Reflections on March, 2017

So maybe you’re not into reading about uterine contractions and placental encapsulation, but there is one thing you must know about the birth of Earthbag Build Oklahoma’s 3rd son.  He was born in a round room of our earthbag home on 3-14-17, which, as any math nerd will tell you, is pi day.  We used 3.14 in many of our calculations, so it is appropriate that our son would make his timely appearance on that day.

If you are into reading about the beauty of the birth process, click on over to Our Second H.O.M.E. Farm Home-Birth Story.

Naturally, not a whole lot of progress has occurred around here this month.  We brought our swing, which was my very first mother’s day gift, beautifully crafted by my husband.  As you can see, we almost got it put up.  Apparently some of the chain was misplaced on its journey from Illinois.  And that’s it for March!

What we did in March

What we did in March

Hopefully you know us better than that.

The stars have aligned and blessings have fallen down on us.  It turns out our spray-foam roofing won’t be piecemeal after all.  A wish was granted that allows our roof to be done in one day!  We called around to a few places locally to see about professional spray-foam installation.  The guys we found were surprised and intrigued by our project, barn interiors being their prime jobs.  Now I don’t care how much education you’ve had in geometry or calculus, it is difficult to figure out the surface area of our roof.  We’ve got round rooms, vertical surfaces, overlapping circles, and every angle of pitch you can imagine up there.  There was some serious head scratching going on, the end result being confident enough to come back with the promise of spray-foaming our roof in the near future.  We’re just waiting for the wind to slow down enough.  If you’re into praying, please pray for a warm windless day sometime next week.

The other tidbit about spray-foam is that the genius invisible gutter idea didn’t actually pan out as genius workmanship.  The 1 inch poly-pipe was essentially swallowed up by the spray-foam, rendering it useless.  Oh well, live and learn.

The bathroom stem wall is complete!  We used chunks of old concrete and fortified earth mix (Portland cement and subsoil).  After that was complete, we put in floor joists.  This is one of the few places we used new lumber.  Then we laid 4×8 sheets of ¾ inch plywood, cut into all kinds of weird shapes to custom fit our round wall.

Bathroom stem wall

Bathroom stem wall

Concrete, portland cement and subsoil

Concrete, portland cement and subsoil

bathroom stem wall

Plywood floor in the bathroom

Plywood floor in the bathroom

And then we got a bathtub!  This cast-iron beauty was conveniently listed on Craigslist, only a 20 minute drive from us for only $250!  A new cast iron from Home Depot, without the fancy gold faucets and shower stand, is $600.  And, we don’t have to do any refurbishing to it.

Our own bathtub!

Our own bathtub!

Many of the tubs on craigslist had rust spots that would require lots of work to make them worthy.  Now we just need a water heater.  We ended up returning the one we had because it didn’t heat like the reviews said it would.  It made room temperature water about 80 degrees, which is fine for washing dishes, but not fine for bathing.

To mark Kyias’ birth and to try, once again to get some trees growing, Aaron bought and planted 2 4’ tall cherry trees in proximity to the outhouse.  We are hoping, praying, wishing that they survive whatever kind of summer we’re going to have.  Very few plants and trees have popped up this spring.  Luckily, my mother’s day plum was one of them.

Literary notes from this month:

Because Julius got a new baby brother and a subsequent break from homeschool, he devoured a plethora of books:

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, The Blazing Star, The First Battle, Path of Stars, and Tales from the Clans. Those are all Erin Hunter’s Cat Warrior books.  The Tales of Beedle the Bard and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them both by J. K. Rowling. Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, The Search, and The Tracker by Tom Brown Jr, and Monet and The Impressionists for Kids (A nice chunk of non-fiction for the month).  Schooled by Gordon Korman, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.  A Horse and His Boy, The lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.

books march 2017

We also started an e-book we came across for homeschool but also for fun called, 21 Lessons To Empower the New Age Kid Sandra K. Jones-Keller.  It has short lessons on things like meditation, positive affirmations, and grounding.  I was skeptical whether he’d like these, but he wanted me to read the lesson on grounding multiple times so he could practice.  I think these lessons are an excellent contribution to a well-rounded homeschool.  At the beginning of each lesson, the author asks the parent or teacher to get grounded before beginning.  I have found that the grounding exercise is probably worth whatever the cost of the book is all by itself.  Your kid need not be “new-age” to gain something from this little book!

I finished Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, as recommended by my bookclub friend when we chatted about depth of characters.  She said that young adult characters usually have more depth than adult contemporary fiction characters and I think she was right.  I felt like I jumped right into Eleanor’s skin and could feel all her emotions of angst and love.  What a great story!  I also began Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson, which is starting out interesting enough.

Aaron read Dean Koontz’ Odd Apocalypse, which he said is the kind of book you read when you can’t find anything better, but before you read the dictionary.  That’s why I don’t put much credit into “bestsellers.”

I just happened to glance out the window…  I guess I’m headed out to swing with the family.

No porch is complete without a swing!

No porch is complete without a swing!

Happy Homesteading!

Our Second H.O.M.E. Farm Home-Birth Story

Click here to read the first home birth story from 2014.

Little eartbag birth on the prairie

Little eartbag birth on the prairie

I was due sometime around the latter half of March, 2017.  When I started having contractions on the 10th, I was a little worried, but decided to move on with business as usual until I felt like labor was progressing rapidly.  We visited Aaron’s sister for a bit and she cooked us a fabulous meal.  I had plenty of energy and wasn’t concerned about the contractions much.  I just felt like it would be a while.  Well, it was a long while.  I had not experienced Braxton Hicks contractions with either of my first two labors, so when they began to get further apart and less intense, I was a bit perturbed.  They diminished completely during the night and the next morning I was a wreck, believing that my body had failed me.

Jump forward to March 13.  Everything seemed to be in place.  The house (the earthbag house, which has walls, a roof and windows now) was moderately clean.  You can read more about our homestead here.  We had plenty of snacks and juices in the fridge and I had crossed off all the things from my list that we would need for this baby.  I felt normal, above average I suppose.  The sun was shining and the temperature was around 65.

I did have an urgency to do some particular cleaning tasks, which should have been the first indicator, now that I think about it.  There was nothing that could stand in my way of cleaning the front windows and shaking out the rugs.  I used vinegar and scrubbed every inch of the front door window, as if my life depended on it, making sure to wipe every residual streak.  Then I cleaned the front of the fridge.  And wiped off all the chairs and tables.  The mirror.  The front of the stove.  My 10 year old picked up on this energy and shook out the rugs for me, made his bed, and there, he ever so fastidiously placed each stuffed animal in its optimal position for comfort.  Feeling very satisfied with myself, I rested on the couch.  The same midwife as last time, Margarett Scott, came for our weekly prenatal visit.  We discussed my mood and hormones and placental encapsulation.  Then, we made an appointment for the following week and she left.  I had an overwhelming urge to take a shower, so I did.  In that shower I had a pang of anxiety.  What if I go into labor now?  My response to myself was: You are going to have to baby.  You have to, and you will.  Trust your body.

Why the anxiety?  Let’s jump back now to the 10th.  The evening of the Braxton Hicks contractions, I became very aware of all my fears about birth.  With each contraction, a wave of anxiety washed over me.  I kept imagining all the worst things that could happen.  The baby could suddenly shift position, become transverse, and require an emergency C-section.  The pain could be excruciating for endless hours, and then I’d want to go to a hospital and get an epidural, failing as the home-birth pioneer mama that I was 2 years ago.  The baby could die.  I could die.  Aaron did his best to comfort me, but those of us with hyper-creative imaginations know how hard it is to turn off our thoughts, especially in bed at night.  When I awoke with no more contractions, I actually believed I had stopped the labor with my fear.

A few weeks prior to this, (bear with me through all these time jumps) my good friend and doula, Jenna Mozingo, invited me to do a birth art session.  The objective was to take the left brain technical-medical side of birth and blend it with the right brain creative energy and emotional side of the birth experience.  Being a dominant right-brained gal, I knew I would enjoy this session, as I did.  So she laid out a big sheet of paper and some chalk pastels.  I was to breathe and relax, then begin drawing.  I created a birth landscape, which you can read about in more detail here

The Birth Landscape

The Birth Landscape

Basically, I did a desert landscape with a linear flow from left to right of the birth experience that I expected to have.  This activity brought to the surface many of my fears about birth and Jenna and I were able to talk through them.  The experience was lasting, just like when you read a great book and it keeps popping up in your daily activities and you think about it in a new light each time.  It really was a beneficial “therapy” session.

The whole next day after the Braxton Hicks contractions I was exhausted, grumpy, and toting around a few extra pounds of disappointment.  Margarett assured me that even though labor hadn’t actually taken place, each contraction was a step further for baby’s descent into to the birth canal, not wasted fretting.  This was slightly reassuring.

Now, back to the night of the 13th. At around 7pm, I made tacos for dinner and noticed some contractions.  Ok this could be it, or it could be those cursed fake contractions, I told myself.  I downloaded a contraction timer app from the app store (my previous home-birth involved 3 pages of notebook paper).  The app kept track of the time, duration, and frequency of each contraction with the push of a big red button.  Thank you, modern technology!  After dinner my contractions were 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long.  They radiated around my back, whereas the Braxton Hicks were mostly just in front, in my uterus.  I also had to urinate frequently and had tiny amounts of mucous seal and bloody show each time.

9pm. The fear and anxiety panged through my mind and made my palms sweat.  I felt the contractions radiate through my back and knew that labor was beginning.  I glanced over at my landscape birth art and reminded myself that I should trust my body.  I had Julius put down the clean rug next to the barrel stove.  I knew I would probably prefer to be near the ground as I had in my last labor.  I spent equal amounts of time on all fours on the bed and on the rug.  I kept telling myself in my head that each contraction was working to push the baby down.  I even imagined those plastic replicas they have in women’s clinics where you can follow the path of the fertilized egg to the uterus via removable parts.  Except the one I imagined was mine, inside of me, going through a process that it had gone through before.

11pm.  I called Margarett after a tiny pang of anxiety where I imagined Aaron catching the baby.  Not that I didn’t want him to, I just preferred to have Margaret’s experience in that area.  Each contraction got more intense.  The big red button on the contraction app actually gave me a sense of comfort.  I’d push the button, brace myself on all fours, do some deep breathing while it worked the baby down, and then I’d look at the timer.  55 secondsOnly 5-10 more seconds I’d tell myself.

12:30am. Margarett arrived and began setting up all the birth paraphernalia.  I could sense that Aaron felt he needed to help me more so I had him get some water hot and use a hand towel to wrap under my lower belly, while I was on all fours to distract from the pain of the contractions.  In hindsight, the heat didn’t really do much, but having my partner there with me, present and supporting each contraction was extremely helpful.

1:30am. I could feel the baby moving lower.  Each movement felt as natural as passing a stool.  In fact, I felt I might do just that and of course, I had a bit of anxiety about it, expressed it in words, and was comfortingly reassured by my “team.”

2:00am.  I wasn’t scared anymore at all.  I knew what was happening and I knew it would happen very soon.  I told the baby in my mind, this is you and me working together to do this.  Here we go.  The contractions were extreme at this point.  I could barely get through them without a moan turning into a yell.  Then I could feel more pressure and a slight urge to push.  I can do this, I told myself in between the surges.  Margarett asked where I’d like to be for pushing so she could position the birthing stool.  I held so tightly to the bench and between clenched teeth, I let out a “right here near this bench,” as if it were a table keeping me afloat after falling off the Titanic.  I can absolutely understand how birth partners’ hands get broken.  At one point Aaron asked if I could grab more of the meat of his hand next time.  Apparently his fingers were near breaking.

2:30am.  I thought about the baby, I thought about Jenna and I talking about my fears.  “Pushing!” I yelled.  Aaron helped me onto the birthing stool.  I thought about my cervix opening fully.  I thought about Margarett’s words as she told me, “That a girl, that’s right.  Breathe.”  I thought about my husband’s cool hands and the cool rag on my forehead as he stood behind me and supported my back.

Then I pushed once and Margarett said, “Good, now breathe for the next one.”  I knew it was coming and I didn’t want to have to push anymore than necessary.  Don’t hold back, I told myself.  We’re doing this.

2:52am.  I pushed as hard as I possibly could.  I used muscles I didn’t know I had.  I could feel my legs shaking uncontrollably and I could feel Margarett’s support down there.  “Here it comes” she said, “keep going.”  I yelled, moaned, and screamed all at the same time.  I felt extreme pressure which quickly turned into a ripping sensation and then warmth and a sudden feeling of emptiness in my lower belly.  My head was nearly stuck in an arched back position and I realized I had been focusing on a darker colored ceiling slat, which quite possibly could have been on the “birthing stable” from the previous birth.

Margarett commented on the ridiculous predicament of the long cord which was wrapped around baby’s leg, then belly, then arm.  She resolved that quickly and Aaron said, “He looks like me!”  She handed him to me while I tried to catch my breath.

There is a feeling of euphoria which cannot be described in words.  It is a sense of the utmost relief a person can experience.  Perhaps the same feeling happens when someone just barely scratches the surface of death and then gets another chance at life.  It is warm and comforting and mind-blowing.  I looked down and saw his little bitty body and tears came and I loved him instantly.  We did it, I said to him.

Kyias Rowan

Kyias Rowan

Luckily, the placenta pretty much fell out with no problems and I was helped to the bed, which felt like heaven.  Julius (10yo) came in the room, after waking up from the yelling, and got to see Margarett hand him to me.  He just kind of quietly observed all the commotion.  Later he said, “I think he has too much skin.”  Mason (2 and a half) slept through everything and got to meet his little brother the next morning.  He was most happy that he gets to be a big brother too.

Julius checked baby's weight: 6 pounds, 9 ounces

Julius checked baby’s weight: 6 pounds, 9 ounces

Now I must point out that Kyias Rowan was 6 pounds, 9 ounces, the smallest of my babies.  This is one reason why this labor progressed so steadily.  I will also point out that we live in an earthbag home consisting of 3 round rooms.  We used Pi (3.14) in many of our calculations in the planning stages of building said home.  It is quite fitting that Kyias was born on March 14, 2017 – Pi day.  Ask any math nerd.  It also happens to be Einstein’s birthday, I am told by a friend sharing this day.

Couldn't ask for a better (or braver) midwife!

Couldn’t ask for a better (or braver) midwife!

Other reasons for the faster labor include; 1) Drinking a cup a day of Pregnancy Tea, which contains red raspberry leaf, said to be excellent for strengthening the uterus. 2) The birth art session really helped me to recognize my fears and to be better able to stop those negative thoughts when they arose.  I told my fear to shut up!  I continually gave myself positive affirmations.  3) Hubby gave me some side lying deep tissue massage and helped to stretch my pelvic muscles about halfway through labor.  4)  Probably the biggest advantage came from my body’s muscle memory.  This was my third pregnancy, so naturally, my body knows what it’s doing.

I am so proud of myself for completing the arduous task of bringing life into the world, again, from the comfort of my own home.  It has been such an empowering test of wills to be able to do this.  Homebirth: highly recommended for low-risk pregnancies.  P.S. I am in no way against hospitals.  I absolutely appreciate and value them for emergency and high-risk situations.  I am blessed to have been able to birth at home and humbled that I am able to write about it.

Little home-birth on the prairie

Little home-birth on the prairie

Here’s to another successful H.O.M.E. Farm home birth!  Happy Homesteading!

Kyias Home-birth

Birth Art: Preparing for Birth

Preparing for Childbirth: My Birth Art Experience

“The fear and anxiety panged through my mind and made my palms sweat.  I felt the contractions radiate through my back and knew that labor was beginning.  I glanced over at my landscape birth art and reminded myself that I should trust my body.”  -From the soon to come Birth Story-  This ended up being the fastest and most confident labor and birth experience yet.

Just prior to the birth of my third son, I was asked by my good friend and doula, Jenna Mozingo, to participate in a practice birth art session that she would later utilize in a class she’d be instructing in Oklahoma City.  Knowing that Jenna is very open with the processes of the female body, I wondered whether we’d be creating placenta prints or painting the baby’s position on the skin of my belly.  Nope.  Her art process was much more down to earth.  Chalk pastels, some paper and a cloth for smoothing and wiping, and a personal journal or notebook paper were all the materials I needed.

I tried to come up with my own description for what birth art actually is, but I really resonated with Jenna’s introduction to it that day:

“One of the reasons we do birth art is so that we can begin to move beyond our intellectual knowledge of birth and into our intuitive and primordial knowledge of birth.  Most childbirth preparation engages the left side of the brain: the logical, rational, fact-oriented, analytical side.  However, we rely on the RIGHT side of the brain to give birth: the side of our brain involved in processing experiences, intuition, creativity, feelings, visualization, daydreaming and holistic thinking.  It only seems natural to prepare for birth with the same part of the brain that we use to give birth.”

This made perfect sense to me.  We can know the technical, medical aspects of birth inside and out, but when we actually give birth, we draw upon instinctual, primal, human tendencies.  So it seems essential that we try to find a balance between the two in order to pull from a vast basket of knowledge during the birth process.

Jenna had several prompts to choose from for the session.  Because my birth was fast approaching, we decided the Birth Landscape prompt might have the most benefit for me.  She asked me close my eyes and take a few deep breaths and then when I was ready, I was to draw what I thought the Birth Landscape looked like.  She asked that all the people who were meant to be present for the birth would be represented in the picture in some way.  Also, she asserted that if I felt the drawing was complete, to keep going.  Just allow my creative energies to flow and express what I thought the Birth Landscape would look like for me.

This is what flowed out of me:

The Birth Landscape

The Birth Landscape

Now, even though I wasn’t supposed to share my thoughts on the picture with Jenna or the group, if there had been one, I am going to share them with you.  The first image that came to mind for a representation of the birth landscape was an ocean.  The breaths, the contractions flowing over us like waves.  But that seemed cliché.  And I am not a water person.  To me, the ocean is vast, scary, ominous, and endless.  Instead, I thought a desert landscape was more appropriate.  I first laid down the sky.  I used several different shades of blues and purples and really enjoyed blending them with the cloth.  Then I felt there should be some ground.  Some reds and browns, ochres too.  It quickly became apparent that the horizon would take a linear path.  Beginning at the left, I drew some choppy desert land.  This symbolized the high anxiety beginning phase of labor where I wonder if this is really it.  I have to prepare my mind for what is to come and that phase is 1 part anxiousness and 1 part joyful anticipation.  Then there is a plateau, where my contractions just seem to keep going.  They don’t necessarily get stronger, they just are.  One after another, when will they push the baby down into position?  Eventually, they do, and that is the obelisk-like standing rock of intense focus and determination of pushing.  It doesn’t last long, but is the highest point of one-ness with myself and the baby.  There is a brief intermission and then another push for the placenta.

At this point, I needed to add myself and my family, including the baby, as well as my midwife.  Should we be cactuses?  Jenna could see that I was pondering more than I was drawing, so she read the prompt again.  This was helpful.  “Draw whatever has the most energy for you,” she added.  Mesquite bushes it is!  They are hard and resilient, like us on our homestead.  I added one for each of us, my 2 boys, my husband, my midwife, and the new baby.  I also added a tumbleweed and I’m not sure who that is or what it represents.  But it’s there.  I thought I was done and Jenna said, “Keep drawing.  More energy.”  I am so glad she did because on a whim I decided to add the rainbow of color that is the euphoria that follows birth.  That feeling of relief and empowerment, and bliss.  Then the time was up and I blew the extra chalk dust from my paper, feeling very accomplished.

Then came the journaling and reflection period.  Jenna gave me a couple of questions to start me out.  Two of them were:  Is there anything that surprised you or didn’t make sense in your drawing?  Is there anything that you’ll do differently now that you’ve made this drawing?

Before I give you some snippets of what I wrote in my journal, I’ll tell you that my biggest fears regarding birth are (were) dying in childbirth, the baby becoming transverse, and the fear of severe pain.  Now, here’s what I journaled:

  • What’s with the tumbleweed? I don’t know.  Maybe that’s me.  The Rainbow Rider book by Jane Yolen had some influence in this picture.
  • It was difficult to look ahead rather than draw on past experiences.
  • I was surprised how in the moment of art, I was able to tune out the surrounding noises. I thought when I began that they’d be distracting, but I dove in and lost myself.
  • There is no death in this picture Alison! No need to worry yourself.
  • I will need someone to help me keep going, but the payoff will be extraordinary. The pain is temporary.

Overall, this was a very enlightening experience.  I really needed the outlet of art to express some of my fears and expectations about birth.  I actually glanced at this picture at the beginning of my homebirth labor and it reminded me that I was not alone in this process, and that my confidence in this task would greatly benefit the progression of the labor.  You can read about my homebirth story, and the rest of our adventures in homesteading, here (really soon!)

I had never experienced this type of exercise in preparation for childbirth, but found it to be very insightful and enjoyable.  I would highly recommend this activity for a right brain growth experience before birth, expecting mommas!

If you are near the Oklahoma City area and would like to try this experience with Jenna, check here for dates and locations.


Jenna Mozingo: Knowing Mother Doula Support

Jenna’s Facebook page

Thrive Mama Collective Pregnancy Support Group in Oklahoma City

Reflections on February, 2017

February 2017

Wow, talk about a short winter.  I think we’ve had over 5 days of t-shirt weather and fewer than that number of freezing nights.  I’ve noticed that my mood fluctuates according to the weather.  On the days when it has felt like spring and even summer, I am full of energy and exuberant about the progress on the house.  On the cold, overcast windy days, I am irritable and drawn to the comfort of the bed and the couch.  Julius has been marking the days on the calendar, patiently waiting for the new baby.

When I’m not lazing about in my last stretch of pregnancy, we are steadily kicking butt on the porch and I am very pleased to announce that it is finally done!  All the decking is in place, after much diligent work-as-a-team family motivation.  In a way, we’re like a used pallet family assembly line; I take the pallets apart, our 10 year old removes all their nails and sorts the boards by size, shape and quality, and Aaron cuts and attaches them to the roof.  Oh, and the 2 year old “builds stuff” out of the scrap pieces.  Boy am I glad to be done with those pallets.

Super-human pregnancy strength

Super-human pregnancy strength

I actually broke our good pry bar with my super-human pregnant mom strength.  I felt gratified in resting that day while Aaron went to the hardware store to fetch another one.

Speaking of the hardware store, we are well-known there, not that that is something to write home about.  There are plenty of builders and contractors who frequent the local hardware store and develop friendly relationships with the employees.  What is cool, I found, is that they keep records of all our purchases, so when it comes time to put all the expenditures together, we can ask them to print up a list of all the items we’ve bought.  Just for curiosity’s sake, I asked if they could find out how many boxes of screws we’ve purchased in the last year.  Since last February, we’ve forked over $16.99 for each of 12 boxes of screws.  Most of those went into the decking on the roof.  I just think it’s cool that we have that kind of information at our fingertips.  It’s the organizational nerd in me.

Face boards and metal trim

Fascia boards and metal trim

After we got all the decking done, the big kid and I took turns helping Aaron to hold the fascia boards on the roof edges.  He carefully made each one slope down toward the back of the house as part of the water catchment system.  It is a pretty genius approach actually.  Using some left over 1 inch black poly pipe, we laid out several “invisible gutters” that will help direct rain water from the entire roof to the back, where it will fall down into this expertly devised DIY gutter catch.

Poly-pipe invisible gutters and metal trim

Poly-pipe invisible gutters and metal trim

Now here’s the big change of plans we’ve come up with.  We’re going to try using spray-foam insulation as our actual roof.  A 1 inch layer provides an R value of 6-7, but it also creates a waterproof rigid layer that seals up the upper envelope of our home.  After several inches of spray foam are applied, we will then coat the roof with a white elastomeric roof coating, which will be painted on.  While the spray foam is expensive, it can be applied as needed, so when we can afford more bottles, we’ll keep adding layers.  It is also supposed to be environmentally benign, last 20-30 years, and be rigid enough to walk on.  If we get giant hail that can actually puncture this strong stuff, it is easily repairable.  You fill in holes or gaps with more foam, sand it to the right surface height, and repaint.

As of this last day of February, we have enough spray foam to cover 600 feet of roof, but we’re going to only apply a half inch layer over 1200 feet, to give us a nice waterproofing on our most lived in room.  The only thing holding us up is that it has to be an almost entirely wind free day.  There are two bottles that contain a chemical and in order to create the ideal mixture, they need to be in the temperature range of about 70-90F so we have to keep them warm inside.  We are both really excited to see how well the stuff sticks, how it applies, and how it will change the sound of the rain falling on the roof, which is currently quite a din.

We completely reorganized our thoughts on how we would approach the master bedroom and bathroom layout.  We did have the bathroom taking up one quarter of the round room and consuming 2 windows.  It felt small and cramped.  Then we decided to lay it out with the bathroom along the back (north) wall of the room and have the bedroom in the front area.  We would build a stick frame wall with a totally encompassing bookshelf on the south side of the wall.  One of the awkward corners will become a closet, the other, a doorway.  Here’s what we’ve come up with:

Master bedroom and bathroom plans

Master bedroom and bathroom plans

And now for our monthly literary update:

Julius (10): Our avid little reader read 2 more books in the Warriors Series by Erin Hunter: The Sun Trail and Thunder Rising, and finished Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series with Fire.  We also celebrated Darwin’s birthday this month and so his assigned reading was The Giants of Science: Charles Darwin by Kathleen Krull.  There is a cornucopia of literature for kids about Darwin so it was hard to choose one novel, but this one was a hit.

Aaron: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which he really wants me to read, but the more he describes it, the less interested I am.

Mason (2): The library find that we’ve really enjoyed this month is Pug, Slug, and Doug the Thug by Carol Saller with beautiful illustrations by Vicki Jo Redenbaugh.

I needed a skosh more pre-civil war slavery fiction I suppose because I picked up a book for its pretty cover at the library.  The Known World by Edward P. Jones was the longest book I have read and man, it was a slog to get through.  Way too many characters and jumping back and forth in time.  Sometimes I just can’t stand to abandon a book.  Hopefully I’ll have a more satisfying title to share next month.

And, we all read Julius’ other assigned reading for his history of India study, Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan.  This was an excellent choice for a study of India’s culture.  I highly recommend this one for a historical fiction novel for a mature third grader all the way up to 8th grade.

Looking ahead, we’re planning another home-birth with our favorite midwife.  I will surely write up another piece on this experience to share with you all.  Accordingly, we probably won’t get much done on the house.  If you’re into sending positive vibrations, I’ll gladly accept them for strength and willpower to bring this baby into the world.  “Her” due date is around March 20th.  A spring equinox baby would be just fine with me.

Update: Just after writing this blog, Aaron decided the wind had died down enough to apply some foam to the roof!

Spray-foam insulation

Spray-foam insulation

It turns out that the stuff has a steep learning curve for consistent depth of application.  It isn’t nearly as rigid as we imagined.  I think it would be after several applications, but the spring could bring hail, which is worrisome.  I think we covered about 20% of the east room with this first application, so we’re going to need A LOT more.

Happy homesteading!



Reflections on January, 2017

January 2017

Snow at Home Farm

Snow at Home Farm

Consisting of a mixture of pseudo-spring days and bitter cold snowy ones, January has been quite an exciting month.  In the beginning, the kids watched out the window for snow and we were all pleased that it actually came down and stuck to the ground.  Oklahoma often gets forecasted snow that actually falls as huge pebbles of ice.  We got lucky with soft powdery snow that by the second day, was ready to be packed into snow balls and snowmen.  The boys also enjoyed bringing in icicles to lick while they sat by the warm fire.  Now, as I type this, it is 72 degrees outside with full sun and the slightest breeze.

A classic snowman

A classic snowman

This weather has allowed us to get a surprising amount of outdoor work done during winter.  And it’s the kind of work you can see.  It always brings me great joy to write a blog when I can say that something is finished.  Completed.  We won’t be doing that whatever it was gruesome labor anymore.  This month, that thing is the cutting and raising porch timbers.

The wrap-around porch

The wrap-around porch

After 20 uprights, 19 hinges, and 80 overhang logs, we have completed the framework for the wrap-around porch.  That’s 120 or so logs we cut, dragged out of the woods, skinned, and attached in their new homes on our porch.  There were some that just didn’t look right once we got them here, so they became firewood.  At the planning stage of this house, I hadn’t imagined we’d be using so many timbers.  But the porch is gorgeous.  I can’t wait to construct our outdoor kitchen, put up our porch swing, and generally relax in our many climates of shade.

The porch makes the house look twice as big!

The porch makes the house look twice as big!

All around the house, we’ve created these little microclimates.  The back on the north side is shaded 95% of each day and is often windy in the winter.  That is where our outdoor summer kitchen will be, and eventually, our earthbag hot-tub.  The front, or south of the house doesn’t have a porch; only a 2-3 foot overhang, so it is “always” sunny and warm.  In the summer, it is unbearably hot.  In the winter, it is where we take breaks and eat lunch on milder days.  The west side is warm in the afternoons, but is often windy.  The east side is often the least windy and that’s where we’ve been known to relax in many different seasons.  The east is also where the greenhouse will be.  It will enclose the east door to the boys’ room and probably be a nice warm room to have breakfast on cold winter mornings.

On the colder days, Aaron worked on the sink and hot water heater, which is not as fabulous as the Amazon reviews claimed, but it will do for washing dishes for now, and doing lots of science projects with Julius (10).  They have been electroplating coins, little toys, scrap metal wire, and my precious silverware.  Just kidding.  I’ve never owned a piece of silverware that anyone would consider precious.  Along with his new inventions kit and the electromagnet projects in it, they have also created strange colored solutions that produced very appealing little crystals.  Julius has been learning all about current, electricity, chemistry, and chemical solutions.  And to think I was worried about him not getting enough science!  That’s one of our parenting wins; I excel at language and history, while Daddy kicks butt in the hard sciences.

Electroplated coins: A lesson in electricity and chemistry

Electroplated coins: A lesson in electricity and chemistry

While my scientists are busy at the table, which is strewn about with chemicals, electrical wires, magnets, and other science-nerd paraphernalia, I have been busting my butt moving the ladder around and filling in the remaining spaces between the wall and roof.  This has been one of our weaker points as a couple; disagreeing about the right amount of bottles, the color choices, and their positions in the wall.  However, this is another win for January.  All those spaces are finally filled in!  No more bags of straw to be pushed out in violent winds.  Because we wanted to quickly fill in the gaps, the cob up there is not beautiful.  It will require more attention to give it an aesthetic quality.  This beautification, as I like to call it, will happen as soon as possible to discourage insects wedging in.

Our earthbag buddies have been telling us how amazing the papercrete is as an exterior wall covering.  Aaron has been gearing his mind toward building a tow-behind papercrete mixer.  If you are unfamiliar with papercrete it is a mix of paper, sand and cement.

Other than those 2 decent milestones, there is not a lot to report for January.  Until we get to the books.  This is my favorite part of the ugly winter; diving into the literary worlds of others to escape my own world.  I should admit here that on the more bleak days, I have done a bit of wallowing.  When it seems that we will be walking on cold dirt floors for all eternity, and I lack the gentle patience I used to have with parenting because the discomforts make me irritable, it is so easy to slip into the comfortable bath-tub that is depression.  Mostly due to pregnancy hormones, our isolation out here, and the discomforts of our living situation, I find that books provide a distraction from my depression.

Julius (10): The Enemy by Charlie Higson, The Crimson Crown (the last of the Seven Realms series) by Cinda Williams Chima, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  On one of our library trips, Julius’ eyes lit up when he realized there was an entire adult fiction section.  He had been reading all the books in the teen room.  Now, he’s got Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.

Aaron: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness, The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Burning Bridge, and Graceling.  That’s another series he and Julius are reading together.

Mason (2.5): Now that he’s discovered the collections on the back of the books, we’ve been binging on the Berenstain Bears.  “In the big treehouse down a sunny dirt road deep in bear country…”  Mason is getting pretty good at reciting it as well.

Yours truly: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead was difficult to read for many reasons.  First, his writing style was very hard to get into.  If it can be called a “style,” he uses incomplete sentences.  Almost like thoughts spilling out onto the page, instead of carefully crafting them together.  Maybe he did this for emphasis, but I found it very distracting.  I had to re-read many sentences over again, looking for the proper verb, or what I had missed that made the sentence seem incomplete.  Second, he jumps all over in time, often without any warning.  We’re with Cora in her present life and then in the next paragraph, we’re back on the plantation, with the perspective of another character.  Third, the characters were forgettable.  There were a cornucopia of them and many times, I didn’t even have a clear enough picture of them to tell whether they were black or white.  This is important in a novel about slavery.  Finally, the subject matter was my mother’s passion.  She was a reenactor at a genuine Underground Railroad site in our home town.  I would have loved to hear her thoughts about this story.  My final thought on this book is that it reminded me of Quinten Tarentino’s Django movie.

Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide to Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan is an absolutely necessary book about how to bring up moral children in a secular fashion.  It answered so many questions I had about how to raise positive, religiously literate, logical children in a world where they are surrounded by God-fearers.  I took so many notes on activities, ideas for celebrations, how to deal with the death of loved ones, and resources for a detailed study on world religions for our homeschool.

Highly recommended for secular families

Highly recommended for secular families

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park was a well-written novel for upper elementary to middle school students about two children in Africa and their struggles with war and water.  We had lots of big juicy conversations with Salva’s story.  This was a supplement to our ancient Africa study.

Currently, I am making myself finish To Kill a Mockingbird, which I put down a long time ago.

Looking ahead to next month, on weather permitting days, we’ll finish the decking and trim on the porch and do some more research into insulating the roof.  We had looked into the spray-foam insulation, but aren’t quite set on that approach yet.  We’ll also be preparing for baby number 3, due mid-March.

Happy homesteading and best wishes for this new year!