State of the Friends and Hammers

I don’t even want to see how long it’s been since I updated this, it’s potentially depressing.  Instead, here is a look at where we are now:

First and foremost, the base of operation has changed from the Woodchuck compound in Niagara County to a tiny room in the heart of Buffalo.  While N. holds down the fort in the wintry northlands, K. and I have relocated to a temporary digs in a cooperative house for a few reasons, chief among them the dislike of a half hour commute and the proximity to our newest project:

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 11.20.12 AM

OH BOY.  What is this?  It’s a house that K. and I bought from the City of Buffalo at a bargain basement price, mostly because it is severely beat up.  It’s within walking distance of our favorite park, a library branch, downtown, the best bar district, and Canada – really.  It is pretty big and unlike the last building we fixed, it is made of wood not brick.  It’s got that “wet abandoned house” smell right now but that won’t last.  On optimistic days we plan on living in at least part of it by fall, but… there’s lots of work to be done before that.

In the meantime, maintaining a closet-sized room as a home base in a house of ~14 people has been fun.  There’s always someone doing something cool in the communal kitchen, and you can’t beat living in a historic mansion even if you can only lay claim to a space that used to be a powder room.

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 11.27.54 AMFor instance, last night I arrived home to find people busy fabricating bottle glasses with the aid of a special tool.  Apparently this hobby was big in the 1970s too, but what is my life if not painstakingly relearning the lessons of the 70s, at least in terms of crafts?  I won’t rest until I can cover my new porch in macrame!!  (Yes I’m on Pinterest, hush.)  Anyway, my glass is made from a Tanqueray bottle and you can kind of see that there is a pineapple on it.

2012-12-29 11.04.40My small contribution to the welfare of this robust and densely populated human ecosystem is a “poop shelf.”  The key to a good one of these is to only add books you don’t really care about because they’ll be absorbing shower steam and might fall out of a window or into… a sinister place.  (This is a good way to put all of your duplicate books to good use.  You don’t have duplicate copies of your favorite books?  You don’t have as much of a problem as I do.)  You know the shelf is successful when it begins mysteriously adding to itself, like in this case when A Scanner Darkly appeared out of nowhere.  There’s no gesture that successfully mixes the welcoming with the intellectual with the completely crass like a poop shelf.  Like it’s kind of uncomfortable to be even blogging about this, but I am just so proud of myself at the same time.  Let’s move on.


Also also, this is my new ride.  GoBike is a great place to learn how to fix a bike that you acquired in a basement.  To be clear, I bought my bike as a fixer upper in the basement of a bike shop; K. got his from a friend’s basement for I think $15.  So: get bikes in basements, fix them at a cool place that can hook you up with pink handle grips that have the potential for streamer insertion.  We went to some friends’ wedding this summer and got to see their epic garage full of bikes including an adult Big Wheel (!!!) and now are filled with envy.  I will not rest until I have trouble storing all of my ridiculous bicycles.  K. is dreading having this problem but to be fair he is the one who covets an adult Big Wheel the most in our household.  What is the use of fixing up a huge house if not to immediately cram it full of potentially useful but bulky hoarded objects?  I kid… mostly.  Anyway, this bike now has a back fender and mountain rack on it, transforming it into the quintessential winter beater.

Suddenly, this post has drawn to a close.  What did we learn today?  That living in a former powder room has convinced me that I could never rock a Tiny House; it’s a good thing we now own an Overwhelmingly Large Project House.  Remind me I said that when the going gets rough.

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Things to do with nettles

My friend C. does a medicinal herb gathering once a month through the Barn Raisers and this month among other things we talked about stinging nettles. Like lots of herbs that grow wild all over the place, it has a lot of uses. She has a ton in her garden and after learning all about how much of a panacea it is I got to go home with a big prickly pile of it in a bag.

Picture 10

Here you can see my cutting-edge way of dealing with the stinging problem: oversized flannel shirts are great for many things including the prevention of stings. What I’m doing here is preparing the nettles to be used in a stew. I’d already made a bunch of nettle-mint tea, which C. had made at her house as well – except hers featured local honey and goat milk. Let’s just say it was amazing.

Picture 11

Ooh look at the glass jars full of homemade rooting solution (steeped willow) and cuttings of fruit plants!  Someday our orchard will take over the world and I will take baths in homemade jam.  Maybe.

Anyway, the stew! When you cook nettles, the little stinging hairs lie flat and cease to be problematic. I sauteed them with garlic, asafoetida, coriander, and mochi curry powder – then dumped in water, Dr. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, some barley and most of one can of cheap beer. Finishing touch was a whole ton of potatoes that had grown soft and sprouted a ton of roots, plus some salt and pepper.

Picture 8

The finished product was savory and delicious. The potatoes were super soft and the nettles were nice. I’m really happy that I’ve reached a point where I can successfully improvise recipes. Call it a hippie soup, but it was greatly enjoyed by all present – including our new roommate R. who is new to the whole “Cooking with Moosewood” scene. Potato stew is a safe bet, I guess, no matter how weird the ingredients really are. Anyway, here we all are at a recent masquerade party:

Picture 14

This is how we always pose for pictures, pretty much.

And one last use for nettles: they’re traditionally used to treat joint pain and problems. Old timey folks keep a potted nettle next to the potted aloe plant in their kitchen, apparently: the aloe for burns and the nettle for arthritis and so on. I had to try this one out on my stupid wrist issue, which is mostly not a problem but acts up from time to time.

Picture 12

It blistered and stung, but did seem to help. You can blame the placebo effect if you want, I’m just happy it worked. And when I get that potted plant for my own kitchen, I’ll make sure to put a warning sign on it. Nettles can be therapeutic, but surprise stings are brutal!

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Winter herb strategy

My summer herb strategy is to have the herb garden downstairs so every time I need any I get a 25 stair times two stairclimbing routine.  My winter herb strategy is to prune the garden back and let it overwinter, bring some of the plants inside in tiny little pots and also to have dried a bunch of herbs in our furnace closet.

herbs drying in our furnace closet

Our furnace closet is also home to the Internet, spare macrame and plastic cups, and occasionally a heinous carboy full of mystery homebrew that gets neglected and basically enters a stage of teenage rebellion.  It’s a great place to dry herbs because it’s dark and hot and the air is quite dry.  Also every time you opened the door, an herby breeze would smack you upside the head.  Notice how much color the herbs have – that means their flavor/aroma is still potent.  An attic is another good place to dry herbs, but we don’t have one of those.

you want to grab the broom?

Your favorite local alt weekly makes a great herb funnel.  After a few months’ drying the leaves fall right off the stems (although the stems also crumble and you have to pick them out of the leaf pile, or you can leave some in if you’re kind of lazy.  I’m raising my hand right now.)  Who’s feeling twitchy about the little plant pieces all over the floor?

caught in a jar!

Why would you ever not rabidly hoard glass jars?  I still have no idea.

If I were really smart I would have done this with a bunch of basil but unfortunately this year the first frost came before I got serious about this project and the plants were reduced to pathetic black mush on a stem.  Basil is so weak.  And my attempts at growing it indoors have been such a failure, as if I needed another source of ~minor angst~ in my life.  (Chief culprits: dishes’ continual failure to wash themselves, my continual failure to walk through doors instead of directly into the doorframe, drivers on Delaware Ave who seem to have forgotten how to operate a motor vehicle, the fact that the Black Eyed Peas have not yet fallen into deserved obscurity)

Anyway, now I can put thyme on everything with impunity!  And weather the inevitable thyme-related puns.

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Odd jobs mostly

K. and I did a deep clean of the kitchen last night (minus the stove top, which is covered in baked-on milk that boiled over while I was making Indian ice cream for a birthday party – the recipe involved boiling 2 quarts of whole milk down to 1 and you know what happens when you walk away from the stove in the middle of something like that, and I’m going to clean that up later when I’m not at the end of a long day or the oven isn’t on full blast, which actually means it’s been on there for weeks but WHATEVER) and I’m in kind of a rare work lull side hustle-wise, so I had a chance to square away a few food-related projects and admire the oddly dust-free surfaces and sunshiney day.

You know what’s awesome? Collaboration.  For instance, in the co-op house where we’ll be baking this spring lives a homebrew beer enthusiast, one R.  Since baking and brewing often cross paths in the multipurpose ground floor kitchen/basement setup they’ve got (a.k.a the heart of the house) we’ve been passing yeast-related knowledge back and forth.  Today I tested out a bread raised by a starter I made using the ongoing yeast culture that R. uses in all his homebrew batches.  And maybe down the road we’ll try beer brewed with the yeast out of my sourdough mother.


Which, by the way, I have converted to rye.  I like the way it ferments quickly in our cold kitchen and the intense sour flavors it provides.  And it’s super easy to switch back to wheat, or to a different hydration, if I need to.  Did I mention that I’m pretty far down the road to natural yeast snobbishness?  That making bread with instant yeast is starting to feel like cheating?  But I’m nowhere near knowledgeable or experienced enough in bread matters (one year of serious baking!) to be a real militant purist, so no worries.


Anyway, the brewing yeast culture is a perfectly adequate leavener!  Next stop should be to sub in some beer for water in the recipe because this will be baked mostly for beer lovers and nerds, I think.

Okay, hippie overshare time.  Let’s talk about… kombucha.  I’d tried to get mine going after a hiatus and had it grow mold twice.  So I poured off most of the liquid, added cider vinegar, and when I got a chance (today) poured the mother into a bowl and sanitized the glass bottle it sits in with boiling water and dish soap.


Hopefully this time it will *not* mold and I will reap a batch of delicious jasmine kombucha, great for treating SAD, as if that’s needed given the creepy weather that thinks it’s May around here or something.  Maybe I will also remember to check it before it turns into vinegar and I become the only person who will touch it.


One project that did not go according to plan: fixing the busted power cable to my 2004 Powerbook which has been refusing to recharge itself.  But you know, nothing counts as a waste of time when you have a chance to hone your soldering and hot glue gun skills!


I’m resigning myself to the fact that something may be wrong with the little laptop that can’t be fixed on the basement workbench.  It’s so rugged though – I should know, it took enough dives off the coffee table during my school years – and I hate not to get it fixed.


And this is what we’re storing in the bottom of the kitchen armoire.  I did have some suggestions to put linens in there – I wish I had that many tea towels.  Sometime I will have to do a tea towel roundup post because they are the best, most useful, and most beautiful category of thing to keep around the kitchen.

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Guys, I have a real job now.  Even if it’s part time, that means less time for the beloved blog and more time chasing paper.  So today’s post is taking the form of the dreaded “roundup” after which it’s off to Lockport to watch the Super Bowl.

1. Sports

If you know me you know that I’m not really into “the sports” (we had to look up who’s playing in this year’s Super Bowl) but what with that football thing happening today and scoring free tickets to a Bandits game last night, this is probably the most sportful weekend in my recent memory.  The Bandits are our professional men’s lacrosse team, by the way.


I mean, I went to a Bisons game two summers ago and that was good too – they’re our minor league baseball outfit. Maybe sometime I’ll see the Sabres, and MAYBE the Bills. You know the best thing about seeing the Bandits? You can ride the train from Allen St. and it’s free. The other best thing is that everyone gives each other two-handed high fives every time the Bandits score. The whole time there is music blasting, lights flashing, random features on the video screen and basically ample opportunity for sensory overstimulation. The worst thing is that beers are $8.50, but at least tickets are cheap.  And the team is sponsored by something called “Extreme Milk.”

I still haven’t converted to sports fandom in general, and seeing a crowd of 14,000 people going nuts when two lax dudes are beating each other up in an arena is a little weird, but still: the Bandits, my #1 recommended local sport.

2. Building fixing


The back entrance to the building is one of the last surviving bits of unadulterated shoddy workmanship inflicted on the property by its previous owners. So logically K. is attacking it. First, the plastic siding on the front was falling all over the place, so now it’s gone. Second, we had a random interior door stuck on there for a while but now it’s getting a wide exterior door so we can get furniture in and out. Since the array of garden tools and bric a brac cluttering up the space has been banished to the shed, it will be a useful place to keep boots in and move in and out of without dodging a rake that’s trying to put your eye out.


On the outside, there was a crappy electrical outlet that was 1. undependable and 2. inconveniently located. Luckily K. loves rewiring stuff and now the outlet functions and is placed in a much more suitable orientation. AND HE PAINTED EVERYTHING TO MATCH THE EXISTING SIDING. Overachiever. Now our crazy backyard projects will continue to successfully involve power tools and lights.  (You’ll likely surmise that putting siding on the shed will be the next of these projects.)

3. Bread

Fancy & Delicious, my bakery, is kicking itself into gear and preparing for a springtime bread share: three months, $50, 12 loaves of fresh bread baked with love and expertise by yours truly (and friends/bizpartners.) Details on that.

80% rye bread

I baked a huge batch of sourdough 80% rye from Jeffrey Hamelman’s foolproof recipe in Bread for last week’s Sunday Soup and Buffalo Barnraisers First Birthday Party. Sunday Soup is a microfundraising model which involves people presenting their community-based projects, a vote, and the winner receiving the total entrance fee from the night.  This Soup’s winner was an urban forest garden project helmed by our buddy C.

The bread was awesome and took three days of carefully monitored souring processes, which entailed bootleg temperature control measures involving a styrofoam cooler and 5-gallon food safe bucket. Since it didn’t have caraway it was more of a sweet, hearty, versatile bread with a complex sour character.

it's actually that color

Here it is paired with some strawberry freezer jam from last summer’s BBR jam workshop, and it’s actually that color. It’s super high in sugar and great mixed in with plain yogurt also.  Can’t wait to make a ton of jam once there’s fruit around again.

5. VHS

Want a sustainable media consumption habit? Find a VCR on the side of the road and start buying secondhand VHS.  Salvation Army has the classics, Antique Man in Allentown has the good stuff.

the old VHS storage style

That was our old VHS storage system: all over the place. There was a shelf in the hallway dedicated to videos but it was overflowing and also not anywhere near the VCR/tv. After a little reorganization of the living room post-Christmas tree removal, we had space for a small set of shelves which would be dedicated to video and records.

mah tapes

ET VOILA. On top of the shelves is a wedding present from K’s mom: a hand woven bread basket. She told me it’s one of the trickiest baskets she’s ever made. I’m almost afraid to put any bread in it.

Anyway, marvel at our sweet collection! The only problem is that our tv, also from the curb, has no remote so if the tracking needs adjusting there is just no hope. #trashsourcedproblems

6. Indoor plantery

The kitchen herb garden is growing in leaps and bounds. It’s actually a little too hyper and leggy, probably because the plants have so much nutriment and water right now – herbs like to be a little thirsty and underfed.


The borage in the living room window macrame centerpiece is thriving, mostly due to the addition of worm castings from K’s vermiculture bin in the basement and assiduous watering. It’s flowering, which speaks to the freaky weather we’re having. There’s been no real winter! My car is sinking into the ground because the ground never froze! I’ve been wearing a secondhand fleece all winter and haven’t taken out the puffer jacket once! It ain’t right.

7. Hairdo


I dyed the last inch or so of my hair red, which has faded into pink. Um, there’s really not as much to say about that as I thought there might be? ANYWAY, IT’S STILL THERE.

8. The end

Winter involves a lot of hibernating usually, and even if this one is oddly balmy, I still feel like the stuff I’ve been doing is too minor to post about.  Clearly this was once not the case, since I used to post almost every day about… whatever.  I think I need to start assuming again that people will find the stuff I do interesting, and keep documenting stuff here because it’s a useful space.  Anyway, the roundup putters to a stop, and now it’s time to start psychologically preparing myself for Madonna’s halftime show.

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bread in the spring

So I’m effectively half of the decision-making core of Fancy & Delicious Bakery – we have a history as a community supported, volunteer-based collective, so it’s never that simple with us, but T. and I are the head ladies at the moment and plan to be for the future.

My first exposure to f&d was long before I’d make friends with the people involved.  I stopped by a Really Really Free Market in Bidwell Park with a few friends and f&d had a table giving out samples and hyping their bread share.  The bread was good, I lived nowhere near the East Side, and I filed them away for another time.

Imagine months later when I attend a bread workshop on the Barn Raisers calendar and it’s the same people.  Imagine such a connection that we go out to Nietzsche’s afterwards together.  Imagine being asked to be part of the collective – like, a baking part – and baking bread all summer.  Imagine the departure of both founders and trying to figure out what to do next, honing bread chops all the while.

T. and I are doing a bread share this spring from March to May with the help of some friends.  We are working towards eventually having our own bakery space and pursue in earnest the perfect naturally leavened loaf of affordable bread.

Running your own thing is tough.  It’s going to take time and work to get this thing to a point where it would pay us and others a living wage.  Seeing friends like Good Nature Brewing (congrats guys!) and Rusted Grain start to take off has been very encouraging, just as seeing all of their hard work and logistical gymnastics has been very good as a reality check.

Speaking of Good Nature, I designed their logo.  I just designed a new one for f&d also, based on this gorgeous loaf of olive oil and rosemary bread we made last June:

Yeah.  It’s going to be good to be baking again.

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I made this

So at the Barn Raisers‘ Brew Night every month, people tend to bring all kinds of delicious homemade drinkables. Wine, beer, cider, ginger beer, kombucha, mead – it’s a chance to share, show off, and get feedback.

This month I brought THIS:

That luscious unearthly color!  That oddly viscous texture!  A flavor oddly reminiscent of cough medicine?  It could only be… homemade Swedish Fish-flavored vodka.

Before the holidays, K. and I were browsing a liquor store for party supplies and gifts.  This expedition kind of turned into a silent 15-minute gawk at all the booze on offer, which suddenly seemed much more vast and exciting than we’d ever cared to notice (maybe it was the combination of an otherwise dull grey day and some flashy label design?) and my attention was eventually drawn to a lineup of flavored vodka including whipped cream, cake, and “gummy,” which featured a picture of a red gummy fish on the front.

Then Christmas came and I received both a bottle of plain vodka and five pounds of Swedish fish.  Total coincidence, from different people.  Anyway, I knew what to do:

Half went towards a new batch of pertsovka, half went into a big Ball jar with a bunch of fishies to marinate for a few weeks.  I shook the jar and then opened it and took a sniff; it smelled like a solvent.  The color bleached out of the fish, although a few red gummy bears that snuck into the mix retained their color AND grew freakishly large.  I believe this is known as “science.”

Yesterday I strained the liquid through a coffee filter (still oddly viscous afterwards) and brought it for people to sample.  There was a divide between folks who loved its candy weirdness and people who couldn’t get over the similarity to cough syrup.  I suspect it will be better mixed with something neutral and sparkly – ginger ale, seltzer, tonic, Champagne?  We’ll see.  Maybe.

You know, just in case you thought I was getting too granola housewifey in here.

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Kitchen improvery

Yesterday K. was home all day so we took advantage of what turned out to officially be the last oddly balmy day of January before the snow blew in. We went out to the garden and got some last minute things done: harvesting, pruning, and salvaging some herbs for the winter. All this year’s leeks got pulled (mention of overwintered leeks as root vegetable in Lucky Peach issue 2 notwithstanding) and I’m looking forward to lots of potato leek soup with garlicky dumplings on top – this was a big winner of a dinner last winter. I got a refresher course in pruning as we tackled the peach trees, apple tree, redcurrant and gooseberry bushes, azaleas, and boxwoods. And I got to the herbs in the nick of time.

indoor herbs

Here you see some pathetic indoor basil and a transplanted bunch of outdoor oregano. Last year, a ton of herbs overwintered outside: sage, oregano, and thyme thrived. Basil kicked the bucket early, as usual. Weak! Hopefully the stuff we brought in realizes how good it’s got it and goes bonkers producing leaves I can cook with. Herbs are weird the more you think about them. I’ve probably talked about this before, but it still blows my mind how people find, cultivate, and prize smelly specific-tasting plants.

This corner of the counter has traditionally been a twilight zone of overflow drying dishes, random thermoses, kombucha culturing, and a plant or two. I made the executive decision to turn it over to the plants:

more indoor herbs

In the largest pot in back are rosemary, sage, and thyme. To the right of that is some lavender that had been totally hidden under our huge parsley bush. To the left of the lavender is chocolate mint. And in the front are two pointless houseplants: some ridiculously hardy succulent type thing that I haven’t managed to kill and desperately needed repotting and thinning which I’d been putting off until yesterday, and that pineapple. Hopefully someday the pineapple plant will produce a pineapple fruit and I will no longer consider it useless.

Yesterday was 40s and drizzling. Here’s today:


Eurgh! As you might notice, the shed still needs to be sided. Otherwise, it’s pretty much complete and we’ve begun storing things in it: bikes, garden stuff, skis, tools, and sleds. From here on out it’s goodnight garden, see you in the spring.

Meanwhile, since when K. is home there’s a lot of organizational energy on the loose, we moved some stuff around. My studio is no longer right here:

no longer like this!

Instead, we moved it into the catchall spare bedroom/storage/hobby stash room and put in some sweet new storage. This is why living above a furniture store comes in very handy:

New kitchen... armoire

I made N. help me wrangle that thing up the stairs this morning and boy was that a spectacle. Somehow he got his foot wedged behind it and a stair in an impossible way and the doors kept banging open. Luckily I held the whole enterprise together with my superhuman strength and resolve and here it sits in the kitchen, being useful.

What is it full of? Cookbooks!


Yeah! Now the myriad useful spaces in the kitchen that were clogged with books can be used to store stuff like ice cream makers and grain mills. And big glass jars full of lentils.

The books are vaguely organized by subject, which is my M.O. Can you spot the bread/baking section? The stash of plastic-bound community cookbooks? And the ubiquitous marker of my particular social tribe, the Moosewood cookbook? (Buddy L. who hails from Ithaca says Moosewood the restaurant is overrated these days. I’ve never been, but paging through that cookbook the summer after graduating was my primary form of entertainment. We didn’t have TV or internet in that house, we had to make our own fun.)

AND the kitchen armoire has drawers underneath. What would you put in the drawers of your kitchen armoire? Someone tell me!

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Seasonally appropriate: some words on a tree and toasty beverage

So it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  There are snow flurries, everyone has a bright red nose like Rudolph and we’ve hauled the faux tree out of the storage loft and planned a soiree for later this week.  Of course, the soiree is intended to encompass as many midwinter traditions as possible.  I made a Sol Invictus candle and encouraged guests to bring Sandra Lee’s infamous Kwanzaa cake!

kitschmas tree!

Even if our tree is currently a mishmash of the random stuff our families have put aside for us, I still have definite opinions about how to decorate a tree.  Actually our current setup fits my personal aesthetic pretty well since Christmas decorating is all about kitsch and cheesiness and Ye Olden Tymes and awkwardly sincere cheer.  And since this is my blog, I am going to tell you how to live your life.  The rules to Christmas trees are as follows:

1. The more lights, the better.  A mix of white and colorful lights is nice.  White lights have to be included for the tree to look “classy.”  If you’re going really classy, nix the colorful lights.  You will note that our tree is less classy and more Kitschmas.  When you have put literally all of the lights you own on the tree, stand back and squint.  Or have someone across the room squint and direct you to the light-free parts of the tree so you can reposition lights so they’re more or less evenly distributed.  This was a capital-P Process with our family tree, growing up.  I used icicle lights on this tree, which is cheating.

2. Base layer.  This includes things like tinsel, garland, and plain glass globe ornaments.  Having an evenly distributed base is key to an even-looking tree, if you’re into that.  My mom’s trick is to hang a metric ton of gold globes all over the tree before putting the rest of the ornaments on – they reflect light all over the place and tie the whole thing together.  Our base layer is glass bead garland, fake icicles, and some red birds perched on branches.

3. Every ornament you own must go on the tree.  If there are some you don’t love, put them around the sides… or the back.  Or make a classy tree and a “kids tree” if you want something nice-looking where guests will see it and the family crap on a hidden shrub.  Either way, cramming as much stuff as possible onto the tree will make it a lot better looking.  As the years roll on and people keep gifting you with ornaments, you should be able to pack a tree no problem.  And even if a particular ornament is aesthetically horrifying to you, it probably still holds sentimental value.  I mean, you obviously didn’t buy it for yourself…?

4. Strategery.  Put light-reflecting ornaments behind and below lights, so they can shine out from the depths of the tree.  Put transparent glass ornaments right in front of lights so they can twinkle.  Put delicate stars and angels towards the top, put huge felt reindeer and pinecone wreaths towards the bottom on the bigger branches.  Don’t have clumps of like ornaments – try to space out the clothespin nutcrackers.  Unless you’re me as a child and have to make all the horse-themed ornaments form an orderly parade around the midsection of the tree.


While I was assembling the Kitschmas tree, N. was busy decking the windows with plastic shrink film.  We have several windows that are severely old and leaky, so during the cold months we winterize them.  I got to zap the film with a blowdryer – actually a blowdryer we bought specifically for this purpose two winters ago.  Used, $1.  Worth all 100 pennies.

cooking the books

Meanwhile, K. was catching up on bookkeeping – he does the books for the household and the furniture business.  I am very fortunate to be able to exploit his bookkeeping, ability to do mental math, and capacity for rational thought.  He most likely considers himself fortunate to be constantly in the presence of a person who boasts such talents as relentless whimsical thinking, outrageously dumb puns, and banging into doorframes while walking through them.  And who has notions about how to deck a Christmas tree and make seasonally appropriate toasty beverages.

seasonally appropriate beverage

Even though I am an old curmudgeon in the body of a 26 year old, I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to stuff like holiday tradition and so besides enforcing holiday music on all present last evening (Bob Dylan > Elvis Presley > Dolly Parton > Frank Sinatra, in terms of Christmas albums anyway) I put together a pitcher of hot mulled punch and we toasted the season and each hung an ornament on the tree.  And then the rest of the tree got decorated, windows got sealed, and sales tax got calculated.  Another evening at the ranch.

Toasty Punch

Tastes like delicious holiday cheer.  Toasty because it’s hot AND you can toast with it, get it?  GET IT?  Can easily be scaled up.  Quantities and directions are approximate, it’s hard to screw this type of thing up too bad.  See mulled wine recipe for inspiration.

Mix a cup of sugar and two cups of water in small saucepan over medium heat; gently boil with mulling spices (cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise, black pepper, orange peel) for five minutes.  Strain into insulated pitcher.  Add one cup of orange juice, small novelty bottle of Champagne from someone’s 1991 wedding, and a generous splash of rye whiskey.  Serve out of mismatched coffee mugs, probably.

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Shedstory: Part 2

Continued from Part 1, in which we began to build a shed and which was picked up by an automated aggregator site which scraped the entire entry and reposted it as part of some sort of ongoing collection of ill-gotten shed-related content in order to build not a shed but a shadowy shed-related online empire… or something.  Anyway, on their site it was given these tags:



Good luck to anyone building a shed based on my expertise.  The correct category to file my shedstory under is probably “But I boringly digress.”  Well, we’ll see if they jack this one too.

ANYWAY the shed.  When last we saw it, it looked something like this:

shed skellington

As you might be able to tell, it got rained on. Luckily wood won’t really melt in water, but we wanted to get a roof and tar paper on it before any more rain came in. My wrist was acting up so N. stepped in as shed sous chef once the shop closed for the evening. We aren’t strangers to crazy nocturnal backyard projects (I think the last one was putting in some drainage) and we have enough worklights to make work possible at night.


You can tell that this neighborhood isn’t as hard up as it used to be because two years ago if we’d been working back there we would have had a few guys drift by and ask for work. Since we were a crew of relatively clueless flannel-wearing youngsters digging ditches at midnight who didn’t have the wherewithal to buy workboots much less hire another human being, this clearly indicated that work was scarce. If it wasn’t work, it was smokes. And if it wasn’t smokes, it was the police wanting to make sure that we actually owned the place.


ANYWAY, K. put in a lintel and the guys framed an additional wall section to form a shed roof. A shed roof is where you look at the side of the shed and it’s a parallelogram. You’ll see in pictures later. There’s a technical term for the specific slope we decided on, but K. is at work and I have no clue, so you will have to use your imagination.

Speaking of calculating stuff, at one point I had to go haul out my personal favorite tool:

my crutch

Yes, it’s our old friend the TI-83 Plus. I have fond memories of playing the Mailman game someone coded where you go around delivering mail and wreaking havoc – it was like a primitive Grand Theft Auto for calculators. Also being hobbled during the “learning about matrices” part of math class because we were supposed to have TI-89s but mine got stolen so I used the 83 which was fine for everything except something to do with matrices, BUT I have literally never had to use matrices to figure out anything in my life, just as I knew that I would never need to use the skills I was learning in most of my high school math career (an exercise in personal failure, for the most part.) The exception is geometry and trig, which come up from time to time and which make more sense to me because they have to do with actual stuff. Plus people in building have come up with cool shortcuts like the 3-4-5 thing, so other than being able to work with fractions with 16 on the bottom, you can have discalcula like me and still do stuff. Sorry math people, I respect you but I am incapable of ever being one of you, I think. So it is fortunate that my TI-83 still works so it can bail me out when math is needed.

bizarre threats

It was freezing so we called back to the days when we worked later here before we had a functional kitchen and ordered pizza – extra cheese, extra pepperoni. On the way to pick it up, K. and I found this bizarre cardboard threat in front of a building. Obviously I brought it back with us. The bar a few doors down always have a few folks hanging out in the front, and they get really excited when you walk by carrying a pizza.  I had to tell them that no, they could not have a slice because I would personally be eating the entire pie.


On request I started a fire in our grill, Christopher, to kill some scrap wood and serve as a hand warmer. Tip: paper towel is a great fire starting material. Glossy paper is a crappy fire starting material and often it’s treated with fire retardant which makes a noxious smoke and your eyes burn. So don’t use the Bingo Bugle.  Another tip: sometimes people will assume you won’t be able to start a fire.  The best thing to do in this case is start the fire and then they will tell you that you defied their expectations, and you will be all “?”  Last tip: Christopher is a great name for a grill.

We burned the greasy pizza box and it burned so hot, flames were shooting out the grill chimney. It was great.

shed roof

This is a shed roof! It slopes backward so the snow falls away from the door of the shed. Also note that part of the shed has been covered with OSB, or “oriented strand board,” which is that chipboard stuff nailed to it. This ties everything together and is going to be covered in very metal siding, in both senses of the word.


Here are the dudes nailing plywood to the roof. They did this and then covered it in tar paper, just in time for rain to start falling again. Our timing is excellent. We were helping Friend C. pull grody shingles off her house the other week and seconds after we finished the rain started to fall. Lessons learned: always work really hard because it will rain soon, and the more you use a hammer to do stuff (whether banging in nails or pulling grody shingles off a house) the better you get at using a hammer to do stuff.


Part 2 ends with the shed fully OSB’d, tar paper on the roof and most of the sides, and windows installed. Soon to come in Part 3: the rest of the tar paper, a 40 inch door built from scratch, and of course the siding. Stay tuned if you care about our shed or my personal issues with mathematics!

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