Elder-Flower Cordial

‘Tis the Season

The Elder-flower Cordial is a sweet, flavorful drink that can be made by just about anybody.  Elder-flowers are the prerequisite to the, you guessed it, elderberry.  Now is the season for the flower, and a delicious, sweet Spring/Summer time drink.  Once the berries form, the opportunity for a stronger, adult drink is available.

For now though, we will start with the recipe and process for the sweet drink that everybody can drink.  Elder-flower is in season roughly from late May through July and a medium sized plant can yield nearly a hundred large flower heads.  

Enough with the small talk, let’s get to the ingredients:

15 elder-flower heads (yields just over 1 gallon (4 liters) depending on dilution ratio)

4 cups (500g) white granulated sugar

4 tablespoons honey

2  large lemons

4 ⅓ cups (1 liter) water

1. Clip 15 elder-flower heads at the main stem, just below where all the smaller flower stems join together and above the leaves.  Take your time, to be sure to clear out any bugs or dead flower heads, but don’t rinse the heads in water or shake them upside down.  The pollen of the flowers is where most of the flavor is found.

2. Combine the sugar, honey and 1 liter of water in a large saucepan over a medium heat, as the sugar begins to dissolve increase the heat until it just begins to boil lightly.  Once it starts to boil, remove the syrup from the heat.

3. Grate in the lemon peel zest from the 2 large lemons. Then cut 1 lemon in half, and the other into slices.

4. Add the 15 elder-flower heads, stem up so that the flower heads are all submerged.

5. Squeeze the juice from the lemon you cut in half into the syrup. Place the slices from the other lemon on top of the flower heads.

Place a lid on the saucepan and let the mixture infuse for the next 24 hours.

Once 24 hours have passed, strain the liquid into a container by placing a tea towel or fine cloth inside of your strainer and pouring the mixture through it. (Bonus: The remaining flower heads and lemon slices are excellent for your compost.)

**Note** This will create a super sweet concentrated cordial, and should be diluted to taste.  I recommend 1 part cordial to 3 parts water, but everyone has different tastes.

Sit back on a warm evening and enjoy!  

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Family Bike Ride – Lautertal Radweg

A Covid Compliant Adventure

Restrictions are beginning to ease, but we are still largely home bound.  Time for a Covid compliant adventure, our traveling perimeter has widened and Germany is riddled with biking trails.  We have explored just about everything within the immediate vicinity, so we decided to pack up a lunch, load up the bike rack and do something a little further out.

Our boys are still young, so an easy family friendly path with little climbing is preferred.  Nearby is a well traveled mainly flat biking path that we could take anywhere from 2 kilometers to 30 if we felt up to it.

The youngest is excited to try his new (to him) mountain bike out on a real trail, and the older one is excited to “show him how it’s done”.  With my bike finally done being built, my wife has regained full control over her bike, and is ready to take it for a spin.

The Lautertal Radweg (Radweg = Bike Path or Bike way to be precise) runs from Kaiserslautern, Germany up to Lauterecken, some 35 or so kilometers away.  I knew we wouldn’t make it that far with an 8 and 6 year old, but who knows.

The trail is scenic as it wanders along between the train tracks and stream.  Just on the other side of the tracks we cruise on by small, quaint little towns.  Lots of bikers had the same idea that we had so we are forced to stay in a single file line or as the boys yell out when someone is spotted heading our way “Snake Formation!”.  Departing Kaiserslautern we pass by Erfenbach and decide to stop for the lunch that we brought with us.  After a quick meal it’s on to Otterbach and Sembach.  As we continue into Katzweiler our little one is showing signs of fatigue.  Not too bad considering we are about 9 kilometers in.

Turning around in Katzweiler, our youngest is not too enthused to find out that he now has to pedal back the entire way that he just came.  We mosey back the way we came, stopping plenty for photos and to check out the stream.  Each time that we remount the bikes, we egg him on with a reminder that there will be a surprise at the end of the ride.  Not knowing what the surprise is going to be just about drives the older one insane.

Pedaling back into K-Town we pass by the car and keep going, leading them just to the end of the parking lot fence.  An outdoor restaurant, just recently allowed to open up outdoor seating is situated in the middle of a plaza with a fountain.  Other bikes are parked all over the plaza, we add ours to the mix and sit outside the restaurant for…Beer and Ice Cream!  Beer for the wife not the kids, just in case you were wondering.  

PROST!!!!

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Bamboo Toothbrushes

A “Flirting With Zero Waste” Tip

I have raved about the sustainable qualities of bamboo in the past, and still stand by it.  Yet another typically plastic product that can quickly and easily be eliminated from production and replaced by bamboo is the toothbrush.

Not a whole lot of thought is really invested into these wonderfully convenient and completely essential scrubbing sticks by consumers.  A whole lot of time, and advertising, is invested in their design and marketing though.  Where they fail, is in their manufacturing.  Time and effort is put into making sure that each little bristle can reach the most hard to reach areas, and a lot of money is invested into telling us about where those bristles can reach.  Very little time or money is invested into the holder of those bristles.  

Sustainable bamboo sunglasses by WearPanda

Plastic is cheap, easy to work with and will last for quite literally FOREVER.  Whether we like it or not every toothbrush handle ever manufactured out of plastic in the history of plastic toothbrush handles, still exists in one form or another and will for longer than the person’s teeth that it was designed to brush will.  Sure a nicely shaped handle with soft cushiony grips in vibrant colors is nice to look at for its 4 to 6 month lifespan, or until the dentist gives you a new one, whichever comes first.  Now all we have to do is pretend we don’t see them piling up in landfills and floating in the ocean for the next few hundred years…that 4 to 6 months sure was nice though.  I especially enjoy that each new plastic toothbrush comes gift wrapped with yet another layer of, you guessed it, plastic.  After all, plastic is really good at protecting plastic.

Now for the alternative.  Bamboo toothbrushes are equally aesthetically pleasing in my opinion, 4 to 6 months of a nice wood grain on display near my sink.  Alas, you will have to forego that soft cushiony handle, if only we had soft cushiony areas conveniently placed on our hands in just those locations required to hold a toothbrush.  Wouldn’t that be convenient?  But how are you going to be able to tell which toothbrush is yours if you can’t all get different colors or shapes?  This seems like a silly question, but there really is some validity here.  Have you ever realized you were using the wrong toothbrush halfway though a good scrubbing?  I have, it’s disturbing.  Well fret no more, bamboo toothbrushes have a remarkable ability to be branded.  In fact, the manufacturers actually provide this service already, in a wide variety of options; symbols; letters; numbers; whatever you like.  You could even purchase them tinted in various colors.

Individually branded for easy reference, these even came with a bamboo travel case.

After that 4 to 6 months of usefulness is where this really gets interesting.  Bamboo is biodegradable, it will completely decompose and return itself to the soil anywhere from a few months to a few years maximum, in fact enriching the soil rather than contaminating it.  Not just biodegradable but compostable!  Pro tip for all you gardeners out there, you can break the head off your old bamboo toothbrush and throw the handle into your compost bin where it will aid in growing the same food that you used it to remove from your teeth after you last ate.

There are over 6 billion people in the world, and yes I know they don’t all own a toothbrush, but let’s say they do.  2 to 3 toothbrushes a year per person for let’s say 60 years.  That’s a nice round average number of toothbrush use, pre-dentures. So between 120 to 180 toothbrushes per person – split the difference 150 toothbrushes.  Multiply that by 6 billion = 900 billion toothbrushes will be used in the next 60 years if the population does not continue to grow.  If we only use plastic toothbrushes, those same 900 billion toothbrushes will still exist somewhere in the environment 3, 4, 5, hundred years from now.  If we only used bamboo toothbrushes – ZERO will remain, they will have returned to the soil and contributed to the growth of more plants, trees, food, more bamboo etc.

It’s a tough decision, I will let you think about it.

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Mirror rirroM – Three

STOP! Did you miss chapter two? Check it out here.

3

The weekend came and went; Seth was happy to get back to school and get a break from work.  He had made more than enough money for the moped; they had been busier than expected.  The last thing that he wanted to do was look at another slab of cheese and dough, luckily, he had most of the week off.  At school, Seth met up with his two best friends Chris Fitch and Brian Lee.

“Where you been all weekend bro, we didn’t hear a peep from you?” Chris asked.

“Just working, it was a rough weekend, nothing but flour and dough up to my elbows.” Seth answered.  “What did you guys do?”

Brian took this one, “Just wait until you hear, we went to the midnight showing of Star Trek.  You should have seen some of the costumes these fools were wearing.”

“These fools?” Seth answered, “You guys were there too, you know.”

“Well…yeah” Brian said, “but we didn’t have costumes or anything, so it was different.”

“Yeah, and you should have seen some of the chicks in there tight Trekkie uni’s…real nice I say!” Chris added.

“And there you two were, standing there staring at ‘em the whole time I bet,” Seth laughed, “They probably thought you guys were on a date!”

“No way, you’re crazy Seth.” Chris said.

“I bet you even shared popcorn, oh that’s funny.” Seth joked.

“So…popcorn is stupid expensive at the mall.” Brian said defensively.

“Wait, you really did share popcorn, you guys are ridiculous, that’s awesome.” Seth was really laughing hard now.

The warning bell sounded, and the trio started to go their separate ways.

“Hey, I’ll come by and see you guys after school, I’m going to get that moped this afternoon!” Seth called out as he backed away towards home room.

“Nice! See you later, man” Chris called back.

Seth hustled off to history class hoping to see Jessica; maybe break the ice with a “What happened to you this weekend” type of line.  Only, she wasn’t in class again that day.  Strange, he thought to himself, maybe she really came down with something bad.  He overheard her friends talking in the corner of the classroom.

“No, I didn’t talk to her all weekend, did you?” he heard one of them say.

“I called her house, her mom said that she hasn’t been around all weekend, and if I see her to give them a call.  She didn’t even know where she was, and she sounded worried.” Another one said.

“Well that’s strange, why would she just disappear like that?”.

Seth had heard enough, his intuitions were apparently right, something really was up with her. Did she run off with some guy? Seth had never heard her talking about a boyfriend or anything before.  Just then he heard something from the corner that really caught his attention.

“My dad said that the cops were at her house, like all Sunday morning!” one of the girls said.

Wait a minute Seth thought, the cops now this could be something serious.  Is she in jail, a runaway, kidnapped?  Seth’s imagination was starting to run away on him a little bit.  Wait, wait, slow it down here he thought, I’m just jumping to conclusions here.  It’s probably nothing, something totally unrelated I bet.  Seth tried to put it out of his mind for now, but between thinking about Jessica, and his soon to be moped, the day dragged.  

“Slowest day, ever!” Seth said to his buddy Chris in passing.

“Tell me about it!” Chris answered.  Apparently, he was having a long day himself.

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Bike Build Step #6

Cosmetics, Cockpit & Completion

Hey guess what!  My handlebars have arrived!  So, taking my single speed Frankenstein bike for a cruise, is a real possibility.  I am going to use this beautiful afternoon to apply a couple cosmetic fixes that have been bothering me and get my cockpit set up.

My vintage frame is equipped with a plethora of welded on cable guides that I have since been rendered useless with my rebuild.  It was also designed to carry rim brakes that will no longer be needed, so the welded on mounts for those can be removed as well.

I borrowed a Dremel tool affixed with a metal cutting blade and moved my maintenance rack outside.

I started with the smaller cable routing mounts, and then once I got the hang of it I moved onto the rim brake mounts.  Looking at the front fork, I decided to leave most of the mount and just remove the pegs.  I tried to just unscrew the pegs but for the life of me I couldn’t get them to go.

Exercising patients and a steady hand I methodically removed all of the mounts.  Already I feel the weight of nagging cosmetic nuances lifted from my shoulders.  Switching to a sandpaper attachment on the dremel I go over each location once more and smooth out the remnants.

A quick dusting and I am ready for touch up paint.  Just so happens that the paint job was done recently as you may recall, and I still have my spray cans at the ready.  Using some well placed cardboard and towels I blend the new paint to the old without overspraying any of my new parts.

I let it sit out in the sun to dry, while I get all the pieces to my cockpit together, feeling good about getting those nagging cosmetic issues taken care of.

Handlebars, Grips, Headset Star Nut & Cap

First and foremost, I have a 1” steerer tube that I adapted to a 1 ⅛”, so I needed a 1” starnut to secure the headset cap.  A star nut installation tool is a specialty tool that I don’t see myself using very often, but it’s cheap and I don’t know anyone that has one, so I bit the bullet and bought one.

The installation tool is easy to use and convenient, no guesswork needed.  I hammer the star nut into place.  I didn’t install the headset cap at this point because I may have to adjust the angle of the headset once I attach the handlebars.

I loosen the front of the headset enough to slide my new handlebars in.  I chose handlebars with a little bit of a rise to them for comfort reasons since I plan to use this as a commuter bike and not a trail bike for the most part.  I tighten the bolts down in a cross “X” pattern to keep the pressure even.  I orient the handlebars at zero degrees to start, and will adjust them after a few rides once I get a feel for where I want them.

Eyeing up the orientation with the front wheel, I determine where straight is, make sure all the bolts on the headset are tight, then install the headset cap into my newly installed star nut.

As you know, my simple, minimal design requires no cables or levers.  So the only thing left to install is the grips.

I got a pair of brown leather, ergonomic, lock on grips to match the saddle.  I slide them into place and roughly position them where I think they should be, tighten a couple Allen bolts and I’m done.

Stay tuned for recaps and reviews of my first rides!

Tools Used For This Step:

Dremel with a metal cutting bit and sandpaper bit (borrowed)

Spray Paint (left over)

Star Nut Installation Tool

Hammer

Allen Wrenches

Total Cost For This Step – $121.39 (111.96 Euro):

1” Star Nut – $5.50 (5.07 Euro)

Star Nut Installation Tool – $22.95 (21.17 Euro)

Headset Cap – $16.98 (15.66)

Handlebars – $33.06 (30.49 Euro)

Grips – $42.90 (39.57 Euro)

**All parts are linked to the same or similar parts on Amazon**

Complete Cost of the Bike Build: $560.82 (515.39 Euro)

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Bed Frame to Bench

Repurposing Practise

When it comes to children, it can be hard to donate or give away some of the items that they have outgrown.  Sentimental items have always been a difficult area to address in the world of minimalism.  Certain items however can lend themselves to repurposing, a way of preserving the sentimentality while breathing new life and purpose into the item.

My wife, while scrolling the depths of Facebook, happened upon a bed frame that was being given away for free.  She recognized this as an opportunity.  Our boys are well past the age of cribs and changing stations, but we had a hard time parting with their old crib frame.  We certainly didn’t have a use for it anymore though either, it would make for a strange conversation piece if randomly placed somewhere in the house, and it doesn’t easily serve another purpose in its natural state.  With some modifications however, this old crib frame could become a very nice bench and serve as communal outdoor or indoor seating.

Back to the Facebook post, the old bed frame that was being given away for free could become our test run.  Being that we have not built a bench before, we didn’t want to risk destroying the boy’s old crib on a failed attempt.  My wife replied to the post, and now here we are with a free bed frame to practise on.

First and foremost, we knew we would like to refinish the frame so my wife gave it a rough sanding.

Then our first area of focus was the headboard.  The headboard would become the seat back but it was much too tall in its original state, so we measured another bench and some chairs and came up with 42 ½” (108cm) for the center overall height, 38” (97cm) on the ends.

**Note: all measurements are approximate**

Once we decided on a height, we marked the legs where we intended to cut them but didn’t cut them quite yet.  We measured up from our markings to seat height, 18 ½” (47cm)  and made another mark.

We are able to use the bed slats, which used to hold up the box spring and mattress as our construction wood and bench top.  We took one of these slats and attached it  1” (2 ½ cm) below our seat top markings (the width of the seat top boards) from the inside of one bed frame leg to the other

This would help us maintain a straight line cut along the seatback riser boards, and by attaching each riser to the board before cutting them, maintains the spacing.  Once each riser is attached we cut along the bottom of the board with a jigsaw.  Now that they are cut and secure, we took a handsaw to the legs at the further down full height marking for the seatback.

The next area of focus is the arms for the bench.  In order to make these we are going to use the footboard from the bed.  Again, referencing the length of arms on typical chairs, we measure in from each side of the footboard 20” (51cm) and mark the lengths.  We also mark the overall height that we need the front legs to be in order to match the back legs 29 ½” (75cm).

We want to match the seatback riser boards on the arms and pre-attach them to a piece of the slat wood like we did with the seatback.

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We cut the risers to length, cut the front legs to length, and then cut the depth of the arms from each side of the footboard.

In order to connect the front legs, we use one of the side rails from the old bed frame.  This measurement matches the measurement between the back legs 51” (130cm).  As an additional bonus, the side rail is already formed with a lip, this will help give the bench that finished look with the seat top boards tucked into that lip.

Nomatic

We did have to purchase a couple pieces of hardware to complete this build though, it wasn’t completely free.  The hardware we needed was a box of screws and a couple handfuls of small angle brackets.  We use the angle brackets to hold the arm sections and the front leg spanner board together, as well as the arms to the back legs.  All in all we spent less than 10 dollars at the hardware store.

The seat top is the next step.  We have enough slats left to complete the seat top and even a few to spare, which is lucky for us.  Due to the width of the bench, just placing the slat wood across it and then sitting on it causes the wood to bow and sag.  

Push Pin Travel Maps

The front spanner board already has places for support wood to be placed, but the back rail does not.  We take another piece of slat wood measure down the width of the wood and attach it 1” (2 ½ cm) lower to the back rail that we attached previously.  Taking yet another piece of the slat wood, we cut it down to the width between the inside of the front spanner board and the back of the bench and run 3 support rails evenly spaced from front to back.

Finally, we cut and place the seattop boards and then screw them down on each end to the board securing the arm risers.

A few coats of paint, some clear coat and the bench is done!

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Homemade Compost Bin

Homestead Hygge-lism

What goes hand in hand with a freshly dug and planted Victory Garden?  Well, a compost bin of course.  Surely, this was something that we would be able to achieve by recycling and reutilization something we have around the house as we did with the garden border.

Now I don’t condone purchasing large plastic anything, but chances are that most of us have a big plastic Rubbermaid container somewhere in their attic, basement or wherever.  Surprise, surprise we had one from years ago that was sitting empty.  

This container will make for one of the quickest and easiest compost bin conversions ever.  Easy enough for even the boys to do most of the work.

A good compost bin needs to satisfy a few prerequisites:

  1. Be large enough to hold at least enough compost to cover the garden bed in the fall for tilling into the soil before the winter comes.  Then it can be restocked for another round in the Spring prior to planting.  
  2. Have a cover to aid in keeping the critters out and the smells in, but air needs to circulate, so there needs to be holes in the lid.  
  3. It also needs to be kept moist with regular wetting, so there needs to be holes in and around the bottom to let the water strain through and drain.

A Rubbermaid has all of these features, except for the holes and that is a quick remedy with a cordless drill and a decent sized drill bit.  So easy a child could, and a even did, do it, two children to be exact.  Please note, my children only use power tools under strict supervision.  I would have said responsible supervision, but it is typically me that is doing the overseeing so I’m not sure that would apply.

After completion, we start our compost with a simple base layer of a little mulch and some of the grass that we cleared for the garden, root side up.  We will alternate food scraps like salad leaves, egg shells, fruit peels (light on the citrus fruits) and coffee grounds, with additional mulch, cut grass and dead leaves. Stirring occasionally.

With any luck, one day this chunk of plastic will be able to produce enough compost to offset the negative impact that its own production caused.

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24/6

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”.

“24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week” written by Tiffany Shlain, promotes a traditional weekly day away from screens.  In particular, cell phones, tablets, laptops and televisions.

It’s no secret that we are surrounded by technology and a lot of that technology has screens that beg for our attention.  They don’t even really have to beg though, we want to look at them and we do look at them…constantly.  “24/6” presents an avenue to escape this glowing , buzzing, chirping, dinging, ringing, attention hog for one, twenty-four hour period each week.  By unplugging for that one day you can reground, recoup and recover your creativity, productivity and drive.  At the same time you will strengthen your relationships, create memories and build traditions that will carry on for years.

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Tiffany Shlain approaches this day as if it is a day of rest similar to the ancient rituals of Judaism’s Shabbat or Christianity’s Sabbath.  She even refers to it as a “Technology Shabbat”, recalling all of the benefits that her family has encountered for the many years that she has practised it.

The numerous hazards associated with too much screen time are just now being realized as screens in general are a relatively new invention with respect to the evolution of the human eyes and brain.  One startling revelation that I learned is that the blue light associated with screen time is being proven to increase a chemical in the brain that is comparable to that of someone with Alzheimer’s.  Another referred to attention and how long it takes for your attention to fully return to your task at hand once it is interrupted by a notification ping, buzz, chirp or simply the screen lighting up.  In fact, your phone is likely causing attention disruptions to all those around you because merely the sight of a cell phone in a meeting or at a conference divides your attention.

Nomatic

If the interesting facts and multiple benefits of reducing screen time is not enough to make you want to pick up this book, then I recommend it just for the great quotes that she references throughout the book.  Seriously, there are a lot of quotes and they are all really good ones.

While I don’t share the same religious like approach to a screen free day, I do recommend that everyone should give this book a read and give reducing screen time a chance. 

Some additional notes on screen time, not necessarily expressed in this book.  As I mentioned before, screens are a relatively new invention, staring at a screen is equivalent to staring at a low wattage light bulb for hours at a time and that cannot be a good thing.  Cell phones are leading to health issues with the poor posture that they promote and the repetitive thumb/hand positioning that you are so accustomed to.  There are even links to testicular cancer in men, as they typically carry their phones in their front pocket, and breast cancer in women as lots of cell phones are tucked into the bra.

Sustainable bamboo sunglasses by WearPanda

Cell phones are an incredible invention, to have an entire world of information in the palm of your hand is a benefit that is incomparable to anything else.  The issue is what we use this power for, and how we have become slaves to this technology’s beck and call.  No longer are these devices assisting and complementing our lives, they have managed to gain the upper hand.  We jump when they call, we panic when they are out of reach, when they beep, chirp, vibrate, ring or light up we stop what we are doing, what we are thinking about and bow down to their needs.  The content that they can provide devours our attention and steals all of our free time.

Take back control of your devices and screens.  Turn off notifications, learn to be unavailable once in a while, allow yourself to sit quietly and wait.  Relearn patience, focus and concentration.  Enjoy a disruption free conversation.  Turn off the screens and enjoy your first night of truly good sleep in a long long time.

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Financial Freedom Update #4

May – 4 Months

We are now 4 months into our quest for financial freedom and our dream of an early retirement.  

This is a very turbulent time for investments in general with the global pandemic wreaking havoc on economies all across the world.  At the same time, the dramatic drop in all of the markets effectively puts stocks on sale and could prove to be the most opportune time to really start investing in a serious manner.

We have 2 accounts with Betterment.com and 2 external retirement accounts separate from my career supplied 401K.

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Betterment Account Performance:

Physical Investment to Date: $21,010.39

Passive Income Earned (Dividends and Interest): $67.33

Current Balance: $20, 569.14

Performance to Date: (-$441.25)

The initial market drop did some damage right off the bat, but the recovery is gaining momentum and I am optimistic that this will continue to trend upwards as lockdown restrictions are lightened.

Supplementary Retirement Account Balances:

Thrift Savings Plan: $111,220.06

Vanguard 401K: $14,563.79

F.I.R.E. Account Balance

$146,352.99*

*This is an increase of $9,116.24 from last month.

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