Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sexy Concrete

Oxymoron, you ask? No way. It's taken (of course) a bit longer than anticipated, but we finished the first two pieces of the kitchen countertops. They are a magical brick red color that blends beautifully with the redwood and fir in our cabinets, with a few interesting types of aggregate, and embedded antique watch parts (thank you, Creek!). The effect is nothing short of a bit about the process.

First, we make a template out of thin fiberboard that conforms to the exact dimensions and angles, since walls are rarely as square as they should be. Then, Drew used the template to build the form out of melamine. This took a lot of fiddling for the longest section, since it includes the kitchen sink, and had to have a very precise cutout and holes for plumbing and such.
Drew and Aaron tape and caulk joints in the the form.

Once the form was built, he applied caulk to the joints of the form to create the desired round-over effect on the edges around the sink and the fronts of the counters. We also included an integral sloped area for the dish drainer. (No more water puddles, thank you!) We then added welded wire and rebar for reinforcement.

Welded wire and decorative aggregate in the form ready for pour.

Next was the fun part, placing the decorative aggregate and elements, exactly where we wanted them. We have collected shells and agates from the beach over the years with this project in mind, so it was nice to finally use some. We also used some black volcanic glass, and some red and yellow stones. Finally, we added watch gears, watch faces, and even some entire watch bodies, which when filled with epoxy leave all the gears and workings exposed in the surface of the counters. They came out beautifully!

Working the concrete into the form.

Once all this is done, then finally the pour. After they sit for 10 days or so, then we grind with a water grinder with diamond discs. It's just like sanding wood, where you use progressively finer grits to get a glass-like shine. We revealed a minimum of aggregate, and then polished up the slabs.

Polished, sealed, and glossed, and ready for install!

After we were finally satisfied with the results, we finally brought them indoors and sealed them with more Ecoprocote concrete finishing products: AcriSoy as a penetrating sealer, and EcoFlorz as a glossy topcoat. They shine beautifully after this treatment. Then at last, the install, which was a day without a kitchen sink, but well worth the wait. After a year of plywood with plastic tablecloths over top, I'm loving the wipe-able surface, and most of all, the rich color that blends so well with our cabinets. Now there's just two more pieces to make before ALL the kitchen counters are done.

Install day...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving Thanks

So many things to be thankful for, not least of which is getting a moment to post again on my blog! Geez! It's already been a month!

Usually, we spend Thanksgiving with my aunt and uncle, who are kind of like parents to me, and are definitely grandparents to my kids. We have spent all but a few Thanksgiving's together for about 20 years now. But this year, I felt excited to host Thanksgiving in my own home for the first time, so we stayed home and invited people over. We had a very nice gathering with Drew's mom, as well as several community members we love. We all had a great time.

I definitely feel so grateful for the space of this house that I can host such a party with such ease! I'm grateful for my family, and the safe passage into life of our newest member, Gardner, who daily reminds me to be patient and unconditionally loving. I am so grateful for my husband, Drew, who I am so proud of for his deep training in and commitment to Aikido, the Art of Peace, which indelibly shapes who he is. I am thankful for my daughter Ella, who's strength of spirit and boundless energy remind me to live a little bit more each day. I'm thankful for the rest of my family, for knowing they are near me energetically, and that they love and support me, even if they are far away.

I'm thankful for our community here, for all it's quirks and all its ordinary and extra-ordinary grandeur. I'm thankful for helpful and loving neighbors, for like-minded families that raise kids together, for unsurpassable natural beauty all around us, for abundance of soil and rain and homegrown food, for the salmon that still return, and for our comfortable house.

I'm thankful for my health and for the continuous opportunity to grow in my understanding of myself.

May we always enjoy such abundance of things to be thankful for, and accept them with grace...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

This year, Ella wanted to be a "Tiger-Faced Koala Bear". So there you have it...

Happy Halloween!
Honor and love your dead, leave a little food out tomorrow night, their favorites, on Day of the Dead.

Ella's Room

We just needed to buckle down and finish up this room, and now we've done it...plaster is done, trim is done, floor is done, loft railing is finished, and over the weekend, we moved some of Ella's play scene into the space!

In this room, we tried a new floor finish product from Ecoprocote. It's a glossy finish sealer, and we love how it looks. It completes the fun variability of the basic stain. We also figured out how to appropriately use the glossy wood finish to make the redwood sills and trim really pop. I'm excited about the look AND the clean-ability of the end product here.

Glossy Floor

Glossy Redwood Windowsill, Ooo la la!

Drew spent a good bit of time building a beautiful loft railing out of cedar wood. It has mortis and tenon joints. He found he didn't quite have the right tools to do a perfect perfect job, but we are both happy with the results, and know that it will keep everyone who ventures upstairs safe (once there is actually a ladder...maybe when Ella is 15?) We are also still missing some closet doors and an actual bedroom door. That door seems important for her, once this new baby begins crawling/walking. Ella keeps a collection of chokables that are not to be trusted!

Loft Railing

Closet Trim

We're hoping Ella will want to begin sleeping in her new room soon, though I must admit, the thought is a little bittersweet. She's been right near us almost every single night since she was born over 5 years ago. People tell you that it's hard to let them go as they grow up, but I didn't realize how true that is until recently. Sigh. It's all a part of life. You nurture them and help them and hold them, and then you let them fly, and hope they fly back to you!

Play Space Ready for FUN!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Clerestory Finishing

Aaron installing window trim

The finish effect, with the beam now visible!

A few weeks back, Aaron built finish frames to go around the clerestory windows. He plastered the open drywall first and then put up the frames. Then Drew was finally able to take down the plastic drape that has covered up our beautiful redwood beam for almost a year. What an unveiling! Then Drew completed the final step, which was to install the low-wattage LED rope light along the whole clerestory, which provides a very low energy ambient light for moving about the house at night after dark. It's a small thing, but it's so fun to see parts of the house we've designed a long time ago come into fruition.

Kitchen Cabinets, Oh My!

Kitchen Before

Kitchen After!

Sink Area and Corner Run

Close Up of Cabinet Door

Almost two weeks ago, the delightful folks at Forbes Cabinets in Eureka came to install the upper and lower cabinets, upgrading our kitchen overnight from 2x4-plywood world into fantastic-functional-beautiful-awesome place. It didn't take so long to get used to, though we are still having a little trouble finding some things!

The cabinets were built by a local shop in town. We've been so happy with their service, and commitment to getting it right, while making it beautiful, all at an affordable price. The cabinets are vertical grain fir, and we added some redwood accents to allow them to stand out a little bit from our background plaster and ceiling. One of my favorite parts, beyond the pretty wood and its pleasing grain and color, is the easy-close drawer slides and door hinges that make the drawers and doors close softly at the end. Oh, and that all kitchen items are now in the kitchen and organized in a way that is easy to access.

Another feature that we are very much enjoying is the small built-in window seat/couch we designed into our kitchen. It's really the perfect size and has three big storage drawers underneath. You see it immediately when you walk in the door, and it just looks cozy.

Built-In Couch (Has yet to acquire a cushion)

Our next step now is to work on our concrete countertops. Drew has built the template, and now needs to move on to the actual forms. We're excitedly planning the colors and inlays. Our friend visited over the weekend with lots of small watch parts that we hope to include in the counter. I'm excited to see how that project unfolds. Beyond that, there are still several finish details to get to as well, like a backsplash, and plaster finishing above the cabinets and around the vent hood. All in good time...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Gardner Thomas Rain Barber
born July 10, 2011 @ 12:07 PM !!!! 7 lbs. 12 oz.

It's been quite a long while since my last post. I wasn't doing anything much, just having a baby, keeping up with our garden, sending my oldest off to kindergarten, and continuing work on our house. It's all continuing, but life is settling onto its new routine after adding a new family member, and I have been missing my blog.

Plus, there are some exciting things happening in the's a short list:
  • the pantry is finished and moved into
  • Ella's room is nearly complete
  • the clerestory is finished
  • our shower got tiled and the tub was installed, so we have a shower in the house now, and,
  • we just got our kitchen cabinets last week (!!!!!!)
Oh, yeah, and we have this beautiful new baby, who is really interesting and fun, and so much joy. There's certainly no shortage of things to write about, so stay tuned for more frequent updates...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hand Knitted Socks

Adult socks knitted in Panda Soy "Stained Glass", 2-at-a-time

Children's Socks, Knitted in MochiPlus, 2-at-a-time

Oh dear, it's been a while since I've posted. Pregnancy hasn't been so kind to me, diminishing my immune system and leaving me vulnerable to every passing virus. I've been sick a lot over the last two months...

But. Some backlog posts. I wanted to show off my knitted socks. The red pair are mine, and the first pair I've knitted with the two socks at the same time with the two circular needles method. They are knitted with a yarn called PandaSoy, which is made with bamboo and soy fiber.

The pink pair are the second attempt at the two-at-a-time socks, and my first attempt at using something other than a very basic sock pattern. It has a ribbing pattern only on the top of the foot. These I knitted as a gift for my daughter, who was requesting "pink, fluffy socks". I used the MochiPlus yarn, a beautiful, soft, painted yarn that does really cool color changes. I made them a little large, so she could wear them next winter, since it's almost summer (though the weather lately wouldn't necessarily suggest that).

I am currently working on a few knitted projects, but my enthusiasm for knitting has kind of faded with sunnier outdoor skies. As it should be. I am wanting to knit while I can, knowing I won't be able to so much once our new baby arrives this July.

Monday, March 28, 2011

More American Clay Plaster

Me, in front of the East Wall of the Office/Music Zone

Today, we mixed up some more Enjarre plaster and got working on finish walls again, after three months off. I'm feeling pretty inspired about plaster right now because I just attended a American Clay application workshop on Saturday with Rick Kantor of Terrasanti in Penngrove, CA at Alternative Building Center in Eureka. I had a whole lot of fun playing and experimenting with plaster with a group of great people, and learned a heck of a lot, too.

This is our third application of Enjarre plaster, which is American Clay's more commercially-minded plaster. It's designed to be a one-coat application, and is intended, generally, to be applied with spray equipment and then back-troweled. That is, until they released a new product called Up & EZ, which enables you to literally roll the plaster on with a paint roller. (Link shows a video demonstration of the roll-on technique). Or you can trowel it on like usual, too.

The last few times we used Enjarre, we were having some difficulty getting it to stick on the roller, and applying it seemed more challenging than American Clay's workhorse plaster, Loma. One thing I learned this weekend was that we weren't mixing it wet enough. I made the mix a lot wetter today, and had much better results. Drew rolled the material on, and I troweled it smooth. Ella got in on the fun too, playing with a small trowel we usually use for compressing our clay once it's dry.

I had some captions in the photos in the original slideshow, which wouldn't show up in the movie. Essentially, they said things like "So easy, a four-year-old can do it", and "So easy, a pregnant lady can do it". The color of the plaster is called "Palomino Valley". What you see here is the wet color, it will be softer when dry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Master Bathroom Cabinet with Countertop

The Vanity, with the Concrete Counter on top, and sink installed. The darker wood in the door panels is the pear wood.

The Tall Linen Unit

The Recycled Copper Sink, set into the countertop

Concrete Countertop, stained with "Espresso" SoyCrete

A few days ago, we installed the concrete countertop that Drew and Michael built. We poured it before we left on our vacation, because with the concrete counters, the cement needs to cure for around 40 days. So we left it in the form while we were away, and Drew unearthed it as soon as we got home.

Once the form comes off, then there is a lot of grinding and sanding to do, with a grinder that connects to a hose. First, we exposed some of the aggregate, and then we sanded with progressively finer disks until the surface was almost like glass. The effect is almost like granite, though not quite as shiny. Once the sanding was done, we stained the counter with SoyCrete, and then put a coat of Acri-Soy sealer on it to protect it.

At last, we lugged it into the bathroom on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, while I was in town, Drew installed the sink and the faucet handles. By Wednesday evening, we had cold running water in the bathroom, and Drew and I realized that for the first time since we've lived together, we no longer needed to brush our teeth in our kitchen sink! Ella was first to try it out.

Our friend Michael Salbego built the cabinets, which I haven't showcased yet either. Drew and I shopped for wood, and after much deliberation, settled on maple frames with select pear-wood panels (these came from Willow Creek somewhere). The drawer panels are locally-grown and milled Pacific big-leaf maple. We were looking for a shaker-style panel. There is a tall unit for linen storage, and then a vanity, with doors under the sink, and drawers on either side. In between the two units, there is an empty space to hold our laundry bin. To finish the assembly off, Michael made some simple, hand-carved drawer pulls and knobs. We think they're gorgeous, and that Mikey did a fantastic job.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

North Half Ceiling Complete

The finished ceiling with paint

Unprimed texture, over drywall

Aaron, applying the spray texture

Last week, we focused our efforts on completing the ceiling on the north half of the main room of the house. For a long time before our vacation, Aaron was working on mudding and taping the ceiling in preparation for texture. Once we returned from vacation, Drew and Aaron sanded the seams to smooth them out. Then Drew and I spent two days (!) masking and draping the walls. Well, it wouldn't have taken quite so long if I wasn't pregnant and Drew wasn't recovering from the flu!

Finally, we diluted our bucket of mud, and loaded some into the hopper to test the spray and see how easy or difficult texturing is. Turns out, it's not THAT hard, though there are some simple tricks that make it a lot easier. Like having thin enough mix, for example. Once we decided on a coverage amount and got the gun nice and clear, it was smooth sailing, though the boys' arms were very very sore by the end.

After we let it dry for a day and a half, we primed the ceiling with ASM's SafeCoat New Wallboard Primer. This is a very low VOC primer, considered non-toxic. The following day, Drew and Aaron painted the ceiling with two coats of Yolo Colorhouse Paint in Color Air.01. Yolo Colorhouse is another no-VOC, non-toxic paint product that we get at our friendly, neighborhood green building store, Alternative Building Center in Eureka. It's a soft, slightly yellow white.

Our goal for this project was to make the tape seams invisible. We mostly succeeded. You can see them in a few spots, but mostly, it looks really great. We're pleased, and NOW we can get on to finishing the walls in that whole area of the house...did I mention we're working on our bathroom, too? I'll make a post about that, it's looking really nice.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chicken Egg Surplus

On our return from vacation, the chickens have ramped up their egg laying such that we're back to a surplus. We are getting 15-17 eggs a day. One of the main permaculture ethics is to turn a surplus into a resource. So we've been doing just that, selling our extra 4-5 dozen a week, to contribute to our feed costs. Then we can subsidize our three dozen a week habit, and continue to enjoy all things egg: deviled eggs, quiche, souffle, benedict, and pancakes.

Now I know why we have that tradition of doing stuff with eggs at Easter! The chickens are in full out production mode.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Batteries for our Off-Grid System

The new batteries, alongside the old in the battery enclosure alongside the garage. The front wall is removable so that we can do just this: get the batteries in and out. We will need to recycle the old ones.

The batteries are so large and heavy, Drew needed to bring them over to the battery enclosure with the tractor.

And he needed a second person to help move them into place.

The Outback Mate showing our battery voltage at 25.6V first thing this morning. What a change from 24.4 first thing. It also shows that despite the cloud cover, we are making 100 watts with the solar panels.

Just after our return from our trip, we finally got the call that our new batteries had arrived in Eureka. We ordered them several months ago. Our old batteries were very much on their last legs, requiring extensive generator use.

The original batteries were really a deal. We bought them used from a neighbor who had them connected to a grid-intertie system. This means they had been held at a constant voltage for the time he had them, so despite their being used, they were in very good shape. However, they weren't designed for off-grid use, and we figured we'd get about 3 years of use out of them before they were no good anymore. We managed to squeeze 5 years out of them. These last two years, they have been far less than optimal, but they have held us up, and allowed us to build our house and keep lights on and the refrigerator running into the night.

Now that we are in the house and have a good idea of what we really needed, we've got these amazing batteries. There are 8 of them, and they are large capacity, and have a 10 year warranty. We are so excited that after charging, they hold charge for hours above a low voltage mark! Wow! We are still conditioning them, and hopefully we do a good job, setting them up to perform for their marketed 10 years or so. Ideally, we will invest in some more solar panels or a wind generator to maximize efficiency in charging these batteries.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chickens as Garden Tools

That concentration of chickens are in the raspberry bed, working their magic. In the background, you can see where they cleared last year's summer garden to dirt, where the black irrigation lines are.

Here's another two gals, working in the bed. The upright sticks are the raspberry crowns, and you can see that AAAAALLLLL around them are weeds. That's the white electric fence in the background.

A few months ago, we finally got around to purchasing a moveable, electrified poultry fence for our chickens. This not only expanded their available foraging area, but now allows us to move them around our orchard and garden area to where they might be most useful. Their natural scratching habit lightly cultivates the soil, they find and eat weeds, grass, and bugs, slugs, and snails, and then they poop, fertilizing the area in their wake. It's a pretty cool equation.

Just before we left, we moved the fence to enclose part of last year's garden. It was already overgrown with weeds and grass. In the six weeks we were gone, they brought that entire area down to bare dirt. I don't really recommend this as a general practice, but it's pretty amazing what they did.

So just today, I was pruning back my raspberry canes, since I never quite got to it in the fall, and the crowns were very grown in with our sheep sorrel weed and several types of grass. None of our grass species is very easy to deal with. They are all very difficult to remove, especially once they crop up in the root ball of a plant you want to keep. I was feeling a little overwhelmed with it until I thought, "hey, this is what the chickens are for!" So I enclosed the area, and immediately, the birds went right for the raspberry area, since there is mulch under there. They scratched and scratched down to bare dirt. Once they do that, I can remove them by moving the fence again, and then mulch heavily. Bye bye, weeds and grass. I'll post another photo in a little while so we can see how it's changed.

Baby #2 On the Way

Most of my dear readers know by now that Drew and I are expecting our second child sometime in the middle of July. This may have something to do with why I haven't posted anything since early January! That, and the fact that we only recently returned from our annual winter vacation, which seems to get longer every year. When I left, I was still feeling pregnancy sick, and now that I'm home, I realize just how tired and ill I was back in January.

So now, many weeks and many telemark ski turns later (that's me up above tearing up the slopes at Heavenly, at 4 months preggers), not to mention a week in Santa Cruz, the flu and a trip to Disneyland, we are settled back into home and spring is just around the corner. There's so much to look forward to, I'm sure I'll be getting back into sharing about the goings on in our little corner of paradise.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Baby Sweaters

For some reason, I haven't really mentioned anything about my knitting obsession on this blog before, but it went into high gear last fall, when I helped host a knitting workshop for beginners and intermediates. I've been knitting since I was about 9 or 10 years old, but I've only begun attempting actual projects in the last 6 years or so.

These last two years or so, I've started knitting baby sweaters for all the cuties being born around these parts. This one above I love, it's so warm AND has a hood. Essential for Mattole babies.

I've also been knitting socks, hats, scarves, fingerless gloves, and I even tried a pair of mittens. I don't know why, but following instructions to create something just lights me up. Weird. I know. But fun.

I'm so excited about it that I've started contemplating raising my own fiber animals so I can raise some of my own yarn. We have a great local fiber artist who knows a lot about it. We've discussed what it might look like to get a local fiber cooperative going, and to create a micro brand of yarn. A fun pastime, contemplating what's possible, and how delightful it would be to knit with locally-raised Mattole yarn.

A Bed Off the Floor

These small things are so tiny, but so delightful. For many years now, our bed has been in a loft or on the floor. Not such a bad thing at all, especially when you have a little tiny person who could fall out of a tall bed. But it comes with it's prices. Changing sheets is a pain (especially with very close ceilings). Crawling around when you're 9 months pregnant isn't so easy, and a little hard on the wrists. And climbing out of a loft at 3 AM when you have to pee isn't such a holiday either.

So we're up off the floor, and the other awesome benefit is to experience the view out the window in the morning that I designed the room for:

The single largest window in the house frames this view of Moore Hill, the last hill before the ocean. Drew and I spent the beginning of our relationship staring out the window at Moore Hill from a different perspective. Ahhh, it's so lovely! It catches the sunrise light so beautifully.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Living In the House

View of Kitchen and Dining From Living Room

View of the Living Room from the Dining Room

Living Room

I have been waiting to photograph the house until the sun was fully shining. Today is January 2, and the last day we saw real sun was December 22. On that day, we hadn't moved in yet!

We moved our temporary kitchen into the house on December 23, the day Drew's mom came to stay for Christmas. It was a little herky jerky and disorganized, but we did it, thanks to the help of our friends, especially Ali, Everett, Aaron, and Chris and Jody, who showed up at the furniture moving moment. We couldn't have done it without all of the Christmas angels.

Though we have been puttering and slowly organizing things and figuring out new systems and patterns of movement in space, we've mostly been relaxing into our new space, and enjoying it. It has been largely rainy and gray since we moved in, and we celebrated Christmas comfortably even though it rained 4 inches outside. We had 4 guests for dinner, and we could still talk, and we enjoyed the fire and food and drink. We had many guests for New Year's Eve, and there was plenty of space for many more. I am looking forward to many more gatherings, opening up this space for unexpected community needs.

My favorite part of living in the house right now is that I don't need to go outside if I don't WANT to. Living in the yurt, there were so many needs to go outdoors, each one requiring shoes, a coat, and moving things around, and often Ella wanted to come, which required SHE get suited up too. Now I can do the laundry without putting on my shoes, nor balancing up and down steps and ramps while holding a full laundry basket. And I can even do it if it's raining outdoors. Wow. Life under one roof. It IS all it's cracked up to be!

The Master Throne

And did I mention the flushing toilets? Now that is something. For the last eight years, I have lived with several outhouse situations. Some of them were rather deluxe, but for the last 4 and 1/2 years, I have been doing my business into a pickle barrel with a seat. With no roof. When the weather was nice, I didn't mind this setup one bit. But when it was pouring rain AND the middle of the night, I would curse the barrel and vow to build a roof each coming spring. Which for some reason we never did. I'm sure it goes without saying, but I am deeply enjoying using the indoor plumbing, especially with all this cold and rainy weather. Especially in the middle of the night. It is true luxury. I had forgotten how nice.