Reflections on June, 2017

It is the 30th day of June and I type this next to a window that frames a glorious rain which broke the pattern of heavy and hot humidity smothering us.  The cool breeze, distant thunder, and soft drops of rain are the ultimate reprieve.  Thank you, Mother Earth.

Our middle guy celebrated his third birthday and shortly after, sprouted up 3 inches and expounded, with his brilliant vocabulary, on the necessary materials he would need to build his own house when he gets “big.”  It seems like just yesterday, I was still nursing him.

He has “helped” with the foremost task this month of cobbing.  Alright, he stomped in the mud once and then whined for an hour about not being able to wash it off completely and henceforth, has not been allowed on the cob tarp.  You’d think someone who literally grew up in the dirt would be cool with some mud on their feet.

cob making on tarp

Making more cob

An extra special surprise came for him near his birthday, one that my dad says his parents did when I was little.  My dad and step-mom came down the dirt road lugging a huge load in the back of their pick-up.

pick up truck hauling swingset

Grandparents bring a surprise!

The boys were so excited. Each one got to unwrap a swing, the answer to the mystery of why I was clearing a small plot of land just south of our house.  I had told them that Grandpa would be bringing “some equipment.”  We were all impressed.

Grandma and Grandpa hug the kiddos

Grandmas and Grandpas are the best

 

swingset

Swingset on the farm

Ever since we moved out here, I imagined building a play-house or fort that the boys could call their own.  I have come to the astonishing discovery though, that there isn’t enough time to DIY everything.  A person could go quite crazy trying.

The playground has brought up some interesting debates about landscaping and how to deal with the ground cover surrounding it.  We’ve tossed around ideas about mulch, half-buried tires, buffalo grass, and polyculture lawn plantings.  We want low maintenance ground cover for a high-traffic area.  I can’t wait to tell you what we come up with… as soon as we figure it out.

Back to cobbing…

It is such a satisfying feeling to apply cob that will permanently stay on the wall!  If you’re new to this blog adventure, I’ll tell you that cobbing our precious walls and then watching it melt off in driving rains is not an exclusive observance.  In fact, when talking about what kind of house we’re building, I am tempted to say earthbag and cob, instead of just earthbag.  But this time it’s final.  The cob goes on and stays on!

I’m working on building out the corners around the windows so that they’re even and nicely rounded.  I’m also trying to keep in mind that an eighth of an inch of earthen plaster will go over this final cob layer.

Smoothing out the corners

Smoothing out the corners

Much of the old cob has to be removed because the rains washed off all the straw and clay and left a powdery soft layer that simply sloughs off when wetted.  So we use a flathead screwdriver to pry off those layers and then use a broom to sweep the remaining loose dirt, causing an uproar of dust in the house.

Then the fresh new cob goes on, filling in low spots and smoothing over all the flat surfaces, but maintaining our round walls.  It is slow progress in between feedings and homeschool, but we’re getting there.

The rock wall we built for the step up into the middle room did not pass the Grandpa Height test.  Both of them had to duck their heads, so we reluctantly removed a layer.  Behold!  Aaron got to use our fancy magnesium float to smooth out this step, which is height-appropriate.

fortified earth step

Fortified earth step

This is a fortified earth mix, just like the floor material, only we skipped the sifting step.  Then we built another wall in the middle room for the next step up.  Now, we are amidst the arduous task of bringing in wheelbarrows of dirt to bring the floor up to the right height in what will be our kitchen and living space.

Some bummer news is that our floor in the west room (future master bedroom) is showing quite a bit of cracking.  We are not sure if the soil underneath is swelling or settling and sinking, but it has caused numerous large cracks.  This is another place where I’ll admit that I am super excited to tell you the solution… as soon as we figure it out!

Slightly off-topic, but a memorable experience I shared with my oldest and youngest sons was the play we saw: Mel Brooks’ version of Young Frankenstein, which is totally inappropriate for a 10 year old, but we talk about “stuff” you know?  I was so scared about keeping the baby quiet (the will-call lady reminded me that they don’t usually allow babies) and go figure, in the U-shaped seating arrangement around the stage, my seat was right next to the sign language interpreter, who was under a spotlight.  Every time I had to nurse him under the blanket, he flopped his arms around and tugged on the blanket, nearly exposing parts that I’d rather not have showcased.  However, I’d like to think that when the audience recalls seeing that play, they will not remember the lady with the baby, but the main character’s actor who proposed on stage to his girlfriend at the close of the show.  Whew!

The gardens are well.  June has provided enough rain that we haven’t had to water, but for a couple of days.  The watermelons I planted up on the berm are popping up, and the melons in the sunken garden beds are looking lively.  Only one of the cherry trees has significant grasshopper damage.  Hopefully this little bit of rain will knock the green buggers back a smidge.

boy in front of beans on trellis

Green beans growing on our trellis

I guess okra is a heavier feeder than I thought because it grew so big so fast in Illinois, but here, it hasn’t gotten over a foot tall in these past 3 years that I’ve planted it.

That brings me to another sharing point.  We made compost tea with our vermicompost.  It sat in this bubbly bucket for around 18 hours and gave off a wonderful, yet mild, sweet earthy smell.  I watered the tea into all the garden plants and the trees.  I suppose we’re ready for another round of that good stuff.

drilling tube bubbler

Drilling holes into a tube to make a bubbler

 

compost tea bucket

Compost tea, for the plants to drink

Remember the biogas digester?  I discuss it in more detail in this blog, but the gist is, we put waste materials in and methane gas comes out.  Well, it’s stored in a big tank and then we use a tiny bit of electricity (3-5 watt aqaurium air pump) to pump it into the house to our Coleman camp stove.  In this way, we have not been using the propane stove but on occasion, and when coffee is needed more promptly than the camp stove can make it.

biogas campstove breakfast free energy

Bio-gas powered breakfast!

Did you catch that?  We’ve been cooking the majority(60-75%) of our meals with upcycled waste energy!  We didn’t buy the gas or the electricity to cook the food; we harvested it ourselves.  It’s these little (or big) achievements that make this funky homesteading lifestyle worth it.

And, for the literary section of the blog.

Julius decided to re-read his old friend, Harry Potter.  So far in the month of June, he’s quickly devoured the first 4 books.  And he’s two-thirds of the way through The Order of the Phoenix.  He also read book 9 of the Ranger’s Apprentice: Halt’s Peril, and the Illustrated Classics version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Mason has been enjoying a storybook collection of Frozen stories.  Somehow, we didn’t have a copy of Goodnight Moon present in the first three years of his life.  So when I saw it at the Goodwill, I grabbed it.  He likes to repeat all the text after me.  Perhaps he’ll have it memorized soon.

I decided to pick something different for Aaron at one of our library trips.  It’s a historical fiction novel called the Gold Eaters by Ronald Wright.  I wasn’t sure if he’d like it, and it started really slowly for him, but he ended up really enjoying it.

My latest book, mentioned in the last blog, has maybe been the most difficult read of my 2017 reading challenge, but also the most rewarding.  Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese is just shy of 600 pages and dense, with lots of description and poetic language.  It is not a book I’d recommend to everyone, but I have suggested it to my godmother, my midwife, and a select couple of friends I have who might want to commit to such a profound story.  I’d like to sum up this moving read with 2 quotes:

“In America, my initial impression was that death or the possibility of it always seemed to come as a surprise, as if we took it for granted that we were immortal and that death was just an option.”

“Sometimes I think we surgeons wear masks to conceal our desires, to hide our willingness to violate the body of another.”

Ok, just one more…

“A mad alchemist, she throws a pinch of this, a little of that, then wets her fingers and flings that moisture into the mortar.  She pounds with the pestle, the wet, crunchy thunk, thunk soon changes to the sound of stone on stone.”

cutting for stone on kindle

I just loved the writing in this book; I could write pages of quotes, and I have.  It is bittersweet to read something you love so much that you know whatever you read next can’t possibly touch you in the same way.  Only 3 books remain on my 2017 Reading Challenge.

Next month we’ll be focused on the floor in the middle room, creating an awesome birthday for the biggest boy, and hopefully working with some earthen plaster.  Have a safe and happy America’s birthday and, happy homesteading!

boy in garden

 

 

 

 

Reflections on May, 2017

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!  I am serious; mothering is hard work.  We have 3 children, 2 dogs, a cat, 9 chickens, 1 remaining guinea, and 35 cows to care for.  Building a home with no electricity or plumbing, out on a windy prairie, and trying to keep everyone alive and well-fed without losing our heads is no easy task.  Now, I’m not saying that mothering in a climate-controlled environment with running water is any easier.  I’ve done both.  And actually, in some ways, our lifestyle is easier.  Take the runaway naked toddler.  Living in town, this is a problem.  Living on our homestead, it’s not.  We don’t have to keep our dogs on leashes or limit ourselves to hens rather than having a protective rooster, and I can hang my laundry on the line without fear that my neighbors will see my underwear.  There are pros to country living.

The same goes for mothering.  Some days we get very little work done on the house because of “poop-mergencies,” mastering difficult concepts in our homeschool, and dropping everything to breastfeed every 3 hours.  But then there are those moments when the naked toddler looks up at the stars that we can see so brilliantly, out here away from the lights of civilization, and he starts singing Twinkle Twinkle out of tune, but heart-warming nonetheless.  Or when the 5th grader makes a connection between his biology lesson and the weeding he’s helping me with in the garden.  Or when I’m exhausted from shoveling dirt and sit down to nurse, and just before he latches on, baby takes a moment to gaze into my eyes with that soft, toothless smile.  So cheers to all the moms!  Even if your kids (or animals) don’t show their appreciation, they love you to the moon and back, and I appreciate you.  🙂

During our free-time (ha!) we’ve been pecking away at the floor in the west room.  We only lack one section now, having done 3 that have gotten better and easier each time.  We’ve upgraded our process by smashing the chunks of dirt and sifting them through the vibratory separator.  And while we’ve had trouble keeping the tamper from sticking to the wetted floor,  we’ve still been able to tamp it before all the cement reacts.  Read about beginning this process here.

Vibratory separator for sifting floor soil

Vibratory separator for sifting floor soil

Our floor sections turn out hard with no cracks, though they do have little depressions from standing water and tamping indentations.  The floor scratches easily with hard objects.  However, the plan is to buff these out somehow before we apply the protective coating and sealer.  I am open to suggestions on this.  Linseed oil is recommended most often, but I’ve heard it breaks down in the sunlight, and we’ll have plenty of that in this room.  One option is cement paint that goes on basement floors, but that would cover the beautiful warm earthen color, which is all the hype in earthen flooring.  I read in this blog that gum turpentine can be used along with linseed oil for a hard, moppable finish.

Soil cement flooring and the first step

Soil cement flooring and the first step

We’ve also begun the step into the middle room.  This will have a circular “landing” in the archway and another rounded step up into the central room (kitchen).  We have talked about using the round granite pieces, cut-outs from faucets and pipes, to grout into the steps.  We’ll see when we actually get to that point.  We don’t have much play in the height of that step due to our low archway.

Soil cement as grout for concrete chunk step

Soil cement as grout for concrete chunk step

Since the weather has been gorgeous, I’ve been planting in the garden.  Now that the roof is done, we feel like we can branch out away from exclusive house work and give some attention to the garden and other landscaping projects.  I was so inspired by my father’s back patio that I spent nearly an entire day just looking at and daydreaming about our future outdoor kitchen and back patio.

My dad's back patio in Illinois that I envy

My dad’s back patio in Illinois that I envy

We’re not even close to having something like this, but it is important to have a muse.  I finally got our birdhouse gourds fastened to the bird perch.

Birdhouse gourds (we grew)

Birdhouse gourds (we grew)

We grew these gourds the summer of 2015, when practically everything else was eaten by grasshoppers.  They dried for about 2 years.  Then we drilled 1 inch holes and painted them before coating with a couple of layers of Mod Podge.  The one on the left is screwed to some wood, which is screwed to the board.  There is a screw sticking into the nesting area, which may or may not disturb the birds.  The other two are tied on with baling string, after much finagling.  I’ll let you know if we get some guests in any of them.

Birdhouse gourds waiting for tenants

Birdhouse gourds waiting for tenants

I have planted some cilantro, dill, basil, carrots, green beans, 3 varieties of tomatoes, peppermint, banana melons, burgundy okra, bell peppers, and beets into our new sunken garden beds, and corn, watermelon, and peppers into our keyhole garden.  I was worried about the freshly planted seeds when a deluge of rain filled up the beds, but as you can see, they maintained their straight little rows!  We are working on some compost tea to give these plants a boost.

Our cilantro and carrots are off to a good start

Our cilantro and carrots are off to a good start

Mother earth is quite proud of her plantings as well.  We have such a variety of wild flowers around us including; Indian paintbrush and Indian blanket, bee balm, coreopsis,  perennial sunflower and geranium, and quite a few others of which I have yet to learn the names.

Wildflowers!

Wildflowers!

Our prickly pear cactus is also in full bloom.  It is a spectacle to see how fast they grow, and often from the willy-nilliest of plantings.  Julius literally scattered some of them about last fall and they have popped out “leaves” and flowers already.

Prickly pear

Prickly pear

Prickly pear in bloom

Prickly pear in bloom

Though May is my favorite month here, I am relieved to tell it goodbye because it means we are past the biggest threat of tornado activity which could destroy our precious few baby trees.  Feast your eyes on this marvel of a storm front that barely missed us:

Cumulonimbus on the move

Cumulonimbus on the move

May books:

Julius (10) Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Reader’s Edition by Michael Pollan, which took him longer than his fantasy books, but he managed.  He was really impressed with Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm and wants to go visit!  He also read The Forgotten Warrior, The Last Hope, Night Whispers, and Sign of the Moon, the Cat Warrior books in Erin Hunter’s series, and Happenstance Found by P.W. Catanese.

Me: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, to cross off a young adult novel on my reading challenge.  I started another book for my facebook book club called Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, which is long (almost 500 pages) but I am loving it!  It has lots of medical references that I never thought I would be interested in, and the language is beautiful.  It’s about twin boys, literally cut apart at birth and raised by the surgeon who almost killed them during delivery in Addis Ababa.  The book follows the lives of the twins as they get older and move to other places, so it has some really interesting geographical aspects.

Aaron: Reboot and Rebel, the duology by Amy Tintera, The 47th Samurai by Stephen Hunter, and Finnikin of the Rock (The Lumatere Chronicles Book 1) by Melina Marchetta.  I’m getting really good at picking books for him.  I just skim the young adult section for dark-colored fantasy books that don’t involve WWII or zombies (there are more than you’d think) and he typically devours them.

Mason (2 and 11/12): I have invented a miracle for breastfeeding mothers with toddlers!  You get the baby nursing, have the toddler pick a book they can easily hold and open, and have them turn the pages while you read.  When you’re done reading a page, say “Bing!” just like those old books on tape.  Its good to start with books with only a few words on each page.  He and I love reading this way.  I’m sure the baby enjoys it too.  This month we read the Star Wars felt picture book no fewer than 11 times.  It only has one word on each page, so the story-line is a little different each time.

Next month’s possibilities: Priming and painting the wood trim around the roof, putting up gutters to collect more rainwater since our invisible gutters didn’t pan out, and finishing the floor in the west room.

 

Happy Homesteading!

Happy Homesteading!

 

 

 

Reflections on April, 2017

April showers are no match for our homestead endeavors!  We made some real progress this month.  First and most importantly, we are totally and entirely waterproof!  No more buckets to catch drips from the roof.  No more hot black roof heating up the house in our long summers.  No more flappy, degrading underlayment material up there.

Because of a great blessing from family, we were able to hire a professional spray-foam installer.  He sprayed the roof with 1-inch over the porches, and 2 inches over the interior of the home in the space of about 5 hours.  We were going to be adding foam at a much slower rate, had it not been for this blessing.

Spray-foam application, professional-style!

Spray-foam application, professional-style!

 

Spray-foam roof

Spray-foam roof

 

The elf shoes of a professional spray-foam installer

The elf shoes of a professional spray-foam installer

Yes, we can walk on it.  Yes, I think it’s fairly hail proof.  The night immediately following application, we had some hail.  It wasn’t golf-balls, but bigger than marbles.  No harm to the foam!  It does degrade in the sun, so we have to protect it.

Now the task at hand is protecting the foam with elastomeric roof coating.  We’re using Henry’s 587 Durabrite White from the Depot.  This stuff is thick!  I was trying to think of a way to describe it, and the closest thing to it’s viscosity is over-mixed pancake batter.  But really it’s thicker than that.  We got a 55 gallon drum to cover nearly all of the first coat.  We’re having another shipped to finish the remaining bare spray foam and to do the second coat.

Elastomeric roof coating

Elastomeric roof coating

I thought the rain would sound different through the insulation, but it only muffles it the tiniest amount.  During heavy rains, we still have to speak up over the noise.  It does take care of a lot of the whistling noise we heard through cracks in the roof.

The west room continues to progress nicely.  We finished leveling the floor on windy days.  Bringing in wheelbarrows of dirt was a slow but steady process.  Aaron chipped away at the wall of dirt that’s higher all around the east of the house.  The top loads with top soil were dumped in the front to extend the flat “yard,” and the sub soil loads were dumped into the west room and subsequently rolled over and smashed down by all manner of trucks, tractors, and matchbox cars.  Then, in between feedings, I scraped and leveled, leveled and scraped.  I sprinkled more on low spots and scraped again.  And leveled and scraped.  (I’m not very good at leveling).

Leveling

Leveling

We decided that breaking the floor into sections would be more manageable, so we’ve done the first third so far.  We used a ratio of 1-9 Portland cement to subsoil.  Like I have mentioned before, we don’t mix anything in the wheelbarrow; a tarp is the most efficient way to get a really uniform mix.  Then we shoveled it into our 1/3 space (sectioned off with some 2x4s) and leveled and tamped, tamped and leveled.

Always mix on a tarp, not in the wheelbarrow

Always mix on a tarp, not in the wheelbarrow

Our new floor is about 2 inches thick.  Aaron thought we should try sprinkling some charcoal on it to make a pretty design.  Not so sure we like it.  Not so sure we’ll do it on the next section.  Anyway, the last step was to wet it, so that happened relatively quickly with the hose.  It was surprising to see how much water soaked in.  It seemed like we could just add more and more until it finally began to pool on the surface.

Stabilized earth: wetting the floor

Stabilized earth: wetting the floor

There are no cracks yet!  It seems like there is a rough crumbly texture on top and it might be high in the middle and lower adjacent to the walls.  If we ever do a protective coating or tiling, that will take care of that.  Overall we are happy with this method.

2 inch thick fortified earth floor

2 inch thick fortified earth floor

Side note on house performance #1:

The outside temp has been 80 degrees for the past 2 days, but the inside has stayed rather like a cave, at 63.  We’ve been keeping the doors and windows closed, and after being outside in the sun, coming in feels like walking into grocery stores’ air conditioning door blowers.  I guess, without the blowing.  Before we had the insulation on, the afternoons would get mighty toasty inside.  I hope it continues to perform this well in the summer.

Comfort!

Comfort!

For Easter, my mother in law gifted us with some chickens; the gift that keeps on giving.  We had to build a new coop since our last one was demolished by Saul.  That’s the name I’ve chosen, after much deliberation, for the wind. I don’t think Saul can tamper with this new design.  There are 9 chickens, one of which has feathered feet.  The boys like to climb in and “humanize” them every other day or so.

Building the new coop

Building the new coop

 

The boys working on the coop

The boys working on the coop

 

The wind can't hurt this moveable chicken coop

The wind can’t hurt this moveable chicken coop

We’ve got this propane tank right?  It holds 500 gallons and we figure that with the stove and fridge, we’ll have used all of it in 4 years.  We are able to use the methane from our digester to cook on occasionally as well.  Aaron has discovered through research that cactus makes an excellent feedstock for the methane digester.  His goal is to have a better setup for storage for the methane and an abundance of these cactus to feed the digester so that in 4 years, we’ll run all our appliances on methane.  The prickly pear cactus is pretty resilient, so at the least, it adds a nice touch of life to the landscape.

 

Prickly pear cactus and future feedstock

Prickly pear cactus and future feedstock

We’ve done a little bit of gardening in between feedings.  Aaron put up this lovely trellis, now that we have a porch to hang such a thing.  So far we have some green beans and indeterminate heirloom tomatoes planted under it.

Lovely trellis

Lovely trellis

We planted some seeds in our sunken garden bed, but right after, we had a heavy rain and I’m pretty sure many of the seeds were washed away.  As part of our homeschool unit on botany, ecology, and our modern food system, Julius will be planting some seeds into the keyhole garden bed.  More on that soon.

Side note on house performance #2:

Our overhang now creates shade enough that no sunbeams make it into the windows.  Just as we planned it.  Just in time for the cooling season.  It is so gratifying when designs function as planned.

Lastly, I have designed myself a 2017 Reading Challenge, and as it appears that I may actually follow through with it, I think I’ll share it with you.  I’d like to move beyond my comfort zone a bit with my book choices.  Graphic novels and romances are not my thing, so I thought I should give them a try.  I also want to expand my horizons in a worldly way, so that’s why I’ve chosen a book in translation and a book with a setting in another country.  As you can see, I am right on target if I read one a month that I can mark off this list.

Reading Challenge 2017

Reading Challenge 2017

The book I read that isn’t listed on my challenge yet is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I really enjoyed this long, young adult Nazi Germany novel.  It was sad but had so much love in it that it didn’t disturb my highly sensitive postpartum emotions.

Another WWII novel

Another WWII novel

Aaron read The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It contains 5 books.  He kept reading us excerpts of funny parts.  Just enough to spark Julius’ interest and refrain mine.  Maybe its space.  I don’t like space.

Julius is working on Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma young reader’s edition for homeschool.  He also read the next Erin Hunter Warrior book in the series.  And March, the graphic novel listed further below.

And, while Mason hasn’t had as much book-reading attention due to baby needs, we did find this gem at the library:

Books!!

Books!!

Happy Earth Day.  Happy Easter.  Happy Homesteading!

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