Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Recycled Family Christmas: A Fun and More Interesting Alternative to Black Friday

Since when did Thanksgiving turn out to be all about the shopping? Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it has all the good food of Christmas with none of the stress of gift-giving. Yesterday one of Mr. Chanclas' coworkers asked him if he would be doing any shopping on Black Friday. He told her that he would rather be shot in both kneecaps. Tell us how you really feel, Chanclas. 

We do not have to participate in the feeding frenzy that is American Christmas shopping. We can just opt out. Really! It is more fun to opt out and we won't be contributing to the production of more crap or maxing out our credit cards. 

Lindsey over at Northwest Backyard Veggies has a great post today about deliberate gift giving. Reading it inspired me to write about a tradition we have on my side of the family: Recycled Family Christmas. Every year in mid-December we get together with my side of the family to exchange gifts. This includes the five of us and my parents, grandfather, sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. There are twelve of us in all and sometimes we draw names so that each person is only responsible for one other gift. The catch is that all gifts must be recycled, reused, homemade, thrifted, or otherwise invented. (We are pretty loose with our definition of "recycled".) We freely regift items, pull books from our own collections, give food, or buy gifts at thrift stores.

Brother snuggled up with his great-grandpa at Christmas
Last year my parents gave me a bag of pinwheel steaks from the local butcher which I savored all through the month of January. I gave my grandfather a giant container of chocolate chip cookies which he rationed out (two per day) for an insanely long time.

One year my folks gave me a dead oak tree from the city park. Really. They knew I always needed firewood so when my mom saw it in the park she decided to grab it for me. My dad, being the law-abiding citizen that he is, was hesitant about the legality of stealing downed trees from city property,  but my mom just said, "Hush and help me get this in the back of the truck!" My mom even wrapped up a couple of logs so I'd have something to open. (The rest were outside in the yard.) That was an awesome gift and one I will never forget.

My parents once gave my sister a dishwasher rack full of other gifts. It was hilarious and she was thrilled because the rack in her dishwasher had rusted and she needed a new one. My mom had found a replacement at the thrift store. While dishwasher racks are not especially sexy, it was a timely and funny gift.

In past years I have sewn tote bags or stenciled T-shirts and totes. Mr. Chanclas stenciled a tote bag for my dad that had an image of an ionospheric scintillation device on it. I don't make this stuff up. My dad had built an ionospheric scintillation device in his backyard that year and Mr. Chanclas memorialized it for him on a canvas tote bag. (Gosh. And you thought I was weird.)

Baby pants I stenciled for Christmas gifts

My grandfather, who is 95 years old and pretty much housebound, always has interesting gifts for us from his own life collection. One year he gave me a beautiful pewter salt and pepper set that I treasure to this day. He also gave me some black and white 8x10" prints of my dad and myself as babies. Nobody else could have given me photos of my dad as a baby so it was a unique and special gift.

We have also gifted books off of our own bookshelves that we thought family members would enjoy. When I started sewing five years ago my mom gave me a huge basket of fabric and notions from her own extensive stash, which was amazing for a beginner like me. (I will be using that stuff for the rest of my life.) Mr. Chanclas sometimes knits scarves and hats as gifts, too. (Knitting is so time-consuming that he can never knit for everyone, though.)

You don't have to be a baker, knitter, or a sewer to give a good homemade gift. I often make photo calendars for my parents, my grandfather, and my in-laws. Then they get to look at cute photos of their grandkids (or great-grandkids) for the rest of the year. I order them from Shutterfly and there are usually coupon codes out there at this time of year. Last year I forgot to make them and was reprimanded for it through February!

If you aren't sure how your family members would respond if you suddenly started giving recycled/upcycled gifts, then you might play up the idea of a recycled "theme" Christmas. Then everybody is giving recycled gifts so nobody feels weird about it. Also, you don't have to be giving the gift of dead trees from your local park the first year. You can ease folks into it with some more traditional handmade/homemade stuff.

Lindsey has some other great suggestions for deliberate gift giving such as Etsy, the farmer's market, etc. Check out her post when you feel Black Friday begin to creep up on you.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Goats in the House (Literally)

What's not to love about a face like this?
Our new goats, Kiki and Clementine, are settling in quite nicely. We had a sudden cold snap hit on Friday and the daytime temperatures suddenly dropped into the 30's, which is absolutely unbearably cold for us Central Texans. We are miserable. I have lived in Wisconsin so I know that human life can be sustained in colder temps but only just barely. We had only had our goats home for three day when the cold started and I didn't know what to do with them. Their outside home was a small rigged yard with a dog house for shelter. It just didn't seem like enough when I was wearing wool socks, jeans, three shirts, and a sweater indoors. So I consulted the lovely, helpful people at The Goat Spot and Backyard Herds. Most folks agreed that the goats could stay outdoors in this weather but one woman made a good case for bringing them inside if I was going to be worried about them.

Yes, they are wearing sweaters.
 That is how we came to have two goats in our house all weekend. It turns out that goats are far more suited for inside living than many dogs I know. And some cats. (My goats would never poop in your suitcase on purpose.) The first couple of days the goats were here they were terrified of us, which made them hard to handle. I plied them with raisins and honeysuckle branches and now they bleat nervously when I leave the house. We have a mudroom with a concrete floor at the back of the house, just off the kitchen, and that is where we put the goats. Goat poop, in case you didn't already know (I didn't), is really inoffensive stuff. Their diet consists of wood and hay, for goodness sake, so their poop is just tiny little odorless balls. It's easy to sweep up. I put an outdoor chair cushion on the floor for them and instead of lying on it they use it to pee on. Which is fine by me because the fabric is waterproof so I just come along and wipe up the pee with a paper towel. (The cushion will get tossed when all this is over.)
Little Sister adores the goaties
The best part of having the goats indoors these few days, besides the humor factor, is that it's given us all a lot more opportunities to get to know each other. They come up to us now and even sit in our laps. They don't scream or make much noise at all. I plan to put them back outside in a couple of days when it warms up but in the meantime it's pretty fun having house goats. When they escape through the baby gate into the rest of the house they look hilarious. Their little hooves go tap tap tap on the tile floor. One of our cats, Lupe, is obsessed with the goats and has spent a lot of time with them. We saw the smaller goat, Clementine, try to headbutt Lupe, which was awesome because they are basically the same size.

Clementine, the reddish brown goat, weighs 11.5 pounds. Kiki, the black and brown one, weighs 13.5 pounds. They are tiny, about the size of my cat but heavier for their size. Before I decided to bring them inside I made them sweaters out of old toddler shirts. I just cut off the sleeves and stuffed the goats into them. How's that for makeshift (and hilarious)?

My goats are better dressed than my children or myself

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Am I Doing This?

My poor van.
I know that sometimes people look at my blog and wonder why I do all the things I do. (Sometimes I wonder why I do all these things. It's an awfully big hassle.) Why bother scavenging materials? Why bother growing vegetables? Why bother raising animals? Why bother when I could just go to the store and buy all this stuff? (Sometimes [ahem-often] for less than it costs for me to grow/make it myself.)

One reason why I do all of these things is because I am sick of buying stuff. I am tired of being so dependent on corporations and, frankly, I am sick of money. I am very aware of the fact that we vote with our dollars. When we spend our money on something we are voting in favor of its existence. The votes we make with our dollars probably make more impact than the votes we make at the polls. And there is just so much crap out there that I think should not exist because it is wasteful or extravagant or useless or harmful. Mr. Chanclas and I have a shorthand term for this kind of crap. We just look at each other and say, "The earth's resources". In other words, we humans wasted the earth's resources (and the valuable labor of human hands) to make this particular piece of crap. (If you need a good example of this kind of junk just think about children's party favors. Utter junk.)

What's up, Charles?
So I'm on an anti-crap mission. I try to conserve my own resources, to reuse and recycle things, to pass on my extra belongings when I no longer need them. I give a lot of thought to the flow of materials in our household. When I brought home the big $8 box from the Settlement Home Garage Sale I immediately went to work rounding up things I could get rid of. In my mind, if a box of stuff came into the house then at least a box full of stuff should leave the house.

I haven't set foot in a shopping mall in years. I don't go to department stores. I have even eliminated most of my trips to thrift stores. Most days I can look down and find that most of what I am wearing came to me secondhand, often for free. (Shoes and undies are the usual exceptions.) While I think I've done a decent (but not a perfect) job at eliminating needless consumption I am still struggling to increase my household production. My goal for the next year is to produce more of what we consume (especially food but material goods, too). I know I can increase my production of vegetables, meat, milk, soap, and knitted and sewn clothing. What else can I make? I'm taking ideas here if anyone has some.

Charles and Diana, the Muscovy duck pair
Also- did anybody do their Creating Community homework? I'm planning to write Part 2 and I'll be looking for stories!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Goats Have Arrived and I Am Exhausted

They are here. We are the owners of two 6-week old Nigerian Dwarf doelings. I brought them home on Monday in a jury-rigged dog kennel. We let them out into the dog run, which is now officially the goat run, and run they did. They ran straight to the other side of the yard and squeezed through the 6" square gaps in the fence. Then they screamed because they were nervous and separated. Maybe you have seen that YouTube video of goats yelling like humans. I can assure you it is not dubbed.

Clementine the goat. She is small but feisty.
It took Big Sister and I thirty minutes to catch the goats. We caught one right away and used it as bait to lure the other one into the chicken coop. Since the chicken coop was the only space on our property from which they couldn't escape they had to spend the night in there. Needless to say, the chickens were not excited. In fact, most of them found alternative sleeping arrangements that night. (I found three on the roof of my house far from the screaming goats.)

Peering out at me from their dog house shelter.
At around 9:00 pm we tried giving them their first bottle. These babies had been with their mamas since birth and had never laid eyes on a baby bottle before. They did NOT want the bottles. Mr. Chanclas and I ended up with more milk on our clothes than we actually got into the goats. I felt like I needed a La Leche League leader for moral support.

Exploring the yard together
The next morning I frantically drove to the nearest Tractor Supply store to buy a roll of fencing. I had carefully researched my options and decided on a 200 foot roll of 2"x4" horse fencing made with woven wire. I was a little alarmed when the man put it into my van with a forklift. "I'm not going to be able to get that out of the van by myself, am I?" Turns out I couldn't even lift one end of it, much less maneuver it out of the van. So much for building fence by myself.  When I got home I moved on to Plan B, which was to piece together a temporary yard using old pallets, a shed roof, two cattle panels, one T-post salvaged from the trash, a lot of zip ties, and two old bungee cords. Score!

This one is really sweet and quieter than the other one.

While I was at Tractor Supply looking at the selection of goat nipples and milk replacer a nice man shopping there said to me, "You must have baby goats at home." I turned to him with a desperate look in my eye and proceeded to extract a good five minutes' worth of goat information out of him. He had raised baby goats last year but his real experience was with lambs. Thank you, Mr. Goat and Lamb Man. I hope I didn't scare you. He, like everybody else, recommended I try Pritchard nipples for feeding my goaties. I bought some. They look like this:

The Pritchard nipples are sized to screw onto an empty soda bottle. Very handy, you say. Well, we don't drink soda and apparently neither do any of my neighbors. So when evening fell I was scrambling to find a soda bottle for the 9pm goat feeding. My neighbor J said she would have her husband pick one up on his way home from work. Wonderful! At about 9:00 I was sitting in the living room talking to Mr. Chanclas when J's face popped up outside the window. (We have enormous windows and no curtains.) She had ridden her bike down the road in the dark with a soda bottle full of what appeared to be lemonade and vodka. I love my neighbors.

The goats liked the Pritchard nipple much better than the baby bottle I had tried before. Apparently goats like long, skinny nipples. Don't even get me started on that. They still aren't drinking much milk from the bottle but they are taking a little bit and they are eating hay, grain pellets, and the grass. Their poop looks normal and they are peeing so I think they are okay. Baby goats really shouldn't be weaned until at least eight weeks of age but you can make it work at six if you have to. In retrospect, I should have left them with their mamas for two more weeks. The older they are the harder it is to teach them to use a bottle.

Goat poop, also known as "nannyberries", is quite innocuous
So what are their names? We still aren't sure. The brown one seems to be Clementine and the black and brown one is generating a lot of discussion. I will report back soon with names!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Getting the Goat Feeder

Oh, the lengths I will go to for free stuff. It is ridiculous. I already mentioned the free goat feeder I found on Craigslist. I finally picked it up on Sunday after eights days of figuring out how to get it from Fitzhugh Road to my house (about 8 miles away).  The guy giving them away had four of them and they were very sturdy, very heavy, and very large. I picked out the smallest one but even that one was far too tall to fit in the back of my minivan. Fortunately for me the guy offering them was also very nice. He wasn't in a big hurry and yes, I could also have the two 5' x 16' cattle panels over there, too. (Score!) Mr. Chanclas and I were going to rent a pickup on the cheap from Home Depot but then we found out the nearest store doesn't rent pickups like all the others. Sigh. I wasn't about to spend $70 on a moving van for a free goat feeder (which, at that point, would no longer be free).

So on Sunday I rounded up our friend Oscar who works as a carpenter and has a pickup truck. Only I forgot that he has a cap on the bed of his truck. And it took six guys to get the cap on there in the first place. There would be no removing the cap. We drove out to the place anyway and the goat feeder wouldn't fit. I was ready to call it quits on the whole thing but Oscar pulled out his phone and had a trailer lined up within minutes. We drove all the way across town to borrow an enormous 16-foot long trailer, then all the way back to the goat feeder. Little Sister informed us at least a dozen times that she was ready to go home. Then she fell asleep in the truck. The very nice man helped us load it up and I gave him a little paper bag of homemade soaps in thanks. He was pretty psyched about the soaps which made me feel slightly less bad about bothering him with two failed attempts at loading the goat feeder. Geez, by the time all this was done I felt like he was a family friend. I think I have spoken with him more on the phone this month than I have with my own mother. (Creating community!)

Oscar and I unloaded the feeder at my house. I have to admit that I was in complete and total awe at Oscar's ability to back up a 16-foot trailer up in my curving, rutted, sloping driveway IN THE DARK. Without running over my piles of materials, the flowerbeds, or either of my cats. Unbelievable. (Don't even ask me about the time Mr. Chanclas and I rented a moving truck and trailer.)

By this time I was an hour late to pick up my other kids. I was also starving because the only thing I had eaten since breakfast was one truck-stop taco on the way home from Houston five hours prior. (We did all this after rolling into town from a night in Houston with my sweet sister, brother in law, niece, and nephew.) Little Sister was sleepy and hungry and tired of wearing underpants. (Never a good sign.) We rallied as best we could and went to pick up Brother and Big Sister. I think at that point we ate something old from the fridge and fell into bed. Whew.

But the goat feeder is here and yesterday I went to see the actual goats. They are adorable and healthy as can be. I will be picking them up next Monday and we will have to bottle feed them for a few more weeks while they grow. (They are about 5 weeks old right now.) I have never bottle fed anything including my own children so this will be new. I can't wait!

Our computer died this weekend (oh joy) so I am unable to upload a photo of the famed goat feeder. I will post one soon when my computing capabilities return!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Homestead Goats Are Coming!

Oh, dear. I just put down a deposit on two baby goats. My stomach is actually in knots I'm so excited.

Who can resist the enthusiasm, the joie de vivre, of a goat?

I have been considering adding goats to our little homestead for a while now but it just never seemed like the right time. All of a sudden it seems like the right time. We are not fully prepared but we are going to leap in anyway. That's how we tend to do things around here and it has always worked out well for us!

Can I blame Craigslist? Two ads caught my eye last week. The first was from a man offering up four free  goat feeders (free is my siren call). What is a goat feeder? These are just a hay rack with tubs at the bottom and a metal roof over the whole thing to keep the feed dry. My mom showed up Friday afternoon for a visit and I promptly handed over the kids and dragged Mr. Chanclas out to look at goat feeders with me. We decided on one and then ran around trying to find a pickup truck to haul the damn thing, which was too tall to fit in my minivan. We couldn't get a truck that night so it looks like I'll be picking it up on Sunday with some help from a friend. It's probably TOTALLY overkill for the two little goats I'm planning on having but if I don't need it I can always sell it, right?

Two of the little doelings available
The second ad was for Nigerian Dwarf goat babies. I've had my eye on these Nigerians for a while. They are much smaller than your average goat (about 20" tall and 40 lbs full grown) and they give superior milk. Since they are smaller than other dairy breeds they give a smaller volume of milk but they produce a lot for their relative size. Plus, the butterfat content of their milk is the highest of all the breeds (5-10%) so it makes excellent cheese and butter. This particular ad caught my eye because the photos were good, the ad was very well-written, and the babies looked really healthy and well cared-for. (This alone makes the ad better than 99% of Craigslist ads). Plus, it turns out these folks are into permaculture and are doing all sorts of things that I do or would like to do (chickens, rabbits, garden, etc). I like to support folks doing good work.

So, as my friend Wendy would say, "This is happening! This is really happening!"

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Annual Thrifting Pilgrimage: The Settlement Home Garage Sale

I spent the weekend at The Settlement Home Garage Sale, an enormous benefit sale held at the Palmer Event Center here in Austin. It's three days of thrifters' paradise. On Friday you pay $5 to get in but Saturday and Sunday have no cover charge. On Sunday morning everything is half price and on Sunday afternoon they hold the (in)famous box sale. You pay $5 for a small box or $8 for a big box and you can fill it with whatever you want. The box sale is how they clear out the last of the merchandise and after one hour the event center is empty except for the trash on the floor.

I paid a total of EIGHT DOLLARS for everything in this photo. Eight dollars. For all of it.

The contents of my $8 box

I got baskets for organizing toys, bags and backpacks, clothes, books, two tents, cycling shoes, a bike helmet, flippers, hats, dishes, clothes hangers, napkins, rubber boots, flashlights, and a stove pipe. For eight dollars. Don't ask about the stove pipe. I just thought a metal cylinder might be useful to have in my materials yard! One of the bags turned out to be a pretty fancy Lowepro camera bag.

Assorted books for our home collection

I got tea sets, camping cups, a roasting pan, and more.

I am always needing more flashlights so I stocked up.

Assorted cloth napkins

Tents, cycling shoes, roller blades, bike helmet, flippers, boogie board, etc.

One of the best parts about the weekend is that my mom joined me for the Sunday sale, including the box sale. We filled our boxes to the brim and then we were barely able to drag them outside to the car. My mom's craziest box addition was a bag of seventeen (!!) duck decoys. I have no idea what she will do with seventeen plastic ducks but I'm sure my mom will come up with something creative.

I had also gone to the sale on Friday and picked up some other great things, many of them homestead-related.

Animal harness (goats?), grooming mitt, chicken/rabbit feeders, and a scrub brush

A beautiful white crock for making sauerkraut and a little pitcher for holding milk (goats, again)

I plan to use these crocks for holding homemade butter (small ones) and cream (big ones)

A meat grinder!! For $4.50 I got an excellent cast iron meat grinder. Homemade sausage, folks!
In addition to buying a bunch of books for the kids (and us adults), I also picked up a dozen maps for 12 cents apiece. I love looking at maps and so do the kids. I started by putting three up on the living room wall for them to peruse. I plan to change them out for new ones every now and then. The current three are: a road map of Texas, a bike map of Austin, and a National Geographic map of Japan.

The new map corner
 I'm already looking forward to next year's sale!