Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Cast of Making Shift (Who Are These People??)

I am Karen B. You can read more about me here. There are four other people who regularly appear in my posts. They are:

Mr. Chanclas- my long-suffering husband. His name isn't really Chanclas (which means flip-flops in Spanish) but I like to think that it is. He is a Cross Fit dork who has made himself a respectable makeshift home gym. He cheerfully supports all of my homesteading endeavors and lets me cut his hair and bring home van loads of curbside treasures and the occasional flea-infested animal. He really is a good sport about it all. (He doesn't actually wear glasses.)

Big Sister- our 9-year old daughter. She is an outdoors-loving tomboy and avid reader. She has an easygoing nature. She is still young enough to not be embarrassed by my ridiculous hobbies (thank goodness). 

Brother- our 5-year old son, who is both a big and a little brother. He is rough and tumble and has a heart of gold. He likes to build things and is pretty talented at removing nails from scavenged lumber.


Little Sister- our 3-year old daughter. She is a little spitfire who seems to have inherited her father's Latin heat. She has walked proficiently in high heels since birth and potty-trained herself when she was one year old. That sums up a lot right there. 

The non-human animals you might see around here are:

Penny- our ancient hound. She is still an awfully good sport about things.

Emmy- the most tolerant cat on the planet.

Lupe- our other cat who, after healing from a broken back, now has a strange tick where if you scratch her head her back leg jerks uncontrollably. She hisses and spits more than any cat I have ever known.

The Chickens- this is a rotating cast of characters. The most memorable ones are The Banties (a trio of banty hens who are about 10 times smarter than your average chicken), Floyd (a giant, paranoid, oversexed Ameracauna rooster), and Drogo (a tiny but very manly and handsome banty rooster).

And now we have:
The Ducks- Lulu and Maggie, two Khaki Campbells
The Guinea Fowl- 4 French guineas of unknown sex
The Chicks- far too many male chicks of unknown breeding

(And don't tell anyone but next year I hope to add some rabbits!)

Friday, March 29, 2013

35 Cent Shorts

Big Sister needs some new shorts for summer. I found these at Thrift Town for 35 cents. (It was half off yellow tags. They were originally 69 cents!) Sometimes I just can't believe how little it is possible to pay for decent clothes. I also picked up a pair of J Crew pants for myself for $2.99 and a nice technical running top for 99 cents. Sweet.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Mail Order Poultry Has Arrived!

I still find it slightly crazy that you can order poultry through the mail. This morning while I was out running errands to pick up the last few things I needed for my brooder I got The Call. "This is the post office. Your chicks are here." I actually screamed "YAYYYY!" into the lady's ear. And then I went and got my chicks.

They were quite noisy. Even though the box was in the back room at the post office I could hear the peeping from the mail counter. I took them home, fashioned a brooder out of an old cardboard box, and then opened the shipping box:

In addition to the four keets (baby guinea fowl) and three ducklings, the hatchery had added TEN male baby chicks for extra warmth in transit! So now I have my meat birds for this spring and they were free. Unfortunately, Big Sister's baby mallard duck arrived dead. She has been waiting for this duckling for weeks, reading everything she could about how to care for ducks and picking out the awesome name of Pete for her new little guy. She was adamant that she get a male mallard. No other breed would do, although I tried to talk her into others. The hatchery will refund our money but they won't ship one baby duck so I think it's going to be hard to find a replacement. I'm so disappointed for Big Sister.

All of the other birds arrived in great shape. The keets (which is what you call baby guinea fowl) are adorable and remind me of the Japanese banty chicks we had last spring. They are small and feisty and have dark stripes. The ducklings are bigger and their webbed feet are downright ridiculous. They are obsessed with the watering trough, splashing and stepping in it more than the other birds. The baby chicks are the tiny yellow fluff balls, the quintessential chicks. The hatchery uses male chicks as their "extras" so they will all one day be roosters. Goodness gracious. So we will be eating them before they get around to crowing.

I know lots of folks aren't familiar with guinea fowl. They look like this:

There's a good article about them here in Mother Earth News. In Spanish they are called coquenas. Our guinea keets currently look like this:

Our two surviving ducklings are female Khaki Campbells, a breed known for its prolific egg-laying abilities.

The kids were not home to greet the baby birds so I can't wait for them to get home later! I'll keep y'all posted on the flock's progress.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Homemade Chicken Tractor from Scavenged Materials

I was hoping to raise some chickens for meat this spring. Our current coop is pretty full with 11 birds right now so I needed to make another structure. I decided to make a big chicken tractor that I could move around in our big weedy side yard. Most of the chicken tractors I've seen are quite small but this one measures 79" x 96". I can still move it by myself, although only just barely and not very far. I've had two hens in it for the past few weeks and it has worked out quite well.

I built it entirely out of stuff I had laying about the yard, most of which was scavenged from the trash at some point. It consists of a base frame of 2x4's. I then drilled 5 long screws into the top of each long side (evenly spaced) to serve as anchors for the PVC pipes. I left about 2 inches of screw sticking up at the top and then  hooked a 1/2" PVC pipe over each pair of screws to form an arched top. Then I used several odd segments of chicken wire to cover the arch and the back "wall". I stapled the chicken wire to the 2x4 base and used short strands of wire to connect the wire sections up above (I just twisted it to join the two pieces). The covering is mostly chicken wire but the front bit is my sister's old wire compost bin (thanks, sis!). I covered the back part with a piece of old tarp to provide some shade and rain protection for the chickens. The front "door" is an old cattle panel that basically just rests against the front and is held in place by a piece of wire. I can lower the panel all the way to the ground and just walk over it or I can slide it to one side. Because the square holes in the cattle panel are large enough to let predators in I had to cover it with bits of smaller wire, too.

I don't have any meat birds to put in the tractor yet but I did have two hens that needed to escape an abusive boyfriend named Floyd. I started them out in the tractor near the house and every few days I move the tractor down to the next bit of fresh grass. I don't leave them in one spot long enough to destroy the grass but they do mow it quite a bit. You can see the swath they have cut through the grass in this photo:

I started building a second chicken tractor/hoop coop with Big Sister over the weekend. We ordered some just-hatched ducks and guinea fowl that are due to arrive in the mail this week and they are going to need an outdoor enclosure in just a few weeks. Because the chicken tractor was so easy to build and I still had lumber and PVC pipes laying around we decided to build another one almost identical to the first. I'll share those building photos next time!

Shared with: Little House in the Suburbs DIY Linky

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quote of the Week: Freer Without

“Consider this: you might be freer without something than with it.” 
-Pearl Mast, interviewed in Little House on a Small Planet (by Shay Salomon), p.251

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Homemade Haircuts

We all had some laughs and the haircut turned out fine.

I’ve been cutting the hair of everyone in my immediate family for the last few years. Brother and Little Sister have never had their hair cut by a professional. I’ve also cut the hair of my brother-in-law, my niece, my sister, and now our friend Justin. (Justin was nice enough to have the whole event documented in these photos.) Since I find it impossible to cut my own hair, Mr. Chanclas (that would be my husband) started cutting my hair last year.

I should note that I have absolutely no professional training in this area. I have a pair of scissors and a cheap set of electric clippers (with guards) that I bought at Kmart a decade or so ago. The only other piece of equipment involved in my haircuts is a short extension cord so I can cut on the front patio. (Clean up is a lot easier outside.) If we are feeling unsure about things we might get out the little mirror so the subject (victim?) can see how the haircut is progressing. Usually our reflection in the front window suffices.

I should also note that I’m not particularly talented at hair cutting, either. I’m just willing to give it a try and I think that is half of what is required to make home haircuts work. The other half is a willing participant who isn’t going to get his or her panties all in a wad if things don’t turn out just so. I mean, it’s just hair. And if it turns out badly you can always go and get it fixed by a professional, which is what you would’ve had to do anyway if you weren’t cutting it at home. So you really aren’t risking anything. (As of yet none of my haircuts have resulted in an emergency visit to the hair salon.)

Here I am trying not to nick Justin's ears with the clippers
If you are just starting out I would suggest starting on kids or on an adult who wants a buzz cut. Kids don't have all the emotional hair baggage that we adults sometimes have so they make forgiving and cheerful participants. Buzz cuts on people of any age are easy (you just choose a guard for the clippers) and you can practice cleaning up the back of the neck and around the ears with the bare clippers. Trimming long hair is quite easy, too, and only requires a pair of scissors.
What do you do if the haircut turns out badly? Besides getting it re-cut by a professional, which I mentioned, you can instead decide on a Plan B cut. The last time I cut Mr. Chanclas' hair I was trying to make it short on the sides and long on top but I just couldn't get the transition right between the long and short. So we moved to Plan B, which was a straight-up buzz cut with a #4 guard and that turned out just fine. The last time Mr. Chanclas cut my hair it turned out pretty wonky in back and too short all over. I wore it covered up with a scarf for a week or two until I felt better about it. We considered re-cutting it but in the end I decided it just needed to grow out a little.

Cutting hair at home can save you a bundle of money in the long run but it is also awesome because it means you need one less professional/specialist in your life. It is one less appointment to make, one less trip in the car, a few dollars more in your pocket, and the knowledge that you did it yourself.

Now who needs a haircut?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Cloth Napkins Every Day

I grew up using those flimsy paper napkins, the square ones with the nubby texture. I suspect maybe everyone who grew up in the 80's used those. If you were lucky they were white. If you were unlucky they had images of geese in baskets on them, or some such nonsense. At some point in my adult life I realized that using cloth napkins is really easy and I switched to using those all the time. They feel nicer and they don't waste paper and they can generally handle messes a lot better. Have you tried using those thin paper napkins while eating barbecue? And don't even get me started on the paper napkins used in Mexico. They actually melt in your hand as you use them. You need about 14 of them to make it through a plate of enchiladas.

At our house we have The Napkin Basket. It looks like this:

It is full of cloth napkins that I've picked up in thrift stores and garage sales over the years. There must be at least a dozen different patterns and sizes in there. (It's only partially full in the photo.) There are sets of 8, sets of 3, big ones, tiny ones, flowered ones, striped ones, ones with appliqued images of extreme sports (really), and one that was hand-embroidered with what I thought was an alien but turned out to be a potted plant (how disappointing). I think we all have our favorites. Because I pay so little for them I make sure to always have lots so we don't run out. I just wash them with our regular laundry and because they are especially easy to fold the kids often help to fold them. I put them in the kids' lunch boxes and pack them in my snack bag when we go out. If one gets lost it doesn't matter because they aren't fancy. They are so small that it never feels like they add anything to our laundry burden.

If you want to make the transition to cloth napkins full-time I would recommend buying a bunch at a thrift store. Look for napkins that are 100% cotton because the ones that contain polyester are too water-repellant. Thrifted napkins might not have a tag on them so just feel the fabric and see if it feels like cotton. Polyester blends will be slicker and less wrinkled than cotton. Wrinkled is okay for everyday napkins! By all means, don't feel like you should iron them. And you certainly don't have to have matching sets. Start out with at least a dozen and see how you like using them. Then build up your stash as you come across good deals.

You usually don't have to change napkins for every person at every meal. If the breakfast napkins aren't dirty I will leave them out for lunch or dinner. When we have house guests I give everyone a napkin ring with their name on it so we can all keep track of our napkins. I have about a dozen napkin rings that I picked up in thrift stores and they are all different (there are roosters and pigs and sheep and birds, etc). Even little children who can't read can keep track of their own napkin ring. I was surprised when Little Sister (age 2) was able to identify the napkin rings of all 8 of us when my in-laws were here over Christmas break.

So here is a quick summary for switching to cloth napkins:
1) Buy em' cheap (used is great)
2) Buy lots
3) Avoid polyester

That's it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Quote of the Week: The Scavenger's Manifesto

"Damned in the Book of Genesis, declared untouchable in the Book of Leviticus, shunned by cultures around the world, we're scavengers. We're trash-pickers. We're treasure-hunters. Bargain shoppers. Beachcombers. Recyclers. Freecyclers. Sample-sifters. Coupon shoppers. Swappers. Wherever we are, wherever we go, we find ways to not shop. We don't steal. We don't scam. But we don't pay full price. We don't pay at all if we can help it."
-Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson, from The Scavenger's Manifesto, p. ix

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Spring Garden: Phase I

Beth over at Revolution from Home had a fun homework project last week. I think she plans to give her readers some future assignments (yea!) but this one was Project #1: Grow Something. I didn't exactly get anything growing before the homework due date but I *did* get my garden beds all ready to go. I submitted the following photo and was tickled to see that Beth posted it on her blog along with all of the other homework folks turned in. I love seeing what other people are growing and making, too.

My garden area with compost spread and soaker hoses at the ready.
This is the first time I have had a vegetable garden at this house. (We've been here two years.) I made a halfhearted attempt last spring but didn't have a good watering plan and started my plants too late. Everything promptly fried to a crisp in our blazing Central Texas summer sun. This year I'm a lot more determined and I have a plan. I have soaker hoses on all the beds and plan to mulch heavily once the seedlings are big enough. I'm concerned my garden fence might be a little short but we will see. All of those soaker hoses came out of my curbside trash finds last week.

I got some seedlings from our neighbors this week (they own the Tillery Street Plant Company) and some seeds from The Natural Gardener. (Oh my goodness was it crazy over there at this time of  year.) The kids are going to help me get all that in the ground later today and tomorrow. So we are on our way! I hope we can get some good produce out of our garden this year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why I Love the Public Library

I am a lifelong devotee of the public library. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the public library in Houston. I can still remember struggling to sign my name on my first library card. I remember the layout of the children's section, the dark carpeting, the water fountain in the alcove. I remember my dad putting my sister (who was a skinny little thing) into the canvas library book bag and swinging her as he walked down the hallway of our house. (That's how sturdy a book bag we needed for all those books.)  Later in life I always felt at home in my college library despite the ugly, dated decor and musty smells. After college I frequented the public library in Annapolis, MD, and then again in Madison, WI. I also spent many an hour (days??) in the university libraries in Madison. After that we moved to Mexico and tried in vain to find a library in Torreón. It is a large city in the middle of the desert with a population of about a million people. There was one library. ONE. For a million people. And it was the size of my living room and all of the books were at least 30 years old. That made me so sad. It still does. After Torreón we came to Austin, where I have frequented four branches and the main city library for the last ten years. We sometimes make special trips to branches we don’t know just for fun.

I still find it nothing short of amazing that I can go to a public library and pick out nearly any book I want and take it home with me. For three weeks or more! And I can put a hold on anything in the library system that I want and they will transfer it to my branch and hold it on a shelf for me with my name on it until I come and get it. And all this for free! (I do, of course, pay for this service through my taxes, and I am glad to do so. But the service is free to all city residents.) I am sure that I have saved thousands of dollars on books, CD's, and DVD's over the years just by using the library. The public library is really an unsung resource. I have tackled many a project with the knowledge gleaned from a library book, gained inspiration from countless borrowed titles, and saved a heap of money in the process. I don't have a Netflix account and I haven't rented a movie in at least 7 years. We just put holds on the movies we want to see and they arrive on the library hold shelf with our names on them. I only buy a book if I find myself repeatedly checking it out from the library. The kids really like reading new books every night before bed so we always check out at least 20 or 30 picture books. We own hundreds of children’s books but it is so lovely to have new and different books all the time, too.

The aftermath of a family trip to the downtown library.
I hope that my children get as much joy out of the library as I do. Every indication is that they do. Recently my 9-year old told me, “Mom, I love coming to the library. No matter how I feel when I walk in here I always leaving feeling good.”

Friday, March 8, 2013

Quote of the Week: Shannon Hayes

“In addition, the happiest among them were successful at setting realistic expectations for themselves. They did not live in impeccably clean houses on manicured estates. They saw their homes as living systems and accepted the flux, flow, dirt and chaos that are a natural part of that. They were masters at redefining pleasure not as something that should be bought in the consumer marketplace, but as something that could be created, no matter how much or how little money they had in their pockets. And above all, they were fearless. They did not let themselves be bullied by the conventional ideals regarding money, status, or material possessions. These families did not see their homes as a refuge from the world. Rather, each home was the center for social change, the starting point from which a better life would ripple out for everyone.”

-Shannon Hayes (in her book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, p.18)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Before & After: Scavenged Bench

So I found this little beauty (ahem) in the trash last week. Definitely a homemade jobby because none of the wood matched. In fact, the side pieces may have been Hardi panel. But I have been *waiting* for a bench for our mudroom since we moved into this house two years ago. I knew one would show up eventually. In the meantime I had improvised a bench out of a sturdy shelf board and two plastic crates.

After wiping the new bench down with a rag I primed it with Kilz latex primer and then painted it with a can of eggshell enamel that came with our house (I think it's the paint that was used on our living room walls). Here is how it turned out:

I'm going to let it dry another day and then I'll move it into place in the mudroom. It will be a great place to sit and take off or put on shoes. (We keep most of our shoes in the mudroom.)

Total Cost: $0
Hooray for another good scavenged find!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

More Curbside Treasures

One of three loads of treasure I collected
Aided only by my trusty minivan I managed to scavenge a record amount of stuff from the trash last week. It was bulky trash pickup in southwest Austin, which only happens twice a year. People put all sorts of stuff out on the curb. I spent a couple of hours Monday morning and a couple more on Tuesday making the rounds. In case you are wondering what sorts of things one finds on this type of venture, I typed up a complete list of my treasures. I will also tell you what I planned to do with each item, lest you think my house includes 3 staircases and multiple dogs. And in case you were also wondering what type of person drives around picking up trash, let me tell you that I was not alone!  If you live in Austin you have probably seen the pickup trucks pulling trailers trolling the neighborhood streets during bulky trash pickup week. I had competition!
A few of the treasures that will be incorporated into future household projects

1 long roll of bamboo privacy screen (for making cool outdoor shelters with the kids)
2 rolls 1/2" garden mesh (animal housing or garden protection)
3 rolls 2" garden mesh (animal housing or garden protection)
2 dog houses (housing for ducks)
3 babyproofing stair gates (animal housing)
1 set of bed slats for Ikea bed (replacement for broken ones in Big Sister's bed)
3 pieces of plywood (general project stash)
8 2x4 and 2x6 pieces, long and short (general project stash)
4 smaller wood boards (general project stash)
1 long piece PVC pipe (1/2") (chicken or duck run)
12 wooden stakes (anchoring tomato cages in the garden)
1 plastic hose caddy (for garden hose)
4 soaker hoses (for veggie garden) 
1 regular garden hose (for general use)
1 shelving frame made of heavy-duty lumber (perfect size to use as a raised-bed garden frame)
1 10' heavy duty playscape slide (add to kids' treehouse)
2 sections of playscape climbing wall with hand/footholds attached (for the kids)
1 wooden ladder section for playscape (for the kids)
3 wooden pieces with plastic handholds for playscape (I don't know but the handles looked useful)
2 hockey sticks (for the neighbor boy who loves to play hockey in his driveway)
12 little bamboo garden stakes (general garden use)
6 fat, long bamboo poles (for making a tipi!!)
2 metals poles with attached volleyball net (for the kids)
1 toddler bicycle helmet (for Little Sister)
1 homemade kids' go-cart, base only with wheels (the wheels are for chicken tractors or other projects)
1 Ikea-type desk with laminate wood top and 4 metal tubular legs (gave to the neighbors)
2 red like-new lawn chair cushions (hmmm, don't know yet)
1 wooden garden bench with storage under seat (will repaint and use in our mudroom)

Amazingly, the bench storage contained: 
  • 4 old bedsheets (for covering plants in a freeze or as painters' drop cloths) 
  • 2 pillowcases (fabric will be sewed into tote bags) 
  • 1 kids' rug (ugly- I tossed it) 
  • 1 fleece throw (also got tossed) 
  • some worn-out clothes (also tossed) 
  • 1 Black and Decker electric sander, working! 
  • 1 pair safety glasses 
  • lots of plastic drop cloths for painting 
  • 1 outdoor chair pillow (tossed this) 
  • 1 yoga mat
And that, my friends, is what you can find in the trash on two beautiful spring mornings in Austin. What is your best trash find ever?