Monday, March 05, 2007

Family words

Does your family have special words that come out of your common experience and mean something only to the members of your family?

Years ago, my son was wrestling with the pronunciation of the big vehicle on the road behind us (when he was much, much younger!). I told him the word was written backwards. He gave it a try. Now they are all "Ambliance"'s to our family.

Working on the barn this week, I have had the worst time remembering the word, "level", I keep wanting to call it a ladle, but I know that's not right. So, it has become the "L-thing that is not a ladle" or "Elthing". So, if you come to help us with the barn and we ask you to hand us the elthing, you know what it is.

And speaking of level - all the books and articles we read on building talk about the importance of plumb, straight and level. My current favorite book of the pole building genre is Low Cost Pole Building Construction, by Ralph Wolfe.

Now, we have several levels in our toolbox - a corner level for fence posts, a little level for the cleats, a big red 2-foot level for beams, and we use them. We use a plumb bob to true our posts. We line up the holes with string. And still, the barn has, umm, shall we say, "character"!

I was standing back and looking at the barn this morning as I was nailing on the lathe strips to put the siding on and I realized - we are working with wood. Wood is a live substance with its own personality and character.

Have you ever seen a truly straight board?

If you can't answer this question - go to a hardware store and look in their stock of finished lumber. You will find all kinds of interesting bows, bends and twists. And that is in supposedly finished, smooth boards that are ready to fit into a nice, square and level house.

Now, I know those guys who wrote all the books we are following have done the work and have used real wood - so why don't they clue you in that "Level, straight and plumb" are concepts to aim toward, not something that really happens in the real world!

We are using rough cut lumber in this barn. I know that is part of the challenge. On the ground and in a pile it looks good and even. And I promise that I can find a spot on each post and rafter that is level. Probably more than one spot. And I think that all of these individual pieces of interesting wood are coming together into a strong, happy, unique barn. Certainly unique...

As we were wrapping up this evening, Shawn found a nice heavy hammer for me. We hadn't been able to figure out where they were packed. I was really, honestly thrilled to see it. Having two real, solid hammers will make tomorrow's work go so much faster. My brain got excited.

Give a girl a hammer....
Give a mouse a cookie....
Give a fish a donut.... huh?

Obviously, it is time for bed....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Knowing and learning

Both Shawn and I are blessed to be bright, curious people who see something that we are interested in - and jump right in and do it.

We research our fascinations, with books, web searches and hands-on trial-and-error. Some things we try and decide they aren't for us. Some things we loose interest in quickly. But many skills and bits of knowledge are added to our repertoires and day-to-day living. We rarely run into something that we cannot do...
And often we do things that amaze people - just because we didn't know we couldn't do them (like building a deck and Renaissance booth in Louisiana in 36 hours).

Sometimes though, we start on a project and a direction and discover that it really isn't going to work. Sometimes we are stubborn enough to beat ourselves against it until it either fails totally, or gives up and works in spite of reality. We started on this barn three days ago. Money is tight right now and I wanted to use all found lumber from the slab heap at our local lumber yard.

We spent all yesterday framing the roof with scrap. It seemed flimsy, but how strong does a roof have to be? My intuition told me that it need to be a lot stronger than this one was. I was worried, but...

Shawn woke up sore and out of sorts. I finally got him to tell me what was bothering him.
"I know you want to build this barn without spending money," he grudgingly began. "But we really need 2X4's."

"I know," I agreed. "That roof is way too weak."

It took longer for us to admit to each other that our plan wasn't working the way we had wanted it to than it did to go find the local saw mill owner at the general store, negotiate a price on 2X4's, go pick up another load of slab and the 2X4's and rip all of yesterday's work off the top of the poles.

That was the scary part. It didn't take 15 minutes to rip the flimsy roof frame down. It had taken us an entire day (almost) to nail it up and obviously, the first big wind would have ripped it right off. This is a picture of yesterday's roof frame, off the barn. And below, the new roof frame, going up.

We got to work quickly, putting up girts, rafters and purlins in short order, after felling all the dead trees that could reach the barn when they fell. None of them did, but we didn't want to chance that they would, after we had the barn built!

I say we, but Shawn did all the hammering. I felt somewhat useless, holding the cattle panel ladder, handing up nails and tools and fetching roofing, but he could not have worked so fast without the ground support I was providing.

Just at dark, we got the last sheet of tin that we had nailed in. I have to go to town tomorrow and I'll get 6 more sheets of tin.

The barn is really coming along, it looks good and strong and we are learning - about barn building and communicating!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Do it!

So many thoughts for today. Hard, physical labor, like building a barn, is a good time to let your brain go wander. Sometimes it takes a while for it to find its way back, though!

We got a lot further on the barn today than this photo shows, but my camera decided that it was much more fun to eat batteries than to take pictures.

One of the trails my brain followed as I was hauling panels was the "You're living my dream" comment that we get from so many people. That part of what this blog is for, so that you can enjoy our foolishness vicariously. However, don't just limit yourself to reading about it, get out and do some of it!

I don't mean jump out of the mainstream with both feet, like we seem to be doing, but just take a little time now and then to physically touch the stuff of your dreams.

Several people have told me that is not an option for them. One person recently e-mailed that she is disabled and lives in an apartment in New York City. She is one of the reasons that I am being more diligent in writing these updates. But, even in that situation, there is container gardening. Most of the extension services have wonderful information on how to grow herbs and vegetables in pots in your house.

If you can get out in your community, look for a local CSA or Community Supported Agriculture farm. These are local farms where you can join in and purchase a membership. You get to work on the farm and receive a share of the produce. Each farm is different. If you don't find a farm in your zip code at the link above, try a Google search for a CSA in your area.

If you have a weekend or longer bit of time that you would like to spend exploring the reality of your dreams, check out World wide opportunities on organic farms. Again, each farm is different, so look over their directory and find one that seems to fit what you are interested in learning.

Get to know your local farmers. You can find them through your local extension office, by going to the farmer's market or by doing a web search for farms in your zip code. Many farms are too busy to have people visit, but some farmers may welcome the offer of help with fence mending or ditch cleaning.

One resource for hooking up with local farmers who would welcome your help is Slow Food, USA. This group focuses on community farming and food sources.

I know there are many other resources out there, these are just a few that I know. Hopefully they will give you some ideas so that you can go from dreaming to - Do it!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Modern convenience

First off, friends and family - if you recognize yourself in a story, a post or a conversation, please don't be offended. If you have questions about what I wrote, send me an e-mail and I will try to explain what I said!

Last fall, we were visiting Shawn's folks. I was helping Sherri clean up after dinner and we were having a nice chat. "What's your favorite modern convenience?" she asked.

I really didn't have to think too long.
While some parts of indoor plumbing still seem wrong to me - I love having hot running water in the house.
Showers - those indoor warm waterfalls - are pure bliss.
Being able to wash the dishes in a sink, with hot water right there, not heated on the fire - what joy!

So, why, when I know hot running water is one of my favorite things in the whole world am I choosing to live a lifestyle where it is a rare treat? Why are we trying to build a farm and homestead on 32 acres of beautiful raw land? Why is the house the last thing I want to build?

In part, because I don't want to become blase' about the simple joys in life. In part because I treasure the very foundations of life - nature, relationships and responsibility. In part because I am always pushing to find my boundaries and stretch my limits.

Maybe none of this is making any sense because after barn building all day - I really want a shower!

Our neighbors in Arkansas are so wonderful. The owner of the local saw mill is letting us haul his slab pile away, just for cleaning it up. We've hauled 3 loads in the horse trailer, probably two more will finish the pile. I think there is enough good wood there to build what will become our goat barn, but it is going to be our moving into barn.

Can't you just see the barn!

It took us more than an hour to square up the layout and mark the post holes - we seem to be great at parallelograms! We spent the rest of the afternoon digging post holes. Shawn did most of the digging. I could get them down about a foot and a half and that was it.

Tomorrow, after shipping orders and finishing our business work - we will cut and set the poles and get roof framed up. Hopefully, we'll get the other two loads of slab hauled. And, as a break, I wanted to go clean up the trash that people have thrown from their cars near the farm driveway, it is really bugging me.

Shawn says I have very funny ideas about "breaks", almost as funny as my "days off". Those are the days that I take to do my heavy production weaving. While they are important for the business, they really are days off for me, because I can focus on something I love and leave the world behind.

Well, that's enough mental pogo stick riding for tonight.

What is your favorite modern convenience?