Reflections on December, 2015

Snow is the only redeeming quality that winter’s barren landscape has to offer.  It blankets the naked ground in a magical sort of way.  We got some snow around the very last couple days of December, which was otherwise fairly mild.  We also got ice and wind and downed power lines and felt so grateful for our parent’s fireplace and gas generator.  I’m typing this on the 30th, and we’ve been power-less since the 27th.  It hasn’t been warmer than 38 outside these past couple of days.  Heavy ice and strong winds really do a number on power lines.

Snow at H.O.M.E. Farm

Snow at H.O.M.E. Farm

At the farm we got around 4 inches of snow, which partially melted, then froze and turned into 3 inches of icey, slushy, wintry mix.  The snow fell inside the west and middle rooms, as they only have roof frames at this point.  In those rooms, it looked like the site of a natural disaster; desolate and inhospitable.  To get the front door open, Aaron had to move snow away from the inside of it.  Snow blew up against the north side of the house around 30 inches high.  We are a bit worried about it seeping into the cob and bags above the tire foundation.  If you build your own structure with earthbags and are located in an area with any snowfall, think this through.  Even with adequate overhang, snow still blows and drifts.  Some kind of vapor barrier that goes a couple feet up the wall may be necessary.

I know what you’re thinking, and no the roof is not done yet.  Even with all the nice weather during most of the month, we didn’t manage to get a lot done.  We had a bout of bronchitis which kept us rather wimpy for almost 2 weeks.  We also had some car issues, one needing a new alternator, which was relatively quick and inexpensive to replace.  The other car is still in the shop, having been slowed by the holidays.

Ice Storm 2015

Ice Storm 2015

During the ice storm, I had to laugh at the irony of seeking refuge here, at our parent’s house, which is primitive living for the time being.  Washing dishes is not so bad, due to there being some tepid water left in the electric water heater.  We’re cooking on the Coleman camp stove (their stove is electric) in the 40 degree kitchen, so that’s about the same as our house.  The only thing that doesn’t run on electricity, in fact, is the plumbing, so at least, with the illumination of candles, going to the bathroom is more comfortable than a trip to the outhouse.  I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining.  I rather enjoy being “stuck” around the hearth, drinking Big Sky Brewery’s Powder Hound winter ale, and playing Dominoes and Apples to Apples.  And I love that I was allowed some serious play time with the boys, an escape into the historical novel I’m reading, and time to write this very blog.  Family time is the highlight of a winter storm.

In the warmer part of December, and by warmer I mean 60 during the day, and 35 at night, we stayed in our east room, with incomplete ceiling, and shivered as we got into our icey-cold sheets.  Being a cold person by nature, I tried to find some way to create heat on the cheap.  It’s interesting how my mind becomes desperate for a heat source when it’s that cold at night.  If you’ve ever been in a situation like mine and ever googled ’emergency heater,’ or ‘off the grid heater,’ or ‘cheap DIY heater,’ you’ve surely heard of the flower pot or terra-cotta pot heater.  Requiring just 2 terra cotta pots, one larger than the other, and 4 tea-light candles, these little heaters are cheap and effective, so say the multitude of videos on them.  Well maybe if you have an insulated roof and floors.  We tried these out and found that they make nice butt-warming seats and plate warmers, but the only room they might be able to warm a degree or two would be an extremely insulated closet.  If you’re looking for a cheap alternative to a heating pad to sit on, this is your solution!

Side Note: This guy came to visit our farm this month.  I named him Rufus.  He only stuck around a day or two, but he ate enough food for 4 dogs!  Aaron rigged up a lock on the self-feeder so Rufus couldn’t get to the food.  He decided to go back home shortly after that.  I imagine we might see him again, someday.

Rufus, the eater.

Rufus, the eater.

Short December days allowed a little time for my pallet-dis-assembly mastery.  It is cumbersome to pull the planks off the pallets without breaking them.  I’ve gotten better at it, but it takes a lot of time; a little pry here, a little pry there.  Aaron reminds me that our other option is to plant trees and wait for them to grow and then make planks out of them.  I smile and nod and try to be thankful for the free pallet resource.

He did a great job finishing up the hole at the very top of the roof.  It reminds me of a Chinese pagoda at times.

Winter 2015

Elephant skin is smooth, yet wrinkly, with spaced out crevices and a grey color that can only be described as “elephant grey.”  When on a live elephant, it has sparse, bristly hairs and a mild warmth.  The underlayment we installed on our east room has all those qualities… minus the hair.  I’ve never skinned a pachyderm, but I imagine that the underlayment is only about a 1/4 of the thickness of an adult elephant.

Winter 2015

Installing that stuff required patience and a bit of learned skill.  It has a paper backing on it, similar to wax paper on one side.  The method was to position the roll on the roof, cut it to size, flip it over, pull the rip cord, which splits the backing in half, flip it back over, and carefully peel the backing off from underneath the elephant skin.  It is the stickiest adhesive I’ve ever felt, readily clinging to the pallet planks, our fingers and shoes, and sometimes, frustratingly, to itself.

Winter 2015

In the two days prior to our ice storm, we managed to get most of the east room covered.  We covered about one fifth of the middle room as well because the valley in between the two roofs had to be covered first in order to maintain the shingle effect.  We’ve ordered some more of the stuff, as four rolls went rather quick.  It feels so much more permanent than tarps, and about 10 times more wind resistant!

Winter 2015

Winter 2015

As I write this on the eve of the new year (2016) I am so pleased that the power has come back on!  I still have the fireplace roaring because I’ve become spoiled by the balmy 85 degree environment it creates.  I am also happy to report that we moved our barrel stove into the east room.  My industrious partner assembled it in the barn while the power was out.

Julius helps build the barrel stove

Julius helps build the barrel stove

It still needs some stove pipe fittings, but we should be back in our little earthbag home on the prairie in no time!

Barrel Stove!

Barrel Stove!

As a winter solstice and end of the year treat, I’ll leave you with a little something.  This is a video I put together of the construction of our third roof frame, back in October.  There were quite a few people who wanted to come for the workshop, but weren’t able to make it, so I thought this video would give you all a taste of what that workshop was like.  The video turned out to be a little more “fun” than instructional.  We hope you enjoy it.  Happy New Year!

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