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I'd have said, "Global Warming"... but whatever.  They're cute.

I’d have said, “Global Warming”… but whatever. They’re cute.


In honor of the sprinkle of snow we might get today, this looks like a blast… although we’d need a LOT of obedience work before I’d let Ms. Isabella take the lead:
Rotten Mushers
More on this dog team:
Steinplatz Rottweilers

But more importantly, my clever friends, another engineering challenge: I need you to fabricate something like this, but that I can afford. I’ll pay you in pie, tamales, salsa, salad, soap and candy… and of course reimburse you for materials.


Bike Tow Leash

Would have to be wicked strong- Bella is 80# but if she sees a rabbit (or cat, squirrel, other dog, bus, streetsweeper, “suspicious character”… etc…) she has the tow force and torque of a mack truck. A hungry mack truck, with bloodlust and foam-flecked face. Seems like something like this would be a good way to get her more exercise though which she really needs- she can walk for hours and not be tired (I don’t have hours, haha)… and really really wants to move faster than I can keep up with on foot. So either I take up jogging (not likely), quit my job and hike with her all day (nice in theory, but not an option) or figure out how to use mechanical advantage to my advantage. Her former owner’s son used to harness her up and “skate-jor” on his longboard, but admitted that he had to bail out more than a few times when she went running for something other than the idea of running forwards. She does seem to love running alongside our bikes, but not as much as she likes the idea of “herding” them by cutting in front of the wheel. Not fun for us, or safe for either of us!

Most importantly, this way she could join us on long rides- she can pull me and our gear uphill, then hop in the dog trailer when she gets tired or for the downhill slolom. Genius! The fella and I, pre-dog-ownership, looked forward to at least one bike camping trip each summer… this could help make that still a reality without an expensive boarding bill or the need for a house sitter (we have nice neighbors who feed our chickens for us in exchange for keeping the eggs while we’re away). I’ve always daydreamed about eventually doing a long extended trip (like to the Ozarks to visit my family, via the Katy trail, or even coast-to-coast!), which this would be probably more practical for… most of our short weekend trips rely on taking the metra to “slingshot” out of town and save some of the more tedious peri-urban slog of getting somewhere less traveled. Without getting her a service dog vest she’s not welcome on the train… and she’d give herself away as a fraud in about 35 seconds (the muzzle she should probably start wearing in public while we work on impulse-control would be the first dead give-away). I suppose we could enlist a friend to give us a lift outside town and either ride home or get a pick-up on the return trip… though the idea of needing a car to use your bike rubs both of us the wrong way…

I do think a lot of her anxiety and issues would smooth out if she got more vigorous physical activity on a more frequent basis (doing backflips and scaring the bejesus out of anyone who walks down our alley notwithstanding), and this looks like one way to get there! Otherwise, someday the fella is going to make her a dog cart from an old canoe cart he picked up at an estate sale, and she’s going to haul downed firewood home from our walks around the neighborhood… that, or the fella once said he was going to get up and start jogging with her before work, which would do them both good (yeah, it would be good for me too, but good intentions and fantasy-land aside, that’s just not going to happen. I’ll have the coffee and kibble ready when they get home, haha). Carting would be good though. She does LOVE having a job to do… and she could earn her keep by hauling home her own kibble like this guy!
kibblecarting1

Here’s a good primer on dog carting, from which I borrowed that last image!

Ok crazy dog lady. Time for work! I’ve got Orange Chai Spice soap to make, and will be whipping up some Brown Sugar Scrubs and maybe other yummy bath and body goodies for Sunday’s Urban Folk Circuit market at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market. Hup to it!

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word.

naysayers

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…

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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:
flamebike

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.

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We’ve finally broken the longest stretch of snowless days here in Chicago in a looong spell (290!!!)… outside is a blustery, gusty, wintery mix of wet streets and fat blowing snow. I gave the chickens extra bedding this morning- straw for the nest boxes (where two hens have been roosting at night… can’t say I blame ’em but I sure wish they wouldn’t… luckily the few eggs we’re getting these days are mostly clean regardless) and a thick layer of coffee chaff from the Bridgeport roastery. Trust me, no chicken coop ever smells nicer than one freshly blanketed with fluffy coffee chaff (it’s a remainder of the roasting process which flakes off the beans while the morning magic is happening). I finally put the submersible aquarium heater into the chicken waterer bucket and plugged it into the thermo-cube that turns it on when it’s below freezing, and traced the snake of extension cord back to the porch and plugged it back in. I filled their feeder, tossed them their bag of bolting arugula from the farm and an extra handful of scratch.

Bella has added Houdini to her looong list of names (not all of them suitable for a family-friendly website)… I usually crate her when I’m doing chicken chores, otherwise she’s unmanageably bad. I was tying up the coop gate and looked up to see her on the other side of the fence, all drooly and foamy-lipped and waggy-nub-tail excited… we clip her wire crate door with two carabiners and the two latches, and have zip-tied all the sides together because she’ll get out otherwise (she’s STRONG)… apparently this time she squeezed between the door and top of the crate and bent it out a bit more than before, leaving her id collar behind in the process (thankfully she’s chipped now, and for just this sort of reason- she’s fond of sticking her head where it doesn’t belong and losing her collar on the way out). Bad dog! Now she gets the carabiners, latches, and two leash ends holding door corners tightly to the crate sides. Oh, anxious beast… I went thrift shopping on my way home from work today and got her a blanket for her solstice present- baby, it’s cold INside! I found a blue gingham shirt, a cute cardigan sweater, and two pairs of pants for myself (since I’m down to one pair without patches and/or holes, and spent two hours mending a pair last week… three dollars for two pairs of perfectly good pants seemed a sound investment) and a beautiful woolen handwoven lap quilt from the Handcrafts College in Berea, Kentucky also for THREE dollars. So what if it needs washing? Woolen blankets are like gold around here, especially ones in multi-hued jewel tones made by hand! What luck! I left early-ish from work to beat the snow, but by the time I’d stopped for butter, bacon, eggnog, and orange juice (just the essentials!) and spent too long at the thrift store, the snow caught up with me. Luckily the pavement was warm and wet, and the city was antsy to send the salt trucks around. The ride wasn’t bad, and I found myself grinning most of the way in spite of the ridiculous bags strapped to my rear bike rack which swayed from side to side and caught the wind gusts, almost blowing me broadside into the curb a few times… blinking away the snow that blew around my glasses, taking it nice and slow (wet rims don’t brake well), and actually enjoyed the ride. Warm mittens, tall boots, and a lot of layers meant I was mostly cozy even though I could have been miserable. All about the preparation, and a little bit about your attitude…

And then, Home! Let the gratefully happy and wiggly dog out, started a load of dog laundry (her crate towels, and the sheet we keep over the armchair she gets to sleep in… man, she is a dirty dirty dog. Which is to say, A dog.). Got a fire going in the woodstove, and thought about drying my socks and changing my boots… but first to work! Did a sinkful of dishes, fried up two slices of bacon, and started caramelizing an onion in the bacon pan… brought up a handful of potatoes from the basement that were getting sprouty and soft, and decided that an Irish fry-up was in order. While that was going, I pulled the pot of vegetable stock I’d made but not strained a few days ago from the fridge and poured it from the pot into a colander over a big bowl, and pulled the other pot of rabbit stock, also needing straining, but jiggly and semi-solid with meaty goodness. Our friend makes amazing dog jerky treats with 100% rabbit and brings us an extra bag of bones once in awhile- Bella gets a bunch of them but I always make a pot of dynamite stock for us as well! If you cook the bones long enough, they’re soft enough to crush between your fingers, so I feed those back to her too… I figure if they’re crumbly, she can handle them… they’re not going to splinter and hurt her if I can smush them with a fingertip.

And now, the good part! I finally thawed my feet by the fire, put on some dry boots and wiggled my toes to get the blood back into them (the tall wellies keep you dry from OUTSIDE puddles but the self-generated ones are another story… haha). The bacon didn’t last long enough to make it into the dish, but I tucked into a hot bowlful of lightly curried fried potatoes and caramelized onion redolent with bacony-goodness, washed it down with a whiskey-spiked vanilla eggnog with a dash of cinnamon on top, and got to catch up on some email, do some reading and writing… bliss! Hey, what can I say. I’m a simple girl.

I’m looking forward to the sunrise- Mayan calendar or not, it’s the birth of a new season and while winter is finally here, the sun is on the way back, and it’s longer light from here on out. The darkest days are on their way, out. Happy beginning of the world, again… and happy solstice to you all!

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Two days in the life last week, by the numbers:

48 hours.

13 sleeping.

10.5 at work. More time from home reading, writing, and answering emails.

4 hours on my bike (28 miles).

7 or more hours shoveling wood chip mulch after work (a truckload or two at least? The pile has sort of mushed together so I’m not sure how many loads there are…).

2 dog walks.

2 pots of coffee.

9 eggs from the hens.

in the kitchen: raspberry custard pies, blanched tomatoes for salsa, dehydrated 10 trays of eggplant and other veggies, sauteed and froze two gallon bags of eggplant, sliced cukes for pickles, and of course dishes, cleaning…

Whew! Now back to the kitchen- need to make those tomatoes into salsa and can it up, check the stock that’s in the crock pot, fill the dehydrator with more onions or potatoes, check the bees, take the salsa scraps out to the chickens, do a load of laundry, feed the worm bins, make something for dinner and the fellow’s lunch tomorrow, maybe surprise him by stapling up some insulation in the ceiling before he gets home, and if there’s any daylight left, work on stripping the front door trim for a bit.

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Look Sharp

Thursday evening, and as the last day’s light was waning I was towing a red kiddie trailer home (aka, The Crap Wagon as it hauls recycling, groceries, farm stuff, and soaps and sundries to market with admirable aplomb for its $20 Maxwell St. lineage). I was huffing into a headwind, heavily loaded for the seven-mile haul (no hills) with groceries for Memorial Day grilling, a BIG bag of sawdust, and a bale of straw (as Alefellow was prepping the beef chuck and pork chops to feed into the grinder for his specialty burgers, he asked… “why are there bits of straw in the grocery bag?”… hehe).  The sawdust was for the chicken run, and the straw to be doled out to nest-box lining and should see us through the summer and into the fall crop of grain… unless the spent-grain/straw-culture mushroom bag technique I try out is successful, in which case I’ll be buying at least another bale from my chicken feed guy (I alternate buying stuff from Backyard Chicken Run and Belmont Feed and Seed… both family businesses that I want to have around in the future!)… this bale I’d bartered from the mycologist at work for egg-futures, and would be the last she could spare until we can source more… which right now, is like buying winter hay.

As I ride past our studio a couple blocks from our house (where I am headed to ditch the straw and sawdust, then double-back to work on projects and the endless cleaning and organizing) a lumpy middle-aged woman in a tight pink t-shirt steps out into the street towards me.  She’s holding a tall can of something in a paper bag.  “Excuse me!? Excuse me?!”… she calls out.  Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  Look friendly, but aloof… and there’s a storm coming… need to get the bedding into the dry shed before it and I get dumped on… Me: “Mmmhmm?”  She: “You stay around here?”  Me: “Mmhm.” 
She: “You need a machete?”  Me: Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  She: “I don’t got it ON me, but…” Me, over my shoulder: “Actually, I already GOT one.”  She: “Huh?”
Me, again:”I already GOT one…”

I’m sure she though I was being a smart-ass, but she did catch me a little off-guard… and I wasn’t lying… I DO have one.  I told the story later to the fellow, who said I should have asked her, “Cane or Straight?  Because you really only need one kind…”.  It was one of my Christmas presents… the fellow found it at Maxwell St. one Sunday morning while I slept in… a cane machete with a dark rust patina to its hooked blade, and a sharp and shiny silver line where he burnished the blade with a file before he gave it to me.  The handle is wrapped in soft salvaged bike grip tape… the tape that had covered the bars of my trailer-bike back when it had bullhorns and we’d just met.  The blade he engraved with a dremel-bit: “I love your work”.  Probably one of the weirdest romantic gifts ever… and one of a million reasons why I love him.  Now if only he’ll sharpen the blades on that wood-chipper he got me this fall… and show me again how to start the dang thing, I can REALLY get some work done.


I finally found some fresh-cut hardwood logs last week, and yesterday drilled and inoculated 10 maple logs with shitake and blue oyster spawn… and have more blue oyster and also golden oyster to do tonight. The logs were from a tree that was just felled behind a house a couple blocks away, that I picked up with the trusty red trailer after doubling-back from my work-commute, switching bikes, loading the logs, parking the trailer at the studio heavily laden, and hopping back on the commuter bike like nothing had happened. This rowhouse recently sold after being on the market for the better part of a year- we’d looked at it… one of many in the neighborhood that had been recently rehabbed with nice finishes, then was vandalized and gutted by scrappers and gang hoods and selling for a fraction of the money that someone put into it. I liked it because it was close, faced a park and an elementary school, and most importantly had two city-owned lots adjacent to the west (good garden potential).

Thousands of dollars of plumbing and electrical work destroyed for at best, a couple hundred bucks of scrap… and that’s a tall “at best” with a lot of dirty work involved- carelessly ripping out pipes and wires that had been carefully fitted and threaded through conduit… skilled labor that doesn’t come cheap. The skylight of this building had been broken out causing water damage to the hardwood floors. The new tasteful tilework was gang-tagged with angry black and red paint.. 20-22-12… alphabet code for TVL. Traveling Vice Lords.
You can meet some of these charming neighbors here… or see their initials or numeric code scratched into the sidewalk… like dogs pissing to mark their turf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2UY9sjyWHw

The drywall of this house was pockmarked with holes and burn marks (the holes let us see that the developer had rehabbed this rowhouse without adding even an inch of insulation, which ended our interest in the place- we’d have to rip everything out and start over for it to be a building we’d want to own or live in), and several of the kitchen cabinets had the faces broken out. I tried not to think about what was might be on the carpet (we’ve looked at a LOT of vacant buildings over the years… and junkie-scat has its own particular sweet-stench that is hard to forget). Theft is bad enough; the vandalism was senseless. An elderly couple’s garage down the street from us was tagged with their “code” around the same time we looked at that house… I was going to paint over it after seeing this house but luckily they or the city came out to sandblast their nice stone sills before I had to be spotted covering up someone’s tag. As the neighborhood watch sign in Mrs. Davis’s window down the street says, “We ain’t havin’ it! (We Call Police).”… which is why, when I watched a scrapper tearing the steel scissor-gate off a neighboring vacant building this morning as I left for work, I stopped to ring the buzzer of one of the owner’s tenants down the street to tell him about it, and called the fellow at work to see if he had the owner’s number in his phone… you can’t put up a chain-link fence around here without the risk of it getting clipped and rolled up and cashed in at the scrapyard down the street when you’re not looking.

But wearing colors is back… red, yellow, and blue bandannas dot the city streets this spring (which already feels like summer)… which is a bummer, as I wear my Folk/People-hued bandannas in an entirely different spirit (the dusty unwashed farmer with bike-helmet hair spirit)… Although I roll up my right-pants leg, which might make me reppin’ Folk Nation (or more importantly, keep it out of my bike chain), I live in People-Land (how can anyone actually take this seriously? It’s like a child’s game, but folks… and people, live and die for it). I’m sure that this colors fad will pass when the next thing comes along and I’ll be free to once again wear the red-polka dot osh-gosh rag without worry of who I’m “reppin”… although red is the predominant color through most of my commute; that one is probably fine. I especially like the one I’m sporting today, which alternates red, yellow, and white stripes… add in some blue and purple and maybe we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya someday.

Mmmhmm.

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bloomers=freedom. I mean, bikes=freedom... whee!


Very old advice for ladies in the saddle! This begs sharing… some dated, some still true (don’t forget your toolbag, sure, but I think it’s ok to leave the needle, thread, and thimble at home- mending will wait)… says the woman currently wearing a “man’s cap” and who is probably a fright more often than not. I do not, however, scream when I see cows, unless they are charging at me (trust me, sometimes that works, as does holding out your arms to seem bigger- but have excellent balance before attempting that while astride two wheels in a rutted pasture… and if that fails, get to the other side of the nearest fence as soon as possible!). Read on, and ride on, ladies (and gents)!

* Don’t be a fright.
* Don’t faint on the road.
* Don’t wear a man’s cap.
* Don’t wear tight garters.
* Don’t forget your toolbag
* Don’t attempt a “century.”
* Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
* Don’t boast of your long rides.
* Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
* Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
* Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
* Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
* Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
* Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
* Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
* Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
* Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
* Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
* Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
* Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
* Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
* Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
* Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
* Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
* Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
* Don’t without a needle, thread and thimble.
* Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
* Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
* Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
* Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
* Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
* Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
* Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
* Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
-> which is ok, unless she runs *toward* you. Cows aren’t very bright, and if they’ve got babies, can go from docile to downright murderous in a moment.

A few more tips at the source:
http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/01/03/donts-for-women-on-bicycles-1895/

I’m sorry, did you say something? I was working on cultivating my “bicycle face”. I think it goes something like this, although it does not necessarily connote one as being a Bourbon Democrat of yore, riding on the gold standard (while being chased by the silver) and espousing laissez-faire conservative capitalism:

John Griffin Carlisle (September 5, 1834 – July 31, 1910)

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