Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fire on the hill, art, and working on the land.

Fire on Wind Mountain, Taos County, NM.

The fire is still burning north of our Earthship.  It was started by lightening on July 17, 2012. Some days it appears worse than others. Yesterday when we got back from working on our land in the southern end of the valley, the fire was raging. When it got dark, I could see the flames. There is no updated news on the NM fire info website, but I suspect the fire has grown now that it has jumped the ridge. Thankful for the highway between us and it. We do have corral panels moved down to our land in the event we have to move the llamas.

In other news:

The art opening was a blast. Arte des Descartes XII at the Stables Gallery in Taos, NM. There was an incredible amount of art there...all of it made out of recycled materials. Wonderful. Even the live band was a "junk" band called Check Magaphone. They were absolutely splendid. The little kids danced. There was food and a wonderful assortment of colorful characters that make up this great place I live in. Isn't it great when so many people are out there, not afraid to be themselves, no matter how quirky? I love this town!

Check Megaphone at Arte Des Descaters XII, Taos, NM

The little gallery, that before seemed just an old adobe building with cracks and peeling paint, was transformed into a haven for artists and art lovers, a mecca of fun under the trees, and I was transported back to another era when Mabel Doge Lujan might have held such a party, or salon, at her home. I imagine the same sorts of artistic and interesting people would have attended such an event and even lived in Taos at that time. This is a town that seems to draw the most amazing folks to it. We must attend more art openings.

Out at our place, we finished the roof on the pallet shed. It's coming along nicely. It still needs a door and to have the window installed. Soon we will put some mud plaster on the outside walls. We are thinking of trying a straw/mud insulation on the inside walls.

Roof framework on pallet shed.
Metal on pallet roof.

And we got another course done on the Earthbag Cistern. We are four high now. We decided to cover the first three layers with plastic and then back filled with gravel to keep any moisture away from the foundation of the cistern.

Four courses and gravel back fill on Earthbag cistern.

It is slow going out on the land, trying to live in another place and get out there to do enough work to make a difference. I wish we could just move out there, but it will be a while before we can get a live-able structure up.

This week Richard begins his fall series of classes at the homestead. This weekend will be a chicken processing class, where he and participants will butcher four of our old chickens and prepare them for the freezer. I can't take part in it...not yet, and I don't want the kids to see that. That would send my autistic daughter off on a fit I might never see the end of. So, the kids and I will hang out in the house, in the back rooms, like we usually do during classes.

The following week Richard plans on doing a canning workshop, which has garnered so much interest we might have to schedule more than one. Can it be that folks are finally interested in food security? It is definitely a good skill to have as the times change. Plus, if you have a backyard garden, canning allows you to preserve some of the lovely fruit and vegetable bounty. I sure do miss the raspberries we had at our old Victorian house in Colorado Springs. And, I really enjoy making grape jam from local grapes. Maybe I can find some around here somewhere. Maybe down in the river valley towards Santa Fe where the vineyards and winerys are.

As we head into Fall, we are doing what we can to create our own food security and long term security on our little piece of land in the Taos Valley. There is always so much to do and I feel like winter is fast approaching. We still have to get hay and build a place to store it! We have to top off our propane tank (for hot water and gas cooking stove), resupply our wood pile, pick up some organic potatoes and straw from the San Luis Valley in Colorado, which means we have to get a hitch put on the van and get it running more reliably.

Still so much to do....

Friday, August 24, 2012

We bought a van, man, and delivered some art.

Adventures in the NM sun...some we'd rather not have.

We traded in the rainbow truck for a 15 passenger van. Actually the mechanic bought the truck and we found the van on Craigslist for hardly more than we got for the truck. It has a big engine and can tow the water trailer and the horse trailer. Plus, we can all ride in it, with room to spare. It just needs a hitch.

The "new" van.

The van is in pretty decent condition. It used to be used by the town and then a local school district. The man we bought it from got it at auction. Unfortunately it got vandalized while it was sitting at the auction lot. One of the big side windows got broken out and all of the rear lights were removed...wires cut and the whole housing taken. Weird.

Lots of room in this van.

So we vacuumed out the glass and put plastic on the window and ordered the rear tail lights, which would take a day to come in. The manager at the auto parts store said a receipt would be enough if we got pulled over. What? A receipt in lieu of lights?

We picked up the van on Wednesday and lucky for me it was plenty big enough to hold my art piece, which I had to take to the gallery in town, for the show that opens on Saturday. We layed the piece on top of the back three rows of seats and still had enough room for all of us in the van. It was a little rough rolling along the dirt road out to the highway and I had to hold my art piece up off the seats to some degree. I was afraid it was going to shake apart on the washboard road. But we made it.

Art in the van 

First stop: pick up and install the tail lights before we try to drive through town traffic to the gallery. Done. But then, the van won't start at the auto parts store. Why? We bought and installed a new battery when we picked up the van. Okay, time is running short. Have to get the art to the gallery. The clerk jumps the van and we are off, taking back roads and trying to keep the van from stalling out (the idol is a little rough).

We make it to the gallery and deliver the art without too much trouble. I worry about the van starting and ask Richard if it is a good idea to turn off the van? He isn't worried. But what choice do we have anyway? It takes both of us to carry the ginormous art piece into the gallery. Why do I make such monstrosities, I wonder, as I see other artists carrying their artwork in one hand?

Stables Gallery, Taos NM.

Excited to see the art show taking form. Pick up some postcards to hand out and keep for my scrapbook.

Oh, now it's time to leave, and guess what...the van won't start. Are we surprised? Not entirely.

So I go back into the gallery and ask all of the people I don't know if anyone can jump the van. The wonderful lady putting on the show has cables and we push the van out so she can get her truck next to the battery. But that doesn't work. She tells us it is a strange day for cars at the gallery. Ours is the third that has had issues.

Now the battery cable clamp has broken and some other men/artists are trying to help Richard put a makeshift clamp on the terminal. That doesn't work either. So we push the van into a parking was in a fire parking zone or something, and I take the kids to the park while Richard runs off to the auto parts store for a new terminal clamp.

After a couple more hours and another trip to the auto parts store, Richard calls the insurance company for a tow/jump. Wonderful. The tow truck driver jumps the van and tells us the alternator belt is no good. So, off we go to the auto parts store again where they test the alternator, we buy a new belt and they tell us the starter is going bad. Great. We do not turn the van off again.

Eventually, the adventure is over and we make it back home with the traitorous van. All the people are in one piece, but nerves are frayed and moods are cranky. (Big sigh.)

There is something to be said for not having a car payment, but sometimes I wonder if it is worth the hassle. At least most (not all) new cars are fairly reliable and under warranty. Too bad we can't buy a new car with cash.

Needless to say, we will take our reliable Kia (which still has a warranty and still has payments) into town for the art opening Saturday.


Stables Gallery 
133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos NM.
August 25, 2012
4 -7 pm

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's been raining! And, I think my ducks are gay!

A few days ago, as I was hanging clothes outside on my "solar clothes dryer," it suddenly struck me that something subtle had changed. The light, the air, the movement of the wind, everything was somehow different in the slightest way. It's the beginning of August. That faint smell of fall in the air, that can't be real, can it? But, I fear it is, as I wake to chillier morning and notice the sun doesn't come over the horizon now until 6:40 am. I believe Fall is on its way and maybe faster than we think. With climate change, how can we know anything for certain anymore in relation to our seasons and our weather?

It's been raining a lot. Thankfully our cisterns are full, almost to the point of overflowing. Good news, since Richard had the old truck towed into town to get checked out again. He put a new fuel pump on it. That did not solve the problem of it's frequent stalling. Hopefully it won't be anything expensive. Our cheap truck may not be such a good bargain after all. But, at least the mechanic has showed an interest and even offered to buy it. There is a way out.

With all of the rain, we decided to prioritize our water catchment systems, and began the Earthbag cistern out on our land this past Saturday. It was the first day of our "workshop." Ironically, there seems to be little interest in this desert community for learning how to build a cheap cistern. We were disappointed by the turnout. Maybe everyone is too busy building their own houses. Regardless, we continue on with our building.

Richard fills the last bag to finish the first two courses on cistern.
We actually got the foundation courses done on the cistern...the first two levels of bags which hold gravel. Then we painted mud slip on the bags to protect it from the sun.

Mud slip on bags.

When we went back Wednesday, yesterday, we were disappointed to see the rain had washed most of our mud slip off.
Mud slip washed off.

On the plus side, the buckets I stuck under the preliminary guttering on the shade structure were full to the brim and had even over flowed. Too bad that water wasn't going into a barrel or a finished cistern!

Bucket o' water.

So, yesterday, we worked on finishing the gutters on the shade structure and hooked up a couple of barrels to catch that precious water. We will need lots of water to plaster our cistern, and our pallet shed.

Rain barrels to catch rain runoff from shad structure.

Pallet shed...

We got it wrapped in paper and stucco netting. It is ready to plaster! Well, I think the roof is next, with an overhang to protect the walls from the rain.

Pallet shed, papered and netted, ready for mud plaster.
We hauled in another load of gravel to put on the floor of the cistern and decided to use the remainder for the floor of the pallet shed.

Gravel on floor of cistern...sloped to allow drainage to one side.

Gravel floor  in shade structure.

Our road fix held up well to the rains. We need a bit more base course and in a few more areas along the three miles to our property. Is it our responsibility? I guess it is if we want a road we don't get stuck in.

Roads. We went by our friend Susan's bus, on the other side of the hills from our Earthship, to pick up the feed bags we took her last summer. She has so many grain bags from a brewery in Santa Fe, she doesn't need our bags. But we can use all of the bags we can get.

We took the back way to Susan's, what I affectionately call the Renegade road. There were several questionable spots, where the mud crossed the entire roadway. I envisioned the car stuck again, and was afraid, but Richard plowed on through, trailer swinging on the back of our remarkable SUV that seems to go anywhere and tow just about anything. Not bad for a KIA.

After we made it out of that development, my nerves we frayed. There were lots of mud pits in lots of places. I am not a fan of the roads in Taos County. A four wheel drive vehicle is a must. Especially if you live on Four Wheel Drive Road. I guess getting stuck is fairly normal. I think we need a winch on at least one of our vehicles. That'd be handy on our truck...if we could get it to run consistently.

My two girls.

At home on our makeshift farm, it turns out both ducks are female. We are now getting two duck eggs every morning, and we have two ducks. So, unless one duck is laying two eggs a day, I think they must both be girls. I guess that mating behavior I witnessed last week...perhaps a gender identity crisis? Or maybe our girls have a particular fondness for each other. This wouldn't be new. One of our llama boys certainly loves his pasture mate and isn't afraid to express his love. I wonder, were they born this way? Is this naturally occurring behavior? Maybe I could take them all back up to Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs for some counseling. Do you think they counsel gay farm animals? Do you think they could "fix" them?

Just kidding, of course. I accept and love all of my animals, exactly as they are, and we give them the space to be who they need to be. With all of the nonsense floating around these days about Chick Fil A funding anti-gay hate groups, I couldn't resist. Yes, I'm boycotting Chick Fil A in support of all of my gay friends. Maybe I could take my gay farm animals to a protest at Chick Fil A, and all of the right wing nuts could explain to me how homosexuality doesn't occur naturally.

Seriously though, we should all avoid ALL fast food joints because the food is poison. We try not to eat fast food because we don't know what the "food" is. And, it makes people sick. Over the long term, the American diet, which is filled with high fat foods and fast, convenient foods, is killing Americans. It's that simple. Eat local (support local businesses and not the Corporatocracy) and eat organic. Chick Fil A doesn't fit in there anywhere.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Frosty the little llama, roads, mud, pallets and earthbags

Today I'm fasting, and the urge to eat is incredible. Richard and I decided we would begin this fasting/detox regiment at the beginning of each month, for at least three days to begin the new month with clean systems. But it's hard. Haven't gotten past three days in my fasting attempts, which is when everyone claims the hunger subsides. I'd like to make it to that point.

Frosty the new llama boy.
Yesterday we picked up another llama. His name is Frosty and he's seven or eight years old. I found him on Craigslist for free. He's a little llama, like my two boys. Today, he's standing out in his yard humming, nonstop. I think he's pretty upset about the whole arrangement. We have him separated from Turbo and Vader, but in connected yards so they have time to adjust. Frosty is a gelded male, like my two llamas, but still, they will probably challenge each other and try to decide who gets to be the new boss. My money is on Turbo...he's been strutting around like the king of the playground, showing us his "crazy" eyes, ever since we brought the new llama home.

Turbo and Vader looking on at the new llama.
I enjoyed our ride into the mountains to pick up Frosty. It was green and there were lots of trees. Lately I have been missing the trees, in a bad way. But as we drove the scenic mountain roads yesterday, and I looked at the huge Ponderosa Pines, I knew with the fires hitting the southwest, it is far better for us to be in a more defensible space right now. Still, it was so nice and cool up there... and there were little creeks running next to the roads. I miss standing in mountain streams on hot summer days.

Pallet coop.
Also at home, Richard has been busy on a pallet chicken coop for the Jersey Giants. It's finished now and the chickens have been moved to their new yard. Still too many roosters crowing in the early morning hours though. They are twelve weeks old now. Another month until they can be processed for the freezer.

Richard is getting pretty good with building out of pallets. This time he cut the pallets and then infilled with other pieces of pallets to make solid walls. There is a hinged roof and three nest boxes inside. The space underneath the coop allows the chickens to find shade when they need it. Pretty cool. I will post a more detailed blog about this later.

Out on the land, we have been repairing the road in front of our place...the spot where we got stuck, hoping to prevent a similar situation in the future. We brought in two trailers full of base course, which is sand mixed with gravel, and filled the ruts we left  the day we planted the Kia and trailer in the mud. Hopefully this will keep others from getting stuck too.

Next weekend we are planning the beginning of the ongoing workshop to build the Earthbag cistern, and we want people to be able to get there. They will still need high clearance vehicles to clear the mound of grass and sand that fills the center of the tiny dirt track we like to call a road.

Richard also finished the shade structure, which is the most wonderful thing! And we even hung up a hummingbird feeder for the little bird that has been buzzing us the last few times we have been out there working.

Classroom space cleared.

While Richard put the finishing touches on the shade building, and finished up the walls of the pallet shed, I cleared more sage. I got the 30 x 50 foot space cleared for our classroom/temporary house, and a space cleared for a pallet hay barn. I'd like to stock up on hay for the winter...before it hits $18 a bale like it did last year.

Pallet shed, west side.
Front of Aly's Earthbag house.

I haven't been posting much, and so much is going on. We made it over to Aly's house a couple of weeks ago to help her plaster the inside of her house. That was fun. David and Simone were there too, and they left a few days later to head back home to Maryland. We sure did appreciate their help while they were here. Thanks guys!

Mixing up the mud plaster at Aly's house.

And...the ducks started laying eggs! Well, at least one of them. I saw some rather suspicious mating behavior yesterday, so one of them might be male. Maybe we will have Pekin Ducklings next spring. That's be fun.

And on a side note, but very exciting for me, I got accepted into my first Taos art show, which is pretty darn cool, considering this is a REAL art town.This event, Arte de Descartes XII (sponsered by Wholly Rags) is about art made from recycled stuff, which is right up my alley, but since all of my recycled wood masks were done so long ago, I had to come up with something new. I asked for wood scraps on Facebook, and a wonderful lady in town has been supplying all the wood scraps I need for many art projects to come. After I get the piece hung up in the gallery--August 23, I will post a picture of it. Still making art for the young at heart!

Having fun in Northern New Mexico!

Stay tuned for the Earthbag Cistern news and directions on how to build a pallet chicken coop (for up to six hens).