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Mystery Object Found on Beach

Can an ocean person identify this? Lesley found it on the beach yesterday. It looks like a bunch of eggs, but it's kind of spongily hard.

Rufous-sided Towhee/Tanned Deer Skin

On left: Rufous-sided Towhee in garden this morning, shot through kitchen window,
Ain't he handsome?
On right: Deerskin from road-killed fawn I found near Gualala (CA) a few months ago. I skinned it, then cut up the meat and put in the freezer. I stretched and salted down the hide for a week, then sent it via UPS to a tanning place in Pennsylvania; and voila!—6 weeks later the beautifully tanned hide came back (via UPS). What a win-win situation from an animal that would otherwise have rotted on the road.

Freezing Run in Rain

As I took off on my weekly coastal run last night at 6:30, it was pelting a little rain. I was wearing my Maxit® tights and long-sleeved shirt, and a knitted hemp hat. This outfit has worked for me for years. Even tho it's cold starting, I always get warm after 10-15 minutes of running. Last night I got up to one of "my spots," a finger-like ridge of land that you can walk out on; It's maybe 30' across, with crashing waves on the rocks 500' below on both sides. You stand out on the end facing southeast and the Ocean beach side of San Francisco, it's like being on the prow of a ship. Last night the storm was coming in from the south and the air was perfumed with ozone and ocean essence.
I took off on the rest of the run, climbing up a fire road, light off because moon was full behind clouds. Every so often one of those little mice-hunting owls would float across the road in silent grace. It took about 20 minutes to get to the crest of the hill and I turned around to run back. By now the rain was increasing, and the drops felt just on the verge of being snow. Chilled to the bone. Back at the pub parking lot, changed into clothes in rainstorm, then went in and got a pint with the boys. We were sitting at a candle-lit table, it looked like the middle ages..

Power Tools Still Made in the USA


Bob Hope & Jimmy Cagney Tap Dancing

I had no idea Bob Hope could dance.

Homegrown Tomatoes in January

Lesley picked these tomatoes green about a month ago in the greenhouse and, due to the miracle of tomato ripening, they're now sweet. It's great to have a little red sunshine in the dark of winter, and they didn't have to get here on a plane from Mexico. On the right are yerba buena leaves I gathered Sunday, they make delicate mint-like golden tea.

Year of the Tiger

…starts on Feb 14 (Valentine's day) 2010. Year to kick some ass!

Chanterelle Year

Just so you know how flaky I am (I think a mentioned this a few years back): when I see my first chanterelle in the woods, I get on my knees and do a Buddhist bow to it, and to the earth that produced it. Yep.
The crab season is good this year, so we've got local crabs + mushrooms, thanks to the rains. These got distributed to about 6 happy neighbors.

Desert Living Big Tough 4x4 Van

Parked on a street in San Rafael last week. There's a mother of a thick-plate steel front bumper with neatly-mounted winch (it's great to be able to pull people's cars out of ditches). How about taking off for a 6-month trip to Baja, camping for weeks or more at a time? Mileage probably ain't grand, but how about all resources you'll save by living in the desert? Just a thought spurred by seeing this competent machine.

Pit House Reconstruction in Pie Town, New Mexico

"Before industry and technology gave us sawmills and frame houses, this is how the average person lived in much of the world. The dugout or pit house, with sod roof, log walls and earthen floor, is among the most ancient of human dwellings -- at some point in history your ancestors lived in one. Especially popular among 19th-century settlers in the Great Plains and deserts of the West and Southwest, where trees and other building materials were scarce, dugouts were warmer in winter and cooler in summer than above-ground structures; just about anywhere in North America the ground temperature three feet down is 55 degrees regardless of the season."
Photo by Russell Lee

All That the Rains Bring

The earth around here is feeling good after the rains. Such a relief after a few dry years. Also, after 5 years or so of hunting mushrooms I'm starting to understand the fungi world a bit. Here's yesterday's haul, a side trip on my Sunday run. The yellow/orange ones at top left are chanterelles; the cinnamon colored ones are candy caps—when dried they smell just like maple syrup. THE book for our area is All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora, not only informative, but witty and fun.

Riding Louie's Cable

To get to my friend Louie's house this time of year, you have to ride across the river on a 500' cable. Louie was the featured builder in our book Home Work. Click here to see the pages on Louie; (you can click on each of the photos shown to enlarge them).
Louie is shown here getting the bosun's chair ready for the trip. The platform is 30' above the ground. The other photo is one he took when I was about halfway across the river. (The large object coming down from top is the cable.) It's a thrill to go sailing across the turbulent water.
We had a goose for dinner, with Louie's home-made zinfandel that night. Now I had to get back across the river, dark and foggy night. I put on my headlight, climbed the tower on the house side of the river, locked the chair on the cable and with not a small amount of trepidation, let go, sailing out into the black night. It was fantastic, like I was in good hands. Came into the landing platform at a trot, and walked through the fields to Louie's shop, where I stay.

Patti Smith Doing Gloria 2007 jules Holland Show

This is a great Jules Holland show to catch. It's been rerunning this week (shot May 18. 2007). Not only does Patti completely kick ass, but there's Simply Red, and Joe Cocker singing a gospel-type number with 4-voice backup. Incidentally, Jules is a hell of a piano player. Patti is pure power with her incredible version of "Gloria."
Jesus died for somebody's sins,
But not mine…

Poet Nanao Sakai Memorial in Santa Fe

Dan Kuehn, author of Mongolian Cloud Houses (a book on yurts) just sent us an email about a memorial this Monday for Japanese poet Nanao Sakai in Santa Fe:
Nanao Sakaki died a year ago on Winter Solstice. Friends of Nanao will attend a one year memorial at Upaya Zen Center next Monday, December 21, 2009 at 5:30 p.m. Carol Merrill wrote: "If you can't make it... Well, he said it best:"
If you have time to chatter
Read books
If you have time to read
Walk into mountain, desert and ocean
If you have time to walk
Sing Songs and dance
If you have time to dance
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot.

Crispy Hippie Coffee

My friend Mike Durrie's daughter Jessica runs 2 very cool cafe/coffee roasteries in Princeton, NJ, Small World Coffee. When the local Whole Foods, which carries her coffee, asked for something "…new and exciting,' Jessica emailed Mike: "…the label for the Crispy Hippie…was designed with Lloyd Kahn, of Bolinas, in mind. My graphics guy asked me, 'what do you want this label to look like?' And the only image that popped into my mind was Lloyd skateboarding or surfing. So, I showed my graphics guy a photo of Lloyd and told him the story my dad told me of Lloyd getting a ticket or something for skateboarding up at Sea Ranch. So, anyway, Lloyd, I guess, is the Crispy Hippie! I hope he takes no offense."
Heck Jessica, I'm honored—tote-uh-lee… "…a high density bean that can take the extra heat." Yeah!
Sent us by Michael Mery

Peter Aschwanden's New Website

Peter Aschwanden was the illustrator of John Muir's wildly popular How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: the Manual for the Compleat Idiot, of which Wikipedia says: "…Muir's self-published edition sold more than two million copies to become one of the most successful self-published books in history, while its subtitle preceded (and likely inspired) the unending flow of "for Dummies" books from IDG Publishing."

We tracked Peter down in 2001, and he agreed to illustrate our Septic Systems Owner's Manual. He ended up making a book on a rather mundane subject into a work of art, with drawings very much like those of R. Crumb. The cover he came up with looked like one of the '60s Fillmore posters. Peter passed away a few years ago, but family and friends have created a website featuring his posters, T-shirts and books. It's at http://www.peteraschwanden.com:

Running on Mt. Tamalpais Sunday

Steps on Matt Davis Trail up to Table Rock from Stinson Beach. Old auto on Coastal Trail has been there forever, probably since the '50s.

New Cob House by Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley

On Dec. 12, 2009, Ziggy writes: "After the Natural Building Colloquium in Eagle Point, Oregon, I traveled with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley to their home in Coquille, OR: Cob Cottage Company. For those unawares, Ianto and Linda are two very influential cob building pioneers in North America, and authors of The Hand-Sculpted House, the number one go-to book for cob construction. They have been a huge inspiration for me during my house design process, and reading their book sealed the deal for building my home out of cob. Ianto and Linda have decades of experience building with mud. It was an honor to be able to meet them and spend several nights at their place. It was a great experience…."

Shelter's New Book on Tiny Houses

Once I got back from Europe and the dust settled, I finally started on our tiny houses book. We've been gathering material on the subject for about a year and I'm astounded by the wealth and richness of material. I thought I'd have to wrestle with myself to get rolling on this project in the early stages, but it's taken on a life of its own from day one. I've never had a book take off like this. I'm having a wickedly good time, getting up early in the mornings to work on it. PLUS I'm running across all kinds of other interesting stuff (see blogs of Nov.-Dec.).
There are a ton of books out there on tiny (or "small") houses and more coming, so why are we doing one? Well, we wrote about building small, simple, non-architect, homes in Shelter, 36 years ago. In fact Bob Easton drew up 5 simple little buildings with these roofs: shed, gable, steep gable, gambrel and circular. We told owner-builders to keep it small, simple, and economical, and to not get trapped in a wishful fantasy (domes, 7-sided, abstract shapes, etc). "Quick to build so you can get on with your life."
Secondly, there's an obvious surge of interest nowadays, necessity being the mother, etc.
Third, I've been photographing small buildings for 40 years now.
Fourth, we're doing one of our signature building books, dense with photos and stories, way different from other books, hoping to publish by November 2010. It's gonna be a good one!

*Click here for gambrel roof page from Shelter (shown above).

Electric Tea Kettle

I'm not a fan of cooking with electricity, but this is one electric appliance that we use 3-4 times a day, every day of the year. It heats water to tea or coffee (or hot water bottle) temperature in a flash. Our first one lasted maybe 6 years, and we replaced it. While waiting for the new one, it was a drag to have to wait for the kettle to boil on the gas stove. It's called the Chef's Choice 685 International Deluxe Cordless Electric Teakettle: http://bit.ly/5vtm3U
Another one that gets good reviews is the Breville SK500XL Ikon Cordless 1.7-Liter Stainless-Steel Electric Kettle: http://bit.ly/4xQLHb

Treehouse in China by David Greenbverg

David Greenberg is an artist and treehouse designer. This is one of the treehouses he designed in China (it's in our book HomeWork).

This photo, by Pete Nelson, is on the French website: http://www.lesechos.fr/luxe/actu/300355342-cabanes-la-grande-evasion.htm

Fred Astaire Rode a Skateboard at Age 78

Fred Astaire was awarded a life membership in the National Skateboard Society At age seventy-eight, he broke his left wrist while riding his grandson's skateboard. He remarked, "Gene Kelly warned me not to be a damned fool, but I'd seen the things those kids got up to on television doing all sorts of tricks. What a routine I could have worked up for a film sequence if they had existed a few years ago. Anyway I was practicing in my driveway."
-From Wikipedia
Photo from: http://www.dancehelp.com/articles/photos/Tap-photos.aspx

Toyota 4x4 Hi-Ace Vans: "Toughest Vehicle on Planet"

Jonathan Hanson on driving on African Savannah at high speed in Land Rovers.: It was "…like…driving across a plowed field over which concrete had been poured to solidify the ridges."
"At 100 kph we danced over them with actual tire-to-earth contact occurring perhaps 10% of the time. But the most astonishing sights were to occasional overstuffed Toyota Hi-Ace van taxis coming the other way at our speed plus, wheels pistoning up and down at an insane pace and the entire vehicle often sideways in a crazy drift around curves…the humble Hi-Ace has to be the toughest vehicle on the planet."
-From the Overland Journal

Weeping Ornamental Cherry Tree

I shot this in our garden about 7:00 this morning. It was cold and misty and the tree was illuminating the garden. (Full moon last night. It's a Mt. Fuji variety weeping cherry tree.

Little House in Berkeley

There are 1000s of tiny houses like this all over America, built before rampant bureaucracy shut down the possibility of building small, inexpensive, practical homes.

Lightning Storm in Baja California

Daniel Amora sent us this photo taken by his brother Cesar with his iPhone, of a chubasco (tropical storm) in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Mystery Write P. D. James on London

From The Private Patient an Adam Dalgliesh mystery by P. D. James, in which she is writing about London:
"The city which lay below was a charnel house built on multi-layered bones centuries older than those which lay in the cities of Hamburg or Dresden. Was this knowledge part of the mystery it held for her, a mystery felt most strongly on a bell-chimed Sunday on her solitary exploration of its hidden alleys and squares? Time had fascinated her from childhood, its apparent power to move at different speeds, the dissolution it wrought on minds and bodies, her sense that each moment, all moments past and those to come, were fused into an illusory present which with every breath became the unalterable, indestructible past. In the city of London these moments were caught and solidified in stone and brick, in churches and monuments and in bridges which spanned the grey-brown ever-flowing Thames…."

Obama: The Good News, by Mark Morford

Obama, the great disappointment? The Miracle President hasn't actually accomplished much? Wrong
Yesterday Mark Morford published a brilliant online column on the great stuff Obama is doing:
"…as I…noted all the changes in a single year, I found myself reenergized, invigorated, slapped awake at the new tone and direction, the sheer scale of all the changes, and how we are no longer the rogue macho cowboy laughingstock jackass of the world.
Sure, there's still a long way to go. Yes, we're still invading Afghanistan. Wall Street is still packed with jackals and demons. DOMA still exists. All is far from perfect. But times have changed indeed. Things are most definitely not what they once were. I can think of no better news to report."
To the editors of the Chronicle: Put this prominently on your op-ed page, (say in place of Debra Saunders one day?). It's a unique, thoughtful, hopeful essay, worthy of real ink, as well as digital.

For Rock 'n Rollers Only

To say that rock and roll changed my life in the 60s-'70s is an understatement. Stones/Beatles/Dylan/etc. Sound familiar? If it does, if you've still got that R&R spirit in your bones, this is for you:
Yesterday I drove over the mountain to visit my mom, and to run with my friends. Sunny afternoon, I put on Last Man Standing by Jerry Lee Lewis and friends. Blue skies with clouds, green trees, shadows on the winding mountain road and listening to killer (sic) rock and roll…I'm embarassed it was so much fun. Yes I cranked up the volume. I was making my own movie. Boy, so much good stuff! BB King, Merle Haggard, Kid Rock, Robbie R., Mick & Keith & Ron, Springsteen, Fogerty, George Young, Buddy Guy…does this tell you anything? Jerry's voice is strong & clear, his piano sparkling, and he's obviously a powerful presence for all these musicians, many of whom sing backup harmonies. Blues, country, honky-tonk, rock 'n roll, it's a masterpiece. Check out the previews: http://bit.ly/6GgCnM

Still Love Newspapers? Get Dave Eggars' Panorama Edition

I have always loved newspapers and so it pains me to see my hometown San Francisco Chronicle struggling, like a ship without a captain. They've reduced the page size, are printing on glossy stock (big deal!), they've consigned their brilliant columnist Mark Morford to their website (here), they have no Voice.
However, here's one thing they're doing right: partnering with Dave Eggars (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), a newspaper lover, who is publishing (via his McSweeney's publishing house):
"• A 120-page broadsheet, including a 48-page news section, 24 pages of arts, 16 pages of sports (an 8-page sports section and an 8-page special World Series section featuring Stephen King), 16 pages of comics, and a 16-page food section
• A 112-page magazine
• A 96-page books section
• Pull-out posters

A bunch of writers and artists "…use their creativity to unleash the full potential of a daily newspaper? The result is San Francisco Panorama, a unique publication filled with breathtakingly innovative features and sections."

You can order a copy ($16) from McSweeney's.

Back to the land with Maria Kalman

"And the Pursuit of Happiness—Back to the Land" is a wonderful hand-lettered article by prolific artist Maria Kalman: in the NY Times. Farmers, fast food, healthy food, edible schoolyards. Sent us by Leo Hetzel. Photo is of farmer Mickey Murch's rolling food van. He drives it into the small town where he lives to sell fresh bread and other food. http://bit.ly/5LrkQj

Maria Kalman's website: http://www.mairakalman.com/

Bell Tower Near Church in El Transito, Nicaragua

By photographer Taeke Henstra

Sailing Bahamas in 15' Sharpie Sailboat

"LITTLE CRUISER is our fifteen foot sharpie designed and built by our friend Matt Layden as a coastal microcruiser. Constructed in 1988, LITTLE CRUISER was one of his favorite boats and he sailed her engineless as far North as the Bay of Fundy in Canada and as far South as the Exumas in the Bahamas. After we acquired her in 1992, we sailed Little Cruiser to the Bahamas seven more times."

Fred Astaire Rode Skateboard at Age 78

Lew sent me this on Fred Astaire:
"Astaire was awarded a life membership in the National Skateboard Society At age seventy-eight, he broke his left wrist while riding his grandson's skateboard. He remarked 'Gene Kelly warned me not to be a damned fool, but I'd seen the things those kids got up to on television doing all sorts of tricks. What a routine I could have worked up for a film sequence if they had existed a few years ago. Anyway I was practicing in my driveway.'"
-From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Astaire

Photo from: http://www.dancehelp.com/articles/photos/Tap-photos.aspx

Bamboo Scaffolding on Hong Kong Skyscrapers


Shipping Container Converted to Bar-B-Q Joint, Nairobi

"Spotted in Nairobi, January 2008 at Lagoon, a bar/nyama choma (roast meat) joint."

Mirrored Treehouse in Sweden

"Swedish firm Tham & Videgard Hansson Arkitekter, have cleverly used mirrored panels to create an almost invisible treehouse “hotel.” Although the square footage hasn’t been revealed, the “hotel” unit boasts a kitchen, sleeping area, living area, and for those not afraid of heights, a terrace."