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

 

 

 

 

1 comment to Reflections on June, 2017

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>