Saturday, December 19, 2009

Introduction to Natural Plasters and Paints Workshop

Where: Here at the Villa, El Sobrante, CA (10 minutes north of Berkeley)

When: Feb. 6th & 7th

Cost: $150 per person

$250 for two people signing up together

Includes all materials and lunch both days

Instructors: Massey Burke and Sasha Rabin

For more information contact Sasha at, or

This two day workshop offers a hands-on introduction to working with clay, sand, and fibers to make beautiful, non-toxic plasters and finishes. These methods and materials can be used over conventional sheetrock as well as earthen and straw bale walls. We will process both unrefined and store-bought materials into plaster and paint, and we will apply these finishes over both earthen walls and sheetrock.

Participants will leave the workshop with enough understanding of the materials and process to mix and apply their own paints and plasters on a variety of substrates.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pods at night... and pictures!

Shortening fall days aren't stopping us yet...  Took my camera around as I was picking up tools. Here is Lindsay mixing up one of the final batches of light straw clay in the granny unit (no, she's not performing a ritual to raise the dead here)

Sasha's rafters.  This is actually pre-roof, so now it looks a little diffferent.... And Massey's woven creation... before it all gets covered up with mud.
It was dark by the time I got all the way to the backyard to my pod, but here are more pictures from the fall, mostly of the buildings.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Acorn gathering and trailer testing

Midday today, I hauled out the bamboo bike trailer from where it had been sitting under the redwood tree, molding and forgotten.   This post is both a review of its official maiden voyage (finally!), and a rambling account of foraging for and preparing acorns: the amazing nut which was once a food staple for native americans that that falls on the ground this time of year to sprout and create new oak trees, or to be carried off by hyperactive squirrels.  

I built the trailer months ago using this online pattern as a guide- which I highly recommend for its straightforward and clear directions and illustrations.  I bungied a few wooden wine boxes onto it to hold the bounty, and headed off. Well actually, first my bike chain broke, and then the front derailer snapped off in my hand, but the chain was easily fixable and who needs those extra gears anyhow?  Oh bike neglect.  So with a few less gears I pedaled down the road, the empty trailer loosely bouncing along behind me.  I mostly got used to the extra space I took up on the road with it, but I did accidently run over an abandoned rubber rain boot on the shoulder, which flipped the trailer (and luckily caused no harm and spilled no acorns).

Because of the nature of foraging, the trailer filled up gradually, which was an excellent way to test the effect of weight on it.  Bicycle speed suits acorn gathering- fast enough to get from tree to tree, slow enough to see nuts on the ground and pull over for them.  It didn't take long until going up hills was noticably harder and there was quite a bit of pull from behind.  I think all in all I gathered 30-40 lbs (?) from here to Moraga and back which necessitated walking up the steepest hills closest to home, but posed no problem on smallish hills.

So far from my limited experience- Massey and I gathered acorns last year as well, and were given some year-old acorns from friends- it sure seems as if letting them age for a year concentrates flavor and sweetness, though they also do get much harder, so it sounds like you are grinding up rocks when you throw them in the food processor to turn them into meal. 

The jars below contain acorns that have been ground into meal in the vitamix (amazing blender) and covered with cold water to start the leaching process.  In the past I have only done the leaching part with boiling water, which can be done in 30 minutes or so, but this time I am trying it with cold water (which apparently preserves more taste and nutrition, though takes days), draining off the liquid and refilling with fresh water twice a day.  the difference of the two jars here, is that the one on the left is this year's valley oak acorns, and the one on the right is valley oak acorns from last year.
The new acorns (on the left) have a very faint fresh smell, and the year old (on the right) smell like a cross between a good stout and molasses.  I don't know for sure, but I also suspect fermentation with the older acorns, because there is a consistent skim of bubbles on the top.  Anybody know more about this?  When the meal no longer tastes bitter it can either be used immediately or dried in the oven and stored in the fridge or freezer.

Time is running out to gather acorns for the year in the bay area- if anyone is interested in a foraging trip in the next week or two, let me know, I'll be going out again.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The tree collards are expansionist! They already got Trilby and Sasha....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I woke up in the early morning hours last night to the sound of rain and lay in bed for a moment before I realized I was also hearing the gurgling of the first flush diverter filling (part of the rainwater catchment system).  It just so happens that it is right on the other side of the thin, stick frame/stucco wall, from my bed, and I had spent the earlier part of the day frantically doing finishing touches that would allow the water to actually flow from the gutters into the first flush, so once I realized that I was hearing the sounds of the system filling, I was wide awake.  I even jumped out of bed and ran outside into the dark and rain to see what I could see.  With my hand on the large vertical pipe, I could feel the vibrations of water inside.  

The first flush, for those of you who don't know, is a larger diameter pipe that is attached to the side of the house vertically, is closed at the bottom, with a valve that can be opened, and has a holding capacity of about 5 gallons.  There is also a small ball in there which floats on top of the water,  and plugs access once its completely full, diverting water to the diagonal pipe which flows to the tanks, for the rest of the storm.  The purpose of this is to allow the roof rinse water- that first 5 gallons that flows over roof that's long been dry and has potentially collected  dead animals and poop on it- to be diverted, and not stored in the tanks along with all the  "cleaner" water.

Thanks so much to everybody who was here helping install the tanks earlier this year.  Last I checked, this morning, it appears that the first flush is full and the water is going to the tanks now. Bring on the rain!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October Work Parties

Pod Plaster Party
October 11th

Earthen plastering is just about one of the most satisfying pieces of natural building. There's nothing like the feel of smooth clay sliding onto a wall! We'll be plastering Trilby's earthbag spiral creation and Massey's woven bamboo building.

Permitted Natural Building - Light Straw Clay!

Saturday Oct. 24th, 1pm-5pm
Sunday October 25th, 10am - 5pm

Join us as we fill the walls of the back house with light straw clay, a traditional natural building technique and wall system that provides insulation as well as a plaster substrate. The mighty local materials of clay and straw, tamped into the wall cavity, replace industrially manufactured insulation, drywall, plywood, and siding, and hugely reduce a building's ecological footprint.

We'll prep most of the mix Saturday afternoon, and build the walls on Sunday. All are welcome to build, but there is plenty of celebrating to be done for those who just want to come hang out and be part of it (rumor has it there will be lots of food and music perhaps).

Monday, October 5, 2009

City Homestead Tour- Saturday!

Go to if you are interested in going on a tour this coming Saturday to various homesteads in western Contra Costa County.  You have to sign up ahead of time and to see the map and descriptions of the 18 different places, but its absolutely free and there looks to be an assortment of interesting gardens on the tour, many with small livestock and various composting and water systems as well.   Yes we are on the tour, and if you don't make it out Saturday, you can always come Sunday for the workparty!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Progress in the Building Department

The pace has been quick around here, and the end of summer busy, both on the home front and in all our various travels away from here.  So I suppose it's not surprising that a common comment from neighbors is that we look like ants- or bees- always moving about outside, busy and doing something, what, I don't think they are always entirely sure.  

Some very exciting information came in today.  Massey and Lindsay have been working hard to put together an extensive proposal on the natural building system of light straw clay, in the hopes of being able to get it permitted for use as an insulation system in the granny unit, the building out back we are currently retrofitting.   Today, the news came in from our new friend at the building department.  They are going to give us the permit, and they are interested in watching the building's performance over the next few years, with the idea of creating an ordinance if all goes well.  YEAH!

Otherwise new here?  We finished the earth bag portion of the walls of my pod today, Sasha has rafters on her pod, and a ceiling on part of it, we have a new earthen oven that is about to be fired up for some pizza, and the sound of the dehydrator lulls us all to sleep as we try our best to can, dry and preserve the mountains of food that piling up on the kitchen counters and floor from our garden(tomatoes and more tomatoes) and other places (big apple and pear harvest recently).  

Friday, September 4, 2009

Honey Harvest and Bearding Bees

This week we harvested our first honey from the bees.  They have nearly filled the hive completely with comb, and we wanted to go in and check on their progress, and see if anymore queen cells had been built.  These are larger cells that hang down from the side of the comb where they raise new queens, and it means they are thinking about swarming. Generally we want to reduce the amount they swarm.  We also wanted to make sure all the comb was growing straight down.  A few queen cells were found and removed, and some comb near the end of the hive was curving into a neighboring comb, making the frames difficult to remove.  

We ended up removing an entire frame that was full of capped honey at the top, and nectar on the bottom (not completely dried by the bees yet, or capped) to create some more room, and we cut out the sections that were growing crookedly.  This provided us with about a pint and a half of honey and it is delicious!  Someone had the excellent idea of saving a small amount of it to compare to future harvests and see what different seasons taste like around here.  

Later in the day we were startled to see the bees congregating on their "front porch" (picture above) and were concerned that they might be swarming.  We have since found out that perhaps they were "bearding" which means basically going outside to hang out when the weather is hot and they want more space and ventillation.  

Friday, August 7, 2009

Summertime bounty

How's this for a garden update?

(challenge... count how many duck eggs are hiding among the lemon cucumbers)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pictures of Pod Progress

Some more long-awaited pictures- the backyard is transforming rapidly this summer. 

Click here for a slideshow on the 4 (!) buildings we have been working on.  And check back soon for updates and pictures on the garden and the bees.  

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Natural Building Workshop at the Villa

Another successful workshop here at the Villa has just come to a close. We had twelve amazingly wonderful people here for the last week taking part in a hands on natural building workshop, taught by Massey and myself (Sasha). We made great progress on three different small mostly earthen structures in our back yard. This workshop group was very dedicated and got the award for the the most on-time group ever. The group was diverse in origin with people originally from Venezuela, Greece, Czech Republic, Canada, and all throughout the US. Other than occasional smiling and nodding, we all (mostly) managed to communicate.
The workshop focused on earthen building, and we managed to cover an amazingly large array of techniques. In Sasha's pod we came close to finishing the cob, did the first layer of earthen plaster on the walls, and poured the first layer of earthen floor. In Massey's pod we started with some heavy straw clay, some simple bamboo, clay wattle, and a small strawbale wall topped with light straw clay. An earth bag foundation was done on Trilbys pod.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


July 20-25: Natural Building Intensive. Massey and Sasha are teaming up to teach a week long workshop that will be full of hands-on experience and information on different natural wall systems such as cob, strawbale, slip straw and wattle and daub, and will cover the process of building starting from design and site analysis, to alternative foundations and finishing touches.  Great for folks in building trades and those simply interested who want to gain more experience and knowledge. This course is being offered through the Solar Living Institute.  Contact Sasha (at) with questions and to sign up, or visit the SLI website:  Tuition:  $350.  Spread the word if you know of folks who might be interested!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rain Water Catchment System

Our rain water catchment tanks are now officially plumbed and ready for the rains (at least there is one thing that we are early with). Thanks to Ingrid, Nik Bertulis, and the wonderful workshop participants that attended yesterday's workshop, as well as Christina Bertea for her wonderful advice, the system is just about finished.

The five, five hundred and fifty gallon tanks are daisy chained together, the fir
st flush diverter is in, the secondary filtration system is installed, and it looks beautiful! All together the storage capacity is 2750 gallons. We still have to figure out details on the overflow, and readjust the gutters so water flows in the right directions. The system is designed to collect water from the north side of our house, which on a very low rain year should fill the tanks with a small amount left over. The tanks are mainly designed for landscaping and irrigation use, so they will fill during the winter, and be used during the summer. The overflow water will be incorporated in to the courtyard design, and more rain water catchment tanks will be built to catch the rain from the south side of the house. Stay tuned for updates on the ferocement water tank that will double as retaining wall. Thanks again to everyone who helped make this happen.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spring rains and micro-livestock

It has been a while since anyone has written, and since I've been holding down the home front recently, I guess its my turn to catch up a bit.  I'm still getting used to this blogging stuff.   Out the window, it looks like our garden is enjoying this late spring rain as much as I am.  Continuing to prep garden beds and trying to make/find places for all the seeds we want to plant and all the seedlings Lindsay brings from the nursery is a big job these days.  I’ve also been trying to get soil building systems in place to help transform our heavy compacted clay soil into rich loamy garden beds.  The good news is the army of gigantic earthworms that seem to reside just below the crust (the soil can't be that bad) the bad news is the layers of gravel, black plastic, broken glass and trash one has to dig through in our yard to find these guys.   Our red wiggler compost worms have moved up in the world, out of their too-small wooden box into a bathtub, where we can collect the casting tea from the drain(pure gold to the plants) and we've been building and turning compost piles in the back, honing methods and observing transformations from duck poop, straw and kitchen scraps into steamy black compost.

No one has fully mentioned the honeybees yet, so maybe this is a good time to do that, especially since they are part of what I affectionately refer to as our micro-livestock collection. The earlier pictures I posted show the top bar hive that Sasha built.  Spring is when bees swarm, which, for those of you who aren’t familiar with bees, is when part of the hive leaves with the queen bee in search of a new home.  This is the natural ways for bee colonies to grow and create new bee colonies, and it also happens if they outgrow their current space.  The bees are vulnerable because they have no home, and only have as much food as they’ve eaten before swarming.  As a result they are fairly docile in this state as they conserve their energy.

I had a near miss catching a hive, which is a story in itself, but luckily Sasha had success, and helped a friend prune a rosebush to access the hive swarming inside of it.  The short story is that the bees all ended up in a wooden box with holes punched in it, and early in the morning, still half in our pajamas, we emptied the box into the hive.  It was amazing to watch the bees literally pour into their new home, and to see that they had already started building new comb overnight in their temporary abode.

  We’ve opened up the hive once since then to see how they are doing.  Apparently all is well, as far as I know, which isn’t all that much, because they are still there and are building arch shaped combs that hang down from the bars of wood that sit across the top.  We were able to distinguish between workers and drones (workers are all females that can’t produce eggs but do practically everything else, and drones are males that mate with the queen and then die).   The drones have big eyes (for spotting the queen when she flies high up in the sky to mate).  Its been great fun to go sit by the hive every now and then and watch the buzz of activity.  It seems like about 20 % of the bees flying in have gigantic yellow blobs of pollen on their back legs (which is where the saying “the bees knees” comes from because they have an interesting pollen storage system around their knees).

  Ok, that’s it for now- time to go see if the ducks are behaving themselves- they are out free-ranging in the yard this morning!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Work parties and Visits with Inspectors

Life here at the Villa has been busy, apparently too busy for us to make time to post to our blog. Last weekend we had out first official work party, and it was a huge success. It deserves its own story, but the short update is that we have amazing friends who came and worked hard, and (I think) had a lot of fun. We got several garden beds dug, countless loads of manure brought in, and our first earthen wall built. The hybrid cob/adobe wall is on the street, delineating our parking from our garden. The reactions from the neighbors have been great, including people driving by, slamming on their breaks, and backing up to stare and look closer. 

The wall was built on Sunday, and on Tuesday we had our first building inspection for the foundation of the back unit. Our inspector turned out to be the supervisor named Tom. The first thing he said to us as he approached was "nice adobe wall". A good start. The foundation did not pass the inspection, and we were left with a list of things to do to fix it. The next day we got two inspectors, our regular guy named Joe, and another man. They were a bit more scrutinizing of the foundation and gave us yet another list of things to change. 

A while after they walked away we realized that they were standing on out driveway staring at the wall. Still without an inspectors stamp on our plans, and with two building inspectors staring at  our cob wall, our spirits were very low. Massey and I began the conversation of how easy it would be to disassemble the wall. As we were trying to decide whether to go talk to them or not, they started down the driveway towards us. With a bit of excitement in his voice Joe said, "How in the world did you get the idea of doing an Adobe wall?" Quickly realizing that they were not about to tell us it had to be removed, we talked for a bit about cob, adobe and earth bag building. 
The next part of the story is titled "how to get Massey and Sasha out of their really bad moods."  The next day Joe returned with yet another inspector. We thought perhaps we were so high maintenance with our never ending questions they needed two inspectors, but as it turns out they are just low on work they are taking the time to cross-train people from different departments.  After retying and moving seemingly endless wire and re bar (mostly Massey 
but with the help of all of us) in the most awkward positions under a house that you don't fit under in all places, we got the inspectors stamp of approval. As soon as the paper was signed, we started our bombardment of questions about out buildings, how to go about permitting experimental plaster, and wall height restrictions. Apparently the word had made it out about our wall, and despite the fact that it might not be totally legal, the supervisor from the first day had told them not to worry about it. So as Massey and I are talking about alternative methods with the building inspectors, one of them said to us, "this is very exciting, you guys are on the forefront of where everything is headed". We had to agree with that. We make our way to the front yard to again take a closer look at the wall, we show them a few books, and talk for about another half hour. 

The conversation ended with Joe saying he is going to see if he can arrange for us to give one of their weekly 1 1/2 hour seminars that all the inspectors have to sit through every Wednesday morning.   Apparently usually its someone from the industry, and fairly boring. We had to agree that our talk would be far more fun then listening to someone from Simpson talk about brackets. Joe proceeded to tell us how excited he is to watch the progression of the sheds in the back, and started his photo documentation by talking photos of the front wall and of the adobes drying in the back.

We didn't realize it at the time, but doing our first earthen project in the most prominent place was a really good idea. There is no possibility that we are trying to sneak something by anyone, and the conversations that have arisen from it have been fantastic.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Favorite quote of the day

"Stephanie₁ has a duck egg, and I have a pod₂ design " --Trilby, about 6pm

1.  Stephanie.  nine-year-old soccer superstar next door
2. pod.  adult version of a fort

Monday, March 30, 2009

Our newest arrival

We have a new addition... today 5 indian runner ducks arrived, and stepped out of a pet carrier into their new home in the southeast corner of the backyard.  Besides being facinating and humorous, they are good layers (a greenish-colored egg a day/ per hen), and love to eat snails and slugs, which we have in abundance. They will certainly be an entertaining addition here.  There is one drake, (male duck) who is distinguished by his voice, a curled up tail, and a green bill, and 4 hens.  Let me know if you have good duck names to suggest!

The ducks came to us rather quickly because I happened to be biking by the eco house in Berkeley just a couple of weeks ago and the duck keeper was moving, and looking for a new home for his ducks.  So, finding plenty of material to harvest from our very yard, I built a pen, which is hopefully critter-proof.   It is built from old chain link fence that was unnecessary (double layers of fence along several walls), old chicken wire I happened to find just hanging on that back fence, and the door is built from a dead tree on the property, and scrap wood (again, from those boarded up windows... all that wood sure is coming in handy). It continues to amaze me just how much material we are able to put to use that was already here.  The beautiful guadua bamboo you see is part of a recent find- someone's old burning man project in the bay area that needed to go immediately, and we were the lucky recipients.

Other exciting non-duck happenings include: a productive greywater planning session with a greywater guerilla,  Sasha breaking ground on her pod and getting ready for starting the earth bag foundation this week, bamboo bike trailer building, prep for foundation work on the  granny unit that should begin this week, and a great party, thanks to all you amazing people that were here!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Radishes: instant gratification!

I've grown radishes so many times, all the way back to when I was just a kid  squatting in my mom's garden and plunking seeds into holes, yet they will never cease to amaze me.    I gathered my first handful of radishes from our garden here today, and was filled with the same sense of excitement and awe I felt the very first time I ever harvested something.  I had to run around with the bouquet of brilliantly colored roots, a wild grin on my face, showing everyone the bounty.  They really are a gardener's instant gratification, easy and quick to grow,  beautiful to harvest, and deliciously crunchy and simple to eat right away sprinkled with salt.  

The soil here is heavy clay, great for our building projects, not so great for gardens,
so there are various ways we have been experimenting with building our soil and creating garden beds.  Today with the help of some volunteers, including our first traveling visitors(all the way from England and Ireland!), and our 9-year old neighbor (probably our biggest fan), we dug a couple of swales and built up two new garden beds in the back yard, using a method from  Toby Hemenway's book Gaia's Garden.   After using picks and shovels to break up the clay, we built up the following layers, wetting them thoroughly in the process:  
1) nitrogen, in the form of grass clippings a volunteer kindly clipped from the most lush place in our yard where the grass grows tall; 2) a layer of cardboard to suppress any grass seeds/weeds from growing through; 3) another layer of nitrogen, this time in the form of local horse manure; 4) flakes of straw laid out to be about 3-4 inches thick though double that would have been great had we had more straw; and lastly 5) a few inches of finished compost, that if deep

enough, makes it possible to go 
right ahead with planting while all the layers underneath decompose slowly overtime as roots and microorganisms make their way through.  We are wondering how root crops like beets and
 carrots will like this method. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Full Moon Over Wildcat

A little before sunset tonight, the four of us set out for the hills.  One of the highest peaks in Wildcat Canyon is just about an hour away from our front door if you are going at a pretty fast clip. 

Within the park we walked up the slope, sidestepping grazing cows, and glancing over our shoulders at town below us as we walked higher.  Cresting the ridge you can see San Francisco across the water, and the big landmarks; Golden Gate Bridge,  Alcatraz, Angel Island, and on this side of the bay you see scattered bits of Richmond, El Cerrito, and even Berkeley (well the Berkeley Pier).  To the left the ridge grows higher, and rising and falling like a roller coaster, the Bay Area Ridge Trail creeps along towards Berkeley in the form of a brown ribbon on the vivid green late winter hills.

We walked to a bump on the ridge with a 360 degree view, and settled in to watch the evening show.  Spring peepers sang down below us in the marshy areas (although apparently Californians don't call them so) and we could hear the eerie cat like calls of a peacock far off, though no coyotes, which puzzles me.  Has anyone actually heard coyotes in urban areas? The sun sank in striations of color behind Mt Tam, and behind us, the golden orb of full moon changed from a glimmer on the ridge, to a misshapen blob, to a glowing orb that sat for a moment balanced on the crest of the hill before launching into the darkening sky as if pushed by little people standing on the next ridge over.  

Just another night in El Sobrante...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gin and Rainwater

On the north side of our parcel (see photo to the right) there is about a ten foot span between the property line and edge of the house, which is full of juniper bushes. (I should say was full of juniper, until Trilby courageously tore them out with a few cuts and scratches to show for it).

Next year we plan on wrapping the north side of the house in straw bales to insulate the house, but figured that we can also use the shaded and underutilized north side to store our rainwater catchment cisterns.

Next Tuesday four, 550 gallon cisterns will arrive at our doorstep, and we'll replace the juniper bushes with 2,200 gallons of roof-caught rainwater - enough to provide us with about a third of our food-growing water for the summer (assuming we get more rain...).

Check it out! Ain't she a beauty? The cisterns are only about 4 feet high so we’re going to build storage cabinets on top of them, interspersed with some work tables as well. Always looking for ways to stack functions and efficiently use the space for as many purposes as possible...cabinets, workbenches, a dancefloor perhaps...

P.S. Hope you’re coming to our equinox party; we’re making a batch of homemade gin with the juniper berries we pulled out.

Villa Sobrante: What's in a Name?

We find ourselves making a home in El Sobrante, a fairly nondescript portion of unincorporated West Contra Costa County with a rich history - a mere 10 minutes from Berkeley (the big city!), a stone's throw from thousands of acres of open space in Wildcat Canyon, and just inches away from the wild turkeys and domesticated chickens that freely roam our street.

The name of the area, El Sobrante, comes from the Spanish verb sobrar. In common Spanish, sobrar translates as "to be left over." Local legend goes that El Sobrante was named “leftovers” because it’s the randomly outlined area nestled between Richmond, San Pablo and Pinole.

But the literal translation of sobrar means "to be more than enough." Thus, the literal translation of the noun el sobrante means “that which is more than enough” – or, simply said, abundance. Which is exactly what we intend to cultivate here. Quite fitting.

And our picturesque courtyard feels so very Mediterranean, protectively enclosing citrus trees and an endangered Guadalupe palm, that’s where the vision of the Mediterranean villa emerged. The word villa also connotes a retreat, or a family house surrounded by farmland. So that sort of works...

Hence, Villa Sobrante – the place of abundance!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Welcome blog readers, friends, and family!
The villa is being transformed daily- from a boarded up squatter's paradise, filled with appropriate squatter trash, and missing certain details like plumbing, to a bright and bustling home.  When we first pried boards off the windows (only about a month ago in early January now) sunlight filled the house and let us see just how many holes there were in the walls, and let us read the grafitti more easily. 
A shed full of a palette of different colors of paint let us unleash our creative spirits with glorious nonattachment, and without the creativity numbing question- well am I really going to want to live with this for the next 5 years? - since we are planning on changing it all, and covering the walls with earthen  plasters, rather than latex paints.  But, it turns out we bought about 20 gallons of paint, stored in the shed, along with the property back in November, and for immediate liveability, it did wonders to lift spirits, and transform the dull, dirty walls into ones that felt clean and homey.  The one rule we decided upon during the painting frenzy was- if you don't like the color I paint this wall, you have full rights to change it, but you have to do it yourself!  Suffice to say, we have had so much to do, that no one has bothered to repaint any walls yet. 

Our painting days are past now, and we are reaching a final stage of puttering to make the main house liveable for 6 months or so, while we remodel the granny unit behind it, and build a series of small (under 120 sq foot) earthen pods in the backyard, which will be bedrooms for Sasha, Massey, and me.

Our various living spaces in the 2 bedroom, 850 sq foot house are complete enough to be lived in for now.  It is the kind of house where you can easily all be in separate corners and carry on a conversation at normal volume.  

Knowing this, here's a quick description of our personal nooks in the house: 
Massey transformed the odd closet-like mudroom on the front side into what appears to be a caravan that drove up and parked.  She rounded out the ceiling, applied some earth plasters, raised her bed up high(which completely occupies the space) and keeps her belongings underneath.  Old cabinet doors, taken from the kitchen, close off the space from the living room,  an almost completed lamp, handsewn from silk and modeled from a Brugamancia flower, will light the space, and peas in the garden outside, will eventually grow up over the windows to be living curtains.  

Sasha has built a curved wall from wooden wine boxes in half of the living room, and a beautiful curtain hanging from a bamboo pole at one end is the door.  Think grown-up fort. Though I hate to call it a fort, much more elegant than that.  The livingroom side has bamboo bracing the boxes, that doubles as coat hooks, and will one day perhaps be a wall for an in-house art exhibit.  Plants grow near the ceiling portion of the wall.  Inside, the boxes face towards her bed, and act as shelves, strapped with bamboo splits to keep things from falling out.

Lindsay and I each have bedrooms, so in some ways the spaces are a bit more normal.  Lindsay is learning and honing carpentry skills by building her room- she has built her bedframe from massive chunks of bamboo, and various scrap lumber from the wood off our windows and fence, and is devising hanging shelves to creatively hold her large herb collection.   

I have done the least to my space, maybe because it is already functioning in many ways, or maybe because I laugh a little every day when I open a drawer to get some clothes out, or stretch out fully in my sleeping bag on the floor and think about where I came from.  It seems palatial, compared to the 26' sailboat that has been home for the past year.  We are keeping a running tab of unusual places all of us have inhabited.  That posting will come later on...  Back to my bedroom- other than feeling huge, half of it is a communal sewing room, and it also functions as the only path to the bathroom, which deserves its own posting at this point, though you'll have to wait for that one.    

This is just a glimpse, more to follow...