Getting plastered

Next month I will have lived in my straw bale house for twenty years. In all that time I haven’t managed to finish it — specifically, I have barely started the plastering. That would be the step that makes the straw bale house so incredibly insulated and worth the effort of going with straw bale in the first place.

So for just about twenty years I’ve been living in a structure that is basically not much more insulated than a tent. Wind blows right through the spaces between the bales, no matter how much I stuff those spaces with more straw and (lately) plastic bags. The exterior end walls have one coat of plaster, but the plaster doesn’t extend all the way up to the tops of the walls where they meet the roof. Wind blows through the gaps between the rafters so that when the wind blows hard the house becomes well ventilated. The long side walls are just straw.

The stuff holds up remarkably well in this dry climate but really, it’s time.

Problem is, I always seem to find something better to do than plaster. Writing, for instance. Or making fabric art. Or messing with the horses or walking or reading. Becoming enraged by Facebook, Googling all kinds of nonsense… so many things.

Even if I decided to get a move on, twenty years of living in a house means that there’s furniture against the walls and artwork hanging from them. And that means that in order to plaster inside, everything has to be moved away from the wall being worked on. In a tiny house it becomes a challenge to figure out where things can be stashed out of the way, and that means the plastering gets put off.

But then I started hearing people talk about what was coming this winter. If forecasts are accurate (and that’s not a given) this winter is supposed to be snowy in the southwest. I decided I had better get on with it. Wood is expensive and I don’t have much stockpiled whereas I’ve already got the cement and lime and sand.

I figured to start with an inside corner of the house where my fabric is stashed, because certainly I could live without working on wall art for a while. I started by moving the plastic tubs of fabric out to the barn, though since I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about doing so it took several days. Then I started on the boxes of stuff on shelves that had been hidden by the fabric… and that took longer because there were treasures in those boxes that needed examining.

Old photos. Books I had forgotten I had. Art supplies. It was like Christmas and birthdays all at once — great fun, but very time consuming.

Finally I got the corner emptied except for a chest of drawers, but I was not about to move furniture to the barn — so that just got pushed out of the way. Not very far away as you can see from the photo.  Maneuvering is a challenge in small spaces and I don’t like small spaces, but we gotta do what we gotta do.

I spent a whole day plastering this past weekend. Well, okay, most of a day. All right, about half a day. No matter, I worked till my arms felt like wet noodles and my back ached. One wheelbarrow load of mixed sand, cement, and lime yielded a discouragingly small amount of plaster on the wall: a section of about 4′ x 6′. Plus a section of wall outside , maybe 3′ x 3′, that used up the last of the plaster in the wheelbarrow without my having to go in and out of the house. Because there were now lots of flies in the house because I had to leave the door open so I could go in and out.
Out out damn flies!

In the big scheme of things house flies (or in my case, more likely manure flies) have brief lifespans. When they are in the house, however, they are around way too long. I swatted some but that’s icky. I put up fly paper and within hours managed to get it stuck on my sleeve. With flies on it. Ewwwww! I think I will resort to vacuuming them up when the house is cooler and they won’t want to move. Meanwhile, I have to accept that I’ll be driven crazy by them for a while longer.

Does that mean I can’t plaster any more till it’s too cold for flies outside?

Bad idea. Stay tuned to see what I do about the plaster/fly dilemma.

Meanwhile, I have a burning desire to do fabric art, now that everything is turned topsy-turvy. In fact, I woke up in the morning having dreamed about new techniques I could use. So today I have decided it’s much too cold out to be messing with plaster, and much too warm out to discourage flies from coming in through the open door — but it’s just right to play with fabric.

Let me throw some more wood on the fire.

 

PS: For those who are actually more serious about straw bale construction than I am, I do plan to use wire mesh on the corners by doors and windows. That’s a project for another day.

 

I’m just peachy

Peaches. That’s what’s on my mind. Last week I was given a couple dozen of them by a friend, freshly picked off his tree and handed over in a brown grocery bag where they would ripen. A couple days ago I remembered to check them and they were ready to go.

In the past I’ve made jams and liqueurs, but as yummy as they’ve been I didn’t want to do that again, particularly since I still have over a quart of peach liqueur left from last year. The peaches couldn’t wait for me to decide what to do so I decided to dry them. Easy peasy and I love dried fruit, so that was the way to go.

Ron’s peaches were all at the same perfect stage of ripe, and they all were wonderfully free of bug and bird damage, as well as bruising. Processing them was simple: Clean as needed, remove any damaged spots, cut around the peach equator and twist to break the peach into two, then pry out the pit, and slice the halves. Pop the end pieces in my mouth and place the rest on the dryer trays.

My dryer is the old fashioned kind — its contents are air dried. The drying takes longer than it would with an electric dehydrator but mine doesn’t use any power and I live in a dry climate so there’s no mold. The food being dried is protected from bugs and dust by a fine mesh cover that zips closed. The dryer is advertised as solar powered but I’ve hung mine inside the house, from the ceiling in my kitchen and have even rigged up a rope and pulley system so I don’t have to get on a ladder to check on how things are going.

Things are going nicely, two days later, as you can see. Maybe next week I’ll get to taste test. Yum!

 

Do what you love and love what you do

“You’ll do what you have to do to be able to do what you want to do.”

This is what a friend of mine said to me in an email this morning. Not only is it catchy but it’s true.  Except that it’s kind of grim.  Happily, for me what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do is already what I want to do.

Too convoluted? Well, let me give an example.  This morning, for instance…

This morning my eyes opened before the sun popped over the horizon. I have no idea why so early, but it was OK.  The room was chilly but I was toasty under oh, five or six layers of flannel blankets and quilts.  If I didn’t go back to sleep I could just laze around and let my mind wander.  I very much enjoy that luxury, because I’m not a morning person.  Oh, I get up at what seems like the crack of dawn, but a real morning person would sneer at the thought.

So I let some writing and art issues bubble up through the murk of sleep, not trying to guide them or even capture them. What came up might or might not be useful, but the luxury part of what I was doing involved just letting my subconscious do whatever it wanted. Of course, because I was half asleep I forgot most of it, but I figure that if the ideas got that far they really want to come out. Eventually they’ll pop to the surface while I’m awake and and I will capture them.

It wasn’t all that long, though, before my bladder and the cats demanded that I roll out of bed.  First thing after that was to shuck my PJs and get dressed. Why no lounging around with a cup of coffee? Well, for one thing, this morning it was 38°. Inside the house.

Obviously my immediate concern was to get the fire going in the wood stove. That meant clearing out ashes, and that means an ash bucket had to be nearby, so that I don’t have to go outside to get one. It might have been cold inside, but outside it was in single digits. It’s December in the high country, after all.

Once the ashes were removed I piled up the glowing embers and stacked wood around them so they’d ignite. That means that there had to be wood available, mind you, and there was (see ash bucket, above).

OK, fire going, coffee water heating on the kitchen stove while I fed the cats before they drove me crazy. By the time I was ready to enjoy my first sip of life-giving java, the wood stove had heated my little house to a reasonable temperature so that I could remove layers as I checked email.

Whoa! A patron signed up (the friend I quoted at the beginning of this post). Wow! Way to start the day!  (Reminder — support your friendly creator!  Thank you if you already have, and don’t be shy if you haven’t.  Any support is fantastic support.)




I feed the horses around 9 a.m. because generally it has warmed up some by that point. I’m not a fan of doing chores when it’s so cold my nostrils stick together when I breathe. In the summer I feed around 8 a.m. because it’s cooler. Due to Daylight Savings nonsense, from the horses’ point of view they’re being fed around the same time.  This is important because even though they’ve got grass hay available all the time, it’s not the same as those delectable flakes of alfalfa for breakfast.  My stallion, Koko, also gets pellets with probiotics in them, plus any fruit or veggie parts that are left over from my kitchen. He eats it all. You’d be amazed.

So as long as I’m outside, I’ve got other chores to do. First is breaking ice on the water troughs. Koko is always thirsty in the mornings, so I do his trough first. Then it’s time for some exercises — stuff left over from physical therapy for my hips that help keep me limber — and after that a short walk, about a half mile loop.

The walk lets me look out away from myself into the distance.  It reminds me I’m part of a much bigger system. It puts my own problems in perspective for a while. I stay on my own property and that walk also reminds me how wonderful it is that I get to live here, on this land. Each day there is something new to see. Coyote poop (full of barely-digested juniper berries right now), elk poop, horse poop, occasionally cow poop. Tracks of many kinds in the dust of the trail. If I’m lucky — and why I think it’s good luck I don’t know — I’ll see the resident roadrunner, who is a bold bird that is used to me by now. He will move away but not far.

Sometimes I’ll surprise an owl or hawk or a flock of larks or piñon jays.  Sometimes a raven will circle me, speaking to me in raven talk that I can’t quite understand.

This time of year the weeds are brittle and dry. Even though I stick to the trail I’ve made, it seems like every plant has burrs or needles or hooks on them so they can hitch a ride on a passing sock. Gaiters keep the nasty little things out of my shoes.  When it snows I’ll wear the gaiters to keep warm.

Some mornings after I’ve walked I’ll work with one of my young mares, Sonny, Koko’s daughter. She has had very little training even though she’s going to be seven years old next month. Now that I have new hips, working with her is fun.  I think we both enjoy it.

My training is hardly worth the word. Maybe ten minutes at a time. My method now that I’m not a young woman and am perhaps more breakable than I used to be, is to not use any restraints and to not pursue if she leaves me. No stress for her, no stress for me.  How I do this is a whole other story, but the end result is a horse that is a partner, not a slave. Given the kind of riding I do, I need that kind of a horse.

Back to the chores. Once a week I prepare the buckets with Koko’s pellets.  That would be today.  I stacked tonight’s hay in the wheelbarrow and stashed it under the tarp. I like to keep tools out of the sun as much as possible, because at this altitude the sun eats everything up. This particular wheelbarrow is only a year old and so far so good, but I have another that has broken apart to the point where it’s pretty useless now. I’m going to fix it one of these days.  It’s low on the To Do list, though.

A brief break to pet Tux, a stray tomcat that’s been living here for a couple years now. He knows my routines so well that he leads me rather than follows.

It being Sunday, it was time to pump water. I topped off the gas in the generator, then pulled the wagon the generator lives in down to the well. I’ll leave it running till this afternoon. After that, I hiked up to the water storage tanks to see how much had been used this week.

Then it was time to get a load of wood for tonight (see above). I need to order another cord soon, but that depends on my wood guy and my finances. I’m good for a month if it doesn’t get too cold. I’ll bring armfuls of wood in the house during the course of the day, when I’m coming in and out anyway. No point in taking the time this morning when I have other stuff to do.

My last chore of the morning was to add some water to the pans I have out for the birds and other small critters, and then I got to come back in the house and have another cup of coffee and think about getting something to eat and then… finally… writing. Or processing photos. Or sewing.

All those things were, as my friend suggested, what I have to do to be able to do what I want to do. My chores would be a drag, except that I want to do them. I like doing them.  Oh sure, I moan and groan.  But sometimes, weirdly, I find myself giggling while I’m wrestling with a tarp… right after I have screamed curses into the wind. Sometimes I snarl and want to feel sorry for myself when I realize I haven’t finished bringing in the wood and I’m exhausted and it’s already dark, but I shrug and I do it. Then there’s been a couple mornings when I was confronted with a fountain spouting from the frost-free hydrant because I forgot to close it the night before. It froze and cracked the pipe and there was nobody to blame but me. But I fixed it. And I was proud that I could do so.

This lifestyle, this responsibility for my own comfort and safety and for that of my critters, is what I have chosen, not what I am forced to. I could move to a house in town, with a regular job to pay for the easier lifestyle, but I would lose much, much more than I would gain in doing so.

There is a joy for me in living this way. Everything I do matters. Everything I do is fodder for my art — whether it’s writing, photography, quilting, or… whatever occurs to me. When, by 11 a.m., I finally come to the part of my day that others would consider (finally) the creative time,  I’ve already been experiencing hours of a world I want to share with others. I’ve been recording some of it with a camera, I’ve been testing out narrative in my head, I’ve been seeing patterns that would make beautiful art.

It’s all there.

It’s all one big creative act for me.

It’s all what I want to do.