As Above, So Below

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Inspired by the response to my post on the need to keep our gardens dark, I decided to reclaim my childhood telescope from my mom’s garage and get it working again. It occurred to me that I haven’t looked up at the night sky in a long time. What a shame. This past week I’ve been thinking about how important it is to look up at the stars–just as important, I think, as staying in touch with the plants, insects and animals that make this earth a paradise.

The design of this telescope is called a Dobsonian, after its inventor John Dobson, who passed away earlier this year. Dobson’s life took an unusual trajectory. He went from being a self described “belligerent atheist” to a monk in the Vendanta society to co-founding the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  Most of his life was spent bringing the night sky to people around the world and teaching people how to make their own low-cost telescopes.

As a monk, Dobson could not afford expensive materials. He kept the design inexpensive by using a simple mount and cheap materials: wood and cardboard. My Dobsonian was made by the now defunct Coulter Optical Company out of particle board and a cardboard concrete form. Its large 13.1 inch mirror makes it perfect for looking at nebulas, galaxies and star clusters even in light polluted urban areas.

moon

Primitive astrophotography. I held my camera up to the eyepiece to get this photo of the moon last night.

I have to thank, in particular, Rob J of the San Jose Astronomical Association who sent some links about how to host a star party, how to host a school star party and inspired me to get the telescope out again.

Here’s some Dobson related resources:

Sidewalk Astronomers “We take telescopes TO the public – on street corners, public parks, in front of bookstores -wherever there are crowds of people.”

How to build a Dobsonian Telescope.

Have Telescopes Will Travel–a short film about John Dobson.

A New Reality

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We received an email from a casting agency searching for talent for a reality show where the participants will live on a remote farm, grow their own food and come up with their own method of governance.  The series will make use of the usual reality show plot device of having participants vote each other off the show. The agency wanted us to put out a casting call.

We won’t do that. I’m tired of stories that sow discord and hold up our lifestyle as something impossible to accomplish. The underlying message? Stay on that couch, don’t try to change the world, just buy the crap our advertisers sell. These type of realty shows are also a rigged version of the prisoner’s dilemma in which the cooperative option (what most people tend to choose in stressful situations) is not allowed.

We need to tell a different story. Bloggers in the urban homesteading movement can join together to cross-promote each other’s efforts. We can continue to offer an alternative through our writing, video, live webinars and, of course, face to face meetings.

I need to step up to the plate too. Years ago I worked as a video editor and cameraman at a university television station and at a PBS affiliate. I need to put everything aside and shoot some video! We don’t need the big networks and the “reality” they churn out. We can tell our own stories. Our narrative will be about people cooperating and sharing knowledge in order to make the world a better place.

If you blog and/or make videos about similar topics please leave a link in the comments.

And for some inspiration take a look at the videos in Kirsten Dirksen’s YouTube channel.

Root Simple’s Killer Colon Hydro-therapy Booth Coming Soon . . .

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Normally I’d have to come up with my own April Fool’s post for you.  Increasingly, however, I can’t do any better than the actual unedited pitches we receive in the Root Simple in-box, such as this “killer opportunity”:

Dear Colon Hydro-therapist Friends :-)

I wanted to share an opportunity! with you.  I’m going on tour and
I will be speaking about Raw Foods, cleansing and Super Foods.  I
always talk about the tremendous benefits of getting professional
colonics.  After every single event, numerous amounts of people are
asking how they can find a colon therapist.

There will be anywhere from 300 – 1200 people at each event.  We
are offering booths to Colon Therapists for $500 for the event.
It’s a killer opportunity to get life-long clients in an instant.

Wow, now that’s targeted marketing. How did they know that Kelly and I are ALL ABOUT colonics.  Not only are we Colon Therapist Friends looking for clients, we also have the cleanest colons in the West, thanks to our homemade colonic machine. It’s essentially a mash up of a five gallon bucket, a bunch of  homebrew tubing, and an old 7-setting garden hose sprayer. Video coming soon!

Maybe we can power our Prius with the waste products . . . 

A viewing suggestion from the media arm of Root Simple

I really enjoy learning about technologies that are basic enough that I feel like I can understand them–and maybe even replicate them. The technology of Tudor-era in England is by no means primitive, but it also is not as complex and machine-based as the tech which takes off in the 19th century and accelerates so quickly into the present era. I would be hard pressed to explain how anything around me works–from this machine I’m typing on to communicate with the outside world, to the electric light burning beside me.

Bless the BBC for making Tudor Monastery Farm (a title which I believe would not fly on American television). This is a quiet series showing three historians/archeologists at play in the Weald & Downland Open Air History Museum, trying out some of the skills they’d need to be tenant farmers to the local monastery. It has some of the structure of a reality show, but it seems that no one really wants to go that direction much, so with the exception of a bit of camera confession about the urgency of getting the peas planted before Easter, there is none of that annoying reality show faux drama. Instead, it’s just full of juicy nuggets for the appropriate tech geek.

The series is on YouTube. I pray the BBC doesn’t take it down before I get to finish it.

In the first episode alone, they cover goodies like:

  • Coppicing
  • How to make two type of fences: a hazel wattle fence and a dead hedge fence, both of which can be made with a machete and a club
  • Treadwheels: Giant human powered hamster wheels which, along with water wheels, were the engines of their time.
  • How to make rush lights out of sheep fat and rushes.
  • An almost forgotten food plant called Alexanders, which is a Mediterranean plant related to parsley, which I’ve never heard of but now want to plant in my garden.
  • Tips on calligraphy done with quills. Did you know the quill has to be almost horizontal in the hand?
  • And how to make a paintbrush out of a feather and a stick. Marvelously clever, and the secret to the fine lines in illuminated manuscripts.
  • How to make a magnifying glass out for working the detail in said illuminated manuscripts.
  • How a Tudor gentleman literally sewed himself into his clothes each day, & the mysteries and marvels of the codpiece. (I suppose that if I were transported to that era I’d eventually stop staring at the distracting cords dangling from gentlemen’s crotches. You’ll see what I mean.)
  • You get to meet one of the last working teams of oxen in England (sad!), and see what it takes to plow a field.
  • How to build and wattle and daub pig house
  • And finally, very exciting, there’s a cameo by Robin Wood, the last professional wooden dish carver in England. I’ve seen his videos (where he looks much less dorky than he does in Tudor gear) and actually have one of his bowls. He carves beautiful bowls and spoons, his only tools his hatchet, his carving knives, and a foot operated pole lathe. The foot operated lathe was in use for nearly 1000 years, but now is almost extinct. It’s a wonderful piece of technology. Robin makes it look simple, but I’m sure it takes mad skills to use.

And that’s just the first episode. Ale and cheese, blast furnaces and sheep shearing to follow!

One last take away: Because my undergraduate degree is in art history, one thing that really struck me was how much everyone in this show looked like characters out of a Bruegel painting. If you know Pieter Bruegel’s work, you might remember how all his people have this particular stocky, stuffed, oddly jointed, funny-footed sort of look. I thought this was an artistic affectation.  Turns out it’s just the way the clothes fit. Pieter, I did you wrong. You were just painting what you saw.

pieter bruegel's painting, The Peasant Wedding

California’s Drought and What To Do About It

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By this summer, due to the worst drought in memory, California will resemble the desert planet Arakis in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. Not only will we be watering our lawns less, we’ll be drinking our own urine. Knife fights with a bikini clad Sting will break out and we’ll be trading our bikes for rides on the over-sized worms emerging from our compost bins. But I digress. Let’s cover what we’re doing at the Root Simple compound.

  • We’ve expanded our drought tolerant plantings over the past few years. These plants use less water and encourage beneficial wildlife. I consider them part of the vegetable garden, in a way.
  • I just made a major change to our laundry to landscape greywater system–more on this in another post.
  • I’ve consulted historical irrigation data to more intelligently program our drip irrigation system.

Keep in mind that 77% of California’s water use goes to agriculture (the media tends to forget this). Residential water use is a small part of the total. That being said, there’s a lot more we can do–the residents of Sydney Australia use half as much water per person as Californians in a similar climate.

I’m fairly certain we’ll eke our way out of this crisis but I’m not sure about the next one. In the meantime I’ll be walking without rhythm so as not to attract those big worms.

What are you doing to deal with the drought? If you’re outside of California, how are you surviving those arctic vortexes?

Fantastical Garden Images

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Sudama bows at the glimpse of Krishna’s golden palace in Dwarka,. ca 1775-1790

Not to contribute to the dreaded analysis paralysis, but this Pintrest collection images of fantastical gardens– from medieval sources to contemporary artists–may inspire your own garden, or at least give you a good dose of winter inspiration.  Well worth a peek. Thanks to BoingBoing for the lead.

Analysis Paralysis

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If you’re reading this blog, there’s no doubt that you’ve suffered from analysis paralysis. You’ve got to build that chicken coop, but you’re spending hours pouring over books, Pinterest boards and how-to websites. Add endless debates with your spouse and you’ve got a recipe for inaction. “Sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” is the way Shakespeare describes this condition in Hamlet.

The re-design of our backyard lead to the worst analysis paralysis I’ve ever experienced. Weeks went by with no progress. Ideas came and went. The internet made it worse by providing way too many possibilities.

A quote in a book finally broke my analysis paralysis spell. The gist of that quote was that we are all called by a higher power to build. I realized that I needed to set a deadline, get off my ass and construct the raised beds that I had spend endless hours researching, planning and discussing. I told Mrs. Homegrown that this Saturday I was buying lumber and cutting wood. I quickly drew up plans in SketchUp and started working.

The first hexagonal raised bed attempt came out a bit too small so I went back to SketchUp and re-sized the plans.  My self imposed deadline worked. Within a few hours I had the beds that I wanted and was very pleased with the results. The analysis paralysis spell was broken. What had been a concept on a computer screen become reality in short order. It felt good.

Sometimes life is a struggle, but increasingly I feel the need to build more and struggle less. No more neighborhood council meetings. I’m fatigued reading about the latest political outrage, petitions and pleas in Facebook. At this point in my life I just want to build.

What was your worst case of analysis paralysis? How do you deal with it?

Of Skunks, Sauerkraut and Stoicism

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We were honored when the nice folks behind Stoic Week 2013 asked us to write a blog post. It begins,

Practicality is why stoicism works so well as the philosophical operating system of urban homesteading. While Foucault and Hegel might help me navigate the epistemological frontier, when I’m staring at a carefully tended vegetable bed that just got destroyed by a skunk, you can bet I’ll reach for the Seneca.

Read the rest here.

Erik’s 2014 New Years Resolutions

zapftrout

I’ve got a short and simple list of New Years resolutions this year:

  • Finish hardscaping the backyard and grow more vegetables. Steps have already been taken. Above is architectural genius John Zapf and our cat Trout helping with the plans. And it’s got to look good. Be prepared for some kind of geodesic raised bed folly.
  • Perfect my 100% whole grain sourdough breads using freshly milled flour. Write up some recipes and share my results.
  • Take a trip that involves a class or workshop. I’ve never regretted money spent on education (at least as an adult!).
  • Good health. I’ve figured out a simple if quirky equation. If I can fence I’m healthy. If I can’t I’ve got work to do. This pretentious niche sport just happens to combine flexibility, endurance, strategy and speed. This past year it forced me to confront and deal with knee problems. I plan on attempting a few tournaments in 2014.

What are your New Years Resolutions?