Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Build a Shelf!

I have this low south-facing window in my dining room, and I wanted to take advantage of the light to grow some plants. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t find a shelf that fit that exact spot – everything was either too high or too narrow. You can see where this is going.

When I googled “how to build a bookshelf,” I didn’t expect to find anything that I could actually accomplish, but actually, it turns out that it’s quite easy to make your own shelf. Plus, it causes less waste, since you can reuse lumber (unlike pre-shaped particle board), and shelf-building will be a handy skill when we’re all living in our post-apocalyptic sod huts. Below are the instructions for a pretty small shelf, but these measurements are just for the sake of demonstration; you can make your shelf any size you want. Just don’t make it so long that it’s going to bow in the middle – or if you do, put an extra side board in the middle to prop up the top. You’ll need:

-3 boards 24″ long, 8″ wide, and 1″ thick – these are the top and sides
-1 board 22″ long, 8″ wide, and 1″ thick – this is the middle shelf (note: you must subtract the width of the side boards so that your middle shelf will fit under the top shelf. So if your top shelf is 32″ long, your middle shelf must be 30″.)
-4 boards 1″ long, 8″ wide, and 1″ thick – these are the supports
-a power drill with 1/4″ drill bits
-16 1/4″ screws, 2″ long
-wood glue
-paint and a carpenter’s square (optional)

Hardware stores and lumber yards will often cut the wood for you. Make sure your wood is eco-friendly, though. (Unfortunately, I can’t help you there.)

Decide how high up you want the middle shelf to go. I put mine just a couple of inches off the ground – that gives me room to store my watering can, potting soil, and gardening books. (When we have guests over for dinner, I just drape a decorative sheet over the shelf, so that all they see are my lovely plants.) Once you’ve decided, mark the spot with a pencil on both side boards. The first thing you’re going to do is drill in your supports.

The supports are what actually hold the shelves up, so they’re pretty crucial – you don’t want the weight of your stuff resting on the screws alone. Take one side board and glue on 2 supports: one where you want the middle shelf to rest, and one in line with the very top of the board. Now, drill two holes into the side board for each support; these are going to be your guide holes for the screws. Repeat for the other side board. Now scrape (or dip) your screws in the soap and screw them into the holes.

Note: the guide holes and the soap are extremely important steps. Do not power-drill the screws directly into the wood! It’ll crack along the grain and ruin your nascent shelf and you’ll have to go scrounge up some more lumber.

Once you’re finished, your side boards should look more or less like this (ignore the nails):

Now it’s time to screw on the top. Simply follow the same steps you did for the supports: glue, drill, soap, and screw. Do one side board at a time, of course, and don’t try to do it upright. Also, the carpenter’s square will ensure that you’re screwing it on at right angles, so that you don’t end up with a Picasso shelf. Just line the square up against the top periodically to make sure you’re on track.

At this point, the shelf should stand on its own. Huzzah! Now, you may find that there are little gaps between the boards, or that your middle shelf doesn’t quite touch the side shelves. Don’t worry about it. Self-sufficiency isn’t about perfection. Repeat the steps for screwing in the middle shelf, and you’ll find that the side boards tighten up as you lock it in. You got yourself a shelf there, buster. And you swore you couldn’t do carpentry.

Now you can paint it whatever color you like! I went with blue, mainly because we had some paint left over from when we did our walls. But, you know, if yellow’s your thing, you can go with that. Red, I don’t know. I’m not going to judge.

I know these instructions sound kind of complicated in writing, but all the parts fit together pretty intuitively when they’re in front of you. And if you’d like additional instructions, I learned from and

Stop consuming – start producing!

Here We Go Again

We went out to dinner tonight and I realized it’s that time again – the time when it’s All Christmas Music, All The Time. Every single piece of music that played while we were at the restaurant was Christmas music, except “Greensleeves”, and I suspect they thought it was “What Child is This?”.

It actually started a week or so ago when Eve came home from school with an assignment from her violin teacher: try to pick out  “Joy to the World” by ear. Which is a problem if you don’t know the song in the first place. I tried to help by singing the notes, and was rewarded with a deeply suspicious look from my daughter. “Mommy, why do you know Christmas music”? Well, you see, it’s kind of hard to avoid….

Where’s that much-vaunted War on Christmas that Bill O’Reilly keeps bleating about? I don’t see any evidence that Christmas is endagered; quite the contrary. I feel as I’m being assaulted by the music and the grocery-store candy canes and the huge inflatable Santas all over the lawns in my neighorhood. One house has four inflatable figures: Santa, Mrs. Claus, and two elves. When they turn off the power during the day, they all deflate and fall on the ground. It looks like Massacre at the North Pole.

I know this is a petty complaint. I should be writing something deep and empathetic about the targeting of Jews in Mumbai or the WalMart worker who was trampled to death by bargain-hunters. I’m sure my Christmas-crankiness is in part fueled by the despair I feel over those stories. How can we hope to find peace if we can’t summon any goodwill towards each other?

Bah, humbug.

Whoo hoo!

From the AP wire:

Miami judge rules against Florida gay adoption ban

MIAMI – A judge on Tuesday ruled that a strict Florida law that blocks gay people from adopting children is unconstitutional, declaring there was no legal or scientific reason for sexual orientation alone to prohibit anyone from adopting.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said the 31-year-old law violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents, rejecting the state’s arguments that there is “a supposed dark cloud hovering over homes of homosexuals and their children.”

She noted that gay people are allowed to be foster parents in Florida. “There is no rational basis to prohibit gay parents from adopting,” she wrote in a 53-page ruling.

Florida is the only state with an outright ban on gay adoption. Arkansas voters last month approved a measure similar to a law in Utah that bans any unmarried straight or gay couples from adopting or fostering children. Mississippi bans gay couples, but not single gays, from adopting.

The ruling means that Martin Gill, 47, and his male partner can adopt two brothers, ages 4 and 8, whom he has cared for as foster children since December 2004.

“I’ve never seen myself as less than anybody else,” Gill said. “We’re very grateful. Today, I’ve cried the first tears of joy in my life.”

But won’t this give our precious children a case of THE GAYS!?

The state planned a swift appeal, likely setting up a battle that could reach the Florida Supreme Court. A judge in gay-friendly Key West also found the law unconstitutional in September, but that ruling has not been appealed and has limited legal reach.

The state presented experts who claimed there was a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among gay couples, that they were more unstable than heterosexual unions and that the children of gay couples suffer a societal stigma.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association all support permitting same-sex couples to adopt.

…oh. Forget The Gays – it is THE ALCOHOLS and THE SINGLES and THE STIGMASES that we must protect the precious children from! I once had a roommate who’d been raised by two mothers. She had MANY ALCOHOLS and THE STIGMA, and also I am sure her parents are now BROKEN-UPPED because of their being lesbians, who are unstable, as we know.

Ahem. Anyway, let me repeat: whoo hoo! I can only imagine how good it must feel to know that the children you love now have a permanent place in your home.

Public Space, Public Health

Governor Schwarzenegger (after five years, it still gives me the jibblies to write that) has proposed a 9% tax on veterinary services. Here’s some info from the fact sheet I received when we took Petey in for an eye infection:

In this weak economy, animal owners are already making tough choices. Adding sales tax to veterinary services will force owners to make difficult choices about the health and welfare of their pets.

• Pets are members of the family and an important source of companionship. This proposed tax could add approximately 9% to the cost of veterinary care. The result will be that many animals won’t get the medical care they need and they will be abandoned or euthanized.

• Shelter populations are increasing beyond capacity as many Californians lose their homes to foreclosure. If people can’t afford to take care of their pets, they may be forced to abandon them to shelters, adding to the overcrowding and financial strain.

• More than 800,000 cats and dogs enter California shelters every year at a cost to taxpayers of $275 million. As shelters become filled beyond capacity, more healthy animals will be euthanized adding to the emotional strain of shelter workers.

Continue reading

Fallout From Agriprocessors Raid: Help The Hungry

The families in Postville need help. I received this from a JRF listserv, sent by the leadership of a congregation in Evanston, Illinois.

If you happen to be in the area, you can actually bring food, but it’s more helpful for food banks to get money, because they can purchase food more cheaply than we can. The Jewish community will use some of the donated money to purchase Kosher food for those families in need, but the entire community has been devastated and is struggling to respond.

Since the federal immigration raid on the Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville Iowa on May 12, hundreds of families have lined up each Wednesday in front of the food pantry at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, grateful for supplies to get them through the week.

But the pantry has run out of food.

The situation is dire. Agriprocessors has ceased operation. Workers who haven’t been paid for weeks now have no hope of receiving paychecks. Landlords continue to evict tenants unable to afford their rent. And people trying to leave Postville can’t even afford to do so.

This coming Wednesday, Thanksgiving eve, hundreds of families will be waiting in line at the food pantry. We must make sure the pantry is stocked by the time they show up. We will drive your non-perishable food items to Postville Tuesday afternoon. Please bring food items to the JCUA offices, 610 S. Michigan Ave., 5th floor, on Friday, Nov. 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday, Nov. 24, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Tuesday, Nov. 25, from 8 to 10 a.m.  Your financial contributions also will be welcome at those times — or donate online.

An increasing number of Postville’s Jewish families also need support. Please help them by bringing kosher products (OU, OK, cRc certification).

The need is urgent. Please respond immediately.

Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Cat Grass!

Readers, I am totally stoked because now, today, at this moment, I’m unveiling a new feature to get you all fired up about eco-kashrut: Self-Sufficiency Sundays.

What exactly is self-sufficiency? In activist terms, it’s a process of disengaging yourself from the habits and lifestyles that are fostering oppression and destroying the environment. Don’t ruin the lives of indigenous peoples in South America and poison multiple climates with chemicals and jet fuel so that you can have a banana in January – choose the food you eat based on seasons and regions, and then start growing your own. Don’t fuel unbridled capitalism and deplete resources in order to use crappy furniture from Ikea and Target – learn simple carpentry and restoration techniques so that you can make your own. Self-sufficiency is, in the (paraphrased) words of Permaculture founder Bill Mollison, learning how to stop depending on the very power structures you’re trying to dismantle.

My main interest is gardening, so most of my posts will center around growing food. However, self-sufficiency expands far beyond producing crops, and I’m going to try to reflect that here. Most of what I post will come from books or other web resources, often directly reprinted.

A quick note (which I’ll probably stick to the beginning of every SSS post): I’m a relative novice at this stuff. Please! Post additional advice and corrections in the comments, and consider these posts collaborative ventures rather than lectures.

Anyway, cat grass. I’m choosing this as my first topic because it’s a great project for people who are interested in gardening, but are afraid to try growing things from seed, either because they live in an apartment or because they have trouble keeping houseplants alive. Cat grass is not only useful – cats need greens as part of their diet, and providing grass alongside their food will keep them away from other, potentially dangerous plants – but frighteningly easy to grow. Starting with it will give you a chance to observe what seeds look like when they’re germinating and sprouting, and help build a little confidence for when you decide to move on to plants that humans like to eat.

You’ll need:
1 packet of cat grass seed
2 4″ pots per cat (so if you have 2 cats, 4 pots)
potting soil
an opaque cover, such as an old saucer or lid
a spray bottle and compact florescent lamp (optional)
a cat is probably helpful

The type of grass that cats like is oat grass (although wheat and barley are also possibilities). You don’t even need to worry about that, though, because garden stores sell packets of cat grass seed right between the carrots and the cilantro. Fill the first pot with potting soil and water. The soil level will sink; fill the pot again until the top of the soil is a little under an inch from the rim of the pot. Sprinkle on a 1/4 inch thick layer of seeds – you shouldn’t see much soil once they’re in – and mix them into the top inch of soil. Sprinkle about a 1/4 inch of soil on top of them, so that they’re mostly covered. Moisten the top layer of soil. The spray bottle works well for this.

Cover the pot with the saucer or lid and keep it away from light for a day or two; the seeds need darkness to germinate. When you see little tips poking out of the soil, put the pot in a sunny place. If you don’t have any sunny spots (with winter approaching, I haven’t seen any evidence of the sun in several days), shine the compact florescent light on the seeds for several hours each day.

When the grass is four inches tall, put it down next to your cat’s food. Remember to keep the soil moist – if you pick up the pot and it feels light, that means it needs water. Don’t let the soil get soggy, though, and don’t let too much water run out of the drainage holes in the bottom, because that washes away nutrients. (I learned that lesson the hard way, after weeks of growing yellow spinach and white dill.) The soil should feel like a wrung-out sponge when you touch it.

Eventually, your grass will wither and die; so goes the life of cat food. After a week or so, just before the tips start to turn yellow, take the other pot and start over. One seed packet should contain enough seeds for several plantings. Alternate between the two pots to make sure your cat always has grass available.

If you’re really ambitious, you can learn how to get oat grass to go to seed and cut out the trip to the garden center. I haven’t gotten that far, although I am uncomfortably aware of the fact that our seeds are probably coming from the same environmentally and socially destructive monoculture farms as our produce. (More on monoculture versus polyculture in a few weeks.)

Call for Bloggers

Just thought I’d write a quick note to my beloved clickers, scrollers, linkers, and commenters reminding you all that we’re always on the lookout for new contributors here at Modern Mitzvot. If you’ve never blogged in your life but have something to say, let us know! If you have your own blog and are interested in cross-posting, let us know! If you don’t see yourself as a regular blogger, but have an idea for a guest post, let us know! The addy is modernmitzvot at yahoo dot com.

The general thrust of this blog is social justice, but it’s very flexible. We love anything having to do with Jewish identities.