cob

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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Resource Review – ThisCobHouse.com

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We’ve been looking into several resources on cob building and learning to build with cob, and one of the best resources we’ve found so far is Alex Sumerall’s ThisCobHouse.com. We’ve read his book, signed up for his online cob building workshop, subscribed to his blog, and most recently, attended his free webinar, “Introduction to Cob Building”.

Alex has also been incredibly helpful in providing specific answers to questions we had on cob building. He’s responded to every email promptly and with great detail. It’s definitely a bonus having quick access to the author and teacher of the course!

Some of the free resources Alex offers are webinars, blog posts, and articles, as well as links to more information from other cob experts. However, if you’re ready to dig into (pun intended) more detail, he offers an intensive and in depth course on cob building that’s as close to a workshop as you can get without actually having to invest the time and money required to go to one (although he offers the workshops as well).

The course is presented in video format, a combination of footage from his build sites and PowerPoint presentations on more of the “classroom” type knowledge, and includes printable notes and a Q&A comment section for each lesson. It’s a 12-month course, although I believe only 5 months are up on the website right now, but that could be because we don’t have access to the later lessons yet. Each month is broken down into basically what you would be doing for that month on your own dig site, at least that’s how the first month has been for us. Alex includes case studies, monthly Q&A reviews, and instructions for different design options, including round and square foundations and walls.

He has two books, Build a Cob House: A Step-by-Step Guide, and Cob to Code, which covers building codes and their impact on cob housing. The first book breaks everything down, truly step by step, with instructions and photos of each part of the building process. The second book I have yet to read, mostly because building codes don’t apply in our area.

Casey and I both attended the free webinar today, and I really hope Alex plans on hosting more of these! It was informative and included a Q&A at the end. Unfortunately, Alex received so many questions that he wasn’t able to answer the several I submitted before the end of the webinar. I sent him a quick email, and once I’ve received the answers, I’ll update this post to include them.

UPDATE: Just seconds after I finished this, I received a response from Alex. Thanks for the quick reply!

Q: I’ve read in your book and Becky Bee’s book that you shouldn’t use hay, but instead use straw. However, Bee also mentioned that many local grasses and reeds can be used. Isn’t hay a type of grass? And if used and it does sprout, can you just let it sprout and pluck it before plastering? We don’t have good sources of straw in SE Oklahoma, but we have tons of hay!
A:  Yes, you could let the hay sprout and then just go from there. Straw is always best if you can get some though. It has stronger tensile strength.

Hay is a pre-harvest crop. Straw is post harvest, and doesn’t have the living organic parts left that can easily decay.

Q:  Can you use cob for roofs?

A:  Cob can’t be used for roofs since it’s too heavy. The only way to use earth materials for a roof is to do a dome or vault using either adobe blocks or superadobe, but these are quite technical to construct.

Q:  Can you use cob for tubs or sinks?

A:  You can sculpt cob sinks, tubs, showers and then plaster them with a lime render called tadelakt. It is waterproof.

Q:  [Regarding a special Alex ran during the webinar] Can we get the cob plans even though we’ve already registered for your course?

A:  And yes, I’ll attach the plans for you too!

So if you’re looking for more information on building with cob, check out ThisCobHouse.com. And the special Alex is running includes both of his books and two sets of cob building plans, one for a house and one for a garden wall. It’s a great value, all included in the current subscription price for the online course.

Have you found any great resources you’d like us to mention or review in upcoming posts? Add them in the comments below, and we’ll be sure to check them out!

Rain, Rain, Go Away…Three Geeks Want to Play…In the Dirt

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It has rained and rained and rained some more here in Southeastern Oklahoma for the past week, so we haven’t exactly gotten much done on our little cob house. Not much to update, but here’s what’s happened in between downpours.

1) Gravel

We were able to get about a 1/2 ton of gravel from the construction site, which is still sitting in the back of the truck. If it’s not pouring down tomorrow, we’ll empty it out and head back for more. Here’s a pic of the bigger urbanite that we obtained the week before, along with Lili taking a tailgate ride with our Chihuahua, Jenny.

Our growing urbanite pile
Our growing urbanite pile

2) Digging

We were able to get another 10 or so wheelbarrow loads cleared off the foundation site and restring our layout to be more rounded with the new tent pegs and twine. Here’s a “before” photo from last Monday.

We really should have put those rocks somewhere else.
We really should have put those rocks somewhere else.

And an “after” photo from today of Lili attempting to dig in the mud. Some progress, but not a lot!

Because now they're in the middle of the pond foundation.
Because now they’re in the middle of the pond foundation.
  1. Reading and Learning

This part was actually during downpours, not in between. We have purchased some books (this comes out of our monthly “book budget” and spending money, usually just lumped together for a bigger book budget in our house) on building with cob. We’ve read or are reading The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans and Michael Smith, The Cob Builders Handbook by Becky Bee (which she also has available online for free), and Building with Cob by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce.

We have also enrolled in an online course on cob building through ThisCobHouse, taught by Alex Sumerall. We’ve also purchased one of his books on cob houses. I have to say, both the course as well as the book have been extremely helpful in figuring out how to plan out the foundation, test the soil, and pretty much any other questions we have about cob. He also writes a blog and teaches how to build to code, not an issue in our rural area, but definitely something to check on if you’re building your own cob house.

Great Resource for Cob Builders

We’ll give more in-depth reviews of all these resources in upcoming blogs. If you’re researching cob building, these are great places to start!

I realize this post is shorter than my last posts, and this is on purpose in an attempt to see which method our readers prefer. My first two posts were over 800 words, and I posted once a week. However, I recently read a book on blogging that suggested readers tend to prefer shorter posts (around 300 words) a few times a week. Leave your thoughts in the comments section! And, yes, I realize that this post is still over 400 words, but I just can’t seem to cut my ideas any shorter!