Easy Sourdough that Totally Kicks Ass

I started baking bread almost 10 years ago while wendy and I were living in NYC together. At that time I was obsessed with making sourdough and would make 4-5 loaves a week. Since then I continued to bake bread, but got lazy about the extra few steps required to keep a starter going. I've recently started another sourdough culture (just leave some rye and water on the counter for a few days with occasional stirring) and have resumed making sourdough. This week I came across a awesome recipe that I found from a bread pamphlet we picked up from a yard sale. My favorite part of this recipe is that it is a real deal sourdough with no additional yeast going into the bread rise.

Easy Sourdough that Totally Kicks Ass #2

Newton and Jobs

Newton and Jobs by mikeysklar
Newton and Jobs, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
I recently read James Gleick's Biography of Isaac Newton. Newton was certainly not a pleasant man, but he has a 400 year legacy that nobody can compete with. The last four years of any High School education in the US are almost entirely based on Newton's credited work in the areas of math and physics. While I was reading the book I kept thinking that Sir Isaac Newton has a lot in common with Steve Jobs. (note: Dec. 2011 I read the Steve Jobs biography)

  • "inventing things" that others at the time were working on (calculus for newton the mouse/gui for jobs)
  • intolerable personalities that would vocally attack and embarrass others in public
  • dietary issues
  • bizarre behavior around finances, both died unbelievable wealthy for the time, but only occasionally showed any interest in acquiring money
  • Newton was obsessed with the occult and Jobs with the modern hippy version
  • perfectionists that took over industries that they had little experience in (Newton completely changed how money was coined, Jobs changed the cell phone market)
  • insight into how things work and should be that others did not share
  • family issues - both were essentially given up by their biological parents
  • oh yeah…apples...


Custom Everything? A Winter Promise to Make Clothing

Custom Everything? A Winter Promise to Make Clothing by mikeysklar

You'd think the founder of Swap-O-Rama-Rama would know how to sew huh. Hardly. When SORR was growing fast I pissed off more than a few writers who worked for fashion magazines. Their editor would send them my way for a story about fashion, albeit repurposed. Instead they got me touting the pitfalls of trend, textile consumption and yes fashion.

Truth is I have wanted to make my own clothes for as long as I can remember wearing them. I know the limitations of premade goods. They don't fit right and buying them offers no clear view of their real cost: fuel burned, people taken advantage of, resources pillaged, toxins emitted. By making my clothes myself I put myself in the position to choose materials wisely. I choose waste. And when that won't do, I have a bolt of undyed woven knobby silk from India and some natural dyes to color it with.

Today I started with the fulfillment of a winter promise, to try. I started even though I didn't know how. I pulled out the book Generation T by Megan Nicolay. Megan gave me a copy back in 2005 when she was promoting it at Swap-O-Rama-Rama in Brooklyn. It helped me to modify two t-shirts that were headed for the trash. To one I a added a collar more suitable to my tastes, to another I attached a border changing the fit to dress like so I can wear it over leggings. It was a good start!

Next, make a paper pattern from a top I like. - Wendy

A new neckline on an old top


Electric Skateboard Battery Recovery

I recently ordered a electric skateboard off eBay. I bought a super beefy mountain board with a lithium battery pack in non-working condition. All I knew at the time of purchase was the the battery was not charging and the skateboard had never been used. The skateboard arrived and within 1.5 hours of using my own capacitive charger, Da Pimp, I had it up and running. Today I took it out for a two mile ride and it did great. I posted a video explaining how I recovered the battery.

Electric Skateboard Battery Recovery #2Electric Skateboard Battery Recovery #3Electric Skateboard Battery Recovery #4Electric Skateboard Battery Recovery #5Electric Skateboard Battery Recovery #6


Expectorant: Bronchitis - Frankincense

Unfortunately I spent the last six days with bronchitis. The most annoying feature has been not being able to expectorate which kept me coughing all night long and kept Mikey up!  I tried many things: mullein, ocotillo, cedar wood, and other tinctures. Then I found something that worked. In a little herb book I read a recommendation, burn frankincense. Upon lighting it my nasal passages began to pour and the gunk in my lungs loosened to a productive cough. I tried it again a day later to prove it was in fact the incense, the same results came time and time again. Hooray frankincense. How very timely with the holiday season. - Wendy


Black Friday & Cyber Monday - The Reverend Has Something to Say

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday approach activist preacher Reverend Billy Talen winds up a sermon with a New York City spin. He is qualified to deliver the message. He is a New Yorker, part of the Occupy Sandy movement and he is out on the street helping people in the city put their lives back together. Today Billy is featured on Treehugger with a sermon spun for the occasion, the biggest shopping week of the year coming on the heels of Sandy.

Treehugger summarizes Billy's point. In our frenzied race to buy more and better stuff, that resource-intensive stuff, we're literally helping to conjure more powerful hurricanes, more floods. Scientists agree we're now heading toward a potentially catastrophic 4 degree C temperature rise by century's end. And especially those at the top and those not yet made homeless by a superstorm, don't much seem to care. We buy on. We drive on. We're mesmerized. 

Reverend Billy has been preaching and touring with his Church of Life After Shopping for about ten years. He just completed a book, The End Of The World (OR Publishing, 2013). He also contributed  to the foreword of my book, The Good Life Lab (June 2013 on Storey Publishing).  Keep an eye out for them both.


The Weekend Homesteader By Anna Hess, Praiseworthy!

Mikey and I have relied on a variety of blogs for wisdom and inspiration. One of them is Anna Hess’s blog The Walden Effect. We have a lot in common with Anna; a start with limited knowledge and savings, a wish to never have a standard job again, and an eventual cottage industry. This year we both wrote books. While I dig out the philosophical and emotional aspects of lifestyle and then make them practical, Anna is prone to science. She uses data and charts to enhance real life. And its fun! 
Her book titled The Weekend Homesteader is a twelve-month guide published by Skyhorse. First, I love the book’s size and the large font size. You can read it while it sits open on the counter and from a distance away with your hands full like you might find yourself if you were doing one of the projects she writes about. The month to month approach will have me glancing often for reminders of what seasonal activities I may be forgetting.

She covers the basics: growing, preparing, and preserving food, using space, considering weather, and being observant to your own life patterns. Her goal of financial independence is felt throughout. I like where she starts with it, a definition of homesteading, creating a better life than you could have afforded. Her success may have to do with being able to keep it simple, like her lesson on drying fruits and veggies in the car. She scours the waste stream for treasure and pays attention to details that lead to organizing stored food into labeled containers placed in time order  with corresponding chart. Ya, a geek. 

Anna's apprenticing tips contain the details that matter, like listening more than you talk. With similar frankness her staying warm without electricity plan starts with wearing the right clothes. Her belt-tightening tips show what is to be gained for what’s given up, homemade bread and a carrot you can taste are worth a few sacrifices. 

In both of our books we take a close look at time and we agree that we need more of it if we’re going to be successful. Those jobs may have to go. Anna points to the problem. She suggests consuming less media like TV in order to gain time. Thoughtfully she reminds us that the media changes the way we feel about ourselves. It shapes our experience of having enough. 

Though I’ve been homesteading for six years I learned new things from Anna’s book. I learned about carbon nitrogen ratios for compost, dynamic accumulator plants, and about fermenting seeds before saving them. And I learned to make fruit leather which I am pretty excited about. There's other stuff, details about bee keeping and ways to do the same ol' things a little better. 

Bravo on your new book Anna! We enjoy what your scientific mind has generously shared, the unusual tips, and clear headed advice. Everyone will learn something from this book. We are happy to recommend it! 

iPhone 4S Battery Replacement - Easy

My iPhone 4s is now 1 year old and it's battery is barely making it through most days. I spent $8 on eBay and got a replacement that was straightforward to install. After 10 minutes 4 screws being removed the new battery was in and working.


$5 a month to Run a Flash Hot Water Heater

We just received our Natural Gas bill for mid-October through mid-November. We had installed a inexpensive flash hot water heater for our house at the beginning of this billing cycle and it appears to have cost us $5 more than our usual bill. It might be important to note that we only used natural gas to heat the house two times during that window and we had a four day period where there were 15 guests staying with us. Regardless of the details I'm thrilled to see we can have hot water for less than $5 a month.

Mini Hot Water Bottle with Recycled Wool Cozy

Wendy keeps walking around the house saying "How did I get so old without knowing about the hot water bottle". She is now obsessed with these little bottled in their cute cozy's made from recycled sweaters.

Winter Comfort Drink : Mulled Mead

Wendy and I have been enjoying a sweet mulled mead for the last few nights. We have been heating up mead on the stove with a mix of mulling spices, lemon zest and 50% apple cider. The drink is warm and intoxicating. We strain and store in a thermos to drink trough the evening.

Raiding Laura's Greens

Raiding Laura's Greens by mikeysklar
Raiding Laura's Greens, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

HSHS neighbor Laura seems to always have raised garden beds that are bursting with amazing lettuce. We got a text form Laura to help ourselves to some greens so we did! Thanks Laura.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

Pickled Green Tomatoes by mikeysklar
Pickled Green Tomatoes, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
As I was harvesting all our tiny green tomatoes I was pondering what else I could be doing with them besides allowing them to ripen in a cardboard box. My neighbor turned me onto the idea of pickling the green tomatoes. I looked on-line and found a few variations, but everybody pretty much uses garlic, water, salt, dill and a hot pepper. I added a little bit of whey after using those ingredients. This will ferment in a half gallon mason jar for a few days at room temperature and then go into the cheese fridge.


Two Days of Tomato Drying

Two Days of Tomato Drying by mikeysklar
Two Days of Tomato Drying, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
We have been drying tomatoes off and on throughout the summer. Over the last two days I've been loading up the indoor dehydrator and producing about a 1 qt. mason jar of dried tomatoes per night.

Two Days of Tomato Drying #2


LA Influenced

I visit Los Angeles a couple of times a year. I catch up with high school friends who moved there to raise a family. This week I celebrated my 45th birthday there. This birthday felt different from the rest. My hair is turning white. I have spots on my face from the sun.

On the way to LA I spent one night at The Spring where my friends bought me a birthday facial, one designed for aging skin of course. I loved it. Even Mikey noticed my skin when I got home. At the spa I learned about vitamin C syrum for reducing wrinkles and removing sun spots.

By now your probably thinking that for a homesteader I'm sounding a bit, well LA. I did not buy a hundred dollar pair of jeans or handbag with a large gold ornament on it. No stiletto heels or logoized sunglasses either. And I won't be getting botox. I did not buy vitamin C syrum. But I did learn to make it!

Here's the recipe I started out with, it took 5 minutes to make. I'll test it all week and see if modifications are needed.

Equal parts: vitamin C, vegetable glycerine, and distilled water.
Sources of vitamin C - (some people mix the two)
Synthetic: L-Ascorbic Acid
Natural: Camu Powder

Mix vitamin C powder and water first until well blended, then mix in vegetanle glycerine. Store in an amber bottle in the dark.

Note: Once soluble vitamin C goes rancid fast, make only enough for a week, then make a fresh batch. Also, vitamin C syrum can cause age /sun spots if applied in the morning. Apply at night before bed. Application: can use on sun spots to reduce them, on wrinkle areas like crows feet, or on the whole face.

Have fun!


Natural Winemaking - Homestead Gathering

Cameron gave a talk on making quality inexpensive wine starting with 1/2 ton of grapes. We have been making from kits for years at Holy Scrap, but it was amazing to see the process scaled up from 1 case of wine to 30 cases at a time. Unfortunately, there are some significant equipment expenses such as a crusher / de-stemmer, macrobins and a big press to deal with. Looks like we need to cut a deal with the some nearby vintners or eat the up front costs. This size of wine production seems ideal if you can get a half dozen homesteaders to go in on the gear together.

CNC Furniture - Homestead Gathering Talk

Heather Stewart gave a inspiring talk on building elegantly designed home furniture from a single sheet of plywood using a large CNC. While this could be done using traditional power tools such as a jig saw one can imagine the possibilities of producing large quantities of furniture or doing more intricate designs.


The Heat is On

The Heat is On by mikeysklar
The Heat is On, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
I held off as long as I could, but as of today the heat is back on. The temperatures are now in the 20s which is a little too cold to rely just on solar exposure for heat. I cleaned the heating ducts and replaced the air filters. The heater is noticeably more quite this year.

The Heat is On #2

30+ lbs of Tomatoes

30+ lbs of Tomatoes by mikeysklar
30+ lbs of Tomatoes, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
I harvested most of our ripe and green tomatoes expecting a real freeze yesterday. As it turned out the temperature hovered around 34F and didn't freeze in our part of town. Our neighbors had ice in their yard, but they are about several blocks away. This gave me one more day to completely pillage the tomato plants. Todays harvest yielded 10 more lbs of tomatoes.

30+ lbs of Tomatoes


Apple Blossom Tea

Apple Blossom Tea by mikeysklar
Apple Blossom Tea, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

Our grow season is long enough that our apple trees put out fresh blossoms and sometimes even set fruit into early November. I've started harvest the blossoms to make tea. Maybe some other blog readers can comment on the taste. I'm guessing that it will be sort of a sweet rose taste since apples are descended from roses.

The Summer Garden Comes to a End

Tonight marks our first hard freeze of the season. Temps will be dropping to 30F with a windchill of 25F. Tomorrow will be significantly colder with windchill pulling the temps down to 19F. I pulled in our lemon tree and proceeded to harvest all of our loofa and tomatoes. The second week of November has typically been when we get our first freeze that officially puts us into cold crops only.

The Summer Garden Comes to a End #2The Summer Garden Comes to a End #3The Summer Garden Comes to a End #4The Summer Garden Comes to a End #5


Neighbors Moving In

Neighbors Moving In by mikeysklar
Neighbors Moving In, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

There seems to be a fair amount of home shopping and sales going on in our little town. I don't know what's different about this year, but I suspect it is in part due to having a coffee shop that is open 7 days a week.

Slow Kitty Recovery

Slow Kitty Recovery by mikeysklar
Slow Kitty Recovery, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

Our cat has been slowly recovering from his skunk attack. I've been draining off the puss building up in the abscess we popped a few days ago. He's being a good sport about it, but it's so sad to see our fearless hunter in this compromised state. He doesn't seem to mind getting wrapped up in a towel and having his ear cleaned every 4 hours with hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol.


Learning to Heal

We had a day of figuring out and learning about rabies and cat health. We talked to friends, talked to an X vet, did some research. Our cat Scardy got skunked last week and was acting like a rabid lunatic. I explored his body and sure enough found an abscess, his ornery behavior began to make sense. A friend who works with animal control checked with Fishing & Game. There are zero reports of rabid animals this year. We were able to conclude that Scardy has an abscess and start treating it. First I put him on Silica a homeopathic remedy, then antibiotics, today we taken on the oh so gross harpooning of the abscess. We did this once before for our other cat, not fun!

I'm always happy and impressed when situations like this get figured out through friends and networks. Thanks everyone.


Downside of Small Town Life

You may recall that last year we took our dog Sesame to the local vet for a rabies shot. We came back with a dog that was having 100 seizures a day, eyes bleeding, coughing, dying. After calling the vet I learned that she administered a host of shots without my knowing, charged me of course too. Our dog is 7, there was no need for any of the shots given. She almost died and still today seizes, we manage it with Belladonna. She seizes less. This doesn't stop the heartbreak every time I see them.

When I confronted the vet and asked why she gave those shots I reminded her I asked only for a rabies shot she said quite plainly, "You cant prove that." I knew then what I was dealing with.

This week our cat Scardy got skunked. When his behavior got unusually angry I looked him over and found what looks like a bite on him. His behavior is much like the description of rabies. I called the same local vet simply because the next nearest is 100 miles away and we considered this an emergency. We're concerned we may get it, the dog or the other cat. She denied me service.

I can't help but notice that her arrogance may prevent a problem for our local community. What if he has rabies? What other animals may be infected by her refusal to treat him? If not for me, or my cat, she owes it to the community she serves to contain the situation. When she denied me she did so knowing there is no other vet for 100 miles.

Herein lay the downside to small town life. Monopolies are common. When they occur behavior like this follows. We're driving the 100 miles tomorrow. It's probably for the better. Lets just hope things stay calm until then.


Bottle Opener CNC Lesson

Bottle Opener CNC Lesson by mikeysklar
Bottle Opener CNC Lesson, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.
Don't try and reproduce a bottle opener in plexiglass! I have had this steel opener for over 10 years and decided to make my own in plexiglass. It of course broke on the first bottle. Maybe next time out of copper/fiberglass or even wood?

Bottle Opener CNC Lesson #2


Cleaning the Skunked Cat

Cleaning the Skunked Cat by mikeysklar
Cleaning the Skunked Cat, a photo by mikeysklar on Flickr.

After a bath of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda our cat still smelled a bit skunky. We put him in a small tub with a 1/2 gallon of tomato juice and things improved quite a bit. We should do one more pass so he doesn't smell like a pizza.