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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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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!

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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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double trouble

Bella and Harley had a playdate. I don’t get to see much of my old pal Harley since her papa moved out of the ‘hood, but he brought her over a while ago for a visit. So much rott racing and romping… I wasn’t sure if our backyard could contain it.

Instant pals… yeah, I know. They’re blurry. It was dark, and they were alll wiggle-butts…

Lots of kisses… or are they sharing secrets?

and for the finale, Team Digging! Man did they get down… Harley “helped” me dig one of the holes for our two apple trees in the backyard last fall, and one of Bella’s fave games is to dig a hole, pretend to hide a bone in it, then run off and hide the bone somewhere else. I can tell you their combined paw powers far surpassed either’s solo skills. Good thing we don’t really have a lawn or care about our grass/weed/mulch scape.

There was one moment of drama when Harley disappeared inside, and reappeared… carrying Bella’s GIANT bone that she’d snatched from her crate. Harley just stood there looking at her sheepishly, head cocked with a goofy grin, looking as innocent as possible while holding the purloined beef femur. I’ve never heard Bella growl so deeply… and luckily Harley thought better of her prank and promptly gave the bone back, which Bella proceeded to knaw, reclaiming her prize. We took it away from both of ’em lest any further fits of jealousy be sparked… and a good time was had by all!

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Lets ignore the fact that that’s more eggs we’ve gotten in a day in a looong time. White? All right! Our first pullet egg… our little girls are growing up!

Atta girl! Of course, the california white leghorn was the first. Probably followed by the red star… and someday, we’ll get easter eggs (fingers crossed… blue not pink… blue not pink)…


Is this too tacky? ‘Cause it’s true…


This is the other side of the fence. Chickens? Did someone say… Chickens? Oh boy oh boy oh boy… chickens chickens chickens chickens…


She’s worn a packed dirt track from pacing back and forth to watch them. I throw mulch on it but she kicks it up again. Never gets old… she will literally do this all day if I let her, of course with breaks for meals and naps. Rough life.

All in a dog’s day’s work. And in a woman’s… super spicy salsa! Ball Blue Book jalapeño salsa, 1.5x the recipe, plus a half cup of lime juice. The tomatoes are from The Plant, the jalapeños are from the Gary Comer Green Youth Farm (thanks, T!) and the onions are from the store. Good enough. And it’s good… but screamin’ hot… yowza!

Ok, time to pack it up here, head to the studio, and make soap! I’ve been scheming on a new recipe for awhile and it’s time to jump in and do it… coming soon… Treehugger! A blend of spruces, pine, a touch of patchouli, tea tree, spice, and other woodsy goodness, speckled with blue spruce needles… still need to tweak the blend but it should be a nice addition to the line! It will be cured and ready by the second open studio… something to look forward to! But first, some glam shots from today’s back porch photo shoot… and there will be more tomorrow!

Coffee Stout!


Oatmeal Cookie!

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bedlam and bad men

Someone was in our yard yesterday… sometime between 10:30 AM and 9ish when we got home… our locked chainlink gate was askew (pushed inward, so I know the dog didn’t do it before I put her in the house when I left for work) and the black city garbage cart had been rolled from in front of our gate to the fence.  The plastic lid was dented down where they used it for a springboard, and then hopped to the top of the compost bin (which is now uncovered so as not to serve as a step-stool).  It looks like they moved our smoker and garden cart slightly and then discovered that they were chained to the double-barricaded-from-the-inside-and-scissor-gated-from-the-outside entrance to our basement.  Our biggest fear was that we’d find chickens missing- a friend recently lost most of their flock in two separate thefts from their *locked* backyard coop. All lay-dees were accounted for. 
A piece of hundred-year-old trim that we removed from the eaves behind the gutters (for safekeeping (and probable lead-paint removal) until some other work is done and it can go back in place) was moved across our yard and propped up against the back gate, as if they’d thought about taking it with them and then changed their mind?  Or were just leaving us a clear message that they’d been inside our yard, and could return if they pleased?  The chain on our gate was cut shortly after we bought the place… the gate left wide open, nothing missing… just a message.  You can’t keep us out. 

A creepy crazy man who goes by Montgomery Ward walked by singing late the other night, as we fumbled with the front door lock that was jammed (we finally removed the key that was broken off on the inside of the lock years ago and it works great now)… The fellah swears he heard him sing, “I touched your door, now it won’t open” before going back to a rambling bellowing version of “American Girl”… “oh yeah, all right… take it easy baby… HUSH THAT NOISE, PUPPY! Hush THAT NOISE, PUPPY!! (to our rottweiler, who was leaping at the fence with snarling throaty-growl stiff-bark force at this guy)… make it last all night!  She was… an American Girl…”.  We sat in the dark on our covered back porch and listened as his song faded into the distance until we were sure he was gone…

doesn’t she look tough? She has one job, and she takes it very seriously… she’s a secret sweetie though, with serious separation anxiety… but she’s a very good girl. Mostly.

An acquaintance of ours, who goes by Sledge and is a frequent volunteer at the farm where I work (he got his nickname from the many days he’s spent doing demolition work on the building- jackhammering, sledgehammering, and moving piles of rubble all in the name of the cause), was jumped less than half a block from our studio last weekend.  He hangs out with some kids who have an art space down the block, and we’d seen him riding around that evening, when he rode with us for a few blocks as we were headed to a barbeque in Logan Square before he headed back south… he stumbled upon a gathering in the side-yard of our SWAT-team/chef dad and homeschooling mom/realtor/chicken-keeper extraordinaire neighbors, and had helped them move piles of dirt around in their backyard/sideyard farm.  They and their rowhouse tenants farm three city-owned lots, and have a top-bar hive, a turkey hen and at least a dozen chickens in a strawbale coop, and a big ole dog pack (theirs, and neighbors dogs dropped off for informal doggie daycare) led by their lanky jet-black and tan german shepard, aka, “The People-Eater”. Sledge had never met these neighbors, but saw that they were working, introduced himself, and helped out for a few hours. That’s the kind of guy he is.
We met these neighbors a similar way, just walking by… except there were already so many people helping to build their chicken coop that night that we helped in a way only we could- we came back and knocked on the back gate, holding growlers of homemade beer, after first quickly debating at home…”Are they doing what I think they’re doing? They’re building a strawbale structure, they have chickens, and they live down the street. We have to meet them…”. Fast forward to fast friends. She helped us find our home, introducing us to the former owner of our “cabin” while he was in town to close the place up after his tenants moved across the street… foreclosure threats piling up from the banks in the mailbox. She gave me antibiotics that saved our Wyandotte chick from certain death (the feed store was closed, the baby needed them THAT DAY). We gave her sourdough bread and endless thank-yous, and buckets of spent-grain for chicken feed. But back to Sledge…

After leaving our neighbors yard, he was taking pictures of rust-stained stone blocks from the sidewalk under the rail tracks, when he was approached by a guy who offered to sell him drugs… Sledge declined, but proceeded to strike up a conversation with the guy “about basketball, rhythm, and Yahweh.”  He rapped with the dude for a minute, and thought they were having a good conversation, and gave the guy the four bucks he asked for to get on the train.  As he turned to leave, the guy cold-clocked him in the face, and punched him several times, knocking out his crowns (Sledge sports even more false fronts than me, also from bike-induced face-to-ground contact…) and giving him a black eye.  He pulled himself up, swinging back at his attacker while grabbing his face (and probably after spitting out his teeth), and asked him incredulously, “But what about Yahweh?”  He said the guy continued to hit him, now while quoting scripture, then emptied his pockets (cell phone and wallet with $200) and ran.  He shook his head while recounting the tale- “I should have known better… I was at a rave the night before and was surrounded by so much love and goodness, that I let my street-smarts go out the window”.  It’s sad, but you can’t trust anyone around here that you meet on the street… everyone’s got an angle.  I wish it weren’t true but it’s how it is.

Buying Bedlam Farm is looking pretty good right now.  The fellow is buying us lottery tickets today… a girl can dream, right?  He has family and we have some good friends out that way… and the countryside reminds me of the Ozarks where I grew up, and the tree-covered hills my heart aches for still, and room to roam that I took for granted before coming here 13 years ago… just how precious it is on this hot, flat, and crowded earth to be able to hike for an hour without seeing another human soul if you choose… 

http://www.bedlamfarm.com/2012/05/29/there-goes-75000-selling-bedlam-farm-jeff-you-were-off-a-bit/

 

 


Any angel investors out there want to chip in towards the Alewyfe B&B at Bedlam Farm? And Bedlam Brewery? Surely there’s room in one of those out-buildings for beer. The door will always be open for you, and your pint glass never dry…

But always, even when the world seems rotten… look for and remember the goodness… and the promise of peas.

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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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