Monday, November 21, 2011

How It Happens.

We hosted a bit of a party at EarthSong Retreat last night. It was our first since we moved here, and it was a bit of a house-warming as well. Friends brought goodies to swap, I gave a tour of the property and related our permaculture -type plans for it, we had a taco feast and a drum jam.

The friends who attended came from several diverse avenues of our interests; pagan, Tarot students, Avatar, Sherwood Forest friends, even a lady friend of mine from some time back.

At one point, after the tour and tacos, said friend pulled me aside and asked me, "How can you afford all this?"

You see, she knows a lot of my history, as well as the fact that monetary riches and my name do not normally go in the same sentence. However, here I am, living on a very pretty six acre property with a nice house, my own office trailer, a workshop/studio for Cat and myself, and plans for orchards, gray water systems, and so on.

She seemed to think we own the place. (Apparently she missed the part on the tour where I introduced our landlady!) I gave her a very shortened version of how it happened, she thought it a bit inspiring for her own reasons. I was thinking about writing her an email with the expanded version to clarify things.
And then I thought, hey, why not make it a blog? After all, I've posted several of the related issues here before, but I never really tied it all together in one post.

Cat Dancing and I met in 2007 and instantly knew we belong together. I moved in, and we immediately were dreaming of finding another place where we would have more freedom to make some of our mutual dreams come true. We hoped for enough space to have a retreat center, a place for making art and writing, for teaching classes, and to host our friends. A few things presented themselves, but didn't work out.

In 2009 I took my first Permaculture Design Course in Austin. I was blown away by it. All my life I've been interested in so many subjects that make up what we can now refer to as sustainable, even self-sufficient living. I was a long time believer in organic gardening, long time reader of The Mother Earth News, practicing what I had learned in various ways. Suddenly, here was Permaculture, tying it all together, showing me how all these things relate to each other. This became a model for how I wanted to support myself. We renewed our search for "our place" to carry out these principles.

At about the same time, Cat became interested in "Avatar", soon bringing me into it as well. Not the wonderful movie, but the wonderful self discovery course by Harry Palmer. We both became Masters, and Cat has gone on to become a Wizard.

It is not doing the course justice to simplify it in this way, but one of the many effects is to sharpen the will and focus the mind on what you need in your life and erasing negativity around those needs. (Take it from me, there is a lot more than that to it. All of Avatar is well worth looking into.) Anyway, we learned how to constructively desire our new place.

We also became active in bartering. Cat has long traded art and tarot readings for other goods and services at events and shows. We also joined the Austin Time Exchange, a clearing house for bartering time units. Really cool. If you are a webmaster, for instance, you can do a website for someone who gives you however many hours credit on the exchange you agree on, then you may exchange that credit for, say, an equivalent amount of work from a participating auto mechanic, or masseuse, or whatever.

Money is NOT the only economy out there! Barter is alive, as is time exchange and even gift economy
By the way, as I've posted before here, we are active Freecyclers. Our workshop and office trailer were freebies, free for the hauling, not really through Freecycle, but because I was paying attention and celebrating the concept. 

Freecycle would be an example, I believe, of the gift economy mentioned above. Instead of taking usable things to the dump, or even a thrift shop, I post online that I have it. Someone who wants it gets in touch. Likewise, if I need something, I post that need, someone else possibly has it and would like to get rid of it. "One man's trash is another's treasure", etc. No money changes hands, only usable goods.

All this goes to illustrate our mind-set when it finally happened! Another interest of ours has been "intentional communities". We learned of a meeting of one such, Vajra Azaya, taking place in Austin. While there, we fell into conversation with a new friend, who told us of her new property, six acres near Lake Bastrop. She had plans to retire there in five years and hoped to find a renter who would be able to make needed repairs, as well as someone who could carry out a Permaculture plan on the property.

We went to see the place and quickly volunteered! We offered to exchange my Permaculture services, as well as our "fix-it" know how for partial rent on the place. With that exchange in place, we pay no more rent than we did at our previous house, we have much more freedom to "do our thing", and it is much more convenient to everything we do in Austin and elsewhere. In actuality, since it is a "real" house and much more efficiently built, we pay less overall per month due to savings in utilities, etc. (The previous rental was an un-skirted, unshaded mobile home, although a nice one.)

Another factor that makes it work; the landlady and we are totally in agreement on plans for the space here. It's a win-win for us both.

I'm not sure any one of the above factors can be considered the major factor in this project. They all play a part. Avatar and barter for mind-set, Permaculture and skill set for inspiration, partnership and friends for opportunity, it was all there. 

On the other hand, there is a quote attributed to Seneca. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

So that's how we "afford it". Now we just have to "do it!" Stick around and watch it happen!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Austin Celtic Festival 2011

Cat Dancing Creations set up a booth at the Austin Celtic Festival last weekend. There were a lot of people out both days for the music and events. Business was only so - so. We had plenty of lookers, but not too many people seemed to be buying anything. Cat finally put out her Tarot Reading sign on Sunday and that brought in enough money to make it almost worthwhile.
The music was great, though. I particularly enjoyed Ed Miller and The Silver Thistle pipe band. 
It was cloudy and windy all weekend.
In the pic above you can see our booth.

As well as a really alert young man behind my right elbow.
Not mentioning any names.

One of our new pieces we featured for the Celtic Festival. 
A triskelion from three woods. It's a new design and pretty cool!

This weekend we're setting up at the Vortex Theater on Manor Rd. in Austin for the East Austin Studio Tour. See you there!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Inaugural Sherwood Forest Celtic Festival and Highland Games

A few weeks back we had the first annual Celtic Festival at Sherwood Forest. What a great time! The folks at Sherwood Forest Faire decided to have this Celtic festival to fill in a bit of the off season. Our third season of the actual Renaissance Festival starts next February 11, 2012 and runs through April 1. I'll be posting more, no doubt about it. You can also see pictures posted in my past blogs here.

We had many people coming through who were there for the first time. I'm afraid a few were disappointed. It did look a bit underwhelming. I mean, the grounds are great, but only a few of the usual vendors set up for this one weekend event. Many are busy at other faires or getting ready for the Texas Renaissance Festival starting soon.

Everyone was surprised by the turnout. I don't have the final numbers, but there were already 3,000 people there by 2 pm on Saturday. The food and drink vendors were running out of supplies already by then. Cat Dancing Creations, our booth #309, had our best sales day ever.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Upcoming Permaculture Classes in Austin!

Classes are currently forming for two upcoming Permaculture Design Certificate courses in Spring of 2012. Sign up now, they fill fast!

2 Upcoming classes:

Spring Weekend Permaculture Design Course with Dick Pierce.
Held in Austin, Tx. Location to be announced. 10 Saturdays- Jan. 28 - Apr 7.
The cost of this Permaculture course is $600.
Reserve your space now with a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $120. The deposit can be paid to your registrar, William Seward,  (512) 468-7835 ( ) or see the PayPal button in the sidebar. Be sure to indicate which class you are registering for, and include your name, email, and phone number.
The balance of $480 is to  be paid to Dick Pierce on or before the first day of class.

Winter/Spring 2012 Saturdays Course dates and topics:
Jan 28: Basics 1
Feb 4:
Basics 2
Feb 11:
Soil & Water
Feb 18:
Building & Energy
Feb 25:
Urban Permaculture; Gardens
Mar 3:
Design Basics
Mar 17:
Rural - Farm & Ranch NOTE: no class Mar 10)
Mar 24:
Design Workshop
Mar 31:
Design Workshop
Apr 7:
Design Presentations/Wrap-Up
Date & Location TBD: Graduation Potluck & Celebration
This course includes classroom instruction, hands-on projects (including your site design project), presentations by guest instructors, and field trips. 

Dick Pierce
is a permaculture teacher and designer with many years of experience in central Texas and New England. He has studied permaculture design with Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton, and Patricia Allison. Dick’s experience includes working on farms, working with Native American tribes across the US, and running a greenbuilding program for young people at American Youthworks, a nonprofit high school in Austin. He also helped launch the popular “Citizen Gardener” program, aimed at promoting food self-sufficiency in Austin through gardening. Dick was born and raised in New England but has called Central Texas home for over a decade.

Spring Intensive Permaculture Design Course with Kirby Fry.
This two week intensive course will begin at 9am, on Saturday, April 21, 2012 and conclude at 5pm, Friday, May 4, 2012.  It will be held about 40 miles east of Austin, at 1483 CR 311, McDade, Texas 78650.  There will be some camping/overnight space available (please let us know, in advance, so that we can make sure we are able to accommodate you).  Basic meals will be provided daily (bringing something extra to contribute to the group is encouraged, but not required).
The cost of this Permaculture Intensive is $600. Reserve your space now with a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $120. The deposit can be paid to William Seward,  (512) 468-7835. ( ) Or, use the PayPal button on the sidebar of this blog. Be sure to indicate which class you are registering for, and include your name, email, and phone number.

The balance of $480 to be paid to Kirby Fry on the first day of class.

CURRICULUM As taught by Kirby Fry (see bio, below):
Day 1 (April 21, 2012): Introduction of teachers and students, definitions of Permaculture and sustainability, state of the world, ethics, principles, zones, sector analysis.
Day 2 (April 22, 2012/Earth Day): The function of design, methodologies of design, patterns, observation exercise, the soil food web, the function of forests, the function of prairies.
Day 3 (April 23, 2012): Annual gardening, perennial gardening, food forests.
Day 4 (April 24, 2012): The bio-regions of Texas, ecological restoration.
Day 5 (April 25, 2012): Grazing systems, introduction to design projects.
Day 6 (April 26, 2012): Earthworks, aquaculture, aquaponics.
Day 7 (April 27, 2012): Design strategies for Central Texas prairies.
Day 8 (April 28, 2012): Tour / Work Day.
Day 9 (April 29, 2012): Day of rest.
Day 10 (April 30, 2012): Green building, natural building.
Day 11 (May 1, 2012/May Day): Rain water harvesting, grey and black water harvesting.
Day 12 (May 2, 2012): Strategies for sustainable job creation and local activism, in class design project time
Day 13 (May 3, 2012): Invisible Structures, career opportunities, in class design project time.
Day 14 (May 4, 2012): Design presentations, Permaculture design course certificates awarded.

Teacher Bio: Kirby Fry studied conventional agriculture and forestry at Texas A&M and has nearly 20 years of expertise behind him in the fields of natural building, rainwater collection systems, and passive solar cooling systems, among other things.  He studied with Bill Mollison (co-founder of Permaculture) and Scott Pitman (founder of The Permaculture Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico).

Citizen Gardener
Not a class by the Austin Permaculture Guild, but brought to you by the Sustanable Food Center and taught by Dick Pierce. (See above for bio.)
Austin Spring planting. Learn what you need to go home and DO IT- locate, build, plant, harvest.
Hands-on classes over two Saturday mornings and one Wednesday evening. Mid Jan - March.)

Here are the links for further information.

Austin Permaculture Guild website  (classes, news, other vital information, more links)

The Austin Permaculture Guild group on Yahoo!   (discussion, conversation, what's happening.)

Citizen Gardener  (great local class for Austin area gardeners.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Logarithms For The Only Slightly Off

Logarithms and steel.
Remember logarithms? There was a time I used them constantly. If you think a logarithm is something an aborigine might bang out on a fallen tree, you're not getting my drift.

Umm. No.

From Wikipedia:The logarithm of a number is the exponent by which a fixed number, the base, has to be raised to produce that number. For example, the logarithm of 1000 to base 10 is 3, because 1000 is 10 to the power 3: 1000 = 103 = 10 × 10 × 10. More generally, if x = by, then y is the logarithm of x to base b, and is written logb(x), so log10(1000) = 3.
Logarithms were introduced by John Napier in the early 17th century as a means to simplify calculations. They were rapidly adopted by scientists, engineers, and others to perform computations more easily and rapidly, using slide rules and logarithm tables. These devices rely on the fact—important in its own right—that the logarithm of a product is the sum of the logarithms of the factors:

 \log_b(xy) = \log_b (x) + \log_b (y). \,
The present-day notion of logarithms comes from Leonard Euler, who connected them to the exponential function in the 18th century.

Forget all that.

I suppose mathematicians still use them somewhere, but back in the days before portable computers and scientific calculators, logarithms were a necessary tool.

When I started as a draftsman just out of college there were no handy electronic calculators of desktop computers. No one had even conceived of a laptop computer. Mainframe computers were around, actually, but mostly in large businesses. It would be ten years or so before Alamo Steel, the company I worked for, would have access to a mainframe for accounting.

I was a draftsman, fresh out of college. My math skills were, umm, a bit shaky. Sure, I was okay with basic math, and I had geometry licked. In high school I basically taught my geometry class. The math teacher used to duck out of class for a cigarette in the duplicator room after telling me to explain the homework to the rest of the class. I'd had trigonometry in college, although I'm afraid little of it stuck.

I finally learned, though. When I started working on hip and valley beams and stairs and handrails I was using trig constantly.

This means doing higher math while juggling feet, inches and sixteenths of an inch!

Sure , you can convert to decimals to calculate some things, but ultimately you have to convert back since the required outcome of the procedure was to produce drawings for our shop employees to fabricate steel members with. Our shop guys were great guys, I was friends with many, but quite a few barely spoke English, others could not read. They learned to use a steel tape measure, but it was considered a bit much to subject them to more than the most simple measurements to work with.

So, we in the drafting room were called upon to simplify, and especially to do all of the math and conversions in advance.

One of the first calculating tools I worked with was a slide rule. 

This was, by the way, toward the very end of the heyday of the slide rule. Slide rules use logarithms. The beauty of logarithms is to simplify calculations. When you have multiplication, division, and other complicated operations to perform, you only have to use a conversion table to change the factors to their logarithms, then all operations become addition and subtraction problems.

We all learned multiplication tables in school. Those work great for simple whole numbers. If you are working with complex numbers of many decimal places it can be tedious to sit there and multiply or divide the whole thing out the long way. For instance, if you are multiplying two numbers, you use the tables to convert them to their logarithms, add the two logarithms together, then convert the logarithm sum back to real numbers. That's your answer.

Remember, electronic calculators were not available!

A slide rule, or slip stick, manually added and subtracted logarithms. The scale was a logarithmic scale. If you lined it up to multiply two and two, the answer was four. What it was doing was adding the logarithms for the two numbers graphically, and letting you read the answer.

For a while slide rules, well, ruled! A skilled engineer could read one to several decimal places, and do complicated problems all day long.

Other sorts of slide rules appeared. Not really technically slide rules, as they didn't use logarithms as such, but they did match up factors to show pre-calculated answers. They were common for many fields that required quick and practical calculations. My chosen field before drafting was electronics. I made use of, and still own, several cardboard cutout calculators that were this sort of slide rule. Very practical and quick to use. I still use them from time to time. 
Ohmite Capacitor Calculator
 Once in awhile one of the hobbyist magazines would even print a similar one to copy, fold and tape together.
Did I mention useful?

Eventually my original K&E slide rule, or slip stick, got replaced.
For simple adding and subtracting of measurements, we did have electrical adding machines with special keyboards and a paper tape readout. 
Monroe Foot-Inch-Sixteenth Machine
Victor Foot-Inch-Sixteenth Machine

 These were great. Some of us even used mechanical adding devices, known as Addiators, that used a metal stylus. You used the stylus to advance numbers in one direction for adding, the opposite direction for subtracting. With many of them you kept track of sixteenths of an inch manually, literally, by holding up a pinky finger when you had a sixteenth in the number, folding it away when you didn't. A very few of the Addiator models actually handled sixteenths of an inch.
No electricity, but so much more portable! That was important for those of us who, shall we say, labored with side jobs in the same industry?

The engineers in the company often used a specialized adding machine that allowed you to reset the decimal point, to more rapidly work with big numbers. It did require the conversions to be made from feet and inches to decimals, but once those conversions were made, their calculations could be carried out and the answers converted back at the end. 
Shifty Monroe Machine
You actually manually moved the carriage over to the correct decimal place column. Some of these had a little crank below the keyboard to do this! Sure, it was electric, but still, can you say Fred Flintstone?

An integral part of the calculating process was a book. Several of our available books did have the foot-inch-sixteenth to decimals of a foot conversions available, but one book was our math “bible”. 
Smoley's Tables were available either as four separate books, or all four combined into one volume. The fourth volume, Segmental Functions, was useful for circular calculations, critical when needed, but rarely used. The first three volumes had to do with decimal equivalents, squares, logarithms, and trigonometric functions. Those we used constantly. We were each required to obtain our own Smoley's books. When we could, we got the first three together in one volume, and the fourth separately. That fourth Segmental Functions volume would last forever, and did! We could often wear out two or three of the first three volumes before the fourth would even show wear.

Those logarithms and trig functions really came in handy! Perhaps I should also mention that this was in the days of manual drafting as well. Lead pencils, T-squares, triangles, lettering guides, drafting tape, tracing paper. CAD programs did not exist. Dinosaur days. This was in 1971 and years following.

We had to know the mechanics of drawing a pencil line, and construct various shapes to put together a useful drawing, and then to hand print the lettering to explain and dimension everything. Then, copies were made with a smelly ammonia Ozalid process to produce real “blueprints”.
We ended each day with liberal amounts of graphite and rubber eraser dust on ourselves.

TI Calculator
Well, after a few years, Texas Instruments came along with a series of hand held electronic calculators. Now THAT was revolutionary! We still had the conversion problem to deal with, but suddenly it was less of a chore. The so-called “scientific calculators” appeared with more and more functions, including trigonometric functions that made things easier. We were able to rely less and less on the Smoley's tables, and go straight to calculating.
Bigger than a breadbox Wang
About the time that mainframe computers became more accessible and user friendly, programmable calculators appeared. The first were pretty large affairs. The Wang programmable was one we utilized for awhile. Pretty nifty! I actually taught myself to write programs for it! (As a mere draftsman, this was a bit above my station, but I tended to color outside my lines a lot!) Two number pads with memories meant you could perform more than one operation at a time and merge the answers. Also, it sported a cassette tape program storage, so you could record and reload several programs as you needed them! Display screens were still in the future, all usable output was preserved on paper tape printout.

After only a couple of years, those same hand held calculators we were using became programmable as well. First one, then many programs could be stored and used. The Wang was fairly obsolete in no time. It still worked well for some situations, but for everyday calculations the hand helds were the thing.

It was not until the mid '80's that we were able to finally ignore that conversion problem. Development of calculators that actually worked with fractions and inches was ignored until then. The United States was considering going metric for many years but there was a lot of resistance. Most of us dinosaurs didn't really want to learn a new system. 

The manufacturers finally gave in and designed a few calculators that actually worked in feet-inches-sixteenths. This is the one I have now. It has taken the place of every machine/calculator/book that came before.  This is the Jobber 6 by Calculated Industries. It's great! Online versions are even available, so you can use it without taking your hands off the computer keyboard.

That's important, since Computer Aided Drafting also took over from manual drafting. Of course, most of the major CAD programs like Autocad have several calculating functions built right into them, but... remember those aforementioned dinosaurs? 

I still have my board and pencils, too. I might even have my copy of Smoley's around somewhere!

I admit I've gotten a bit rusty on interpolating logarithm tables. On the other hand, it's been awhile since I've detailed steel as well. Still drafting, though, with CAD and my Jobber!

Friday, September 16, 2011

To The Far Blue Mountains!

I don't repost others' blogs often, but Bish really nailed it in this one:

 BISH'S BEAT: FORGOTTEN BOOKS: TO THE FAR BLUE MOUNTAINS!: FORGOTTEN BOOKS: TO THE FAR BLUE MOUNTAINS! LOUIS L’AMOUR About twenty years ago, I read my way through two dozen or more Louis L’Amour ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Oh behive!" News from EarthSong Retreat.

In a wonderful barter arrangement, we are getting chickens, a small chicken house, and bees from our friend India in exchange for two weeks of house and animal sitting. We were planning to add chickens to our place soon anyway, and we got this chance to get ten grown hens. I've got plans to build them a nice coop of what is popularly called the "Amish" style, but they are coming with their own coop that will work till I get the new one built.

I've had chickens several times over the years. The picture above is from a small setup I had when I lived in Round Rock in the '80's. It worked quite well for the time and place. I love those Rhode Island Reds! The new ones will be a mixed bunch, and we're happy to be getting them. 

We're also getting a hive of bees. Now, personally, I like bees. However, I'm a bit spooked by them. I seem to be a bit allergic to their stings. Over the years I've been stung several times, and each time has been worse. I'm not sure how much risk it will be to be stung again. However, we want bees here at EarthSong Retreat, and so this is a good thing. Cat Dancing has wanted bees also for some time, and she feels that she connects with these already. In a couple of weeks we'll be getting the hive. We've both been studying up on the art of beekeeping. I'm looking at the structural aspects of housing, etc. Cat has enlisted Michael to actually help with the hands-on bee working.

Both of us feel that adding bees will contribute to fighting the decrease in bee populations all over, as well as greatly aid in pollination of the various plant life here at EarthSong.  We've also seen that bees are in serious difficulties in this area already from the drought and heat. 

We've already delved into our first controversy concerning bees. Some of my Permaculturist friends introduced me to "Top Bar" hives as being very simple to build, natural, and beginner friendly. The "Langstroth Hive", however, is more common and more used commercially. Both designs have assets and drawbacks. The clincher, however, is that the season is late, and a Langstroth is what the bees are already established in. We've been looking at various designs to build our own, and we will see about trying different types as we divide the hive or add more bees later. I'll keep you posted. 

On a related note, Cat has been looking at the "space suits" for working with bees. She is considering just going with the head veil and gloves, knowing that many keepers work their bees with no extra covering at all. Not to be outdone, I've been looking at bee suits as well. I'm considering this model:

On the other hand, perhaps she would appreciate me getting her another assistant:

Nothing is too good for my darling beekeeper!

To be honest, I showed her this suit, and she pointed out that it might not fit me. Sigh.

In other news, we are having our first work day for volunteers here at EarthSong in association with our partners at Vajra Azaya. I've designed a series of wicking bed garden beds to be hooked into our proposed gray-water system. We'll be building those this Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011. My back has been a bit out of whack, so I may be the geezer in the chair pointing others where to dig!

I'll end this with a lovely logo my friend Larry Santoyo has on his t-shirts.

See you!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Typical Holiday

You know, typical hot summer three day Labor Day weekend. Catch a movie, eat out, maybe plan a barbecue with beer and watermelon and mmmmmmmmm beef ribs and sausage. Did I mention cold beer?

Add the thrills of seeing huge clouds of roiling smoke as a north wind driven wildfire of gigantic size sweeps by within spitting distance of your place burning whole neighborhoods to the ground, melting cars to puddles while you and thousands of your neighbors are evacuated and most spend days huddled within hastily organized (or not) shelters while you wonder what the hell (literally) is happening to your house and family members.

Damn, do we know how to party in Texas or what?

All joking aside, it was a horrendous experience. Our firefighters and emergency services, and even local government folks really showed and continue to show their worth and humanity! Thanks all of you! 

And, to so many who lost their homes, their loved ones, even their pets,  it is impossible to express words close to being worthy of the loss that you feel. We do feel, truly sickened by what happened. Those of us who were bypassed, this time, were incredibly lucky, and we each know we could be next.

Pray for RAIN! And keep your bug out bags packed!

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Far From Over But We're Home!

It's far from over, but we are home at least. 
We are among the lucky ones. 

The Bastrop Complex Fire of Sept. 4, 2011 is the largest of many that broke out around Central Texas on Labor Day Weekend. It came during a horrendous drought that still continues. Following months of daily temperatures of 100 plus degrees F, (as high as 112 near us), and constant southerly winds, the weekend brought strong northerly winds and a break in the temperature. This felt wonderful. However, the gusty winds also apparently brought down dead limbs onto power lines and sparked this fire Sunday afternoon. It started east of us and traveled fairly straight to the south, missing us by only two miles or so. There was a huge wave of boiling smoke high in the sky all afternoon as the firestorm raced through dry grass and dry pine trees into the Bastrop State Park and through wooded neighborhoods. Everything was bone dry, and the winds pushed the fire farther and farther. 

We were finally evacuated Sunday evening at about 8. We grabbed our four cats and stuffed them into carriers, grabbed food and clothing and left, taking both cars and my motorcycle. Not sure where to go, we rendezvoused at the Bastrop Library. Cat had been in touch with a good friend, Amanda, in Austin, who has a vacation rental that was vacant. Amanda immediately put it at our disposal at no charge, so we headed into town. It looked as if all the world near Bastrop was on fire. 

There we were, evacuating EarthSong Retreat, our new home, and on our way to Austin, not knowing if we would lose everything or not. As an added incongruity, Cat witnessed a motorist tossing a lit cigarette out of a window onto the pavement, sparks flying. It made her very angry, as it did me when she told me about it later. What an IDIOT! In the next couple of days fires broke out all around Austin and another in Bastrop. Some of those fires were accidental, others were apparently arson. In the midst of all of this, other instances of smokers tossing lit cigarettes out of windows were witnessed by friends. The stupidity was mind boggling.

Amanda and her family welcomed us to their home and rental unit, we moved in and started the wait. It was very comfortable, a beautiful place just off of Barton Springs and Zilker Park in Austin. 

We used the wifi to follow the news and updates on the fire. More and more people were pouring into the evacuee shelters in Bastrop, making us glad that we had come on into Austin. It took us several days to get through the busy phone lines and register ourselves as evacuees so that we might be notified of changes. 

More and more businesses in Bastrop and Austin were helping out the folks who were waiting. We were treated to a free dinner at La Fonda San Miguel in Austin, free to evacuees. It was a fabulous meal, in a place we would normally dress up to go to. The staff was wonderful, the food was great, and they offered us the full menu. Our server, David, had been an evacuee from Hurricane Katrina. That meal was such a bright spot in a dreary waiting game! We were also constantly getting calls and messages from friends and relatives who were checking on us. That meant a lot as well!

We were constantly watching updates and monitoring the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Services page on Facebook for news. KXAN News was a good source, as were the Facebook pages of "Texas Storm Chasers" and  "We Are Okay in Bastrop", and others. Several pages had sprung up on Facebook for groups monitoring the fire, most had some good information. A lot of it was also on Twitter.

Finally, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, the news came out that folks in some areas were being allowed to re-enter. Ours was one of those areas. Another good friend, Maria, and her family, who live North of us had already returned. They had gone by our place and reported to us that all was well. The fire maps we had seen all indicated that the fire hadn't come as far west as us, but it was great to have confirmation. Of course, we also had concerns about looters. A few weeks before the fire we had already suffered some vandalism. When we got the news about re-entry we were ecstatic, we couldn't get loaded fast enough. It was great on another level, as the rental we were using was booked for the weekend. We needed to be out anyway. We had received offers from other friends of places to stay, but going home is SO much better!

Everything at home was okay, other than some wind damage from the blustery norther. It seemed very quiet in our area. A lot of people have not returned. Just a couple of miles away families have lost everything. My cousin lives four miles away and was burned out. At this moment the count is nearly 1400 structures burned. Most of those are homes, with a few barns, offices, and other buildings. I believe there have been only four human fatalities so far, but innumerable animal casualties. The fire is still only 30% contained now, but it has moved further south. At latest count close to 35,000 acres has burned. This includes almost all of Bastrop State Park, parts of other parks, and so many neighborhoods. A huge blackened area is visible by satellite. 

This is the satellite picture. We are located just above Lake Bastrop seen on the left side of the map. This is a shot from a French satellite, processed by UT. 

In our area, however, the continuing northerly winds carry the smoke away from us. We smell very little of it here. Air quality is down, but not too bad. The smoke is not even visible from here. 

We were so lucky!

For those who may be interested. Check out the beautiful vacation rental we stayed at. It is called "Wren's Nest" in Austin, Tx. It can be seen on , listing #293833. Phone 512-788-1044. Tell Amanda that William RainCrow sent you!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back From Eden

I just got back from the first Teacher Training Course at the Permaculture Institute site at Pojoaque, New Mexico. (Pronounced, I learned, as "Po-acky" according to the shuttle driver.) Close to Santa Fe, the trip requires flying in to Albuquerque and a 90 minute or so shuttle ride. Since I arrived at night, lugging my tent which I turned out not to need, I really didn't see my surroundings till the next morning. It was a delight to the senses! Just outside the property was arid desert land. Inside was a completely different story. Green everywhere! 
I came there from my home near Bastrop, Texas. When I made my trip the Austin/Bastrop area had been through 69 consecutive days of "above 100 degree" temperatures, as well as way too many months of drought. In short, everything at home was frying and drying out. Casa Las Barrancas, on the other hand, was verdant and blossoming.

The Permaculture Institute was founded in North America by Bill Mollison and Scott Pittman in 1997 to be a sister organization to the original Institute in Australia. Since then, Scott and Arina Pittman, Larry Santoyo and many others have worked to uphold the standards of Permaculture, teach Permaculture classes, show by example the Ethics and Principles that Bill Mollison and David Holmgren originally set forth.

The class surroundings were wonderful. So were the assembled classmates who came from New Mexico, Nevada, California, Colorado, Bermuda, Texas, and Venezuela.  They were quite an interesting group of 22 students. The teachers, Larry Santoyo and Scott Pittman, have an enormous amount of experience between them of teaching and using Permaculture. Arina Pittman, Scott's lovely wife, is another invaluable resource of knowledge of Permaculture, gardening, and life in general. 

Most of the members of the new Teacher Training class  were previous Permaculture Design Certificate (or PDC) students of Larry and Scott. I may have been the only exception. I came across the class by accident. I made a lot of great friends and contacts, though, as well as learning a lot about teaching and living Permaculture. I owe a lot of thanks to my friend Merry Henderson and my partner Cat Dancing for their support in my taking this class. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Upcoming Permaculture Class in Austin!

The Austin Permaculture Guild is now accepting registrations for its Fall/Winter 2011 Permaculture Design Certificate Course, which starts September 24 and runs for 10 Saturdays. To register and reserve your space right now for the Fall course send me an email, or simply visit the Austin Permaculture Guild Website. The class will take place at 5604 Manor Rd., headquarters of Third Coast Activist. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

EarthSong Retreat

Our new place has a name! We're calling it EarthSong Retreat! This is in keeping with our plans, both ours and Merry's (the owner), to do workshops, retreats, classes, etc. out here. Plus, with my flutes, and her teaching music, and the Permaculture and Magickal elements, EarthSong seemed a natural! We are also in negotiation to become a cooperative project with the Vajra Azaya community. All to the good!

As for our moving here, we are almost done. The portable buildings are finally here, we have only cleanup to do at the old place. It is proceeding a bit slowly, as the heat has been a roadblock. For more than a month we've had temperatures of 107 degrees or so. Cat has begun doing some of her woodwork out of the carport until our studio is finally leveled and wired. That should happen soon. My office trailer is here and leveled, so I can get back to finishing out the interior. No more wasps to deal with! Finally we'll be able to put stuff back where it goes instead of stepping over it!

A bit of great news! I'm traveling again! I'm leaving August 19th to go to a Permaculture Teacher Training Course with Scott Pittman and Larry Santoyo with the Permaculture Institute. The class is being held near Santa Fe, NM. A friend paid for my tuition and Cat paid for my flight. I am so grateful to both! Another giant step toward my being able to teach Permaculture. 

There's a lot to do before I go, so, back to work!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Busy, Busy

It's been a busy week or so. We are in the middle of moving to our new digs. Plus, I just got back from the weekend in Oregon. My daughter Melanie got married a month ago, and we had the reception last weekend. It was great spending time with my kids. Oregon is really nice. The weather was perfect while I was there. I went up and visited Mt. Hood, with the assistance of Ine Boekee, my daughter's new mother-in-law. Ine was nice enough to ferry me to the mountain from their house. I took pix like the one above to aggravate my partner who I left home packing up the old house in the 104 F heat! Love ya honey!
I've barely had time to read my email lately, much less post a blog. Here's hoping I can catch up!
Stay cool!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Insane Cat Posse

One of our cats is very vocal. The others are too, in various degree, but Panthera is always letting us know something. He's a solid black shorthair. He did have one white eyebrow hair until recently but he lost it. He is once again completely black. Every morning before sun up, or at least before we really plan to arise, he starts asking to go out. 
It starts with a plaintive meow from the floor. Then a meow and "chirring" noise as he jumps onto the water bed. He strolls across the head of the bed, near our heads as well, and about halfway around the bed and then returns across our bodies to his starting point and back off the bed with a resounding thump.
If we ignore it, there is another noisy leap onto the bed and the tour repeated, stopping to nuzzle our hands, or maybe even nose my face.
The last move is usually to get back on the bed, walk across our heads to the bookcase headboard, and leap to the top of it to perch like a gargoyle above my head staring at me.
This is where I usually give up. He has been known to do a cannonball onto my belly.
We don't usually let it get that far, we know what's coming, so if one of us rises for any reason at an early stage, we go ahead and let him and the tabby, Simba, out. Of the other two, Salem, the alpha tuxedo cat, is rather blase about it. He will eventually deign to go out, but his style is to come over to one of us later and stare us into submission. The siamese, Meixa, (pronounced Meeka) isn't allowed out anyway. He is our young rescue kitty, and is very skittish. 
At some point after I've been doorman for the various cats going in and out the races begin. 
The culprits are one of the other cats who has returned, and Meixa. One chases the other from end of the house to the other. We're in a mobile home, currently, so it's pretty much one long run from end to end with a longish hall included. 
One chases the other one direction, and they reverse coming back, bouncing over anything in the way.
Somehow they manage to sound like much larger beasts in the process.
Stampeding buffalo, or wildebeests, come to mind.
Cats are about stealth, aren't they? And not that large.
But they manage to put on their snow boots or something.
They can really stomp.
I've been outside a few times when it happens. I swear the walls and ground shake.
If you happen to be reclining in the track, look out! You can get trampled!
I call them the Insane Cat Posse. However, it is usually only two of the four involved at a time. The combination changes, though Meixa is usually one of them.
Adds some excitement, if we needed any!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Hot Stuff!

Hey, I can relate! 
No, that's not me in the photo, it's a "found" shot online. It wasn't credited, so if it's yours, let me know and I'll credit it.
However, I rode the Shadow over to the new house yesterday, midday, and, yeah, it was like that! 
You know how you test your iron skillet for being hot enough by seeing if a few drops of water will dance on the surface? About 3 p.m. yesterday it was me and my Shadow skittering across the surface of the highway. I don't know what the outside temp was, it probably would have made it feel even worse, but the thermometer in the shade on the house porch said 100 degrees F. when we got there. 
It was less  than a half hour drive, but it didn't take much more to make me feel baked out like a dried out snake skin!
We moved another load of lumber and we did a cleaning of the house. That was, I admit, mostly Cat sweeping and mopping with assistance from Michael and I.
We sign the lease tomorrow and start moving in the inside stuff. 
We already have taken several loads of lumber, outside stuff, and a couple of loads of books. 

My fabled office trailer renovation is on hiatus till after we move. It's together enough to make the trip now. The portable building that is our workshop will need a bit of beefing up before moving. It barely made it here. It's sound enough, but the skids and some of the under framing won't take another move as they are now. So, it's going last. We'll take a few more days to make those repairs after we move the rest, if we can manage the wasps long enough.

The ride home near sundown was downright pleasant, though! I'm trying to stay inside and hydrated today.

It's confusing. It was in the news a couple of days ago about the sun going into a "no sun spot cycle". So, today I find an article about how that means we may be entering a "mini ice age." Then, in the same site, I find another article about the same thing happening a couple of years ago and how that was responsible for more warming. Hmm.

Well for now, stay cool!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

On The Move

We're moving! Packing up our books, and books, and books, and oh yeah, other stuff. It's time. We've been in our current place for five years or so. It's fine, but I have a chance to do a Permaculture design on this six acres near Lake Bastrop.
It's a short move, eighteen miles or so. It has a very nice house on it already, and handy outbuildings. The owner is fine with us moving my (nearly rebuilt) office trailer, our workshop, hot tub and so on out there.
July 1 is the magic day!
Of course, I won't be there that day. I'm flying to Oregon to my daughter Melanie's wedding party the end of June.
Wouldn't it be nice if it all got done while I was gone? Looks more like we'll have to get it all done before I go, sigh.
In the midst of it all I'm starting the plans for the project, consulting with the owner on what she wants and adding in our own ideas. 
I'm excited!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Sting

 One of these guys has rendered me hors d combat for the day. Yesterday  I was stung for the second time in a week. The local red wasps are in an aggressive mood lately. One got me on the ankle last week as I walked past the shop. A couple of days with a swollen ankle and achy joints and it passed with only some residue of itching. 
Then yesterday, I was re-installing the new window in my office re-build, when another one apparently decided I was too close to the nest and nailed me on the elbow. 
I moved away rapidly, the window fell without breaking, luckily. I immediately applied an ammonia compress to the wound. The pain subsided rapidly, but I didn't sleep too well. When I woke this morning the elbow was burning and itching like I had left it in a nest of fire ants all night. 
I did go out early and get the window into place. I bundled up and worked till the wasps started flying again, then quit. It was too hot to work with the long sleeves, etc. anyway. Sitting around the rest of the day with herb poultices and baking soda on my arm. Taking Benadryl, etc.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summertime Blues? White Hot is more like it!

Yeah, I post a picture in case any of us need a reminder, right? It's nearing the end of May, and the sun is reminding us here in central Texas that it's summertime. Forget that "summer starts June 22" stuff. Around here summer starts at least by early May and hangs around till mid October. 
It's hot, and dry. We had a couple of fair rains in the last week or so, and it was much appreciated. However........
It's hot, and dry. And, guess what, it's gonna keep on being that way for awhile!
I had a few tasks on tap today to accomplish before the lovely Cat Dancing and I head over to Round Rock for a meeting.
Yesterday I was going to take the Shadow on a run over toward Bastrop to do a couple of errands and do some more measurements, etc., over at the new 6 acre Permaculture project I'm involved in. As I was leaving, I discovered a leak in the back tire, so I parked the bike and took the car.
I thought the available working time for today would be good to fix the tire, maybe do a little work on the office re-build, stuff like that.
I got side-tracked. It happens much too easily. 
It was a little late when I finally got outside. I helped a bit with the laundry, spent a little too much time in the morning reading one of those "can't put it down" books. ("Rough Country", John Sandford.) When I finally got outside I discovered that the Shadow had fallen over after the tire flattened again. One of the side mirrors also broke off.
I got it straightened up and on the center stand. Carried water to a few trees. Got stung by a red wasp on the shin. Discovered one of our full water barrels at the shop had fallen over and had drained both of them.
Decided it was just too darned hot to do anything outside.
I'm inside. Enjoying the A/C and my email, and my blog.
I can handle the heat. 
I can handle driving around all summer without a car A/C. I've had to do it often.
For the most part, the secret is to drink plenty of water. Stay in the shade. Don't push it.
If you have to work outside, do it in the shade, better yet, rest inside during the hot part of the day and do your outside stuff early or late. 
Good advice. 
I just have issues with getting my bones out very early, usually.
It's been a few days since I've done anything on the office trailer. Saturday was spent on the job at the Sunset Valley Farmer's Market, and a meeting with the prospective Permaculture client.
Sunday was a day of work for us out at the Sherwood Forest booth. We're finishing up the walls finally.
Monday we had to head into Austin early for the monthly Tarot Class Cat is teaching, after spending the morning finalizing the class materials. (Cat designs the lesson, I help with details and do the layout and desktop publishing type stuff for the handouts. My expertise with AutoCad helps.)
Tuesday, yesterday, was as already mentioned, spent with project work. More cool down was needed when I got back late afternoon.
And there's today. Already getting close to "get ready to go" time. 
No, I don't really HAVE to accompany Cat for this meeting. I do prefer to.
It's together time for us, traveling to and from. Plus, hopefully some wi-fi time at the hotel while I'm waiting for her. 
All grist for the mill as they say.
And using someone else's A/C for awhile.
Did I mention it's hot?
Anyway, tomorrow is a home all day, day. 
I'll get to work early, I promise.
As for you..........
Stay cool, okay?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stanley-Nolen Family Cemetery

In Garrison Park in South Austin there is a small family cemetery, the Stanley-Nolen Cemetery. I literally stumbled over this cemetery some time back and found out that I was related to the family interred there. When I told another relative about it, he was surprised. The family had been told that the old cemetery had been covered by one of the streets. When I returned recently, I couldn't find the marker I knew was there, it took a couple of trips to see it again. It is located near the pavilion at the rear of the park not far from the softball fields.
Descendants of the Stanley family mentioned here moved to the community of Andice in Williamson County, Texas. I am descended from William James Stanley who died in Andice in 1877.

The following info is copied from the Austin Genealogical Society website. I do believe there are more than two burials in the cemetery. The info itself mentions at least three. I think it likely there are several, but only two are now evident.

This marker information was transcribed by Billie Blackstock. There are only 2 burials in this cemetery. 

The Stanley Nolen Cemetery is the final resting place of two pioneer families and their descendants. Thomas Edward Stanley born in Darlington Co., South Carolina on January 6, 1805 met and married Holland West Galtin in Tennessee and in 1849 the family settled here 5 miles south of Austin.
Holland West Galtin Stanley who is buried here is the daughter of the sister of Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother.
Jane Stanley only daughter of Holland Stanley married Thomas Warren Nolen who served as Travis counties first Assessor-Collector. The one remaining marker in the cemetery is that of his brother Mace S. Nolen. The Nolen’s played a prominent part in the development of Austin and Travis County. Sidney F. Nolen served as county commissioner 1894 to 1903 and Henry C. Nolen served as city Alderman from the first ward April 1899 to May 1903 both are grandsons of Holland Stanley and nephews of Mace Nolen.

Historical marker

Harry W. Nolen, son of Henry, was city commissioner from April 1923 until the city manager form of government was installed by the city of Austin in 1926. He also served as superintendent of police and public safety and worked to establish the city manager system.

The Stanley Nolen cemetery was acquired by the city of Austin in 1961 as part of a tract purchased from the Stanley heirs for the development of Garrison Park.

Name Birth Death
William Thomas Nolen September 7, 1849 July 28, 1889
M. S. Nolen March 6, 1822 January 12, 1872

William Thomas Nolen