Bricky and friends.
You’ve already met ‘Bricky’, my smart-enough flip phone with the tiny touch screen. Update: It is everything I hoped it would be. It also closes with an endlessly satisfying k’thunk. Which makes it easier for me to literally close that world away, and go look instead at plants and bugs and books and such.
I bought Bricky because I needed a working phone-phone, but I didn’t get rid of its predecessor, a Moto g6. (Even though we never bonded, and my favourite thing about it is still the mushroom sticker I put on the back.) I also didn’t get rid of the phone before that, an Asus Zenfone.
I’ve tended each of these phones so they still work and have a job here. Together, these three kinda-shoddy phones add up to exactly what I want from my technology. It’s like if Voltron was made up of cracked screens and weak motors, but also told you great stories, always had the best recipes, and didn’t bother you while you were trying to sleep.
Sleep is the bailiwick of my Zenfone, on the left there. After several years of hard use, its charging port stopped working. I couldn’t be without a phone at the time, so I replaced it. But a few months and a new part later, I was able to pry the Zenfone open and solder it back to life.
Since the Zenfone is too old and SIM-card-less to cause trouble, it gets a pass on the no-phones-in-the-bedroom rule and lives there. Where it’s still fast enough to play meditation prompts, guide stretches, or play a chill inspiring video or two when the noise and worries of the day are a bit too loud.
The moto g6, right, is the Zenfone’s successor. Because it was in stock, unlocked, inexpensive, and ran Android. But after a few years, the screen cracked, charging and audio got flaky, and eventually it stopped ringing. It held all my calls, whether I wanted it to or not.
The g6 is designed to be unrepairable (boo). BUT I don’t need to repair it for its new job in charge of once-a-week Instagramming, morning YouTube-ing, recipe googling, app testing, and quick camera…ing.
Right-to-repair can’t keep up with planned obsolescence, and the new-new is always calling. But sometimes old+old+old might equal something better. 💚
Beaver sketch, painted with acorns, wild grape, avocado pits and oak galls. Based on a b&w photograph by Hope Ryden.
For 2024, I’ve resolved to be busy as a beaver.
But not busy as the beavers in my cartoon-simple conception of them, but busy as wild beavers are. And it seems I need to practice a very different way of being busy, if I would like busy beavers to recognize me as kin.
Thanks to these beautiful observations by Hope Ryden (from her book “Lily Pond: Four Years with a Family of Beavers”), I have some idea where to start:
“…Despite the descriptive epithet often applied to the species, beavers are not ‘busy’ animals. On the contrary, they normally proceed at a leisurely pace, unburdened by outside pressures. One stick at a time they drag up on their house, one load of mud at a time they push onto their dam. After doing a certain amount of work, they take a break to feed or groom or play or just float about in the water.
Few species, in fact, appear so oblivious to stress as does Castor canadensis. House wrens, for example, build their nests in a kind of frenzy, as if tyrannized by their seasonal timetable. Not beavers. … One handful of mud at a time, they scooped from the bottom of the pond. And, pressing this against their chests, they paddled slowly to the dam, and shoved it up into the crest. As unhassled as they appeared, however, they were in fact accomplishing two tasks at once–deepening a channel and raising the height of a dam.
Beavers work like that. Interrupting one operation to transport its byproduct to a site where that debris is wanted…
All waste products are recycled: dredged mud becomes house insulation or dam sealant; debarked food sticks become house or dam lumber; wood chips (fallout from a tree-felling operation) are brought to the lodge and spread on the floor for bedding. In this admirably relaxed manner, the efficient beaver accomplishes an enormous amount of work. Watching [beavers] is like attending a morality play, and I often thought I ought to take a lesson from it.”~Hope Ryden, “Lily Pond”
Despite his perfect pike position, one of the judges still only gave Oliver a 9.8, on account of he is a cat. 🐈🏊♂️
So many exciting things coming up this year, here at The Little Homestead That Could Code.
Updates on past projects (like the holz hausen, potato storage A/B testing, overwintering herbs, and maintaining our 100ft driveway without salt or fossil fuels…) and upcoming ones (growing asparagus from seed, new Orpington chicks!) are coming soon. Along with some very exciting news from the open source software side of our little operation… ✨
But in the meantime, please enjoy our landlubber kitty who dreams of diving.
Have a good rest of your week folks ♥️
Props to Laura Corrigan for her assessment that the judge must have been a dog. 😂
Great Horned Owl. Painted with oak galls, acorns, and saffron (locally-grown).
When I was a kid, my favourite book was “Granny’s Gang” by Katherine McKeever. It’s the story of Kay and Larry’s life with various injured/orphaned/recovering owls. (The titular “Granny” is a spectacled owl.)
I grew up in the ‘burbs of North York. First in a townhouse, then a house for awhile, then a townhouse again. There were a few wild pockets scattered around the cul-de-sacs and train tracks. And I was lucky to have them. But if there were owls around, I never encountered them.
Owls lived in dreams and imagination, not my neighborhood.
Forty years later, I live in a different habitat. Here, owl song signals the start of winter. I’ll dash outside some night in December. Taking out an overripe compost bucket, or doing a final chicken check. And though I’m probably not wearing a coat, I’ll take a moment to look up at… 🎶hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo🎶 …the stars.
The call interrupting my thoughts announces the magic is happening again — the owls are picking their partners and territories. Baby owls are just around the corner… Literally.
For some, winter is a time of rest. For others, deep struggle and hard won survival. For the great horned owl, it’s baby-making time. They are very early nesters, and in Ontario, by January-February, proceedings are well underway.
For now, the owls can call this place home. Humans too. Though both our perches here are fragile.
Whatever else we do here, our life’s work is the protection and encouragement of the little forest where we live. To try and pass a healthy woods forward for the humans and critters we hope come after us. Full of big trees and baby owls, and all the critters we see and hear — and all the ones we don’t.
🦉📖: In my 30s, I learnt Kay’s centre is in Vineland Station, Ontario. It still operates today, as The Owl Foundation. It was a dizzying discovery, like learning The Jungle Book was real and you could get to it by TTC. I was incredibly fortunate to meet and thank Kay before she passed. Secondhand copies of Granny’s Gang can still be found, renamed “A Place For Owls”.
John posts a version of this every year, and in years I remember, so do I.
A commission for the wildly wonderful Jess to end off the year. 💜
We take our big break in the winter. Our kerchief and our cap, the woodstove, the furry animals, and the snowy woods have all been waiting patiently for us. Our invisible internal batteries — brains, hearts, and spirits — are blinking red. Time now to rest and recharge.
Happy Winter Solstice everyone! ❄️ Have a wonderful holiday season and see you in the new year 💙
~Kate & Neil
My first off-brand, extra rustic Holz Hausen! If you know what these are, and lovingly craft them yourself, please look away. I mean you no harm or offense.
A Holz Hausen is a self-supporting way to season firewood — to dry it out before burning. Some folks use it as an all-in-one: both to dry green wood and store it. So when I needed to relocate our firepit wood off a rack this week, it was time to try making one of these aesthetically pleasing little scamps.
I usually see “holz hausen” translated as “wood house”. But Translate refuses to corroborate that. I couldn’t convince it “hausen” meant “house”, no matter how many leading questions I asked. Google much preferred “hausen” to mean: “live”, “hang out”, “wreak havoc”.
Wood for living, hanging out, and wreaking havoc. A fine definition for what takes place at a firepit. (Only the best wreaking havoc that is. In the language of social change, the kind of havoc wreaked by “positive deviants”…)
We visit with friends and family outside these days, and the firepit is a nice focus for wintry socializing. It’s also where I like to putter solo in my downtime. The firepit might as well be invisible for all I look at it over the summer, but when winter rolls around, I feel a driving need on Sunday mornings to pull on a snowsuit and go fry eggs in the snow.
Our firepit burns all our oversize and/or gnarly wood. By definition, wood is only there if it is a PITA. Which also means that my raw material was rough.
But I am part of the generation who believes nothing is unstackable, so long as you are humming the Tetris theme song. (Fun fact: It is called “Korobeiniki”, and is a very fun song to learn to play on ukelele.)
And I am surprised to find the Holz Hausen handled all our outlier wood like a champ! At ~4ft around, mine is half normal size, so there was a lot of improvising. And yet, though it’s only had a few days to prove itself, this island of misfit wood seems to be one solid little structure.
As our friend Em eloquently put it: “It’s a nice place where order and chaos meet… and have tea.”
Cheers to that. May order and chaos sit together in balanced companionship more often. ☕🌳
Our first proper snowfall here this morning, and you know what that means — it’s SNOW CAKE DAY!
❄️👩🍳: A longstanding tradition in my family — the day of the first real snowfall, when the ground first snuggles under a full blanket of snow, you bake a “snow cake”.
🎂⚗️: A snow cake doesn’t require a particular recipe. Any white cake with white icing, made to celebrate the first snowfall, will do. A specific cake is not the assignment. The icing can be slapdash or meticulous, whatever you like. The project of snow cake-ing is just about taking time to notice and enjoy the season. If you’re like me, and run around the house calling out “it snowed it snowed it snowed!”, you may already be a fan of winter. And if you’re not, well, eating a fresh piece of cake might just take the edge off. 😉
🎂🎂🎂: I’ve made so many snow cakes over the years, all different shapes and sizes. Decades of them. Vegan, layered, single cupcakes, you name it. Since neither of us is doing great with gluten at the moment, this year I made gluten-free snow pan-cakes: fluffy gf pancake mix topped with simple icing sugar icing, finished with the best sprinkles (<-fight me).
🎂🍩: And… it might be my favourite snow cake yet. It tastes like a donut. 🤯 But without losing valuable icing real estate to the hole. I shall call it… The snow-nut.
Wishing you a beautiful wintery day folks!
🎂🔗: If you’d like a tried-and-true snow cake + icing recipe, you are welcome to use mine, posted here.
Ornaments made with just cornstarch, baking soda, water, and… a 3D printer? 😉
🐦🔧: Everyone and their brother sent me Woodlark‘s cornstarch ornaments — and I’m glad they did! 😂 Beautiful DIY ornaments made from the pantry?? Count me in! But instead of making a star garland, I fancied bird ornaments. Only trouble is I didn’t actually have bird-shaped cutters…
🐦🧠: I like to say Maker’s Dozen’s favourite place to work are the places where art+tech+nature intersect. There’s nothing I like more than smooshing different parts of my brain together… Sooo let’s do this!
🐦📝: I started by drawing a few bird silhouettes in Affinity Designer*, imported them as SVGs to Tinkercad, did some tinkering and extruding to make them 3D cutters, then exported them as STLs for my Prusa to slice, dice, and print. Perfect! Time to make some cornstarch birds!
🐦👩💻: Bonus — My office is far from the woodstove, but the dehydrator lives in here, and running it makes the room nice and toasty. So instead of baking the cut ornament shapes in the oven, I dried them in the dehydrator. Whipping up a nice batch of ornaments, while also keeping your computing fingers good and toasty — win-win!
🛒📏: I love working with raw materials that are solid enough to be real, but ephemeral enough to go back to the earth when their time is through. And to let my brain cross-pollinate between what can be computed, grown, baked or built. It makes sense the lines between all these endeavours are more porous than they first appear. After all — as maker Felix Schelhasse once so beautifully put it — the kitchen is actually just a workshop for groceries.
Have a good one folks!
*I left Adobe in favour of Affinity a few years ago. Subscription model software is often unnecessary, frequently insidious, and rarely in the customer’s best interests. Fortunately solid alternatives are still out there, if you look for them. 👍