Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Cat of the Year: Voting is now open!

Junebug 1999- 2012

This year's Cat of the Year Award is offered in loving memory of Junebug. She was a glorious creature and the only two time champion of Cat of the Year (2010 and 2011).  Sadly Junebug passed away this year in May.  And unfortunately, as you may recall with Squeak, since she did not complete at least 50% of the year she is ineligible for consideration as the 2012 Cat of the Year.  These are the rules.  Frankly no one expected Junebug to make it as long as she did.  

We dearly loved Junebug and we miss her every day, and so does Alex (we think).  However, as you will read, not everyone shared our fondness for that little monster.

So, in alphabetical order, here are the contestants for the 2012 Cat of the Year.  Polls close January 4 at midnight, so, do the civically responsible thing and vote.  And leave a comment- these were the best part of the voting in past years!
Pictured from left to right:  Natalie, Miles, and Alex
Age: 11
Weight: 8 lbs
Breed: Turkish angora x Persian
Alex with his friend, Junebug.
Background: Innocent victim of a hoarder. He was at the shelter for 2 years because no one wanted to adopt an adult black cat. We adopted him in summer of 2007 as a friend for Natalie. Boy was that a bad idea.  Really bad.
Pros: Good attitude. Greets all visitors at the door. Does fantastic acrobatics. Plays hard.  Tries to play with the other cats (they don't play back), and he respected Junebug and her issues.  After the passing of Squeak, the undisputed leader of the house, Alex has assumed a more prominent leadership role.  This is despite his age (our youngest cat) and small stature ( he is about 56% the size of Natalie).
Cons: Rarely purrs. Bites your face if you oversleep.  In warm months he will bolt out the door to check out the yard (but in his defense he stops after 10 feet).  Socially inept.

Accomplishments in 2012: Whereas Alex grew one white whisker in 2011, contributing to his more distinguished appearance, he seems to have lost it.  Although he lost his closest friend, Squeak, in 2011, and then Junebug, his other friend in 2012, Alex maintains a cheerful and outgoing personality.  He is still very, very fast.

After beating the crap out of Miles when they first met, Alex was the first to offer an olive branch. 
Alex and Miles reach an agreement.
Natalie has yet to offer such amends. 

Gregarious, yet modest and unassuming, Alex just likes to be close to people.  But now, he spends a lot of his time in Junebug's old room. His ¾ length tail, though not new in 2012, is always worth some points. 
Alex had an expensive year of vet care in 2011 ($80/pound) for some skin tumors and dental issues.  So far in 2012 he has had zero vet visits and no expenses. But unfortunately we recently noticed that his skin tumors have returned. We are fearful of the prognosis, although Alex is as stoic as ever.
Expenses: $0.*

Cost per pound: $0
*He will eat whatever any of the other cats are eating. He doesn’t mind, nor does he expect anything more.
Miles and his favorite person, Marilyn.
*note:  Miles not eligible for consideration this year (he has only completed 25% of the 2012 competition season, but barring any complications he will be a contender in 2013).

Age:  8
Weight 7 lbs
Breed:  Wire-haired Chihuahua (a rare condition that should likely garner him some votes by loyal readers.  Only a few long haired and short haired Chihuahuas end up with the wiry hair).

Background:  Our smallest and youngest cat, Miles is a "California Little"- one of the small dogs sent to Missoula's Humane Society from an animal shelter in Merced, California.  He, like his bother Alex, is the innocent victim of a hoarder.  We know very little about his past, but when we adopted him he had sores on his feet and legs from confinement.
Miles is color coordinated with our kitchen floor- an important consideration in future voting.
Pros: Will not make eye contact with the cats.  Generally enjoys everything.  Does not bark (except when he is asleep and dreaming).  He is a “proud stepper”, and he is tall for his height.  He has the long (albeit, short), graceful legs of an antelope.  Despite his central California upbringing, he is unfazed by winter and snow. 

Does not purr, and will not use a litter box.

Accomplishments:  Has recently mastered “sit”, "lay down", his name, and can jump onto all the beds.  Sleeps under the covers with us at night.  Does not eat treats from the cat litter boxes.

Cost per pound: $57

Natalie is not impressed.
Age: 17
Weight: 14 lbs (according to her driver’s license)
Breed: Domestic long hair
Background: Disemboweled by her previous owners’ dog, historically medically neglected. Borderline diabetic (Type 2 lifestyle diabetes, I'm calling it what is is). She’d prefer to be the only cat in our house.
Pros: Classic beauty, good stomper, good at polishing things with her declawed paws (including the computer monitor when you are trying to read or write something). Great purr, skilled exfoliator of the human face.  Very helpful when you are reading a book, looking at a monitor or doing anything that she can sit on, sit in front of, or otherwise interrupt (see below). Very friendly with human visitors.
Cons: Not a team player. Generally is disgusted by any other cats including Squeak, Alex, and cat-like pets including Junebug and Miles.  In 2011, we suspected she was happier after Squeak died, but in 2012, after Junebug died, her glee was obvious.  I have never seen Natalie happier.  This unabashed glee lasted until we came home with Miles. 
Accomplishments: Natalie continues to be the largest of our cats and had no surgeries this year. Glowing report from the vet (who she hates). It appears as though she is getting healthier and younger with each vet visit.  We suspect she is robbing the strength of all the pets we have lost (Squeak, Junebug, and Mattie).  We are fearful there is a portrait of her in the attic that is aging.  She is a wonderful, happy cat, and if not for her utter disdain of any other pets (currently Alex and Miles), this would be her title to lose every year.
Cost: Expensive diabetic food, but no vet visits this year.
Cost per pound: $3/ lb

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Buy nothing from China update: a little Saturday shopping

So far, my goal of buying nothing made in China has been gong well.  I think this is the case for a couple of reasons:

  1. It turns out I really don't buy much stuff, and 
  2. with a little looking I have always been able to find a similar product made in the USA, or, if not, just made somewhere else other than China.

Things had been going well, until yesterday.  I tried to get four items, a lunch box, a dog harness, a USB flash drive, and gloves for my wife.  Easy enough, right?
I need to replace my lunchbox- the bag I bring to work everyday, whether I am in the field or in the office.  Several years ago I switched from a hard sided cooler to a soft sided cooler to fit in my bike panniers and to squeeze into place on our work boats.
Now (actually a year ago) it is time to replace the cooler.  I am kind of picky about stuff I buy, so sometimes it takes me a while to find the right things, but I can't find any coolers made anywhere on earth other than in China!

Columbia (the maker of my current cooler), what I thought was a good old American company, from Portland, Oregon or something- I recall the grandma ads, like a family business from the Pacific Northwest.  Whatever.  Evidently, it seems like they don't make anything in the USA anymore.
I have been looking for a new cooler/ lunch box for a while, but I haven't found exactly what I was looking for and when I have been close  they have all been made in China.*
And where I finally reached a frustrating experience is when I went to REI to look at one of their products, which, online, seemed like the perfect combination of features.  However, on their website, the county of origin was listed as "imported", so I had to go to the store to see for myself where they were made.    I figured they would be made in Indonesia, or Vietnam, and I was fine with that.
At the store, to my delight I found the wall of the coolers of my dreams.  This was it, my search had ended!  I confirmed that this was the perfect cooler for my use, but where was the country of origin label? After some doing, I found it, and sure enough, "made in China".

This was really frustrating and I even thought "what's the point", and questioned whether this was a fool's errand (which it probably is, but I am kind of stubborn and idealistic).  I left the Co-op really disillusioned.

OK, I thought, on to errand two, a dog harness for our new (to us) micro-dog.  I tried to find a suitable harness at a couple of other places in Missoula but all those harnesses were made in China, so I went to the boutique-y pet supply store (Go Fetch!), thinking that I'd pay more than at the chain, big box, pet store, but maybe they'd have stuff made locally or in Cambodia.  I got the feeling that this sort of store catered to the well-heeled (nice pun) dog owner, and that money spent on their pet-children was no object (like us).  It turns out they had the perfect harness- but, you guessed it, it was made in China- it seemed like everything there was made in China.  I don't know if it was intentional or not but the store placed the price stickers over the country of origin indication on many of their products.  I had to peel these off to see where things were made (this probably looked a little suspicious).

The next errand was to get a USB flash drive, most it turns out are made in China.  But by paying twice as much (about $27 compared to $12-15 depending on brand), I was able to get one made in the USA, and I was happy to do it. My last errand was to get my wife a new pair of hunting gloves, and I couldn't find any that were not made in China.  So, I was 1-4, and pretty discouraged.

I have been impressed and surprised by a few things I've purchased, and I have come to realize you really have to look hard for the country of origin.

Tools, in general, are hard to find that aren't made in China, that is why I have to give a shout out to:

  • Whiteside router bits- fantastic quality, great prices and all made in the USA.  I have been buying their router bits for years, and I am relived to know that when I need a new one, I know a company I can go to.

Another thing that I have been surprised by, unfortunately, is how many different things ion our daily lives are made in China- ranging from foods, to screws, to even hand warmers  lots of little things.  I used to think more expensive items were made in China because of the significant cost savings, but it turns out almost anything is.

Our big upcoming purchase is replacing our 1960 furnace and 1990 hot water heater.  This process has been a very difficult challenge navigating greenwashing (we have been thinking about these purchases for years- click here for my thoughts about greenwashing), energy efficiency, economics, cost/ benefit analyses, challenging both conventional wisdom and resisting trendy options, etc...  This process is probably worthy of a few blog posts!  The good news is, we are excited about our ultimate choices and they reflect a good balance between efficiency and economy, but lack the "Prius" factor.  They are un-glamorous solutions that fit our needs and budget.  Plus, all the components are made in the USA!

*editor's note:  The good news is, that I found several online manufacturers that make coolers similar to what I am looking for and they are made in the USA!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Repurposed Garden Tool Table and Chairs

In my last post I gave an overview and recap of Spontaneous Construction, but here are a few more pictures of the table and chairs we built from old garden tools and reclaimed cedar fence rails.  For more information about this project, click here.
These chairs and table are one of many items constructed in 6 hours on Saturday that will be auctioned of at the Home ReSource Benefit Auction on October 19 (here is a link to the Facebook Event page).  It is incredible what the talented people and supporters of Home ReSource constructed.  Thirty teams donated their time and effort to build something in order support the idea of creative reinvention, recycling and reusing building materials.

All the items up for bid on October 19th are on display at Home ReSource included three beautiful tables, an English phone booth inspired greenhouse, an awesome rocking chicken printing press (yes, you read that correctly), and many more works of art.

The chairs are surprisingly comfortable- in part due to the long flexible tines of the mulch forks and the back rails that are curved from steam bending.  It was a fun project, and I am looking forward to building some more- but for my own garden this time!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Spontaneous Construction 2012 Recap

What another great year at Spontaneous Construction (SponCon)- Home ReSource's signature event.  This is a day-long building contest using materials found at Home ReSource. SponCon has been dubbed a "celebration of creative re-invention."  It is a unique and wonderful event and many of us look forward to it every year.

Here is a link to our Facebook album with photos and captions from the day.
Same team- 2011 SponCon Project, a mobile garden cloche
Again this year, our garden coaching business Butterfly Properties had a team and like last year, we built something for the garden.  Team members retained our roles from last year:
me- field marshal, woodworker;
Barry Cummings- metal working specialist, fabrication wizard;
Marilyn Marler- custodial engineer and  field logistical support.
The team and the completed project- re-purposed garden tool garden table and chairs
If you have been following my blog, you will probably recognize the theme- repurposed garden tools.  I love them.  Old tools are special to us. Tools are pieces of art and represent years of embodied work & energy.

This project was part 4 in a 6 part series; it started with the trellisgate arbor, and there are a couple of projects still to come.
Here is what we started with- old tools and recycled cedar 2x4 fence rails.  Reusing these old tools & immortalizing them is a way to add interest to a landscape, and is a tribute to the service the tools have performed.
we are all business
The chairs are made from old grain scoops, manure forks & coal shovels (part of Missoula history since most houses burned coal at some point). Tool handles are welded to the seats, and the back spindles are made from tines of manure forks.

The chair top rails are steam bent white oak tool handles, and the stretchers (horizontal pieces connecting the legs) are tools handles, too. We created tenons on the spindles that we inserted into mortises in the legs for strength.
Checking the handles in the steam box

Bending a handle fresh out of the steam box
The table top is made from reused cedar 2 x 4 fence rails which were destined for the dumpster (they were cutoffs from other projects, & being less than 24” long, their use is limited). All the hardware (screws, carriage bolts, etc) in the project is reused. All of our scraps from this project (like unused tool handles or grain scoops) will be put to use for similar projects.
The potato fork garden table- designed to be inserted into the ground
It is incredible what people can make in 6 hours at SponCon.  There are some fantastic teams filled with skilled work workers  metal workers, an artists.
A bad start to the day- Barry plugs his 110v welder into a 250v outlet
The top 13 or so pieces (there were over 30 contestants), will be auctioned off at the Benefit auction on October 19 at the Double Tree in Missoula.  This auction raises money for the charitable and educational programs Home ReSource provides in the community.  It will be a great event and a chance to bid on these and other works of art (and function).
Another happy family enjoying SponCon!
This was the best SponCon event yet. It is growing and getting more professional and established in the community every year, and like anything of this sort it takes a lot of dedicated people. This year, volunteers like board treasurer Nicole Marshall and Marilyn Marler were co-chairs of the SponCon Planning Committee, and a lot of staff helped organize and implement SponCon. Thanks everyone!

Below is a time-lapse video we took of the event- the whole day in 1:54!.  Pay particular attention to Adapt Design + Build's team in the lower right hand side of the screen as the build a English phone booth inspired greenhouse!

I am already looking forward to SponCon in 2013! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A new project: buy nothing made in China for 1 year

This might not sound too much like a garden blog post, but it most certainly is.  Our garden- the landscaping and vegetables we grow is our attempt at living lightly.  The goal of trying to buy things more locally is an extension of that attempt.  There are many reasons for not buying things made in China, ranging from human rights concerns, to the distance the items have to travel, to supporting local businesses, and I'm not going to elaborate on them here- others have said it better.

This project of mine started a month or so ago when I needed to get a new angle grinder (a tool for the shop).  Normally, I try to buy tools used (for cost reasons, because many things have a longer life than people think, and also for the fun of it), but angle grinders are one tool that just wear out and are not a good investment used.  I started looking at the usual American brands: Milwaukee, DeWalt, Porter Cable, etc... and these were all made in China.  I kept looking, and I was surprised to eventually learn that THERE ARE NO ANGLE GRINDERS MADE IN THE USA ANYMORE!  So, I broadened my search and looked at Makita (a Japanese company)- their grinders are also made in China.  I eventually purchased a Metabo grinder (made in Germany).  Kind of shocking that was the best I was able to do!

So, I thought, I'd pay better attention to where everything I was buying was from, and for the next year, I will try to not buy anything new from China (not just tools for the shop, but anything).  I'd like to only buy stuff made in the USA, but from the grinder example, maybe that is not possible anymore.

I'll keep you posted how I do.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Repurposed Garden Tool Garden Arbor

This is Part Three of a Six- Part Series of Re-purposed Garden tool, Garden things.

To recap:
 Part 3: Garden Tool, Garden Arbor
I like hand tools, especially old ones.  Old ones, inherently, in order to survive, must have been well made (on the other hand, perhaps they were so lousy that they never got used, but that is another story).  Hand tools are pieces of art, and they all represent such value- since a lot of time, energy and toil probably went into using them.  To me, tools represent the greatest fusion of function and design.  
This arbor is the first part of a fence I am making, or have been threatening to make for a while now.  But I did just secure a fence permit, and I have six months to complete it- so the game is afoot.
One of the main functions of the soon to be garden fence and current garden arbor is to show intent with our front yard garden and provide a definition of space- a kind of formal one too, separating the green lawns on either side with our wild, and currently very dry, prairie.
Along with these design reasons, an arbor, and fence give me some more things to make.  I like building things.
I used as many pieces of tools as possible- including the handles for pegs.
On top of the arbor are two acorn finials I turned and these will be replicated on the fence posts.  Acorn finials are a common welcoming symbol used in gardens for centuries.
I bent the rake and hoes on the interior of the arbor to represent the universally recognized recycling symbol – in this case three tools mutually chasing each other in perpetuity.  Plus, it just looks cool, I think, and bending wood is fun.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hot and dry in the wildlife garden, and just the way I like it

It’s been a dry one this summer- throughout the west.  No surprise, I know everyone has been dealing with it and hearing about it.  In Missoula we received 0.04” of precipitation in August* (for those of you scoring at home, that is 1.0 mm).  Not a lot of moisture and that is the same amount as our home garden received, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Now is the time I think native plant garden shines- this is the reason we have selected locally appropriate species- a suite of plants designed to handle these situations- without any interference or assistance from us.  Make no mistake- it is dry, and we have received only a fraction of normal moisture this summer (normal for August* is 1.23”, and probably going down).  I never gave a thought to watering, and I’m not worried about the plants at all.
For a variety of reason, I’ve been digging some holes in the garden- to transplant some plants, dig post holes and remove some plants.  In each case I was amazed by how little soil moisture there is.  None.  Yet the plants survive, and even thrive.   Although many plants are dormant, even if prematurely for the year, not all are. The rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) is just starting to flower, and some of the fleabanes (Erigeron species), are re-flowering; a sign of reverse photoperiodism.
Early dormancy is a common strategy for dealing with the unusual hot and dry conditions.  It happens in the wild and in our garden- there is a nice harmony and symmetry with that.  It helps me feel connected to the natural world.  When I was elk hunting this weekend, the plants looked the same there as in my garden.  And actually, many in my garden looked a bit more lush.  In the woods right now even the serviceberry (Amalanchear alnifolia) have either lost their leaves or they have turned brown.  All, save the plants in the riparian areas that will stay lush and green through the fall.  We live in a water limited environment here. 

I don’t really understand why people plant native plants- wanting the benefits of water conservation, but then water them like conventional plants, or expect them to look like they do in June all year long.  That is not how it works, and not how these plants have adapted to our local ecosystems.  Trying to change this aesthetic just reminds me as a group native plant and wildlife gardeners have only come so far.  We need to accept the beauty in the natural world, and the values and aesthetics of something different than an emerald green lawn, and roses and annuals flowering in the end of August (when we have only received a millimeter of precipitation).
The garden is dry and beautiful and next spring it will be alive and well, and set up beautifully if we don’t have any more rain next summer.  And the insects, and birds will be back and there will probably be more of them to enjoy the garden again.

*weather data according to weather.com 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Spontaneous Construction 2012!

SponCon is back for 2012 and better than ever.  The annual Home ReSource festival of creative re-use will be on September 29.  And yes, Butterfly Properties (our garden coaching business) is again a proud sponsor, but more importantly we are competing in the building contest again.  Our team remains the same as last year (me, Barry and Marilyn) and we have another garden project in store (to find out what we are building, you will have to show up on September 29!)

Last year we built this mobile greenhouse, and this year we are concocting ideas for something even better, that will hopefully improve on our finalist placing last year (afterall, it is a contest!).
The mobile greenhouse our team built in 6 hours at SponCon in 2011
The event is a wonderful, fun and uniquely Missoula and there is something for everyone to do- from kids to adults, but one the best ways to experience SponCon is to enter the building competition (it only costs $40/ team and they feed you, and you get free run of Home Resource for materials for your creation).
Enter soon, because the word on the street is that the competition might fill up this year!  Sources close to me also report that Missoula's world renown artist, Monte Dolack, is competing this year.

Here are excepts from my blog post about Spon Con 2011:

"Yesterday our team (Butterfly Properties- our garden coaching business) spent the day participating (or as our friend and teammate Barry would say "competing") in Spontaneous Construction.  This is an annual event at Home ReSource that is all about creative and adaptive reuse.  It is a wonderful event and fun for kids and adults.  Contestants have six hours to build anything from materials found in Home ReSource.

It was a fun time with activities for all ages and creative interests (art, music, community, ice cream and more).
 This year was our first time in the building competition and we built a mobile garden cloche (little greenhouse).  Our little mobile greenhouse (actually 3 items in 1- see below), was selected as one of the contenders for the grand prize.  The prize determination will be revealed at a benefit auction on November 10th.  At the auction, among other things, you'll be able to bid on our mini greenhouse and all the other top pieces that were built yesterday. All of them will be on display at Home ReSource (1515 Wyoming Street), until November 10, so you can stop by and check them all out.

We wanted to build something for the garden that was functional and beautiful that was made from from  discarded building materials.  All the wood for the greenhouse was painted redwood (you'd never know it from the paint) deck balusters, and the frame was built out of an ugly steel fence.  The glazing was single pane glass- and there is always tons of this at Home ReSource, ready to be cut up and put to use.

Six hours is not a lot of time. For maximum efficiency, we divided up tasks- Barry did the metalwork, I did the woodwork and glass cutting, and Marilyn did the site cleanup and all the painting.
We dressed up the cart with some shelf brackets and even garden shears for the handles (below).

The greenhouse (displayed in front of the proud team, Barry Cummings, Marilyn Marler, and me), is actually three items in one.  It can be used as a mobile greenhouse (as is), you can remove the greenhouse and use it directly on the ground as a cold frame, and then you can use the cart as a very study, heavy-duty garden cart.
Team Butterfly Properties:  Barry, Marilyn and me
The cart features 20" solid rubber wheels, and is made with 1" square steel tubing, expertly welded and fabricated by Barry.  The floor of the greenhouse is expanded steel for drainage.
Home ReSource is a wonderful place thanks to all the hard work, vision and dedication of its staff and supporters in the community."