Holistically Organized Multidisciplinary Endeavors Farm

Friday, November 2nd

I wake in the night for some unknown reason and can’t get back to sleep.  I get up to use the restroom and get a drink of milk out of the fridge.  I hear a sound, a faint and fast clicking coming from up in the roof.  I know this sound.  I’ve heard it before.  It must be some kind of insect.  Do scorpions make sounds?  I go back to bed.

Saturday, November 3rd

This morning, I wake up to the sound of Kyias hollering, “Mamma!” from his crib in the boy’s room.  I roll over, pulling the covers tight and feel Aaron get out of bed.  He gets the baby and changes his diaper.  I hear him starting the coffee, and then he brings the baby to me to nurse.  I try to keep myself covered in bed, but in avoiding suffocating the baby, I have to keep a shoulder exposed.  Brrrr.  Next Mason (4.5) climbs up in my bed and, despite me best efforts to keep his icy cold feet away from my legs, he manages to wiggle them through the sheet barrier. Mason tells me of his dreams about a giant penguin lurking around outside the house at night.  Julius (12) brings a cup of coffee to me and I smile because he’s remembered my lactose-free coconut milk creamer.  He sits down at his desk and pretends to start on his book work.  I can hear the bits of metal scraping around, giving away the fact that he’s actually wire wrapping some stones.  I could nag him about doing some history notes, but he’s passionate about this new hobby so I let it go, reminding myself to trust him to follow his own educational path.  See unschooling. Aaron has grabbed the Week magazine and come back to bed with his coffee, black as usual.  He reads us some interesting tidbits first about transgender rights and then technology that can bypass facial recognition software.  When my cup is empty, I get out of bed and put on my cold pants – my least favorite part of an autumn morning.  I am so excited to get the heat pump hooked up.  Aaron will work on that while I peck away at the cob in the front of the house today.

Monday, November 5th

We’re standing in the kitchen observing the heat pump – air conditioner.  It is finally up and running!  On this really cold morning, the heat pump isn’t functioning properly.  We’re trying to assess what’s going on.  Aaron is explaining that the extreme cold and lower sun angle are making it more difficult to pump heat.  It also has a fishy smell.  We look that up and find that other people have noticed the same thing, a fishy smell means that certain plastic components inside the unit are getting too hot.  We set the thermostat to 82 instead of 90.  That seems to fix the problem.  However, the realization sets in that this little heater isn’t going to be enough.  Well, we knew that we’d need more than one heat source, but this little mini-split only runs when the sun is up, functioning as an auxiliary heat source.  While we converse about bringing the barrel stove in until we get the rocket mass heater built, I sweep a pile of dust off the table.  What a strange little pile of dust.  It’s like sawdust, but we haven’t been woodworking.

Wednesday, November 7th

Aaron finds some tiny beetles in the rain-water catch behind the house. I pull out my nifty camera and its zoom lenses and get this picture of the beetle.  I’m not a professional photographer, obviously because I forgot to put a dime or a quarter next to this guy as it crawled around.  It’s about 6 millimeters long.

deathwatch beetle
Neat little beetle with my zoom lens


I’m bringing in groceries from the car.  Aaron is up on the ladder applying papercrete to the ceiling.  Papercrete is a mixture of Portland cement, shredded newspaper and water.  Think heavy duty paper mache.  It is supposed to have an R-value of 2.  He’s figured out that papercrete has a very different application than cob.  Cob is slapped on with force and then smoothed, usually with the heel of the hand, so that the clay particles lay down and smear across the surface.  With papercrete, there is no clay, only fibers and cement.  The sticking occurs when the fibers are rapidly patted and pushed into the grain of the wood slats.  Papercrete takes a long time to dry.  His plan is to circle around the outer perimeter of the middle room, which he can reach with the ladder.  Then we’ll set up the scaffolding and do the middle.  He points out some bug holes in the oak rafters.

papercrete, chicken wire, insulation, earthbag home, home-farm
Papercrete on the ceiling


papercrete, portland cement, insulation
Papercrete: patting, not smoothing

Wednesday, November 16th

We bring in the barrel stove.  Aaron adds some high temperature caulk around the chimney opening.  I add clear caulk all around the windows on the south side.  I also nail in a few pieces of trim.  They still need to be filled in with cob where we chipped out an entry space for the trim.

window caulk
Window caulk

Sunday, November 18th

We are down by the corrals, where the trees line the creek.  It is one of those transition days of November, when it should be colder, but a front has come from the south, warming the air.  The sounds around us are idyllic; the chatter of birds, a gentle breeze, and the swish of oak leaves under our feet.  Our purpose here is fourfold: cut down invasive eastern red cedars, find a red cedar to use as a pillar on the corner of our bathroom and loft space, snag some previously cut dry cedars for the fireplace, and find a tree for winter solstice.  If you’re wondering whether a solstice tree is the same as a Christmas tree, you’d be right.  We just don’t celebrate Christmas, no offense to those of you who do.  We’ve actually never put up our own tree before.  I always thought that annual American tradition was wasteful, whether it’s harvested unsustainably from a monoculture tree farm and quickly discarded to the curb, or worse, those plastic trees that never seem to fit correctly back into the box and end up in landfills.

So here’s why we’re doing it this year.  Those cedar trees that line the creek are invasive.  They grow rapidly and shade out the grass and consume lots of surface water.  Why not bring one home, decorate it with twinkling lights powered by the sun, and enjoy its nostalgic and comforting beauty?  The longest night of the year should be celebrated with festivities and light.

While Aaron drowns out the peaceful sound of the birds chirping with the roar of the chainsaw, me and the boys wander around and look for the perfect solstice tree.  Now cedar trees are not your ideal Douglas firs with a perfect pine cone shape, larger at the bottom and extending up to a nice point at the top with full, puffy pine branches.  Eastern red cedar trees are typically pretty sparse, missing branches here and there, and looking rather, well mangy compared to Douglas firs.  The needles are too long and the branches are sometimes so thin that they droop; hardly substantial enough for lights or ornaments.

I walk through clumps of cedars that are much too squat and bushy, and clumps that are all laying down, having just been massacred by my partner.  Aha! Here is the best you can ask for: about 8 feet tall, nicely rounded, with a neat point at the top. A few of the branches stick out a bit far, but we can trim those. I proudly point out the tree and ask the boys what they think. “Sure mom. It looks great.” They obviously have no experience with choosing a proper tree. The only holiday trees in their memories were their grandparents’ who either had plastic ones that stayed in the corner of the living room for 3 consecutive years, or who had the very best presents underneath that were more important than the tree itself.

red cedar tree
Winter Solstice Red Cedar

Now that the tree has been chosen, we move on to the business of collecting firewood.  Aaron cuts the pieces that are dead and down.  Together, he and I hurl them toward the car.  I pick them up and tetris them into the trunk.  Yes, tetris is a verb. It means to flip and rotate objects so as to fit as many as possible into a small space, such as a freezer or car trunk. It is dark out, with bright stars as I situate the guitar and the Lichtenberg wood burner into the trunk.  I enjoy this little stint of physical labor, as I haven’t brought myself to a sweat for some time.

This sweat has an inconvenient timing actually, because the wind has shifted, coming from the north now and making me very cold.  We bring the loaded car back up to the house and unload it under the porch, bringing some inside.  Aaron lights the stove and we all bask in the warmth of combusting logs of cedar and walnut.

Monday, November 19th

We’re heading out tomorrow morning on a midwest trip for Thanksgiving.  It’s been almost 2 years since I last visited my dear old sister, and 3 years since we stopped in to Southern Illinois.  We’ll also be visiting my cousins and Aunt in Indianapolis.  I am so excited to see everyone.  I get the boys’ bags packed and I tetris them into the car trunk.  See, there’s that word again.  I feel something behind me.  You know that feeling, when the breeze is suddenly different because something is obstructing it?  I turn around and see a huge black beast standing there, 4 feet from my bent-over butt.  I jump and hit my head on the trunk lid, startling the cow.  And yet, it remains, like a big dumb and curious kitten, just staring at me.  “Why are you staring at me like that, cow?” I ask.  It rotates its lower jaw to adjust some cud and then slowly saunters off into the night. Hashtag: lifewithcows.

Monday, November 26th

We are standing in a friend’s straw-bale home in Southern Illinois.  I mentioned his home back in November 2015. He’s 4 years in and his home looks amazing.  Many people choose to cob over strawbale walls much like earthbag walls.  He skipped our method of manure plaster step and chose to apply lime plaster directly to the smoothed cob layer, giving the walls this very organic undulating affect.  He used some yellowish pigment in the plaster which gives the room a delightful brightness, compared to the natural tone of Illinois’ grey soils.  His mini-split is oversized for his square footage so it’s nice and cozy.  The rocket mass stove is functional and gives me hope because he explained that building it was relatively quick.  It makes my heart happy that like-minded people are getting on with their natural building projects alongside ours.  I look down and notice that Mason is picking at the bottles enveloped in the cob wall.  I tell him not to pick at it.  Our friend assures us that it’s okay, the house is totally dusty and that wall is unfinished.  And then I remember saying that exact phrase to all our visitors who pick off a tiny chunk of our unfinished earth walls.  Hashtag: thedirtylife.

Thursday, November 29th

I used to get depressed after vacations and small trips away from home.  The absence of something exciting to look forward to used to feel heavy.  Now when we return from a trip, especially a trip filled with loved ones, I feel rejuvenated.  I have a fresh perspective on the house and its projects.  I am ready to get organized and get the next big thing underway.  For us, the next big thing is insulation and beautification of the ceiling in the middle room.  Aaron and I discuss plans for the ceiling and its potential paint color after the smooth final coat is applied.  The littles are playing with legos on the kitchen table and Julius is wire-wrapping.   Aaron finds a small worm-like creature in one of the holes.  I investigate on Google. The only room that didn’t get natural insect repellent cedar wood, has an infestation. The worm is no doubt Xestobium rufovillosum, aka the deathwatch beetle, dubbed so because of the clicking noise it made while family would stay up nights and take vigil over a dying relative.  The clicking is of course, rather sexy sounding to potential beetle mates.  One article referenced Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart and suggested the beating sound was actually this beetle.  Having heard this sound many nights, I can assure you, I would have to be pretty convinced of my imminent death to believe that it sounded anything like a heart beating.  There are several very expensive and toxic terminator-applied solutions… The baby starts whining and grabbing my leg.  My sweet 12 year old grabs the phone and takes over.  “Fumigation can take care of the infestation, or a 15% Borax and water solution sprayed on the logs over a period of 12 days can substantially decrease their population,” he reads.

Xestobium rufovillosum

That’s not exactly the next big project I had in mind, but I’m in such good spirits, I feel I could tackle anything.

Friday, November 30th

I am writing the blog.  We sent the children out to play an hour ago because sometimes it feels like they never leave the house.  So we sent them out with snacks and drinks and told them to go explore the great outdoors.  They should be back any minute.  Aaron is looking out the window at the approaching storm.
“You see that big anvil?” he asks.
“Yep, it’s a big one,” I reply, barely looking up from the screen.
“You know what that means, right?”
“Uh, it’s going to rain?”
“When you see a big anvil, you know you’re going to get hammered.”
In accordance with the laws of southwestern Oklahoma, it doesn’t rain more than a few drops.  We could really use the rain too.  Maybe December will bring some precipitation.  Goodbye, November.

Books of the Month

Aaron: Brandon Mull Fablehaven book 2: Rise of the Evening Star and Book 3: Grip of the Shadow Plague. 
Julius (12): Fablehaven books 2 and 3, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation by M. T. Anderson.
Me: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships by Suzanne Stabile.
Mason (4.5): Kangaroos nonfiction picture book.  Did you know there is a tree kangaroo?!
Family Read Alouds: Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling, with commentary by Albus Dumbledore.  Harry Potter fans: you should probably own this!
Kyias (20mos): The Mitten by Jan Brett

Family Adventure of the Month:

We visited my hometown in Illinois to visit my sister and her family, my parents and younger brother as well as my old bestie.  Then to Indiana to visit my maternal cousins and aunt.  There, we got a parent’s night out and boogied to some local funky-electronic bands.  Swooping down to Southern Illinois to hang out with our farm friends, and a quick stop to see friends in Tennessee.  My parents are so thoughtful.  My stepmom collects these eclectic, train-riding gnome figurines, and thought to move them up to higher shelves while her grandsons was visiting.  The meal was excellent.

Thanksgiving 2018


cousins, illinois,
I wish my mom could see her 5 grandsons


Cousin love

Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy Homesteading.  Check in next month for pictures of our winter solstice tree.