a delicious landscape

Spent the better part of today polishing up a presentation about the outdoor garden at The Plant that I’ll be giving, along with Ryan Wilson, the head of our board and a landscape architect who does stormwater management projects and education for the Center for Neighborhood Technology. We’re speaking at the MidAm Horticultural Tradeshow at Navy Pier tomorrow morning… I’m almost done, and more than a little nervous.  I generally loathe public speaking, which is why I said yes when Ryan asked if we’d present with him.  I figure I need to get over it, and the only way to do that is to do it.  The up, or downside, is that it’s really early in the morning- we’re speaking at 8:30 am.  Heck, I’m usually at the “one and a half cups of coffee, feeding the chickens, try not to go back to bed” part of the day at 8:30, not halfway across town on a podium.  I know, I know.  I live a charmed life.  I’m not complaining, but I am nervous!  Early to bed tonight for sure.

In between rearranging slides and adding comments today, I made some breakfast tacos with our eggs, potato and onion, and salsa I canned this summer, topped with super-sale avocado and our neighbor’s “It’ll Knock Yer Panties Off” Bhut Jalokia homegrown hot sauce.  That’ll wake you up.  Then I made a savory cheesy egg strata with fresh basil from The Plant (god, what luxury to inhale on a brisk mid-January day!), some now-stale french bread our carpenter buddy brought over on Sunday, the last of the counter-ripened cherry tomatoes from the fall garden, and a goodly handful of rehydrated dried summer tomatoes.  Then buzzed up the last of the bag of basil with a clove of spicy local garlic, olive oil, romano cheese, and toasted sunflower seeds.  Nom. Nom. Nom.  I thought about just eating it with a spoon instead of putting it in the fridge but mostly restrained myself.  I’ve been typing away ever since, and have almost wrapped up the presentation in time to go to the Neighborspace planning meeting for a community gardener event in late February, both of which are luckily right in our neighborhood at the Chicago Center for Green Technology.  Check it out if you haven’t been there… lots of inspiration and green building ideas to be found!


caulked and loaded

Well, this week has been a doozy on the project front.  Pretty much every day is wake up, coffee, feed the critters, go to work, come home, don respirator and cruddy work clothes, and back to the salt mines.  I mean the second floor… we’ve been making major headway but man it will be nice to get our life back (albeit with a newly beautiful space to live it in)!  Last night we took the night off from “homework” to hang out at the studio and do some low-key tidying up… it was weird to think that we used to do that every night, where the biggest project might be laundry, or waiting to see who might stop by for a beer!  The fella is now an expert foam measurer-and-cutter, and I’m following right behind him with backer rod and caulk, or cutting rolled rubber roof material (bitutac) to block off the eaves after the first layer of foam, forming a ventilation gap behind the first layer of foil-faced foam and up to the roof vents and future ridge-vent.

We’ve so far gone through a lot of foam, over 3 cases of caulk, destroyed one cheapie caulk gun and one inexpensive brad nailer, then exchanged the second sub-par replacement nailer for a take-no-prisoners third version (Hitachi Koki… never thought I’d love an air tool- generally I’m mostly scared of ’em… but this one might make me a convert.  It’s solid! And if it’s possible, kinda cute?), and have one to three layers of foam up on most of the lower parts of the inner roof deck… we’re about halfway on our way to R50.  Between that, and the fact that we got the replacement super-efficient windows in on the east dormer (to replace the single pane ones that had HUGE open gaps all around the framing open to the outside) it’s getting warmer in here!  Now if we can just get enough foam up to shrink the two stacks downstairs piled in front of the wood stove to only one so we can fire that bad-boy up again instead of relying on just the basement furnace, we’ll be back in serious business on the cozy front.  It was 53 in the house when I left for work this morning though, and I’ll take it! 

Great news… we found the fella’s camera (buried under a pile of papers on the table at the studio, whoops!) so there will be pics of the New CapitALE brew session after all… we stopped by last night to pick up the empty carboys, and were sent away with a copy of an album Conrad Freiberg recorded inside the Pod of Absence, his installation piece that landed out back of the gallery after travelling the country with him, that now is dismantled in our back yard in front of the wood shed.  I’m not sure exactly what our plans for it are yet… I’m pulling for octagonal goat milking parlour (no pun intended, ha) though I think the fella was thinking more along the lines of meditation chamber or outdoor garden room.  We’ll see… either way, I think we’ll find a good spot for it… as word from the ANLAP coordinator at the city is that our application is moving along, and their office might have clearance for the deed on Feb. 14th (!) and we could be able to close as early as March.  So… keep your fingers crossed for us and our potential yard-expansion/annexation!

Alright, time to wrap this up, head home, and strap on my old buddy, my oh-so-fetching pink and grey 3M respirator.  It’s a great look, trust me. 

farm dinners?

So, the fella forwarded me an invite to another of our friend’s quarterly farm supper events… and had one of his always-pragmatic suggestions… that “instead of writing dear diaries to the internet world, maybe you can plan and execute farm dinners. hmm. just a thought.”  Those who know me know that this is a frequent day-dream of mine… I just have a hard time a) with the current state of our venue(s), and b) with the idea of charging my friends to come over for dinner. 

As far as issue a)… either I could get creative and use someone else’s space… (Catington Station? Ahem?)… get a hustle on and get our house put together, or capitalize on the current rough slate we’ve got.  Sure, we’ll just throw a tarp over the double stack of insulation and work-related mess, issue our guests parkas at the door, and charge them double for the grittiness of it.  Free dinner for anyone who manages to shoot the rat. 

Yes, the rat, which has set up camp behind the oven, evaded numerous pellet-gun assassination attempts, tip-toed around the jumbo glue-traps placed on either side of the rear of the oven, and stolen the peanut I used to bait the snap-trap on the counter.  Ew.  Crafty little bastard… and I can’t poison it as I’m afraid it will die IN the oven.  The fella of course countered that the rat could be the first course… “organic indoor raised free range rat”.  I’ve eaten ‘coon.  I’ve eaten squirrel.  I realize the hypocrisy, and I’m sure the difference is purely semantic, but I can’t see myself trying or preparing rat unless actually starving.  Our friend, to whom we related our woes at New Years, said he’d dispatched many a rat when he resided at The Grand Manor, and suggested sardines as foolproof bait.  I’ll be trying that this afternoon… as soon as I figure out how to ensure that I don’t catch a Rott instead.  I guess that’s one way to train her once and for all to stop counter-surfing when we’re not looking… but a little too harsh for my liking as it could actually really hurt her instead of just teaching her a hard lesson.  Hm.

As far as the charging for dinner thing… I guess that’s my own hang-up and inner-cheapness that I need to get over.  I love feeding people… most folks love my food… and cooking for people is what I paid a LOT of money to learn how to do well.  Most people spend a lot of money going out to eat… why shouldn’t they support what we’re doing at the same time?  That said, send me an email, or comment if you want to get added to the email list if and when we put one of these together!


It’s a good time, y’all! We’ll be there, with soap, honey, preserves, and maybe even cupcakes? Maple-whiskey AND chocolate-porter if I bust ’em out tonight… and next month (if not sooner)… gringa loca tamales! Pheasant mole? Rabbit and caramelized onion? Mushroom and kale? Pulled pork and pumpkin? I know, crazy. If you mean, crazy good!

The fella has been down the the flu and has required much tending, but hopefully after all the spicy miso soup, emergen-c, and rest will be right as rain by tomorrow… we’re both looking forward to another installment of the market!

news from the homefront

So, we’ve survived the holidaze, and the fella is taking the week off work to get to work on the many millions of projects that stand between us and a warm, safe, and comfortable home. We spent the first half of new year’s eve (once I got home from work) up and down ladders, me tacking up tiny little spacer blocks of wood to the underside of our roof deck with a brad nailer, and he cutting and fitting foil-faced foam board (individually measuring and cutting each one as of course the rafter spacing in our 130 year old house varies from 19″ and 22″ and change on center. The dog was much distressed, as she believes one of her missions in life is to protect me from pneumatically-driven tools (she views these as very dangerous, and I’m often inclined to share her view, especially as they are plastered with “caution! improper operation could result in severe injury or death!” warnings)… when the fella or his dad is working with them, she will ignore them all day until I get home, then get between me and the tools and bark most ferociously… “Lady! There is danger! Dog is on the case!” The fact that I was now wielding the fearsome object was a little much for dog-brain to process, and she did a lot of pacing, at least until we packed it up, ate a cheap frozen pizza (rehab will make you do terrible things), and went to the studio to change clothes and ride two miles north to our friend’s new year’s eve party. We usually lay low on New Year’s, stay off the roads, order massive amounts of chinese food, hang out with other folks at the studio doing the same, and set off some fireworks in the hallways at midnight. This year we decided to mix it up a bit, especially as we’d just ordered chinese for christmas eve and had plans at the studio for new year’s day… and while it was tempting to skip the whole production and just keep plugging away at the project, it was probably a very good idea to go out and pretend like we had a normal life for once.

The insulation project, much delayed, is progressing… after three months of waiting for the appropriate truck to borrow, the fella actually called the insulation warehouse our friend recommended, only to find they’ve been out of the 3″ sheets for almost a year- the factory that used to supply them closed. Soooo… we re-bought the thin foil-faced sheets that we’d returned to Menard’s back in October, found the craigslist guy who we bought our first load of 1.5″ factory-seconds sheets from again, and now have 150 or so sheets of foam in three stacks in our house, two of which are floor to ceiling on the first floor, right next to the woodstove, making it inoperable until we get some more work knocked out and at least one of those stacks upstairs. We came home a few nights ago to an almost frozen kitchen faucet and icebergs in the sink… and the fella went straight downstairs and LIT THE FURNACE.

Those who know the fella know what a big deal this is. The only time he’s ever willingly heated his living quarters with fossil fuel was when he shared a house with a friend and had to, though they kept the thermostat as low as his roommate’s thin-coated dog could stand. Friends of ours, who are hardy, ride-their-bikes-through-the-winter types, tell stories about leaving winter parties at the fella’s first apartment because everyone was sitting around with their coats on and just got too cold. I know, where’d I find this guy? The first winter I spent at our studio I’d go sit in the fermentation closet with the beer, where there was a tiny space heater on a temp. controller to keep it at a happy 65 degrees, and I’d curl up on a shelf with a book and a blanket and a mug of cocoa to thaw my bones. I’ve grown hardier since, wear a lot more wool, and 52 seems positively toasty compared to the 33-49 degree mark our house has been at. It’s warmer by the fire, of course… so that fact that it’s been in the low 50’s in our house this week is something to celebrate (though I still sleep with my hat on). I won’t be celebrating when I open our gas bill (since if you add up all the openings, gaps, and leaks in our second floor envelope you’d probably have a hole big enough to ride a bike through, if not to drive in with the monster truck). I’m trying not to remind the fella too much that we could have been done with this part at least a month or two ago if we’d just proceeded with the original plan (exactly what we’re now doing) and saved ourselves a month or two of misery. But since he’s currently in bed feeling sick because he cut foam for two days while his respirator hung on the wall by the back stairs, I’m trying not to do too much “if only-ing”, because he already knows. Our biggest challenge now will be getting it warm enough up there for the caulk to cure… hopefully once the whole roof has the first layer of insulation it will be warmer, and we’re supposed to get a 50 degree day next week… so if we time it right, and fire up the woodstove with the furnace going, we should be golden?

Speaking of golden, we thought we had found our first floor bathroom tile, at a steep discount (we have the floor tile for the second floor- white ceramic hexagonal mosaic acquired on craigslist, surplus from the installer who did John Cusack’s bathroom remodel. Yes, we have John Cusack’s leftover tile for our master bath. Booya, ladies!) but I don’t think it’s going to work out as the fella has this thing about practicality. I did some extensive googling while looking for ways to win the not-quite-an-argument with him over marble mosaic tile vs. quarry tile for our bathroom. Yes, quarry tile, which until now I had been ok with (grey not red)… so practical! Affordable! And easy to clean! And the fellow, he is a little rough on surfaces and lax with cleaning, especially the kind of cleaning that needs kid gloves and gentle chemicals and probably a toothbrush… he’s more of a, “lets get stainless laboratory cabinets for the kitchen with acid-resistant counters, put a urinal and a floor drain in the bathroom and we can just hose everything down with bleach or caustic when it needs it” practical kinda guy. So he’s probably right, and he would murder the marble… but he saw the marble first, and liked it, and then showed it to me and it was on sale and we put a hold on it… and I pictured our amazing future bathroom and imagined showering in it and how impressive and gorgeous and serene it would be, and suddenly NOTHING ELSE WOULD DO and the quarry tile would look exactly like a McDonalds, which is how I was feeling when he called from the material store, ready to pick up our pallet of golden-hued spa luxury but for his cold feet, and his friend’s impromptu iphone research, and we weren’t getting the tile after all.

Sigh. Back to the drawing board, and hanging insulation, and trying not to step through the hole(s) in the floor on the way to the coffeepot in the morning… and reminding myself that we WILL be done someday and we’ll appreciate it so much more for having been through this. Last night we were sitting and chatting with a friend at the studio, and he commented how rich he felt, something to the effect of, “we own a house down the street, we get to hang out here, drinking beer from a tap, and I have a gorgeous girlfriend… We have a saltwater aquarium we never even look at and a great dog all of this stuff and we’re warm and everything is so great, and next year maybe we’ll have a house we can live in and everything will be different but still good…”. I admire the power of his positive thinking, though sometimes I have a hard time being as optimistic while we’re slogging through the details. But someday, someday, someday soon… we’ll get there, or closer.

Apologies for the lack of photos lately, and for the promised-but-never-posted pictures of the artful brew day. My camera remains broken, and the fella just lost his or it was stolen from his office… with all the pictures on it. Urgh. I know. Hopefully it will turn up, but I fear the worst… a new camera is on the list, right after a new-old laptop. I’ve been limping along with an old desktop for awhile, but it’s technically the fellas so I haven’t put all my files on it, and am ordering a refurbished older-but-newer-than-the-x31-that-died thinkpad this weekend, installing Ubuntu, and pretending this laptoplessness never happened. Can’t wait.



True, true.

My boss and some of his friends have pennyfarthings and ride them in parades and critical mass rides… but even I’m not that brave. “Safety bike” or not, I’ll keep the teeth I have left. But I’m not hatin’… looks like this guys having fun!

Rubber-side down, kids. It’s getting slick out there… but keep on riding! See you on the streets…

back, zombie weeds!

Ok, rat patrol. I know some of you made that grill-bike, with the grill in the front so the smoke and cinders blew back into the rider’s face when they were grillin’ and ridin’… and I know that this has already been done now, and thus probably passe, but someone make us one of these:

Pretty please?

Check out the updated FarmHack site for more gorgeous, homemade, open-source creations and solutions, and here for more about this bike’s creator and the farmhack project!

I think this would be a great salt-alternative for our front sidewalk. Plus it will convince the neighbors once and for all that we are definitely insane… and by insane, I mean, truly bad ass and not to be trifled with. We can do the whole block and be everyone’s best friend! Oh yeah. And it works on weeds too, so they can stop spraying Roundup in the vacant lot across the street where the kids play. We’ll just burn the mother down instead! Er. Or not. I’m pulling for a pair or trio of babydoll sheep, and a couple goats, but that’s just me. You know, being all sensible.