Isa Delahunt

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since Jan 21, 2014
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Recent posts by Isa Delahunt

The ready-made clothing industry produces a jaw dropping amount of waste fabric--one article I read claimed 53% of new fabric ends up in the bin!  The twin evils of inefficient production and the ever-changing cycle of fashion that requires constant new clothes make clothing one of the most wasteful products today.  The human cost is also enormous, but that's another topic.  I just stumbled on the company Zero Waste Daniel, whose mission is to take this waste and turn it into unique, sustainable, fashionable garments, while supporting ethical working conditions for sewists.  Read more about them here.

Fashion isn't really my thing--and certainly not high fashion--but the Zero Waste Daniel process for recycling cloth seems like a fantastic idea to quickly and easily turn leftovers and reclaimed fabric into yardage that you could use in lots of ways.  Basically, they sort out compatible colorways and fabric types/weights, and sew bits together to make flat yard goods, sort of like crazy quilt piecing.  I'm sure you could be as elaborate with this as you wanted, but it could also be pretty fast and simple.  Once the scraps are united into pieces of flat cloth, you can cut out patterns as usual.  It's much easier to cut out pattern pieces from flat yardage than compose them from scraps each piece at a time.  If you cut carefully, waste would be minimal, and could go back into the mix for another round.  You could always overdye to unify the overall piece of made-up cloth, and to tame even the most hideous colors into something a normal person might wear.  One drawback might be the seams joining your fabric, but maybe mitigable by using larger scraps, so less seams, and by positioning them in less stressed areas of your product, or using multiple layers.  Or just mending any that come apart.  

Anyway, I thought this was a pretty nifty concept--a little different way than we usually think of recycling cloth scraps and the useable fabric left in garments too   worn in critical ways to mend.  Lots of possibilities! And good on the company for trying to make use of a huge resource that otherwise goes into the landfill.  
2 months ago
Kenneth wrote above "A make-do" repair, that will solve an immediate need, with common materials on-hand (both for buying time until the repair is possible, and for knowing what materials to have on hand)"

I think this is a category all on its own!  Problem solving?  Improvising?  Creative solutions?  Being able to get the job done with what you have available is a vital skill, a required attitude, even, dare I say, the defining mindset necessary for homesteading.  The further off grid or remote you are, the more it matters, too.  Not to minimize the importance of skills and the like, but it's pretty easy to become competent and awesome when you have all the correct parts, materials and tools.  
2 months ago
WOW!  What a cool concept!

Re furniture in round buildings, I live in a 30' yurt.  One concept that works is to put the square stuff in the middle, rather than against the walls--like someone said above, hallways can have rounded sides, counters and tables are a pain.  But, in a big enough circle, like my yurt, you only lose about 2" over a 4' wide bookshelf, for example, which is not that much lost space.  If you figure that metric out for your size circle, you know how to build efficiently.  And, to avoid having to recalculate the curve all the time, a neighbor of mine built a dining room table with edges the same curve as his yurt walls.  It fits beautifully, and is a handy curve template for anything he wants to make to fit snugly against the actual wall, too.  
3 months ago
Another thing I just remembered to say is that wheelbarrows are build for tall people, generally.  If you are short, they are very difficult to use.  A tall person bends over, or bends at the knees, and lifts up on the handles.  When they are standing up, arms straight and fully extended, the back support on the wheelbarrow is off the ground the weight is on the wheel and viola, they're good to go.  I am 4'10".  When I am standing straight up, holding the handles of the wheelbarrow, my arms are already at full extension.  I lift up, and to clear the ground in back, I have to lift my shoulders way up, and my arms are bent halfway up to my armpits.  It's bad body mechanics, and not as stable as it ought to be--I've lost many loads to save tweaking my back or wrists.  It's possible to choke up on the handles, but I'd have to be right at the back of the body to be at the right height, and round off the handles there as well.  Also bad physics.  I tend to use carts and the like more, because they work better for short folks.  
3 months ago
Carts and wheelbarrows both, of several sizes, depending on the task and the terrain! I'm constantly looking for better ways to move things round! I recently got what is called a "muck" cart, that I like very well and fills another hauling niche.  It's a sort of hand truck, with adjustable length handles, made of heavy weight tubular steel.  There are fat little balloon tires, decent clearance, and it has a bail that can swing up to hold a 70 quart bucket or the like (sold separately) or stay down for other loads.  And, there is a kickstand, so it will stand up with a load on, unlike other handtrucks.  It holds 350 lbs, very narrow wheelbase to get through barn aisles.  It really fills a gap in hauling for me. You have to assemble it, which was easy, and the components seem well made.  I haven't abused it long enough to really tell, but I think it will stand up.  

Here is one place that carries these, there are others.  Bucket is also listed there.
3 months ago
In the San Juans we've got the same situation as Victoria right across the strait, with unusually heavy snow and a polar front that is keeping it around longer than normal, all coming very late for us as well.  Snow is an issue here because we're not set up very well for it, unlike other places I've lived, where it was more common.  General snow stuff is well covered above, I can add a few off-grid and PNW specific things we sometimes forget between snow events.

Try to clear off the solar panels and keep them clear, which is easier said than done, depending on where they are!  Snow blocks them, so no power.  If this was a problem this year, figure something out for next time that is long enough and soft enough to clear without damaging them. My water drain freezes, though mostly the water in will keep running in a Northeaster.  We have great weather forecasting now, so I do all the water-intensive things like dishes and laundry beforehand, then carry water outside to dispose of it (not where it will make ice I'll slip on!).  After the snow/freeze begins, I try not to let water go down the drain.  Then when things thaw, the drain will work.  There is a time lag between when the thaw starts and when things like drains and hoses thaw--better to not let them freeze in the first place.  In this storm we're in now, I drained most things, but my 55 gal static water supply for the shower is frozen solid, so though it is warmer now, there won't be a shower for quite a while.  Dang--dishpan baths work fine, though.    

If you have duplicates of things like chicken waterers you can trade out thawed ones for frozen, and then you have to haul less liquid water around.  I always get metal chicken waterers because I can set them on the stove to thaw. This is hard on the valves though, so I also sometimes switch to metal baking pans, same idea.  Think small, easy to carry back and forth, and able to be on the stove.  Alternately, use containeers that are really flexible, that you can dump the ice out of easily.  There is no point to filling water troughs completely, though if they are frozen solid it takes less water to make the level high enough for short animals to drink from, so that can be an advantage.  I water large animals what they will drink, several times a day rather than trying to keep a constant supply thawed.

Snow is heavy, especially our snow, especially when the rain starts and is soaked up by the snow.  Clear off traps and costco sheds and flat roofs, or they will collapse.  Clear off shrubs and trees you care about, or they will break under the weight of the snow.  Be aware that limbs and trees will break and fall, especially if we get freezing rain on top of the snow load, plus a little wind.  It sounds like a war zone in the woods sometimes!

Allow extra time to do chores, because breaking trail and moving things heavily covered with snow and cold and sticky will take more time and effort than usual.  Double if you are hauling water too.  Be aware when you are getting sweaty and adjust clothing as needed, or you end up getting damp and colder.  (People with real winter are laughing now, but mild-climate people don't get this!). Drink enough water!  Especially if you are hauling water and don't have as much as usual, it's tempting to not drink because you use it up faster.  But it's dry in a northeaster here like it is in our hot dry summer, as the moisture is the air is all sucked up in ice.  Keep your gloves and socks dry, rotate them out for spares if needed.  

I offer no hints on driving--we have no plows here, and it's a tiny island anyway, so I just walk and enjoy the scenery!  
4 months ago
Be aware of what you're doing and what's around you while you're doing it, stop and rest if you start to space out, learn to anticipate where the tool will go if it slips, or what you'll fall onto if you lose your footing.  Go get help if you need it, even if it takes more time, because if you tweak your back out it will be more trouble in the end than fetching the neighbor to lift whatever it is.  Spend the money for proper safety gear and wear it--you'll look way better in chainsaw chap orange than bloodsoaked jeans! Where I live if you are injured and need medical attention you either have to find someone with a boat to take you off, if it's not really serious, or get medivacced out, which is really expensive.  Getting hurt is a huge deal, logistically.  We have remarkably few accidents here, despite all the chainsaws, sharp tools, tractors, and physical labor, because people are pretty cautious, for the most part, and have learned to work smart and safe.  
4 months ago
It's a sign of the times that the choice is even available to not cook from scratch!  Holy cats!  When my four boys were small and I was farming and homeschooling, everyone worked.  A lot.  Between the garden, milking and cheesemaking, churning, hunting and butchering, dealing with firewood, doing all laundry by hand and heating water to do it, and no electricity or vehicles to haul anything with, there was always a thing even the smallest kid could do to help.  It was great, and the results are awesome!  As grown men they can do everything, and do, thinking nothing of it.  They all know that a real cook is someone who can size up what is available and make a nutritious, tasty meal out of it.  

I cooked for years on a two burner propane unit in summer and a woodstove if baking and in winter.  Six loaves of bread, twice or three times a week.  Three pies at a time, made for dinner, gone by breakfast.  Ten pounds of potatoes for a meal.  Granola made in 5 gallon lots.  Anything bought in a quantity smaller than 25 lbs not worth considering.  Eat the food that is served, or wait until the next meal, or go forage in the garden or on the beach, no arguments.  Besides eating what we'd hunted or grown, we ate pasta, bread, beans, and oatmeal.  As I look at my work log notes from that time, it was plain, hearty fare, and lots of it.  We worked hard, and ate a ton of food, and everyone thrived.

In practise, I agree with Alex, above, that people tend to have a set bunch of meals they make as a rule, in rotation.  I had maybe ten to twelve main dishes, seasonally determined, supported by a variety of baked goods, which seemed to be an area I put more creative energy into.  Once you learn what spices and herbs make up a particular "style", the same basic ingredients can taste completely different, which keeps things not boring. It was a busy, happy routine--you just have to learn to work efficiently and prep ahead, and always have your staples in order.  Feeding yourself and your family is such a basic activity that fits seamlessly into everything else, that when looking back, I marvel at how I could have turned out all that food, day after day, it was just part of life at the time.  Part of the trick is to realize that things like cooking and washing clothes and getting up wood and doing the schoolwork or whatever aren't the things you do and then get on with your real life--they are your real life, or at least a big part of it.  We have turned things around so much nowadays that we forget that.
6 months ago
Years ago, my family and I lived in a place where I purchased staples yearly, and they were barged in.  Other than that, we ate what we grew, raised, or hunted.  It's the mother-of-all-shopping lists, but then you're done with that!  Now I still do this, but living a bit less isolated, I replace as things run out rather than all at one go.  I always have at least a year's worth of food on hand or on the hoof, so to speak.  

Two things I've learned over the years are to just grow or store what you will eat, and to use what you have stored or grown and not be buying fancy treats all the time.  It seems obvious, but if you don't like beets, for example, don't bother raising them, and certainly don't bother preserving them.   It took me a while to work through this, though.  It's really critical to align your diet and your food storage so they match up.  Over the years I have refined my list, and my cooking/eating so I don't waste time and money on things I "should" eat.  There are so many choices, even within your food growing area, it's not a nutritional nor a moral problem to decide you just don't really care for lima beans.  There are other things you can grow or buy that will fill the same niche.  

I also eat in season as much as possible, and eat almost nothing that wouldn't actually grow where I live, though I might not personally grow it, for whatever reasons.  This is a philosophical decision, but also turns out to be very economical.  I usually eat things that were raised on the island where I live--the three mile diet I like to call it.  Saves on transport costs!  I have developed a standard pantry staples inventory, and I cook from that plus whatever I have fresh or seasonally stored.  If you get your basic list right, you can make everything you like to eat, whenever you want to, except you can't eat fresh strawberries in the dead of winter, of course.  This system works great for me, and I am always tweaking it around, too, mind.  I love to cook and experiment, so I have anything but a boring diet.  What I do have is a comprehensive stock of basic ingredients suitable for my tastes and climate, and from there, I can go wild!  

Glass is great storage, of course, and I use gallon or half gallon stores to stock the kitchen supplies of things.  For bulk, I like lard tins, which are rat and insect proof and last forever if you keep them dry and don't store salty things in them.  Food grade plastic buckets with those lids you can get that screw on are good too, though I don't like to get more plastic in my life.  I abhor packaging, so I buy in bulk, and hardly get anything in cans or bottles unless it's essential and I can't work around it.  (There is no "away" where I live--if you make non-compostable or burnable trash, you have to figure out what to do with it, as you can't just throw it away to become someone else's problem.) Canning is great, freezing is good too (I have great solar, even in the Pacific Northwest, so freezers are an efficient tool here).  Salting and drying meat is good, and economical in storage space.  A root cellar or two is helpful, though it's possible to do without.  Store grains whole and grind as needed, whole grain keeps better.

Another thing I do that helps keep food moving through in a timely way is to keep an inventory, with dates, so I know what I have and how old it is.  You have to rotate stock, or things go bad.  I think it's pretty cool to have the food situations under control at all times, and I like knowing the quantity of food I need for a year, and best of all is to know exactly where it came from and ate before I ate it.  I've grown to feel a little weird about eating food that is from somewhere else, over the years, rather than the other way around.  

How to start?  One staple at a time, and seasonal food as it comes to you.  What do you eat, on a regular basis?  Next time, buy fifty pounds of rice instead of 5.  Keep a list, build up gradually.  Don't go shopping daily, if that's an option where you are.  Shop weekly, then at bigger intervals.  You'll soon see what your patterns are, and you can go from there.  If you list what you like to eat you'll see what the typical ingredients are, and you can start to build a stock of those in bulk.  Cook from what you have, rather than going put to get what you need to cook a certain recipe you saw on Facebook.  Learn the subtle art of substituting things in recipes.  It's a cliche where I live that at some point, you will inevitably find you've substituted every ingredient in the recipe, and thus have an entirely new food!  It's far from boring, which is what people seem to think working from a set food stock would be.  

8 months ago