Have a Deep and Meaningless Conversation

Last week, I was using some reclaimed lumber to build a desk. Already this post is pretty hipster, but just wait.

I ripped my last piece of lumber through the table saw to square the edges. I used a belt sander to take down the rough patina of the lumber. I started cutting out a drawer face with my jigsaw. In doing these things, I would notice a stray and random carpenter ant appear on my work surface or on the floor of my workspace. This didn’t strike me as odd right away since I was in the old garage building.

When I completed cutting out the drawer face I found that I was cutting exactly through the center gallery of a carpenter ant nest. I found about a dozen hungry, confused, and shaken carpenter ants ambling about. While this clearly was not an active nest, it must have been six months ago in the porch from which I took this old lumber. Since removing it, these few remaining ants had been huddling in their homes…doing what?

Ants

I started to ponder this and other questions in the classic hipster conversation method: too abstract to have practical application, just intelligent enough to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about. For the ants that were left behind when I removed the old lumber, was this some sort of ant apocalypse (“antocalypse” maybe)? Was this the promised and long-prophesied day that the old nest would be made new? I’m sure that’s what it must have seemed like. A terrible End of Days, a period of tribulation and unrest, followed by a glorious and pure new order being put into place for the 1000 year reign…just as it was foretold in the book of Revelantion. What about the ants that were taken away from the porch inside this old beam? Did they consider themselves to be the Dorothy in a new version of the 1939 classic The Wizant of Oz? On which set of feet do they wear the ruby slippers? Am I the wicked witch or the great and powerful Oz? One thing’s for sure, she can’t wait to get back to Ant Em. What would make a good Toto parallel? Probably a termite named Terter.

More AntsAnd just like that, I’ve had a deep and meaningless conversation. You can, too. Here’s how:

  1. Pick any topic. In this scenario, I chose “ants in wood.”
  2. Choose any other topic that you know a little about. In this scenario, I chose two: “end times” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
  3. Parallel the two topics.
  4. Use random facts about either topic. In this scenario, I chose to use the phrases “the old would be made new” and “1000 year reign” in regard to the end times, both taken from the book of Revelation in the Bible. I also used the date 1939 and the names of minor characters from The Wizard of Oz.
  5. For extra points, add puns.

Congratulations, you’ve just had your first deep and meaningless conversation!

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Everyone Should Make their own Candles

It has been a little while since I’ve had the opportunity to show off my unique homemaking and homesteading skills. I took a week off from my full-time job in order to take care of a number of little projects and get started on one big project. All this to say, my industrious side took over for a week+, and sitting in front of the iMac was a little too sedentary for the time being. Don’t worry, here I am back in the usual routine so that I can flaunt my pearls of hipster wisdom with the world.

So today we’re making candles. Well, more accurately, last week. The title of this post claims that everyone should make their own candles. While this is true, it is not as mandatory for everyone as it is for hipsters. And here’s a few reasons why:

  • Hipsters can smell bad. Whether it’s the fixed-gear bike riding, the hemp shampoo, or the lack of deodorant is not important. The bottom line is that hipsters smell bad. Candles can cover up those unseemly body odors.
  • Hipsters like cats. You can photoshop ironic mustaches and captions on them, and they warm your lap in the winter when you are too cheap to pay for heat. A cat’s poop smells very bad. Candles can cover up this disturbing yet natural part of pet ownership.
  • Hipsters like to talk about the weird things they do. Making candles qualifies.

When I first set out to do this, I did a little bit of research (aka google search) and I found this article. This made candle making seem complex as it dealt with different kinds of waxes and temperatures and etc. I promptly disregarded most of this and decided to do it my own way.Spent Candles

I collected all the spent candles that we had accumulated over the years and broke down the leftover wax into chunks. These I threw into a coffee tin that was heating up inside a pot of water on the stove. As the wax began to melt, I used a cooking thermometer to keep a gauge on how hot the wax was getting. This turned out to not really matter, but it averaged about 180 degrees the whole time.

 Cooling candles

Once all the wax was completely melted, I tied some string (I call it kitchen twine, though I’m not sure exactly what it’s actually called. I also use this to tie and dry all my herbs, etc) to a couple of cheap chopsticks and centered them over the candle jars that I had cleaned out. I spooned the wax slowly so as to not move the wick from the center of the candle.

Burning candle
After that, I was just a matter of letting the wax cool and cutting the string. In a matter of a couple of hours of active work I was able to repurpose a bunch of old candles into perfectly good new candles. Not only was I surprised at  how easy this was, but it made the whole house smell pretty wonderful as I was doing it. With this first success, I’ve begun collecting spent candles from friends and neighbors. This not only gives me a steady supply of wax for candle making, but also a steady supply of hipster credibility. I’ll let you decide which is more important.

 

Seed-Starting Terrarium

It’s that time of the year again: when March hits, I immediately begin pining for the Spring planting season. We still have a few months before we can actually plant anything in the open, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a head start now. With all the seeds I’ve been saving from last year, I have plenty stocked up to allow me to get ahead of the frost.

A few years ago, I started my garden early with a store-bought seed starting kit. It was basically a black plastic basin with a clear plastic domed lid. I set it in front of a window and it worked really well. It gave the seeds everything they need to get started: a temperature controlled environment, light, and constant moisture. It also cost $40, and when I brought it out from storage the following year the clear plastic lid had broken in half and had to be sent to the recycle bin.

This year I decided to make my own. I was planning to build a complex frame system into which I could set panes from an old window to replicate that clear plastic dome. As I looked around our old attic for a junk window, I found this old transom. I decided to switch gears and save myself some time.

Transom Window

What is really awesome about this old transom is the way the paint peeled off the glass. At some point the whole window was painted, and over the decades the paint peeled itself off most of the way, leaving these “fingerprints” behind. I have never seen anything like it, and was tempted to just hang it on the wall as-is. But instead, I moved ahead with the project. Sorry Art; Utility wins today.

Terrarium base

I have a lot of tongue-and-groove porch boards left over from a project last year. It’s yellow pine, which has a good tolerance for moisture, so I decided to use that to build the frame for the glass top. The trusty table saw came out and zipped off the groove and half the tongue on each board, leaving a flat surface on one end and a nice frame on the other. I mitered these together so that the transom would fit snugly inside the frame without gaps. I screwed the frame onto one of the hutch shelves that was left over from the hutch project.

Ready for seeds

Everything fit together nicely. I may end up building some more frames for additional glass panes around the sides to give it a dome shape once the young plants get too tall, but that can wait for another day.

Finished Terrarium

I was limited on space inside my new terrarium, so I started with the plants that need the most time: tomatoes and peppers. I also planted a bunch of lettuce since that’s a plant we can continually harvest as it grows.

In total, this project cost me zero dollars and about two hours from start (looking for an old window in the attic) to finish (seeds planted and dirt cleaned up). Take that Winter: two cubic feet of Spring just started inside my dining room. May the germination begin!

Preserving Fresh Basil

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When it comes to being frugal, having a household garden is a great way to save money at the same time that you are improving your standards of freshness. After about five years of having fresh herbs and vegetables right outside, it has become difficult to settle for grocery store produce. But what about those months between October and May? Living in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7A means that there are a number of months in which we cannot reap a harvest. That leads us into preserving the bounty from the summer months to enjoy through the winter months.

I love cooking with fresh herbs. We give a lot of space in our small rooftop garden to growing fresh herbs, teas, and sweeteners. Basil is one of my favorites. We picked a decent harvest throughout the growing season, and in October we still had a lot leftover. After snipping the seed heads, I tied the remaining basil leaves into three big bunches and hung them to dry. Drying the leaves is a little different from drying out the seed heads. In the latter case, I was trying to suck out all the moisture as quickly as possible so as to easily crush the chaff away from the seed. In the case of the basil leaf, I am trying to slowly allow the leaves to naturally dry, without molding or losing the flavorful oils. Drying in a stable temperature with good airflow is necessary, and my kitchen window is great because it is next to an air vent that keeps the air flowing.

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Fast forward to last week. The leaves have dried beautifully and are ready for their second harvest. For this job, I pulled out the trusty mortar and pestle to crush the leaves. I used a sieve to help me keep a consistent flake size so that it wouldn’t get caught in my spice shaker. I would crush, sift, and then repeat the crushing until all that was left in the sieve was a negligible amount.

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In the end, my window-full of fresh basil yielded me about 3 tablespoons of dried and crushed basil spice. I thus labeled, dated, and stored this treasure into an old spice container that I repurposed into a spice container. I compared this with the store-bought container of basil in our cabinet and the difference was staggering: the store-bought lacked flavor and aroma. I added the store-bought to our compost bin and our basil now sits proudly in its place.

It’s easy to stay industrious when it’s warm outside, but a well-planned and industrious summer gives you plenty to keep up with in the colder months.

The Hutch Project and the Satisfaction of Action

As a hipster, I usually only talk about solutions to issues which I have no tangible ability or actual desire to implement.

“World peace would be so easy if everyone just read Three Cups of Tea.”

“This city will only be cool when every street and alleyway has a dedicated bike lane.”

“The problem with Starbucks is that they’ve lost the art of selling coffee.”

These ethereal solutions are themselves an art to produce. They must be obvious enough that a spectator should say “Why didn’t I think of that?” and far enough out of reach that you can continuously tout your solution without any fear that you will ever be called to act on it.

For a long time I had one of these sitting in my dining room: an old china hutch (circa 1930) that needed some very serious reworking. Structurally, the hutch was in decent shape. Aesthetically, it was in need of a lot of work. This was a piece of furniture we picked up with the intention that I would give it the makeover it needed. For five years it stood in our dining room issuing to me a license to sing my swan song about transforming the ugly duckling.

So what happened? My wife threatened to throw it away, and my house husband side kicked in. I too began to resent the wasted space and the sub-par appearance. You see, we don’t have any china to put into the china hutch, the rough nature of its finish made it difficult to dust, and everyone had already heard me talk about my grand plan.

So here’s what I did:

Unfinished hutch

I had two days off from my full-time job, and I wanted to industriously make the most of my time. So in-between loads of laundry, I dragged the hutch out to the garage and started by disassembling it. It was put together mostly with wood screws, so a flat head screwdriver and a soft mallet was all I needed.SandingI sanded down each panel individually, repaired any lifted veneer with wood glue and filler, and put a fresh coat of stain over everything. Polyurethane, sand, repeat.

IMG_2341IMG_2349I cut the middle section down considerably to make it more of a serving table than a hutch. Upon reassembly, I measured out the front opening and used one of the old shelves as a front hatch. This nice little serving table is a favorite hiding spot now for our dog Little Bit, and all of our cloth napkins and place mats live inside the hatch and out of sight.

It couldn’t be considered complete until it was decorated. On the wall, I used the old hutch door as a faux frame for a piece of fair trade Haitian metalwork. Add a plant and a bowl of wooden fruit and cross it off of my to-do list!

In total, the project cost me about $12:

  • Piece of veneer from the Habitat Re-Store: 80¢
  • Small can of stain: $4
  • Leftover polyurethane: free
  • Front panel hinges/magnetic catch: $7
  • 1930s era drawer pull: repurposed off another dilapidated piece…at least I still have another project about which I can ruminate.