Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bird House Gourds

One of our daughters brought home a gourd plant that she started as a seed at school. All the kids in her grade did, apparently. Well, we planted it in a spare container along with some snow peas and kind of just forgot about it.

After a few weeks the thing had just taken off like a rocket and had produced tons of these really neat white flowers. They were the kind of flower that opens at night. What's that called? I keep forgetting. Anyway, we ended up with three that seemed to have survived the growing season and are now drying/curing/whatever in our garage. Apparently the process is a long one, so I still have no idea how these will turn out.

I really liked the plant and wouldn't mind planting another one this coming spring. Ours grew up next to the fence and then along a trellis-like extension. While it did get tangled up in there along with other plants, it didn't shade our vegetables or choke out any other plants except for the snowpeas. We'll have to do better with snowpeas if we decide to plant them again.

Here are the three we kept. The one in the front was harvested much earlier and so it's darker and weighs much less.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter Garden Update

We've got a decent amount of winter veggies sprouting up in the box. Looks like way too much bok choi though... :)

But what about next season? Any plans?

Plans? Why yes! In the past, I've proposed that we remove as much as half of the lawn and replace it with raised beds. We already have the irrigation in place since we can repurpose the lawn sprinkler heads. But with the kids (older daughter was doing a lot of softball pitching and batting practice so we needed more lawn) we always ended up saying "maybe next year" and leaving that thirsty lawn in place.

But this winter we've started talking about how much more stuff we could grow (we've never really had melons or pumpkins due to the space constraints and we'd LOVE to grow more than 5 stalks of corn) and now it seems closer to being a reality than ever before.

Fingers crossed. Of course, there's another reason we've not dramatically increased our garden space. It's a dirty secret, but really, it's my fault. As much as I love the idea of a larger garden, I suffer from a very predictable summer malady. I love the garden in the spring, but by the dog days of summer I'm not always thrilled about going out there and weeding and taking care of plants. This is one of those things that I'll just have to do. Make it just something I do, because it's part of what needs to be done.

I mentioned that we wanted to grow more corn. The plan is to grow some feed corn for the chickens. I know we wouldn't be able to grow enough to feed them all year (we give them a little cracked corn just about every day), but it would be able to make a dent in the amount we buy at the pet/feed store.

We'd also like to grow some popcorn. We grew "strawberry" popcorn two years ago and it turned out nice. It was fun to experiment. This time maybe we'll go with some of the "hull-less" varieties...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Two of our three hens are molting. Here's a picture of the alpha hen, Mohawk. If she was a crabby (but not too violent) top hen before, she's even worse now. You can see that her tail feathers are gone. Her bum is showing too. Most of the feathers have started to grow back in on her shoulder and neck

Saturday, December 17, 2011


After last Christmas I sat down with my kids to talk about maybe trying to take some of the commercial aspect out of gift giving. I wanted us to give things that meant a little more. They seemed to think it was a good idea and so we made a few of the gifts we gave this year.

That's an orange and black duct tape wallet for a San Francisco Giants fan we know. Also, some "survival" bracelets made from paracord.

We also made some little sewing kits that we put inside these cool metal tins shaped like mint tins, but about 10 times stronger. My older daughter did some sewing projects for gifts as well. Overall I'm pleased and I think we'll try to do more in the future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Go Bag

Just got the first thing for the go bag. A document folio. This will replace our "govelope" which was a comically useless used envelope we were using to hold a whopping $40 in emergency funds. I know this was a bit of an extravagance, buying something like this, and we won't be filling out the whole list with brand new stuff. But I saw this one and really wanted it...

We'll put our passports, some money (small denominations), emergency numbers/addresses, pictures of the kids, each other, and the pets, etc. in there and grab it on the way out the door.

And that's the next task: printing out recent pictures of the family/pets. The kids are easy: school pictures. And I know we took some pictures of the cats recently...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Go Bag (Car Version)

I've had a little first aid kit in my car ever since I started coaching my daughter's softball team. Seemed like a good idea. And it came in handy on a family trip when someone got a big cut after falling on some rocks.

But now it's time to build a better kit for the car, something more like a go bag/emergency kit.

I was poking around in the garage and I saw my daughter's old backpack in the "donation" pile. She needed something larger for school so this one went into the pile of things they've outgrown. It's incredibly dirty, but still mostly intact. After I finished putting everything in it, I found out that my daughter was planning on using it again for things like sleepovers. So... Plan B! I found an old duffle bag, and I'll use that until/unless I come across a backpack (I prefer a backpack as it seems more portable...).

Into the old backpack, er, I mean duffle bag:

  • first aid kit (existing)
  • clothing in ziploc bag(s)
  • long sleeve
  • hat
  • socks/underwear
  • sweats
  • small blanket
  • carabineer (why not?)
  • food?
  • water bottle
  • rope/cord
  • scissors
  • lighter?
  • small bungee cords
  • TP

Still to do/Next Steps

Two items I don't have yet are the lighter/matches and the food. I'll work on getting those.
I should probably get a charger for my phone that can plug into the car.   
Oh, and I haven't gotten spare clothes for everyone else, yet, but I'm working on it.

We have two cars, so we'll need a similar bag for my wife's car. Technically, we've already started as I put the small first aid kit in her car when I put a newer, larger one in the bag in my car.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Go Bag and Earthquake Readiness

Look around... Read the paper, watch the news, surf the web. The world is ending. Zombies. Government out of control. Floods, fires, earthquakes, locusts. The place is crumbling and I'm not ready! I'm not prepared!


It's easy to get swept up in a kind of frenzy, to feel so helpless in the wake of so much bad news. I don't want to the let the craziness win. Luckily there are several things I can do to be better prepared for the more realistic emergencies such as earthquakes (I do live in California after all) or flooding (in our neighborhood minor flooding is possible).

I think our best solution would be to sell everything and buy some remote land and begin a homestead. But that's just not feasible for us. We have to have jobs in order to pay for our elderly parents' medical bills.

With that out of the picture, we'll have to settle for handling the things we can control.

So putting together a "go bag" and preparing the family and house for a "72 hour emergency" is a good first step.

I got started on some of this stuff, but as I said before, this won't be done in a week, or a month. It'll take while but every item I cross off the list now is a step closer to being better prepared.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Resolutions / Goals

I've never really been a "New Year's Resolutions" kind of guy. Something about needing to wait for a specific trigger (Look it's a new year!) always seemed to rub me the wrong way. It feels arbitrary. Not that I don't understand why it works or why people like it. It just seems inefficient to me.

I do, however, love to make lists and cross things off. I like to set goals. So that's what I've done. I've started setting my goals for 2012. But after writing a few of them down I looked at the calendar.

I still have a whole month!

So I've decided to start on some of the list items early.

Here are the first two I want to at least get started this year:

1] Replace our desk

We had a desk. It was crappy, cheap, made of particle board, and it disintegrated when we tried to move it when we had the floors refinished. I do not miss it. We got what we paid for: lesson learned. Now we're using a small table. It's uncomfortable and unstable. We've got stuff that used to be in/on the desk (and the attached hutch) piled up in boxes around the room, making a small space feel even more crowded.

We want a new desk made from recycled/re-purposed materials.

Now, I _may_ end up just making one myself. I mean, I have a table saw and many other power tools/etc. I could do it, but I like the idea of supporting a local craftsman and of using recycled materials. Also, I know what mine would look like and I'd like something that's a bit more professional looking.

I think a realistic milestone for this goal would be to find a few places/people that do this kind of thing somewhere near where I live.

2] Put together a plan for Earthquake Readiness

Earthquake Readiness -- you hear it so often here in the San Francisco Bay Area that it becomes mere noise. Everyone knows we should be ready, but we all say the same thing. "Yep, I've got to get that earthquake kit together..."

We have a few odds and ends put away, but we need more. We need a comprehensive plan:
  • Evacuation/meeting plans
  • Emergency contacts
  • Family training (fire extinguisher, gas shut off)
  • Buy a fire extinguisher
  • Build a "go bag" for the house
  • Build emergency kits for the cars
  • Build a "72 hour" kit including food/water for the whole family/pets/chickens, etc. etc.

I won't finish this in a week, or even a month. But I'm going to start on this now and try to do something every week.

I think a realistic first milestone for this goal would be to build the go bag. But another might be to do the family training parts.

I'm going to chronicle some of this stuff on the blog if only because then I'll feel like it's more "real."

Friday, December 2, 2011


A good friend of mine lost his son over the Thanksgiving weekend. As a father I can fathom the loss, I can get my arms around it, measure it, do the math. But I just can't comprehend it. The pain he and his wife must be feeling. I can't imagine it.

I went to the memorial service.

In my whole life I've managed to avoid all but two other memorial services/funerals/etc. I don't do well in those kinds of situations. Heck, I don't even go to "going away" lunches for coworkers. I don't like saying good bye. I don't like sadness. I don't like loss.

I never know what to say or do. You offer your help, your assistance. "Let me know if there's anything I can do." But what can I do? Mow the lawn? (I really did offer to do this, and other household chores) Alas, what I cannot do for them is offer any real help. Anything to remove the pain, the hurt. The loss.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nanowrimo 2011

Nanowrimo 2011 is in the books. I finished a few days early (look at me, showing off) with a novel I really enjoyed writing. I enjoyed it so much that I've actually looked at it a few times since I finished on Sunday to do some minor editing. Now that's unusual for me.

But what I need to do now is let it sit, let it just rest over there on the back burner for a month or two or five. Then come back to it and see if I still like it and how much editing I can do. And that's a good plan because of how busy I am at the new job.

I did most of my writing on the weekends and the days I had off between jobs or during the holiday. In fact, I think I wrote fewer than 5k words during lunches/etc. at work. Where in past years, I've written all about 95% of the words while I was at the office either early in the AM or during lunch. I've just always had a better writing environment at the office.

This break in the middle of November meant that my Nanowrimo python script's logging data was spotty at best. Hopefully next year I'll have it running the whole time. I was excited about this year because I finally got the web/twitter posting feature fixed. Ah well, next year...