Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tree House Made From Scavenged Materials

The original tree house platform

Mr. Chanclas and the kids built a small tree house a couple of winters ago. Unlike all the rest of our projects, I urged him to buy new lumber for this since it was going to be bearing our kids' weight and I wanted it to last. He built a platform (out of new lumber) in a little stand of trees out back and added a couple of steps to a tree in one corner for access. Recently Brother requested walls for the tree house so we tacked on some sides and a few novelty bits out of salvaged materials.

Tree house with salvaged sides added

The sides are headboards and footboards from an old bunk bed that Mr. Chanclas found in the trash. They are made out of nice, solid wood so we knew we'd eventually find a use for them. Between two of the side pieces Mr. Chanclas added a swinging door made out of an old baby gate. I've scavenged several old gates like this one and they have come in handy for all sorts of things (trellises for growing beans, covering chick brooding tubs, etc).

This old baby gate makes a nice tree house door.
While Mr. C was working on the tree house improvements I was dismantling an old wooden screen door. I had just removed the latch and stashed it away for a future project. Five minutes later Mr. Chanclas found it in the hardware organizer bin and used it to secure the new tree house door. How's that for some quick recycling?

Old screen door latch used for the tree house door
Mr. C also added a couple of fun details to the tree house while he was at it. I had picked up this toy steering wheel (attached to a 2x4) during a bulky trash pickup week and was waiting to put it to good use.
Scavenged steering wheel from a playscape

Then he added a plank. As in, "walk the plank". Because every tree house should be able to function as a pirate ship!

Pirate plank out of scavenged wood
While I was touring the finished (for now) tree house I caught sight of these old, rusty nails in one of the tree trunks that bends over the platform. I love these reminders that this place was once special to someone else, many years ago. I'm not the first person to love this place and mine are not the first children to play in these woods. They won't be the last, either.

Signs of an old tree house long gone

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Week's Moments

This week was full of good making-shift moments. Here are a few I thought I'd share. I may write in more detail about some of these later.

We slaughtered 3 roosters last weekend, including this young one. I braised him with onions and sun dried tomatoes and the meat was delicious.

Little Sister harvested the seed pods from the oregano and filled a saucer with oregano seeds. "I'm making dinner, Mommy."

I made my second batch of soap, this one with a bit of oatmeal and honey. The swirly dark color surprised me and I'm a little concerned about the white bloom on top. Is that ash? It seems a bit greasy.

Everyone in Austin rejoiced because we had RAIN. A real, honest-to-god downpour with flooding and everything. I can't remember the last time we had a good, solid rain. Hurray!!! A good way to start the fall gardening season methinks.

Our little patio pond. Toads like to hang out there and make love matches in the evenings. The results of said love matches hatched this last week.

Scads of tadpoles in our little pond. I'm sure the resident goldfish have been gobbling them up but there are only so many they can eat in a day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cleaning Up With Homemade Cleaners

This is really all you need to clean your house.
I can't figure out how corporations can make millions (billions?) of dollars a year on household cleaners. Most of them are completely unnecessary. You can clean your whole house really well with a few simple ingredients: baking soda, vinegar, liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner's brand ), and club soda.

I came across the book Clean House Clean Planet (by Karen Logan) in the public library in 1999 and I've been making a lot of my own cleaners ever since. I'm just going to give you the three basic recipes I use most but the book has dozens of different recipes and tips if you have more specific needs. I really don't get stoked about cleaning house so I just keep it simple! Logan also gives each recipe an effectiveness rating and a price comparison with the commercial brand.

1) Alice's Wonder Spray
This is an all-purpose household cleaner spray. Logan's version calls for a teaspoonful of borax, which is a mildly toxic white powder with antiseptic properties. I've found that the spray works just as well without the borax and, if I leave the borax out, my kids can use it safely. Logan also likes to add essential oil for fragrance but the Dr. Bronner's soap already has fragrance so I omit the essential oils. Here is my modified recipe:
Ingredients: liquid soap (Dr. Bronner's brand- you pick your favorite scent), white distilled vinegar, and purified water
Container: a clean 16-oz or larger spray bottle (I really like the 32oz industrial ones from Home Depot)
How to Make: Add 2 Tbsp vinegar so spray bottle. Then add 16 ounces filtered water. Shake gently to mix. Then add 1/4 cup liquid soap and shake gently.
My Notes: My favorite Dr. Bronner's soap for this recipe is the peppermint. I recently bought the new citrus orange scent and I find it a little irritating to my nose. The peppermint just smells clean and fresh. For the spray bottle I really like the industrial type ones found at Home Depot. They last a lot longer than the cheapies you find in the beauty section at the supermarket or Target and they don't clog as easily. (Plus, they are only 96 cents!)
Go for the big sprayer in the middle.

2) Earth Scrub Tub and Tile Cleaner
This is a thick, mildly abrasive cleaner that works great on bathtubs, toilets, floors, and any other surface that needs a good scrubbing. I once used it on the linoleum floor in my ancient first apartment and found that the linoleum was (surprise!) white and not brown.
Ingredients: baking soda, liquid soap (Dr. Bronner's), white distilled vinegar, and water
Container: a 16oz or larger squeeze container (an old shampoo bottle would work fine)

A good squeezy container for the Earth Scrub.
How to Make: Mix 1 2/3 cup baking soda with 1/2 cup liquid soap in a bowl. Dilute with 1/2 cup water. Add 2 Tbsp vinegar last. Stir until smooth and then pour into the container. If it is too thick to pour, add a bit more water.
Baking soda and liquid soap mixture
My Notes: If you leave the top open the scrub will get dried out and won't flow easily. No big deal. Just open the lid, add a little water, close the lid, and shake well. You're good to go. I prefer to use this scrub with a nylon-backed sponge like the Dobie sponge. Those sponges are nonabrasive so they won't scratch your tub or other surfaces.

3) Club Clean Glass Cleaner
A completely harmless, effective glass cleaner.
Ingredients: club soda
Container: spray bottle, any size
How to Make: Fill your spray bottle with club soda.
How to Use: Spray and wipe. The reason club soda works is because it contains sodium citrate, which softens the water and helps to clean. Make sure you wipe with a lint-free rag if that matters to you.
My Notes: This stuff works well, costs pennies, and is awesome for toddlers and kids who want to help clean windows. My kids have spent hours with a rag and a spray bottle of this stuff cleaning windows (and walls and tables and the floor and the cat....)

So there you go- my workhorse cleaner recipes. If you have to clean house you can at least not poison yourself in the process, right? 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My First Batch of Homemade Soap

My utility room smells SO good right now! This is especially surprising because the utility room contains the kitchen trash can and the cat litter box. But my very first batch of homemade soap is curing in there right now and it smells so beautiful.

My first batch of homemade soap, still curing after being unmolded.

I made a very simple, unscented all-purpose soap using the instructions in Little House in the Suburbs by Deanna Caswell and Daisy Siskins. (An excellent book, by the way.) I did modify their recipe slightly but I followed their instructions to the letter. I used :

36 ounces olive oil
6 ounces coconut oil
3 ounces palm oil (their recipe called for 3 ounces of castor oil here)
6 ounces lye
12 ounces water

The oils used in my soap: olive, coconut, and palm oil.

If you haven't made soap before it is an astonishingly simple formula.

Fat + (Lye + Water) = Soap

That's it.

I measured the lye with a kitchen scale and then sprinkled the lye crystals into the water and stirred. It heated up like crazy (as it should) so I let it cool down a bit. I wore kitchen gloves and my crazy swim goggles to protect from possible burns from the lye. I even put on long sleeves and jeans, which felt terrible in my 80-degree kitchen. I didn't spill or splash any lye, though, so all went well.

The water and lye solution
Meanwhile I measured the oils together in a stainless steel soup pot and heated it a bit to melt the palm oil, which was solid at room temperature. (Coconut oil is also solid at cooler room temperatures- under 76 degrees.) Then I poured the lye solution into the pot of oil and mixed everything together with a handheld blender (also called an immersion blender). The mixture became opaque and thicker. When I could see "trace" (when you dribble a bit of the mix across the liquid's surface and it leaves a visible trail) I poured the soap into the molds.

Melting the oils together

Pouring the soap into the molds after mixing the lye solution with the oils.
For the molds I used two things:

1) a small cardboard shoebox lined with parchment paper

2) a flimsy plastic tray nested inside a cardboard box (that had held a dozen pears from Costco)

I made the soap early in the afternoon and by evening it was hard enough to remove from the molds (and cut into bars in the case of the shoebox soap). I set the bars on cardboard and will let them sit and cure for a few more days. After that I will wrap them loosely with wax paper and allow to finish curing for about 3-4 weeks. Then I'm going to take a really long bath with my first bar of homemade soap! (Who am I kidding? If I'm lucky I'll get five minutes in the shower but it will be glorious.)

Note: You really shouldn't substitute different oils the way I did in this recipe. Different oils require different amounts of lye to saponify them. If you want to substitute one oil for another, just use a lye calculator such as this one to see how much lye you need to use. After I made my soap I ran my revised recipe through the lye calculator and, luckily, my lye amount was fine. Whew! So you can feel free to use my revised recipe above.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Elementary School Clothing Swap

Everything I brought home from the swap

One of our local elementary schools, Zilker Elementary, hosted their annual back-to-school clothing and book swap last weekend. I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours at the swap sans children and I came home with two market bags full of clothes and shoes. (I didn't have any luck with the books this time.)  

The rules are simple: bring books and clothes you no longer need, take ones you do. If you don't bring anything to swap you are still welcome to take something home because there is always enough to go around. I took three bags of clothes and books to donate and came home with two bags. (Two big bags of free clothes and shoes. Totally free.) One of the lovely things about this particular swap is that the whole community was invited; it wasn't just for families who have children at the school.

Some sweet prints for my nephew
The swap was held in the school cafeteria with the cafeteria tables set up with category signs on posts ("Toddler", "Girls", "Boys", "Women", "Shoes", etc). Swappers sorted their own donations into the appropriate piles as they arrived, which meant that the piles were constantly being refreshed as new people arrived. (And that is why I visited the shoe table no fewer than four times!) There were lots of folks swapping clothes and conversation and there was a fun, active energy in the room. I ran into several people I knew but hadn't seen in quite a while, which made the whole thing even more fun for me. It was pretty crowded, which made for a quick turnover of new materials. Kids were welcome and there were many babies strapped on backs. 

Some funky robot-themed tennies for mama
In addition to the clothes piles there were screen printers and sewing machine operators on hand to help folks transform their new finds into something unique and special. I didn't take advantage of that opportunity, though, because I had limited time and freshly screened items take time to dry. I love the instant-art-gratification of this, though! I think it's an excellent idea for larger, community-based clothes swaps where you have plenty of volunteers. 

I have to say that after attending this swap I'm determined to start a clothing swap at my kids' elementary school next year. Every school should have one!

The kids' shoes I scored

Sunday, September 8, 2013

No-Budget Ice

No, it's not a lot of frozen yogurt! It's no-budget ice.
I like things that are so low-budget that they are actually no-budget. We are planning to slaughter a couple of obnoxious roosters this week and I need some ice water for chilling the carcasses after they are all butchered. I don't like to buy ice because it seems silly to pay for frozen water, you know? I don't have an ice maker in my refrigerator, either, and I only have four ice cube trays. So last night I got out a few old yogurt tubs, filled them water, put the lids on them, and popped them in the freezer. I made Gigantic Homemade Ice Cubes. For this particular application (chilling chickens) I think I'll just use them whole in a cooler full of water. If I needed smaller pieces I could just put the giant cubes (okay, cylinders) in a plastic bag and hit them with a hammer. 

There now, wasn't that easy?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Coming Up on Making Shift

Adventure Playground

There are still several topics I want to write about here on Making Shift but that I haven't gotten to yet. Some are new interests that I am just beginning to explore and some are things I've done for years. A few of the topics you can expect to read about in the upcoming months are:

Sewing & Knitting
Cooking & Baking (especially Paleo-friendly food)
More Vegetable Gardening (the spring garden was a real bust)
Growing Fruit
Creating Community (and then growing it)
Adventure Playgrounds
Regift/Recycle/Homemade Holidays
Meaningful Work (for kids and adults)
Adapting in Place (as defined by Sharon Astyk)
Essentials of the Makeshift Household
Rainwater Harvesting
Making Homemade Soap
Raising Rabbits for Meat

Creating Community
Regift/Recycle/Homemade Holidays
The school year just started anew here in Austin last week so I am looking forward to having a little bit more kid-free time to write and work on projects. Right now I have so many projects in mind that I don't know where to start! That's an exciting position to be in. Many of my projects are inspired by my interest in permaculture. I have been devouring Peter Bane's book The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country, which I think is the absolute best place to begin reading about permaculture. He does an excellent job of presenting the principles of permaculture as well as detailing specific projects. 

If anyone has a topic in mind that they think would fit in here, let me know! I'm open to new ideas.
More  Vegetable Gardening
Meaningful Work