My Auntie’s Garden – Part 9 – Suculents

There are several colors of sempervivum around the garden, and this red cluster near the old well is particularly beautiful in combination with its surroundings.

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Then there is this bowl with what looks like sempervivum but is a different species whose name completely skipped my mind. That is the reason why it is in a bowl – unlike sempervivum, this one is not frost-hardy species.

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There are also several clusters of various sedum species, but I did not make extra pictures of those since they are tiny. What is not tiny, however, is this little opuntia. The fruit (“prickly pear”) is edible, although not particularly tasty according to my aunt. There are only several cacti species that are frost resistant enough to survive the winter here, even in the much milder winters in the area where my aunt lives. And if frost does not kill them, then the overabundance of water will. This one has survived several decades under the careful care of my aunt and it looks healthier than mine in a flower pot.

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My Auntie’s Garden – Part 8 – Shrubbery or Bush or Both?

I am not finished with this magic place where I played as a child, but I am still working my way through the woodpile, and together with other things, there is not much time at the PC left when I have the strength to sit down and write. There will be more.

Between the garage and the house is a big mahonia bush and it was right in bloom, all green and gold.

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© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Two huge ericas add different colors to the garden elsewhere.

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© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Various rhododendrons and azaleas are not blossoming yet, so they are unfortunately still just indistinct green blobs in the background somewhere. I think there will be more than one color here in due time.

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I do not know what this is, but it is taller than me.

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Hugging the south wall is this miniature almond. I have tried to grow it as a bonsai, but it did not prosper very much in the much colder climate where I live and after several years of barely surviving and not growing very much it unfortunately died. Maybe it would fare better now, the last five years were markedly and measurably warmer than normal.

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Nearby is also frost-hardy rosemary. I did not have any luck with that either. Last year I got three clippings, all died before Christmas and I have no idea why. It was not even planted outside yet, I was wintering it with my laurels and citruses.

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Preparing for the Next Winter Already

Since that major asshole Vladolf Putler had nothing better to do than to wage an imperialistic war of conquest, the prices of firewood and wooden briquettes have skyrocketed here, together with delivery times being months and not weeks. Because some governments within the EU decided – irrationally and daftily – to oppose nuclear energy and moved to burn Russian gas (and sometimes even low-quality coal, destroying in the process more area than Fukushima did) and now that supply is threatened, people are looking for alternatives. We could already have a mix of nuclear and renewables if it were not for supposedly green parties being so staunchly not green… Where was I? Firewood. People are stockpiling firewood now if they can.

Thus, my grudges aside, I have a problem. I normally keep a stockpile for two years, but my mother’s health deteriorated significantly and I had to heat the house more than before for her comfort. So now I do not need to buy a year’s worth of wood just to top up my stockpile, I need to buy it to not freeze in the winter because I only have about two months worth left.

I have ordered wooden briquettes, at an exorbitant, 50% higher price than last year, but I do not know when they arrive. If they arrive. But I got lucky, one of the suppliers from whom I was buying in the past had firewood at still a very reasonable price. Here it is, delivered today:

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From the picture it may be apparent why it is so cheap – not very many people are willing to buy this, apparently. These are offcuts from making palettes and thus it is lotsaf tiny pieces of wood with occasional bigger pieces of board or a squared timber. It is a lot of work to sort it out into some usable form. Today I have spent six hours working on it and the results are eleven bags of tiny offcuts and approx 1 cubic meter of bigger boards, together ca 500 kg.

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Two bags = one-day heating on average over the whole season.

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If I estimate it correctly, today’s work was 1/8 to 1/10 of the total, so I should have about 4 to 5 tonnes of firewood. That should see us through the winter even if the briquettes never arrive. But it is a lot of work, I will now spend at least a week sifting through this mass daily and then during winter, I will have to carry it into the cellar in baskets (now I am keeping the cellar empty in the hope of getting the briquettes, and anyway this is twice the volume of briquettes and thus would not fit in there). It is cheap, but for a price – essentially I have to take each piece of wood three-four times in my hands.

Before the firewood arrived, I was sorting through my stockpile of wood for crafting, cutting out usable bits, and bagging everything else as firewood, a task that I will continue doing after this lot is sorted out. I also had a tiny wood inspector. I do hope that cherry log is not full of holes.

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Just a quick Degupdate: More of the same

You know, back when Estelle was still alive and we had just the two of them, they had some very different characters: Candy being daring, curious, bold, Estelle being timid and careful, always hiding behind the running wheel. When we chose the new degus, we did so purely on looks on pictures: I want the brown one and one of the light ones. What we ended up with are Candy and Estelle reloaded. Sky is just like Candy, but even bolder since she’s got Candy as a teacher, with Lulu being so shy that for the first days we were concerned if she was eating at all ! (She is). But the two of them are growing and living tehir best degu life. Enjoy their cuteness.

Juvenile white degu poking her head out from a terracotta pot

©Giliell, all rights reserved Sky, being very cute

Juvenile white degu munching a treat

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Juvenile white degu sitting in a nest of hay

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Adult brown degu trying to open a jar with nuts.

©Giliell, all rights reserved Candy, Candy, Candy

Adult brown degu, side view

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Adult brown degu pulling a piece of wood with her teeth

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Adult brown degu in a running wheel (blurry), juvenile brown degu sitting next to it

©Giliell, all rights reserved Candy and Lulu

Adult brown degu on a green carpet

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Juvenile brown degu

©Giliell, all rights reserved Lulu. She’s so damn pretty, even though she lost the tip of her tail

 

Dapper Spider Lady

Today, I had to change the zeolite and charcoal in the end filter at my wastewater treatment facility and other associated chores – like pumping out most of the water and removing some of the dead leaves from the end pond, etc. I usually do my best not to harm any critters whilst doing this. I counted at least five frogs and ten damselfly larvae in the pond and when changing the zeolite in the filter this poor spider lady carrying an egg sac fell into the filter from I do not know where. She was a bit wet and thus not as agile afterward as these wolf spiders normally are, thus I could take out my phone and take some pictures. She was still way too quick for comfort so I only got two where she is in focus. Pictures are below the fold.

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My Auntie’s Garden – Part 7 – Still Some More Small Flowers

There will also be posts with other things, but I am not done with the flowers yet. You probably understand by now why I love this garden, especially in the spring. Nobody knows how many species my aunt has amassed over the years. One could possibly write a dissertation on it. Even when one thinks one has seen all, there is something rare or tiny or seasonal or all of it lurking in some corner somewhere.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Evolution of My Sharpening Kit

When going on a get-together with my friends from university, I occasionally offer to sharpen their knives for free or gratis. For that purpose, I used to take with me my sharpening stone, which initially was all that I had to sharpen knives. With time this has evolved into a kind of traveling sharpening kit and in this post, I will describe its evolution a bit. Let’s start with a picture, followed by less than a thousand words.

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I have started with the grey, two-layer silicon carbide whetstone on the left. It has to be soaked in water before use and it is the exact type of cheapo basic coarse/fine stone that my father has used to sharpen knives all his life and with which he taught me how to sharpen knives when I was ten years old. With care, it is possible to sharpen a knife with this stone alone, although not to shaving sharp, for that, stropping is necessary. As an impromptu strop, I have used on my travels either folded paper or a dishcloth with a bit of toothpaste on. It was possible to get knives to shaving sharp that way, but it was a bit laborious and time-consuming.

Thus came the second addition to the set, the beige-red stone. The red layer is of a significantly finer grit than the fine carbide layer on the grey stone, which is better for a touch-up on a knife that is not overly blunted. It is a very hard and not overly porous stone that can be used with either water or oil. I do not know its composition, but it does not behave like carbide and does not soak up water much. I only use it with water, it is more practical on travels.

However, stropping was still a major pita. Luckily, I found my grandfather’s old leather strop for razors when rummaging around in the attic (I found the razors too). It consists of a leather belt sewn into a loop that is spanned with a screw. The leather was rotten, but it was not a lot of work to replace it. I improved the design a bit with a bottle cork cut in half to not span the leather over a sharp edge, which would lead to faster deterioration. I am thinking about making several of these for my shoppe too. This has made stropping a lot easier, although it is not ideal for big knives. It works reasonably well even without abrasive paste – this strop is not primed and I am still pondering whether or not I should prime one side or leave it as it is.

One of my friends has a small folding knife that has a kukri-like blade gomtry. That unfortunately means that it is not possible to sharpen with a flat whetstone that cannot reach inside the tight concave curve of a small blade. A stone with a curved surface is needed. And I found a few exactly such stones when I was visiting my aunt – she lives near a river in an area where quartz cobbles are easy to come by in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and surface smoothness. A quartz cobble does not remove the material as well as a carbide stone does but it does work well for maintaining an edge that is not overly deteriorated. And no, I am not joking – it really is perfectly possible to sharpen a knife properly with a stone found in nature, with a bit of skill and care in selecting the right stone.

The last edition to the hand sharpening kit was a hard-backed strop and a hematite-based stropping compound. The strop is simply a black-locust board with leather glued on both sides and a handle screwed on one end. The leather is with the skin-side out on one side and flesh-side out on the other. The rougher flesh-side out was subsequently primed with the stropping compound. It is hard and big, and thus suitable for stropping even really big knives. It is very efficient too, a few strokes on the primed side and a few more on the clean side, and any knife is as sharp as a razor.

For traveling the stones get packed into a plastic food container with a silicone pad and a few other things like the two wooden wedges with winkles (those were an afterthought this time because I knew I will be teaching someone to sharpen knives and I wanted to have some easy way to demonstrate the right angle) a smaller bowl and a silicone pad.

I think this is the final stage for me, I cannot think of anything else that I could need.

I do wonder whether it would make sense to make all of this into some kind of snazzy “traveling sharpening kit” and offer it in the shoppe. It is not a sharpening gizmo, it does require some skill to use properly.

And if you are wondering what you need to sharpen knives to a truly wicked edge, here is all you really need to achieve that goal and none of it is overly expensive or difficult to make. You can buy fancier or more expensive equipment but you do not need to.

My Auntie’s Garden – Part 6 – Even More Small Flowers

I am back from the holiday with my friends from the university but unfortunately, I did not bring back any pretty pictures. There were no pretty sceneries, cute animals, or interesting flowers. There was a lot of talking since we did have some catching up to do – we did not meet for over two years, even more with some.

But there are still some more pictures from my aunt’s garden so there will be several more posts of that. I am very busy in my own garden right now too so I do not have much time to write.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Teacher’s Corner: Liar, liar, pants on fire

You know, I can deal with a lot of things. My colleagues declare that I have the patience of a Saint. I am extremely understanding. I don’t expect kids to be prefect and rule abiding. I would be a fucking hypocrite if I did, because while I was always a straight A student, I was never docile. My popularity with teachers therefore depended on whether they expected me to obey, or whether they expected me to learn.

So when a kid fucks up, I don’t take it personally. There’s just one thing that I absolutely cannot tolerate : bold faced lying.

Today I was a bit latish, though still on time. I see two of my 8th graders, let’s call them A and B, walk away from the school gate instead of inside, so I inform their tutor.

We also quickly change plans and I get to teach their class for the first two lessons. I start with a whole 6 kids. The tutor is pissed, another kid says “yeah, I saw them, and C, D and E, too”.

Again, I can deal with it. It’s not like I didn’t occasionally skip lessons, especially when I knew that the actual teacher was sick. But at least I did it somewhat smarter. Like, WTF? You all got smartphones. When I was your age the Enterprise didn’t even have smartphones. Go hang out where I don’t have to see you.

But that’s not the worst. As I said, I did shit, too. But when I got caught, I knew I was in trouble and that I was going to suffer the consequences of my actions. Today, the merry troop shuffled in one after the other. I told them that we’d talk later. Near the end of the lesson their tutor came to inform them that they’d have to make up the missed time. One kid, C, exploded. He gets aggressive quick. That it wasn’t his fault! He’d missed the bus! He’d just came by bus, together with B! Yes, the attentive reader will have noticed a little problem here. I calmly asked him “Just yes or no, you say that at half past you were on a bus to school with B?” He indignantly informed me that yes, of course he was, I can ask B!

See, this is where I get angry. The lying, with indignation, with rage, with an aura of an innocent person suffering some terrible wrongs. B tried to back him up, claiming that no, I couldn’t have seen him, it wasn’t him! I said that well, all we need then was A telling us who it was I saw him with, but A had at least the good sense to shut up.

The real problem is that I already know that at least half the parents will choose believing their kids over the words of the teacher and a couple of classmates. In the end, I pity the kids, since none of them have the socioeconomic background to be a successful liar.

DIY Buffing Compound

I am going away for a few days, after that there will be several more posts from my Auntie’s garden and some knives. I wanted to pre-write a few posts, but I do not have enuff time, unfortunately. But I have enough time to finally give you a functioning recipe for a DIY buffing/stropping compound.

It starts with a bucket full of old nails and other rusty steel scraps. It is outdoors, filled with water and a little solar-powered aerator to help the corrosive process a little.

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Once in a while I sift through it and collect the mud that gathers on the bottom of the bucket, I put it in another bucket, let the water settle, skim it, and leave it dry a bit if possible.

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Final drying is done on the stove in the shop. When it is completely dry, the final product is de-facto ochre.

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I put the ochre in an old paint can and put it directly into the fire in the oven or in a pot on a charcoal fire in a BBQ pit o anneal it. I do not have any pictures of that, unfortunately, I forgot to take some when I was at that step. The final product of this step is a hematite powder/sand.

The powder needs to be crushed and sifted. The best method that I have devised is to put a piece of nylon stocking over a bucket, put in it a bit of the powder and gently agitate it with a spoon, put it in the mortar to crush it, put it back in the stocking, rinse, and repeat. That achieves two things – the finely crushed powder does not float around the shop and make everything pink and it is very finely sieved indeed. I have no idea about the exact grain size, but I do not think it is that important right now.

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Next step I have started to make a teensy-tiny batch of dubbin. First I heated up 8 g of olive oil, then I added 8 g of bone marrow fat and as the last step, I added 8 g of beeswax. This is the substance that I am using to treat my handmade leather goods.

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I poured approximately two-thirds aside into two samples to give to my most recent customers who bought knives with leather sheaths. Then I mixed the powdered hematite into the rest until it started to thicken slightly when stirred. I guess I did not anneal the hematite enough because I got a chocolate brown color. Finely crushed and sifted hematite powder is the true, original jeweler’s rouge and I sort of expected it to be, well, rouge colored. I will do a better job annealing, maybe with a gas torch and we will see with another batch. At least it is a pleasant and not disgusting brown.

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After it all cooled I have weighed it all to guesstimate the ingredient proportions for the final product and there they are:

1 part of olive oil, 1 part of beeswax, 1 part of tallow, and 4.8 parts of abrasive powder.

The final product has about the right consistency that I need so I think I do not need to tinker with the recipe further. It is hard so it does not smear very easily, but not so hard that it could not be used for manual buffing. I have used it in two ways and it works for both of them well.

The first was to use it to prime a hard leather strop to buff blade edges. It worked marvelously, getting the edge to shaving sharp like no bee’s knees. I am definititutitevely going to use it for that.

The second use was to put it on a piece of cloth and buff the pakfong and bronze on my latest knife to remove the patina. And it worked like a marvel, much better than all the commercial compounds that I have tested in this way in the past because those usually require much faster movement.

So I do call it a success, I have made a usable compound for manual buffing of blade edges and small metal parts. I will continue with the experimentation and perhaps make even bigger batches. I also plan to try my hand at making sharpening stones, I do have a bit of experience with that already.

Art: Combining resin and beads

It was just a matter of time, wasn’t it? And with the installation of actual working lights in our cellar, I had not just enough illumination, but also work space again to do some resin work.

Now, in between the last time I did this and now I invested into two things:

1: sanding paper up to 200 grit for the small disk sander that I have

2: A small bench grinder to polish the pieces.

Between the two of them, it saves probably 70% of the annoying work. Instead of having to start hand sanding at about 200 grit, I started at 2000. Now, there is even finer sanding paper for the machine, but that wouldn’t be very helpful, since the sander is, of course, a flat surface and I want the pieces round, so a few, really just a few minutes of hand sanding with the paper on a soft sponge are needed. Then polishing is a treat (provided I hold tight on the pieces and don’t have them shot into orbit).

With the resin done it’s always a question of how to turn them into pendants. When they come out of standard moulds, they fit standard bezels, but these here don’t. Wire wrapping is an option, but being no good at it the results are often not satisfying. It also takes the focus away from the resin pieces I think. Now with the beads bringing me so much fun, why not combine?

Round resin piece with a beaded bezel. The resin piece is brown and blue, like continents and the ocean

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This is one of those “sea and land pieces” that I love so much, even though I’m not completely happy with it. I shouldn’t have added the metallic pigment, because there was a layer of flitter that settled somewhere in the middle that makes it slightly opaque. The bezel is made from seed beads in two different sizes and some small crystals.

Round resin pendant in a blue beaded bezel. The resin piece resembles mountains with a sky

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This one is gorgeous, and I can’t decide which side I love better. I think I’ll try something similar again with the attempt at creating northern lights. This started out rectangular, btw.

Round resin pendant in a blue beaded bezel. The resin piece resembles mountains with a sky

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The last piece defied my attempts at beading, because the curve gets too narrow at the top.

Tear shaped resin pendant with brown on the outside and blue within

©Giliell, all rights reserved

It has the same issue as the first one, but look at that shine!