Wild Basin Preserve

Sibling C and I went hiking today at Wild Basin Preserve. My parents called it “barren” (or maybe it was “desolate”), but I thought it was great! It has been raining a lot recently, so everything was lush and the creek was full.

There was even a waterfall! Maidenhair fern and a sycamore are in the foreground.

My mom claimed that the preserve was built on a dump, but it took some internet digging by sibling C to discover the truth! Only 5 acres (near the parking lot) of the preserve’s total 277 acres were used as a “dumping area” from 1947 to 1974. The area has since been reforested (source).

Stuff that we saw:

Lots of moss! Sibling C told me to become a moss expert and teach her about it. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of info about moss available. I emailed some university professor for info. Hopefully they’re enthusiastic enough to want to share info with me!

Evergreen sumac, which has edible red berries. Watch out for poison sumac, which has white or gray berries and causes contact dermatitis, and nandina, a super invasive plant that has red cyanide-containing berries.

Evergreen sumac is the bushy plant in the foreground to the left.

Sycamore, which has edible sap, much like sugar maples. The leaves can be used as a wrap for food, like corn husks or banana leaves (source).

Lindheimer’s silktassel (source of natural rubber).

Nolina, which has edible flower stalks and seeds. The leaves have also traditionally been used for making baskets.

Nolina is in the center of the photo, with a smaller yucca in front of it.

Woodcock, which is a dorky-looking bird (edible and seemingly easy to catch. The one we saw didn’t even fly away, it ran off and not very far). They are not common in Central Texas and difficult to spot even in the best of locations. Lucky!

From allaboutbirds.com.

New nature preserve discovered

J and I visited Stillhouse Hollow nature preserve in Austin. I have known about it for a few years, but have never gone before (’cause my interest in native plants and animals is only recent).

It’s a great trail with a much different atmosphere and set of plants than the nearby Hyridge trail.

Here’s the entrance. The big red “stay out” bar is just for cars. The juniper and shrubby oaks and cedar elms near the entrance continue on through much of the walk.
Also near the entrance (in someone’s side yard) are two very large fig trees, complete with figs! I wonder if the owners eat the fruit?
Lantana. J likes it. It is widely used in landscaping in NorCal, although apparently not native.
Prickly pear with fruit!
And on the prickly pear, cochineal! Cochineal is a red dye-producing sessile insect that spends its adult life in a protective waxy, white cocoon. Cochineal makes a very good dye that was suuuuuper valuable in the past (before petroleum-based dyes were used). It is still used in cosmetics and food. We are so lucky that it is native to Texas!
And one of six deer seen crossing the path. You can see twist-leaf yucca in the foreground, and juniper and yaupon lining the path (both edible!).

The trail ended with a lookout over a limestone box canyon with flame-leaf sumac, black walnut, and beautyberry (all edible!), among other things. Very nice!

Check out nature preserves in your area! You can browse Google Maps for them- green-shaded areas are parks, preserves, and trails.


American-made bedding options

My parents wanted new sheets, so, of course, I wanted them to buy the most sustainable option! So I ended up doing a ton of market research to find the best option. Here is the answer:

Native Organic

They sell sheets, bath towels, kitchen towels, and aprons. The cotton is organically grown in the US (in Texas). The fiber is milled, spun, and woven in a historical water-powered mill in Mexico (source). Their products are colored through a combination of low-impact dyes and color-grown cotton. The prices are on par with other mid-tier bed and bath products not made sustainably and not made in the US (so I hope that Native Organic makes a profit!).

My parents went with Coyuchi, not a bad choice. They are also organic and, I believe, use low-impact dyes, but their products are mostly made in India (and, surprisingly, are more expensive). The balance was swayed in Coyuchi’s favor because they have sateen sheets in white (the closest Native Organic has is “natural”).

Red Land Cotton is another good option, although I know less about it. They grow their cotton in the US (in Alabama), and make all their products in the US. Their cotton is not certified organic, but the About Us page states that they dry-farm the cotton (no irrigation!) and use sustainable practices.

On a similar note, KellyGreenOrganic and Holy Lamb Organics are cool sustainable bedding companies. They sell mattresses, pillows, sheets, blankets, other home goods, and craft materials. DIY Natural Bedding is the mecca for bedding-related craft materials. They are amazing!! Most if not all of these companies’ materials are organic and sustainably sourced, and made in the US.

Next time you need to buy bedding, support one of these amazing companies! They appreciate it 🙂

Dyeing with spinach

Using this article for reference, sibling C and I dyed some of her cotton-and-nylon socks with liquid leftover from cooking spinach. Spinach produces yellows to greens, but doesn’t stick very well (isn’t “fast”). We added some iron (from an iron supplement) to make the color more green, and to hopefully make it darker and more fade-resistant.

The finished socks in rinse water. Spoon for scale.
We got a nice pale green-gray. It is almost discernible from regular dirt.

The socks looked like something at first, but, like many naturally-dyed articles, quickly faded. Very sad 🙁 Sibling C is amassing a very pastel army of naturally-dyed socks. The one upside is that they coordinate very well.

Mission Peak

I hiked Mission Peak with some friends from the local Japanese Meetup. It was pretty windy and cold, but a lot of fun!
Lots of hills.
Lots of cows.
Not very many trees.

Lots of sky.
And a pretty good sunset too.



Green cabbage

White vinegar



Salt and pepper

I used a quarter of a green cabbage. That’s an Old Hickory knife.
I shredded it.
My mom thought it was too coarse, so I had to chop it more.
Here’s the dressing! It is a mix of 2 Tbsp white vinegar, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.
Throw the dressing on the cabbage and mix it together! The coleslaw might look like it has too little dressing, but liquid will come out of the cabbage as it sits. If there really is too little dressing, add more mayonnaise.

A step forward in haircare

I only wash my hair with water (and scrubbing!), which works well with soft water. If you have hard water, though, dissolved minerals bind to sebum in your hair to form a weird sticky white residue. Super unpleasant! It makes your hair oddly stiff. The only solution I’d found in the past was to occasionally (maybe once a month) wash with normal shampoo.

But I just had a breakthrough! Some people claim that washing with cold or cool water keeps your hair nicer (for unknown reasons). Between this and the fact that cold hard water in particular should have fewer dissolved minerals, I decided to try washing my hair with cold water (but take an otherwise hot shower). I wash my hair as the water is warming up.

It works amazingly well! The cold water even reversed previous mineral buildup. My hair is silky and soft without being greasy. It’s not stiff, it’s not sticky. Even my skeptical mom says that it feels nice!

Speaking of food waste…

If you have food that’s going to go bad or that you think you won’t use, what do you do with it?

If you want to eat the food yourself:

  • Eat it before it goes bad, quick!
  • Ignore expiration dates! They are unregulated except on medication and baby food (and even then don’t mean much. 90% of medications retain nearly their entire efficacy 10 years after the expiration date. Even the military ignores expiration dates to save loads of money!). If it looks fine, smells fine, and, finally, tastes fine, then it is probably fine.
  • Freeze it. Many things can be frozen without harm to their taste or texture. This includes raw and cooked meat, purportedly hard cheeses (never tried this myself!), tomato sauce, broth, cooked beans, whole and sliced bread and other baked goods, dry goods (flour, dry beans, spices, etc if you’re worried about rancidity or loss of flavor), and more! Many veggies can be blanched and then frozen.
  • Preserve it. There are many preservation methods to try! You can can, dehydrate, salt, ferment, smoke, or pickle. For example, turn milk into kefir or yogurt. Ferment cabbage into kimchi or sauerkraut. Smoke fish. Make jam.

If you are sick and tired of a particular food:

  • Take it to work to share with colleagues! Alternatively, share with friends and neighbors. This works especially well if you’re trying to get rid of desserts and snack foods.
  • On a similar note, have a potluck.
  • Give it away! You can do this on Freecycle or Craigslist (there is an area for free things under the sale section). There is also Olio, a food-sharing app for smart phones, soon to have a web app as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t as widely-used as Freecycle and Craigslist. I believe Olio is European in origin, so it is widespread in Europe. Amazingly, people also use it in Northern California! Lucky!
  • Feed it to pets. My grandparents always fed their cats table scraps.
  • Feed it to animals you’re going to eat (e.g. pigs or chickens).
  • Feed it to wild animals. Although not good to do frequently, at least some living being gets to eat it.
  • Compost it and use the compost to grow something else!