Monday, March 30, 2009

Floor Days: Part 2

Friday dawned even windier than Thursday. Our concrete contractor advised the concrete company to include an additional hour of retarder, which slows down the curing process. It produced the desired result...the concrete cured much more slowly, despite warmer temperatures and more steady and stronger winds. The crew worked at a much more relaxed pace over the entire day. And the floor looks fabulous.

Since pour day, we've been watering the slab multiple times daily to help it cure more slowly, which increases its final strength, and to reduce cracking, which has begun in a few areas. We labored over the decision of whether to put tension joints in the floor at the time of the pour, making it look like big tiles, or to cut joints in later. The cure rate of the floor decided for us on Day 1, and the fact that we don't have the tool means that we are just going to watch it crack. So far, they are very organic looking, and I think the end effect will be pleasing to the eye.

Drew removed the form boards yesterday, revealing the formed bullnose on the edge of the upper slab. This will be the upper of two steps that will lead from the upper level to the lower level living room, kitchen, and dining room. Our friend (and electrician) Karl got Drew going on the electrical, which is our next step before wall block stacking. Folks, we are on a roll! Karl is pumped to get us moved in by Thanksgiving. At this point, I think that is a realistic goal.

I do admit to feeling a little conflicted over the use of all this concrete, not only in the foundation and slab, but in the walls as well. All my previous research and studies point to the high embodied energy of concrete, and thus its effects on global climate change and use of non-local materials. I've had to weigh this against the alternatives and consider our desires. The reasons for use come down to 1) convenience of method and delivery (common material with common expertise required), not to mention speed of creating the product (we have already been doing what I call glorified camping for 5 years...I am ready to stop! An earthen floor would have likely taken several months to complete.), 2) earthquake stability (we live in one of the most seismically active areas in the US), 3) extreme weather conditions that rot buildings (our rainfall is one of the highest in the lower 48, and with our winter storms, we have horizontal rain with winds of greater than 50 mph, sometimes for 24 hours or more at a stretch), and 4) we don't have a local source of clay, meaning that if we had gone for a more "groovy" method such as an earthen floor, we would have needed to import the clay. We did some calculations regarding the embodied energy, and as near as we can determine, if the slab performs as intended, as an insulated thermal mass, we will save many times the Btus in firewood that were expended in its creation. Amortized over the life of the house, I consider it to be a regenerative use of concrete. What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Floor Days: Part 1

Please enjoy this slideshow I took of our pour today. It's almost a time elapse series...thanks for the suggestion, Beth!

Concrete Truck Arrives on a Cloudy, Almost Drizzly Morning

The Pour in Progress

The Crew, Screeding and Troweling

Drew and I, With the Finished Slab Behind Us

After approximately five weeks of work (if you put them back to back), we were ready for the concrete trucks to arrive and pour the lower level of our floor. This is no small feat, as all the plumbing drains, supply lines, vents, some electrical, propane, and hydronic tubing needed to be in place and all hooked together just so. Once we pour the floor, there is no fixing it, or accessing it again, as you can in an above-the-ground house. Design and forethought has been our blessing and nemesis throughout this project, but ultimately, I am proud of all we've thought of and put together in preparation for today.

The crew arrived at about 8:30, and the first truck at around 9:00 AM. Never having seen a floor pour, I wasn't sure what the pace would be like. Our foundation was quick and crazy, the pumper squirting a soda-can-sized stream into the forms, while a crew of about 6 people worked behind him to screed it before it "went off" (for those of you new to concrete, that means when it sets up).

Today, by contrast, was relaxed in getting going, with the early delivery quite smooth, and the concrete appearing to be soft and easy to screed and work with. Our neighbor and local concrete pro Greg spent last week getting the screed boards set up just so, in sections, so the crew could pour, screed, float, and trowel. Once the guys got started, they worked as an interlocking team, everyone seemed very relaxed and confident of their roles. The pumper would fill an area, Greg and Josh would screed and hand trowel where necessary, and then Roy would follow with the float, a convex wood plank on the end of a long pole, working and jiggling the "cream" to the top. While Roy was doing this, the pumper would move on to the next section to repeat. After it had set up a little, someone would return to the floated area, and use a magnesium trowel to smooth out the wood-made finish. Even later, this was finished by hand and with a machine to further work the cream, which creates a durable slab floor.

All this went along quite nicely, until the day began to warm up, and the wind picked up, making the concrete dry faster. We were also getting to the bottom of the truckload. The guys became a bit more tense, and picked up the pace, and were scrambling to float the pour before it got too hard. They played it pretty cool, but in the end, they were stressed. With good reason...there are some areas of the floor that didn't get finished quite as nicely as all would have liked. But fortunately, Drew and I like it, and we think we can clean up some of the difficult spots with a ?buffing machine? We kind of like a more organic look, really, so in an unusual moment, we are actually in agreement about a cosmetic element of design. Or maybe we're feeling pragmatic that we can't possibly do too much about it, and so we are graciously going with the flow of the universe! In any event, I feel SO excited that half our floor is done, and that soon we can walk around on it, and experience flatness.

As a final touch, we each placed a hand print, Drew's and mine connected into the shape of a heart, and Ella's hand right next to ours, just inside the exterior door in our bedroom. I later inscribed "2009" next to it. I felt a little teary-eyed at all that, that we'd be looking at it for many years to come, even when Ella is grown up and moved away.

Our Family Hand Print, Once in a Lifetime

Tomorrow, we do the upper half, and then, the sky's the limit...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vibrant Spring Food

Ella Works on Shelling Fava Beans

Last night, we made rice and eggs with mustard greens, and a side of my favorite fava bean recipe. Sometimes, these spring foods are just the thing, and they just happen to be the good foods to eat this time of year! The mustard greens are great right now, and half of them are volunteers in the garden, while the fava beans are reaching their peak nutrition right now. The favas are also a particularly delightful treat, as Ella not only helped me plant them, but harvest them and prepare that's a sustainable kid! Here's the recipes...

Rice and Eggs with Pungent Greens and Walnuts

2 bunches mustard greens, stems removed
1 1/2 c. brown rice
1-2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil

Boil the rice in extra water (more than your standard 2:1 ratio), and drain once cooked. Meanwhile, boil or steam your greens until tender, and chop. Mix with the olive oil and pressed garlic. Once the rice is done, stir in the beaten eggs until the rice is well coated, and then add the mustard greens and nuts and toss again. Serve with parmesan cheese and a curry sauce, or salad dressing, or anything else that sounds good...I like it with sauce of some kind.

Fava Beans, a la Amanda

Fava beans have a second shell inside the outer pod that must be removed before eating. I've included direction below.

A lot of fava beans (about 2 cups prepared, see below)
Two cloves garlic
Parmesan cheese

Shell the beans. Parboil them for a few minutes, about 3-5, until the gray-green soft outer shells soften. Drain and rinse in cold water. Hand remove the outer shell from each bean. Inside are two halves of bright green beaniness! Melt 2 generous tbsp butter in a skillet. Saute in the butter for about 6-8 minutes. Press garlic and add to pan, and stir around about 1 more minute. Serve up warm, with a little grated parmesan. MMMMMMM. I wish the fava's lasted longer in the spring!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Edibles

Stinging Nettles Along the Creek

Late winter is one of the most difficult times of year to eat off the land, whether you are a homesteader or native person. But now that we've got a little more possible daylight, and we have passed Equinox this weekend, there is an abundance of wood element, spring tonic, yummy native wild food available for grazing.

Today, with our pour nearly all ready, approaching rain, and Saturday laziness, we all decided to go for a creek walk after a late breakfast. The first plant we encountered was our veritable Stinging Nettle (Urticaria dioica) farm, all along the creek bank. There is so much, we could certainly go into business selling dried herb product, tincture, and the like, all wildcrafted, while not at all diminishing the stocks. It is truly amazing and prolific. Though I didn't harvest any today, Nettles are a fabulous food, rich in vitamins and minerals. You may wonder, HOW do you eat nettles, if they sting you? Well, you harvest them with gloves (or very delicately), and then allow them to wilt. This usually renders the little stingers inert, and those that don't quite get there are destroyed by cooking. You just steam it like spinach. It's delicious with lemon and olive oil. Your liver will love you!

Next plant I saw an abundance of was Cleavers also called Oatstraw (Galium aparine). Not overly tasty, but a good tonic steamed up or ground up or turned into tincture. Right along with it is Chickweed (Stellaria sp.), which is in a similar boat, but is just fine raw. Add to a salad.

My favorite of favorites, which is delightful as a salad green, either alone or together with regular garden or grocery lettuce, is Claytonia perfoliata, Miner's Lettuce. Early miners and settlers used this as a salad vegetable, with good reason. It tastes great! The lovely round, disc shaped leaves are carpeting the creek bench, and Ella really likes them.

Skunk Cabbage with Flowers

Skunk Cabbage Emerging

Skunk Cabbage Forest

A plant we are seeing a lot of right now is the Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanum. In January and February, it begins shoving these large and vibrant green leaves above the soil in our swampy places. There is no other plant like it! And right now, it has exposed its glaring yellow half-shell lily type flowers all over the marsh, permeating the air with a rather lovely floral aroma. Who thought it warranted "skunk"? I looked it up, but apparently, it was only edible as a last resort, when other food was in short supply. The Native Americans did use it as basket liners. It's just so cool, I wanted to share it with you.

Last Year's Cattail Stalks

Last, but not least, is the common Cattail (Typha latifolia). I have long known that cattails are edible, many parts of the plant, in fact, but I've never tried eating it. Today, I noticed the small shoots beginning to emerge from the swampy water, and decided today was the day to explore it. I picked three shoots, and then reached under the water to find a tuber, which my memory told me was the best source of food. When I got home, I looked up how to eat it. The young shoots are simply edible at the base. I took a tentative bite, and found the flavor quite mild and pleasant, and the texture very agreeable. With the tuber, you peel it, soak it in cold water to separate the starch from the fiber, and then pour off the water to harvest a flour. Maybe it's not the right time of year, but based on my experiment today, this would take a tremendous amount of material to produce even a cup of flour. I'm willing to try however, to see what it tastes like...look out Mattole potluck!

Finally, here's a few bonus photos of our walk...

Drew Stands by our Only Old Growth Tree

Ella Explores the Creek

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring Cleaning

By the time winter rolls around, I tend to be completely over gardening. I am fed up with chasing gophers, feeling overwhelmed with a constant list of to-do's that are often late, racing against the inevitable passing of time. I am ready to let the grass take over, and put the garden to bed. But sometimes, I don't even quite get there, and tasks remain unfinished until spring.

Take these black beans. I labored long and hard with the harvest, painstakingly laying the cut plants out to dry on a tarp, moving them in and outside to prevent dew moisture from getting on them, shelling them out of their dried husks, and collecting them in a plastic bin. And then they became forgotten and forlorn, languishing in silence in the shed. But yesterday, as I was in search of a tarp to cover some garden beds, I not only remembered them, but decided to deal with them, once and for all!

All that was required was a brief winnowing, to remove the remaining debris away from the beans and a second container to pour them into. I found a bucket, and stepped out onto the porch, where there was a varying strength southwest breeze, perfect for the task. By pouring the beans between the two containers, the extra stuff blew away. I had to do it three times, and pick out the largest stems and such, and then I was able to put them into a plastic bag, and tuck them into our pantry drawer. Now they lie in wait to be used. I'll post a recipe sometime.

And this afternoon, I decided to pull up the last of the winter carrots, lest the gophers get them first. They are really going for it out there, I discovered today that they ate the entire two rows of pea seeds I planted last week. It's time to get serious on them. I set two traps, and hauled in the carrots, double pointed, stumpy, and all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Petrolia Foxfire: Spinning Workshop

I am a knitter. It's an obsessive sort of hobby, and being a student of sustainability, my thoughts sometimes turn to sheep, as a means to make yarn. I've also long fantasized about learning the art of spinning, and this weekend, I was given the opportunity. Our friend Michael is a fiber artist (as well as a very skilled woodworker). He learned his craft from his grandmother, who recently died, and left him all of her materials, tools, hardware, and the like. Last year, he drove a U-Haul back from some far off place, Florida I think, full of a weavers dream: wool, yarn, looms, spinning wheels, books, woven pieces, and the like. Since he returned with all that stuff, he has been excited to share the skill of spinning and weaving with our community.

Through a grant from the Humboldt Area Foundation, about 15 of us were able to take this two-day workshop free! Snacks and childcare were provided, and Michael hand made each of us our very own hardwood drop spindle. What a fabulous way to spend a weekend.

First, we learned how to take the raw, washed wool, and separate out the fibers, and orient the strands all the same way. After meticulously making a downy pile of this material, we seated it on the cards, and carded it until it was straight and combed. Then, we rolled it off the cards, creating a fluffy tube. Many of us commented on how tedious this task was, but when no one was complaining about that, we had delightful conversations about all manner of things sheep, wool, and yarn. It was something like a knitting circle, a cultural phenomenon that must have been a staple of community relationships in times past.

Raw Washed Wool Ready for Carding

Separating and Orienting the Fibers

Seating the Fibers on the Cards

Carding the Wool

After we collected a pile of the fluffy tubes, we each chose our spindle, and Michael at last demonstrated the proper technique for spinning a yarn with the drop spindle. Using a little tail of already spun yarn, you wrap it around the "bobbin" at the bottom of the spindle, and then loop it around the top. Then you can spin the spindle clockwise, and pinch, draft, let go, allow to twist, pinch, and so on, and out stretches your first attempt at yarn, lumpy, uneven, but so very satisfying. After about 5 feet of length, you must untie the part on the spindle, wind up your newly made yarn, and repeat.


Fluffy Tubes of Carded Wool Ready for Spinning

Setting Up the Spindles for Spinning

Michael Demonstrating Spinning Technique

Michael sent us home overnight with raw wool, cards, and of course, our new spindles. I practiced a little, and by mid-way through this morning's session, I was getting a little faster at it. What fun! At this point, Michael demonstrated the use of the spinning wheels, which I was very excited to try, but found a lot harder to master even basic technique. It requires a bit of coordination, between your feet which are operating the wheel, and your hands, which are doing the pinch, draft, release, pinch repetition, all the while maintaining the proper tension to allow the resulting yarn to wind on a spool. I can see that this task will require at least a bit more practice.

Michael Demonstrates Use of the Spinning Wheel

Jane Gives it a Try

It's a little disconcerting to feel so helpless at a task that was very common and required all but maybe 100 years ago, give or take a few years. What was so exciting was the buzz amongst the community of new spinners, our desire to learn the craft, and to figure out the local supply chain. Plans were made for regular spinning gatherings, and also for a dyeing workshop. I think that we are all a little needy of the community craft culture, the conversations and group thinking that happens when people gather around a task that occupies the hands, but keeps the mind free to wander. I imagine this is where the expression "spinning a yarn" comes from, the stories people would tell while spinning fiber to clothe their bodies.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pour Day A'Comin

Though we didn't do any work on the house while we were gone, Drew and a great and willing crew of diligent workers tried very hard to get our next phase of the house done before we left for 5 weeks. We had a lucky, long break in the weather, where winter felt like summer (during the day, at least), and we got within striking distance. Now that we're home, it's taken us a little time to get back to it, but we are hoping to have a floor next week. WOW! That is exciting and crazy to think about!

Since we're doing a slab-on-grade, anything that might go under the floor has to be just perfect, and thought of ahead of time. This includes all the drain plumbing, all hot and cold water lines to all bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry, some electrical, and the warm-floor tubing. Just the floor project alone has tested the strength of our design skills. It has pushed us to make decisions such as, where will the bathtub drain go, how much space does a toilet need, do we want the ability to put a sink in the kitchen island even if we don't do it now, where exactly will all the interior walls go, and so on. By the time this floor is done, all this planning will have put us into a position of knowing a lot of design details, and the building process can proceed more quickly, we hope . It's a process of getting organized and set up. If you do it right, you can just jam later on.

I'll post some photos of the progress soon!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Favorite Day

Our cold-hot, rainy-sunny, winter-spring weather continues on the first day of Daylight Savings Time. This weekend has been filled with family time, with yesterday almost a mini-vacation at home. We hiked the big hill with our neighbors, taking it slow for Ella, and for Deva, who is 8 months pregnant. Ella fell a lot, simply because she is learning to walk in her own big feet. When we reached the top, we all laid down in the grass on the south side of the knob, the sunny, and leeward side. With the green velvet valley spread out before us, we loafed in the warm sun for a long time, having adult conversation, while Ella and Maple rolled a little ways down the hill, and made grass braids.

But today, Drew, Ella and I worked all together in the garden, preparing beds, planting seeds, catching up on tasks that are past due. This was simply divine, and I realized that this is the life that I want, spending Sunday gardening with my family. Yesterday, we helped Deva dig up some extraneous raspberry canes that were sprouting in the bed next to their intended home, and she sent us home with them. This was a serendipitous moment, as we have been planning on getting raspberries. So we prepped their future home today, by mowing the cover crop, forking the soil, and sheet mulching the beds.

Raspberry Beds Settling In and Waiting for Plants

Raspberry Plants Ready to Go

Then we moved on to preparing the bed for our peas, by removing all that runner-type grass, adding some chicken manure compost, and oyster shell flour (to lower the pH). Then we had to build a trellis out of old fence posts and wire. At last, after lunch, I sowed the seeds, and mulched the bed and watered things in. This year, I'm growing both sugar snap peas and shelling peas. I've never tried the shelling peas before, and I'm hoping I'll have enough to freeze.

Sowing Shelling Peas

Pea Bed All Ready with Trellis

The other day, I transplanted the long-awaited artichokes. I can't wait to eat their yumminess. The artichoke and raspberry beds should behave as a wind barrier to protect the annual garden plants from the northeast wind that swoops down out of the sky during the late spring and summer.

'Romanesco' Artichoke

One of the best parts of having Drew and Ella out there with me is that SO much more got done than if it had just been me alone. That same amount of work would have taken me at least a week. Amazing what we can do when we do it together! And Ella is increasingly helpful. She worked very hard scooping oyster shell flour, and planting pea seeds, all with a little help, of course.

Then as a grand finale for today, an amazing rainbow arched its vibrant colors directly over our homestead, from the back of our flat, to the other side of our house, which I luckily captured on film to share with all of you. Looking forward to eating all those veggies and fruits coming our way.

The Pot of Gold...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rainy Winter-Spring

Favorite Native Food, Miner's Lettuce, So Fresh and Yummy

East Mill Creek Full of Water

Red Alder (Alnus rubra) with Drooping Catkins, Cones, and Emergent Leaves

Willow (Salix sp.) Flowers

On our travels home, the latest Pacific storm was brewing. As we wound around curves on Highway 299, silence would suddenly envelope the car, only to return as we rounded the next bend. It seems the bulging folds of earth would sometimes shelter us from the wind, and at other times offer no protection. By the time we arrived in Eureka, the pre-showers were spattering the windshield, and we used our umbrella to travel the half block on foot to our restaurant.

That night, as we snuggled under a down comforter and flannel sheets, the wind raged outside, whistling through the single-paned glass. Drew and I commented that we were glad we weren't in the yurt that night. The wind remained strongly southerly all day, extending flags out fully horizontal, and as is customary when we return from a long trip and have a lot of things to carry in from the car, it began seriously raining as we climbed the first ridge out of Ferndale along the Wildcat.

That wind and heavy rain continued to gust, and pulse, and pour all night long our first night home, christening us back into the full yurt experience. With bags under our eyes the following day, we awoke to blue sky cloudbursts, and the sound of rushing water. We visited our swollen creek after breakfast. The second night home was downpours, alternating with thunder and lightening, trading places with hail, and gusts of wind keeping us awake again. Today, more on and off showers, some sun. Such is spring in Petrolia. It rains and we all run for cover to huddle around the woodstove, and then the rain quits, and we realize we can rush outside to work on a garden bed, or plant some seed flats, or go look at the creek. Rainbows and bird song are part of the equation too. The meadowlarks have been singing their tinkling melody, and the hummingbirds are buzzing with courtship hums.

The garden and orchard are just beginning to come to life. I've still got a lot of edible goodies, like carrots, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, beets, fava beans, and greens, which I wasted no time making use of at my first opportunity. The plum tree, like all of them in Humboldt County, is in full bloom, while the peach is just tentatively peeking out its first pink blossoms. It seems the almonds bloomed while we were gone, because it's leaves are waking up already. Today, I planted my keeper onions and my first round of cabbage, and I began preparing a bed for shelling and snap peas. I also made my monster seed order, in which I even decided to try to grow my own tomatoes again.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Home At Last

The Family that Skis Together, Stays Together

The Weather was Great at Mt Bachelor

Bald Eagle at the High Desert Museum in Bend

Family Portrait, in the Shadow of Mt. Shasta

It's been a long five weeks of travel, and after that, there is nothing like seeing the tundra swans on their way north floating in flooded fields north of Klamath Lake, or flying through the Trinity River canyon with storm winds howling against the car, and eating a fabulous sushi meal at Kyoto in Eureka with Samuel, and visiting with Jenny in Blue Lake, and entering into early spring from the snowy, wintery mountains. We traded white icy snow for white plum petal snow, exploding all over the north coast. We traded those tundra swans for tens of thousands of Canada geese migrating through the green velvety fields of the Eel River Delta and along the Humboldt Bay. We traded icy roads for golden wild mustard, and coltsfoot, and when the storm that's raging outside tonight lets up for a minute, I can hear the frogs calling out their lullaby music, to sing us to sleep in the land of water.

There was a big storm while we were gone, at last the skies opened up, and brought our river up to 20,000 cfs, a respectable level. We're not yet to our average annual rainfall, but we're getting closer by the minute, with 5 inches predicted by Tuesday. What a return, truly, to some of the worst weather of the year. Our yurt walls are flapping, and the rain is pouring down, drumming on our heads incessantly, as we try to remember how to sleep beneath it. I am hearing unfamiliar thumping noises outside, hoping that nothing is getting damaged. We have been living in sensory deprivation, compared to this!

Looking forward to blogging more regularly again....and discovering all that's changed in the time in between. Keep posted.