Once upon a time there was a small family. A strong man, a long-haired woman, and two young and rambunctious boys. They lived in Oklahoma, where the wind comes right behind the rain. They were building a house for themselves, out of dirt. One day, they realized they needed some more timbers for the porch of their quaint little dirt home. So they trekked off to the woods to cut some down. After quickly slicing through and gracefully felling 10 trees, they noticed some beauties just over yonder. They were tall, mostly free of lower branches, and boy, were they straight! Everything you’d want in a cedar timber. The only problem was, the trees were on the edge of a huge ravine.
Now, when you fell a tree, you have to be sure to make the cuts in just the right position so that the tree will fall in the proper direction; in this case, toward the level ground, and not into the ravine. The woman was worried that her strong man would cut the tree in the wrong direction, and possibly fall over the ravine himself. So she and the boys stood by and watched in anticipation. The man grasped his powerful chainsaw and made the first cut at an angle, then another on the opposite side of the tree. The tree began to tip toward the ravine! The man started slipping! The little woman reached high and grabbed a branch of the big tree and pulled with all her might. “Pull pull!” Shouted the man as he climbed to safety. She pulled and pulled on that cedar branch, until the tree started to tip towards her. She had to move quickly so as not to be crushed. “Move move!” He shouted, worried about his sweet wife. She finished wrangling the tree to toward her and jumped out of the way, just as the tree plunged to the ground with a loud thwump. The man and woman smiled at each other and brushed their hands off. The boys cheered. The family heaved all the logs onto a truck and hauled them back to the homestead. And there they lived, happily ever after, building their house for years and years.
Sometimes a boring statement about mundane work needs to be spruced up in the form of an exciting story. After bringing those logs to the house, I skinned most of them, a job partly looked forward to, because of the deviation from taking pallets apart, and also dreaded for its back-intensive labor. At 6 months pregnant in December, I average 2 logs a day. When we skinned the logs in the summer, they required only a gentle, yet sticky, peeling with a butter knife. In the winter however, due to the decreased liquid flow in the xylem and phloem, the bark sticks to the log and must be vigorously scraped with a sharp trenching shovel.
Three of those thicker logs are now standing upright on their pillars on the south side of the house. Two sections have hinge pieces installed and their respective horizontals. We only lack one more upright for our porch.
December has been one of those months where every tiny step forward requires so much effort. I recall climbing the sand dunes in southern Colorado one summer. With each dune we summited, we could see another, and another, and quickly realized that no matter how many we reached, there was no end in sight. That is how the progress on the house has felt as of late. Obtaining an off-grid oven-range has been one of more trying feats of our homesteading adventure.
So you will recall that we got a propane tank for the fridge and other appliances. We knew we would need a propane stove so we checked out the local used store. There was a fairly nice one with the standard 4 burners and glass-front oven door. The price was right and the vendor even delivered for free. We got the thing hooked up and then noticed that the oven temperature adjustment knob didn’t work. No way to adjust the temperature. No way to fix it. Useless.
The vender was very understanding and accepted the broken stove and agreed to bring a new one, this time, a slightly newer model that looked a little nicer. It was blustery that day and the stove fell off the truck on the highway, shattering the oven door. Bummer.
Stove number three came from a used appliance store in the larger town near us. It was actually the same model as the first stove we tried. We unloaded it off the truck, dollied it into the middle room, hooked it up and found that it contained a glow-bar, the dreaded “new and improved” safety measure for electronic ignition. The glow-bar requires a large amount of electricity to ignite the gas, and then uses it repeatedly throughout the baking to reignite the oven. We had assumed that a gas oven runs on gas. We found out most gas stoves need electricity, some of them need a lot.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find a modern oven range that does not use a glow-bar and even more upsetting is the fact that sales associates at big box stores, large appliance dealers, and even manufactures themselves are not informed on how these ovens are lit. Whirlpool actually has a number of models that use a direct spark ignition, an ideal stove for off-grid kitchens. However, sales associates at Lowes and Home Depot aren’t aware of this. Looking under the stove to identify the ignition type isn’t allowed until after you buy the stove. But, if you stay on the phone with Whirlpool long enough they will eventually tell you.
Enter stove number four. We researched the stoves available at Lowes and found one that had a direct spark ignition and a nifty grate over the burners that we really liked. We picked one out, after about an hour of enlightening the sales guy and feeling confident that we’d be able to bring home a working stove that used minimal electricity and ran on propane. At the last minute, he came out from the back and excitedly informed us of a model that was exactly the same, except that it lacked a self-clean option and saved us $100. Who needs self-cleaning? At this point we were pros at loading and unloading the stove off the truck and into the house. Aaron once again hooked the shin new appliance up to the propane and DUN DUN DUN… a glow-bar.
After removing thoughts of somehow getting the Lowes guy fired, we brought our receipt and the stove and exchanged it for a Whirlpool WFG 5.1 cubic foot gas range with direct spark ignition. We got it home, hooked it up and lit the stove, via a 5 amp max draw from our solar system, and Viola! After 5 tries, we finally have a working stove in our home. Freshly baked brownies never tasted so good!
Another appliance we obtained this month is our tankless water heater, which also runs on propane. We haven’t quite got it hooked up yet, but soon my hands will no longer freeze (45ish degrees)while washing dishes.
We’ve also been able to work on the front yard and our sunken garden beds. We’re using leftover scraps of cedar cut to the right size as borders. I love how they are coming along.
One of my favorite pieces of news to note this month is that there are readers out there who care about me. It brings me great joy to tell you that after my plea for chocolate, a fellow earthbag builder, only four states away, sent me a lovely little package that contained over 5 varieties of high-grade dark chocolate, some with lemon, another blueberry, and even pomegranate! After that, I got another envelope from my dear Godparents in Chicago with some of Fannie Mae’s finest sea salt chocolate bars. And then, as a New Year’s gift from my dear old dad, I got some Hershey bars, M&M’s, and a bag of Kisses. I feel so loved!! Any other chocolate donations are gladly accepted. I feel confident that the progress that occurs these next couple of months will be less stressful because I can sneak a bite of delightful sweet darkness from my pocket whenever I choose.
Books this month:
I have to tell you how pleased I am with my homeschool group’s Facebook book club. We voted on Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls for the December read. I was a little weary of reading a World War II novel. Usually I run the other direction from any discussion of war. But the reviews told me it would be uplifting, a story of sisters, and women in different walks of life who come together in the name of humanity. I absolutely loved this author’s writing style, the set-up of the book; each of 3 women’s perspectives alternating throughout the book and through a 10 year time period, and the story itself, based on truth and 2 real characters. I have recommended it to several friends and would certainly read it again.
While skinning logs, I listened to an audiobook by Vanessa Diffenbaugh called The Language of Flowers. A fiction story about a troubled orphan girl and the Elizabethan practice of giving and receiving flowers, each with a particular hidden meaning. It was very interesting at first, but as the story went on, I had to really force myself to finish. I just didn’t sympathize with the main character after listening through her continual bad choices.
Julius (10) read a lot as usual this month. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. This is a play that gave Julius a glimpse of reading something written for the stage. He devoured it in 2 days nonetheless.
He also started the Seven Realms series, after hearing so much about it from his dad. He’s on the third book now, The Gray Wolf Throne. He would much rather read these magical novels than the book I’m requiring for our Roman history studies, Detectives in Togas, by Henry Winterfeld. It’s mystery novel about Roman school boys with many historically accurate vocabulary words and events. The other required reading he had was I Survived Pompeii, part of a Scholastic series on historical events.
Aaron read The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, a young adult novel I discovered through the What Should I Read Next podcast. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy on an Earth 2 planet where everyone can here the men’s thoughts. There are few women but they don’t have this ability, or curse it sounds like. Those who can hear others’ thoughts call it “the noise,” and it is not often enjoyable. I’ll have to get the sequel for him to read next. Also, after much prompting from Julius, Aaron read the first book of the Ranger’s Apprentice. Julius loves to share the fictional adventures of his books with his dad. Especially since that is not my genre, it seems to be something special they share.
And lastly, Mason (2.5) has been enjoying Richard Scarry’s Mr. Frumble, which contains an “Oh No!” on each of the 6 pages. He also has nearly memorized the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the Norwegian fairy tale my mother told to me. She would have loved hearing him toddling around the house asking in his gruffest voice, “Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?”
A final note: If you’re reading this in your e-mail, be sure to check out the homepage on the website. I added a bunch of new photos to the slideshow that really capture the build of our home through time. Here’s a handy link: Homepage!