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Archive for the ‘Wood Butchering, Jerry Rigging and Other DIY’ 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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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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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’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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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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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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Maybe everybody already knows this, but just in case, it seems worth a quickie post.

I’m no handyman, but I can fix a few simple household problems, and it’s good for us housewifely types to pool our knowledge on this front.

I woke up this morning to the sound of the toilet running*. Like it does after it gets flushed, only it hadn’t gotten flushed, and it just ran and ran and ran. Has this ever happened to you? If not, here’s the secret ahead of time, so maybe I can save you from having to ask some man to look at it, and having him fix it in 10 seconds and look at you like you’re crazy.

Take the lid off the back tank and look for a long arm like thing (attached to a chain going down to a ball/floaty thingy). Jiggle the arm up and down.

That’s it.

Now just wait a minute and see if the tank is filling up. If it is, you’ve fixed a common household problem, congratulations! Don’t know why, it just sometimes gets stuck, maybe more often with older, crappier plumbing.

If jiggling doesn’t fix it, there’s a bigger problem. The arm, or the seal at the bottom might need replacing. You’ll have to consult your local plumbing supply store if you can muster the courage, or your favorite handyman. Either way, turn off the water to the toilet so it’s not wasting. The knob should be just behind the toilet, near the floor. Which is another important thing to know, in case you’ve ever just taken the crap of your life, flushed, and now the toilet is overflowing!

*Actually I woke up this morning, and several times in the night, to the sound of our 6 week old grunting and squirming beside me. Another thing that’s not really broken, and just needs some jiggling…. But that’s another story.

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worm bin

Well, I made my bin. Hooray for me. Kind of anticlimactic though, because according to this knowledgeable looking site, I have to let it “age” before I add the wormies. So I made the bin last week, added a layer of shredded paper, a layer of food, and another of paper. During the week I’ve been throwing more food on top.

the not-so-perfect beddingUnfortunately (or, I guess fortunately for the future success of my worm career) it occured to me that although I remembered reading somewhere about the fluffy product of office paper shredders being the perfect bedding, didn’t it seem wrong to feed worms bleached paper? I did a little research, and sure enough. Advice ranges from “don’t use” to “preferably not bleached” to “use sparingly.” I’m gonna go with the use sparingly since as you can see, the deed is pretty much done.

So you know where I’ll be tonight. That’s right, on the couch, shredding cardboard and newspaper, by hand. Sigh. I was so excited when I thought I’d found two giant bags of perfect, no-work bedding!

There is a lot of bags of leaves around, being fall here in the Gulf belt, and the above mentioned site does say leaves make a fine secondary bedding material (see his full list here). So I’ll be on the lookout.

the drilled binIf you want to make a bin, check out the above site. Wood is preferred, but a rubbermaid tote is, sadly, cheaper and easier. Basically it’s just a matter of drilling some holes for drainage and airflow (use a drillbit size smaller than a worm!) If you keep your bin inside, or if you want to capture the good juices that drain off, it needs a tray to drain into. I’m gonna keep mine outside, because it’s warm enough to do that here and I’m afraid of attracting critters (read: cockroaches) into the house. I’ve already noticed the “curing” bin is swarmed with fruit flies. Which means I’m gonna have to move it away from the back door, so that when I leave said door open, all those little buggers don’t fly right in.

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Yup, it’s been on my list since we got here. I’ve got a rubbermaid tote waiting to be drilled, two giant trash bags full of shredded paper I found by a dumpster at the university, and a friend waiting to give me the worms. Why is it taking me so long, you ask? I dunno. No good reason.

Today I woke up thinking worms. Just did a little internet research and found a great web site by a total worm fanatic. One of those weird and brilliant people who’s always testing boundaries and challenging the frontier. How about making a worm bin out of some old Levi’s?

This will be my second worm bin, the first was a total failure. Yes, I know it’s supposed to be so easy, and no,  I don’t know what went wrong. After not very long it bred something entirely different, and since I didn’t know what the hell, and those tiny white wormy things were composting my stuff (sorta), I let it go on for some time before accepting that I had killed my worms.

For those of you who’ve never heard of it before, vermicomposting (vermi means worm) is a great compost pile alternative for city folks. A worm bin is much smaller, works much faster, and shouldn’t produce hardly any smell. So you can supposedly have it in your house, right under your sink even. In fact the worms need to be kept from freezing, so unless you live somewhere with mild winters (like New Orleans) you’ll need to keep them inside. The upside of that is that they keep composting straight through the winter.

Worms need a moist but never wet environment and a continual supply of food. An ideal worm bin is made from wood, which can breath, but plenty are made out of plastic, and I’ll be making mine from a rubbermaid tote. You just have to drill holes for air flow and drainage. Then you need bedding (any moisture absorbing, easily digestible carbon material like shredded paper or cardboard) and a few handfulls of dirt. The web site link above has some decent instructions for getting started, but like many mad scientist types, he doesn’t do a very thorough job of explaining things for beginners. The classic book on the subject is Worms Eat My Garbage, which is thorough for sure, but you don’t really need to read a whole book on the subject to start a bin! (But then, look at me, I read the book and still killed my worms…) If I find a good in between beginner source I’ll be sure to post it.

And watch for my next Building a Worm Bin post, which I intend to document!

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