Category: The Evolving Dream


“Keep blossoming.” That is what a friend said to me the other day when we said good bye. With so much gratitude, I can indeed say that this summer has felt like a summer of personal blossoming. After one of the hardest and darkest winters of my life, where I fully surrendered to shadow work, it seems that I am now in a period of relative ease, where things are flowing and falling into place in such a way that I am humbled and can’t help but feel that there are forces bigger than me working in my favor. That is not to say that there aren’t still hard days and moments, and times when I doubt myself and feel scared or alone, but overall when people have asked how I am I can honestly say I am great. Possibly better then I have ever been.

It’s hard for me to capture in words the gratitude, joy and richness of being alive that I have felt this summer but I want to at least share some of the more tangible highlights. First of all, I moved back to Ithaca in April and I truly felt like I had returned to my spiritual and physical home. It felt so good to finally move to a place with the intention of putting down roots. To finally be someplace and not be tied to an academic calendar, a job, a relationship or really any external structure, perceived or real. I moved back purely because I wanted to and with my only intention being to create my life here. And to create it how I wanted, by my own rules, and on my own schedule. And, with the commitment to honor and listen to my highest self, whom I trust to be in accordance with the highest good of all, it seems that the world has opened its doors to me.

When I first arrived in Ithaca my intentions and goals were humble: They were simply to preserve spaciousness in my life and just stay present and centered in each moment in this place that I was so looking forward to returning to. I was grateful to be welcomed back into the ecovillage here, to a living situation I was familiar and comfortable with, and took back my old job as a substitute grocery stocker at the local food coop. Spring was just beginning and with it it seemed people, including myself, were  emerging from their winter nests. I was so happy to be back! And I welcomed the familiarity of the ecovillage and the amazing local food coop, greenstar, both of which I missed so much while I was away! But I wasn’t quite sure what to tell people when they asked what I had been up to the last year and what I was doing now, and so I found myself telling them what felt like a convoluted story about my timber framing apprenticeship and other past building adventures and then glossing over the dark winter months with most. But the truth was I felt like I was back at square one in terms of “what I was doing with my life.” I had no idea if I ever was going to build again, I had basically let go of my dream of building “our” home for me and some partner that I no longer had, and I had discovered the hard way that things rarely go according to plan anyway. But, I was okay with being back at square one. If anything I welcomed it, for after a year of deaths of relationships, dreams, and ideas of who I thought I was and could be, square one felt like a pretty good place to be. By accepting this I felt like I at least was not at square zero. It felt like I had already been thrown into the fires of hell, been stripped of any and all protective ware,  and had finally been spit out at the other end, raw and vulnerable, but grateful for the soothing waters of the womb of emptiness. I was in no rush to rebuild any false pretenses of “me” and was quite content to just live simply for a while.

So when a new friend John asked me soon after I arrived if I wanted to help him restore an old barn I responded with reserved curiosity. Did I want to give the building world another try? Was I ready for that? I honestly wasn’t sure. But John’s gentle, generous, and humble yet confident nature somehow reassured me enough to give it a go. The barn project was slow to get started and ended up not coming through, but in the meantime John invited me to help him just for a day at another project at Cayuga Pure Organics. One day sounded low risk enough and so I agreed. I was nervous and unsure of myself, but I guess I did ok as at the end of the day when I said, “I hope I didn’t slow you down too much,” he laughed and responded, “Are you kidding me?” I smiled and felt something open within me. I could see he was genuinely grateful for my help, and despite my feeling like I had fumbled my way through the day, he seemed to have complete confidence in my abilities. And so an amazing work partnership was born, and I will be forever grateful to this sweet and humble seasoned builder who has taken me under his wing. That day at cayuga pure organics became the first of many that I worked out there, helping them rebuild from a massive fire last spring that burned down their whole processing plant. And as John and I built together I felt my confidence in myself and gratitude for him growing. Not once did I ever feel like I had to prove myself to him, and he always welcomed questions and input. And it seemed like all our values and working styles aligned and complimented each other too!

As my work life transitioned from mostly working at greenstar to mostly building I also enjoyed a blossoming social life. As a single woman I enjoyed the autonomy of my weekends and evenings, going on spontaneous adventures that would start at the saturday farmers market, and nurturing sweet new friendships. I got to experience my first ever Grassroots music festival, which was a blast, and also finally went to my first Ithaca Dance Camp. The Ithaca Dances of universal peace circle, which hosts the ithaca dance camp, has always held a special place in my heart and to immerse myself for four days in these dances of love and peace was nothing short of blissful.

At a certain point I realized I was no longer just getting my feet on the ground here in Ithaca but had landed. I felt settled in my home, had planted two garden beds full of vegetables that were beginning to give back in their abundance, and felt surrounding by wonderful budding friendships and community, and had somehow found myself to be in a position where building had become my main source of income! And I was enjoying it all. Funny how it only happened when I finally stopped trying so hard. And of course, now that things were mostly in order I had the mental and emotional space to start to consider what were my long term plans? What did I want to actually do?

It was just as I was beginning to mull this question over when Maria had an open house for the  Hammerstone school,  her carpentry for women school that is on its way to building it’s second tiny house on wheels. The first tiny house was on display for the open house and as I sat inside chatting with the owner, Liz, and her friends and family a seed was planted. I had read about tiny houses and seen pictures of them but had never been inside one. Suddenly I realized, “this is within my reach and I could totally live like this!”

As many of you know, the dream of building my own home is one I have had for quite some time now. It has evolved in shape and form and even undergone its own deaths and rebirths. Because of this I was wary to share this new idea, and protected it as a little sacred seed whose roots were still fragile. Initially I just allowed myself to be intrigued, thinking perhaps next spring, after a year of working and living in Ithaca, this will be what I set out to do. Besides, I thought, I needed to save up more money if I were to do this. But the wheels began turning. A tiny house on wheels would solve the problem if me not owning land and not knowing who, in the long term, I would be happy sharing land with. A tiny house on wheels would allow me to build and be pretty much exempt from building codes and permits. John and I were now working on framing up a 20′ by 32′ house for a couple and I realized a tiny house on wheels was about a 3rd of the size of this house and that with the support and encouragement of someone like John I had the ability to do it. But money did still feel like the daunting factor. Materials costs for these tiny houses generally seems to be in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. For me that is a lot of money, more then I have ever personally had.

But then a few things happened that together convinced me I could do this and I could start now. So now I need to back track a little. Through the winter and continuing into the present I have been doing some deep inner work with the guidance of some very gifted healers who I am forever indebted and grateful to. Through this work I have developed a language and a framework that has become integral to by worldview. Core to this is the belief that we are all creators. That each and everyone one of us is fully responsible for our own experience in this world, down to the family and situation we choose to be born into, the life we choose to create, and even the pain, loss, and heartache we experience. This belief comes from a belief that everything, including what we experience as solid matter such as our bodies, the warm rock I am sitting on, the smoothie I am drinking, and even money, is really just energy. Vibrational energy. At this point, if you are starting to think I am crazy I guess I want to offer that even physics has shown that matter is really just made up of wave particles. I am not a physicist and will not pretend to be, but I just say this to say to those more science oriented people (which I am one of) that this is not totally out of the realm of logical explanation.  So given the belief that we are all creators, fully responsible for our own experience here are three questions I now continually ask myself  as I navigate my experience in this world: Why did I create this? Do I want to create differently? And how can I create differently?

To give some real life perspective to these questions, I want to say that these were not always easy questions for me to ask. For me on my journey, this meant asking the painful questions of, “Why did Stephen choose to die?” “Why did I need to experience loosing the first love of my life at age 21 to a heroine overdose?” and “Why, over three years after this traumatic life event, did I feel more lost, alone, and in despair than ever before?”

And yet, it was the surrendering to this utter despair that finally allowed me to take a really hard look at myself and ask these questions. And not to blame myself (I had done enough of that), but to understand and see with compassion and clarity why I had needed to create this and then to make peace with all that had come to be. And then to begin to shift things and ask how I do I want to create now.

With these questions guiding me as I continue to work to connect in more with my highest self I have witnessed my ability to create manifest outwardly as I begin within. And so when my car got hit on the side of the road and was declared a total loss my first question was why did I choose to create this way? Well, it turned out I was much happier living without a car. My car had become a headache of repairs and maintenance and I felt better not contributing so much to the fossil fuel economy. And biking, walking at hitch hiking my way through the glorious Ithaca summer turned out to be a beautiful exercise in slowing down, trusting, and asking for help when I needed it, leaning into the wonders of a community willing to share and support one another. And, I suddenly had $4000 of insurance money in my pocket.

Living simply I also found I was actually able to save additional money, despite only bringing in a modest income, and although I didn’t have anywhere near $20,000 upfront to pay for a tiny house I began to trust that the resources would  come to support the manifestation of this dream. I remembered learning in one of my building courses about the “time – money – quality” triangle and how it was best to choose two of these three that were most important to you when taking on a project. I realized I wanted to build my self a high quality home and that if I started now, even though I didn’t have the money up front I did have the time. My current living situation is wonderful and affordable and my current work situation is one where I basically create my own work schedule. So really, now was the perfect time to start.

And so the tiny house adventure began. Within a week of getting clear within and telling John that I wanted to do this I began to see things manifest outwardly. Our friend Amy approached John and said she really wanted us to build her a tiny home too and so we decided we would build both hers and mine on John’s land and that she may end up fronting some of the material costs in exchange for my labor. The first step and test of my decision to do this was buying our trailers.  I began to look and research and it seemed the general consensus was the trailer was not the place to skimp, and a new trailer was the way to go. The cost savings of used trailers were tempting ($300 vs. almost $4000) but as I sat with the decision I knew I wanted the new trailer, and the only reason I would go for the used trailer was fear of not having enough money. Fear of not having enough is no way to cultivate abundance and so I worked on releasing that fear, seeing this is a gift to myself and others, and trusting that the world would support me. Then in one whirlwind of a day Amy, John, and I drove out to Locke, New York where a guy named Steve Lamphier makes custom trailers, and we put half the money down for two trailers, designed specifically to support a tiny house, and will pay the rest when we go and pick them up in about two weeks. In the meantime we have now received 8 double pane, good condition windows, donated completely free of charge from friends and community members, one window in exchange for 4 hours garden work, and I took advantage of a Lowes sale to special order my four loft windows which needed to be a very specific size to fit the space limitations. I bought a beautiful front door at the Ithaca reuse center and we put in an order for kiln dried pine tongue and groove flooring from Collins Saw Mill, which will be ready in about a week. And Alternatives Bank is going to help finance some of this as a small business model with a $2000 grant.  In the meantime we continue to search for windows!

Indeed as I practice envisioning my dreams and trusting, I feel myself surrounded by love and and support. Some have asked “When will it be done?” and “Do you have a plan?” Well, yes, I have a rough plan. But I also know that it will change and evolve. And I have to say I have no idea when it will be done. I have chosen to focus on quality and need to keep costs reasonable, not to mention that taking the time to reuse and salvage materials feels good to me and in line with my values. The process by which this house is built feels just as important as the outcome and it is a process that I want to be organic and not restricted by time. As one person reflected back to me recently, I am approaching this project from the artist side me and see this as me creating my own sacred sanctuary. A place I can call my own. And just as when I start a painting I usually have an idea but no detailed plan, and as it is hard to predict how long a painting will take or when it is actually completed, this tiny home will be done when it feels done, and not before. And there is a vision for it but only a minimalist plan.

And so my dream has experienced another rebirth and I expect this blog to begin to also shift focus to document and support this tiny house project. I hope you can see that really this is much more then just a tiny house project for me. It is a continuation of my journey of coming into my own, setting up my life intentionally in a way that gives me freedom and autonomy, and living simply and in line with my values. It is a practice of trusting and manifesting dreams in a way that supports and inspires others to do the same.

So I end this lengthy post with gratitude and a prayer that I caught at the Ithaca Dance Camp. And the simple drawing I made as a vision board that is tacked above my desk in my current tiny bedroom.

“I Surrender all that does not serve me. I rise to meet my true self. I accept my humanity. And I greet my divinity”

"I surrender all that does not serve me. I rise to meet my true self. I accept my humanity. I greet my divinity."

“I surrender all that does not serve me. I rise to meet my true self. I accept my humanity. I greet my divinity.”

My simple vision

My simple vision

I have come to the last known insight of the Celestine Prophecy:  the 9th insight. The text for this insight is not quite complete and it alludes to a 10th insight. It speaks of a higher purpose for humankind, a spiritual purpose: to continue reaching higher and higher vibrational levels until we are able to cross between this world and the next, until we become light beings. It seems those who wrote this prophecy did just that, leaving the text uncompleted. We reach these higher levels of vibrational energy by learning to give energy to all those around us rather than take. The more energy we give the more we find energy flows into us from the universe.

Will we be able to enter and leave freely from this world and the next? This is what I wonder. If all those who learn of the insights and learn to continually give energy rather than take cross to another world and do not return then who will guide those left? Perhaps this is what the 10th insight is about. It seems there is still much work to be done in this world.

This year has given me a glimpse of another way to live. It’s a way of living where the earth is your mother and your teacher and you are guided by a deep trust in the mystery. It is a way to live in the Now, knowing that life is a dance with death and that death is always followed by new life. This is the cycle of creation. With this wisdom one can regain innocence, a wise innocence, an innocence that comes with having looked death in the eye and found that life always follows. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Woman who Run with the Wolves, says that in Spanish, inocente is understood to mean a person who tries not to harm another but who also is able to heal herself of all wounds. To be innocent is different than to be naive. The naive unknowingly is attracted to the good, the innocent has seen all and is still attracted to the good. La Inocenta is the name often given to a curandera healer, one who heals others and themselves of all injury or harm. Innocence requires wisdom. Children who have that wise innocence perhaps still remember the death that preceded their birth.

And so the Sufi prayer goes, “Shatter my heart so a new room can be created for a Limitless Love.”

How do I bring this wise innocence with me back to the other side? How do I not forget and stay connected to the magic and the mystery? How do I share it with those who wish to know? And how do I tread lightly on this earth, leaving only footsteps, but footsteps that last on the heart, soul, and mind of humanity?

And so this story comes to an end and a new one begins.

Learning from an architect

Staying with Penny has brought many blessings. One is that she is an architect with an incredible sense of design and a high standard for craftsmanship. Being in her house and hearing little tidbits about what she notices done well or poorly in the design of different buildings and spaces has made me want to bring this level of craftsmanship to whatever buildings I may design and build.

Penny also has lots of architects tools in house and so I have gotten the chance to do one of my drawings to scale and I am quite happy with how it turned out! Here is my yurt inspired house to scale. The version on the left is with an interior diameter of 30 ft and the one on the right is with an interior diameter of 25 ft.

The one on the left, with 30 ft interior diameter would have right around 700 ft of floor space, quite a bit for a cob house, which is why I decided to draw it again with a 25 ft interior diameter, which would give about 480 square feet of floor space. I think both designs work and would provide for all of the needs of me and a partner. The outer walls are 2.5 feet thick, which is just in the middle of the range for a structural cob wall in a cold climate. The inner walls are 1 ft wide and create four main areas within the yurt; the largest circular area is the kitchen, the smaller circle the bedroom, then the living area with a desk, shower corner (the toilet would be a separate composting toilet outhouse), and a window seat that is big enough to be a spare bed, and a back door as a second entrance that could also lead to a greenhouse since that is the south side of the building. And the forth small area would be a pantry/root cellar, located of course on the North side of the house. I would love to grow old in a cozy cob yurt like this one.

Community

My Butterfly Spread. The Bear is East, the Snake is South, and Wolf is West, and the Lizard is North.

As my last full day in New York came to a close my grandmother gave me one last gift; a reading of my choice using the medicine cards. I chose what is called the butterfly spread. It is a spread is used give insight into the path of a project or life.

To begin, I stood facing my grandmother with two feet on the ground. We breathed and centered ourselves and then sent down our energetic tap roots from between our ovaries, going down and down into the depths of the earth. Then we spread roots from our right foot and our left foot, grounding ourselves to the energy of the earth. Then we asked for the energy of the earth to come up and into us, cleansing us. It came up through our feet chakras, swirling around and through our body, then our survival chakra that lies between our ovaries, and the second chakra, the one of emotions that lies right below the navel. Then to our solar plexus, the energy center of our body and our third chakra. From here we sent the energy of the earth up through our heart chakra and out to our fingertips, where our hand chakras, the ones of creativity, lie. Then to our throat chakra, communication, and to the third eye, and then lastly to the seventh chakra that lies at the crown of our head. As the energy came up through our crown and swirled around us we then took a deep breath and ran the energy back into the earth, flushing out any and all good and bad energy in each chakra and leaving us a clean and open slate.

Then again I went down deep into the earth, this time asking what is the question or the task that I will ask the medicine cards about today? All at once there is was. The word Community. How will I manifest community? What will be my role in it? Why is community important? And so I brought the task of creating community to the medicine cards.

The first card I drew was the card for the east- the place of birth and beginnings, the Egg Card. Here is where the nucleus or seed of my project would lie. I sat with the cards in my hand until I knew just which one I wanted. Pulling it forth I saw that it was the Bear Card, the solitary Bear of Introspection. Then the card spoke to me quite powerfully, bringing tears to my eyes as I realized that I, like the bear, felt alone, and was seeking a sense of belonging. And in that desire for belonging is the seed for the manifestation of community.

The second card is for the South, the Larva Card. This card is about early doing, the laying of the groundwork that will allow for the completion of the task. In this card lies the question of whether or not the energy will be great enough to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. And it seems my cards are speaking a resounding YES. I drew the Snake Card, a card that speaks of being able to transmute all poisons, transforming them into creation.

“Snake medicine people are very rare. There initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of the snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy reproduction, and ascension (or immortality).”

Could it be that this is speaking of the experience of losing my first love at age 21 to a tragic death? Despite the words of those who love me wishing I did not have to go through such things, I feel strongly that I would never have had it any other way. And that indeed my experience with Stephen gave me much more then it ever took from me. Perhaps this is because I did indeed experience it, willingly and without resistance, a quality that is strongly embodied in Snake medicine.

But the part of the snake that spoke most powerfully to me was it’s rattle, telling me that in the now, I must be willing to sound the alarm, stir up the pot and make some noise. I must work to make my voice heard, despite my soft-spoken nature if I am to bring this Community to fruition. Perhaps creating this blog is part of me doing just that?

The third card is for the West and is the Cocoon Card. It is the place of the spirit, and speaks of higher purpose and transformation. How will this Community serve the Great Spirit? Here I drew the Wolf Card, the card of the teacher. The wolf is the pathfinder and forerunner of new ideas; the one who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine. And it is an animal with strong familial ties.

It is also an animal strongly connected to the moon, a symbol of psychic energy, and the unconscious that holds the secrets of knowledge and wisdom.  The moon in this card is what spoke to me most strongly, speaking of a community that looked to a broader, larger, cosmic vision and stood as a beacon of light and a model for the world to strive towards.

My forth and last card was the card for the North, the Butterfly Card. This is the card that speaks of the rewards to be gained in this project, and whether or not the Great Spirit has walked hand in hand with this community. Although this card speaks of manifestation and the rewards that may lie at the end of ones path, it is also a place of Spirit, but one must remember that matter follows vision and spirit.

For my North Card I drew the Lizard. Looking at the lizards card made me think of chameleons and the ability to survive in the harshest of deserts. To me this card spoke of a community able to change, adapt, and evolve, thereby surviving even the hardest of times. The lizard is also a creature of dreams and shadows. It is truly an animal of spirit, and a fitting one to tell of a dream come to fruition and evolved into even bigger dreams.

Over the past year  or so I have been dreaming of building my own cob house. Every time an idea comes to me I write or draw it, leading to the accumulation of many possible house designs. The designs are still rather rudimentary as I consider all of this part of brainstorming, an important part of any design process.

The design process that I do my best to follow is the one used by many permaculture designers (if you want to become a certified permaculture designer click here to see info on the amazing course I took with living routes at the Sirius Ecovillage in Shutesbury, MA). Below is a diagram of this process taken from the blog of AppleSeed Permaculture (click on the link for a more in depth explanation of the design process)- a blog that has a lot of good info on permaculture.

Based on this diagram I have been working on articulating my goals. As of now here is my goal statement for what I am calling my evolving dream. Keep in mind this is my big, long term vision. I hope it will one day manifest!

” My land has all the necessities to sustain a community; a clean water source for drinking and bathing, woods and open space with good solar exposure for growing food and siting buildings. It is surrounded by a vibrant, progressive community and natural beauty.

My home is small but sufficient for me, a partner, and a child. I designed and built it with my own two hands and it is made of all natural and non toxic, sustainably harvested materials. It blends into the land and exemplifies sustainable design. It gets good natural light, and provides for my heating, cooling, cooking, and other needs at little or no cost to me or my environment. It has the ability to evolve over time as my family, needs, and means change.

There is at least one large common space on the land that can be used for small retreats and for educational purposes, including creating and doing art, both visual and movement based. There is also a common dining area with a kitchen, and simple accommodations such as tent platforms, and small dwellings. All structures demonstrate sustainable design, showcasing a myriad of natural and green building techniques, and were built through community builds and workshops.

The whole land exemplifies permaculture principles and is filled with an abundance of wild and cultivated edibles and medicinals. It is a safe and holding space for all people of any race, age, gender, faith, orientation, and culture. We try our very hardest to make everything that we offer at, and through this place, as accessible as possible to all.”

Phew…. That is a long goal statement and, I realize, a tall order. But why not dream big!

So I have my goals articulation, but I don’t yet have a site, making it hard to analyze and assess the site. In permaculture the site often dictates, or at least strongly shapes one’s design so one might wonder why I have already begun to brainstorm building designs when I don’t even have a site yet! Well, part of it is just pure excitement and impatience and a desire to do something while I wait for the time when I feel ready and am able to commit to a site. And also, I have found that through my designs I am beginning to clarify my vision and therefore what I would look for in a piece of land. When I started I did not realize I really wanted land with it’s own water source, including a place to bathe in such as a natural spring, river, or pond. I also did not realize that I really do want land that is big enough to one day house more then just my family and become an educational retreat center. All of these realizations have been immensely helpful and so I am glad that I have started to think about the design possibilities before committing to any one location or site. And who knows! If I am part of a small eco-village or retreat center maybe more then one of these designs will manifest into reality! It has also been fun to see what themes and similarities have emerged as I become clear as to what I like and want, and it has also been interesting to see what has evolved and changed as I have more information and knowledge to inform my design process.

So, for a few of my designs. I think this is the very first one I did, back in fall of 2010. South in this design in up. I will try to always make it clear which way is south as, at least in the Northern hemisphere south the direction in which you want to orient all major windows on a building if you are following passive solar design principles. Passive solar maximizes the natural light you receive and helps to heat your house naturally during the winter and keep it cool during the summer. You will notice the benefits of being south facing if you look at hills or mountains near you. Notice that the south facing slope is always warmer then the north, appearing sometimes even a few weeks ahead in springtime then north facing slopes!

In this design the front entrance opens up to a patio and greenhouse on the south side. A south facing greenhouse will optimize your ability to grow food in winter months and, if it is attached to the house as in this design, it will help to heat your house in winter months. The shower and bath are also in the greenhouse allowing for the steam and moisture created by these facilities to be released into the green house, which should be a warm and moist environment. Also, it would make for easy creation of a greywater or wetland purification system.

Almost all of my designs, including this one have a proportionally large kitchen. This is because in my experience the kitchen ends up being the center of the house. It is where people congregate, and often where the most time is spent, especially in a household that actually cooks its food. Also, in a household that cooks their food from fresh or preserved (canned, dried, etc.) local food and is trying to be sustainable a root cellar is an invaluable thing. This design has a root cellar in the lower left (NE corner) of the design. Placing the root cellar on the north side of a building is best as that side of the house will naturally be the cooler side with the least sun exposure. It is a bit hard to see but the stairs in this design also lead to a small loft that is above the desk and day bed area. This loft would act as the bedroom.

Another thing I tried to design into this house was the ability to built it in stages. The kitchen is almost circular and I thought could be built first. It is large enough that I could sleep and live in it with my basic needs taken care of until the rest of the structure was built. The patio and greenhouse would be built last, although a outhouse would be built earlier on of course.

Below is my third design and still one of my favorites. It is the house that inspired the image I call home, which has come to symbolize many things to me. I often call this my yin yang design.

In this design South is down. It is a bit hard to tell but the upper half of this yin yang is the structure while the lower half is actually a garden. The diameter of the circle I figure to be about 30 feet, making the area of house, if assumed to be half of the circle, to be about 350 square feet. For most in America this might seem incredible small but I would want the first house that I build to be small and manageable as the one thing about building by hand with cob is that it does take time. Also, as proof that living in such a small house is possible and people are doing it by choice, I have seen a family of three living quite comfortable in a yurt with a 25 foot diameter. That is only 490.625 square feet! And that was in Canada, not some third world country mind you. (I talk a bit about their lifestyle in another post, The Dream)

As an artist I like the contained wholeness of this design. It is elegant and simple. The shape of the upper half of the yin yang in the orientation that it is also maximizes the surfaces of the house facing South and gives both the bedroom area and the kitchen great south eastern exposure. I love the morning light so this is something that I like about this design.

Once again, there is a root cellar on the northern side of the house and this time the toilet and bath area is also attached on the north side. This would be good for cold winters when you don’t want to go outside to use the bathroom. This house could also be a single story or include a small loft above the bedroom area for storage or for a child to sleep.

Because I likes this design so much I also started to play with possibilities for the roof. Below are two possible roof designs I came up with.

 On the left is a more conventional roof design and honestly a design that appeals to me less. On the right is I design I did after seeing some pictures of beautiful cob houses with curved ridge beams, including one on page 232 of the Hand Sculpted House. These curved ridge beams give the house a beautiful, organic shape and I actually think this design would be relatively easy to build. The ridge beam would run pretty much east to west (with east being up in this picture) and the eastern end would be higher, allowing for a loft. Also, I realized that on the SE side of the house you could extend the beams creating a nice trellis over the patio that would be a natural extension of the house. I also tried to figure out where approximately one would need support posts. In The Hand Sculpted House they recommend that you do not span more then 12 to 14 feet without support, and so I drew in some support beams airing on the conservative side with spans no bigger then 10 feet.

My next few designs are for more typically shaped rectilinear plots. These design came after some thought during my green building course  given to the need to start creating sustainable designs for cities and the need for houses to be flexible and able to evolve over time. Much of this thinking came from watching a fascinating movie called How Buildings Learn. One of the beauty’s of cob is the ability to design furniture and individuality right into your structure often making a house that fits like a glove to the lifestyle of it’s inhabitants. But this does not always lend itself well to the possibility of the house changing owners. And so I decided to play around with a few more rectilinear designs that could more easily evolve and contain conventional movable furniture, etc.

The one below I designed specifically with San Miguel de Allende in mind. The houses in this beautiful spanish colonial city are filled with color, interior courtyards, and gardens. It is also a city filled with artists and the creatively incline and so an art studio felt like a must to me. I cannot imagine going to San Miguel and not doing art!

In this design South is up again. It is a bit confusing to know what is the open courtyard and what are encolesed structure so I will do my best to walk you through it. The main entrance to this plot on on the lower North side. You enter into a garden/courtyard space with a structure on either side of you. On the left is the root cellar, kitchen, main area, and a bedroom. On the right is a studio space and a screen in patio for when it is rainy or buggy out. Above both the studio and the bedroom could be a second and third bedroom, giving this design the potential to hold quite a few people, which seems fitting for a San Miguel house which is often rented out to vacationers or passing through many hands. The upper right (SW corner) is where the bathroom and bathing area is, as well as a compost operation from which soil for the gardens could be taken.

Here is another design I did with San Miguel in mind for a friend’s plot. It turns our I got the orientation on the plot not quite right but it was fun anyways to play around with some real dimensions.

In this design South is to the left. The lower left and the right hand side of the plot are outdoor garden/courtyard spaces. It definitely was a bit more of a challenge to design to real plot dimensions and I am honestly not sure that I love this design. The biggest challenge was that I knew there were some big trees on the north side of the plot that the owners did not want to cut down, but that left the south side, where one would usually put the gardens as the logical place to build. I did get to actually see the plot after I did this design and there are definitely things I would do differently, but it was a good exercise and drove home the importance of knowing your site and designing for what already exists in terms of landform, solar orientation, and other things.

Here is one last rectilinear design I did, with more of a temperate, Northeastern climate in mind.

In this design South is up, on the side of the greenhouse. Once again, I don’t know if I love this design as I honestly think I prefer more rounded shapes and spaces. Despite that, I was playing around with another design tool, a book called A Pattern Language and I think I learned some important things from this design. One of the things I paid particular attention to in this design was the need for transition spaces, especially when entering and leaving the house. Therefore the entryway is either through the greenhouse, shade room, or pantry, all of which provide a moment for transition before entering the home life.

A Pattern Language is a fascinating books that uses patterns that the authors found in what appeals to people and makes people feel good in a space. These patterns are then used to guide the design of everything from a room, a house, a garden, a neighborhood, a school or even a city. The book is a big fat book but is set up in an easily usable way where you literally can start in one spot, say the bedroom of a couple, and read about what such a space should include and then at the end of that short little section it will suggest other spaces that often go along with a bedroom for a couple, such as a family kitchen or a house for a couple. And by this method you can slowly work your way through a design piece by piece, leaning about what makes a sitting spot in a garden attractive, and why shifts in lighting between spaces can be important.  If you are a designer, architect, or planner I would highly recommend this book.

Ok, getting close to the end of my designs I promise. This next one though, is one of my favorites.

South is the lower right corner here. I love this design for similar reasons that I love my yin yang design. It is rather simple and feels very contained. This design was inspired by both the yin yang design and the yurt that the family in Canada was living in. I was amazed at how spacious their yurt felt, which only had a 25 ft diameter. This circular design could use the simple roof structure of a yurt and would have about a 30 ft. diameter, including the thick outer cob walls, so the total square footage would be right around 700 square feet. Only some of the inner curved walls would be full walls, while some would be more like space separators with the height of maybe a countertop or a a privacy screen. There is the potential to attach a wrap around green house on the SE side as well.

As you can see, I have stuck with the theme of having a large open kitchen that is the main gathering and social area. In this design the kitchen is also divided from a sitting area by a peninsula like countertop. Then in the NE is the bedroom, placed so that it will receive good morning light and in the North you once again have the root cellar/pantry.

And lastly, here is one possible design for a common space.

Here the entrance faces south, which is in the upper left corner. The center space would be particularly well suited to movement, dance, yoga and things of that nature but could be used for other things as well. I thought it would be nice to have the side spaces as changing rooms or mini sitting areas but they could also serve as offices, art space or some other purpose. I thought the space in the north though should be bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms.

As you can see I have also drawn in some of the outdoors, including an outdoor amphitheater, and my thought was that in good weather the structure could turn into more of a gazebo like space with large doors thrown open on all sides, providing additional seating space for the amphitheater and bringing the outdoors in.

So that concludes my designs for now! I hope they were of some interest. There are many details that I left out, such as the placement of internal thermal mass to store heat, the placement of wood stoves, and other illustrations of sustainable design principles, but I did my best to illustrate some. Hopefully these give you some idea of my designs and the possibilities when doing natural building with cob, an incredibly sculptural medium, or other materials.

The Dream

Hello! Below is the first articulation of our dream from my old blog:

The Dream: Our very own, hand sculpted, cob house

1/13/2011

“Work is Love Made Visible”

Welcome to Sculpting Earth, a blog documenting the story of a young couple and their journey to create a wholesome, low impact, simple and joyous life. Our first step in this journey is the creation of a home. We have chosen cob as our primary building material.

It is the beginning of 2011, a new year, a time of change and transition. Tomorrow Peter and I will leave Gainesville, FL to drive all the way to Ithaca, NY, where we will start a new chapter of our lives together, in the same place. Finally! As I have spent the last two weeks in Gainesville with Peter, helping him get ready to close this chapter of his life, both our minds have been buzzing, as busy as bees, with our dream to build a cob house. But it is no longer just a dream. We are going to actually do it!

The book, The Hand-Sculpted House, by Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley has not left my bag in the two weeks I have been in Gainesville. Peter has bought a measuring tape to take the dimensions of spaces he likes; what height ceiling feels good? How wide should a counter top be? How high up should the cabinets be? We are starting the process of collecting information, taking notes, and brainstorming possible layouts. And, in preparation, this summer Peter and I will be taking a 6-week course in permaculture and green building at the Sirius community in Western Massachusetts.

Cob is simply amazing. It’s both of those things, truly; simple and amazing. It’s simply sand, straw, clay, and water. All things that come from the earth and can go back to the earth. And it’s really quite amazing. Its warm in the winter, cool in the summer, yet aesthetically beautiful and will withstand the test of time. It’s also accessible to all. Anyone who is interested enough can have his or her own cob house. They can cost as little as $500 and they don’t require expertise. They are not exclusive to the rich, the progressive, or the artistically inclined. Ancient mansions have been built with cob, and modern architects have used it too. But also nine year olds have built their own playhouses with this simple, elegant, time-tested method.

We plan to break ground for our cob house as soon as the weather gets warm enough in 2012, somewhere in the Ithaca area. Come December 22nd, 2012, both my birthday, and the possible “end of the world” (or more hopefully a time of great energy shift), we hope to be moved in for the cold winter months.

What do we still need? This is our dream, but we want you to share it with us! We want your support and your help and we will give you stories and pictures and opportunities to learn and be inspired. Join us! We will send out periodic newsletters, probably less frequently this year and more frequently come 2012, and we will keep a corresponding blog where the latest updates and pictures will be posted. Whether you are rich in money, time, or materials you want to get rid of, there is almost certainly a way you can help us.

As of now we still do not have a site picked out, and we would love your help in finding a building site. We are considering many options; buying a cheap plot of land, using a friends piece of land, making an agreement with a landowner that we will build them a beautiful house that will eventually be theirs if we can have it rent free for the first ten years… there are many possibilities so for now we wait for an opportunity to present itself.

We are also looking for donations. Cob houses are cheap but there will still be expenses. Our goal is to raise at least $15,000 to go towards building the house. Its a fair amount of money but for a house?! That’s nothing. And we will show you how beautiful a house can be with just $15,000. Cob houses are a multifaceted expression of sustainability, ecology, values, harmony, permaculture, ethics, and love through functional art.

Most importantly, we want you to come help us build! We guarantee it will be an experience filled with learning and enrichment for the soul. The hardest part of building a cob house is having the time and the labor. But the building of cob also lends itself easily to bringing people together and forming community through shared experience. This is a hand-sculpted house. We will literally be sculpting the house as if it were one big clay sculpture. You don’t need to be artistic or have skills in construction to come help though. Whether you decide your place is in mixing the cob with your feet, laying cob loaves to help us build a 3-foot thick wall, or sculpting the archway to heaven as our front door, I am sure you will discover something profound for you. It’s fun and therapeutic work. Come for an hour or two if you are curious, come for a day if you are dying to come but have a tight schedule, or come for a week or even a month. We will probably be living in tents or possibly yurts, and we would love for you to join us.

****

We have now both completed the permaculture course and the green building course (such valuable courses for anyone on this earth!) and, of course, with new information to better inform our decisions are dream has been evolving. We probably will not be breaking ground in spring of 2012, but who knows, it is still a possibility.

I have now embarked on a journey to continue gaining knowledge and experience, exploring all facets of the homesteading lifestyle, which from what I have seen so far, encompasses a wide spread of possibilities. The image that this lifestyle is, by nature, all consuming and generally occurs only on the fringe of society, in rural, isolated areas by people who look like the stereotypical image of a hippie has been shattered once and for all for me. Of course I had my suspicions that the these stereotypes did not have to define the homesteading lifestyle but now I am seeing with my own two eyes that homesteading can be many things. One particularly illustrative experience was my almost two week stay at a small, off grid homestead just a ten minute drive from downtown Guelph, a city in Ontario, Canada. Here I met a woman (whose name shall remain anonymous) who had tired of the upkeep, bills, and clutter of her large suburban house that she felt was keeping her from doing what she really wanted to do. Finally, in her mid thirties she ended her lease sold and gave away most of her belongings and began to live in a nomad’s teepee. Now, almost 4 years later, she lives in a beautiful, clutter free, 25 foot diameter yurt, and pays no bills other then her car insurance and cell phone bill. Her only electricity comes from a single solar panel that allows her to have a few lights and charge her computer and cell phone. Her food is kept very simply in a ice box that is half underground, accessible through a trap door in the floor of her yurt. This simple method requires no electricity; they simply put a block of ice in the bottom that lasts almost a week in even the hottest days of summer! Their water for washings and cooking comes from rain barrels or the stream, and the drinking water they bring in in carboys that they refill from a friend’s well in town. All food is cooked on either an indoor or outdoor wood stove and they grow some, but not all of their vegetables on site. The site is only accessible down a 1/4 of a mile path through a beautiful cedar forest, so all materials are brought in by wheelbarrow.

And yet what amazed me was that this life did not feel like a lifestyle for only the most extreme. Let me explain; First, the yurt itself felt amazing spacious, clean and homey. Second, this woman, rather then being consumed by this homesteading lifestyle, did indeed seem freed by it. Since leaving her suburban home she had founded a non profit that worked on water issues, was the executive director of this non profit and was a very respectable professional woman by any standard who got up and went to work every day. She also had a beautiful, incredibly articulate three year old daughter (who yes, she had given birth to and raised in her yurt) and was pregnant with her second child. She was a normal woman who had deeply questioned the way she had been living and started living by her values. And the result was beautiful.

This stay in Canada, where I was helping to insulate a second, 11′ by 10′ wood cabin with slip straw and earth plaster, is just the beginnings of my explorations and learnings, but it was an excited start after having completed by permaculture and green building course. Here are a few pictures of the project I was working on in Canada:

Mixing the cob. All it is is 1 part clay, 3 parts sand, some straw, and a bit of water.

Mixing clay slip. We found and dug the clay from a local swamp!

We stuffed the walls with straw tossed in clay slip (a straw salad). Its all help in place with chicken wire. Then we use earth plaster (also just finely cut straw, clay, sand, and water in slightly different proportions) to plaster onto the chicken wire.

A close up of the wall. On the left you can see the base coat of earth plaster while on the right is the straw still exposed.

Here it is getting close to done! It will still probably get a finish layer that may be a lighter color earth plaster or lime finish.

So why did I create this blog? Well actually, this blog has evolved out of an earlier SculptingEarth blog that I began because my former partner, Peter Benjamin and I shared a dream. That dream was to live harmoniously and in partnership with the world around us. Not just the human world, but the natural and animal world. That blog was to document, publicize, and network around a dream of ours; to build a cob house (the dream still exists and has grown, and I don’t worry, I will explain what cob is). For better or worse, that blog disappeared when the host site we were using went through some changes. In the meantime, the dream evolved and realities about the enormity of what we want to do also started to set in. I realized there is much I still want to clarify for myself about my own vision and dream and hence there is much I still want to learn and explore before I build my own house. And so this metaphor of sculpting earth grew to mean much more for me then just sculpting my own house. My intention with this new blog, which is broader in it’s scope but able to encompass the goals of the old blog, is to document and share my learnings and explorations and thereby also document the evolution of  my dreams and how they change from inception to manifestation.

Although I promise there will be more posts on the subject of cob, for those totally mystified by the word and who are thinking of corn cobs right now, let me briefly tell you what cob is. Cob is a building material that has been used for centuries. It is simply wet adobe, which is nothing more then clay, sand, and straw. This material is used to build houses that can be any shape and size that are, in the end, one solid mass. A mass that is incredibly durable against earthquakes and fires, keeps spaces cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and can be built by almost anybody. There are two things that make cob so attractive to me. First, is so accessible! The materials are cheap and the technique is easy and non technical, allowing almost anybody to build their own house. Second, it allows for incredible freedom of creative expression. It is literally like sculpting clay! You are not limited by rectangular bricks or boards. As an artist myself, this idea of sculpting my own house is incredibly appealing.

Here is a picture of the first cob project I was a part of (picture taken by Kaitlyn O’Connor. Check out her blog here!). This cob bench is only partially done, but if you look closely you see a little niche carved into the back- just a very simple example of a group of beginners playing around with sculpting on this simple form. If you search cob houses on the internet you will see many more and be able to get a feel for the potential beauty of this form!

Home

Home (watercolor)

Spring, 2011

I call this image Home. In it I see the earth, a cell, a house, a garden. I see a listening ear, moving energy, and a womb. I see a yin yang; a symbol of balance. This image has become symbolic of my journey to sculpt this earth and myself towards the best we can be.

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