Sunday, April 17, 2011

Here's to the O.G. homesteader!

That would be old Grandma Hazel who was born April 24 1913 and died April 14 2011. I haven't had a real conversation with my grandma since I was a little girl. I always thought she was a little weird. She was always pleasant, typically self-deprecating, and usually said goofy things to lighten people up. Her world in Sauk Centre, MN seemed very small town to me and I figured she wouldn't really get me or the things I was up to. I sent cards with pictures of my house and my life and a refrigerator magnet with my face on it that seemed to make her really happy. She loved to brag to her friends about her kids and grand kids so apparently those items gave her bragging rights. I didn't realize just how arrogant I'd been with my Grandma until a few days ago. I was suddenly overwhelmed with grief and guilt and felt like I'd really missed out on knowing her. It hurt. Some of what I've come to see about Hazel Anderson is that she was born before refrigerators were around, way before tv, before cars even. She was born in a whole different world. and many of the skills I am acquiring and pride myself in (for how innovative and cutting edge I am with my homesteading style house and stuff) are all things my Grandma did before I was even born.
I'd forgotten that my Grandma kept a pantry in the basement full of canned fruits and vegetables. I remember going down there when I was little and having to choose between apple sauce and cherries to put on our dessert. And what kind of desserts? Grandma made everything from scratch. She made cracker jack from scratch and the worlds best caramel rolls and Sallie Anne cookies and old Scandinavian favorites like krumkaka (delicate lacy crisp "pancake" with powdered sugar on it that looks like a snowflake cut out in 3-d).
And those are just some of the things I remember. She would spend weeks baking before we came to visit. My Grandma's kitchen was a wonder to behold. I hope I can get a piece of it when I go to her funeral. What I wouldn't give for Grandma's canning supplies! I think she probably got rid of that years ago as she used it less and less. I'll find something wonderful and strange and perfect for the job it's designed for and invite it back home with me.
My Grandma was widowed when my Dad was 8. She had two sons and had to get a job to support her family. I can't imagine what a challenge that must have been in those days.
She was very proud of all the jobs she had. She used to take my brother and I to the Elks Club where she managed the kitchen and show us off to all the old folks. It never occurred to me that my Grandma was a pioneer working like she did.
I don't remember Grandmas garden but where else would she have gotten all that stuff to can? Shows you what selective memories kids have.
If I ever have grandchildren (and I'm still hoping) they will remember my garden. They'll probably think I'm weird and old fashioned and out of touch with the world. They might even make jokes about me when I'm not around. and I'll just love them. Because that's the lesson my Grandma Hazel keeps giving me. No matter what she loved me and all her kids and grand kids to the end of the earth. She was surrounded by friends when she passed because she had invested in the social capital of her community her entire life.
I wish I had realized how inspiring and awesome she was when she was still around. Maybe she can still teach me how to make krumkaka or lefse when I use the fancy tools she had for those delicate jobs. It will be nice to go celebrate her life with family this week. and I'm incredibly inspired to meet the people who kept vigil at her side and held her hand - that's the kind of community I want to build around me. I'm glad I can finally see what props I have for my O.G. Homesteader! Rest in deep great peace Grandma Hazel!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

DIY day: Basic plumbing and how to tunnel under a sidewalk

Two days ago I was under my kitchen sink wimpering and crying. My frustration came from trying to fix the shut-off valve from my hot water line for my kitchen sink. A friend told me it would be easy (same friend who broke it attempting to shut off the water to help me install a new filter) and I had assembled all the parts I needed. All I was trying to do was screw the line from the faucet to the shut off valve and nothing was working. The threads wouldn't connect. I was all twisted trying to fit as much of my body under the sink as I could. I was getting schmuck in my eyes when I'd lie on my back but lying on my belly I couldn't get my arms high enough to reach it. I looked online and in several home repair books I have here and all of them said, "and then screw the onto the threads" and that was where the whole problem was. I prayed and cursed and couldn't get it to work. and it was supposed to be easy. My head started sending me down into the depths of glum. Felt very alone and without support and imagined that it would always be that way (cue the sad image of a decrepit old woman in a nursing home from "The Economics of Happiness" documentary I saw last week).
Then T showed up and wondered what was happening (everything from under my sink spewed all over the kitchen floor and the front walk - me sobbing with my head under the sink). He went to fix it and ended up breaking the entire supply line to the sink!

So today I finally got the new supply line from the hardware store. They guy looked at the one in my hand and laughed. "No wonder you were having so much trouble." The new lines are made from woven metal and are much more flexible and friendly. and he was right. and after screwing it on and finding a tiny drop of water I undid the whole thing, screwed it on again and now have hot water in my kitchen! Hooray! and I learned a valuable lesson. 1) Plumbing sucks and it's liable to make me cry and 2) better to replace the whole thing (or at least have all the parts to do so) rather than tinker with the tiny bits when it comes to plumbing.
Valuable lessons!

My other diy triumph today had to do with irrigation (which explains the pictures I above). I've got to connect my front yard irrigation line to the hose bib. This requires placing the line underneath my front walk so people won't trip over it. After getting some assistance from an incredibly awesome and helpful guy at JH Mitchell Irrigation and researching on google, and being bouyed up by my plumbing success, I took it on.

First I dug out a large part of the dirt around where I was going to tunnel. I needed a lot of space so the pvc wouldn't bend and arc too low. (you can sort of see this in the first picture)

Second, I assembled the piece my irrigation angel instructed me to. He had me get a pressure washer, a length of pvc (the width of my sidewalk plus) and two fittings - one that screwed into the pressure washer on one end and connected to the pvc on the other end and another with a hose thread on one side and pvc connection on the other side. I have a picture of what this amazing tool looks like (second and third picture above). I vacillated about whether I really needed to go to this much effort to make this tunnel but I had no idea how else it would work.

I connected the hose and turned on the water. First attempt I got soaked by each leaky fitting but it seemed to work until I got about 2 feet away from the other side and hit something hard.

Second attempt same thing happened but this time from a slight angle. I was about to throw in the towel but opted to try something different.

For my "third times the charm" try, I went from the other side of the sidewalk to try and meet the second tunnel. I pushed with all my weight wiggled and worked the pvc pressure washer fire hose thingie and finally got the pvc all the way in and under the sidewalk! So now I have a length of pvc under my sidewalk that I can thread the irrigation line through! Only little hiccough is that I still haven't figured out where it is on the exit side. I can see the water come out but I can't find the damn hose. That seems like a minor problem (fingers crossed) and much better tackled tomorrow when the water recedes and I feel like I could use another feeling of triumph.

What's really nice about this method is the pvc is part of the tunneling tool so as soon as you're done with the tunnel you just cut off or unscrew the connectors and your pvc is right where you need it. I'm hoping that as soon as I find the damn thing all I need to do is run the irrigation line right through it, punch a couple connector fittings together, thread it to the hose bib, and TaDa! I'll be able to water my front beds!

All in all both tasks were daunting and I ran into multiple PITA obstacles but still fulfilled my mission! Hooray!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jury Duty? This will not work for a single girl homesteader!

Today I got called in to report for jury duty. I know it's my duty as a citizen but it also happens to be spring break. As a single girl homesteader this puts a serious dent in my grand plans for this week. On my planned agenda for the week:
  • fix the plumbing in my kitchen sink (a surprise task that I'm not pleased about having to deal with),
  • connect the irrigation in my front yard garden (requires putting tubing underneath a brick planter and a sidewalk - no small task!),
  • consult with my landscaping friend ( Camille about the irrigation in the backyard,
  • chainsaw a couple more trees (got two down already) and chop for mulch or put in the greenwaste bin,
  • chainsaw/pole prune limbs down on the tall Pittosporum to allow more light for the future citrus orchard,
  • Plan and plant future citrus orchard under pruned Pittosporum,
  • spread the 5 cu yds of mulch that's currently in a pile at the top of my driveway,
  • get rid of the enormous pile of grass stolon filled dirt that's all along the slope of my driveway,
  • add stones to Swan Song (front yard) beds to level the walls,
  • add stones to planter beds throughout garden where necessary,
  • paint bottom board and plan bottom board replacement strategy (and ant-proofing) for bee hives (choose if I want to try and capture a swarm and, if so, find location and set up new hive boxes),
  • sheet mulch newly solarized beds in the backyard and prepare for planting,
  • plant blueberries and strawberries in the pine mulch zone,
  • figure out I can keep chickens and start planning for a chicken coop,
  • plant seeds of corn, carrots, sunflowers in vegetable beds, and dianthus, chives, and other edible flowers in Swan Song walls
And that doesn't include any of the non-homesteading things on the list like sweeping my floors and re-organizing my garage. Sorry to bore you with my to-do list. The point of that (besides helping me get clear on what I intend to accomplish) is just to show that homesteading takes a fair amount of time. It's a way of life - not a trademark :) If all I have are weekends (and many of those get filled up with other tasks) then it takes that much longer to get homestead projects happily on their way. What I'm ultimately aiming for is a set of interconnected systems that feed into each other with only moderate tweaking now and again by me. This is likely at least a few years down the road. Bill Mollison (co-articulator with David Holmgren of the concept of permaculture) talks about the stage "When the designer becomes the recliner" after all the systems the permaculture designer sets up start to function independently and produce on their own with minimal outside input. I'm not there yet.
and that being the case, it feels like such a frustrating waste of time to be sitting here on the 11th floor of the Clara Foltz courthouse when it's a beautiful overcast day perfect for planting.
I'm often good at making the best out of any situation. I know that it's not such a big deal to give up a day of "work" to do my part for the justice system.
I just had so much I wanted to get done today at home. And I'm feeling glum anyway as recent matters of the heart have not gone my way (boo hoo) and it feels like I'll probably end up with no family or children and nobody who gives a shit about me when I get old. (When I start to downward spiral it goes there pretty fast) and at least nobody to help tackle my urban homesteading to-do list with. So here I sit when I ought to be planning for chickens to supply my neighborhood with fresh eggs (Check these out for more info on how easy it is to keep chickens in the city: and

News update: Enough of my whining. Biking rules! I got selected for jury pool selection for a case involving a kid who was riding a bike and got hit by a car. In the questioning I shared that I wish everybody rode bikes in LA and that our city would be a much more pleasant and clean place and that, though I aspire to objectivity, I definitely have a bias in favor of bikes where bike/car interactions occur. I hope the case goes well for both parties and I'm very happy my jury duty for this year was just one day.