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Safari Garden Bench

Garden bench project

After it was left to me by a previous housemate, I had this garden bench sitting around and deteriorating for some years. I liked the cast iron sides but the wood had become rotten.

Garden bench project

From the underside, the old paint is visible where it hadn't been completely weathered away as on the top surfaces of the wood.

Garden bench project

I removed the wood slats by unscrewing the nuts and bolts that held them to the iron legs and the screws that held the center support to the wood. Many of the bolts were rusted and were aided in loosening with a spray of wd40.

Garden bench project

Once I got all hardware free, I cleaned all the metal with citra solv degreaser.

Garden bench project

I rinsed the hardware and put it in a container with CLR (calcium/lime/rust remover) to clean the rust from the bolts and screws.

Garden bench project

After soaking for a few hours and shaking them in the liquid occasionally, watching for tarnishing, I drained them and put them on towels to dry.

Once dry, I used masking tape around the threads of the hardware, lined them up on cardboard and spray painted the heads and nuts with a black iron rust-resistant paint. I spray painted the iron legs and other support hardware as well. The bench has lost a few bolts so I found a close match in the hardware store and painted them as well.

Garden bench project

When the paint was dry, I removed the masking tape and put the hardware on the new wood slats.

Garden bench project

I used poplar, which Rick routed the edges of and pre-drilled all the holes for the bolts. I stained the wood a "safari green" stain I had sitting around left over from a previous project. I used two coats of an exterior UV blocking spar urethane to protect the wood from water and the elements which I let thoroughly dry before assembling the bench.

Garden bench project Garden bench project

The metal support strip got screwed in under the center of the bench.

Garden bench project

This is not how the bench is to be typically used, but the pumpkins got harvested and needed a backdrop for their portraits.

Garden bench project

It's otherwise nice and stable and better than new.

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Tajar Mahal

Cat tower project

In March of this year we picked out a cat off Craigslist from a couple nearby who fosters cats rescued from high kill shelters. This little orange guy was considered unadoptable by Kings County Animal Shelter due to blindness in one eye. We renamed him Tajar (or Tajer or Tadger) and fell instantly in love with his sweetness. His visual disability does not slow him down and he's the most athletic and stretchy mini-beast I've known. We decided he needed a tower to climb, his first birthday gift for August 11th.

We sketched out our plan. We wanted it to include a bed level, a top lookout level, as well as multiple scratching surfaces and a spot for replaceable cardboard scratching pads since that was so far his favorite thing to scratch on. In order to not create more visual obstructions looking out to the garden, the height of the levels were determined by the heights of the window panes in the back door. We made notes of the tools we would need to borrow from the Santa Rosa Tool Library.

Cat tower project

I wanted to use repurposed or scrap materials as much as possible. We picked out the materials and began cutting, sanding, staining, and assembling.

Cat tower project

While watching TV, Rick and I took turns carefully wrapping cordage around the 4x4 post that was to become one of the back legs. We used a roll that I had sitting around of grass cord on the bottom section and hemp cord (the only material we purchased for this project) to complete the top section of the post. Our hands and forearms were tired and sore after wrapping that heavy post!

Very curious what we were creating, he needed to test it periodically throughout the project.

Cat tower project

Rick cut notches in the two back posts to hold the middle shelf in place. The right post is a length of rough-cut redwood that was removed from the exterior of the house during remodeling last year. The middle leg and step post are scraps of sapele mahogany left over from putting trim around the garage doors. I had sections of foam padding removed from a former loft bed headboard that I had made and then disassembled when moving. We got a new cardboard scratcher refill to put in the frame I cut into the bottom plywood level using a jigsaw tool. There are three adjustable feet screwed up through the bottom into the three supporting posts. The feet were removed from some garage tool cabinets in order to put wheels on them.

Cat tower project

I traced out patterns on newsprint to aid in cutting fabric we picked out from my crafts stash.

Cat tower project

In order to make them removable, washable or replaceable, I used velcro to attach the padding to the tower. One side of the velcro is sewn to the fabric wrap-around tabs, the other side glued to the underside of the plywood levels.

Cat tower project

The middle level has a contoured padding for a bed. We picked out some batik fabric I acquired in Bali.

Cat tower project

Tajer gets very upset when he sees birds through the window, and does vicious damage to the feather toy we play with, so I joke that he hates birds. As a poke at him we centered the birds on his bed.

He doesn't seem to mind.

Cat tower project

We are all very happy how it turned out and how well he uses it, all the sleeping and scratching surfaces, as well as actually climbing from the floor up the cord wrapped post to the top level as a more adventurous route up.

Cat tower project

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The Toothpaste Experiment

I've been working on perfecting homemade toothpaste for the past 14 months, experimenting with recipes and seeing how they pass the taste test, dental checkups, how well the paste sticks to the toothbrush (if it's too thick it's difficult to get a clump to stay on the bristles heading to your mouth), and how the consistency holds up on the shelf over time.

Most store bought toothpastes contain harmful substances such as sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium fluoride, artificial colorings, and antibacterial agents. Even though toothpaste is not meant to be ingested, these substances can be absorbed within seconds through the skin on the lips, or through the mucosal lining inside of the mouth which is about as efficient at absorbing as any other part of the digestive system.

Kitchen alchemy - toothpasteMy experiments only included ingredients that do more than just clean your teeth, they do it naturally and safely, and every one of them is also an edible food:
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) whitens teeth, fights bad breath, and protects tooth enamel, but if you accidentally swallow it, it neutralizes stomach acid, kills the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections, and dissolves kidney stones.
Coconut oil is a highly nutritious food that has antimicrobial properties when used in the mouth for brushing or oil pulling.
Sea salt can polish teeth and help with gum disease, and if ingested, it is alkalizing to the body and contains necessary trace minerals.
Kitchen alchemy Xylitol fights cavities by reducing decay-causing bacteria in saliva, it possesses a cleaning action, and adds a mildly sweet flavor. It also acts against some bacteria that cause ear infections in children.
Stevia is a sweetener that inhibits the growth and reproduction of bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay.
Peppermint oil has numerous health benefits and has antiseptic properties in your mouth removing bad breath, fighting bacteria, and helps toothaches.
Oregano oil is especially useful for those who have gum disease, canker sores, or toothaches, it is a powerful antibiotic and pain-reducer, and it can help tighten gums.
Clove oil is both analgesic and antibacterial, a strong numbing agent for tooth pain, and can add a great flavor to the mix.
Vegetable glycerine is the least of the beneficial ingredients but it naturally adds moisture and sweetness.

Toothpaste Recipe #1

Kitchen alchemy - toothpaste6 Tbsp Baking Soda
2 Tbsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Xylitol
3/4 tsp Stevia Extract Powder
2 Tbsp Vegetable Glycerine
1/2 tsp Oregano Oil (blend)
6 drops Pepermint Oil (pure)

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the wet.

This toothpaste was very salty and gritty. I decided with my next version I'd leave out the salt. Over time on the self the liquid separated. The flavor was herby from the oregano, though if the salt hadn't overpowered it, it would have been nice.

Toothpaste Recipe #2

Kitchen alchemy - toothpaste3 Tbsp. Baking Soda
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Xylitol
3/4 tsp Stevia Extract Powder
2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
26 drops Clove Oil (pure)
14 drops Pepermint Oil (pure)
1 tsp. Water

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the oils and mix well until it forms a paste. Add water for a wetter consistency.

Before I added water to this mix, the dense paste seemed to keep from separating the way the first recipe did. After adding the water, the consistency was better, it stuck to the bristles on my toothbrush on it's way to my mouth, but sitting in the jar, the water separated out a little.

refilling toothpaste tubeThe flavor of this one was really good. Coconut oil can cause a greasiness around the mouth if you are a messy brusher... good thing coconut oil is great for the skin. Store-bought toothpastes would irritate my lips and the delicate skin around my mouth, this stuff moisturizes it!

refilled toothpaste tubeAt first I stored the paste in a jar, and I tried refilling toothpaste tubes by cutting off the back end, but they got too messy over time and when the early pastes separated, liquid leaked out either end.

I ended up getting a GoGear brand squeezable travel bottle which works great and is convenient for taking with us. So far it has not leaked (although I mostly tend to store it cap up). They have a nice wide mouth for refilling as well as a closable squeeze-tube type cap.

GoGear tubeThere's a similar brand called GoToob which I have not yet tested.

Toothpaste Recipe #3

2 Tbsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Xylitol
1/2 tsp Stevia Extract Powder
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
20 drops Clove Oil (pure)
20 drops Peppermint Oil (pure)

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the oils and mix well.

I tried this batch without water to see if I could get it from separating on the self. The consistency started out alright since coconut oil softens so easily with just a little stirring, but the next morning after a cold night, it was too hard to squeeze out of the tube so I eventually took it out and mixed in some vegetable glycerine, ending up with a better consistency through time and temperature change.

Toothpaste Recipe #4

I actually failed to write this one down, though I know it was baking soda, liquid stevia extract, coconut oil, clove oil, peppermint oil, oregano oil, and I experimented with using olive oil as the wetting agent. The flavor and consistency was great, and olive trees are known for their dental health properties. However, the olive oil and oregano oil (also containing olive oil in the blend) made it very yellow. While I couldn't tell that it had a staining effect on my teeth, yellow isn't a color I like brushing with.

Toothpaste Recipe #5

Kitchen alchemy - toothpaste3 Tbsp Baking Soda
1 Tbsp Xylitol
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Tbsp Vegetable Glycerine
8 drops Stevia Extract Liquid
20 drops Oregano Oil (blend)
20 drops Peppermint Oil (pure)
10 drops Clove Oil (pure)

This has turned out the best so far. Great consistency and flavor, though slightly yellow.


I like the flavor and medicinal properties of oregano oil, but I may try to source it as a pure oil rather than a blend, so that I don't need as many drops, don't have the added olive oil, and avoid more of the yellow tint it gives the paste. I preferred the smoother, non gritty pastes, made without salt or xylitol, both of which were fairly coarse granules. I felt like they could be more damaging to my tooth enamel. I plan to continue these experiments as I perfect the recipe, and I welcome you to try out making your own toothpaste and let me know what you discover. It's so easy to do, and a bargain.

The real test was going for my dental check-ups, two during this past year of using these homemade toothpastes, and both successful. While I have the start of one tiny spot of decay, my gum depth has increased during this time and my hygienist remarks on how great my dental health is. Now, if only I could get in the habit of flossing more than a couple times a week.

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Liquid Hand Soap

Making Liquid Hand Soap

When I read somewhere online that I could make liquid handsoap out of bar soap, I knew that's what I would do with the old hardening remains of bars that I had been desperately trying to get the most out of instead of throwing them away. I didn't get immediately on the task, but this impowering knowledge gave me justification for retiring the sad little bars into a drawer and replacing them with fresh ones that are easier to get sudsy. The drawer pile built for some months before I decided it was time.

The process of making liquid hand soap is extremely easy and costs almost nothing. I used a recipe that called for a small amount of vegitable glycerine, which I already had on hand for making extracts and toothpaste. Using my patend-pending Wondershreder (antique cheese grater I inherited from my maternal Grandmother), I turned the hard little pieces of soap into "soap flakes", or in my case a blend of soap flakes and soap dust depending on which bar I was working on and how hard I pressed. Obviously, an old hard bar of soap is going to take more muscle to run across a grater, but it doesn't take much to make a batch of liquid soap:

Put all the ingredients in a pot over medium-low heat and cook, stiring occationally with a whisk, until the soap flakes are disolved. Let cool overnight. The following day, I poured the goopy liquid into a food processor and blended until smooth before funneling it into a refillable bottle. Since I made enough to fill the bottle at least three times, I stored the remaining soap away and I still have a pile of leftover soap bars.

Making Liquid Hand Soap

Different soaps will have different results with thickness. After it's cooled, you can add more water in the processing if necessary to get a thinner consistancy. You can also use an electric hand-mixer or blender instead of a food processor.

I've read recipes online that turn a whole new bar of soap into a gallon of liquid soap. Even with such a splurge, you would yield a savings of over 90% (a $4 bar of soap makes over $40 in liquid soap ). To make a quantity like this, use 1 bar of soap and 2 Tbsp glycerine for a gallon of water. I think in the future I'll try adding essential oils to give mine a fragance.

Making Liquid Hand Soap

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Rosemary Powder

rosemary flowerRosemary is one of my favorite herbs to use in cooking, particularly in chicken, salmon, and potato dishes and in breads. Rosmarinus, "Dew of the sea", is not just delicious and wonderful smelling, but it also has many traditional, medicinal, and superstitious uses, as well as a mythological history connecting it to Aphrodite and the Virgin Mary. It's a natural food preservative and moth repellent and has been scientifically shown to protect the brain from free radicals, lowering risk of stroke and diseases such as Alzheimer's, as well as having anticarcinogenic effects*. In the same botanical family as mint and sage, this aromatic herb is a drought tolerant and somewhat hardy perennial that grows well in the Mediterranean-like climate where I live.

When the plant is not flowering, and the spiky leaves are younger and less tough or woody, I'll use them fresh from the plant: whole sprigs, finely chopping the needles, or crushing them with a mortar and pestle. I also like to have dried rosemary on hand for use all year around. To dry rosemary, you can tie the sprigs up with a string and hang somewhere that gets good airflow, though keep it dry and out of the sunlight. I often dry sprigs for use later by rolling them up in a paper towel and leaving on the back of my counter for several weeks. The paper towel protects them from collecting dust—which seems to happen in the air since rosemary has a little bit of a sticky sap coating. Folding it into a paper towel doesn't cause mold or prevent the drying of the herb in my climate.

After the rosemary becomes throughly dry, strip the needles from the woody stems and put them in sealed jar to retain pungency. If the herb is fully dried, the needles should easily break away from the sticks.

rosemary sticks

rosemary in coffee grinderI keep a jar of these whole needles for cooking, but often I like to use rosemary powder for recipes such as soups and especially for adding to homemade salad dressing. Dried rosemary needles can be easily turned to a powdered herb using a coffee grinder. Clean the grinder first to remove all traces of coffee grounds and oils and then again after to remove the rosemary powder and resin. Grind for a couple minutes, until a fine powder.

Your kitchen will now smell amazing.

rosemary powder being bottled

A small funnel is a great tool to have in the kitchen for bottling seasonings, whether you buy them in bulk or make them yourself!

rosemary powder in bottle

* http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071030102210.htm Rosemary Chicken Protects Your Brain From Free Radicals

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