more rows, and my eyes bagan to narrow. It just looked crappier and crappier. What the fuck?

I set my loom aside, thinking maybe I just had artist’s eye from too much weaving. Next day I came back to confirm my fears. It looked like hell.

I slowly realized that the pattern had used a very clean, tightly spun, single color yarn. More of a stout thread really, not soft, and certainly not scraggly. With this type of thread, the loose pattern of gaps was an obvious pattern, and looked fabulous. But, although the rustic unfinished look of my silk yarn was lovely in the skein, combined with the gap-ey pattern, it just looked like a really bad weaving job. Like a big ugly mess of yarn.

So. This morning, for the first time of doubtlessly many, I unstrung my loom. Having already cut the warps, I couldn’t just roll the yarn back up into a ball for use in another project, boo hoo.

The good news is, I have another Big Idea. I got it when I was warping up all that psychedelic yarn.

And now I can’t wait for Mardi Gras, cuz that shit’s gonna make a wicked cool wig.

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Finished my first scarf on the new loom. Took me two days. And that’s with kiddlets. It’s great. I used a deep red/copper variegated yarn for the warp, and a heathery brownish-gray for the weft. But more than liking the scarf itself, the important thing is that yes, I still love my new loom. I’m already scheming future projects, especially ones I can do with the big bag of yarn the MIL already has!

It snowed here. A few inches, with a glassy, crispy crust on top. Took the toddler out this morning to frolic. Adorable. The weird flu bug I brought with me (first I had a killer headache, then sore throat so bad I thought maybe it was tonsilitis, then body aches like crazy) caught up to Grandma, so I’m back to solo kid duty. Got a batch of bread dough rising. Annoyed at the Babe for not staying asleep in his crib for any length of time so I can start a new project. Almost feels like home!

Sorry for the quickie posts. I had imagined having more time/desire for the computer while here, but not so much of either.

Happy Snow!

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That’s right dear readers, I’m a weaver! I can use words like “shuttle” with abandon. If you weave, you might even know what the hell I’m talking about!

Got me a gorgeous little 12 inch Ashford rigid heddle tabletop loom yesterday. Or rather my parents-in-law bought it for me for as an early x-mas present. I warped it this morning, and I’ve got a good 10 inches of red and gray scarf woven already. I am sooooo excited. Geez. Realized yesterday morning when I woke up, and couldn’t care less about glomming onto the computer first thing (like I’ve been doing for months) how much some new and interesting learning project like this has been lacking from my life. There is just nothing like learning, discovering, creating.

I haven’t figured out how to get pictures up yet. Luddite that I am, I don’t have my own laptop (gasp!), so I have to make do with the in-laws computer. Not that it’s inferior, it’s a perfectly fancy mac. But I’m just intimidated by all things electronic, and it’s not the exact system I’m familiar with, so it sets me back with dread. I’ll tackle it soon, so’s y’all can see the sexy new love of my life.

I have to say– okay, I’m only 10 inches in, but so far– it’s everything I’d hoped for! As I throw the shuttle back and forth, I’m trying to figure out why weaving is my fiber craft, not knitting, not crocheting, not spinning, not felting. ‘Cuz boy are the first two so much cheaper to get into, so much more portable and logistically simple. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

1. I’m a control freak. Yeah, I’ll admit it. When I think of spinning, and I did try my hand at it once, I get a panic attack. All those fibers. You just can’t tame them all. A good spinner has to just let those fibers flow through her fingers with a certain release. You can’t make every inch of yarn perfect. And in fact, the most beautiful yarns are not remotely perfect. It’s the irregularity that makes them so appealing. But though I can appreciate it, I can never let go for stuff like that. With knitting not as much, but still true. My first few years of knitting, the reason I didn’t like it was because I sat there with gritted teeth, trying to wrestle that yarn into obedience, with impossibly tight stitches (sometimes so tight I couldn’t fit the damn needle in, and had to pry open a space) and a searing neck ache. After giving it up for a few years, I was able to come back to it with a relaxed neck, and loose stitches. But I still find it kind of annoyingly unmasterable.

Not that my weaving rows are so pretty, whoo boy. But there seems the possibility for control with weaving that other fiber arts don’t offer. And that the control won’t ruin the beauty of the piece, or cause my neck permanent damage…

2. I like stuff I can do in recognizable chunks. Like do one big thing, then be done with that for awhile. With knitting (which I did try hard to like, over the course of more than ten years) you cast on, then it’s pretty much the same thing till you’re done. I mean, one stitch from another– not a big difference. Pretty much the same action. And it goes slow. I know there are speed knitters out there, I’ve watched in awe as whole socks popped out of those damn needles. But, you’re never gonna beat a weaver. Weaving starts with warping your loom, which takes a significant amount of time. Then you get to do the actual weaving, which goes fast. Then the cutting from the loom and finishing. Three significantly different activities. Which makes it seem not to drag on so much as knitting.

3. Though I can really appreciate the simplicity of being able to create clothing with two little sticks and a ball of yarn, I also do love a brilliantly designed non-electric tool. Looms, especially the small ones, are a beautiful balance of human engineering. Just complex enough to do a job gorgeously well, but not so complicated that it takes an expert to operate one.

4. Lastly, I love woven wool. Don’t know why, but the look and feel of it just does me in! I swoon.

So, that’s it. My new love affair revealed.

Now, excuse me while I go throw my shuttle.

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(For this to make any sense whatever, you’ll have to refer to the original post DIY Crafting Vacation)

We arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s place day before yesterday, after a grueling 12 hours of travel– me, the Babe, and the Toddler (sans Papa, who is busily studying for finals). I must have done something right in a past life (maybe even this one) ‘cuz they were both angels. It was absolutely everything you could hope for traveling with two kiddos two and under. Of course, it could just as easily have gone the other way. You know kids. Everything’s peachy keen, until it’s not. Then it goes to hell in a handbasket.

We spent yesterday just hanging out, recovering from the travel day. Well, that’s not exactly true. The Cousin (also two) came over to play. Those two bitty girls ran all around raising Cane for a full 8 hours. Grandma was in a bit over her head, and it wasn’t like I got to bow out for personal time. But that’s to be expected. I knew this Crafting Vacation was bound to be not quite how I’d fantasized. What ever is?

First up on my list is to candy the kumquats I foraged near our house right before we left, and go buy a loom. I decided to bite the bullet. I just have an instinct about this one. I will keep you updated on both endeavors. Stay tuned!

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Crafting Vacation Update

I’ve discovered yet another citrus forage in our neighborhood– kumquats! Picked a big bag this morning, on a walk to put to sleep the Toddler who woke up at 3 am (oh, yes). I’ll pack them to Spokane, and my first crafting fun will be turning kumquats into candy for xmas gifts. I’ve candied orange and grapefruit peel before. Takes a ton of sugar, but it’s not that hard, and ever so addictively delicious. I think the kumquats might be the best ever, since their peel is even good to eat fresh. I’d never eaten one before. !KAZOWZA! That is one big burst of flavorama-rama-ding-dong!

We leave tomorrow, bright and early, for my fabulous DIY Crafting Vacation! (or Christmas Visit with In-Laws, depending on how you look at it). I’ve got the aforementioned

  • Soap. Bar, liquid, and laundry.
  • Bees-waxed cloth kitchen bags, to replace all the stupid ziplocks I’ve had just about enough of.

for which I ordered lye, washing soda and beeswax. But to those I’m hoping to add something a little more exciting. Something I’ve wanted to learn for years. Weaving.

I’ve always felt I had a kinship with fiber, like– fiber is my thing, my spiritcraft. But despite a lot of knitting, I’ve never come around to it, and when I tried crocheting, it didn’t look any more promising. Spinning looks all wrong for me too. What has always whispered sweet wooly nothings in my ear is weaving. Plus, the weavers I’ve met look like my people. My ladies. (No offense to the other fiber workers, of whom I’ve adored many.)

I did learn how to use a backstrap loom in Guatemala. So I have had enough of a taste to think my instinct is right on. In fact, I have a backstrap loom at home in Cordova, which is not much more than a bundle of sticks. Brilliant little invention. But what I want is a small tabletop loom. Something I can easily sit down to for 5-50 minutes at a time, which are the kind of windows I have at this point in my life. Something I can work at when I’m chatting with a friend.

They’re not so cheap as one might hope. I’m thinking I can convince someone to make it their xmas present to me. If I could find a used on, that would be ideal. We’ll see.

I’m thinking I will do a post a day for the duration of my trip, to make sure you all feel like a part of the fun! Though, I will still have kids, one of which is a baby. So don’t expect anything mind-blowing to go on… ;)

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Ever been sprayed in the face with poopy water? If not, here’s how!

I installed one of these toilet sprayers last week, for rinsing poopy diapers. First warning: be careful how you use it. Make sure you’re spraying down at the diaper. Not perpendicularly. FYI.

It was almost $50, and I really debated whether to buy it. But a neighbor had said she had one and it was the bomb.

Jury’s still out hereabouts.

Well, the thing is, you have to deal with the poop somehow, and no way is any fun. When they’re nursing babies and their poop is so runny and innocuous, I just throw ‘em straight into the washer, they come out clean, and I don’t worry my pretty little head about it. But then when they start to eat real food, and there’s The Chunks, this simple method fails.

That’s when I switched to the bucket soaker method. Just keep the poopy ones in their own bucket, then soak for an hour or so before fishing ‘em out and throwing ‘em in the washer, shaking off most of the poop back into the bucket as you do. But who can like that job? Which of course has to be done every two or three days. Ick. I mean, I consider myself pretty hard to gross out, but, ewwww, gross out.

So, I thought this sprayer might solve all my problems. Of course, it doesn’t. It is still poop. Spraying it off into the toilet is not as easy as it sounds for mature toddler poop. It takes a fair amount of water, and a definite facing of the fact.

But, it is better than fishing around in a bucket of poop water, I guess. So… If you’ve got $50, I’d say go ahead.

It was pretty easy to install, except that the existing hose was so old that the gasket was all but worn out, and when I re-hooked it back up and turned the water back on, it leaked. So I had to go out and buy another gasket. But, that’s not the fault of the sprayer. It was one of those fun projects that makes me feel like I’m a real Handy Lady.

On the box it said one of the uses was to “save on toilet paper.” I guess you can use it like a bidet.

I’ve never used a bidet before- maybe I just don’t know how it’s done. But I did try it out, and I can say, what the f**k? How is that s’posed to work?

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We’re going to spend three weeks with Hubby’s folks for xmas, in Spokane WA. They have offered us a three week vacation from (a lot of the work of) parenting. Now, me and The Mother In Law get along shockingly well. But, three weeks in anyone else’s house is rough. She says, kindly, “You won’t have to clean or cook or anything. Just relax. Read. Nap. Or whatever.”

Too bad. That’s just not me. Reading is great, and I will doubtlessly enjoy a few days with some good book. But I ain’t gonna lay up with no three weeks worth of reading! Especially not when I’m finally getting my feet back under me (metaphorically) after pregnancy/birth.

Uh uh. Nope. I got me an Idear. I’m gonna make myself a Craft Vacation! All the dreamy things on my sidebar list, that I’d just never get the time/energy for with Toddler and Babe hangin’ off my person, I’m gonna do ‘em!

So, here’s what I got so far:
-Soap. Bar, liquid, and laundry.
-Bees-waxed cloth kitchen bags, to replace all the stupid ziplocks I’ve had just about enough of.
-Next size up of terry cloth diapers for the Babe.

Any other ideas for fun, useful crafty projects? If you were taking a crafting vacation, what would you want to learn?

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Okay. Let’s get this straight. First off, I sure didn’t invent the idea. I saw a more refined version of this stove when Erin and Hig of Ground Truth Trekking passed through Cordova en route from Puget Sound to the Bering Sea by foot (and pack raft). Though I found it hard to believe, they claimed to have used this stove the whole way, burning only twigs to boil water in just 10 or 15 minutes. Often with wet wood!

Secondly, although I have been intending to make a tin can version of their stove ever since I saw it, I had just never gotten around to it. What really motivated me to finally kick my own butt into gear was my addiction to good coffee, and a purely selfish desire to stay out of Walmart.

We were going to be heading out of the good-coffee-island of New Orleans, into the surrounding good-coffee-less sea of The South for four whole days. How would we survive? We hadn’t known if we would do any camping at all down here, so we had only brought minimal gear. Our tent, sleeping pads and one sleeping bag (blankets would make up the extra). No Whisperlite. No blackened from the campfire cooking pots. I had sort of thought that if we did end up camping much, it would be car camping, and it would be worth it to just buy one of those folding two burner propane dealies. But the only place I’d seen here that would sell that sort of thing was a Walmart. And what with our last minute road trip idea, I’d have to make the journey to the dreaded Walmart on Thanksgiving morning. No way in Hell I could want to do that.

But I did have a large size tin can in the recycling bag.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Or, as in this case, the mother of ass kicking.

No tin snips, not even a crappy knife to punch holes with. Didn’t have the right size piece of wood to wedge into the can to make hammering a nail through possible. Hubby and Toddler asleep, Babe fussing, I didn’t have much time. I used a screw and my drill to make a ring of holes, and then punched through the holes with a butter knife to cut out the door. A few other details and 15 minutes later I had an adorably ghetto camp stove!

Of course, I had no idea if it would work. Kind of didn’t believe it would. But ground a bunch of coffee and packed the french press just in case.

I am proud to announce it did work! Beautifully well for a first attempt, 15 minute hack job. The first morning using it was gleeful. I didn’t mind the need for constant feeding and occasional blowing, who doesn’t love playing with fire? To think I made it out of an old tin can! To think I almost went out and bought a camp stove!

Of course, it’s pretty much just for boiling stuff. Not a very adjustable heat source, it’s high or nothin’ baby. But, the simplicity of it is fantastic.

After a little research online I found a good list of homemade stove links. The tin can stick stove appears to be called a Hobo Stove. Who can’t love a name like that? There seems to be lots of variation in the richly creative world of DIY. I intend to trial a few a these, and I promise to keep you updated on the results.

BTW: It took about 14 minutes to boil a quart of water. I’m sure this would be extremely variable based on the quality of your wood, breeze, feeding frequency, etc.

Note: Those holes you see in the back were my idea of exit ventilation, but were inadequate. I had to set two sticks on top of the can, and set the kettle atop those. Which worked fine, really.

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