Reflections on November, 2015

Fall 2015

November sends chilly breezes across the landscape as the winds shift and begin to blow from the cold north instead of the warm south.  I always imagine the cold places the wind is originating from when it blows up my jacket and sends chills throughout my body.  Maybe the cold rocks of some North Dakota rangeland, or perhaps a shadowy and piney forest in upper Minnesota.  I also think of that Bob Dylan song,

“If you’re travelin’ in the north country fair,

Where the winds hit heavy, on the borderline…

…Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm,

To keep her from the howling wind.”

One night, all cuddled and warm in the east room of our earthbag home, we awoke to a most obnoxious cold wind blowing right on our faces and the abrupt disturbance of tarps flapping loudly on the roof.  Apparently, that north-country-fair-wind decided to come crashing through our still-as-a-photograph evening.  My brave and caring partner climbed up on the roof and fixed the flapping tarp in the middle of the night.  What a wonderful man he is.

Our little earthbag room on the prairie isn’t fully winterized yet.  We did figure out a filler for the gap between the wall and the roof.

All those bags are filled with straw and ready to be tucked into the gaps above the wall.

Those bags are filled with straw and ready to be tucked into the gaps above the wall.

By using feed sacks stuffed with straw we were able to quickly block a large portion of the hole at the top of the wall.  We’ll need more to get a better seal, but it really helps with keeping the wind out.  This is just a temporary measure to make our ever-longer evenings more comfortable.  When we get the horizontal porch beams up on the exterior, they will fill in some of that gap, and then we’ll use bottles and cob to finalize that area.

Finally, we have managed to install our east door.  Though it still has a gap above it, that will easily be close with a piece of foam board.  Then, it was time to installed a temporary door between the east and middle room.  It fills in most of the large archway opening.  Aaron built up a little platform with boards so that the bottom of the door is closer to where it will be when we get our floors done, and so that the door fills up more of the upper archway space.  We used the blocks leftover from the red and blue pallets as filler behind the pink board insulation.  Now we just need to fill in the top gap and we’ll have an amazingly more wind-proof room in which to over-winter our family.

Note the awesome shadow cast by the roof beams

Note the awesome shadow cast by the roof beams.  Of course, we’ll only be able to enjoy the play of light and form until the roof is covered.

 

Door in place

Door in place

I spent about 4 days moving out all the dirt and essentially lowering the floor to just below the bottom row of tires.  I had to rearrange the room a couple of times so we could continue living in there, but also to be able to access all the dirt.  I am proud to admit that I have achieved near-expert status at leveling earth floors.  It can be very tricky to shave off just the right amount of dirt and very easy to get overly-picky about its level.  One could literally spend hours shaving off and adding more until a near-perfect level is achieved.  I didn’t go to this extreme because this isn’t the final floor.  We’ve still got to insulate before we start on the final earthen floor and we’ll probably finish cobbing the interior walls of that room before we attempt that.

Taking out the last of the dirt...

Taking out the last of the dirt…

Introducing heat to our hovel just became a top priority.  We haven’t decided on the exact style of heater, but I know we’ve got to get it assembled quick because it is just dreadful getting into the icy-cold bed at night and getting out of it in the bitter mornings.  We’d really like to have a cook-stove AND mass heater in the room but I’m not sure that’s sensible.  As, we’re also only looking for this to be a temporary heating apparatus so we don’t want to spend too much time on it.  We tossed around the idea of a 55 gallon barrel as a wood-burning stove to place in the center of the room.  However, I’m not sure about cooking on that.  I will be sure to take lots of pictures when we get our heat source figured out.

Steadily, we’ve been collecting and dismantling pallets and Aaron has been adding them to the roof frame, when its not raining or threatening to blow him off the roof.  I think we will soon run out of pallets and have to dismantle the birthing stable!  It will be a sad day in one sense, because that is the very location where my second beautiful son took his first breaths, and satisfying in another sense, because that poor shack leans more with every rain and even more satisfying because those boards will become the roof over our heads.  We’re talking about some serious up-cycling!

The guineas, of which there are only 5 now, have been enjoying the roof frame, hanging out up there and watching over the homestead.  I think they will cease using that spot after it gets a layer of slick tarp.

Guineas on the lookout..

Guineas on the lookout..

We have a new addition to the farm, Caddo, the cat.  He is not very unique as far as cats go, prefering all things cat-like in nature.  He baths in the sun, catches mice (Yippee!) attempts to sleep on our faces at night, and chases after the laser pointer, causing a great eruption of laughter from the whole family.  Here is Mason, learning how not to hold him.

Mason and Caddo

Mason and Caddo.  Note the absence of pants.

This November I attended my week-long Certified Lactation Counselor training in Midwest City, Oklahoma.  I had such a wonderful time, by myself, in my quiet, climate-controlled, clean hotel room in the evenings.  The training was at the Sheraton, but I got a cheaper, just as fine quality hotel nearby that was only a 5 minute walk across a parking lot and a field with gorgeous trees and some interesting mushrooms growing near them.  The breakfast was better than most, the hotel staff were pleasant, and the room was clean and comfortable.  Now I’ll tell you about the class, because if you’re like someone else I know, you’re wondering what in the heck about breastfeeding takes 5 days to learn!  Well here’s the gist of it:

  • Patterns of breastfeeding around the world
  • The most common reasons why women choose not to breastfeed
  • The most common reasons why women stop breastfeeding after starting
  • How to assess a breastfeed
  • How to appropriately council a woman on her breastfeeding
  • Steps that hospitals can take to improve breastfeeding success
  • Anatomy of the breast & how milk is made
  • How diet, medications, and birth interventions affect milk supply
  • Where to find scientific evidence and research on the pros of breastfeeding
  • Policies and laws that promote, support, and protect breastfeeding
  • What a Lactation Consultant’s scope of practice includes and excludes
  • How to assist mothers with special needs babies (Down’s, cleft pallets, tongue tie)
  • Where to get more training and continuing education related to breastfeeding

Now, given that most of these women have nursed babies of their own, and each one wants to share their incredible breastfeeding success stories, can you believe all this was crammed into 5 days?  I learned so much!  I did some networking and came up with some great ideas for starting my own consulting business.  Now I just need some experience shadowing a CLC while she assists some mothers and babies.  Here are my excellent instructors from the Healthy Children’s Project, based out of Massachusetts.

My lactation counselor training instructors, Donna and Sheri.

My lactation counselor training instructors, Donna and Sheri.

Now I want to elaborate on our winter outdoor living space.  If you can recall my blog about Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, you’ll remember how I talked about creating spaces outdoors that extend the space inside the home.  Many homes have a very abrupt difference between the interior of the home and the outside.  But it is possible, during the building process, to make a more harmonious transition between the in and the out and create living spaces for people, animals, and plants to cohabit.  We took our breakfast out on the south side patio area mid-November, and felt very warm and comfortable despite the cold winds hitting the north side of the house.  The east and west rooms extend out further than the middle room, which creates a little microclimate worthy of a full paragraph in this blog!  The temperature difference from the north side of the house and the south side is at least 10 degrees.  I am really looking forward to laying a flagstone or granite patio and adding chairs and edible landscaping plants to this area.  This is one of those times when we basked in the satisfaction of all our hard work.

And now for a bit of unfortunate news.  Our single honeybee hive has collapsed.  Not Colony Collapse Disorder, just a regular collapse.  When Aaron has gone out to check the pasture and move cows, many times he has passed the top bar hive and noticed wasps flying around among the lady bees.  After an inspection in the hive in early November to check honey stores, I noticed that the bees were not very protective, instead they just kind of flew around with no particular order, a sure sign that the hive is queen-less.  Only 2 of the combs had very little honey.  No brood to be seen anywhere.  There were bees, but not as many as usual.  In the bottom of the hive, I found 2 wasps, 1 grasshopper, and 2 black carpenter bees.

Foreign hymenoptera in our top bar hive.

Foreign hymenoptera in our top bar hive.

The combs themselves didn’t appear to have any damage to them.  I am working on researching exactly what went wrong, but so far, I know that having only 1 hive is less than ideal.  I will not be discouraged.  We will try again next year!

And now, for mushroom news!  Many people in a homesteading partnership find that many projects, like house-building, require both people all the time.  In fact, even when 1 of us can do some work on the house independently, we often don’t.  Maybe we need the drive from the other, or don’t feel quite confident enough to do that task alone. However, some projects are individual indeed, even though Aaron tries to take over many of mine, we work best when we each have a couple of our own things.  For me, blogging, playing the guitar and beekeeping are MY things.  He has been very helpful with the beekeeping, but we both try to maintain that its my thing.  Mushrooms are one of Aaron’s things that are solely his.

Mushroom Cultivation Paraphernalia

Mushroom Cultivation Paraphernalia

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook with mushrooms, I enjoy eating them, and I understand their many health benefits.  But I have absolutely no interest in growing them.  I’ve tried being interested, I just can’t.  When he talks to friends about mycelial growth, jar contamination, and inoculating the liquid substrate, my ears literally shut down.  I just can’t absorb that information.  He gets so excited about it though, I have to be supportive.

Inoculating jars

Inoculating jars

He’s inoculated 7 different species of mushrooms so far.  I named a few in the October blog.  He’s been so busy using the pressure cooker to sterilize jars and lids and then he “nocs them up” and they begin to grow!  Soon enough, we’ll be cooking with gourmet mushrooms that he grew on his own!

During the last week of November, we took an Illinois/Indiana trip to visit friends and family.  We had a great time at our farmer friends’ in Southern Illinois sharing stories about the year (this has become a roughly annual visit) about the ups and downs of farm life and raising children, animals, and mushrooms.  We got to check on our buddy Nick, who is also building his own home (straw-bale style).

Straw-bale build in action!

Straw-bale build in action!

Straw-bale interior (note the earth-bag stem wall)

Straw-bale interior (note the earth-bag stem wall)

Our Indianapolis Thanksgiving was awesome, despite our ignorance in Turkey-cooking.  It came out excellent after having some last-minute bacon grease smearing and a quick broil.  Ooh, that crispy skin.  The interior was moist and the flavor was so satisfying.  And then we made a quick jaunt back through Illinois where I was reminded of the black soil that surrounds my father’s country home.  Man, that soil is black!  Black gold, I tell you!  I mean black!  Illinois soil is so black… you get the point.  I will learn to love Oklahoma’s red earth.  I will!

One final note:  On the last day of November 2015, we ordered some Grace Ice and Water Sheild roof underlayment!  It should be delivered in a few days.  I am so excited for it.

I hope all my readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and or family.  It is a tradition in my family to take turns at the table and say what it is we are thankful for.  This year I announced I was thankful for Facebook, because without it, I wouldn’t be in touch with so many people I love, who care for and support what I believe in.  Thank you social media.  In recognizing the potentials of its harm, we must still be grateful for all its mycelial-like powers of connection!

A southern Illinois Tom, his lady-friend, and Mowgli, the Pyrenees

A southern Illinois Tom, his lady-friends, and Mowgli, the Pyrenees.

 

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