Author Archives: Elisabeth

Breakin’ rocks in the hot sun

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Yesterday we took advantage of two dry days in a row to go out to our land and get some work done. When I say “we”, I mean we paid some teenagers to help Adam. My main job was to buy drinks and sandwiches, pass the bug spray,  and repeatedly remind everyone not to injure themselves. (This is a habit I get from my mother, who still tells me not to cut myself every time I enter her kitchen.)

When we arrived, we found that nearly a solid month of rain had accelerated the grass growth exponentially, and grass was already chest-deep. So, Adam started by weed-whacking the driveway.

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Our young friends, Nathanael and Philip, went to work schlepping the debris out of the hole. This hole used to be a house, but prior owners had burned it down. So for more than a decade, It has been a pit full of broken bricks and ash. It is my ambition to tun this former basement into a swimming pool. (The realtor who sold it to us found that hysterically optimistic. I remain undeterred.)

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They scooped up dozens and dozens of buckets of debris, and moved larger rocks by hand. Adam cut small trees with a chainsaw.

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It doesn’t look like much, but they made huge progress! However, we may have to wait for September to finish this particular project. It got Hot!

After lunch, Adam had the guys help him remove the eyesore of a lean-to that had been leaning for a couple years after Adam discovered that he couldn’t get it apart by himself. The creator of the thing used at least 4 nails everywhere one would do. They discussed demolition options…

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…and then took turns whamming the thing with a sledgehammer and a pickaxe. DSCN5743 DSCN5751

They smashed it into bits, ripped it apart forcibly, and generally enjoyed themselves. I reminded them not to do anything that would require tetanus shots, and they all informed me they were up to date.

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At last! The ugly thing is gone! Now I (meaning Adam) can put a solar shower there.

We were all worn out. Even me, although that seems unfair even to myself. We’ll definitely have these guys back to help us. We have a lifetime supply of things to get done! And a job done is so satisfying.

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Winter Work

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It has been wet this winter, and we have been renting a house in town. So not much work has gotten done. But on the warm, dry days, we get out with the chainsaw and cut trees! Adam cut down 6 cedars- which will become the walls, and one oak- which will be used as round lumber, yesterday. The real trick to cutting down trees at our place is getting them to fall on the ground. There are so many trees that even when they are cut “down”,they tend to stay in a mostly-upright position. Then Adam does this:DSCN5702After he moves the tree, he can cut it up. DSCN5703 DSCN5709After he cuts the cedars into sections, I carry them to the stack to dry. My other important job is to keep this little guy from trying to fight the chainsaw. He’s learning. Technically, Helo is Debbi’s puppy, but he does love to romp with Buster, so we bring him along.DSCN5713 DSCN5715He thinks he is helping. DSCN5716Buster is actually helpful in that he stays away from things that make loud noises. DSCN5722True love. Also, I think I got too much sun, which is kind of pleasant, seeing as it is still March. Before we know it, we are going to be too hot, but at least it won’t be snowing!

On Water

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This morning when I got up, the dogs were thirsty. I realized that we had run out of water late last night. This last week of August has been the hottest of the year, unsurprisingly. We have all been drinking more water, the dogs over a gallon a day. I know exactly how much they are drinking, because my water is in gallon jugs.

After 18 months of living in a trailer, I think I can say that running water is the most under-appreciated of all modern conveniences. The ability to twist on a faucet whenever one is thirsty, dirty, or just hot is in my eyes a miracle! Having to go outside to get water is tricky enough, but in the winter toting water from town is both a pain and a necessity. If a heavy snow falls, we don’t want to be caught without. Although, in a pinch you can use boiled snow.

But this morning as I blearily wandered outside and flipped the breaker for the well, I was filled with gratitude. How many other women went out to fetch water for their families this morning? How many millions walked miles to water sources that are questionable at best? How many hot miles did they trudge home, laden with a few gallons to see them through the day?

My morning was blessedly cool after a hot day yesterday. The rising sun brought the smell of warming grass. An eagle called high over head. Not 100 yards from my door, cold, clear, safe, limestone-filtered Missouri water gushed from the ground. Before I even thought about my coffee, I had filled six gallons- enough for all day. I switched off the well pump and filled up the dog dish.

God is so good to us.

Breaking Ground

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Today our neighbor Don (who is in the running for best neighbor ever, as you will see) came by to return our shovel. And he also brought over his backhoe for us to borrow. (See? Best neighbor.)
One of the things we have been loving about our new home is the friendly, helpful, interseting people. We’ve made so many good friends, and all our neighbors are awesome.
We also love the view, the smells, the blossoms, and even our road. We love the weather, and even the humidity. (Take that, Colorado.)We daily thank our wonderful God for bringing us here, we consider it our Promised Land.

One of the things we are not loving so much is that we don’t actually have a home yet. That’s where the backhoe comes in.

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We gleefully watched Don’s progress down the road. He gave Adam few pointers on running the machine, and left us to it. Adam wasted no time.

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He drove it around the trailer into the area where we are planning the house.

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It didn’t take long for him to get the hang of the controls.

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This is the face of a man driving a big machine.

The face of a man Working on his own land.

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April Showers

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Adam has been digging out the well so we can attach new water lines and have running water. This is a very exciting prospect, as we have been bringing water in jugs for over a year now. And of course, as soon as he got the hole deep enough and started making it wider, it rained.
Oh did it rain! An abundance of rain! I A glorious spring rain, gushing down off and on all day. It was the kind of April day that really makes you feel it’s springtime. The tulips and daffodills are up, everything is green, and everyone (but the cat) is content.
When it rains here, we have what is called a wet weather creek. Yesterday it was 2 feet deep, and running fast. Today it is down to about 6 inches. Because of the clay-and-rocks soil composition, water makes its way quickly downhill to the creek bed, running both over and under ground. In some places you can get your ankles wet standing in the grass.

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Of course, the hole filled with water. It only rained about 2 inches, I think, but the well is dug in a very good spot. Water is never far down it. And the hole filled from underneath all day. This afternoon, it was full up- 3 feet deep and still rising as the pile of dirt and clay around it slowly dried in the sun.
So, I thought  I would bail out the hole. I got a bucket and flung water as far as I could, so it wouldn’t just seep back in. After a few minutes, I slipped. Now, I had rolled up my work jeans  and gone barefoot, but before I knew it, my ankles, hands and fundament were all smeared with wet red clay.
I love squishing my bare feet in clay. Don’t you?
So then I decided that it was an excellent time to make test balls of clay and clay-soil mix to see how hard it dries, and whether it cracks, and what color it turns out. This is an important part of building a house with cob. Honest.
A little while later, having bailed much of the water out of the hole, and made various balls of dirt, and feeling a little like my 10-year-old self,  I slogged over to the creek to rinse off. Creek water in April is cold. I can only imagine how crisp the well water will be when it gushes out of the spigot. Won’t be long now!

An Abundance of Birds

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This morning, as the breeze blew away the last remnants of storm clouds, and the sun attempted a watery appearance, a little bird hopped into my open doorway to inspect me. This has happened before. Last summer a curious titmouse came in to say hello, and of course immediately and zoomed around in panic until it found the door again. Today’s cheerful little fellow was not a titmouse, so he seemed to have the sense to look at me from the doorway and then hop out again. He was not a bird I recognised, small brown and white body with an up-tilted tail and a curving beak.  Looking it up I found that it was a house wren.
This is the time of year for spotting birds. All have returned from their winter vacations, but the trees haven’t got any leaves yet, so there’s nothing to obscure the view. I’ve always loved birds. As a homeschooler I even talked my mom into doing a whole unit on birds, and I learned every species in our Colorado back yard. There are a lot more species in this “yard”. Our acreage, while not remote, is definitely deep in the country. One of my favorite things is to sit quietly in the mornings with the door open and watch (and listen to) the birds. Until this week it was definitely too cold to have the door open!
Over the winter there were several birds I watched out the window. I love the bright Cardinals, spots of brilliant red against the snow and trees. Blue jays chased and called back and forth across the field. I even got to see our Golden Eagle up close while walking through the woods with my dad.
Adam and I were perplexed at huge chunks torn out of several of our trees. The one morning we saw the rare and Large Pileated woodpecker. About 18″ with a red crest, it magnificently shredded some of our dead trees over the winter. As a bonus, it was easy to photograph, since it was big and held fairly still.

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Then, two weeks ago, Blue Birds arrived. Brilliant blue with red bellies, they darted around the trailer and picked early bugs out of the grass. Soon after I learned to identify Phoebes, cheerful little grey birds who like to sit on a bare limb and bop their tails. Canada geese called in the afternoons, stopping at nearby lakes on the way home.
Merlins and Turkey Vultures followed. Many people are suspicious of vultures, but they are some of my favorites. They circle over warm updrafts for hours at a time, their huge wings stretched joyously. They rival the eagles in size, and are much less suspicious of people. (And no, they don’t want to eat you. Adam.)
This week, everyone seems to be in place for spring. Curious titmice, diligent sparrows, woodpeckers, finches, chickadees, towhees, and my little wren this morning. The din in the morning is incredible.

 

Winter Peace

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I wrote this in March, and just now got a chance to post it. So, a bit out of date, but it let’s you know what we’re up to.

So here we are, settled into our little trailer. This morning it was cold, but not freezing. Freezing mornings are an invigorating (read: character-building) part of living in a place with no insulation in the floor. At bedtime, I always make sure my slippers are in easy reach. I wrap up and get the fire and the coffee started. Then I sit in my blankie and read while I wait for it to warm up. It warms up pretty quickly- the main part of the house is only 8’x12′.

Most mornings I whip up fried eggs or oatmeal, but it was Saturday, so I made pancakes. Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes, even on a tiny propane stove. I have four burners, but they seem redundant, since I can only fit pans on two at a time. After pancakes and coffee, over which we discussed the Bible and Physics, Adam and I put on our boots and ear warmers and head outside. We tromped up the hill to the spot we’ve been cutting trees. (This has become the dogs’ new favorite word, “tromping”. It’s gotten so we have to be careful saying it- they jump all over the place in their excitement, and there isn’t much room to jump inside the trailer.)

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We’re planning on using roundwood for the frame of the house, so there are a lot of trees to be cut. And we have a lot of trees to choose from. Cutting enough 4″ oaks for all the rafters and floor joists will barely make a dent in our woods. They’ve not been tended in many years, and the oaks have flourished, growing straight and tall. Which is exactly what is needed for housebuilding. I use the pullsaw to fell the trees, and Adam lops off all the branches once they’re down. And he also carries them up the hill to the place we’ve piled them to dry. We’ll cut the big trees needed for pillars with the chainsaw, but we’re proud that we’ve cut so many by hand. It gives a sense of peaceful accomplishment. After a couple of hours, a freezing rain started to fall. We packed up our things, stacked the last tree, and headed back down the hill. On the way,we picked up flint pieces to be used eventually in tiling the shower. If we pick up a few every day, we’ll have more than we need when the time comes.

Adam singing the theme from"Rocky" while stacking trees.

Adam singing the theme from”Rocky” while stacking trees.

Back inside the house, it’s lovely and warm, and over lunch Adam plays games and I read a book. The rain turns to sleet, then to snow, and I watch from my comfy chair. I have a pot of beans on the stove- the woodstove- and later I’ll make ham and beans. When the sun goes down we’ll eat our beans, watch a movie, and get ready for another peaceful night.

Ode to a Woodstove

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The weather yesterday reminded us that winter is not quite finished. Though we got a lot more rain that snow, it was plenty cold, especially compared  to the unseasonably warm days that preceded. But, we were snug inside with our woodstove. If you’ve never had a woodstove, you’re missing out on a lot of perks.

For one thing, it gets warm! Like, real warm. Much more than a fireplace, the woodstove radiates heat. I can get it going so hot on the coldest days that I can sit around in shirtsleeves. For a perpetually cold person, this is a luxury.

It’s free. Especially since a neighbor brought us a couple of trees already in pieces. But even so, there is enough wood on our place to fuel our fires pretty much forever.

It smells nice. Oak, walnut, and other local trees are mildly scented, and the occasional hickory or cedar give that warm, holiday smell. It creates a cozy, crackling ambiance, especially in the evenings, when we open books or play games.

Having a stove hot all day is wonderful for warming all kinds of things on its top. I can warm the plates, which come out of the cupboard icy cold most days. A kettle can stay there all day, so I have hot water immediately at the ready. (Even when we get running water, hot water is going to be work!) We like our coffee boiled, not dripped, and the enamelware pot can go right on top of the woodstove, so the coffee stays hot until it’s all drunk. Another thing that can sit there all day is beans. Dry beans can be soaked in a soup pan, and by evening they are ready to eat. Although I know from experience that, even at the temperature I like it, it is not quite hot enough to boil potatoes or pop popcorn.

A warning, though: it does get hot enough to melt synthetic fabrics.  Like fuzzy socks, for example.

Thistles

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I’m supposed to cut these down and burn them, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. There’s probably a lesson there about sin in our lives.

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But I’m not interested in drawing thoughtful conclusions because then I saw this. And it was just pretty.

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So there.

Sausage and Apples

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I saw the first leaves falling this morning as I sat in my easy chair. Looking up the hill the bright golden flurry was like glitter against the green of everything else. I haven’t seen any more, but it’s  a clear sign that fall is around the corner.

The heat of the day makes me think it is way around the corner, but the nights already are quite cool. School is well under way.  Another sign of approaching autumn is that those of my friends who do things like hang autumn wreaths have done so.  I love the fall, but I am pretty sure that, even when I have a house, I’m not going to decorate for it. Unless you count bringing in random blooming weeds.

We moved here last year just in time for all the trees to have dropped their leaves and start looking depressing. So I’m looking forward to a little autumn color. But mostly, I’m looking forward to fall cooking. It’s the best time of year to cook, in my opinion, because there’s still plenty of fresh produce, but it’s not too hot to turn on the oven.

I got an early start on fall cooking last night because we discovered the orchard across the road, while still offering peaches and tomatoes, has the first fall apples! We got a “small” bag of the RubyJon type and last night I made one of my favorites- sausage and apples. The apples were delightfully tart and crisp, which is just what you want for this homey dish. Usually I pair it with cornbread or pancakes, but since it isn’t quite fall yet, we just had sliced tomatoes on the side.

Sausage and Apples
Patty and fry up country sausage in a cast iron skillet. You can use another kind, but it tastes better in cast iron. While it is frying, slice up an apple per person. When the sausage is browned to your liking- which is just brown for Adam, and not-quite-burnt for me- remove it and set aside. Put the apples in the sausage grease. If they are really tart, add a spoonful of brown sugar. But only if they’re really tart. If for some strange reason you have used crazy low-fat or turkey sausage, you might need a dab of butter. Fry the apples over high heat, stirring occasionally until they are soft and golden, but stop before they start falling apart. Pile the apples on the sausage and enjoy right away.