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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!