Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Quotable Quotes

Dream: The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but who is without a dream. - Harry Kemp

Gratitude: There are two ways to live life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other as though everything is a miracle. - Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Vanishing Breed"

I first heard this song performed by Michael Martin Murphy many years ago. It rang true for me even then as a young single woman. Now, side by side with my beloved Tommy, it has become another of "our songs". In the chorus, just replace "log house" with 'straw house' and it suits us to a T.   ;)

Vanishing Breed
by Michael Martin Murphy/David Hoffner

We're both the kind who can find peace of mind
In the light of an old fireplace
Wrapped in a blanket, talking the night away
Watching snow falling
The lone wolf is calling out into the endless space
There aren't many left like us these days
Down where the city lights burn
I know we'll never return

Listen to the wind blow over the hills
Through whispering pines
Everything is free and all that we see
Is yours and mine
Just you and me
And this old log house
Is all that we need
That's why they call us a vanishing breed

It's good just knowing
That our love is growing
And we're gonna find a place
In a life we build with our own hands
Like wild horses running out under the sun
We're gonna find some space
There aren't many left like us these days
God's greatest gift to you and me
Is knowing how it feels to be free

(Repeat Chorus)

The melody is a catchy, upbeat lilt, just makes you want to whistle all day long. It's on his "River of Time" album (we have the cassette tape!). If you can find it, we highly recommend it (the entire album)!   :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Photos

More photos Tom took while he and Eoin were on their last hike together.

~ Aspens on NE property line, looking Sotuh ~

~ North Meadow at sunset ~

North Meadow, looking north
~ North Meadow, looking north ~

South Meadow from NE
~ South Meadow peeking through the trees ~

woods in spring draw
~ Woods in spring draw ~

woods, looking NE
~ Woods, looking ne ~

woods, looking NW
~ Woods, looking nw ~

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Corners & Views

You may have to strain a little to see the stakes, um scavenged sticks, in the photos. Do look in the background for a peek at some of the views we'll have. These are the corners of our house-

~ southwest to northwest corner, kitchen and living room along this side ~
sw to nw

~ northwest to southwest, opposite of above ~
nw to sw

~ southeast to southwest, bedroom and living room ~
se to sw

~ southeast to northeast, bedroom and bath ~
se to ne

~ northeast to breezeway, on north side between kitchen, mudroom and carport ~
ne to breezeway corner

And some of the views we'll enjoy while inside the house-

~ view south from the living room ~
view s from living room

~ view east from the bedroom ~
view e from bedroom

~ view southeast from the bedroom, a large window seat ~
view se from bedroom

Dog Days



~ yes, that is a rock Greer's tossing and playing with ~ 

~ our Lass & Lad ~

1 tired puppy
~ one tired puppy! ~

Road Trip Five- On the Road... Again

Monday, September 21:
There's nothing quite like a new day full of promise! Refreshed and feeling positive, unlike the day before, all we had to do was load the dogs and crates, ice chest with cold/frozen food, and ourselves. Grande Mocha in the cup holders, muffins in hand, and it's East for us! The weeks forecast predicts perfect camping weather- 80's for high, dry, clear, 40's for low. Ten minutes into the drive I state, "We're on the road again now." Tom replies, "Not yet." "What do you mean?" Silence. "Oh, I know! We won't officially be on our way until we pass the spot where yesterday we had to turn back." "Exactly!" So, was Sunday just a trial run? I think not, but in many ways it did turn out for the better. Go figure. Much to our delight, and theirs, Greer drooled, but no more vomiting, and that was without Dramamine. Obviously, something about being snuggled in her crate made travel more pleasant for her, thus all.

on the ferry
~ on the ferry crossing Lake Roosevelt ~

We arrive in Wenatchee precisely at lunchtime (Tom planned it!) to indulge in our favorite 1950's-style decor burger joint, Dusty's.  :)  Just north of town we are detoured off Hwy. 97 N to Hwy. 2 E due to a damaged bridge ahead. This is a rather barren route we haven't traveled before. It led us to the southerly approach to Republic- across Lake Roosevelt via ferry and north through the Colville Indian Reservation. Beautiful! Tom told me to watch out for deer and bear, instead we had to avoid deer, cows and a flock of wild turkeys! The closer we got to Republic the more butterflies fluttered inside. It's a good thing we left early cause it took 2 hours longer due to rest stops for the dogs. It was so worth it, though, to see them have such fun during the week! A quick stop at the K-Hall construction site to see the progress (very cool!) then onward to our land.

There it was, waiting for us in all its quiet, wild beauty. Our Highland gem! As we pull up and park on what is to be our campsite, I could barely breathe from anticipation to actually set foot ON it. We take the dogs out, walk to the property line, unlatch the rustic cowboy gate. I hold my breath... one step... two steps... I'm on our land!!! We slowly pick our way along the brushy drive just inside the edge of the woods. I feel like a wide-eyed child on her first visit to the zoo. It's gorgeous!!! We so wanted to keep exploring, but it was already 5:30 p.m., daylight wouldn't last long. Camp needed to be at least partially set up, dogs fed, light dinner of sandwiches for us, and loo installed (for 'nature' of another sort was calling, loudly.) Sounds like supreme, or ridiculous, self-control, but restraint comes easier with utter exhaustion! We decide to set up the tent in the morning and just sleep in the minivan. It was a cold night, low around 34 degrees F, but we managed just fine.

 s fence line
~ our south fence line ~

dog area and loo
~ dog crates and bucket loo tent ~

~ Girl Scout-green camp kitchen Tom's mom put together from a kit in the 1960's! ~

Tuesday, Sept. 22:
In the morning, scarf, gloves and enamelware cup of hot cowboy coffee (aka camp coffee) helped to warm the outside, as the cockles of our hearts were warmed gazing around at the hills and trees kissed by the rising sun. The meadow we camped next to (not one of ours) revealed a small herd of deer emerging from the thicket. Not alarmed by our presence, they calmly nibbled on browse as they made their way... somewhere.

After setting up the tent, our first stop was Stewart's house. How nice it was to meet and see their efficient homestead! From there, we drove along the road that crosses our property near the woods. Tom pointed out this or that, the views I'd seen in pictures and video taken in May and August. Like puzzle pieces they were forming a big, wonderful picture. Into town we go for food supplies and a bale of straw (how fitting!) to scatter underneath the tent for warmth and softness. Worked perfectly, too! On returning, a brief visit with our nearest year-round neighbors, Steve and Kathy. Up the drive we also meet Phil, with the front 40; though he doesn't live there, he was visiting to care for some business. It was great to meet them all.

1st straw dwelling
~ first straw bale dwelling, of sorts! ~

Another all too short walk into our woods before the iron dinner triangle rang out, figuratively (but I do have a real special one just waiting to be hung in its new home!) Hot cocoa that night under the stars. Oh, the bejeweled black velvet sky! Stars so big and bright and twinkling around the gauze-like expanse of the Milky Way. Happy Campers, one and all, we doze off into sweet slumber.

Wednesday, Sept. 23:


~ morning vistas ~

Today Kelly, our architect, arrives. Excitement is high! While we wait, a picnic lunch is packed, water for all creatures, I read a little in between helping Tom construct a private outdoor shower. Let me tell you, showering under the big blue sky while viewing the near mountains is a marvelous experience! We highly recommend it if ever you get the chance.  ;)  That morning also, the buck of the deer herd in the meadow must have realized we would be there for a spell, and that he did not like us. So with barking and stamping, he took his family away, never to be seen for the duration of the week. Humph!

In one of the quiet moments, it occurs to me how in such peaceful surroundings ones senses are heightened- hearing more acute to pick up a new birds song, chipmunk chatter, the wind in the trees; eyesight more keen to focus on the red-tailed Hawk soaring above, deer grazing, color of the aspen and larch trees as they begin their autumnal change; nose appreciates the pure mountain air, scent of the majestic Ponderosa pines, earthiness of the hot coffee. Deep thoughts.

Finally, Kelly and her four-legged companion, Zoe arrive. Dogs meet and like one another instantly. A quick recap of where we'll hike and what we hope to accomplish while there, and we set off for the South Meadow. Up until now, we kept the dogs on lead to get them used to the camp as being our temporary home. It was now time to un-clip 'em and let 'em run! I swear I could hear, "Woo hoo!" "Yippee!" "This is great!" They both did awesome, waiting for us to catch up, checking on me... the slowpoke. Tom and Kelly are fast, strong hiker-types. I'm the slow and steady variety, but reach my destination all the same. I tired to take notice of and appreciate the land as we went, but somehow being careful of my footing (without proper hiking boots, I was) while trudging through the underbrush and steep slope, and breathing took precedence. Although, on my many stops I did take a gander around... lovely. As we neared the top, I went even slower so as to soak in the view and feel the emotions. Breaking through the edge of the woods and out into the Meadow, suddenly the expanse opens wide to huge blue sky and forested mountain tops as far as the eye can see. Breathtaking indeed!!! As I stand there drinking in my surroundings, knowing we belong to this land, the tears come. Unlike my usual emotional self, I stoically choke them back. But as we relax, eat lunch, talk, watch the dogs at play rolling in the soft grass, relish the cooling breeze, look over Kelly's adjustments to our house design, and finalize the house site- tears periodically well up behind the privacy of my sunglasses. And in my quiet alone times since, I allow them to flow free.

I must tell you about this nifty gadget Kelly brought, called a Solar Pathfinder. It's used to determine how appropriate a site/location is for solar purposes at any given week/month/time of day, throughout the entire year. Way cool! With its assurance, the site we picked for our home was confirmed as near perfect- the west side of the South Meadow, nestled next to the woods, gorgeous mountain views stretching from east to west.

solar pathfinder

sp with the dome

All good things must come to an end, well, some... time to head back down to camp for dinner. Going down hill is easier, but not without it's own issues! Kelly and Stewart, who joined us on the Meadow earlier, shared in our dinner of hearty Hamburger Stew (my great-grandmother's recipe) and cornbread baked over coals in a dutch oven. Hot cocoa under the stars for dessert. A meal doesn't get much more soul-satisfying than that! We even got to watch the Space Station on its 4 minute west-to-east orbit across the night sky. Kelly and Zoe slept at their own tent site. Was I sore from the hike? You bet I was! But it felt good.  :)

Thursday, Sept. 24:
Bright morning, warmer than the rest; hot cowboy coffee, a.k.a. camp coffee, not thick enough to stand a spoon in, (thank goodness Tom got real good with this method) bacon, eggs, pumpkin bread. Good eats! After breakfast, the three of us sit down to go over more details of the house- window size and placement, kitchen counter lengths, roof trusses, roofing material, loft, etc, etc, etc. It feels so real now! We can feel the momentum picking up speed, but also the need to stay on track and keep our eagerness to speed things up tempered.  ;)  The entire process even up to just this point, let alone farther along, demands patience. If you are contemplating a similar adventure, learn and practice patience before embarking!

Kelly wanted one more look at the South Meadow  before leaving, so she and Tom took the dogs up; I stayed in camp to rest. My sweet Eoin and Greer came back to check on me! Greer was one tired puppy! Once Eoin was satisfied I was alright, he went back up, but Greer stayed, resting at, no ON, my feet in the shade. While up there, a 200' gain in elevation from the valley floor, Tom staked the corners of the house and took pics to show me. How cool is that! Then, it was goodbye to Kelly and Zoe, and we went into town for more ice.

Upon returning to camp, we took a leisurely walk into our woods for a picnic lunch. Lying back on the soft grass in the cool, musical, sun-dappled wood was like being in a movie scene written just for us.

to picnic

kicking back

I liked your spot, mom
~ I liked your spot better, mom! ~ 

 our woods
~ our woods ~

Friday, Sept. 25:
A couple weeks prior to our trip, I happened upon the website of a farm near Republic, in Curlew, where this couple raise and sell grass-fed beef from their fold of Scottish Highland cattle. Arrangements were made to tour their farm. This morning was the time! Hamilton Farms rests is a 200 acre farm in the Kettle River valley nestled at the foot of high, craggy mountains. Pat and Nancy couldn't have been more welcoming, down-to-earth, helpful folks! Their amazing cattle tolerated a couple of city-gawkers walking in their midst. The big bull- Zeus- and a couple cows, even wanted to be combed; we happily obliged. Gotta love those fuzzy ears, shaggy coat and beautiful horns! Can't wait to try the beef.  :)


~ Zeus ~

old homestead
~ the original 100+ year old homestead ~

Stopped by Stewart's to say goodbye. Tom wanted to walk up to the NE corner of our land to find the monument. Greer stayed with me, against her will, and he took Eoin. We chatted back and forth on the walkie-talkie, great fun to 'hear' what he saw! Our last dinner- grilled pork chops, sliced home-grown tomatoes (from Stewart's mom, thanks again!) and roasted potatoes. Finally, I got to toast marshmallows for dessert!!! How can anyone go camping without toasting marshmallows? It's sacrilegious!


Saturday, Sept. 26:
With heavy hearts we take one last stroll into the woods first thing in the morning. How we will miss this place! Take down, pack, load, and drive away... until next visit. We thoroughly enjoyed the week, learning and getting much accomplished. Although Tom had a little accident wherein a branch attacked him, he's okay. Greer cut her lip biting on a branch, she's okay, too. I got a rash from overexposure to the sun, I'm okay now.

Though glad to not be bouncing along the road anymore, none of us were really glad to be back in the city. Eoin, usually happy to be on his home turf, looked at us like, "What are we doing here? I liked it at the camp." Us, too, Lad. We'll go for another visit soon, promise.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"My Heart's In The Highlands"

A Day to Forget

In reality, though, it will be one to live on in our memories vividly. Just to set up the scenario- our car has had some sort of hard-to-diagnose mechanical issue, it'll just up and quit on us. Tom thought he had finally figured out the trouble. It ran great for two days, so naturally we thought it would be fine for our road trip.

Sunday, September 20:
Good grief, primitive camping sure requires a lot of 'stuff.' After weeks of gathering begged, borrowed and bought gear, we were ready to load the car. It took Tom (his area of expertise) almost four hours to puzzle-piece it all in! Trunk stuffed- check. Car top carrier stuffed- check. Every available cranny inside the car stuffed- check. Just enough space for dogs and people- check. Finally, myself weary with waiting and Tom weary with loading, we pile in and head out, full of excitement to be on our way!

Immediately, Greer begins drooling. We anticipated her car sickness, so made sure the water-proof seat cover was tucked in well and gave her a dose of Dramamine. I'm here to tell you, drugs don't always work. Not ten minutes into our journey, Greer begins vomiting liquids; all the while drooling like a mad dog, looking at me pitifully as if to ask "How could you put me through this?" Eoin, meanwhile, has squished himself against the car door as much as possible to escape the projectiles, but to no avail, she drenched his tail- "Ewwww, Mom, did you see what she just did? Eww, get her away from me! Stop touching me!"

Then, the car died. Oh, no? Oh, YES! Characteristically, it also starts right up again. Two more miles... it dies again. I'm tearing up by now. Tom pulls off the highway... it dies again. It's behaving worse than ever before under the load on the engine. We both know what neither wants to say out loud: this car will not make it, we have to turn back. Now I'm crying. Greer is still vomiting and drooling buckets.

The saviors of the day are my sister and our brother-in-law who agree they can spare their minivan for the week for our use. Thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts!!! I am weeping now and Tom is choked up. We were afraid the trip we'd so looked forward to for months would have to be canceled.

We baby the car home via side streets. It doesn't die once. Gr. By this time I'd really like to blow it up and be done. Needless, to say Eoin and Greer were glad to get out of the car! By this time it's 1 p.m., so we decide to go out for a bite to eat, regroup and de-stress. Afterward, what took Tom almost four hours to load took us one hour to transfer to the minivan, with room to spare, each dog can travel in it's own crate.

A relaxed dinner out, movie in, good night's sleep. Begin again Monday. Boy, were we glad that wasted day was over.

~ too much load for the Bomb ~

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Must Visit Webpage

On Tom's trip last month, he befriended a neighbor (Stewart) who just so happens to love riding horseback all over the valley, and taking lots of pics. I thought I snap a lot of shots! Stewart then compiled some of the images of our land into a web page just for us. Thanks a million! Click here.

You'll also notice at the bottom of the page, links to his other webpages containing tons of information about the area in general, and many more pictures of the valley. Plus, lots of cool charts (Stewart loves charts.)  

Monday, September 14, 2009

Road Trip Four- Tom to the Land

Saturday August 22nd, Tom drove off into the rising sun to check out the lay of the land for a driveway. I stayed behind, again, with the critters. That's okay, my time is coming... and soon! He's pretty sure he found a route to put in an all-season driveway to the building site (or what we think will be the building site, but won't be 100% certain until meeting with Kelly next week.) Tom is a guy of few words, even more so when exhausted (he also has a great sense of humor), so I'll share with you a very abbreviated version of my 'interview' about his weekend:

(Sunday night, late)
K: Soooo, how was it?
T: Good. Too short. Man, it is so beautiful out there.
K: Did you see any wildlife?
T: There were chipmunks everywhere, on the ground, in the trees! And they did not like me being there.
K: That's too funny! hahaha
T: They kept dropping seeds from the trees, all over. Even chasing off the birds that landed in their tree!
K: What about the stars, were they really bright at night?
T: Oh, yes! It was incredible. I left the rain fly off the tent, so it was just the bug screen top. The stars were so bright and huge. They looked so close, like I could just reach up and touch them.
K: Did you sleep alright in the tent?
T: So so. I found an area where deer had been bedding down, so I figured they know what they're doing, right? Well, I found out a deer's body and a humans body should not sleep in the same location. The ground was rocky under the grass. I tried to stay out of the depression from them, but ended up in one anyway. I tossed and turned all night. Plus, I was cold all night. It was cold! And the sleeping bags were too thin and too short. So, I'm tired!
K: Was it at least nice and quiet?
T: NO! There were all kinds of noises. Even below ground. I couldn't figure out what it was, but think it was moles or something underneath me, since I made the mistake of putting the tent up under a tree, and they were chewing on the roots. I even thumped the ground with my fist... it stopped instantly. I could just imagine them under there saying: "Shh, what was THAT? Oh no, it's a monster! Run for your life!" hahaha
K: ahhahahahahaha
T: But the solar shower we got worked great! Only, I showered in the trees sort of... at dusk.... the skeeters ate me up. I even have bites on my bum! hahaha
K: Oh no! hahaha
T: And the camp coffee tasted great on the chilly morning.
K: Mm.
T: I didn't want to come home, you know.
K: Oh, thanks.
T: You know what I mean!
K: Yes, I do! Just teasing. (peck on the cheek) I don't blame you. You would have come back for us, though, right?
T: Always.
(Monday morning)
K: (answering the telephone) Hello, Hunny.
T: Why can't we just pack everything up right now and leave? I gotta get out of this rat race!
K: No 'hello, Hunnie' back or anything, huh? I know. I wish we could, too. Soon. We just gotta hang in there.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Anticipation is a Killer

We are getting ready to go for our camping trip to the land. It'll be the first time I have personally stepped foot on it, but together also the first. Gathering supplies, washing the old camp kitchen, refreshing batteries in lights, planning the menu, thinking about activities for the week. Yeah, yeah, you know me, the Organizer; what can I say. ::shrug::

Wow, a whole week in Republic. On our land. It's sinking in. The anticipation is killing me!!!

We'll camp for 7 nights and 8 days. Kelly Lerner, our architect, will meet us there and also camp for a night to get a feel for the site, use her nifty solar pathfinder to pinpoint the best location for the house for solar gain and pv array, and talk about design details/materials. Too fun! I can't wait to document everything and report back here to all of you. :) Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two Hunny's

It's high time I show you us, Tom and Krystal, a.k.a. Tommy & KLee. I find it helpful to have faces to put with names. Granted, this photo was taken almost 5 years ago. We are much more gray-headed now, my hair is longer (a return to how I've worn it all my life), but we also look pretty much the same. Ask anyone! ;)


Thursday, August 20, 2009


... Off the Grid... terms heard and read frequently these days. What is a grid? What does living off-grid mean? And why do it in the first place?

Living off-grid is by no means new, even though it is fairly new in the consciousness of most since being popularized by television and celebrities. Think about the settlers of this land, Native tribes, and numerous other peoples around the globe; none of them were tied in to utilities. Being off-grid is not out of the ordinary anymore- Home Power Magazine reported in 2006 that the number of families living off-grid has jumped 33% each year for a decade. Importantly, the phrase does not refer to 'being off one's rocker', although there are those who feel folks actually choosing this manner of living are just that. :-) Nor is it to be confused with being 'off the map' , 'under the radar', nor any other extreme notion referring to a desire to completely disappear from the company of society.

The grid does refer to any one of several public utilities- electric, water, sewer, gas. Being off-grid, then, is living without reliance on any one or more of said utilities. A truly off-grid home is able to operate independently of all traditional utility services. This is our personal goal (more on that later.)

The answers as to 'why' are as varied as the folks you could ask. Many reasons are similar, some unique, a few honestly strange. Too each his/her own! The top two reasons are saving money and reducing carbon footprint. Others include unavailability of utilities to rural land, financial hardship to connect, survivalist philosophy, spiritual connectedness.

"All very interesting, but what are your reasons, Tom and Krystal?" Alright already, hold your horses! Our main reasons, detailed below, are: financial freedom, environmental responsibility togetherness, and health. However, many of the above mentioned reasons play a small part, also.

Financial freedom: We want to retire from the city work-a-day world, live simply and inexpensively, raise what we eat-eat what we raise, be mortgage-free and have no utility bills. Being off-grid allows for these. Such living is a wealthy life, even if one may be cash poor. This concept, unfortunately, was mostly lost with our grandparents generation.

Environmental responsibility: Traditional utilities are wasteful, incredibly destructive to the environment, and pose a danger to health. We feel a personal responsibility to live in harmony with nature as much as possible, within reason, not "ruining the earth." For each person this is different based on ability, practicality and willingness. We are able to choose a rural life and going off-grid. We have been doing what we can in an urban environment and encourage you to, also. It's fun to utilize low-tech ways to be self-sufficient, especially for children!

Togetherness: Trying to make a living is so busy and stressful! It eats up tons of time and energy and makes us feel isolated from one another. We love spending time together caring for the animals, working on projects, serving our God, gardening, cooking, to just be. Tom retiring to our very own ranch would be a dream come true for us both!

Health: Clean air, fresh water, natural home-grown food, animal husbandry, gathering our own wood for heat and cooking, exercise engaging in such outdoor activities, less stress, pure enjoyment of life as we were created- what could be more healthy, both physically and mentally!!!

As briefly mentioned earlier, our goal is to be 100% off-grid. Although each alternative system we install will be discussed in future posts, most likely individually for lots of detail and information (more than you may even want to know on some!), here is a list:
super-insulated, active solar, straw bale home thus reducing needs for heating and cooling; wood, both a renewable and sustainable resource, for heating and cooking; greywater system instead of septic; 'dry' toilet; photovoltaic solar array for generating our own electricity; possibly wind turbine for power generation on stormy days; solar and wood heated water; rainwater harvesting; composting for renewable/sustainable fertilizer needs; using less electricity in general; well or spring water. That just about covers it!

Old Mt. Rainier

Friday, August 14, 2009

Architect On Board

Ferry County requires anyone building a home with alternative methods, like our choice of strawbale, to have the plans submitted for a building permit to be drawn and wet-stamped (signed) by an architect. Further, this architect has to be licensed in the state of Washington. Last but not least, it is much preferred he/she have experience with strawbale. They certainly don't make it easy for a person to build an environmentally-friendly house! And we sure don't feel like being 'pioneers' to the extent of fighting about it.

The search began several months ago when I first learned of the requirement. We found Kelly Lerner, of One World Design in Spokane, WA. She has extensive experience and knowledge of strawbale construction, is a published author on green building, and is an award-winning designer, recognized around the world, quoted and highlighted in numerous books and articles on strawbale. Two weeks ago we had a telephone consultation with her to compare notes, so to speak. Thankfully, she understands our vision and is excited about it. We love her approach to design and building, that of being in harmony with your natural surroundings. We are delighted to welcome Kelly on board as our designer/architect and look forward to learning from her! I can't believe we have the help of such a talented lady. Do visit her website to see just a sampling of her amazing work. I can only imagine the wonderful things she will bring to our wonderful little house!

Kelly will be joining us in Republic for a couple days of our Fall trip, to talk about house and site plans. Although, I already created a house plan, a pleasant past-time of mine since childhood, and a general site plan.

Following is an article which expounds our main reasons for wanting to build with strawbale. Therein you will find links for more detailed information and a nice YouTube video. Enjoy!

Why Build With Straw Bales?

Straw bale construction lends itself well to an owner builder project. Some of the applications well suited for straw bale include: a cottage, office, garage, studio, and an art barn. You don’t have to limit yourself to these smaller projects. Thousands of people have successfully built their own straw bale house. As a world leader in straw bale education we want to help you every step of the way.

I’ve created a great introductory video on why to build with straw bales. You can watch that by clicking the play button below. Please read on for more reasons to build with straw bales!

Here are 7 great reasons why you should consider building your next house with Straw Bales:

Reason #1 Energy Efficiency.

A well built straw bale home can save you up to 75% on heating and cooling costs. In fact, in most climates, we do not even install air conditioning units

into our homes as the natural cooling cycles of the planet are enough to keep the house cool all summer long.

Reason #2 Sound Proofing.

Straw bale walls provide excellent sound insulation and are superior wall systems for home owners looking to block out the sounds of traffic or airplanes in urban environments.

Reason # 3 Fire resistance.

Straw bale homes have roughly three times the fire resistance of conventional homes. Dense bales mean limited oxygen which in turn means no flames.

Reason # 4 Environmental responsibility.

Building with straw helps the planet in many ways. For example, straw is a waste product that is either burned or composted in standing water. By using the straw instead of eliminating it, we reduce either air pollution or water consumption, both of which impact the environment in general.

Reason #5 Natural Materials

The use of straw as insulation means that the standard insulation materials are removed from the home. Standard fiberglass insulation has formaldehyde in it, a known carcinogen. Bale walls also eliminate the use of plywood in the walls. Plywood contains unhealthy glues that can off-gas into the house over time.

Reason #6 Aesthetics

There is nothing as calming and beautiful as a straw bale wall in a home. Time and time again I walk people through homes and they are immediately struck by the beauty and the “feeling” of the walls. I really can’t explain this one, you’ll just have to walk through your own to see what I mean.

Reason #7 Minimize wood consumption.

If built as a load bearing assembly, the wood in the walls can be completely eliminated, except for around the windows. The harvesting of forests is a global concern and any reduction in the use of wood material is a good thing for the long term health of the planet.

Even infill bale homes can reduce the use of wood by using engineered lumber for the posts and beams. The engineered material uses smaller, faster growing trees in place of larger, slower growing species.


Andrew Morrison is the founder and owner of A. C. Morrison Construction, LLC, a company specializing in straw bale construction. Andrew has a passion for straw bale construction that is matched only by his desire to teach his knowledge to others. Andrew is the creator and builder of the Straw Bale Village, a community of 15 straw bale homes in the National Historic Landmark City of Jacksonville, Oregon. He is a skilled, licensed General Contractor (CCB License #161204) with experience in designing and building both conventional and straw bale homes. Andrew has owned A. C. Morrison Construction, LLC, since 1996. Andrew received a BA degree from Hampshire College in 1995 for Glacial Geology. He also has a degree in construction technology. Please visit his professional web site at:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Jammin' Morning

I've been wanting to make freezer jam for a few years now. Between forgetting about it and feeling a lack of confidence (although unwarranted according to expert freezer jam-makers), I've just never learned. Until yesterday, that is!

Thanks to my sister, one of the aforementioned experts, I was encouraged and assisted to take the plunge! We went together to purchase half flats of fresh berries in season and the other necessary ingredients, a whole two (pectin specifically for freezer jam and organic sugar), not including the jars. Although the plan was to make it together at her house, I wasn't up to the task of packing all my supplies plus the new puppy, so I stayed home and 'jammed' by myself. ;)

I've truly been missing out all these years. Freezer jam is so easy to make it's almost silly! I made three batches- Boysenberry, Berry Blitz= boysenberry, blueberry and raspberry, and Berry Delight= boysenberry and raspberry, for a total of 15 half-pint jars of jam. (Yes, I named them, you know my obsession with naming anything!) It only took one hour. Oh my goodness, are they ever delicious!!! Tom says he can easily get used to having fresh jams around. Guess I'm stuck now. But it's a happy spot to be stuck! :)

I strongly encourage you all to take the plunge this year, too!!! For a great video on the process, go to Ball's Fresh Preserving website. There you'll find lots of luscious recipes. Enjoy!

P.S. The leftover berry puree makes fantastic smoothies, just add to yogurt! And extra whole berries can be frozen for jam making later, or whatever else!

Sunset Climate Zone 1A

Here is what the Sunset Western Garden book has to say about the climate zone in which our land is located:

" Zone 1A: Coldest mountain an intermountain areas

Marked by a short growing season and relatively mild summer temperatures, zone 1A includes the coldest regions west of the Rockies, and a few patches of cold country east of the Great Divide. The mild days and chilly nights extend bloom of summer perennials like columbines and Shasta daisies. If your garden gets reliable snow cover (which insulates plants), you can grow perennials listed for some of the milder zones. Along with hardy evergreen conifers, tough deciduous trees and shrubs form the garden's backbone here. Gardeners can grow warm-season vegetables as long as they're short-season varieties.

Winter lows average in the 0 to 11 degrees F (-18 to -12 degrees C) range; extremes range from -25 to -40 degrees F (-32 to -40 degrees C). The growing season averages 50 to 100 days."

Boy, do we have our worked cut out for us- learning what veg to grow, and consistently. I think a green house is definitely in order! :)

716,126,400 Lbs.

July 23rd, 2009 is an auspicious day in our family's history... We are now the proud stewards of 40 prime acres in Ferry County, Washington!!! Everything was signed, notarized, paid and recorded as of yesterday. In a jumble of tears and laughter with butterflies fluttering in my stomach, I relayed the telephone conversation to Tom. Can't believe he could understand a single word uttered! Then it was telephone calls to family and friends with the good news. Mrs. Minor, the dear lady we bought the land from, is thrilled for us, as well, and wants to follow along on our journey.

When Tom got home from work, one of the first things he said was: "I wonder how much dirt we own now?" That's a veteran dirt mover for ya! So, just how much?- 3 ft. deep, 1/4 sq. mile, at 3,699 lbs. per cubic yard... 716,126,400 lbs. of dirt... 358,063 tons. That's a lot of dirt! As well as trees, water, wildlife, big blue sky!

This is a major turning point. No more if's. Now the heavy work begins. We have a telephone meeting with a state certified sustainable architect/designer next week to go over our needs and move forward getting our house plans together for the building permit application. Exciting!!! In mid August, Tom will go for a weekend to survey for lay out the driveway from the front 40's easement to our future building site, the south meadow. We hope to have some preliminary work done- timber and road cut. Then, the end of September likely, we'll go camp on the land for a week, get a feel for it, design a site plan to submit with the plans for a permit, also Tom will put finishing touches on the driveway.

There's those butterflies again!

Photos (not the best, but they're all we have at the moment), also property line starts at the base of the hill (dilapidated building is not on our land!), all views are from the county road:
- above is view of length of property from north to south (left to right) with the spring and draw in the center.
- below is south section with meadow at top of hill (future building site)
- bottom is the north section with another meadow at the top.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Healthiest Foods on Earth

I came across this article today and thought it was outstanding! Here is an excerpt, to your health:

In Depth: The Healthiest Foods On Earth

"What is the best diet for human beings? Vegetarian? Vegan? High-protein? Low-fat? Dairy-Free? Hold on to your shopping carts: There is no perfect diet for human beings. At least not one that's based on how much protein, fat or carbohydrates you eat.

People have lived and thrived on high-protein, high-fat diets (the Inuit of Greenland); on low-protein, high-carb diets (the indigenous peoples of southern Africa); on diets high in raw milk and cream (the people of the Loetschental Valley in Switzerland); diets high in saturated fat (the Trobriand Islanders) and even on diets in which animal blood is considered a staple (the Massai of Kenya and Tanzania). And folks have thrived on these diets without the ravages of degenerative diseases that are so epidemic in modern American life—heart disease, diabetes, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, osteoporosis and cancer.

The only thing these diets have in common is that they're all based on whole foods with minimal processing. Nuts, berries, beans, raw milk, grass-fed meat. Whole, real, unprocessed food is almost always healthy, regardless of how many grams of carbs, protein or fat it contains.

All these healthy diets have in common the fact that they are absent foods with bar codes. They are also extremely low in sugar. In fact, the number of modern or ancient societies known for health and longevity that have consumed a diet high in sugar would be ... let's see ... zero.

Truth be told, what you eat probably matters less than how much processing it's undergone. Real food—whole food with minimal processing—contains a virtual pharmacy of nutrients, phytochemicals, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and healthful fats, and can easily keep you alive and thriving into your 10th decade.

Berries, for example, are phenomenally low in calories, high in fiber and loaded with plant compounds that improve memory and help fight cancer. Studies have consistently shown that nut-eaters have lower rates of heart disease. Beans are notorious for their high fiber content and are a part of the diet of people—from almost every corner of the globe—who live long and well.

Protein--the word comes from a Greek word meaning "of prime importance"—is a feature of every healthy diet ever studied. Meat, contrary to its terrible reputation, can be a health food if—and this is a big if—the meat comes from animals that have been raised on pasture land, have never seen the inside of a feedlot farm and have never been shot full of antibiotics and hormones.

Ditto for raw milk, generally believed to be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet by countless devotees who often go to great expense and inconvenience to obtain it from small, sustainable farms. Wild salmon, whose omega-3 content is consistently higher than its less-fortunate, farm-raised brethren, gets its red color from a powerful antioxidant called astaxathin. The combination of protein, omega-3s and antioxidants makes wild salmon a contender for anyone's list of great foods.

Another great food: eggs—one of nature's most perfect creations, especially if you don't throw out the all-important yolk. (Remember "whole" foods means exactly that—foods in their original form. Our robust ancestors did not eat "low-fat" caribou; we don't need to eat "egg-white" omelets.)

There are really no "bad" vegetables, but some of them are superstars. Any vegetable from the Brassica genus—broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale—is loaded with plant chemicals called indoles, which help reduce the risk of cancer.

In the fruit kingdom, apples totally deserve their reputation as doctor-repellents: they're loaded with fiber, minerals (like bone-building boron) and phytochemicals (like quercetin, which is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and to have anti-cancer properties). Some exciting new research suggests that pomegranate juice slows the progression of certain cancers. Other research shows it lowers blood pressure.

Finally, let's not forget members of the Alliaceae family of plants—onions, garlic and shallots. Garlic has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties; hundreds of published studies support its antimicrobial effects as well as its ability to lower the risk of heart disease. A number of studies have shown an inverse relationship between onion consumption and certain types of cancer.

A healthy diet doesn't have to contain every one of the "healthiest foods on earth," but you can't go wrong putting as many of the above mentioned foods in heavy rotation on your personal eating plan."

Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a board-certified nutritionist and the author of seven books on health and nutrition, including The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy and The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.