Introduction

Hang In There!

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hang in there poster

One of my teachers in high school had this ridiculous poster, which I’m sure you’ve all seen in some form or another, on her wall in her classroom. As much as I always worried that this poster and others like it led to the horrible falling deaths of many kittens, it is a pretty apt rendition of my mood for the past week or two. (It’s apt, I tell you, APT! Sorry. Sometimes these Simpson quotes just burst forth from nowhere.)

Between the rain and the more rain, we’ve been slowly slogging (sometimes literally) through the foundation site of our house, currently about 2/3 of the way scraped off. I had hoped by this point, we would be well on our way to getting the stem wall in place, but no such luck.

On top of that, the blog hasn’t exactly caught on as fast as I wanted, and when your top readers are your mom, your husband, and your best friend, it makes you wonder if they’re just being a little biased. Then I found out it actually takes a blog on average two years to gain a following. That was both uplifting and depressing.

So by the time Sunday rolled around, I was feeling pretty down. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished what I wanted. I was starting to wonder if this was ever really going to happen. And I wondered if anyone really cared enough to read about this journey. I didn’t feel like going to church. I just wanted to crawl back in bed and pout.

But I also know those are exactly the times when I need my faith the most. I’m not going to get all preachy with this. When people are down, they have different ways of getting uplifted again. My way is through church. An hour or two of time where I can learn about my spirituality, how God works in my life, and be infused with strength again.

So I headed to church with Casey and Lili. During the singing, I began feeling much better. We have a very upbeat church that focuses on the positive things God is doing in this world and in our lives as individuals. Our staff values the members, and the members value our staff. In other words, #altdurant rocks!

After the singing, we have a minute or two to greet the people around us. Casey and I have severe social anxiety and don’t often feel brave enough to turn to anyone and say hi. But our congregation is warm and open, and that’s never been an issue because so many people say hi or give a quick wave to us.

During that time, a friend who sits a row in front of us usually turned to say hi. I was brooding about my blog and the house still and kind of lost in thought on that, so I just smiled and went back to my internal dialogue (which happens a lot in my brain). Then she asked me, “Hey,how’s your house going? I read your blog every week. I really like it!”

All of a sudden, I was out of my funk. With just a few words, our friend NiCole had changed the entire outlook of my day. Someone reads my blog regularly? And they’re not required to by the code of momhood, husbandhood, or bestfriendhood?

As we chatted for a few minutes, I realized that we had actually made some good accomplishments even on a slow couple weeks. We sourced clayey subsoil from a swimming pool that was put in on the north side of Durant. We found a great deal on a tiller, which once this rain stops again, should in theory help us dig up the site more quickly. We’ve already gotten two loads of dirt to our site. And we sourced some straw to start making test batches to get our mix right.

I know we’re still at the beginning of our cob house journey, and there will be many more discouragements, obstacles, and setbacks along the way, for the house and the blog. But I know that if I just take that time to recharge, if I refocus, and if I fish for compliments from friends and family, I can hang in there. Hopefully better than that poor kitten does. It really looks terrified.

Spending Update:

  • Tent Pegs $11
  • Work Gloves (we got holes in the cheapies we already had) $31
  • Tiller $65

Total as of 5/7/15 $107

Yeah, $107. I had to check again on the calculator. I was an English and history teacher, not a math teacher, for good reason.

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Deciding to Build with Cob, or Explaining to My Mother* Why I Want to Live in a Mud Hut

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We are not outdoorsy people. We are geeks. By we, I mean me, my husband Casey, and our 12-year-old daughter Lili. We like LOTR, Game of Thrones, D&D, Big Bang Theory, Legos, dragons, reading Star Trek novels on our Kindle (unlimited membership, of course), and debating on the best OS (Linux and Android, duh).

We are not outdoorsy people. We have allergies to pollen, cedar, hay, and numerous other things. We think 68 degrees is a “smidge chilly” and 74 degrees is “way too freakin’ hot” to go outside. We are out of shape, easily fatigued, and drink too much caffeine.

So why on earth would we want to build our own home? Out of dirt? With nothing fancier than a shovel and a level? Out of dirt? Outside? By ourselves? Outside? With no knowledge of construction or engineering beyond the scope of the aforementioned Legos? Out of dirt?

For every reason mentioned above, and so much more. We are out of shape geeks who need a lifestyle change. We need simplification, a route to common sense financial independence, and a return to good health and living in tune with the land. We need an extreme nerd makeover.

Casey and I (and to a lesser enthusiastic sense, Lili) have been exploring the idea of “alternative” housing and energy for a couple of years now. We decided last year we wanted to build tiny. We also saw that even in tiny housing, the costs and impact on the environment  can be large if you outsource materials that are not local and have others do your building.

So then our thoughts turned to, “Could we really do this ourselves? And how inexpensive (cheap) could we make it?”

And then a few months ago while reading before bedtime, something we normally try to do to wind down, Casey came across a chapter in a tiny house book on cob houses. Now given, Casey had just taken his back pain medicine and was a little loopy. He started rambling about wanting to live in a mud hut, and spent the next 2 hours boring me with this idea of cob housing, until finally I told him to just go to sleep, and not very politely.

Then I spent the next 2 hours thinking about this idea of cob housing and did a little research on my phone and thinking and not getting my brain to shut up. The next day I told Casey I thought the idea of cob housing was brilliant, to which he replied with a bewildered look, “Cob housing? What’s that?”

After I explained to him what he had oh-so-eloquently slurred to me the night before (those are some good pain meds), he thought it was a great idea too. Leave it to Casey to come up with a good housing option while doped up on medication.

Here’s the rundown on why we chose cob:

1) Much of the building material comes right out of the ground you are building on (can’t get much more local than that). The rest of it is either free or nearly free, and can usually be found locally.

2) Although pretty labor intensive, it is relatively easy to build, requiring no special skills or equipment.

3) It’s labor intensive, so it’ll get us into shape.

4) Did I mention how cheap it is?

5) Two-thirds of the world live in earthen housing of some type, and have for centuries.

6) Cob housing can last hundreds, if not thousands of years.

7) It brings us back to our roots, both Choctaw, who lived in wattle and daub housing, which is like cob with sticks, and European, who built with traditional cob and thatched roofs.

8) Cob housing can be beautiful. There is no mistaking the finished product for a mud hut.

9) The materials are all natural, and less likely to cause health issues, in comparison to the chemical laden commercially available materials.

10) We get to build and design and literally shape our house with our own hands, being as creative and geeky as we want. (Can we say cob dragon pizza oven?) And since cob lends itself so well to natural curves and out-of-the-box shapes, I’ve already picked out my hobbit door.

So, no, Mama, I will not be living in a mud hut. I will have electricity (wind-powered, most likely), running water (but not to the toilet, as there are much better options than wasting fresh drinking water on doing your business), and all the comforts of a modern home, without the need for central heat and air thanks to passive solar design.

Progress Update:  We broke ground last Sunday on our new home site. We’ve almost cleared the site of grass. We’ve designed the floor plan and are working on a miniature clay model of the house to get an idea of wall and furniture dimensions. We’ve done some testing of soil samples and hauled in some urbanite and gravel from a local construction site (all for free). See pics below. Top: Casey staking out our floor plan to get an idea of the space. Middle: Jenny (our dog, the perfect size for a tiny house) checking out the first day of digging. Bottom:  Our jar of soil sample using the shake test. It’s hard to tell, but there are 3 separate layers: a chunky river sand, roughly 60%; silt, 20%; clay, 20%. This is probably an okay ratio, but we’ll do a lot more testing to make sure we don’t need to add more sand (easy to get in this area) or more clay (not sure yet on a source for this, so we may need to harvest clay from another part of the land by doing large-scale shake tests and scraping off the clay). Once we get more subsoil dug out, we’ll be able to run more tests with straw to make sure.

Casey staking out foundation First day of digging Shake Soil Test in Jar

Money Spent:  $4 for twine and $11 for tent stakes to map out the footprint on the ground

Total Cost to Date: $15

*Once I explained the idea to her, my mother is actually very supportive of this plan. She’s all about living green and values the artistic but low environmental impact that cob housing can have on the land. Props to my Mama for teaching me how to save money, reuse, reduce, and recycle!