Natural Building With Straw & Clay

This weekend I spent a day helping stuff the walls of a straw/clay home.  Having been constructed with natural materials, a straw/clay home is a canary’s dream home: a true sanctuary.  

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This is a beautiful, GA Cook Co. (Maple City, MI), white-oak timber-frame home that is receiving a 12” layer of straw clay “outsulation”.  After the walls are stuffed it will be sided with wood and hand-plastered with clay, sand, lime and natural pigments.

From the builder, Thomas Hirsch of Bungalow Builders, building with straw and clay means:
– using materials that did not come in a disposable (or non-disposable, perhaps) packaging!

– using materials that were not sourced from a 3rd world country or even out of this country…or even out of this county!

-buying supplies locally and not from a big box store

– “waste” gets worked into the landscape

– a very small carbon footprint.

– the R-value of wall system gets a boost from “thermal mass effect”: walls hold heat & re-radiate back slowly over time.  Humidity is also moderated: no static electricity buildup when covered with natural clay/lime/sand/mineral pigmented plasters. Micropores available in surfaces treated in this way also have an air filtering quality. The list of subtle enhancements to a healthy living environment goes on.

-there are some things in life that some of us never grow out of…like playing in the mud!

-the 3 little pigs were on to something

-and hey, we even get a building permit to do this

-the FBI might consider this subversive, so that’s sexy, right?

– this is an equal opportunity event.  Veteran stuff-meisters & newbies welcome.

Links to more information on natural building:

Gernot Minke images

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The Sun Never Says, “You Owe Me.”

Inevitably, when I mention solar as an energy source, someone–usually my brother–will tell me that using the sun as an energy source isn’t feasible.  My retort is always, “We’re killing ourselves and everything on the planet.  If we want electricity, do we really have any other choice but to figure out how to use the sun?”

The prose above reminded me of two articles I read recently.  One ( ) paraphrased a study by Germany’s Institute for Future Energy Systems (IZES).  It found that solar power reduced the cost of energy by 10% in Germany and that the reduction in price was even greater during peak hours when electricity usually costs the most – also confirmed by Evergreen Solar.

The second ( addressed the recent blackout in India.  It stated that the “modern” grid system doesn’t really work in India especially during peak hours.  For once the “rural poor” made out better than the middle class and wealthy because they were powered by solar which delivered during peak hours.  Unfortunately, India is still moving forward with its plans to build a huge coal-fired power plant despite difficulties, such as not being able to get the coal to the plant, and the probability that it won’t serve India’s citizens.

Of course I do have issues with solar and wind.  My biggest issue is that it is still often delivered by large corporations bent on huge profit margins rather than the welfare of a country’s citizens.  Here I should probably say something like, “…the owners of large corporations…” because I certainly do not believe that corporations are people.  In my ideal world, each household would be self-sustaining or the electricity would be delivered collaboratively through a small, local cooperative.

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Failure to Identify the Appropriate Renewable Resource.

Too bad the brainchild for this comic didn’t know that US currency is made out of cotton and linen.  The short fibers and acidity of a wood pulp dollar wouldn’t last very long.  So much for credibility.

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Lipstick? What’s that?

I saw this lipstick case at a garage sale and bought it to use as a headphone case. Instead, I discovered that it is the perfect size to hold my Voyager 17 longarm bobbins! Funny that it never occurred to me to use it for lipstick…

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Taking the Longarm by the Horns

This weekend I had the joy of visiting with a long-time friend. Syma finished her first quilt, and asked if she could come over to quilt it on my frame.

Of course, the answer was YES, since that meant that she would be staying over the weekend. So, we loaded the quilt up onto the frame, and I ran interference between her and my longarm (who is now named Nellie, after the temperamental, spoiled little Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie), handling the screwdriver while she did the quilting.

It turned out GREAT! If you look at the second photo, you can see the quilt design on the back. She took to it like a duck to water.

Here are some photos with her newly all-but-bound quilt. Syma is a “finisher”, so she’ll probably have it bound by the weekend.

Thanks for the great time, Syma!

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Stay Cool!

The heat wave continues, but our hero the demon baby has found a way to keep cool!

Happy Independence Day to those who live in the USA!

Demon baby with swim float and flippers

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I Survived the Summer Solstice

Thursday, June 21, 12:54AM.  I hear the cat rummaging around at her feeding station and I yell, “Knock it off!…Go lay down!…Go to bed!”  The crashing and thrashing continues so I resolve to get up to see what the hullaballoo is about.  I find the cat scaling the window screens in the kitchen (odd behavior). NO! THAT’S A RACCOON!!

The cat is on the floor staunchly defending home-turf.  As I come to terms with the fact that I have a disgusting, wild animal in the house (How did this thing get inside?  How am I going to get it out?), the terrified raccoon launches itself onto the kitchen counter with an angry cat in pursuit.  Fighting the urge to grab the thing and throw it as it runs helter-skelter toward the clean china,  I whack it with a colander while begging it “No, no, no, no, no”.  It throws itself off the counter and runs –angry cat in pursuit–into the basement.  It brushes my legs on its retreat and I realize I’m a bit under-dressed for the task at hand.  I also think, “Wow, that was softer and cleaner feeling than I thought that filthy beast would be.”  Now I’m yelling, “No, no, no, no, no,” in that commanding voice meant to call-off your pet from certain harm.

What follows is that bull-in-a-china-shop sound that no one wants to hear coming from the basement.  This awful racket continues while I lock the cat–who thankfully listened to me–in a room; grab a broom; and prop doors open.   With the sounds of home destruction continuing, I decide that it’s time to call in back-up and call my Dad who lives nearby, “I’m OK but there’s a raccoon in my house.  Will you help me get it out.”  You know, because every father wants a call from his daughter at 1:00AM.

Team Raccoon Removal

It’s windy and the back door slams shut.  When I enter the kitchen after opening the door again the raccoon is upstairs and–of course, it can’t go out the open door–it runs full-bore down the hallway and into my bedroom, of course.  On my way to the bedroom, I notice the cat shoving her nose and paws under the door.  She wants a piece of that raccoon.  I’m still begging, “No.”

When I get into my bedroom, the raccoon is on my dresser frantically trying to figure out how to get through the screened window.  When it sees me it scales the bookshelf knocking picture frames and art to their certain demise and proceeds to claw frantically at the corner of the room (“No, no, no, no, no.”).  When the frantic clawing doesn’t gain it its release, it launches itself onto a nearby chair, runs across the room to my nightstand, knocks over the lamp and Velcros itself to a Japanese wall hanging.  Swing, swing, swing while it climbs the wall hanging.  When this climbing effort doesn’t work it drops onto the nightstand again and claws at that corner.  When this does not give it the release that it desires, it once again runs across the room, across the chair, scales my favorite books, knocks some more things from the shelves and frantically claws at the corner.

In the meantime I’m frantically (everyone is frantic) opening the window above the dresser wide enough to chuck a raccoon out of.  I simultaneously try to contain the raccoon on top of the bookshelf (No more swinging from the wall hangings, please.) and try to wrench the window screen free of the frame.  The raccoon is hissing and threatening me and I’m hoping it doesn’t decide to do a kamikaze and jump on my head as a last-ditch resort to freedom.  Once the screen is wrested free from the frame, I use the broom to wrangle the raccoon off the shelf and onto my dresser.  This is delicate work as the raccoon continues to threaten me and could clearly bolt in any direction at any moment leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.  It hesitates as it gets to the open window trying to judge what lies in wait.  Pfft, heck no.  You’re not thinking about this.  You’re outta here.  WHACK! with the broom.  Nightmare over.

Fortunately dad was still in the process of loading his gun when I called to notify him that the raccoon had been extricated.  Why had I not considered that shooting an animal inside the house might have been part of his removal effort?  Note to self: Unless you want something dead inside your home, don’t call Dad.

Upon inspection, there really wasn’t much damage: two screens, a picture frame and my sense of security (The funny thing is that I had watched a video that had spooked me a couple nights before.  Yeah, raccoon in the house is so much more terrifying than the possibility of alien abduction.).  One screen was damaged from the forced entry and Spider-Man efforts of the terrified raccoon.  The other was damaged by my Incredible Hulk imperative to remove the screen from the bedroom window as quickly as possible.  The favored books were fine.  Not even the walls were scratched (Hoozah, ten-year-old, Benjamin Moore paint).

Although this is not the first animal removal effort involving me in my pajamas, the cat and a broom, the cat and I didn’t sleep much after that.  She kept watch at the bedroom door and every time I stirred she was up and ready to kick some raccoon butt.

Yup, that happened and we survived.

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Weeding Hell

Cartoon demon baby weeding

Demon baby likes weeding about as much as I do.

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Coffee Love

When it’s hot like this, I love iced coffee. Apparently, so does demon baby!

Keep cool!

Cartoon Demon Baby hugging giant coffee cup

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Holy cow! It’s hot!

It’s supposed to get up to 97F here today. I know it gets much hotter in many other places, but we Midwestern flowers have a hard time dealing with the heat. We’re just not used to it, and the humidity really gets to us.

We’ll survive, though. It’s all a matter of hydration.

Hot demon baby

Even demon babies have a hard time with the heat, sometimes

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