Taking Back Detroit

Taking Back Detroit


Renea, a single mother living with her four children and ailing father finally won her home after living without water for six months. She is a first time homeowner who rented this house for seven years from a slumlord who didn’t pay the taxes. She wanted to stay in this home because it’s her only chance for ownership, and she isn’t afraid of the hard work – she’s grateful to have a path to make her investment pay off in the long term. Photo Credit: Emilie Evans.

Sometimes, the hardest part of being a homeowner isn’t coming up with the funds to buy a place, but ensuring that once you own it, the roof actually works and the electrical wiring doesn’t barbecue your belongings. There are tens of thousands of vacant and neglected properties across the U.S., and at least as many people in need of stable housing — many simply need help navigating the challenges of acquiring and fixing up these places.

Brick + Beam Detroit and the Tricycle Collective are two organizations helping folks in need of safe, stable living situations by helping them become first time homeowners with the skills and resources they’ll need. Last month, The ToolMade Project and Craftsman jumped in to help put some tools into these new homeowners’ hands.

Kits full of "homeowner tool essentials" were given to six families in Detroit. Skip to the end of this article to see a guide I put together with Emilie Evans of Brick + Beam Detroit to give some overall tips to these homeowners. They have a lot of work ahead of them, but are beyond excited to get to it!

Kits full of homeowner tool essentials were given to six families in Detroit. Skip to the end of this article to see a list of the tools and a guide I put together with Emilie Evans of Brick + Beam Detroit to give some overall tips. These homeowners have a lot of work ahead of them, but are beyond excited to get to it. Photo Credit: Emilie Evans.

Let’s be real — nobody is born knowing how to sand and seal floors, repair wooden windows, and ensure that their adorable toddler isn’t ingesting lead paint chips like they’re Corn Flakes. That said, with an extensive and creative support system (full of people who can laugh and vent about the occasional catastrophes that come with rehabbing a home), anybody can learn.

The founders of Brick + Beam Detroit have created a community for building rehabbers of every skill and income level by hosting events, creating an extensive online platform, and sharing resources, stories, and whatever else is needed to help people to make their homes safe and comfortable. If homeowners are taught how to improve inexpensive, well-built, yet rundown properties, then the owners, the neighbors, the city…well, really, everybody wins.


Charmelle lives with her mother and her 2-year-old boy. Her mom owned the house, but struggled to pay her property taxes and eventually lost it. The Tricycle Collective is now working to help Charmelle get her family house back so they can all stay together in the community they call home. The Craftsman tools and support from Brick + Beam Detroit will help to fix up and maintain their investment. Photo Credit: Emilie Evans.

For this project, Brick + Beam partnered with the Tricycle Collective to target families who were recently able to buy their own homes—homes that needed a lot of TLC. The Tricycle Collective works to help people renting from delinquent landlords to buy the properties they are currently inhabiting. There is a huge problem with absent landlords neglecting to pay the necessary taxes and bills, leaving their renters without basic services or security.


Cassandra and Alex have three children and live across the street from Alex’s mom. They rented this home for years, and were thrilled to be able to finally buy it and have control over their space. And, of course, the kids love being across the street from grandma. Photo Credit: Emilie Evans.

In Detroit, renters have the option to buy their homes—for less than the cost of their rent—if the home goes to auction due to tax foreclosure. As Michele Oberholtzer, founder of the volunteer-run Tricycle Collective explains:

“People are often forced out of the city they’ve always lived in and it doesn’t need to be that way. A lot of Detroiters are caught in a cycle of eviction and deferred maintenance because of neglectful landlords. They have little stability as a result. On top of that, the actual houses deteriorate every time someone moves and it’s left vacant because houses often get scrapped. We spend more money demolishing homes when they’re vacant than we would just paying back taxes. It’s maddening. Homes without people and people without homes. There is an alternate fate if [these renters] just have a little more information.”


Tiffany, a single mother of four, lives with her children and mother. The house has a leaky roof and needs a lot of work, but they are happy to have their own place, some stability, and numerous resources to help them fix up their home. Photo Credit: Emilie Evans.

In addition to helping renters navigate this process, the Tricycle Collective has fundraisers to help raise the actual funds needed to buy the auctioned homes, which often only cost around $500. Yes, a mere $500, combined with free rehab resources like those offered through Brick + Beam, and some elbow grease can end a cycle of instability and potential homelessness for thousands of families and individuals. Inspiring stuff.

Crystal- I think she's a single mother but I've never directly asked. has two sons. 1st time homeowner. Was paying rent to someone who didn't pay the taxes (a common theme) and was able to buy her home for $500- one month's rent. She works for the city and is a great woman.

Crystal is a first time homeowner who works for the City of Detroit and has two sons. She was paying rent to a landlord who neglected the property and didn’t pay the taxes. Once her landlord lost the property, Crystal was able to buy her home for just $500 – the cost of a single month’s rent. This has freed up finances and allowed her to take matters into her own hands. Photo by Emilie Evans.

To read more about Brick + Beam Detroit’s unique and powerful rehab community, check out the article I wrote about them last month here, and visit their website. For more information about the families impacted by the heroic work of the Tricycle Collective, click here.

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On-site with unCommon Construction


Aaron Frumin (R) and Desmond, one of unCommon Construction’s apprentices. Photo courtesy of Gigsy.

A couple of months ago, we introduced you to Aaron Frumin and unCommon Construction(uCC), a New Orleans-based nonprofit teaching high school students hands-on construction skills. The students have to apply and interview to be accepted into the program, which trains them to be collaborative, hard working leaders who know how to problem solve. They earn class credit and are paid for all this hard work, as they should be – they construct an entire house in just four months. uCC is just over a year old, but has already taken off with grants, accolades, and expanded programming, and it’s been incredible to watch.


De’Shaun giving the cordless circular saw a workout. Photo courtesy of unCommon Construction.

The bottom line is that construction-based trades are on the short list of jobs that provide stability and permanence nowadays – they can’t be outsourced and will always be in demand on a local level. uCC is working to destigmatize vocational education and to provide a career path for high demand, high wage jobs. And, should these apprentices decide they don’t want to go into construction trades down the road, no problem, they’ve learned a tremendous amount of transferable skills and they’ve proven themselves to be leaders who can easily point to their accomplishments.


Apprentice Destinee in the forefront of this pic, making some dust. These apprentices build an entire house in a semester. I know. Photo courtesy of Gigsy.

The ToolMade Project worked with Craftsman to donate a bunch of tools to the crew (see the end of the blog post for the list), and Aaron checked in earlier this week with some updates on how they were working out:

“We’ve been putting the tools to good use over the last month or so, and they don’t look nearly as shiny as they did when they first arrived. The nail gun has been especially awesome for baseboards and other interior trim…no more tripping over those pesky air hoses! And, the gun even shoots through the tough, cementitious Hardi Trim we used on the exterior…something our pneumatic guns even have trouble doing!”


This is what a job site should look like: BUSY. Photo courtesy of Gigsy

The apprentices also seemed pretty happy with the loot. Here are some of their reactions when asked about the donation:

-“[The Cordless Circular Saw] is super light – I like it a lot more for plywood ’cause it’s easier to control. or, for a quick cut so you don’t need to mess with all the cords.” – Destinee, 12th Grade, 5-1/2″ circular saw (part of a combo kit)

-“Dang! That’s strong.” Noel, 11th Grade, using the brad nailer

– “It’s tight that they all work together so easy – you can use the alternate batteries & they last a while so you don’t have to wait for them to charge…The nail gun’s definitely the best one ’cause you can just make all your cuts, and then – really fast – just go through and shoot everything in without it getting too complicated.” Tahj, 10th grade, using the brad nailer


Idallis on the circular saw. Photo courtesy of unCommon Construction.

Another reason this program is unique is that while the students’ project is, er, rather ambitious (AN ENTIRE HOUSE), that project is only seen as the tool used to get to the real end goal: well trained, well equipped apprentices. They are the end product that uCC uses to measure its success.


Noel, nailing it. Photo courtesy of unCommon Construction.

For more updates on unCommon Construction – and there a whole lot of them nowadays – check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Please note that GiveNOLA Day is coming up on May 3rd, so please consider supporting this amazing crew as part of that event. Or, if you’re so inspired that you can’t wait until May 3rd, you can always give your time or some green!


Photo courtesy of Gigsy

Tools donated to uCC:

Reclaiming Rural America

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A glimpse of the 8,000 sf warehouse that is now Sangamon Reclaimed.

My friend, Meegan, recently started her own business sourcing lumber. Her sledgehammers are literally duct-taped together, and I mentioned wanting to connect her with some free tools. Of the dozens of times I’ve offered this opportunity, people have always pounced on it, but Meegan shut me down with, “No, listen, you need to talk to this guy Brian I’ve been working with who’s doing amazing things. Call him. I’m fine. I just need a forklift.” And so, when a stubborn Detroit woman who uses duct-taped sledgehammers tells you to do something, honestly, you just do it.

The next day, I reached out to the owner of Sangamon Reclaimed, Brian Frieze, a firefighter and veteran who started taking down barns and salvaging the wood. Now listen, I’m a member of the National Barn Alliance and lord knows I’ve been chased by dogs across several states while going in for a closer look, but unfortunately, we can’t save them all. The barns taken down by Sangamon Reclaimed will be burned to the ground if they aren’t carefully dismantled. Yes, burned to the ground.


The massive building holds a retail store, a warehouse space, an office and a side yard.

Now part of what makes this story different from other deconstruction stories is that Brian understands rural America and he understands that these structures have been symbols of livelihood for the families around him for generations. He cares about that symbolism, the cultural heritage, and the materials. He not only painstakingly dismantles these structures, he actually researches their history and documents it. I work in salvage. This is not typical. This is lovely and important.


This stroke sander has a 10′ bed and was brought in from New York. It’s a beast. A lovely, super handy beast. And great for large slabs.

Opening  your wallet yet? Brian also decided that Sangamon Reclaimed would hire as many veterans and firefighters as possible. There are now five employees doing deconstruction and using the saved materials to build furniture and custom installations. But the mission continues. In addition to rapidly growing as a retail source for lumber, barn wood, and handcrafted goods, the company is determined to help those suffering from issues like PTSD and survivor’s guilt, which can lead to some intense struggles with employment and housing. Sangamon Reclaimed has partnered with numerous groups that help vets with these hurdles, and lately, Brian has been looking into starting a job training program for veterans who currently reside at a local homeless shelter.

So, a big thank you to Meegan for the tip and introduction. Please send her your sledgehammers. The ToolMade Project was thrilled to partner with Craftsman and help Brian and his growing crew expand their tools and storage collection – we’ll post pics of them with their Craftsman loot soon. As an aside, despite their reasonable prices, I spent far too much money in their rapidly growing retail section. If you ever find yourself in Springfield, Illinois, brace yourself for their small but mighty store. I could reconstruct a Midwest 3-portal barn with everything I lugged back to Chicago.


I snagged that black, white, and red flag and wiped out their entire stock of barn wood chevrons, thank you very much. Brian started a “Flags for Heroes” program, where a portion of each flag purchased goes directly to helping veterans and firefighters. They sell out like crazy.


unCommon People: Bringing shop class and a new kind of workforce to New Orleans


Aaron Frumin and the unCommon Construction crew. All of the incredible photographs featured in this post were taken by high school students. For more information on these talented photographers, visit http://gigsy.co.

In 2005, Aaron Frumin threw his hands up, dropped out of college and joined the Red Cross to respond to Hurricane Katrina. Once his extended term was up, he still wasn’t ready to return to a desk so he worked as a day laborer. He then went on to lead volunteers with AmeriCorps, finished school, and joined Teach for America. After basically joining every hands-on do-gooder organization in the country, it became clear that while he loved teaching, he hated the walls of a classroom.


For the Spring 2016 session, 10 of the 25 applicants were female. YES.

So, as Aaron puts it, he decided to start a program that lets students build their own classroom walls. He recognized that there was a desperate need for skilled workers in Louisiana, and while the Department of Education has been trying to address this issue, those programs didn’t seem to be dealing with some of the core issues that are preventing people from stable employment. There are plenty of workforce training programs out there, but very few tackle the soft skills needed to really get and keep a job.


This is where Aaron’s unique combination of hands-on construction work and his understanding of systematic failures in education is invaluable and unique. He’s not throwing money at the problem–and he’ll surely corroborate the fact that he doesn’t have any money to throw–but instead, he digs in deeper to get to the root issues and starts from there. And speaking of money, his hardworking apprentices are paid for their time. As they should be. There are far too many exploitative training programs out there that benefit from the time and labor of those who need the money most.


“These students can go into whatever specialized trades they want with this foundation, but I think it’s essential to start them with construction so they can have an immediate sense of accomplishment. Seeing what you’ve created is powerful.”

Aaron started unCommon Construction (uCC) just a year ago and is addressing this labor and education crisis in three ways:

  • Apprenticeships: Through after school and weekend sessions, high school students from diverse neighborhoods and schools build a house from start to finish over the course of four months. In this selective program, youth earn weekly pay and high school credit while developing transferrable job skills, and gaining valuable experience and leadership skills.
  • Pop-up Shop Class: To spark further interest in construction and involve more youth in our programs, unCommon Construction provides services to schools in the form of a “pop up” Shop Class. During these sessions, uCC staff facilitates hands-on, engaging construction experiences and classes for students on the school’s campus. Examples from previous sessions include birdhouses, sawhorses, benches, and flower boxes.
  • Post-Secondary Placement & Recruitment: uCC excels at providing the youth with high quality training and exposure to the construction industry and beyond. Through partnerships with local construction companies, training facilities and colleges, we provide youth with the opportunity to more successfully transition from school to the workforce and/or post-secondary education.



This Spring, uCC is expanding to partner with four high schools. They’ve received 25 applications, including 10 girls and 15 boys ages 16-20. Five uCC alumni are returning for another semester. As you can see from the pictures, the students are into the work and are thoughtful about their time with the program. As Aaron explained, “You have to invest in your community. The students are the product, not the house. The house is just the curriculum.”


The ToolMade Project can’t help but be partial to this student and his sentiments. For more on this crew, and for more photography from the incredible photography students that helped with this post, check back next month.

The Democratization of Tools: How Buffalo Helps Communities Help Themselves

tl1*Note: Darren did such an amazing job summarizing the importance of these resources that many of the words in this post are his own. Thanks for making life so easy for both the people of Buffalo and also a gal in Chicago, Darren. All pics are of projects completed using the Tool Library’s resources.

Sometimes people take lemons and make Tool-Aid. Darren Cotton and his roommate were living off campus in the University Heights neighborhood of Buffalo and renting from an absentee landlord who didn’t exactly do much to keep the place up. So, instead of defaulting to complaining or complacency, they began doing a lot of the work around the house themselves, making incremental improvements and deducting material expenses from their rent.

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Check out the TedX Talk to learn more about where this initiative began here. 

Throughout this process, Darren and his roommates found themselves raiding their parents’ garages for things like hedge trimmers, power drills, paint rollers, etc. It quickly became clear that in order for people to create positive change through repairing their homes and improving their communities, they would require centralized access to tools and resources (without spending a fortune). A year later, the tool library was born thanks to Darren’s tenacity and a startup grant from the City of Buffalo.



Photo courtesy of the University Heights Tool Library.

The mission of the University Heights Tool Library is to facilitate self-reliance, civic engagement, and grassroots reinvestment in neighborhoods by empowering residents to affect the positive change they want to see. The first tool library was created in Berkley, California in the 1970’s and there are nearly 40 of these around the country today. These low cost, high impact community resources have helped breathe life back into long neglected neighborhoods through the creation of numerous community gardens, the rehabilitation of a long neglected housing stock, and most importantly, through the empowerment of residents. Shared resources and collective action are a hallmark of tool libraries as is the importance of access over ownership in the new economy (e.g. I don’t need a drill, I need a hole in the wall.) In fact, the average drill is only used for 12 minutes during its lifetime (CRAZY).


Photo courtesy of the University Heights Tool Library.

The University Heights Tool Library operates as an all-volunteer nonprofit organization. Membership is $10 a year and allows members to borrow up to five tools at any one time for up to one week, with an option to renew for an additional week. All membership dues are reinvested back into the tool inventory and are either used to repair current tools or to purchase additional tools based on the demand and number of requests from members.


Photo courtesy of the University Heights Tool Library. 

From a small membership of a dozen or so neighbors and an initial inventory of about 100 tools, today the Tool Library has grown to nearly 550 members and over 1,600 tools, all of which can viewed online using their new inventory management system. When researching the possibility of starting one of these up in Chicago, I can tell you that overwhelmingly, we were told by other successful tool libraries that a solid inventory system and regular tool maintenance were the lynchpins to success.

2013-2014 Tool Library Stats

I’m not even sure what to add here. I mean, LOOK AT THESE STATS.

In addition to loaning out tools to individuals, the Tool Library draws much of its strength from partnering with block clubs and neighborhood organizations on projects that put their tools to work in the community – just a few of these are highlighted in the images above and you can see how they target the kinds of projects that really make a visible difference in a neighborhood. More on that in our follow-up blog when we show off the brand spankin’ new Craftsman tools that will be joining the inventory.


The Rise of the Shecanics

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Patrice Banks, founder of the Girls Auto Clinic, teaching car maintenance to a group of women in her home town of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic.

Last year, I learned to change my own brake pads. I posted pics of the process and made one my profile picture because I felt like a HERO. I’m a generally handy person but working on cars intimidates me, in part because there are so many electrical components in newer cars, and, in part because it seems like it may be pretty easy to die if I don’t put things back together correctly. I know I’m not the only person out there blindly trusting in their mechanic, but it’s pretty obvious that women disproportionately shy away from maintaining their own vehicles. What may not be as obvious is that in this country, there are more female than male drivers and women are the #1 consumers of cars.

In 2013, 25.4% of jobs in the Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicles Equipment Manufacturing industry were held by women. However, women made up only 1.5% of automotive body and related repairers and 1.8% of automotive service technicians and mechanics. So why is the number so high? Because almost 57% of the industry's female workers are doing office and clerical work.

In 2013, 25.4% of jobs in the Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicles Equipment Manufacturing industry were held by women. However, women made up only 1.5% of automotive body and related repairers and 1.8% of automotive service technicians and mechanics. So where does the 25.4% stat come from? Check out that looooong green line. Almost 57% of the industry’s female workers are doing office and clerical work.

To find out why there was such a discrepancy, and to see who may be working to remedy this, I decided to Google around for programs training women to become mechanics, or, to at least teach basic maintenance skills. Unsurprisingly, only a handful of programs exist in the U.S. It’s always tougher to find women doing hands-on trades work, but the auto industry seems to be especially lacking in this respect.

The first woman my search turned up is Patrice Banks, a Philadelphian who is “working on disrupting the auto industry by catering to women.” How do you not click on that link? Patrice was working as a materials engineer for DuPont until she realized she knew nothing about cars despite spending a tremendous amount of money on them, couldn’t find other women who knew about cars, and couldn’t find a single female mechanic to work on her car. So, she decided to take classes, work for free at a garage on the weekends, and became a mechanic herself. And then she went even further and started the Girls Auto Clinic.

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The clinics have received a tremendous amount of press and women asking if there are clinics available in their cities. This is a clip pulled from CBS This Morning, but the clinics have also been featured on Fox News, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News and numerous other outlets.

The Girls Auto Clinic “strives to be a visionary leader in the automotive industry by changing the way the industry views and markets to women while also changing the beliefs women have towards the industry through education and niche marketing.” Basically, the auto industry doesn’t reflect the needs, wants, and views of it’s #1 customer. Patrice also recognized that because women spend the most money on cars, they have real power to change the industry through education, and should be a part of the process from concept and design to maintenance and repair.

To help remedy this disconnect, Patrice teaches free classes for women each month, created an online forum for women to talk about cars, wrote the Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide, and even sells clothing merch for “Shecanics.” She is also working around the clock to open her own shop and expand the mission, so we’re sending her a bunch of Craftsman tools to help with that.

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In June, Patrice lead a free clinic for high school girls who drive. Fantastic. Shop classes have been cut from a majority of high schools across the country, but even when they did exist, only boys seemed to register.

The Girls Auto Clinic logo, language and images are hyper feminized, but because of this, classes reach a large and especially disempowered (in this arena) portion of women. Basically, Patrice takes the damsel in distress archetype and turns it on its head. I wear Doc Martens work boots when I’m in a shop. Patrice wears some serious heels when she’s teaching classes in a garage. It’s strange to see but also makes me think, “good lord, is there anything women can’t do, even in restrictive garb?”

Patrice’s classes appeal in a meaningful way to a whole lot of women who could never imagine themselves lifting up their car hood until now. While she is adamant that “all are welcome,” the mistreatment and underrepresentation of women in the auto industry is clearly what drives her passion for increased education and equality. This passion has not gone unnoticed. Girls Auto Clinic has garnered a ton of press and Patrice was even asked to do a Ted Talk about her work last year. Currently, less than 2% of mechanics are women. That is clearly going to change soon. Pictures from the Girls Auto Clinic November classes will be posted on ToolMade, so stay tuned!

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Patrice, still kicking ass in heels. Photo courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic.

Digging in the dirt: The absolutely essential need for kids to know what they’re eating

1506395_10152864513989119_133232486_n-1Joseph Dummitt has been teaching after school programming through a charitable arm of the Chicago Public Library for the past 5 years. Monday through Thursday, from 3pm-6pm, he helps kids with their homework until their parents are able to pick them up. And sometimes, when they finish early enough, he teaches them how to garden and about where their food comes from.

There is zero budget for the food education component of this program, so tools were desperately needed to build raised beds and cultivate the gardens. Joseph reached out with a “dream list of tools” and I drove out to the McKinley Park library with all of the Craftsman gardening items I could get a hold of, including a trowel, a couple of cultivators, a bow rake, a curved claw hammer, a garden hoe, a digging fork, and a round point shovel. Joseph and a 2nd grader named Daron came out to the car to help bring all of the tools into the library. I’m not sure how to describe them except to say that they were outright gleeful when they saw the goods. I was in a lousy mood earlier that day. That mood was utterly obliterated.

Joseph working with a student at the McKinley Branch Library.

Joseph working with a student at the McKinley Branch Library. (Original photo source: Streetwise)

When we got inside, I asked Joseph why he decided to put the extra effort in with the gardening program. He looked at me, then turned to Daron and said, “hey, what did they give you to eat at school today,” to which Daron replied “Ummm, chicken nuggets. Oh, and bread. Bread, too.” Then he looked back at me with the same expression of “seriously, how can I not.” Basically, kids just eat fillers and garbage that doesn’t look like food and in some ways really isn’t even food. Joseph grew up around farms and gardening with his family in Champaign, Illinois and couldn’t believe how detached these kids were from their food supply. So basically, he just took up the cause. He has been working with the library to carve out a little space and grow things with the kids, things that are hard to kill like green onions, tomatoes, leafy greens, and wild flowers. He said that when he picks something that they’ve grown and hands it to them to take a bite, they are completely mystified. Maybe even terrified.


Boooo. (Original photo source: Chicago Now)

As the population of the United States has transitioned from a predominantly agrarian society to an increasingly more urban one, our youth have become detached from a fundamental understanding of agriculture. Food just appears and lives in supermarkets. Chicago is around 85% paved, and many areas with patches of green space find out that those patches are contaminated from years of  surrounding industry pollution, so it’s no wonder there is a disconnect in most urban environments. And don’t get me going on what food we subsidize in this country. It’s criminal.

The following pics are screenshots from Jamie Oliver's t.v. show. He asked a bunch of grade schoolers what the following vegetables were. Apparently, these are potatoes.

The following pics are screenshots from Jamie Oliver’s t.v. show. He asked a bunch of grade schoolers what the following vegetables were. Apparently, these are potatoes.

This detachment from food and farming has gone on long enough that in some cases, multiple generations of families just have absolutely no idea how to cook real food. Microwaves or bust. And if you aren’t teaching these things at home, perhaps you assume that schools will surely pick up the slack, eh? Yeah, nope. School is supposed to arm kids with tools to navigate the world, but it hasn’t evolved to address our current crises and usually doesn’t address health and nutrition in any meaningful way, if at all. In fact, classes like home economics have been cut in most schools because they aren’t seen as being vital. Ha. Also, schools serve crap for lunch. 31 million kids pick up highly processed fast food from the lunch lady each day and wash it down with chocolate milk. It’s literally killing them.



According to the American Heart Association, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. Instead of having to deal with skinned knees at recess, they are sedentary in their classrooms and dealing with issues that only adults experienced before like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and elevated blood cholesterol levels. I can’t even imagine these things being discussed when I was a rambunctious little troublemaker in the early 80s. To top things off, obese kids are, of course, more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Good thing we live in a world where kids are getting positive feedback from media and movies that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful! Oh, wait.

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“Celery?” “Onion!”

So listen, support people like Joseph who are trying to combat this issue through education. Put some shovels into the hands of kids, dig some holes with them, and show them what real food is. Let them have that joy of picking something off of a vine and biting into it. If schools and families aren’t equipped to teach these kinds of skills, help out anyone who is able and willing. Or volunteer to do it yourself because most of us adults would surely benefit from more time in a garden as well. Stay tuned—I’ll be doing a follow-up post once those beds are built and the planting begins.

"Pear?" And after a big hint from Jamie: "Egg salad!"

“Pear?” And after a hint from Jamie: “Egg salad!”


Man vs. Machine: A Selective History of the Industrial Revolution and the Beastly Hand- vs. Power-Tool Wars

I can't believe it took me this long to use a Rocky IV image in this blog.

I can’t believe it took me this long to use a Rocky IV image in this blog.

A long and vicious battle rages between two factions of humans, a battle that shows no signs of resolving itself, but instead simply reinvents itself with each generation of wide-eyed and bushy-tailed DIYers. I’m speaking, of course, of the hand toolers vs. the power toolers—groups that admittedly co-mingle often times, but oh, not always. No, not always. Here is a little on the history of the origins of this war as I understand it–I think you’ll find that it is pretty much exactly like the Human/Cylon war, or that it carries the spirit of the Rocky IV Cold War plot line.

The principal tools that the carpenter needed to frame a house: felling axe (4), wedge and beetle (7 and 8), chip axe (10), saw (12), trestle (14), and pulley (15). (Charles Hoole transl., London, 1685. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.)

The principal tools that the carpenter needed to frame a house: felling axe (4), wedge and beetle (7 and 8), chip axe (10), saw (12), trestle (14), and pulley (15). (Charles Hoole transl., London, 1685. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.) Don’t they look just pleased as punch?

Up until the late 18th Century, everything was made by skilled and industrious little human hands. People likely sang songs and whittled/chopped/pulleyed away at whatever their locally available resources were and created lots of really great objects and dwellings. Look at those charming saw cuts! You could likely read them like tea leaves. Sigh. These workers sharpened their chisels with great care and love, and no doubt had an emotional connection to these hand-forged tools of their livelihood and artistry. Maybe they even named them. I bet they did. (I would)

Die Spinnerinnen by Diego Velazquez. 1640s.

Die Spinnerinnen by Diego Velazquez. 1640s. Romantic, eh?

But then one day, crafty, mustache-twirling England decided to go ahead and have an good old Industrial Revolution. It had occurred to some businessmen that if they could make more stuff and make it faster, why, they could make a lot more bees and honey. There are also plenty of theories about politics and land use, but we’ll skip over those because this blog is already assured to rival a Tolstoy novel in length. So anyway, these business men got smart to the advantages of harnessing the power of rivers and streams to mechanize the textile industry, moving the industry from households to factories. Before this, the work was mainly domestic–the kiddos would deal with the raw cotton, the women would spin it, the men would weave it. It was like a Cosby episode but with fewer geometric patterns (and likely also pre-hoagie). All the wool was from England and the cotton was imported. Then these machines were built and everything moved into factories and the Western world shifted from a Thomas Hardy novel to a Chaplin film in a matter of decades and the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and Oliver Twist and all that.

Mass production with unskilled labor and pointy-hatted overseers! Decidedly less romantic.

Mass production with unskilled labor and pointy-hatted overseers! Decidedly less romantic.

A fun side effect of this transition were the actions of the Frame-breakers, or Luddites, who would partake in “machine-breaking,” which is what it sounds like. Smashy, smashy. Machine-breaking was criminalized by Parliament in the 1720s, but those Luddites didn’t let a slap on the wrist stop their ideological antics, so the Frame-Breaking Act of 1812 made the death penalty available.

Luddites, smashing a loom.

Luddites, smashing a loom. Ahhhh, god, I love this.

Sometime during the 1880s, an industrious young apprentice names Samuel Slater was hanging around England and decided that this mechanization business was a grand idea and that stealing this idea was an even better idea than the idea itself. He memorized the plans for these mills and took them all up in his head on a ship to America. America liked this idea a whole lot, especially because it had a much scarcer labor force, and with this mechanized machinery, productivity could go up and up and up. Quickly, Americans were making not only textiles but also furniture and anything else they could think of, and  thus, Slater was dubbed the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution” by Andrew Jackson (and “Slater the Traitor” by the Brits). He became rather wealthy, in case that cliffhanger was bothering you.


The results of being employed on an assembly line, according to Chaplin, result in great indignities, inhumane work conditions, and ultimately a nervous breakdown. But damn, it’s fun to watch.

Likely the most notable innovation of the Industrial Revolution was the assembly line. It allowed for products to be made much more quickly and lowered prices, but made the work boring and allowed unskilled labor to enter the workforce. People who can make things with virtually no training at all were naturally seen as expendable bodies—perhaps even more expendable that the beloved sharpened chisels of yore. So children, death, uprising, weekends, cubicals, death.

The end.

Okay, fine, this makes any sort of non-hand tool production sound oppressive and unskilled and like there has been no benefits whatsoever from innovation and all that business. I get it, I get it. In defense of power tools, which I use allll the time, they are of course faster, require less maintenance, and remove a lot of the monotonous stretches of the production process. Hand toolers could argue that there is a loss precision and control and art with mechanized devices, and sure, this is also correct. Basically, they both have their advantages and probably work best together, but I’m not aiming to change minds. This entire post only happened because I started wondering what the drill equivalent would be with a hand tool (an increasingly complicated egg beater-like device kept coming to mind), so I thought it would be fun to dig up the hand tool equivalents are to some commonly used power tools. So here goes. Feel free to chime in with any others, of which there are likely a googobrillion.

Ye olde miter box is a mighty handy alternative to the miter saw.

Ye olde miter box is a mighty handy alternative to the miter saw.

The block sander is still pretty commonly used. Sometimes the power sander can be overkill or you're just not near a power source.

The block sander is still pretty commonly used. Sometimes the power sander can be overkill or you’re just not near a power source.

Gimlets drilled holes for screws and had a much more interesting, though less descriptive name than a power drill. They are also great to drink.

Gimlets drilled holes for screws and had a fantastic name. They are also great to drink.

A yankee! Also a great name. No driver needed with this puppy, though yes, the process is a wee bit slower, especially when using old growth.

A yankee! You are correct, this is also a great name. No driver needed with this puppy, though yes, the process is a wee bit slower, especially when using old growth.

The precursor to a jigsaw is a bow saw. Handsome devils that look like an instrument.

The precursor to a jigsaw is a bow saw. Handsome devils that look like something a butch cherub would play atop a Swiss mountain.

An arborists saw (or pruning saw) is the older brother to the decidedly less delicate but more productive chainsaw. I like to think of chainsaws as the football captains of the tool world.

An arborists saw (or pruning saw) is the older brother to the decidedly less delicate but more productive chainsaw. I like to think of chainsaws as the football captains of the tool world.

This antique 45 quarter round moulding plane is the steampunk version of the more modern
This antique 45 quarter round moulding plane is the steampunk version of the more modern router.

Aaaaand, the hand plane.

Aaaaand, a favorite, the hand plane. Good lord, these are so pretty. And provide an excellent shoulder workout.