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Friday, 31 December 2010

Tomatoes and Yarn

It's December, and my tomato plants are still growing. How? The magic of Southern California, I guess.



They're out of season, and suffering from the cold and the rainstorms we've been having recently, but they're still there and nothing has exploded. The larger of the above split a little after the onslaught of water, so I picked it this morning.



It's pretty big. I swear these are supposed to be beefsteaks, but they don't look like beefsteaks at all. Beefsteaks are supposed to be wide and plump right?

In other news: local yarn store! I finally visited with my sister in law on Tuesday (the first day of opening after Christmas), and it's possibly the nicest yarn store you could wish for. The main pro for me was the wide variety of priced yarns - $6.50 to $40+ options, wool/acrylic blends to bamboo and silks, so it didn't feel like I was priced out of being a customer there. I've paid more for yarns from the major chain craft stores. But I also liked the quality of customer service, the friendliness and knowledgeability of the women working there (offering help, but not pushy!), and the way the store is laid out. Everything is easy to find, clean, nice smelling and lovely. And they have sales, coupons and A DISCOUNT BIN. It is yarn heaven.

I ended up buying nothing but Berocco yarn (when I expected to pick up something more expensive). This is Berocco Vintage (the top is chunky, the bottom is worsted weight):



Then I found this in the discount bin, which is great because I'd been eyeing this online a few weeks ago:



I'll probably be back in the next few months, once I've burned down more of my stash (this is going better than expected). I want some Noro. Which will be a suitable reward now I've finally, finally learned to knit.



Yes, those are chopsticks. I'll be ordering a set of bamboo needles from brilliant knitting of etsy next week methinks. Ghetto solutions only last a certain amount of time.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Thrifted: Silver Metal Clock




I'm still aiming to get a flippy retro clock for the office, but for now: this is more than good enough. I'm not a massive font nerd, but the numbers on this are just glorious.

Cost: $5 from Goodwill. You can get a lot for $5 in this land.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Quick Links

This week I have mostly been obsessed with The Brick House. I read through the first twenty pages and then just went right to the first post and started working backwards instead, following the progression of her ideas (some to completion). I don't share her overall precise aesthetic (I'm going for super cosy, she's going for awesome style),  but I love pretty much everything that she's doing - the thrifting, the furniture, the realistic spending habits. She even had a pink bathroom (part of ours, which does not look nearly as clean now).

Ergo, via The Brick House:
  • Wikipedia: Xeriscaping - " refers to landscaping and gardening in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. It is promoted in regions that do not have easily accessible, plentiful, or reliable supplies of fresh water, and is gaining acceptance in other areas as climate patterns shift."
  • The Long Beach Antique Market - close enough to drive there for a day. Whether or not I can find and transport the end tables and credenza/longish storage table or cabinet I want for the house, that's another story.
  • Refinishing Hardwood floors - we have original hardwood floors throughout the house, with the possible exception of the bathrooms, the kitchen and the laundry area. Three rooms have horrible beige carpets with unfinished floors, as do the closets. I'm thinking that even if we can't do the rooms ourselves, we could at least try the closets? I don't know, it might be too ambitious.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Baker Creek Seed Catalog



Via the Gardening subReddit*, I requested a Bakers Creek seed catalog a few days ago to help us plan the garden next year. It came yesterday morning, and I have to admit, I wasn't expecting a huge glossy magazine that would needed to be folded in half to fit in my mailbox. And it was completely free!

A look at some of the inside pages:









As you can see above: they even give you recipes! Such great inspiration while the planting season is months away. My plan is to sit down later and have a jolly good read through of all the options and hope that the seeds I'd like to use (which are heirloom and non-GMO) don't sell out before I can order some.

*something I've been following for the last 6 months, great for fast, accurate and practical vegetable growing info

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Pantry Bag

One of my long term projects is to take our pantry and turn it into something organised and lovely, with beautiful containers, empty floorspace and clear sight of everything. This may be an endless task - it's in constant use, and the floor clutters quicker than an American Apparel sample sale.

The first step seems to be to abolish the storage of root vegetables from plastic bags into string bags with a little bit of colour:



The pattern is free from Knitomatic  and is very simple - literally just chaining in various lengths and joining the chains to the middle of the previous row's chains. Great if you want to work on making your starting chains consistent. I think I'll be making some more! The plan is to use the small amount of wallspace inside the pantry to hang the bags vertically - when that will happen? Who knows.

Yarn used: Lily Sugar and Cream Confectionary (cotton). I bought this from someone on Ravelry, and have no idea where to actually buy it offline. It could very well be discontinued.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

From Sweater to Yarn

I recently discovered that there's a small movement of internet fibre geeks dedicated to taking thrift store sweaters apart for yarn. Seems an obvious thrifty choice when you think about it - after all, if you can make one, you're more than qualified to take one apart and reuse the yarn for your own projects (especially when you're relieving the world of incredible ugliness). My local Goodwill sells sweaters for an average of $5-6, when the same amount of decent quality materials would cost at least four times that.

Here's the first sweater I thought I'd try - I paid $4.99, and it had all the right qualities for the first attempt. Worsted weight yarn, big stitches, neither loose or tight, a good mix of wool and cotton.







Via the Ravelry Thrifty Knitters group (registration required) I used this tutorial for help and got to work. 12 hours or so later, after a slightly steep learning curve in spotting the right stitches, here's the finished product:



I didn't measure the yardage (I still haven't built the yard plank I want), but it weighed around 560g - more than enough for a project in the future. While it took a lot of time (an entire day! My arms hurt afterwards!) I expect that experience to vary in the future as it gets easier to spot the worthwhile projects on the rack.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Don't let your cat eat yarn: a cautionary tale





In short, it can leave them with a bunched up intestinal tract (linear blockages are life threatening), and you with a $3000 emergency vets bill. Thankfully Dandelion is the sensible, chilled out animal in our household, and hasn't needed to wear that cone during the day when we can supervise her.

But what is that you say? Is that a new crochet project? WHY YES IT IS!


This was originally intended to be an Acorn Shrug of some sorts, but when I finally, finally, got to the end of multiple rows of double and half double crochet (an epic feat, let me tell you), it just wouldn't sit on my shoulders right. Which is odd, because I have pretty broad shoulders. So now it's just a blanket. But it's a fine blanket, one I can take pride in and put out when the Queen comes to visit.

Material specs: 8 balls of Lion Brand Wool-Ease (worsted weight) + too many hours.
Total cost: less than $20

Monday, 15 November 2010

Quick Links

A few worthy reads from recent times:

  • Things I Found At The Thrift Store: How to donate to a Thrift Store - basic but useful information that might not be readily apparent when you visit your local.
  • I want a MacAusland blanket - "First the wool is put through a washing machine that was built in 1949 and washed with liquid soap and hot water. After the wool is washed, it weighs almost forty percent less, now that the dirt and grease are out."
  • Buy This if you love America (kitchen items) - I do love America! And I truly believe one of the best ways to support this struggling economy is to make smart purchasing decisions. Not everything made inside the country is automatically great quality, but several products, especially Anchor Hocking, are affordable and well worth the money.
  • The Frugal Girl: Chocolate Cheesecake Pie - o m g. Must convince husband to make this for me, even though he has a freakish hatred for cheesecake.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Trapezoid Blanket





Blanket number one finished before winter - an improvised attempt to keep the heating bills from doubling when the cold weather finally decides to show up. It's a bit delayed, but I think it will finally get here and plunge the house below 60 degrees once again.

I say improvised by the way, because it was meant to be a rectangle, but thanks to ignorance of horizontal striping, meant the two edges gradually leaned in. If I'd not got sick and tired of double crocheting, as well as the thought of all those ends needing weaving in, this probably would have been a triangle blanket. Next time maybe? I have plenty of acrylic to finish using. Mmmm fire hazard.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The First Tomato!

The First Tomato!

OK, technically this is the second tomato, but the first one was split by the rainstorms of the other week, so this is the Official FInal Version Tomato.

Tips for growing tomatoes:

- Invest in good seedling starting soil
- Adding eggshells to the soil will help prevent Blossom End Rot
- If rainstorms approach, consider rigging up a tarp shelter to prevent fruits from splitting
- Heat is good. Heat is really rather good.

Starting tomatoes late into the season is ill-advised unless you live in a fairly warm Southern California-esque climate like I do, and I'll be planting them on time in 2011 to prepare for unpredictable weather. I'm lucky anything grew this year at all.

It's been unseasonably hot for this time of year (95-100 degrees Fahrenheit) since Monday, which seems to have led an explosion of new tomatoes on the five or so vines I'm keeping alive. At the last count I saw 7 - not counting the two poorly ones that ended up being carted off to the compost pile.

(Also there have been very few new caterpillars. For this, I am glad.)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Garden Odds and Ends

Grasshopper

By the time I got to this guy, it had already lost an eye and a leg and was half dead. I'm not sure if Dandelion did that (probably not, but still possible), but I put him out for the birds to make use of. I'm still amazed when I see insects this big - seems impossible!

Honeysuckle

I've been periodically and inexpertly pruning this Pink Lemonade Honeysuckle over the last few months, just trying to discard the horrible dry sticks that don't look great. There's an old bird's nest in the center, and hummingbirds/bees love the flowers, so I'm doing my best to achieve the perfect balance of preserving the organism without letting it get too unpleasant again.

Trash Pile Progress

Heap on the left used to be twice as tall. Mulberry tree trunk in the centre, destroyed tree to the right. We took the house on knowing about the trashed state of the garden, and luckily there's been more to salvage than throw away.

Monday, 25 October 2010

When The Rain Comes

Evergreen

Boysenberry Bush (rainy edition)

Droplet Spiderweb

Water from the sky! It continues! I thought we'd be done for a while, and the gardening could really get started, but I woke this morning to rainfall. Thanks to all this moisture, the free expanse of garden is exploding dangerously into green, making even more work for the upcoming month.

October 2010, take 2

This time we're prepared, with lawnmowers and weedwhackers and knowledge of the invasive plants.

Yesterday Fred finished building his soil sifter out of scrap wood (leftovers from previous people and our own projects) and mesh bought from Home Depot. It's quite impressive now, albeit simple.

Soil Sifter

It's main purpose is to help sift the garbage from the trash pile at the bottom of the garden that was so helpfully left by previous residents/contractors. I want the whole thing sorted, dispersed and gone by the time Spring arrives (whereupon it will be time to build proper raised beds for food that will feed us). I comfort myself in the knowledge that we've managed to save a lot of good things (clothes hanger, mangled metal garden fence) from it that certain people inexplicably thought weren't worth reusing. So there should be nothing left but bugs, concrete blocks and soil.

If we're lucky.

(No more black widow spiders please!)

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Beginnings of a Blanket

Beginnings of a Blanket

A new set of bamboo crochet hooks (you can see the others in background jar) + cold weather + the need for colour = let's get our blanket on.

Monday, 18 October 2010

October Garden

October 2010 Garden

So the garden tends to lay dormant in terms of changes for the months of summer - June until September comes with unbearable heat - but back in March spring was swinging, and a neighbour had to intervene to help with the grass. Right now, everything is powering down from the summer, rains have come to visit for a week, and thus we're getting a little green back in our lives.

Uh Oh

Sometimes this is not great, and we're in need of a little weedwhacking already. A lot of unwanted plantlife that grew during spring is now very brittle and pokey (and not fire safe), but this is why we have two mulch piles on the go, a rake and multiple compost bins.

Apricot Leaves

We started a second zucchini plant about 6 weeks ago, but it hasn't yielded much except some very lovely, bright flowers. My tomatoes, although planted late, are fruiting - although I'm not entirely sure if they're going to get to their full beefsteaky size, or will remain stunted and green.

To-ma-to

But the recycled celery stump is thriving! Next time you buy a bunch of celery (as opposed to the ones where the sticks are already separated), cut the stump off, and plant it a pot. Little bit of water, some good soil, and it should start growing.

Celery (+1)

A word of warning however: caterpillars really like to chew on celery. Two of them managed to decimate the leaves (the ones sticking out the furthest) over one night. I was not best pleased and they were promptly dismissed to the apricot tree.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

On Washing Lines

This story is fairly old and overdramatic, as many things are when they finally hit the BBC, but it still pinpoints something about the faded American relationship with practicality that I find interesting.

In Southern California, using a washer and dryer combo is the way to go. Busy people, their busy lives, and the reliance on technology (be it appliances or cars) is How To Live. Despite the fact that we have free sunshine 95% of the year, no one I know dries their clothes outside (and yes, everyone I know has the space to do this). When we moved from our HOA controlled rented townhouse to our free and easy neighbourhood*, we briefly discussed buying a dryer, but ditched the idea in favour of lower bills, more space in the laundry room and spending $10 on a rope, hooks (to make a line between the posts of our porch) and clothespins (pegs!)... and another $20 on a drying rack that can be moved indoors and outdoors.

This setup has worked for an entire year! Without complaints! So we won't be buying a dryer yet. This could change when we have kids, but I doubt it - the washing machine is occupied for a few hours a week at the moment, and there's definitely a greater capacity for usage.

The best part? Standing on a porch in bare feet, listening to hawks scream around the sky in the morning. If you're looking for a little piece of calm, there's nothing like hanging out clothes to dry that will give it to you.

*Although chickens are still not allowed, boo

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Milkifornia

Local Milk

A month or two ago I started thinking about the real ethics of milk. It's the only dairy that won't be given up in this house - we eat icecream, drink coffee, tea, chocolate milk and soy milk really tends to let me down when I make pancakes and my husband makes bread. Our usual purchases are soy milk - usually Silk, but if it's on sale, but we'll buy other brands too. Quality varies between the brands but not too much to notice.

The problem lies in this: is it more ethical to avoid dairy farming altogether, and buy soy milk that is trucked thousands of miles across the country from subsidized farms? Or support the most local farmers that are genuinely doing their best to sustain an ethical dairy business, thus supporting the larger California economy? The latter makes more sense to me, but I'm still somewhat uncomfortable with drinking "proper" milk.

I haven't imbibed dairy milk regularly since 2004, when a handful of health problems finally came to a head (gallbladder, weight, asthma). Six years later, and I'm eating a completely different diet, mostly homecooked food with a distinct lack of anything junky with extraneous ingredients going into my body. Dairy milk with a California location is available in the supermarket (warning: auto-sounds) we frequent the most. Raw milk has the appealing touch of the rebel, being illegal in 28 other states. So, while this will remain an experiment (I'm still considering soy milk the default option, and still not sure if my body is coping with it properly), it could very well become a permanent fixture in the household. Which marks a distinct change in thinking for me - in all other areas of my life, I'm striving to become more vegan  - eg: beauty products, origin of foods, daytime eating - as it's nearly always the most sustainable choice.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

100 Skeins of Yarn

100.5 skeins of yarn

I think I must have been crocheting for at least six months now, and Craigslist is becoming an invaluable source for picking up unwanted yarn at ridiculous prices (protip: the Android app for phones gives the site much more of a narrow focus). Today's haul was supposed to be priced at 50 cents a skein, but came out at much lower thanks to the generous man running the sale throwing in computer games, cutting boards, other miscellaneous bits and a couple of books for $55. I could have taken more yarn, but I had a limit! Limits are important! Saving over $250 is enough for me.

One of the unfortunate sides of hitting estate sales as opposed to regular moving or garage sales, is that while they usually have some great vintage items, they also tend to be the Stuff of people who have passed away. This one was no exception, and via email the chap had told me about his wife that had passed on from throat cancer last year. It was a little sad, especially seeing her clothes hung out for people to look through. He told me about how this was his third sale, and he had plenty more ahead of him. But he also talked about how they had their time, and he was sure she was sticking around somewhere.

So: Carol, thanks for the yarn! You sounded like a lovely lady, and I hope you're at peace.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

On the Porch

Brown Widow Spider

It has been a bit of a shit week to be honest. Finding this brown widow (after a week of walking into 10ft long web strands)... I hope it's the last of it.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Thrifting Picks

A Saturday with no obligations makes for a few hours searching for house items.












My aims were: doorknobs, a tablecloth and some kind of map - and all were achieved!

I could not believe my luck when it came to the USSR-era globe - I spent at least a minute in front of it before noticing. The tablecloth we found matches the napkins in the photograph above, it's just at a poor angle on the clothesline for photograph... and maybe a little out there in pattern and colour. It will have to be seen in situ to be believed. I'm not sure I even believe in it right now. Other finds included a solid wood tray (great for tea!), a stack of CDs (Final Fantasy soundtracks!), some quality t-shirts and a bucket of sidewalk chalk. I love this particular Goodwill, so if you're in the east of San Diego county stop by.

re: the doorknobs! We also visited our local Habitat for Humanity store, whereupon I rummaged for doorknobs for the second bathroom cupboard doors, and found two for a dollar each. The outdoor rug in the background of the book photograph above was also bought there today, for a mere $25. Nice and hardwearing/scratchy for the cats.

All in all, a productive and ecofriendly afternoon of adding to the house.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Rice Sack > Plastic Bag

Rice Bag = Yarn Holder!

This afternoon has mostly been spent cleaning out our office closet - something that was very much still suffering the after effects of moving. But that was back in October, so after a bit of in and out, I'm pretty much done. Found this forgotten rice sack behind a box (we go through a lot of rice in our house), and discovered it makes a much better container for yarn than Michaels plastic bags. The way they're built, the yarn stuff them tight and keeps them upright. If I was really smart, I'd start stuffing my scrap material into one to turn into a comfortable outdoor pillow. But I think it might be a little too noisy for pillow usage.

Didn't blog this at the time, but last weekend I cut the first cucumber off the plants and ate it:

Cucumber #1

It was pretty good. Perfect size for a salad - one whole cucumber used, with no leftovers to forget about in the fridge. These might not make it to the pickling jar.

Friday, 30 July 2010

More Green

Bits and pieces from the garden this week. Despite the daytime wilting, the cucumbers are finally producing flowers and fruit. Loving the vibrant yellow flowers against the rather faded gold of the rest of the garden.

OMG CUCUMBER

The Boysenberry bushes have taken to the soil well. Not pictured here are the berries that started pushing out  in the last few days. We weren't expecting them until next year! I will have a very tiny drink of berry juice when they are ripe.

Boysenberry Flower

I figured yesterday that it was time to dig up the potatoes. The first lot of potatoes were disappointing (tiny!)... and as an added bonus I found this monstrosity wriggling in the soil around the roots

Pupae

Gaaaah! I was horrified. I thought it could be a deformed baby gopher or gigantic larvae. But thanks to the gracious wisdom of the internet, I am no longer ignorant! It's a moth cocoon! Not coincidentally, it was underneath the potato plant that had lost all it's leaves a few weeks earlier. Now I'm just sad I missed the giant caterpillar. I put some soil in a plant container and gave the cocoon a safer home near butterfly friendly plants, and fingers crossed, I'm going to catch it emerging on camera.

Last but not least, half an hour ago, I found a tiny dragon protecting my cucumber plants from evil:

peanut baby lizard time

It's baby lizard season! Pray for them, it's an active garden with many predators.