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April 6th, 2011

It’s not easy to see through the consensual illusions that buying stuff will make you happy. But the people I’ve met through MAKE have succeeded, to one degree or another, in deprogramming themselves of the lifelong consumer brainwashing they’ve received. They’re learning how to stop depending so much on faceless corporations to provide them with what they need (and desire) and to begin doing some of the things humans have been doing for themselves since the dawn of time. They’re willing to take back some of the control we’ve handed over to institutions. They believe that the sense of control and accomplishment you get from doing something yourself, using your own hands and mind, can’t be achieved in any other way. They make things not because they are born with a special talent for making but because they choose to develop and hone their ability. And yes, some of the things they make are mistakes, but they aren’t afraid of making them, because they’ve rejected the lesson from Bernays school of brainwashing that says handmade stuff is bad because it isn’t perfect.

Mark Frauenfelder (Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World)

I posted a new article on the Ethel Your Day Blog about why I’m a Do-It-Yourselfer. I’ll be doing sister posts here whenever I post over there. You can also see when I post at Ethel on their Facebook page.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long you know that if I can make it myself, I will. I’m a DIYer to the core. It’s not that I was born with the skill to make stuff, I have to study and research before I try something new. I think it’s more about not allowing the fear of failure to hold you back. We live in a world that doesn’t value the importance of failure and the learning that can come through it. As Mark says in Made by Hand: “Mistakes are not only inevitable-they’re a necessary part of learning and skill building. Mistakes are a sign that you’re active and curious. In fact, recent brain research suggests that making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn.”

Mr Chiots and I are willing to try to just about anything once or twice. Sure we’ve failed at plenty of things, but that never holds us back. We have our share of mishaps here at Chiot’s Run, we were just talking the other day about how I need to write more about these on the blog. For example, sadly our bees did not make it through this winter. We’re going to start again next spring with a new type of hive that we’re going to build ourselves. We’re also going to requeen not long after with bees that have been bread to be more hardy in our climate. Our beekeeping wasn’t a failure, we simply learned through the process and next time we can implement the things we’ve learned.

We also had trouble with the fish in our little pond, the ones we got from the pet store didn’t make it, they all got ick. Which I found out is common with pet store fish that are constantly medicated for it. We got some from my parents pond that lived for quite a few months, but they didn’t make it through the winter. We’ll try again this spring now that the water should be much more conducive for fish.

I spend a lot of time reading and researching the things I’m interested, before I start. Usually by the time I’ve started the project I have read tons of website articles and 4-10 books about the project I’m tackling. My next DIY project is to grow my own mushrooms. So I’m reading a 500 page textbook about it and have a few other books waiting on deck. I ordered mushroom spawn for 6 different kinds of mushrooms and started setting up my mushroom growing area in the woods. You’ll be hearing more about this fairly soon.

Mr Chiots and I are also thinking about purchasing a tool that will allow us to mill our own boards from the large oak, maple and poplar trees that we’re going to have taken down on our new lot. With these boards we’ll be able to make a new dining room table and some raised beds. How wonderful it will be to sit at our dining room table made of wood from our garden eating vegetables that grew where the tree once stood. We’re also in the beginning stages of planning a tiny teardrop trailer that we’re going to build for our travels (remember that month long trip out west we’re planning this summer?) I think we’re DIYers because we love to do things for ourselves, we’re not afraid of failing, and the process is definitely memorable – some of our best memories were made while working together on a project!

What is something you’ve always wanted to try to do for yourself?

For further reading on the benefits of doing it yourself check out these books:
Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World
Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
The Craftsman
Thinking Through Craft

25 Comments to “Do-It-Yourself”
  1. Josie on April 6, 2011 at 5:50 am

    That does it! I just have to comment…I have been enjoying reading your blog for about two months now. It has gotten to the point that it has entered into my morning ritual right along with email and yoga! I too, am a do it your selfer or, as my mom and I have come to call it I suffer from “Icouldmakethat!” For me it began with the decision years ago to homeschool our three children, talk about the path less traveled that makes all the difference. I have always been the person who just like to do it myself. The big dream for me, the thing I have always wanted to try for myself is to build a house. I hope to have the opportunity soon. I also research things to death and I will volunteer with habitat for humanity for some time as well to learn some skills hands on and help my comunity while I do it. Thank you for this wonderful daily look into your garden and thoughts. It is inspirational and fun! (the kids loved your toothpaste recipe!)

    Reply to Josie's comment

    • Susy on April 6, 2011 at 7:12 am

      Ah yes, the “Icouldmakethat” problem – we say that too – so funny! We secretly want to build a house on our 100 acre someday farm! Glad the kids love the toothpaste!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. kristin @ going country on April 6, 2011 at 6:56 am

    I had always wanted to try sugarin’. And now I have.

    Come to think of it, I’ve tried most things I’ve had an interest in attempting. Our next project is building a smoker. We’ll see how that goes . . .

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

    • Susy on April 6, 2011 at 7:13 am

      MMMM, a smoker – that’s on my list too!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  3. Lisa on April 6, 2011 at 7:08 am

    OOooo I’ll be interested in reading your post about the mushrooms. I’ve always wanted to grow shiitakes. I don’t have plans for it this year though. I’m working on other project – building raised beds for the first time, making trellises, etc.

    Reply to Lisa's comment

    • Susy on April 6, 2011 at 7:13 am

      Shiitakes spawn is in the mail, that’s one of the varieties I’ll be trying.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. Mich on April 6, 2011 at 7:14 am

    I do try & diy when and if I can….
    We cut alot of our own firewood, make cider, grow veggies in home made raised beds.
    We keep poultry & bees & I am busy planning, sowing wild flowers for my meadow area… a coppice area is also in planning.
    Sorry to hear your bees didnt make it through your winter, our temps went down to -18c so am very happy our hives are alive.
    We did lose 1 last year to the dreaded american foul brood :(

    Reply to Mich's comment

  5. Melissa on April 6, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I’m really struggling with the black hole of consumerism lately and actually made a post about it the other night. It has really been bothering me. I’m one of the many that feel I have to shop to be happy and I know deep down that isn’t true. The crazy thing is, I already know how to do many things for myself. Thank you for the book links. I’m going to get a library card this week and will see if they have any of those. I need to find a starting point.

    Reply to Melissa's comment

  6. Fawn on April 6, 2011 at 8:37 am

    I actually just made a similar post about DIY projects on my blog. I just made my own laundry detergent and bath salts. Both were fun and fairly easy (especially the salt- I can’t believe how much pre-made bath salts are in the store now that I made my own!!). The laundry detergent works great, and I too, do a ton of research before I take on a project.

    Thank you for posting your “lessons learned” though! As a young adult who is trying to get into more DIY and self- sustainable practices, when I read your blog and others like you it sometimes feels unobtainable to reach the point where you are. It’s very comforting to read about your hiccups along the way!

    Reply to Fawn's comment

  7. Andrea on April 6, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Beekeeping – We built the top bar hive over the winter and now I’m waiting for my package of bees to come in.

    I always have projects that I’m attempting and about 25% of the time they are failures. That’s usually no big deal because I can adjust something and try again. Beekeeping scares me because there is such a small window to try it, if it fails I’ll have to wait until next year to try again.

    Reply to Andrea's comment

  8. TreeHugginMomma on April 6, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I love your blog. I can’t wait to hear about you making your own tear drop trailer. I have lots of things I want to make, but fear of failure does hold me back (and like most I am my own worst critic). I have determined that this summer I am going to give it a go at several of those do it yourself projects. To start I am working Library time into my weekly routine. Now if it weren’t for this pesky full time job that get’s in the way of my day ;)

    Reply to TreeHugginMomma's comment

  9. Jason B on April 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

    For the Mushrooms – Are you looking at log growing or substrate growing?
    You’re into everything it seems. I’ll take a guess you are reading the “bible” of the mushroom growing world – Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Stamets? I’m currently reading that and “The Mushroom Cultivator”.
    You probably know that you can buy mushroom spawn dowel plugs and inoculate your hardwood trees you are clearing. Wait 2 weeks before inoculating and hammer the dowels in and seal with wax. Keep moist and in shade. 9-12 months later you’ll get mushrooms.
    I have about 40 oak logs inoculated with Shiitake 6-7 months ago. I’m about to venture into substrate growing of oyster mushrooms. Looking to use waste coffee grounds from local coffee shops as a primary growing medium.
    Good luck!

    Reply to Jason B's comment

    • Susy on April 6, 2011 at 10:30 am

      I’m going to be doing both (and coffee grounds). I am currently reading that book and have a few others on deck from the library. I purchased Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms because it wasn’t available from my library and I heard it was great. So far it’s worth the price – I’m sure I’ll be referencing it in the future. I’m particularly interesting in producing some of my own spawn with the morels that grow in my yard!

      I did purchase mushroom spawn plugs of 6 different types of mushrooms. We’ve been cutting the logs to the lengths needed and stacking them in the back maple grove. We’ll also be attempting to inoculate the stumps as a means of breaking them down naturally instead of having them ground.

      We’re also going to rent a chipper for all the small branches and create a large bed in the side yard for a few varieties – should be an interesting project!

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Jason B on April 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

        I bet you have some great dishes to make when the Morel’s come out.
        I’m also looking at spawn production methods, currently shopping for a 30qt pressure cooker for the process, and planning a small fruiting room.
        Watch the shade over the logs in the winter when the maples drop their leaves. My hardwood backlot got a lot more sun than I expected.
        My inoculated stumps are now getting more sun and getting too dry with the trees above them gone, maybe worth considering, I’m not sure they will produce well if the spawn survived.
        You should check out Winecap mushrooms(or did you get some of those too!?), they work well in mulch beds or even among a vegetable garden to eat the mulch applied as a topdressing. I have a 10×5 bed of chipped oak and leaves prepared last fall, I am hoping in a month or two to see some mushrooms. I believe it’s a summer/hot weather mushroom. They can grow up to 2 lbs per mushroom!
        So far, I have not one mushroom yet to show from work 7 months ago, the waiting is just as hard as the inoculation.
        Looking forward to that post to go into more detail about the mushroom farming,

        to Jason B's comment

  10. Brittany P. on April 6, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Let me see..the most recent thing I learned to do was to knit this past winter. I studied the knitting books and jumped right in. I made many mistakes on that first piece I knitted but now I am pretty good and I really enjoy it. The next thing I plan to do is learning to can and make great jams and relishes, and also preserving, drying foods, etc. I am really into learning to put up what comes out of our garden this year, which is the biggest garden we have ever grown here.

    I have only recently discovered the joy of making things myself. I have always enjoyed cooking and the reward of my families praise for my food but knitting was wonderful because the gift I made for my family was not gobbled up and gone but is still around and I get to see my family enjoying their hats and scarves all the time in the cold months and that is pretty cool.

    One of our goals over the next few years is to produce as much of our food ourselves as we can. I want to learn how to do each thing well and not rush and try to do everything at once. My sister recently asked me how I expect to learn how to do all this and I told her that I will study and have been studying each new thing well and then work at it until I get good at it or decide it is not for me. To me studying to learn new things is just as exciting and rewarding as the thing itself. It feeds the mind.

    Reply to Brittany P.'s comment

  11. Amy on April 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I’ve always wanted to try growing things in a greenhouse and I’ve wanted to raise bees for awhile. The bees will have to wait – maybe next year – but we just scored freebie PVC pipe and some fittings to build our first hoop house. I’m so excited! Some things we’ve tried (with some successes) are raising beef cattle (success), bringing our cattle to the show ring (success), veggie gardening (successes and failures, depending on the year), and canning (success but very frustrating for me…kitchen is too small). I love to research and try new things, and am sure this year will find me doing a lot more than just using a greenhouse!

    Reply to Amy's comment

  12. Kathi on April 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    So many things I want to try…knitting and spinning,building a solar oven, learning about and foraging wild mushrooms are just the tip of the iceberg. It seems like one idea or project always propegates more.

    Reply to Kathi's comment

  13. Katrina on April 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Very inspiring post. This year I have vowed to do a few things myself at home, especially when it comes to food. I’ve started small, but I am getting pretty darn good. This year I vowed not to buy processed bread or pasta from the store. I’ve made every single bread product in this house since Jan 1st…loaves, pitas, english muffins, tortillas, hamburger buns, etc. It’s been mostly fun…with a few setbacks and adjustments. Pasta making is a cinch with my pasta roller and cutter that attach to the stand mixer. Oh yeah, and no more store bought mayo for us!
    We’ve had two chickens for a couple years and this year I added 4 more (2 might be roosters). I enjoy having them and I certainly love their eggs!
    I’ve gardened for several years, but I’m really focused this year on growing enough for putting up. I really hope I am successful! This year is the year of the beans, green and dried. I’m growing bush beans for fresh eating and kindey, pinto, and scarlet runner beans for storage as dry beans. With hot humid summers, we’ll see how this turns out.
    Thanks for keeping me focused! Great post.

    Reply to Katrina's comment

  14. Beegirl on April 6, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Grow year round greens..sigh..
    So far, that is on my failure list. I’d love to try kayak camping this year and we are going to try a new bed for strawberries. I’ve been eyeing up my book DIY outdoor ovens too..

    Don’t feel bad about the bees. We’ve had our share of failure too. There isn’t much you can do about things like the weather or if they just don’t move to the honey supply. We are down one hive this year, but the others are looking good so far (fingers crossed).

    Saw a most adorable teardrop camper in AZ last week (hiking in Sedona). I ::love:: “ham/teardrop” campers too!

    Reply to Beegirl's comment

  15. Estelle on April 6, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    I do not refer to mistakes as such but rather as life experiences! Changes the whole outlook!

    Reply to Estelle's comment

  16. Marcia on April 6, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Build my own greenhouse! I grew my first garden last year and learned how to can so those are two things off my list. But I think I could really build a greenhouse! That is why I believe DIY culture is growing. In a throw-away, everything can be bought world, a tiny human being can start to feel replaceable. Maybe our ancestors didn’t suffer from nevrosa and depression as much because they knew their skills tangibly contributed to their world. Yes, back then some skills were expected from certain genders but I think we are beyond that now and that everyone can find their niche.

    Reply to Marcia's comment

  17. Jackie on April 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Amen! Totally agree. I hate to see people who are boxed in by their fear of failure…so sad. Making mistakes is a very important learning tool! I’ve been wanting to create a community garden…and I’m finally doing it!

    Reply to Jackie's comment

  18. Janie on April 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    I finally made my own toothpaste after reading about it here! My roommate made fun of me, and my boyfriend won’t use it, but it made me feel great, and it saved me money, and it’s saved plenty of manufacturing-related carbon monoxide emissions. So yay! And thanks:)

    Reply to Janie's comment

  19. Heather on April 19, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    My husband just purchased a tool to mill his own wood. He will start with a bench building project for my parents using a hickory tree that they had to have cut down. I look forward to being able to be more resourceful with logs now that he will have this tool!

    Reply to Heather's comment

    • Susy on April 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      We’re actually considering buying a tool like that, not sure it’s the same one, it hooks to a chain saw. Haven’t decided yet if we will.

      Reply to Susy's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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New Plants for the Garden

Now that I have more doubled my garden area I need to start getting plants to fill the new part....