20100930

DIY Cosmetics - Giving Yourself The Good Stuff & Self Defense

For some time now I've postponed watching Annie Leonard's Story of Cosmetics. I knew it would be brilliant and I'd lover her a bit extra for the effort, but I also knew I'd have to get more strict with myself after seeing it. And of course that happened.

What became my latest mandate is to get rid of is store bought shampoo, conditioner and deodorant. I had long kicked antiperspirant and was even using a deodorant my herbalist friend made, but decided it's time to make my own.

I'm going to try out Dr. Bronners peppermint soap for shampoo, which I have used before and it is a bit drying but I'm going back to it. And for conditioner, I'm trying something based on tip in Amy Karol's Potions & Concoctions (mailorder no 11). In the newsletter she suggests using apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle, I'm going to modify this a bit and try a batch of my own kombucha which I let ferment longer until it turns to vinegar.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of having just seen Annie's film, today I refreshed by batch of toothpaste which is a simple mix of Dr. Bronners with a few drops of peppermint essential oil. I put this on my brush after dipping the brush in baking soda.

For deodorant, I mixed up a batch loosely based on a recipe in Amy Karol's guide. It included: equal parts shea butter, cocoa butter (couple table spoons), a tbs of baking powder, dash of vitamin E and lemon and thuja essential oil. I melted them all together in a double boiler and poured it off. I already love the pasty feeling.

It only takes a couple of months of making one's own products to see the very clear benefit of reducing packaging. I reuse every bottle and jar over and over and over refilling it again and again with the same contents when I run out. Needless to say the amount of waste I am producing is shrinking greatly.

20100929

Watermelon Drink


Watermelon Drink
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I juiced a 20lb yellow watermelon we grew just before dinner last night. I got bitched at for making a mess, but I think even Wendy would agree it was worth it. We managed to get almost a gallon of juice out of it.

Watermelon Drink #2 Watermelon Drink #3

Amaranth Popcorn


Amaranth Popcorn
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

My friend Nat introduced me to the idea of roasting amaranth seeds to make micro popcorn. He asked me to try one of my electric popcorn roasters to see if they could do it. Unfortunately, the electric air poppers just shoot the amaranth seed right back out upon power up. We will have to try roasting the seed in a frying pan next which he tells me works for him.

Water Filter Replacements


Water Filter Replacements
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We purchased a inexpensive 5 stage reverse osmosis water filter when we moved into Holy Scrap. Now, four years later our filtered water quality has been dropping so I decided to change all five filters. The process took a few hours and I'm still testing the water trying to get it back to acceptable levels. Our city water is testing now at 550PPM and the water filter is giving us 150PPM. I want the water filter to be able to produce 50PPM, but I understand the new filters need to be flushed with enough water to get that low. Maybe in the next few days we can get there.

Russian Man Blow Torches Wok

The Russian man who was programming our fridge earlier this week was seen out in the yard yesterday. He was burning my new wok with a blow torch!

We're at our wits end with a new Sur La Table Wok that I purchased. It's the craziest thing... it comes coated in an unnoticeable plastic shield that must be burned off by the consumer before using. The maker of the wok recommends doing this in your kitchen using the gas range. If one should try this they'll soon discover that they are inhaling a gaseous toxic plastic in a closed environment.

I took it outside to burn off. Now you'd think that after getting the stuff carmel brown (that's what the instructions say) that we'd be able to scrape it off with a metal sponge (also what the instructions say). . no. We scraped and scoured and then took the angle grinder to it. Still on.

My question. . . what is too much to ask of a consumer to do in order to use a product? Do you think they'll take it back?

Blue Cross Blue Shield, You Stuck. Sincerely, Sucker

After quitting our old lives, the one one's that come with medical insurance supplied by employers, we decided that our new medical plan would be made up of 1) our garden 2) DIY medicines (wild harvested/grown) 3) and a catastrophic only insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield. That means that we're covered only for things that cost more than $5,000.00. We figured that this way, we'll never go bust due to something costly and since we use power tools we figured we'd like to know someone would sew our finger back on if we were to chop it off.

This year BCBS raised our rate 19% during a time in which their suprlus was $7.2 billion in reserves. The state fought it and got it lowered a percent or two, but we all still got a BIG rate hike.

While sending off my new higher payment I decided to let them know how much I appreciate them.

20100927

Gravity Free Tea

I've been bagging batches of my favorite tea blend (wild harvested and grown in our garden) to give friends old and new that we meet while traveling this winter. I'm calling it Gravity Free Tea and for it I made this cute label.

Finally BLoOmERs!!

I've always wanted a pair of bloomers. I mentioned this to my friend Julia Posie of the blog Ramshackle Solid and she sent me this fabulous pattern on Colette Patterns. I dropped everything to make these bloomers.

First thing this morning I realized that T or C does not have a store that sells fabric. Our sewing store brought their stock down about 5 bolts of outdated fabric and the next nearest supplier is in Las Cruces about 75 miles away. So I dug out this vintage cotton I bought at a garage sale and wala!

As I worked on these I was reminded of how much I've been wanting to learn to use patterns and become a better sewer. It's always been frustrating to me that people expect me to be a master seamstress because I founded Swap-O-Rama-Rama. But think about it, people who are good at large scale production are not the same people who sew. Besides, if your doing the first you dont have time for the later. This is one of the reasons I made SORR part of the commons. So that one day I could learn to sew. I guess I've finally arrived.

I will be making another pair, the one I originally had in mind; a light denim with a white cotton embroidered trim. Meanwhile though, I LOVE this happy pair of yellow flowered bloomers that I'll probably live in for the coming months.

Vintage Make Up Case Seed Saver

I love love love vintage make up cases, the hard shell kind. I found another one recently and made it into a seed saver. Perfect!

Pear Cider


Pear Cider
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our favorite local restaurant Cafe Bella Luca has recently added pear and apple cider to their beer menu. Both the beverages are delicious, but the pear is exceptional. I was so inspired by the clarity and scent that I decided to resume my pear fermentation experiments. The ingredient list is short and the concept is simple.

Ingredients:
- 15 small pears (pureed in vitamix)
- 1 lime (juiced)
- .5 gallons of water
- 1 packet champagne yeast

Plan:
- Ferment for 3 days @ 75F.
- Rack into bottles 3 days @ 70F.
- Move to cool place 30 days @ 60F.

I'm using my temperature controller to hold the 75F. The setup is simple with a light bulb (for heat) and chest cooler to act as a insulating container.

Pear Cider #2 Pear Cider #3

Latest Wine : Petite Syrah


Latest Wine : Petite Syrah
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We just filled up 27 bottles with our latest fermentation a petite
syrah.

A Russian Man Programs My Freezer


A Russian Man Programs my Freezer
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Pear Blossoms, Now, Really?


Pear Blossoms, Now, Really
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our confused pair tree has beautiful blossoms coming in. I've asked the locals is they have ever seen this and the answer is unanimously, no.

20100926

Crushed & All Dressed Down With No. . .

Yesterday Mikey and I went out to our friends farm in Monticello, NM just 30 or so miles from here. OM (Old Monticello Organic Farm) features organic balsamic vinegar and many other pristinely created delights.

This weekend they held their annual crush, grape crush that is. It was our first time attending. We came out late figuring we'd be the final stretch volunteer crew that could help the tired workers who'd been at it all day. It didnt quite work that way. The crew got an early start and was just about done when we arrived. You could say we were all dressed down with no where to go. So, instead of crushing we observed and enjoyed the company of good friends.

20100924

Chest Freezer to Fridge Conversion: 1900 Watts Gain & The FC Widget In Action

We did it! We dumped the upright refrigerator (front opening) which uses 2kWh watts of power, and replaced it with a chest freezer that we converted to a refrigerator with Mikey's new widget, the FC Temp Controller. After the conversion, the chest freezer uses a mere .1kWh a day, giving us back 1.9kWh each day in power! If we paid for electricity the upright fridge would cost us $110.00 a year. The new converted chest freezer would cost $5. But we're on solar, so the gain in power just comes back to us and we can use it on other things.

Mikey's Temp Controller allows us to set any temp. Its currently at 35 degrees.

There are adjustments. The converted chest freezer has less than half of the cubic feet of the stand up fridge. We're looking forward to building custom racks that will add logic to how things store in the new chest fridge. Today we took a good look at product labels and learned that a lot of what we stored in the refrigerator doesn't even need refrigeration!

Because the converted chest freezer opens via the top there is almost no temp loss upon opening it. Unlike the stand up fridge which dropped about 10 degrees every time we'd grab the milk.

The best part of the change is that we used the old stand up fridge for storage for grain, preserves, herbs, tincture, nuts . . . everything! We cleaned it and hauled it to our utility room where it is unplugged and the door ajar. It's perfect prebuilt storage. Now we dont have to build shelves. And of course a huge refrigerator wont go to landfill.

Anyway, it's a change that we'll grow in to. All in all we feel lots of gain and very little loss. : )

20100923

Happy Autumnal Equinox Today!

Raw Kefir Culture Romano Cheese

We just finished our second batch of raw kefir cultured romano cheese. This wheel weighs just under 2.5 lbs. It's remarkable to think that our cost to make it (in cow milk) was under $10.00. I can only imagine what the fancy cheese shops back in NY would sell a raw cheese for. Even the regular stuff is often $8.00 for a few ounces.

This time we've got a cheese fridge running to age it in, thanks to Mikey's new widget! We broke it into portions so that when we wish to taste test it or pull some out for use, we we can do it with a small portion and leave the rest to continue to age.

FC Kit Assembly


FC Kit Assembly
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I've been streamlining the build process for the fermenter kits. Now that the parts are organized I can quickly build more prototypes and bag kits for early adopters.

FC Kit Assembly #2 FC Kit Assembly #3

20100922

Kindle for Spec Sheets


Kindle for Spec Sheets
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

As Wendy and I purge our books we are looking for ways to keep our bookshelves manageable in the future. I decided to try out a kindle as the new models are inexpensive and have excellent PDF support. Most of the documents I read are spec sheets for electrical components, magazines, or ebooks which kind of suck to read while sitting at a desk. I'm impressed with the Kindle's screen quality, battery life, weight and thickness. I'm totally disappointed with the user interface. The buttons are in the wrong place, the screen requires manual toggling from portrait to landscape, and the movement keys are way too small. Now that I've loaded up 100 documents on the kindle I'm looking forward to going on a road trip and seeing how much I actually read on it.

20100921

Salves in Amazing Variety

I just made my first round of salves. It was fun, very messy and I learned a lot! My only mistake? Scenting the base for all the varieties with lavender in the very beginning. While it seems the world universally agrees that lavender is a lovely scent, I do not. I'm not crazy about it. In fact, I'd rather smell the chaparral which drives most people mad.

I made a few varieties . . . I only wish I was better prepared with containers! I would have made many small sizes to give away.

In the end, I will surely continue mixing and trying things out but what blows me away about this process is that I've taken plants (calendula, lavender, to name a couple) and brought them through to salve. I even used my own bees wax. As a once consumer of fancy facial products, this is a big mind f*%k. I will never buy these items again. The list grows, "things i no longer buy" now includes creams and salves.

If You Miss It Bring It; If You Don't Like it Fix It; If You Want it Make it Happen

There is not a whole lot to do in a small town. If your accustomed to culture ... well, brace yourself. Some people when met with these limitations express their discomfort by complaining. OK, I do sometimes complain. What I want to promote though (instead of complaining) is that we all bring what we miss, fix what we dont like and make what we want to have happen happen by doing something. If we each did this than small town life would be bustling with fun stuff.

One of the things I miss most is classical indian music. I loved attending shows at NY's Symphony Space. I cant exactly get Zakir Hussain, the whirling dervishes from Turkey or the gyuto monks from Tibet to T or C. But I can get the very awesome HuDost, a poppy experimental world music band with middle eastern fusion. And I bring them every year for an annual show. If your in the neighborhood, dont miss their T or C show this year taking place on October 24th.

If your new to HuDost, check them out on my space. I simply could not live without their album, Eastern Rose Garden.

Brussels Sprout Back on the Scene

Remember last week when the brussels sprout turned out to be cauliflower? After that discovery I checked a bed that's off and away from my main garden, it's an experiment bed that's under a canopy of mulberry trees. I grow stuff here to see what likes to grown in shade in the NM desert. Sure enough, there's at least a half dozen brussels sprout slowly coming along. These were planted in April! In keeping with their slow growth reputation, they're just producing little buds along the main stem now. When they're 25 to 35" high I"ll snip the top to encourage growth to the buds. Ohhhhh I hope they make it!!

The Real Cost of Making Stuff Go Away

In my earlier post about making stuff go away I said I would post more on the subject. Actually I think I can post about nothing else and never run out of content! After I gathered up my boxes and bags of clothing and books last week I found myself in yet another jam. The question now (surely based on attachment of an unnatural variety), is where should the unwanted stuff go? The guilt and the attachment continue on even after the emotional tearing oneself away from the goods part is over.

Here's where I wound up:
BOOKS - look each title up on Amazon, sell the one's worth more than $5. Donate the rest to a local book store or charity. Sprinkle a few good titles around town where people will find them (gifting).

UPSIDE: books stay out of landfill, they go from the one who does not want it to the one who does, I earn back a few bucks off the books value.
DOWNSIDE: the time I spend on Amazon looking up each title is the same as time spent shopping. I'm still engaged fully in the world of stuff. My consciousness is not free until this part is over. The question is, is it worth it? The books are shipped all over creation. Yes, the fuel was already being consumed as trucks deliver mail anyway but volume surely has it's impact.

CLOTHES: sell a few great items off on ebay, gather most of it for the next local clothing swap, donate the least great stuff to local charity. I could compost some of the organic fibers but to be honest, I dont think there's much of them!

UPSIDE: I get a few bucks for stuff that was really expensive, my community gets a free splash of new to them clothes. Without question I've found that if I have tons of clothes I wear only a few things over and over. When I have less clothes, I wear everything and circulate through what I have better.
DOWNSIDE: Again I'm spending a bit too much time still engaged in the world of stuff, clothing donated to thrift shops winds up shipped to 3rd world countries where they are sold so cheaply that people stop buying locally made items and therefore people stop making local textiles and the knowledge is lost.

CONCLUSIONS: Buy waste (reuse/used items) when you can. Or don't consume it in the first place. Before buying anything new contemplate the burden it will be and how one day you'll have to figure out what to do with it. Remember that even getting rid of it consumes consciousness and takes one away from living.
If buying new, items that are of better quality, and do not expire or become obsolete are worth buying and spending more to buy because they can be resold back into the market and do not become landfill.
If you must buy stuff buy tools, they're not stuff... they're stuff that makes the stuff you dont throw away.
Similarly, handmade goods almost never go to landfill, they contain valuable emotional memory. In a sense they last the longest. Make more goods buy less goods.

Organic natural fibers can be composted. Consume these kinds of textiles and NO synthetics.

Image: a drawing I did a few years ago.

Cheese Fridge


Cheese Fridge
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Making hard cheese is just that...hard. It takes several days to make the cheese wheels and the ripening conditions are very specific. I hooked up my fermenter controller to this little yard sale dorm fridge we picked up for $5. Now the fridge can run at 53F (ideal temperature for cheese ripening) rather than it's usual 35F that most refrigerators run at. Our latest raw romano cheese will need to sit in the dorm/cheese fridge for three months (minimum) before we can start munching on it.

Cheese Fridge #2 Cheese Fridge #3 Cheese Fridge #4 Cheese Fridge #5

20100920

Loofa Realized

Last year I got only one loofa from my plant. This year I got a bunch, maybe half a dozen and they're big. I've been pulling them green and letting them sit in an east window for a couple of days before cracking them open. They're green inside when I do but in two days they're dry and have no mold. I was surprised by the bounty of seed! I'm wondering now if there's a way to care for them so they dont dry out?

More Prayers Than You Can Count: The TorC Dharma Center is on it's Way!

I've been blogging here and there about T or C's growing Buddhist community. Some years ago a lama from Tibet, Lama Rinchen, moved here. If you ask him why, with a clever smile he says, "Very cheap!"

Since his arrival a bounty of donations and support have made a Dharma center materialize and now, believe it or not, a stupa is about to go up. Today I spent some time arranging the little ceramic statues (with prayers embed in them) in preparation for an arriving Rinpoche from the Shambalah Center in Colorado to come and consecrate it.

The community has been making and painting the statues for months. There are over 6,000 all together. The stupa itself is shipping from Vietnam. It is made of solid marble, comes in sections, is 16' tall and will sit upon a 4ft base. At the very top will sit the lovely brass ornament seen in the photo.

This is a wonderful blessing for T or C. Thoughts of peace, the idea of peace, peace in any form ... we'll take it. Hooray for the T or C Dharma Center!

Living New Mexico & Spicy Marinade

We took a ride to a nearby town called Animus Creek to catch a garage sale and stopped in on our friend Bill. It occurred to me he lived a really NM life. He's on a few acres of wild NM land where he built his own house by hand (made of rock walls, adobe etc). While building it he lived in the back of a truck, then a tee pee. He grows much of his food, kicks around on his bike and plays guitar. He makes a damn good bbq sauce too. For some time he hosted a bluegrass gathering on his land, that is until the population doubled suddenly and the folks coming were not necessarily into bluegrass.

I got the distinct feeling that the only thing wrong in the world is that we're not all out there with him. Needless to say, he's a downright happy guy. He left us with a great recipe for a peppery marinade. We're passing it on to you. . .

In a cast iron skilled heat dry red chili powder till it turns burgundy in color. Add enough garlic to hurt yourself, some molasses, balsamic vinegar and water, cook it down on a low heat adding water and reducing till it's dark and thick.