A chronicle of Mike and Julia's adventures creating a home on the Missouri range...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Winter migration

     Once again I find myself overdue for an update! Especially since we packed up our bags (and boxes and bins, etc., etc.) and left Missouri over a week ago already. Our final week on the land was a frenzy, essentially, of packing and finishing final projects. Of great assistance in that process was a work party of friends who came over to help for half a day. Together, we finished the third and fourth swales in our future orchard hillside, moved around sixteen giant debarked timbers onto pallets for safe, rot-free winter-keeping (imagine pick-up-sticks for giants, it took four men and the log-arch to move one at a time!), and last, we screwed on metal panels on all sides of our formerly open-air shed (now a creepy-looking windowless/ doorless storage vault). Come spring, we will pry off the panels and unearth our tools and bins and tent, etc. which are now most likely something of a mouse-condominium. Gross, I know, but entropy is the law of the land in nature, and it seemed like the best storage solution for the time being since our Amish auction purchases have greatly multiplied the number of things we arrived with! 

      In many ways, with a week’s perspective, it feels hard to leave the land where we are putting down roots. We have done a giant about-face back to a very different way of life. Just when I was getting used to bathing out of a bucket... back to hot showers! (I tell you, life is tough...) We plan to live in Philadelphia for the winter, work and save money for our next homestead-building phase and reconnect with good friends and neighbors back east. Our re-entry back into civilization happens to coincide with the American consumer frenzy of black-Friday, cyber-Monday, and the subsequent holiday shopping period leading up to Christmas. Quite a strange scene to witness coming from our hand-made, home-grown life in MO. Mike is bravely (and rather ironically) plunging into the very heart of this holiday-consumer world in NYC selling X-mas trees and wreaths with a few friends. The exodus journey seemingly detours to some strange places. Send him warm thoughts this month as he works the rather cold and long night-shift.

    I, on the other hand, am doing handy-woman jobs in my home neighborhood to earn income. I mostly enjoy this work since it is hands-on and usually for neighbors and acquaintances that I feel good about helping. My first week back I have been catching up with the bureaucracy of city-life--renewing my car inspection, registration, license, and insurance and just generally getting legal about things. This kind of stuff is not my forte, and leaves me wondering if there isn’t an easier way to live than throwing armfuls of money in all directions to be allowed to participate in the systems of society. (Hm, I guess that is what I left behind in MO?) Still, it hasn’t all been headaches and drained bank-accounts: on my first night back, I went to see a friend act in the excellent and very provocative play, RACE, by David Mamet, where I ran into several beloved friends from my church congregation. As we sat around openly discussing the play and all of the complex issues it brings up, the thought clicked into my head, “I am going to miss this in MO”. Something about the way the arts penetrate life in the city, constantly shaking up perspectives and interactions... it just doesn’t happen as often in rural settings. Not that our community isn’t doing our best to change that, creating discussion groups, theatrical performances, bringing in or creating music and dance events, etc. But still, I can tell this city-country transition is going to provoke still more meditations on how I want to be living and what kind of world I want to help create. And there are aspects to both worlds that I love and miss either way.

    I should probably leave off there and save our spoon-carving saga for another post. But in case you are a pond-project supporter patiently awaiting spoons or prints, they are in the last stages of completion, soon to be sent your way! There is hope!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Missouri Falling

        Well, time is certainly flying here! It seems like just yesterday that I took the photo to the right, remarking to Mike, "hey, the oak tree next to our tent is beginning to change color! Look at the lower limb, see the little bit of red tinging the leaves?" It has been almost a month since that first color siting and this morning I noted bleakly that what few leaves that were left on the trees around us were a boring brown. Color swept through and left town in a hurry.
      Still, it has been an interesting month. Adjusting to the cold snap that hit a few weeks ago was a challenge. One chilly morning we woke to find the world outside our tent flap a white-frosted wonderland. It is one thing to marvel at the frost from the toasty comfort of your home window and quite another to have to heat up your morning tea water in it. First step- break ice up in water pitcher. Second step, fumble around in gloves to get paper and twigs amassed enough to successfully light fire. Third- huddle shivering around little stove, eeking out the scant warmth it provides for the ten minutes of burn time it takes to heat water. And so on. But then, weirdly, a week later we were out in tank tops and shorts for a late warm-weather blast, basking in the sun. There is a saying in Missouri, "if you don't like the weather, wait a minute or two". Very true.

    The other shift in weather that has been defining the contour of our days is the increase in rain. Cold and warm fronts have been battling it out in huge thunder and lightning storms. We have gone from a severe drought to a severe deluge of water. We had our Belgian friend Geoffrey staying with us during one of the worst storms which struck around 4 am. We tried to sleep through it in our rather leaky tent despite the streams of water aiming themselves directly at our bed. Geoffrey apparently was also getting soaked in his tent and came seeking refuge in ours. He laughed and made an about-face when he saw how much wetter it was in ours... after 7 layers of blankets got soaked through, we started catching the water streams in trays and buckets. I can only hope one day we look back and laugh at these moments. Mike has since taken initiative to reinforce our tenting situation with a huge heavy silver tarp that we got at an auction. Our tent now looks like some futuristic metal dome-hovel. Oh well for aesthetics! We are now the eyesore in the otherwise bleak landscape.
      But the silver lining about all the rain is that our pond is really filling! We probably have about a foot of water so far, and little green sprouts shooting up through the straw surrounding the dam wall. (The trees in the pond bottom in the photo above are for future fish-nursery habitat). We took some time and care to gather native grass seed from around our land and our neighbor's, the Crawford's, land nearby. Richard Crawford is a specialist in prairie restoration and taught us how to harvest and identify native grasses vs. introduced grasses (ie- Indian Grass good, Fescue bad...) It is amazing how many wildflowers and grasses there are all around us, the variety of which I had formerly lumped together in my mind as "grassy stuff" instead of Little Bluestem, Mountain Mint, Goldenrod, Greyheaded Coneflower, etc. It occurs to me that this year on the land has been about learning the landscape around us, which I suspect will be an ongoing education. Mike has been furthering our knowledge by reading up on wild-foraging and we have been astounded by how much of our landscape is actually edible. He has also been mushroom-hunting up a storm, and almost every other day we have mushrooms with breakfast. So far he has found Chicken-of-the-Woods, Elm Oysters, Oysters, Wood-ears, Puff balls, and he has inoculated around 20 logs with 5 other species of edible mushroom spores which will fruit in another year. Yum!
     And otherwise, work on the land continues as best we can here... Digging swales, still processing wood and debarking logs, putting in a spillway ditch for the pond and carving spoons out of black walnut and cherry wood for our fundraiser thank-you gifts. We also have had new neighbors move in, a young family of four who have been long-time friends of Ethan and Sarah. They too are moving onto new land without existing structures and will be embarking on a homestead-creating adventure along with us. We also have gotten to meet other local neighbors, folks who have dropped off a bucket of turnips, offered us squirrel meat (hmmm...), given us tree seed and offered advice and history of the area and our land. We learned our parcel used to be called "happy Jack's place" after the fellow who used to own it a few decades back, who was, apparently, a happy guy! Well here are a few more shots of the fleeting fall beauty over at happy Jack's place. With a few more weeks still to go, send us some warm wishes :)
A storm blowing over at sunset

Monday, October 1, 2012


        Introducing... our new pond! Or rather, the huge crater in our land that will one day be a pond should the rain gods look favorably upon our small homestead. It is hard to give a sense of its size and position in relation to the land around it, but I have endeavored in the above composite photo. All in all, it turned out to be much larger than we were expecting it to be, but its position on the land is really ideal for our orchard and garden site (downhill on the left most photo of the composite). It is probably hard to see this detail in the above image, but there is a pipe emerging from the dam wall in the pond bowl that feeds out 100 ft. on the other side of the dam to a hydrant where we can connect hoses and run water downhill. As a neighbor of ours put it, "you can keep your tap turned on all year and still not drain that thing!" Not that we have plans to try, but it is nice to know that we will have a decent water supply for our land and a backup for our house, should we need it. It is also nice to know there will be future habitat for frogs, turtles, fish, migrating fowl, cattails, ducks and many other creatures. After the rather destructive process of bulldozing it into existence, it is the least we owe the land and other inhabitants on it. The first day the excavator came and started digging involved the removal of several really old and lovely oaks that stood in the direct path of the proposed dam wall. We made the difficult decision to remove them and then use every part of them  for our own building and wood supply. Even knowing how many other large oaks we have on our land, it was still hard to see them get uprooted and pushed away. Another hard part was watching the top soil get stripped off of the site, along with all of the other prairie grasses and life inhabiting them. Again, a huge compromise for the life that will be able to flourish in its place. But after that, the bulldozer began stripping away beautiful layers of clay, full of interesting swirls of color, and it was rather interesting watching how he reshaped them layer by layer into a bowl. Sort of like a giant ceramics project minus the wheel to throw it on. The excavator, Ralph, was able to push top soil back onto the outside sides of the dam wall so that we can plant stabilizing grasses and turn it back into prairie again. In the meantime, we have been busily dissecting the huge trees that were pushed over, making piles of dry twigs for cook stove fuel, green branches to be turned into wood chips for our swale project, medium branches for firewood (we already have 1 cord! Now for the house to heat...), the main trunk to be milled for our building beams, and the root balls which we will roll back into the bottom of the pond for fish hatchery habitat. All of this, you can imagine, is more work than we bargained for, and is definitely delaying our main project (ahem... the house?) But still, we feel we should finish what we started and thus you can imagine us out on our prairie slopes, sawing and stacking away and enjoying the sun for once! Below are some photos from the process...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Work Parties


We are back in Missouri after a month of visiting family and attending a friend's wedding out West. Apparently we are making up for lost time since in the last week a lot has been happening to move our projects forward. For one, we made our Pond fundraising goal and we have set up a date next week to have our pond excavated (woo-hoo!) Another hurdle that was slowing down our progress on the house was actually moving the timbers we cut in the woods nearby our house site. Mike and our friend Dan moved the timbers down hill to accessible paths (via the log-arch, an incredible tool... see left) and then our Amish neighbor Jake used his team of work horses and work cart to maneuver the logs to our work site. The horses make this task look ridiculously easy, often snapping two logs positioned at different angles together and deftly maneuvering them through a labyrinth of trees and underbrush at decent speed. The real feat Jake managed to accomplish was getting the logs over a 16 ft. creek bed that separates the woods from our house site. He did this by dropping off the logs on one side of the bed, bringing the horses around to the other side of the creek (the very long way) and then using a long chain and several people feeding them across to pull them across. It is a huge relief to have this step done.

 Another interesting thing that happened this past week was our friends the Crawfords annual sorghum-molasses pressing party. We helped them for a day prepping and cutting cane in their field (imagine a corn-like plant only taller). About ten of us moved through the rows with wooden swords, whipping off the leaves and cutting the top seed-clusters before cutting them at the base and bunching them. Once they were all gathered and carted off, the second part of the process started the next day at the pressing-fest. The extended Crawford clan gets together annually to do this, bringing together  four generations and several acres of cane to be pressed. It takes two days and one very old cane press that has been in Richard Crawford's family for generations. I was surprised that molasses starts off in the boiling tank a putrid green color and cooks down to sticky brown.


Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, eye of newt and toe of frog!

       Last, we hosted a community work party on Monday and had a dozen folks helping out on our land for the morning, stripping bark from some of the trees that Jake helped move to the building site and also digging swales into the hillside where next year we will plant our orchard. The swales will help the hill absorb more rainwater and serve as a spillway for the pond. They are also a heck of a lot of work to create, so hopefully there will be more work parties to come. Either that or we need to train a pack of dogs to dig holes along the contour of the hill. If only. Anyhow, here are some photos of our work party, which was finished with a chili-feast! Yum.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Thoughts about personal economy

"What is this? A timber-frame for ants? It has to be... at least... 3 times as big!" -Zoolander
     Since my last post, Mike and I have taken a pause from building to replenish our project funds. I am visiting my parents on Washington Island, Wisconsin for the month, and it has given me a chance to finally work on a model for our timberframe house. With any luck, we will be able to turn it from a timber-frame for ants into a timber-frame for humans when we get back in September. In the meantime, I have been working odd jobs up here, including being a baker's assistant at the new bakery on the island. It has been nice getting away from the 100+ heat of Missouri (which made being productive very difficult), but it has also been nice getting encouragement from Heidi's bakery for our We-the-Trees pond fundraiser. It turns out that Heidi recently raised $15,000 through Kickstarter to build a real brick oven for her new bakery, through the generous support of the island community and many others. Daily I see people come by to introduce themselves as contributors to her project, and Heidi in turn gives out fresh loaves of bread as thank-you gifts. While Mike and my pond-fundraising project is quite different (we considered giving out jars of fresh pond water as thank you gifts, but decided to go with hand-made art instead), the concept is the same: reliance on community support to forward each other's dreams.

     There is a question that comes to mind with what we are trying to do and more generally, with the phenomena of Kickstarter and other crowd-source fundraisers... Shouldn't we be earning this ourselves? Through good-old-fashioned sweat and toil? Isn't that what our parents did, and our parent's parents? Mike's grandparents bought their land and built their own house on weekends when they weren't working at their 9-5 jobs during the week, saving bit by bit. I have to admire them and wonder if Kickstarter is a product of a generation that has grown up more coddled, indulged and used to getting what they want without having to work as hard for it. I have had long talks with friends about all of this, what "right livlihood" means to us and what kind of economy we want to create and participate in. Also about how we want to earn our daily bread, plus all that other stuff necessary for life to flourish. My friends who live in a small community called the Possibility Alliance don't generate income at all, but live half off of what they grow and produce off of the land and half off of free-will donations given to the project by visitors and other supporters. Granted, they also donate their time in service to the community through free educational classes and free hospitality to hundreds of guests a year. They also live on much much less than most folks in the US, so they don't require much in terms of outside income. Another friend of ours feels strongly that she never wants to ask for donations, she wants to earn every penny she needs. So where do all these considerations leave us?

     All I can say for now is that Mike and I are planning on living on less, and off the land as much as possible, but also on having supplemental incomes and not relying on donations. I'd like to think that what we are creating could be replicated by anyone through their own hard work, and to that end... well, we have worked hard to get this far! But I also love the idea of giving a gift that inspires another to give their gift and so on, until it comes back around the circle. This has already happened to me a little bit though our pond fundraiser: a few years ago I helped organize a project to create a commemorative mural/mosaic that honors a young member of my Philadelphia church who passed away. It was something I knew I could create and give to the church community and to his family, and I didn't think about compensation, I just felt inspired to give. Last week, out of the blue, his mother wrote to say that she wanted to donate to our homestead, and asked me how. Well, hallelujah! It feels quite wonderful to have a gift unexpectedly come back around, especially when I am most in need of it!

     So we have 20 days and half of our goal still to raise. We have had a wonderful start, and I feel a lot of gratitude for everyone who has contributed so far... I am hopeful we can do it, so please help us spread the word and if you feel inspired, give! The website is www.wethetrees.com, linked on the below entry. Also, below, a few shots of Mike from before we left... debarking trees, and pondering our neighbor's newly dug pond (pun intended!)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Pond Project

In the midst of this drought, as Mike and I have been carefully conserving what little water is left in our rainwater-catchment barrels, we have been thinking about how we are going to integrate water into our homestead in the future. Somehow, this didn't really factor into our everyday thinking before now: water was just what came out when you turned on a faucet! But our land lies farther down our gravel road than that municipal water lines run, and we aren't entirely sure we want to pay the expense of ripping up the road, laying pipe and extending it to our house site. A 5,000 gallon cistern catching rainwater off of our roof seems like it would provide us with enough water for our household needs. However. We have watched (and helped) as our friends have kept wilty vegetables and vulnerable small trees alive this month with hoses and buckets, using thousands of gallons of water, and wondered where such back-up reserves would come from on our land. At the same time, our neighbors just finished having a pond dug, and as we got to talking to them about it, Mike came up with the idea of digging a pond on our land. It would be uphill from our envisioned orchard/ food forest site, and uphill from our main garden site, so that we could even gravity-feed water by underground pipe to those parts of the land. Though we hadn't budgeted this year for a pond, it makes sense to do it this summer, so that by next summer, it will be full enough to begin to use when we start planting trees!
       So, with the predicament of funding such a pond excavation on our minds, we consulted some friends who just created a crown-funding website for permaculture projects. They just launched the website, and were hopeful for more campaigns to have a strong start... and so we agreed to give it a go. If you have ever heard of Kickstarter, it is very similar idea-- you launch a campaign, you send out pleas for contributions, and if you make your goal then your project is a success! I never ever thought I would be actually launching such a campaign myself (being somewhat camera shy), but here I am, just having spent 12 hours putting together video and a proposal... asking you... to check it out and see what you think. The best part of the campaign to me is that as a thank you for different contribution levels, we send out gifts! And to a hand-made gift enthusiast such as myself, I would thoroughly enjoy making prints of my art, handmade spoons and frames and such and sending them out in gratitude for your support. So, if for no other reason than to see our land and Mike and I on camera... please check it out, like us on Facebook and pass on the word... www.wethetrees.com

Could this be our future pond? With a wing and a prayer... 

Declaration of Inter-dependence

    Building-wise, this has been the month of moving heavy, monolithic materials--concrete slabs, tree trunks, barrels of water, and 1 cast-iron bathtub (for a friend)--though perhaps I am being optimistic in calling it "the month" when in all likelihood, there will be several months of this type of activity. Unfortunately. I realize that never before in my construction history have I encountered such heavy materials. Before now, I have always worked with pre-milled boards from Home Depot of nice, dry pine (light as a feather, stiff as a...). Oh, those were the days! But felling a mature tree and then limbing it and moving its heavy, wet trunk to a location some distance away has been challenging to say the least. Similarly, for our foundation we have needed large slabs of stone or recycled concrete to complete each of our 12 gravel pits. Luckily we have had my parent's truck on loan, which has made transport much easier. Still, as you can see from the photo to the left, we have been devising some questionable rigging systems and enlisting unsuspecting friends into helping us awkwardly maneuver "urbanite"  blocks from demolition sites in town to our land.
We then lugged them into place, microadjusted their levelness, and heaved a huge sigh of relief that that difficult step was over and it would all be smooth sailing from here on. Ha.     
        The next step was acquiring tree trunks for posts. In my mind they would gracefully loft down to the forest floor with the single stroke of a chainsaw, and then the two of us would lift either side of the trunk and trot merrily to the building site (somewhere my sister is laughing at me). Again, I really had no idea what was involved, being the aforementioned effete Home-Depot patron that I am. Imagine dripping sweat mingling with chainsaw grit, plumes of gas fumes and frustration fumes, hours of unsticking mis-aimed trunks that accidentally fell and got stuck in neighboring trees, plus the high adrenaline rush of not really knowing when and in what direction the massive trunks would crash to the ground. Then the realization that there is simply no way to lift the trunks with our own god-given muscles. And even if we could, there is a creek bed to cross (bridge yet to be built). Discouragement.... The bright side truly has been our friends here, who have come through assisting us in every step of the way. For example, two friends plus an ingenious log-moving contraption called a "log arch" below made moving 20 ft. juniper trunks a snap, well, relatively. And we have determined that very likely there are a pair of hulking Belgian draft horses in our log-moving future, owned by an Amish neighbor, who are able to maneuver logs out of the tricky maze of the woods. I will hopefully have more to report on this endeavor soon!

 Our neighbors have been working on their own homestead endeavors with similar need for our assistance at times. Some of our neighbors who are getting married in a few months, Christian and Taiga, decided to purchase a small portable mill for their land and have learned how to mill their own wood for it. In the last month, they built the wood shed to the right and milled all of the lumber in it! Then next summer they are hoping to get started with the construction of their house. For the time being, they--like us--have been "tenting it". They have also been making their mill available for community use at a very reasonable price, which includes our Amish neighbor Jake assisting with logistics...
    Another one of our wonderful neighbors is Beth, who in the course of the past year built herself a small portable house, fully insulated and finished beautifully, as well as a storage shed and started trees and garden beds around her house. The house is perfect for one person, with a loft bed, small kitchenette and folding table and chairs, and even a tiny wood-burning stove for cooking on. She also managed to squeeze in book shelves, a desk, and two wardrobe/closets and a comfortable reading chair! Beth has worked for years finishing residential straw bale buildings with gorgeous earthen plasters and paints so you can imagine her own place is beautiful.
        We have also been having a series of community celebrations. For one, instead of celebrating independence day in the traditional fireworks-and-hot-dogs style, the greater community had a big "Inter-dependence Day" where we celebrated our interconnection with each other and the land. A big group pond swim was featured in this celebration (and every other one) as we have been enduring 100 F+ days without air-conditioning. Another party was hosted at Santa Fe lake nearby, with all ages in attendance for a 5 year old's birthday and we also have had a few potlucks, like the one below, after a community work-exchange morning. (Note in the background an outdoor kitchen structure I designed and built with a class a few years ago, now getting good use!) But water has been on my mind a lot lately as the heat and the drought continue and every day it seems like there is more yellow and less green... more to come on the subject of water shortly...
 And last- for your amusement, we happened to spot the below scene the other day and it seemed to encapsulate the cultural intersections of this area-- to the left you have a trucker just pulled off the highway, gassing up, and to the right, there is an Amish buggy, which is horse drawn, however since the Amish often use gasoline to fuel up their power tools and small engines (kind of like an Amish loop-hole to use these since they are technically disconnected from the grid), this man is filling up portable gas cans! Still, it makes a funny juxtaposition.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Beginning of a Homestead

Finally! The long-awaited first post on our Missouri homesteading blog! Yes, it has taken me one whole month to sit down and actually write this since we arrived in La Plata, Missouri in late May. I suppose I wanted to wait until I actually had some progress to report on, but truthfully, getting settled in and started has been an overwhelming affair. We are just now beginning to feel confident in the project ahead of us--building our home, on our 20 acre homestead. Another impediment has been our irregular relationship with technology. Although I have a laptop, and Mike has a cell phone, we have been camping on our land, with no wires attached. That has meant that recharging and internet access has been spotty, and furthermore, in the move we seem to have accidentally only brought one camera and one connection cable between us, neither of which work together! Therefore, figuring out how to upload photos to the blog has taken awhile. 

But all glitches considered, here are some highlights from the last month:
Arriving: After a 10 hour drive from Ohio, we started nearing NEMO (that is the actual acronym for North East Missouri, not just a Disney fish) around 7-8pm. I felt excited to be finally turning off the highway onto familiar county road E, and then onto our new road, which is appropriately named “Frontier Lane”. We rolled down our windows to hear the crunch of gravel under the tires, and to absorb the familiar neighbor homesteads as we passed by-- two Amish families and their assortment of children and horses, a mid-aged cattle-ranching couple, the Millers, our friends who share a communal homestead called Still Waters Sanctuary (they are the Possibility Alliance), then down the hill toward our friend Beth’s land (she just moved on with her portable tiny-house-on-wheels), and over the little creek bridge and up to our new gate. As we pulled up and shut off the noisy radio and AC of the car, stepped out onto the land, we were enveloped by a sense of peace and calm that comes from the pink sky and long shadows of sunset, the breeze blowing prairie grasses and trees, and the hum of insects. Suddenly, a wild turkey shot out of the brush 10 ft. from us and sent our hearts pounding. As we made a quick loop over the grassy hills, the more it sunk in-- this place is already fully inhabited and alive!  We have come to live among the deer, ticks, owls, song birds, muskrat, snapping turtles, poison ivy, oaks, junipers, snakes, fireflies, wild flowers, frogs and all the rest of the life there that we were introduced to in the coming days. A little daunting to technically “possess” it really... I feel humbled by the reality that we don’t really own it at all, but now the land has two more inhabitants, us. 

Our first lean-to! Constructed mostly with scrap materials from friends

Neighbors: “I get by with a little help from my friends” would be an understatement for the process of getting set up and going here. Each day we have been carried by our neighbor’s generosity: we are routinely fed, given water, we have borrowed trucks, been given directions, advice, cookies, weather reports, lumber and metal roofing, tools, towels, pillows, blankets, laundry soap, jars of home-canned goods, and most importantly, good company. It feels good to already have what seems like something stronger than friendship here--real community that we can lean on time and time again. As we were going over to Don and Dana’s house for the second time in a week to borrow their truck, Don, a conservative Christian who is as earnest and hard-working as he is generous, explained--as I began to apologize for inconveniencing them--that it was important for us to serve each other and build our interdependence because we all need each other. He pointed out how often he leans on us to help round up his cattle. In fact, just that week we had gone out into his fields with him to search for a scrawny newborn calf that he was bottle-feeding daily since its mother had basically rejected it. This idea--that generosity shown to another will build and come back around, linking everyone in the circle of community--is the backbone of the gift economy, which is what we are all trying to create instead of a monetary-based system. Not that the gift economy is exactly new. It sustained family farms for generations before an era of industrialized ag. where machines filled in the gaps of human limitation. We are rediscovering how to lean on our neighbors again. And boy are we ever!

Building: So our goal for the summer is to build ourselves a home, or at least half of it. This endeavor may seem a tad bit naive or idealistic to most folks, plus it is rumored that there is no greater way to break up a relationship than to try building one’s dream house together. We don’t have much money and are trying to do most of the work ourselves, without hiring outside help, so perhaps we are additionally foolhardy. But we met last summer building a two-story 1000 sq. ft. house up the road, and we have been pretty much building together every day since then, so we are hopeful we will survive the process. That being said, choosing a site was very difficult. A dozen considerations factor in to the decision: dust from the gravel road, the NW winter wind, the SW summer wind, solar access, soil quality, access to the road, tree location, proximity to a garden site, the seasonal creek that occasionally floods big time, on and on... It actually took us a week and half just to stake out the foundation. We were so excited to start excavating that we plunged in one hot, sunny morning with shovels and lasted 4 hours before deciding to rent a mini-excavator for the rest of the foundation pits. We are trying to find the tricky balance between work done by hand with hand saws and elbow grease, and work done using a minimum of machines and power tools where it makes sense. This was one of those situations where it made sense (Missouri soil is solidly clay... potters could throw the stuff on a wheel!) Mike dug a one cubic yd. hole in four hours, and we did the next eleven holes with the mini-digger in another four hours. Our neighbor also helped us level the site with his tractor. After that, this past week we have spent re-filling those same holes with 17.5 tons of gravel, by hand! This might sound crazy, but we figured it would be better to go slow and tamp each course of gravel by hand instead of using big machines. Picture two shovels and a wheelbarrow. Despite occasionally feeling like a chain gang, it hasn’t been that bad. We just finished topping the gravel pits with "urbanite" blocks (busted-up old concrete slab) and are already combing the woods on our land for suitable oak trees for the posts and beams to come next. 

From above, "help! I'm drowning in gravel!" to finished foundation pits below...

Birthday: Amidst all of this endeavoring, I turned 30. My family came for the occasion and there was a big pond-olympics-pizza-party at Still Waters farm to celebrate. It was a perfect evening, even more so because another friend who lives there also turned 30 the next day so we celebrated together, with neither of us having to bare the spotlight of attention alone. I feel pretty good about entering a new decade of life with my dream homestead taking shape beneath me and a wonderful guy to create it and share it with. 
And to round out the above gleaming portrait of life in Missouri, lowlights from the past month:
Ticks, everywhere. Marginally less annoying than mosquitos but no less insidious.
Poison ivy, in many inconvenient locations, including my ankle. 
Flipping off my bike and landing on my face, ouch!
The occasional 100 F+ day, very hard to work in
Missing friends back east... ah, the conundrum of a life spent rooting in many places! Although community is something I already have back home in the city, a homestead and a life of creative self-sufficiency would have been much more difficult there. Affordable land (with hardly any taxes on it), freedom to build and farm without licenses and inspections, and abundant resources beckoned us west. Like many settlers before us I suppose... Still, I have a heart divided across the map.
Well, that is the latest for now. I intend to keep updates on our progress monthly, so check in periodically to follow the evolution of our homestead!