Let it blow

partly plastered straw bale wall 2019 Lif Strand

Plastering doesn’t happen by itself…  2019 Lif Strand photo

Today is one of those blustery winter days that remind me yeah, it’s still winter. Blast it.

Which is what it’s doing out there — blasting frigid winter wind that shoots down the barrel of my valley and through the walls of my straw bale house. Making me vow, yet once more, to finish plastering the place.

But wait! Before I plaster I’ve got to move the stuff of my daily life out of the house. I’ve made big inroads into that, but every time something gets shuttled to the barn I find I want it back in here. Too late, though, because once it’s piled in the barn it’s lost to the ages. I made a big attempt in the beginning to segregate by use, but that went by the wayside. Now it’s all wherever and so I can only find things that are on the top of the stacks.

I don’t like not having my stuff around me. I’m a person of impulse. If I get the urge to mess with fabric I want to do it now, not some day after I’ve plastered and can set up my sewing area again. If I want to reread a favorite book I want to be able to go to the shelf and grab it and settle in with it, not ask the library for it and if I’m lucky get to hold that book in my hands next week when I’m in town.

So much — too much, it feels like — gets put off because I need to plaster. Even writing.

On days like today, when my valley is creating its own polar vortex right through my house, my fingers get stiff with cold. It’s frustrating to try to type or write with stiff fingers, as time-honored a tradition it might be. Yeah, I’ve got a big fire in the wood stove and the eco-fan is spinning. My desk, unfortunately, is just far away enough that the the heat barely makes it. One of the drawbacks of wood heat in these circumstances is that sitting next to the fire is too close for comfort, and anywhere else is uncomfortably chilly.

So what am I going to do about it? Get up, move around. Make bread and let the bubbles rise in my brain. Or (oh ewwww) wash the dishes. Or tackle any number of tasks that leave my mind free to identify thoughts, test phrasing, compose sentences. When my fingers are warm enough, sit down and write until I can’t move my fingers anymore.

It’s actually a good practice for me. Otherwise I tend to sit obsessively at the computer and never get up — bad for my body plus it allows sludge to build up in my head. If only I could remember to do this when the wind’s not blowing.

Meanwhile, about the bread

I started a no-knead bread dough four days ago. I wanted to try fermenting the flour/water mix in my never-ending quest for making the perfect loaf of sourdough. Fermenting might not be the correct word for what I was doing but I’m too lazy to look it up. Anyway, the ferment was — how to put it?  Ugly.  It was ugly and it was alive. Well, yeah, yeast has to be alive to do its thing but… that alive?  By the way, the brew in that brief video clip is NOT boiling.  That’s just the action of the yeast in room temp flour/water!

Hoping for the best, I added small amounts of flour over the next couple of days and then yesterday a.m. added some more yeast, some salt, and enough flour to make the proper consistency dough. Sorry, I can’t share my quantities because I totally winged it, but I used a bit of rye, and some whole wheat, and mostly white flour (organic, of course!), plus a wee bit of salt and some bread yeast.

This morning the risen dough had started to slump so I decided it was time to bake it. I didn’t have high hopes for this experiment but boy, was I wrong.  It was still not sour, which is my goal.  But you know… it’s kind of … mmmmmm…..

Sure beats plastering.

No-knead bread 2019 Lif Strand

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.