044 Daniel Kent: Cabin Dweller’s Textbook

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Our guest this week is Daniel Kent, creator of the Cabin Textbook Dweller’s Textbook and Dean of Beverages at the Institute of Domestic Technology. In our first outdoor podcast (recorded in the mountains near a creek) Kelly, Daniel and I discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

A ceramic oil lamp

oil lamp

There is not an ember burning on the table top! It just looks that way.

This is to report that I’ve accomplished one of my New Year’s resolutions: I made a ceramic oil lamp.

Regular readers will know that I’m a little obsessed with lamps that burn cooking oil instead of kerosene.

I like them so much, I made a little seashell oil lamp the very first project in our book Making It. As a child of the electric age it continuously amazes me that I can make light so easily with cooking oil. Also, in reproducing these lights, I feel a connection to history. I’ve no doubt that my ancestors gathered around fish oil lamps in the north and olive oil lamps in the south.

To add to their charms, they aren’t based on petroleum–as paraffin tea candles are, for example–and they’re non-toxic. They’re relatively safe, compared to kerosene, in that vegetable oil has such a high flash point. And finally, in their list of virtues, they’re cheap. They can be improvised out things like jar lids and Altoids tins, and I use rancid and otherwise questionable oils to fuel them — oils which I would otherwise throw out.

This ceramic lamp more fancy than the little lamps I’ve made previously. It’s based on the standard-model Mediterranean oil lamp which was ubiquitous throughout the ancient world. Ancient Romans had cheap terra cotta lamps in this shape which were stamped with the names of popular gladiators–the ancient equivalent of a 7-Eleven superhero cup. Nowadays I believe these lamps are standard stock in the Holy Land tourist trade.

At any rate, I’ve always wanted one, so I built one. Next I want to make more of them in more complex forms–designs with two and four flame outlets.

The workings of the lamp are quite simple. Inside is the oil reservoir. There’s a fill hole on the top, which I capped with a little leaf to keep the cats from sampling the oil. The top is convex, the slope leading to the fill hole, so it’s easy to top off without spilling oil. I fished a piece of cotton rag up through the “nose” to serve as a wick. The wick is long enough that it extends into the main body of the lamp. All ancient lamps are low-slung like this. The fuel seems to draw better when the wick is almost horizontal.

The lamp is smaller than you might think from the picture–it fits in the palm of my hand. Due to its size, and the fact that the walls are thick because I’m still pretty clumsy at the clay work, the reservoir only holds about 2 tablespoons of oil. Nonetheless, that much oil gives a strong bright flame for 4 1/2 hours.

Project Update: The Carbonator

cats inspecting carbonator

A year ago on Valentine’s Day, Erik gave me a homebrew carbonator so that we could sparkle our own water at home. It’s a wonderfully industrial looking item, and sturdy as all heck. I’m pleased to say after a year of hard use, it’s still doing going strong and has become an indispensable part of our life.

It has saved the use of…gosh…I don’t know…at least 100 San Pellegrino/Gerolsteiner bottles over the course of the year. Back in the day, I bought a couple of bottles of mineral water on every shopping trip. That’s a two-fold savings: bottles kept out of the waste stream (recycled, yes, but still) and enough in cash savings to reimburse us for the carbonator–which cost around $150 in parts.

The best thing is that the CO2 tank lasted for 11 months of constant use (sparkling maybe two gallons a week) before needing a refill. And when we did refill it–down at the local homebrew shop–it cost all of twenty bucks. Twenty bucks, my friends. That is our sparkling water budget for the next year.

Happy as I am with the device itself, we could be doing better exploring its possibilities. We could be experimenting with adding minerals to the water to imitate famous mineral waters–there are recipes out there. We could also be experimenting with force carbonating other types of drinks, but for the most part we’ve been pretty content just drinking the water straight with a twist of lemon, or a splash of shrub. Maybe this year we’ll step up to the plate and get more experimental.

Erik’s how-to post about how to put one of these things together, and how to use it.

•  My initial post, in which I bubble over with excitement.

De-Cluttering the Garden

Kelly pruning the Pomegranate

At the risk of becoming a de-cluttering blog, I’ve got to point out that there’s a place for de-cluttering in the garden. I know, because I’m the gardening equivalent of a hoarder.

I cling to plants that need to head to the compost pile. I interfere with Kelly’s much more advanced pruning skills. I resist the periodic and necessary need to swap plants out. Gardens are, by definition, a mediation on impermanence. As Hereclitus says, “Everything changes and nothing remains still . . . you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Heed Hereclitus’ enigmatic saying and you’ve got the essence of gardening and nature: periods of equilibrium punctuated by change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. De-cluttering our tended gardens is to work in imitation of and in concert with nature.

So what would be some de-culuttering steps in the garden that welcome and work with change?

  • First would be getting rid of junk such as construction debris and those failed projects Kelly alluded to in her last post. We’re pretty good about this, but the backyard has accumulated a few items that need to go.
  • Replacing under-performing plants. Particularly in small spaces like ours there is no room for plants that are sickly or just don’t look attractive. Ditto for fruit trees that have never produced. I’m with Piet Ouldolf on this: if possible, plants in our tended spaces need to look good year round (even when dormant) and they need to provide wildlife habitat.
  • Rethinking the garden. Even the best gardener has to rethink and renew a garden periodically. Many perennials become gangly, trees shade out other plants and things just generally change. Sometimes you have to mimic nature’s floods and fires and make a radical shift.
  • Weeding and thinning. We got behind on this and we’re paying the price. This is a matter of poor scheduling, subject matter for an upcoming series of posts (if I can ever schedule time to write those scheduling posts). Let’s just say there was some cursing while pulling out a robust and thorny Opuntia yesterday that would have been much easier to remove two years ago.
  • Pruning. This is a source of considerable marital discord. Kelly is much better at it than I am, and yet I end up micromanaging and mansplaining. The fact is that many fruit trees, particularly peaches, need to be hacked back dramatically when dormant. With the exception of avocados, everything else needs to be kept small for ease of harvest and to fit more trees in a small space.

What gardening de-cluttering steps did I leave out? When do you more northerly gardeners do your garden de-cluttering?

And a note on the photo which shows Kelly pruning our pomegranate tree. To her right is a cardoon and, at the bottom of the slope is a huge prickly pear cactus. Something all these plants have in common? Wicked thorns. This makes deferred de-cluttering even more curse-worthy.

Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

Erik spoke of some topics of marital discord in the garden, and yet none of those hold a candle to our perpetual debate about installing some kind of garden shed or storage system in our back yard. It’s shocking, really, that we don’t have such a thing, but he is very resistant to the idea, for reasons of time, effort, money and aesthetics.

All good objections! But honestly, how can one post about clutter in the garden and point to the poor plants when the real problem with clutter in our garden comes in the form of empty pots, bags of soil and amendments with no home, gloves housing spiders, tools leaning here, there and everywhere, never where you need them. Our climate alone allows us to (mostly) get away with this behavior. Elsewhere it would all rust or rot if left out like this.

I know it’s not the KonMari way to add storage space or devices to deal with clutter, but this is more like having a car with no garage, and then wondering why the driveway is always crowded.

So…um…if any artisanal shack manufacturer would like to send us a small shed for review, we’re open to proposals!

De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist. David Teniers II. Oil on canvas, 17th Century

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist, David Teniers the Younger, 1610-1690, Eddleman Collection, CHF, Philadelphia

We are a special people and we need special exemptions, yes?

Our posts on de-cluttering seem to have hit a nerve, judging by the amount of feedback we’ve had, on the blog, on social media and on the street. We’re really happy if we’ve helped anyone at all streamline their lives a bit. But one protest, or exception, or question which comes up a lot is, “What about my [specialized materials] for my [craft, hobby, preparedness lifestyle]?”

I figure anyone who reads this blog–anyone who is more of a producer than a consumer–will have collected tools and materials for production. These tools and materials don’t fit neatly into the KonMari scheme. The KonMari method, as well as other types of de-cluttering programs, including techno-minimalism, seem to assume our homes are places where we simply relax, surrounded by our well-pruned and curated items.

In a DIY household, there is always something messy going on. For us, relaxation is tinkering and making and cooking and repairing, not reclining on our immaculate sofa, quietly tapping on our iPad.

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