Clothesline Bans and Laundry Outlaws (part one of a short series)

My mother-in-law told me that clotheslines are against the law in Salem, Oregon, where she lives.  I checked it out, and it’s true!  Clothesline bans persist in many US cities, and parts of Canada and Europe.  Thousands of homeowner associations prohibit line drying, including the 55+ community where my own dear parents live.  Hmm.  Clothes dryers use 6-10% of household energy, just behind refrigerators and lighting.  Unlike fridges and lights, though, there is an obvious, simple, free alternative.

Well, they ARE a bit shocking.  I am sure my mother would want me to point out that these are not my scivvies, not hers.
Well, they ARE a bit shocking. I am sure my mother would want me to point out that these are my pretties, not hers.

People all over the country are  agitating to overturn clothesline bans.  Meanwhile, when clotheslines are outlawed, only outlaws have clotheslines. My renegade little mom went ahead and strung herself a retractable line across the back deck, and now her scivvies dry happily, waving in the breeze as is only proper.  If you live under one of these ridiculous bans, we hope you’ll become a laundry outlaw too.  If the Clothesline Police arrest you, we’ll hold a bake sale, raise funds, and bail you out.  Promise.

For the rest of us, one of the best things we can do in support of the Laundry Outlaws is to hang clothes out ourselves, cheer for one another’s efforts, and make line drying so NORMAL that the bans will seem as ludicrous as they are. Are your neighbors shocked by the glaring presence of your oversized underthings?  Be nice about it.  Right though you may be, see if you can hang your necessaries a little out of their line of sight.  As Benjamin Franklin put it (he was talking about laundry, wasn’t he?):  “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we will all hang separately.”

For more information, and to take further action, join the good folks at Project Laundry List in the Right to Dry campaign.

For more on line-drying, see my previous post on subterranean clotheslines, and also this peek at the beautiful art in my new book.

This is the first in a short series on laundry.  Next: simple outdoor lines (suitable for those, like me, with an irrational fear of power tools).

Use Invasive Morning Glory for DIY Garden Twine

Sure is pretty for something so noxious.
Sure is pretty for something so noxious.

Morning glory is also called bindweed, for its habit of twining around other plants.  Traditionally, it has few practical uses, though medicinally it is reputed to be a drastic purgative, and the leaves have been used in poultices to relieve swollen feet.  It traveled here from the gardens of Europe, and it thrives in disturbed areas, such as our urban backyards.

In the beautiful book, Slow Time, Waverly Fitzgerald mentioned that she uses morning glory vines as wire when making wreathes.  So this weekend, when I was rescuing my sweet native ferns from the strangling tentacles of invasive morning glory, I saved the vines, and tried using them as garden twine.  Early today I spent a pleasant hour, lashing together sticks for pepper and tomato cloches (it’s still chilly in Seattle at night!).


The morning glory worked wonderfully–the vines are pliable, knottable, and strong.  They are also rather neat-looking, I think.

p1010251A couple notes:

–Thanks to my neighbor who left a stack of little bamboo arches out in her “Free” pile.

–You may notice that my ace photographer is temporarily off the grid, and we are obliged to stumble along on my own humble photos.  We’ll be back to the usual gorgeous photography soon!

A Wee Bit O’ Madness in the Garden

p1010237-1Well, my snap peas were behaving in typical early-spring fashion–growing a lush, green, six or seven inches, then just sitting there.  But one night last week all of us were away, scattered to the winds.  Claire was on a camping trip, I was spending the night at my sister’s after an Indigo Girls show, and Tom was roaming the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (that’s Abudubus Abubabuba in Ubbi Dubbi language, for all you ex-Zoomers).

When I got home the next day, two Mysterious Things had happened.

Thing one:  The peas had grown at least two inches.

Thing two:  This strange visitor had appeared.


p1010238Now when I told Tom about the visitor, he seemed suspiciously unsurprised, but his alibi was sound, what with being in Ethiopia.  “Well, it is odd,” he told me, “But we have a gnome-ish yard, and it’s not the first time this has happened.”  That’s true.  In fact, this Irish fiddler appeared in the cold frame not long ago.

I am not in favor of bric-a-brac in my garden, but what can be done?  There are forces beyond one’s control and aesthetic standards.

If anyone can explain such happenings, I would much appreciate it.  In particular:  where do garden gnomes come from, and is their appearance connected to the sudden pea growth?

Art from Garbage–More Transformational Refuse

Some of the most astonishing art we encounter when traveling is made from garbage.  In Kenya and Tanzania, where artistic spirit runs deep and money is tight, many artists gather refuse for their materials, and the results can be stunning.  I could prattle on about how encountering such resourcefulness makes me rethink everything I throw out, everything I acquire, what I think I need, and blahbitty blah blah, but I’ll try to just let the images speak for themselves.

We love this little bicycle–it’s about six inches long, and the handlebars and pedals turn.


Tin cans are one of the primary materials for sculptural artists on the streets of East Africa.  Metal cans there tend to be painted, rather than covered with a paper label, so the sculptures  often show off colorful images of tomatoes and ingredient lists.

Sometimes the paint is burned off in the welding process, as with this bat mobile:


In Zanzibar, Tom became fascinated with the process of farming seaweed for toothpaste–the work is done mainly by women when the tide is out in the morning.  Jambiani village where we stayed is Muslim, and the women’s long skirts would float around their ankles as they worked.  One morning, Tom met this young boy, who had made a model dhow boat entirely by himself with found materials.  You can see on his face how proud he is of it, and rightfully so–it’s just beautiful.  The dhow boat we rode out to the reef was similar–hand carved, lashed together with rope and wire, and with a patchwork sail of rice bags.  Tom took this lovely, peaceful video.  Enjoy.

Local Asparagus! A Super-delicious Asparagus Galette Recipe

Don’t you love waking up in the morning these days?  Spring is springing, a heavenly cup of coffee is forthcoming, AND we are smack in the middle of local asparagus season.  Life is good.

It is arguable that there is never any defensible reason to do anything with asparagus besides roasting it beneath a thin drizzle of good olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt.  But I was having family over for Sunday dinner recently, and wanted to be somewhat dazzling, so concocted a spring asparagus galette.  I was thrilled with how it turned out–simple to make, beautiful to look at, delightful to eat.

galette-2921 rectangle image close up

This recipe claims no pretensions to the higher strata of eco-kosher-uber-healthiness.  But it WILL let you pick some nice spring greens, thank your local asparagus farmer, then watch happily as your grateful friends gather at your table and fall into faints over the wondrous deliciousness.

Asparagus-Love Galette

Crust:  Make a batch of your favorite pie crust recipe (I confess I pretty much always use Martha’s Perfect Pate Brisee for such things).  You’ll need enough for the bottom half of a 10″ pie, so you will probably have half a recipe left to freeze for next time.  Chill the dough while you make the filling.

Filling:  Whisk together–
–2 cups ricotta (low fat is fine)
–2 cups grated gruyere
–3 eggs
–1 teaspoon each of chopped fresh oregano and thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon each of dried)
–1 teaspoon kosher salt
–a few healthy turns of the pepper grinder

Roll the dough into a 14″ circle, about 1/8″ thick, and carefully transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment, or ever-so-lightly oiled.  Spread the filling into the middle 10 inches of the circle, leaving 2 inches of crust all around.  Fold the crust over the filling, tucking the excess into little pleats.

Make an egg wash by whisking 1 egg with a teaspoon of water.  With a pastry brush, spread the wash between the pastry pleats, “glueing” them down.  Then spread a light layer of the wash over all of the exposed crust.  This will keep it moist, and give it a beautiful golden-brown finish when baked.  Chill the tart while you prepare the asparagus.

Asparagus topping:  Preheat the oven to 425.  Use a medium-large bunch of asparagus (about 4-5″ diameter–sorry, I just grabbed, I didn’t bother to weigh or measure).  Break the tough ends off, and peel about halfway up the stalks.  Cut diagonally into 1 1/2-2″ pieces.  Put the asparagus in a bowl, and toss with a little good olive oil.  Sprinkle with your best sea salt.  Spread on a baking sheet, and roast for 15 minutes, or until just tender and beginning to brown.

Lower the oven temperature to 375.  Remove your galette from the fridge and bake until the filling is set, and the crust is a lovely brown–about 50-55 minutes.  (You can roast the asparagus at the same time if you like–it will do fine at this slightly lower temperature.)

Grab a couple handfuls of mixed spring greens (including some peppery arugula if available), and toss with a drizzle of olive oil, a couple pinches of sea salt, plenty of fresh ground pepper, and a teaspoon of lemon zest.  Don’t leave out the lemon zest!  It will mingle so nicely with the asparagus…

galette-2924 wide imageWhen the galette comes out of the oven, allow it to cool for about 20 minutes.  Layer the asparagus over the top, then the greens on top of that.  Take a moment to admire your creation before carefully slicing to share.  This is such a rich dish, you can serve it with just a bowl of fresh fruit for a complete meal. Galettes travel well at room temperature–this would make a great picnic.  Enjoy!

And in the meantime let us know:  What’s your favorite way to serve asparagus?

Raising Chicks: A Simple Biddy Box/Brooder (for first world chickens)


Last summer we spent two months traveling in Kenya and Tanzania, spending a fair bit of time in small, off-the-track villages.  There, nearly everyone keeps chickens, which roam free in the dirt roads, alleys, fields, and schoolyards.  Most homes have a shelter for their chickens, with a roof and a nestbox, but the hens and chicks are never fed or locked away from predators.  They scratch for their sustenance and get by (or not) on their chicken-wits.

So it is with a measure of self-directed irony that I tell you we are raising our chicks in the kitchen, where I hover over them and cater do their every desire as if they were newborn humans.  There’s a lot of advice available on raising baby chicks and creating a good biddy box, which will provide all a young chick needs:  warmth, clean water, clean bedding, food, and space to run around.  Here’s our method–it’s simple, cheap (using stuff you probably have around the house), and works great.

We use a large plastic (Rubbermaid style) tub–110 quarts for 3-4 chicks. Yes, they are hunks of evil molded plastic, but they’re nice because they allow light in, keep the chicks from drafts, and you can watch the chicks through the sides.  They are also light and easy to move around, and they’re entirely re-usable.  Cover the bottom with two or three inches of white pine (or other white, non-cedar) shavings.  Cut a length of hardware cloth or “chicken wire” to cover the top of the box,  and overlap the sides by three or four inches.  Fold the edges over so the top fits tightly, and if the edges are sharp, trim them with wide tape.


For food and water you can use any dish or tray, but it is totally worth it to buy the little chick feeders and waterers at the feed store–they are just $2 each, attach to any mason jar, and will help keep the food and water clean and tidy.  When the chicks are several days old and starting to get taller, I put the water up on a half of a brick to help keep it from filling with shavings.  Just make sure everyone can still reach it.


For warmth, we just use an incandescent bulb in a flex-arm desk lamp. A 100 watt bulb will keep the temperature at 95-100 degrees F for the first week.  You’ll want to lower the temperature by 5 degrees/ week:   lift the bulb further away from the lid, or lower the wattage.  Tuck an inexpensive thermometer in the lighted area–I couldn’t find our chicken-house thermometer, so I’ve been using my instant-read bread thermometer, which works fine!  The chicks like to pick at it, of course.  Allow the chicks  some control over their thermoregulation–put the light in a corner so they can move in and out of the heat.

delilah_chick-0017We put our biddy box in the bathtub at night, then we close the door so Delilah the cat doesn’t get any Terrible Ideas while we sleep.

When the girls are just a couple of weeks old, they’ll want to start roosting.  We’ll fix a branch to one corner of the box, so they can start playing Big Chicken.

That’s it!  When the chicks start to feather out, and if the weather is warm, this box can easily be carried outside for part of the day.  And when the chicks are ready to move into their permanent coop, you still have a nice functional box for, say, storing chicken feed, or for next year’s chicks!

Our new coop still looks like this.  We'll finish it in the next week, before the little hens need it.
Our new coop still looks like this. We'll finish it in the next week, before the little hens need it.

Chicks are available at most feed stores until mid-May (our local fave is The Grange Supply in Issaqhah–nice place, good folks, well-cared for chicks), after which chicks may not have enough time to grow large and strong before winter temperatures hit.  This means you still have a couple of weeks to get chicks, if that’s what you want, and work on the coop while they grow up in your kitchen.

A little encouragement:  People are sometimes worried about starting with chicks–they look so tiny and, well, ephemeral.  But they are strong, hearty little things.  If they come from a reputable source, you can have every reason to expect that they are healthy and will thrive.

Claire’s Prime Chick Advice:  “Cuddle them!”

For more information on urban chickens, take a look at Seattle Tilth’s FAQ, and their Poultry Resource List.

Also see my recent post on Why We’re Raising Chickens in the City!

Why We’re Raising Chickens in the City

Esmeralda, Lucy, and Chrysanthemum
Esmeralda, Lucy, and Chrysanthemum

I write against the background sound of  constant sweet cheeping–three baby chicks now inhabit a corner of our mudroom, just off the kitchen.  We first raised chickens about nine years ago, when it was still something of a curiosity to do so in the city.  Now backyard chickens in Seattle are so hip they’re almost passe.   Neighbors are comparing breeds and coop plans, Seattle Tilth can’t offer enough City Chickens 101 classes to meet the demand, and that nice clucking sound is becoming more common on my walks through our West Seattle neighborhood.  We think that’s just great.

For various reasons, we’ve spent a couple of chickenless year since moving to our new house.  I’m SO happy to be raising chicks again.  There are many reasons to keep chickens, and they vary among families.  My own reasons-for-chicken-keeping list is a mile long, but I can boil it down (don’t worry about that phrase, chicks–you’re just for eggs!) to two:

1.  I love chickens.  I love how they look, how they walk, and how they tilt their heads to look you in the eye.  I love their funny, fluffy shape.  I love their unique chicken intelligence, which constantly surprises me.  I love the soft, calming cluck-cluck sound they make.  I love how, if you choose the right breed, chickens are sweet, docile, and friendly.  I love how…well, you get the idea.

2.  Gorgeous fresh eggs.  There are few things more satisfying than gathering your own eggs, especially when they are the most beautiful, golden-centered, delicious eggs you have every tasted.  And even though it seems like your dearest friends and family couldn’t possibly love you more than they already do, just try giving them a bowl of your homegrown eggs.  More love in the world.


I could also add:

Claire when she was three, with Opal the Buff Orpington

3.  Children can take a great deal of responsibility for raising chicks and keeping chickens.  When Claire was tiny, she would go out with her “eggs basket,” which she could barely pronounce, and gather the eggs to make blueberry muffins while Genevieve the Polish hen perched on her shoulder.  Now that she is 10 years old, and becoming both a food activist and a baker in her own right, I believe sharing our household with food-producing animals helps to grow a sense of self-sufficiency, a broader sense of “home,” and a great deal of kindness.

There is another dimension to chicken-keeping that plays into the modern psyche.  In a recent Homegrown Evolution post (great blog–check it out), I read a quote by the editor of Backyard Poultry Magazine, who said that whenever the economy tanks, their subscriptions soar.  This doesn’t make common sense–after all, unless you are supremely resourceful, it takes some money to get set-up for a backyard chicken flock.  The ongoing cost of chicken food isn’t that much less than eggs–and anyway, it’s certainly not buying eggs that is making or breaking us.  The current popularity of chickens might have to do with the economy, but it can’t be just about money.

Wondering over this, I picked up the phone and called Backyard Poultry‘s editor, Elaine Belanger.  “You’re right,” she told me. “On the surface, there is a myth that growing our own food will save money, and I get calls from these editors in New York who think that’s what it’s all about.  But if you’ve raised chickens, you know that it’s something else.”  In troubled times with multiple crises–economic, ecological, global insecurity, swine flu–there’s a longing for  independence, self-reliance, security, food safety, and idyllic living.  Chickens give us a hands-on, tangible sense of satisfaction on all of these levels–it’s an emotional satisfaction.  But Belanger points out that the current resurgence in “homestead”-style practices, including chicken-keeping, pre-dates the economic crisis by about a year.  I believe we have just come through a long political cycle in this country that has left us feeling empty, and desperate for authenticity.  We are finding, and creating, meaning in the most truly grassroots of actions–those that begin with our own household grass (another chicken benefit–they are adept at grass removal!).

chickssmall-2838Is Belanger cynical about the sudden faddishness of chickens, when she’s been preaching this lifestyle for over 20 years?  Not at all–she’s happy about it.  Thrilled, even.  And she’s quick to offer her own favorite reason for keeping chickens:  “Because it’s FUN.”

There’s still plenty of time to get your own little flock started and all settled in before autumn.  If you’ve been thinking about chickens, I want to encourage you to go for it.  In the coming week or so, I’ll be offering inspiration, information, resources, coop plans, and (I can’t help it) a bit more Chicken Philosophy here at The Tangled Nest. Tomorrow:  how to make a simple biddy box/chick brooder.

Simple Drawstring Gift Bag, and Sewing Encouragement

Tom was raised in a little tiny town called Sackville, in the eastern maritime province of New Brunswick, Canada, where his father taught English at a small liberal arts college.  His mother frequented a shop there called “The Craft Gallery,” that featured local, handmade goods.  She’s given me several gifts from the shop over the years, and I’ve noticed that everything sold there, however large or small, comes wrapped in a simple cloth drawstring bag.

I love the little rubber-stamped labels.

They aren’t fancy.  The turned-in top edges are finished with pinking shears,  and the drawstrings are just bits of yarn.  The fabric is always from some quilter’s scrap pile, and often the bags are made of two or more colors of cloth.  So simple, but so delightful!  I treasure them, and use them for all manner of things.

With these as my inspiration, I’ve been making cloth bags for gift wrap.  If you have a sewing machine set up, then it truly doesn’t take any longer than wrapping a gift with paper, they can be used again and again, and they’re super-darn cute.  It’s fun to wonder what the recipient will do with the bag–wrap someone else’s gift, stow doll clothes, keep freshly-baked bread?

Here are two I made this afternoon for a child’s party we’re attending tomorrow.  Strictly scrap bag affairs.  Any dig through the fabric scraps is a sentimental  journey:  the larger bag is tied with ricrac leftover  from a dress I made for Claire when she was three, and the gingham is from some long-ago kitchen curtain that didn’t turn out as I’d hoped.


Pinked edges are quick and entirely functional for a little project like this.
Pinked edges are quick and entirely functional for a little project like this.

Drawstring bags make an excellent first machine-sewing project for kids (or adults for that matter!).  If you don’t know how to make a drawstring bag, find directions here.  But remember–if you are in the mood to just whip a few bags together, you don’t even have to turn the top under twice.  These bags are for light use, and pinking the edges works perfectly well.  (Of course, it is nicer to iron the edges under, and only takes one more minute, but we do have options!)

We so often think of sewing as a big production.  We have to “get set up,” plan a project, shop for matching thread, and find other ways to make it into an ordeal that can be put off.   I’m trying to remember that sewing can happen in a a few minutes, with a pile of scraps and bit of white thread.  Enjoy!

Crow Planet Art, and Dive-bombing Crows

Yesterday I was out hanging clothes on the sunny line as the crows in the neighbor’s Douglas fir worked on their nest.  So I just had to share this image from my new book, Crow Planet.  Amazing local artist Dan Cautrell created gorgeous lino-cuts for each chapter.  This one is called “Dwelling,” and I think it’s my favorite.


This is the season that everyone starts calling to ask why crows are dive-bombing their heads.  They are, of course, protecting their nests, eggs, and soon their fledglings.  It’s a seasonal behavior, and will cease as the chicks grow into sturdy young adults.  Dive-bombing makes crows seem aggressive, or even “mean.”  I’m not a crow apologist, but I do think we need to remember that because they are so large, and they have such big nests, crows don’t have the advantage of quiet, hidden chick-rearing that many birds do.  They resort to cawing and swooping only in order to protect their young.  If you are scolded by a crow this time of year, just try to avoid it–cross the street, and act uninterested.

All the beautiful Crow Planet prints are available for sale.  Contact artist Dan Cautrell through his Fusion Press Studio website.

Quid Pro Crow: Gardening Alongside Wildlife

When I planted our peas in March, I chased the crows out of the cherry tree before I started. I was thinking of all the crows I’d seen watching gray squirrels bury their peanuts.  The squirrels are so busy-busy, patting down the soil over their treasure with those bad little paws.  Then as soon as they leave, the crows swoop down, pluck the nuts up, and eat  them with a stylish nonchalance. My beautiful snap pea seeds had been soaking overnight, and had begun to sprout–they looked alive and tasty.

Crow-bill hole in the pea patch

As soon as I finished planting and was putting my tools away in the shed, a swirl of three crows flew into the cherry tree, cawing loudly.  I laughed to myself, “They’re calling their friends to say, ‘She’s finished!  Come eat!'”  But I thought I was kidding.  Later I found perfect crow-bill-sized holes in the pea-patch!

In his wonderful book, Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest (which offers a great deal of insight no matter what your geographic region), Russell Link writes, “We love wild animals, or we hate them, depending on what they’re doing.”  Our hearts lift at the robin’s spring song, then in the summer they eat our strawberries.

One morning there was a Cooper’s Hawk perched on the corner of our fence.  So close!  Such beautiful yellow legs, and deep orange eyes!  I rushed to get my binoculars, my first impulse as a bird nerd.  But in the next breath I realized, oh my lord, that bird was eying my six-week-old baby chickens!  Cooper’s Hawks are bird-eaters.  I ran out there like Ma Ingalls, barefoot in the wet grass, my pink flannel pajamas dragging around my feet, waving my arms and yelling “Shoo!”  The hawk looked at me coolly before lifting over the garage roof, and I brought my feathered girls in the kitchen for the day.  I’ve always been critical of farmers that bait “vermin” such as coyotes, wolves, and cougars because they are a perceived threat to livestock, and I still am.  But my thoughts are more nuanced since the hawk incident.  What if I really was Ma Ingalls?  What if those chickens were not my hobby, but my family’s livelihood?  My children’s sustenance?  What if all that were true, and I had a shotgun hanging over the door?

Missing pea plants after crow nibbling
Missing pea plants after crow nibbling

I don’t have any brilliant how-tos for preventing crows from eating your peas.  But I love the reminder that there is no clear line we can draw between our households, our lives, our habits, and the wider, natural world.  Our homey thresholds are flimsy and marginal–they represent the point from which we cross into nature, and wild nature–distressingly sometimes–crosses back.  Such a recognition of our constant, inevitable continuity with the more-than-human world is, I believe, exhilirating, enlivening, and beautiful.

Meanwhile, we protect our chickens, net our strawberries, and wave our arms at waiting crows.  I tossed some  new pea seeds into the holes the crows had made, and they’re beginning to fill in nicely.