Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What to Expect When You're Expecting an Earthship

If we weren’t so good at making ourselves laugh, we’d have drowned in our tears by now.

I hope for this blog post to be a general guide for those who plan on building their home (earthship or otherwise) with their own two hands.  The premise is to provide others with a "heads up" so that you know what to expect along the way.

What to Expect When Expecting an Earthship

First Trimester: The Planning Stages

Welcome to the first trimester of your sustainable home build!  You're likely feeling giddy with excitement and cannot wait to meet your future home.  You may be feeling a bit nauseous from all the anticipation but rest assured it will subside by the second trimester (the building phase) and be replaced by a burst of energy along with some newfound aches and pains.

Months 1-4:  You don't know it yet, but a seed has been planted that will forever change the course of your life.  Throughout the years, you've picked up information along the way about the way the world works and you're not about that life.  You intuitively know better.  You know that you don't have to conform and that there must be another way.  You go to your “nine-to-five” job every day, spend little time with family, mow your lawn, buy preservative-filled, pre-packaged foods, and you're exhausted and uninspired.  You're at the end of your rope but you don't fully know why or what could possibly change.  Soon, these gut instincts will come to fruition and the wheels will be set in motion.

Month 5:  By now, you are likely feeling so fed up that you've decided you must do something about it.  You begin to open up to your family about a desire for another life.  A simpler life where you generate your own resources instead of paying a third party to keep you and your family afloat.  You're longing for real connection in your life and are sick of superficial conversations and friendly acquaintances.  You want to feel a part of something and yearn to be interdependent with your fellow man.  You're feeling frustrated though because you don't have a solution.  You simply know something must change.  Perhaps you'll leave the country.  After all, Sweden is a great place to call home!  You could take up a life with a different culture altogether and start fresh somewhere.  Hmmm... What to do, what to do?  You simultaneously think "well, my life isn't bad.  I mean I'm not starving, I'm in relatively good health.  I have shelter.  What more could I want?  Maybe I just need a shift of perspective."

Month 6:  Nope.  Nuh-uh.  Hell to the no!  Can't do it.  Won't do it.  Must do something different stat!  Your family is beginning to give you the stink eye for being a bit stranger than they thought you were.  They nod their heads in approval when you talk about your discontent but give you blank stares all around.  They think, "There’s nothing wrong with the American dream!  We've made so much progress!  What's not to love?"  You pick up on their feelings and so, you begin talking to those like-minded, "peculiar" friends you have instead and you begin scouring the internet for ideas of an alternate life.

Month 7:  By George, you've got it!  You'll build an earthship home!  It makes perfect sense and your future seems bright for the first time.  The grass is the greenest of greens.  The sky is the deepest of blues.  The world is your oyster and dammit, you're going to make the most of your time on this earth.  You are going to be a proud owner of an earthship home!  You can hardly stand it and begin spending every waking moment thinking about it.  You find it hard to sleep though because your worldview is expanding.  You're seeing everything in a new light. Nothing can stop you now!

Month 8:  By now, your earthship is growing more and more with each passing day.  Your sleep is disturbed as you can't stop thinking about how you're going to make this all happen.  How much money will I need to begin?  Can I really build it myself?  Will I be a good earthship owner?  What phone calls do I need to make so that I can begin setting things in motion?  Nausea usually begins to set in at this point in your earthship pregnancy as you are starting to grasp how many stones lay unturned in your endeavor and how many to-do's you must now find a way of packing into your daily life along with working your ho-hum job, taking care of your family and keeping up the appearance of your home [that you now couldn't despise more for being a time-suck].

Month 9:  You begin obsessively watching YouTube videos about earthship building in your spare time and while on-the-job.  You secretively steal away to your office/ cubicle/ bathroom to watch whatever you can about alternative, sustainable building techniques.  Your appetite is ravenous for knowledge about this life you have chosen to lead and so when you get home, you ignore the appearance of your house and binge on Netflix documentaries like Garbage Warrior, Food Inc., Tapped, More Than Honey, and begin connecting the dots that were once gut instincts.  This increases your nausea though because you're even more totally disgusted with the American Dream than ever before.  You're finding it difficult to hold superficial conversations with co-workers, family and friends and spend the majority of your time in your off-the-grid fantasy life.

Month 10:  You've become vegetarian if not vegan at this point, especially after viewing all those documentaries and are eating better than ever before.  Your mind and body are sharp but nausea still persists as you are still stuck in this old life!  On the agenda for this week is to call a Realtor to begin looking at land for sale.  Also, look into obtaining a loan if need be and getting your finances in order.  Earthships may be made of junk and dirt, but they still cost money my friend!  This week, your family will likely sit you down and share their concern for your mental health and overall well-being.  They “love you” they say, and are hoping that you are making the right decision for your family.  With a wild grin, you share far too much information about your dream home and watch them glaze over.  They are more concerned now than ever.

Month 11:  This month, you look for land with your Realtor; searching for your perfect patch of heaven.  The nausea is beginning to subside as you begin visualizing yourself in your home and allow yourself to truly get pumped up for the ride that lie ahead!  On the agenda this month is to find a free-thinking architect who knows what an earthship is and is up for the good fight that lie ahead.  This path isn't one for the faint of heart, Dear One.

Month 12:  This month marks a turning point for your earthship fetus.  You've found your perfect land!  You've put in an offer and it has been accepted.  You begin doodling incessantly at work; trying to figure out the perfect layout for your home.  You are speaking to your architect more than your mother at this point and all the garbage you used to pay attention to has gone by the wayside.  Your lawn is atrocious and you're getting nasty looks from neighbors.  Your friends and family think you've died or run off and joined a cult.  You are blowing up Facebook with all things Earthship/ off-the-grid life.

Month 13:  You've received a rough draft of your earthship home drawings from your architect.  You get the phone call from him/her and plow through everyone and everything in your path to the nearest computer where you bring up the drawings for the first time.  You have heard your earthship's heartbeat and you breathe a sigh of relief. This. Is. Really. Happening. You open up another tab in your internet browser and "share" "the news" with all your social networking followers.  You've "come out" to everyone in your virtual world!  It's on like Donkey Kong, Ladies and Gents.

Second Trimester- The Building Phase

Month 14:  Since you've finally "come out" to those in your world, "raised your freak flag high," and begun embracing everything that is your earthship future, your first trimester earthship pregnancy symptoms are easing up.  Everyone in your life has been introduced to your authentic self and you are on fire!  To do's this month include firming up your earthship drawings with your eccentric, awesomely progressive architect and learning all there is to know about your county's residential building requirements.  If you're lucky enough to live in a "no-man's land" where regulations are lax if not absent altogether, consider yourself a seriously lucky person.  If you live in a more populated, highly regulated county, pick up a chainmail suit next time you hit up the renaissance supply house because you'll need it for the battle ahead.  While bed rest may be necessary for sanity's sake, you won't have that opportunity.  Earthships are the most demanding type of child you could ever be pregnant with and you will simply have to push even harder when the going gets tough.

Month 15:  Your drawings are ready and you've hopefully begun sourcing used tires from local tire dealers.  Uh-oh!  You still have to obtain your Beneficial Use of Tires Permit from the good 'ole Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as your building permit in order to start construction in month 18 so you'd better get a move on, my friend!  Now that friends and family have a general understanding of what you're hoping to do, they're starting to ask some of the more logistical questions.  “So, are you going to be pooping in a bucket now?”  “Will you have electricity?”  “Is your floor going to be made of dirt?”  “What will you do in the winter when it gets cold?”  You politely inform them that you aren't opting for a third-world residence and will have all the same amenities as they do.  Your home will generate them, however, and you will have freedom to live life as you see fit instead of going to a nine-to-fiver to pay corporate overlords the toll to simply stay afloat.  Sadly, they still don't truly understand and picture you living more like Mick Dodge; running around the forest with unkempt, wild hair with only animal hides and furs to protect your skin.  You can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they “get it” as they tour your gorgeous home for the first time!

Month 16:  This month, you’ll see your sweet lil’ earthship home in black and white on the final drawings you’ll be submitting to your county for approval (or not if you’re one of the Lucky Ones).  You’ll head to Kinko’s, print them out and immediately rush to the county with that stupid, wild grin you’ve had on your face since this whole earthship thing started taking form.  As you slide the drawings across the counter, you imagine confetti raining down from the heavens, a roar of applause from a crowd of county employees who quickly hoist you upon their shoulders; parading you about the building department with pride and admiration all the while with Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Celebrate playing in the background.  Instead, you get that familiar stink eye from the front desk employee as she dares you to speak one more word, let alone continue grinning like the Cheshire cat.  You stop yourself from going into lengthy details about your sublime Earthship baby-on-board and cowardly look away and put your head down to dodge the mind-bullets she’s been shooting at you since you walked in.

 In addition to submitting your home drawings, it is also time to submit your “Beneficial Use of Tires” application to the EPA so you can save tires from a landfill.  Now, if you were building a rifle range backstop out of tires (built almost in the same fashion as an earthship), you wouldn’t be required to submit anything more than a “heads up” to the EPA.  Perhaps this is because they deem the stereotypical “gun-wielder” as more responsible than the hair-brained hippy you appear to be.  They imagine you’ll give up halfway through and that your land will look like an illegal dump site that ends up yet another piece of paper on their desk to deal with.  Little do they know, you’ve got the wherewithal of a cockroach and can withstand anything life throws at you!

Month 17:  This month, you begin to put together your earthship nursery by prepping the build site.  You make sure that your earthship’s “bed” is perfectly level and stable so that it has the foundation for a fruitful, prosperous life.  You have started the first of many Facebook and social networking “shout-outs” for volunteers and you get tons of positive feedback from people in your circle.  Your siblings, parents, and some select friends say they’ll be there the first weekend of tire pounding and you feel abounding love and support. Perhaps they’re starting to “get it” after all!  Maybe they’ve seen the light and understand what you’re all about!

Month 18:  Your earthship child will begin to take shape before your very eyes this month.  Its skeletal system is taking form and is truly a labor of love.  Your very own blood, sweat and tears are going into its formation and as a result, you’re eating more than ever this month.  After all, it takes a lot out of you to create such a masterpiece!  The community is likely rallying around you at this point and you have many people out to help that very first weekend.  You’re full of energy this month as you’re invigorated by the troops rallying your progress!  Everyone says they will be back time and time again and you feel as though you’ll be taking up residence in your earthship home in no time.  Your county has begrudgingly approved your building plans as you have an architect’s stamp but they secretly assume it will look just like the pile of junk it is being made out of.  They are very curious about your build and hope it will work out but again assume that because you are a peace-loving, plant-eating, hippy-dippy-do-da that you don’t have the elbow grease to make it a reality.

Month 19:  You have around 1,000 tires to pound to complete the tire foundation portion of your earthship skeleton and have only pounded 100.  You are completely overwhelmed now as you are beginning to grasp what it will truly take to bring your earthship baby into this world.  You wonder if you have what it takes to make it to through the delivery alive.  At this rate, you won’t have the tires completed for another nine months and winter is set to begin in six.  You begin to think, “What have I gotten myself into?”  This is going to take a LOT longer than anticipated!  The family, friends and community supporters who were helping out have already ceased almost entirely as only crazy people would pound dirt into tires in their spare time.  You find yourself crying at the drop of a hat and feel a lack of motivation as muscle fatigue sets in.

Month 20:  You have chosen to move your target move-in date back another year or so already and are now simply pushing to have the tires completed by the first snow-fly.  You are feeling a burst of energy as you feel this goal is much more feasible.  You begin aggressively recruiting fellow odd-balls and gluttons for punishment who find enjoyment in ramming dirt into tires and have some regular help at the build site.  Your family is beginning to ignore your Facebook invites for another “fun-filled weekend” with tires and dirt and you begin almost exclusively associating yourself with your architect, the three people who show up to your earthship’s nursery to help out and the EPA employee who has been assigned to watch you like a hawk.

Month 21:  You only have two layers (of nine total) completed in your earthship home and depression and lethargy begin to take over.  Due to increased stress, you are likely to develop a serious illness during this month and your cars, tractor, refrigerator and air conditioner will all break down on your at the same time.  Your house will become overrun by flies because you aren’t able to do any dishes and food is rotting away at a steady pace.  It is possible, flames will engulf your current residence because that’s the s*** that happens when you choose to build an earthship yourself.  Oh yeah, and you will also have to put down your beloved family pet.  You feel like death and everything is caving in on you.

Month 22:  Things are looking up this month as a new volunteer comes straight from the gates of heaven; peeing rainbows and pooping sunshine.  They remind you why you are doing what you’re doing and ensure that you are on the right path.  This person will be your Earthship Doula; assisting you throughout the latter months of your earthship pregnancy and throughout the delivery process.  They are just as crazy as you (if not entirely off the deep end) and are just what you needed.

Month 23:  Due to the support from your Doula, you now have three total layers of your earthship’s skeletal system formed and are more than halfway through your fourth.  You haven’t spoken to family for months now and many of your more conventionally-minded, conservative friends have abandoned you entirely; considering you too much of a social liability.  After all, you can no longer speak superficially and delve right into topics that make people uncomfortable: politics, money, and religion.  You have lost all ability to socialize in a politically correct fashion and are beginning to see mainstream Americans as the crazy ones; all the while appearing more and more lost to those people.

Month 24:  It is likely that equipment integral to continuing to form your earthship fetus has broken down yet again but be patient Dear One as you’ll get there… one day.  The leaves are beginning to change and holiday decorations are out in stores.  It’s bittersweet to know that your earthship fetus will go into hibernation for the winter months now and you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you won’t be getting into your earthship home anytime soon.

Months 25-28: Just as you enter into the third trimester of your earthship pregnancy, your earthship fetus’ growth has been halted almost entirely.  Did you know that it takes more energy to create an earthship baby than it does a human fetus?  So be sure to take this time to rest up and begin to build up connections with long-lost family and friends to ensure you still have humans in your life when your earthship is complete.  It may seem that other humans will be null-in-void when you have your earthship home taking care of your every basic need but rest assured, other humans, especially those who are like-minded, are necessary to a well-rounded existence!

Third Trimester:  The Roadkill Stage

Month 29:  The ground is thawing, and so you revisit your earthship's nursery to spruce things up a bit before its growth continues.  You’ve spent the last several months resting your mind, body and spirit to prepare for the pregnancy phases that lie ahead.  You’ve rounded up a gaggle of like-minded, dirt-sledging folk to help kick off the growth of the last half of your earthship skeleton and so progress is fierce and steady this month.  You complete two more layers of your fetus’ skeletal system this month and are showing no signs of stopping!  THIS. IS. THE. YEAR.  You will be in your dream home by the end of this year as you have last year’s knowledge and experiences under your belt and no one can stop you!

Month 30:  It’s raining, it’s pouring, your earthship fetus is drowning…  Nothing can prepare you for an entire month of rain and there you sit inside, separated from your earthship baby-to-be drowning in your own tears while your baby drowns in the rainwater you’d like to be harvesting from your COMPLETED earthship home.  Never in earth’s existence has there ever been so much rain in one month!  A new record has been established.  Bravo, Mother Nature, bravo.

Month 31:  The rain has finally stopped, my friend.  You’re full speed ahead once more and new earthship support people arrive just in time for the final push in completing the skeletal system.  At this point, your hunger and thirst for “earthship porn” has been fully quenched and you avoid any pictures, stories, videos of completed earthship homes like the plague.  In fact, you throw up in your mouth a little anytime anyone shares anything earthship-related with you on social networking sites.  You are likely feeling as though you’re never going to actually birth this earthship fetus and that it will forever constipate the fruitful, free life you had imagined for yourself.  Despite the disgust, you somehow pull strength from the depths of your tired soul to continue charging ahead and complete the skeletal system this month.

Month 32:  Now that the skeletal system is finally complete, you can focus on forming the organs of your earthship home.  This month, you will install and bury the cisterns and lay all the necessary framework so that the slab can be poured next month.  At this point, everything is moving quickly and your faith is restored that you will be under-roof in time for winter!  Since the tires are complete, all that’s left is fairly traditional building techniques and how hard can that be?!

Month 33:  Growth is steady but you’re beginning to feel the third trimester fatigue and are beginning to waddle from the damage done to your body throughout this pregnancy.  You look in the mirror this month and notice more gray hairs on your head and more wrinkles on your face.  You have more callouses on your hands and feet than your primate cousins.  You have the appearance and odor of roadkill.  Your hair is wild, your eyes even wilder but your biceps.  Yes, your biceps have never been plumper, firmer and stronger.  You might give off the impression of a horse needing to be put down, but dammit, you are one strong, vital, decrepit, smelly, Trojan horse!  Strangers begin to avoid you from this period in your pregnancy on mainly due to your appearance and stench.  The same goes for family.  The only people by your side are those like-minded, wild-eyed, hairy, smelly, peace-loving, hippy-dippy-do-da friends that will become your makeshift family when some blood relatives decide to denounce you once and for all for your far-out views, beliefs, opinions and overall way of life.

Month 34:  You’re over it.  So over it.  People keep telling you you’re “oh so close” to being under-roof and delivering this baby but you don’t believe it.  You can’t.  At this time, you likely suffer from a real, clinical condition called Post Traumatic Earthship Disorder [PTED].  You find it difficult to sleep due to nightmares about your demise.  You’re constantly looking over your shoulder waiting for your tractor to break down, for serious illness to overtake you, for the EPA to find fault with something you’re doing, for your neighbors to report you for something.  You find it difficult to trust anyone who affiliates themselves with “mainstream” America.  Anytime you see a missed call or receive a piece of mail from a county or government agency, you assume your earthship build will come to a grinding halt.  But there is help, Plagued One.  FINISH. THE. DAMN. HOME.

Months 35-40+:  Because your Earthship Doula is such a positive influence, he/she is able to guide you through the rest of your earthship’s bodily formation.  He/she keeps you smiling when you’re losing it, knows just when to crack inappropriate jokes, and when to tell you to take a hike and take time away.  Fortunately for you, the nesting phase begins nearing month 37 and you find it within yourself, with frozen snot stuck to your already disheveled face, to finish the shell of the Damn Home and give birth.  The delivery is anything but swift and your earthship baby is in the breech position.  Forceps are needed to pull it from your sweat and blood soaked body, but you look into its windows and fall absolutely, unequivocally in love.  You’ve felt nothing like this before and are overcome with gratitude to all the people who have assisted you throughout this process.  You sing the praises of your earthship Doula and know you couldn’t have done it without him/her.

Family and friends whom you’ve lost contact with phone you to come and see your earthship baby.  While initially, you couldn’t wait to show it off to the world, you now become possessive and protective.  You want your sweet earthship baby all to yourself.  No one else could possibly know what it took to bring this home to fruition and so, with the wildest of eyes, you shut the door to the world and enjoy the beauty that is your earthship home.  Where you were once speaking maniacally about your earthship baby-to-be, speaking itself has come to a grinding halt.  You communicate via guttural noises and swift, jerky movements.  You look like a hermit at this point after all and so you spend several weeks filling those shoes with ease.  You may be a mere shell of who you once were, but you have the shell of an earthship to show for it.

Congratulations earthship parent!  You should be beaming with pride!  Now, go shower, ‘kay?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mushy Bananas: Earthship Problems

Fact:  I LOVE the spotty, slightly mushy bananas that no one else seems to have a penchant for.  I feel this says a lot about me.  I haven't always had a taste for them though.  Rather, it was acquired as I cannot seem to eat bananas fast enough.  I could be like many others and toss them when they start to turn, but I can't fathom the thought of wasting them so down my gullet they go.  If they have turned nearly completely brown, then I make banana bread out of them or if I'm feeling lazy, I'll toss them to our chickens.  All of the above options make me happy and all of the above options I can live with.

Our earthship build has thrown one spotty, mushy banana after another at us since we began in April 2014 and I'm proud to say we've eaten them all and have acquired a taste for whatever life has decided to toss our direction.  You can peruse past posts to see what heartaches I'm talking about but to be clear: THERE WERE A LOT! 

Last week, another was thrown at us when we were informed that several residents of our town felt our home-in-progress was an eyesore.  Someone actually thought we had stopped working on the home altogether because they didn't feel we were moving quickly enough.  Now, this isn't the whole story, but we don't feel the internet a place to fully air out our laundry and so I shall cut to the point.  We were essentially given a bit of a shove to get under-roof as quickly as possible or our present life would have to change drastically.

Part of the dream behind building our earthship home was doing every single bit of it ourselves.  Zac is one of the handiest, most determined, clever people I know and so after hearing this news, we were both quite devastated because we knew that "our dream" as we had imagined it was about to slip from our grasp.  We knew that if we hoped to be under-roof in time for winter and if we wanted to appease the individuals who weren't pleased with our progress, that we needed to kick it into high gear and be done with the shell of our home once and for all.  The first step in this direction was explaining our earthship dream home and the process that goes along with building such a home to all of our nearest neighbors in the hopes of winning them over.

And so, after sobbing together for literally a couple of minutes and allowing a small pity party to take place, Zac and I packed the family in the car and knocked on neighbors' doors sharing with them how our home-to-be is different from the typical stick frame homes being tossed up in suburbs everywhere.  We had to show them the family whose lives were being affected by complaints and explain how hard we had actually been working on our house despite the fact that progress from their point of view wasn't apparent.  We weren't trying to conduct a witch hunt and weren't concerned too much with exactly who had complained and we wanted to ensure that came across.  More than anything, we felt we must not have done a good enough job sharing our process and progress with our neighbors.  Fortunately, everyone appeared to respond positively and were comfortable with allowing us to proceed how we had been and so came the next step: Figuring out how we were to work more quickly than we had been.

Interestingly enough, when we received this news, Zac was only just beginning his first day of his month-long hiatus from work.  We had decided in the spring that he would take off one month to hyper-focus on our home and so this news put a bit of a damper on our spirits as I'm sure you can imagine.  After winning over our nearest neighbors (or seemingly so), we spoke at more length with our families about the matter and were given the option of borrowing money to help us work more quickly.  We had turned this down in the past as we wanted to do each bit ourselves, but with mounting pressure from the powers that be, we decided to take the loan and begin contracting some of the steps out to ensure we were under-roof by winter.

The last two days of this past work week were consumed with phone call after phone call attempting to work out the details on various aspects of our home.  We made tremendous progress this past weekend in getting the trench dug out for our cisterns, placing and plumbing the cisterns and laying out and grading all of the gravel before the plumbing was put in (to occur this week).  The next steps will be pouring the foundation, bond beam and footer, framing the home, installing windows and roofing the home.  We're still trying to iron out some key issues but feel confident they will be worked out in time for us to move into our home and spend the winter months working on the interior.

Adding a layer of sand as an even base for the cisterns to be lowered in

Laying and grading the gravel in preparation for plumbing and concrete

Zac raking out the gravel

2 of 3 1,700 gallon cisterns in their final resting place.  To be buried into the berm in the back of our home.


If we had received this news a year ago, I feel we would have been paralyzed with sadness, uncertainty and fear.  We may not have known how to proceed.  This year, we allowed ourselves to be ruled by the negative emotions for only a few literal minutes before jumping into action mode while at the same time determining the worst case scenario and how we could make that work if necessary.  Now I'm not trying to pat ourselves on the back but I truly have never been prouder of our family.  Okay, so I guess I'm kind of patting ourselves on the back.  We chose to channel our collective energy as a family in a positive direction and with our immediate action, we were notified that we could proceed as we had been as long as serious progress was underway.

And now, not even a week later, I'm pleased to say that we are now happier than we have ever been as a family and feel reinvigorated by the negativity we received.  We know that while the next steps won't be completed in the manner we would have liked, we will be under-roof even faster than originally planned and are surrendering ourselves to the process.  In fact, with each hurdle we've come across, as long as we continued to keep pushing forward, we've found that we've become immensely stronger.  There's just something powerfully fantastic about continuing to overcome barriers despite the naysayers.  Are we stressed?  Sure.  But we really have never felt more alive or more connected as a family than we do today.

Building an earthship is a tremendous journey but certainly not one for the fainthearted.  Expect the worst but keep your head up.  If you're interested in building one, this may burst your bubble a bit, but I think you must develop the makeup of a cockroach to withstand all the rotten bananas thrown at you when you choose this path.  Five years ago, we would have likely thrown in the towel after the first major hurdle.  This year, we gladly eat all the mushy bananas.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tire Foundation of our Earthship Home Complete! Onto French Drain and Adobe Pack-Out

It's been quite some time since I've provided an update on our home, so I will recap the past 2 months of our earthship build.  We were dumped on by the rain gods for several weeks in June which halted our progress on the home.  Instead, we took it as a sign that we needed to spend time together as a family and also work to make some overall improvements around the ole' homestead.  Zac and Elliot dug out a pond on our land in a matter of one weekend in order to gain more dirt for our build and the lovely pond is shown below.  It is even equipped with a private, exclusive "Duck Island" for Tanisha and Dewey, our Pekin ducks.  Now if only they'd stop identifying as chickens (we raised them all together) and begin taking advantage of their new digs...

The inside of our home was quite flooded due to the rain so we chose to invest in a water pump so that we could keep the build site dry to prevent erosion.

Our earthship has been providing us with a sense of community with like-minded individuals who come out to volunteer and end up becoming family.

All of the tires finally in place on July 17, 2015 and the celebratory spirit was palpable!

Is it weird that I've developed a serious love of photographing tires throughout this process?  They really are stunning!

Zac putting his squirrely Father's Day present to good use in pounding the LAST tire of our earthship build.  Just in case choosing to build an earthship wasn't a big enough signal that we had lost our minds...

Anthony, our good friend, hand-packing the last tire of our earthship build.  He stopped by last July due to an interest in earthship construction and has been a member of our earthship family ever since.  We are so very grateful for his friendship and the unrelenting positivity he surrounds us with.

The family minus Eivin working on the last tire of our home.  That kid needs to step it up a notch.  He may only be 3 months old, but he needs to start pulling his weight!

American Gothic earthship style.  Getting ready to begin the next phase of our earthship build: The French Drain!  Due to the high water table of our land, we will be installing a french drain around the inside of the perimeter of our home to ensure that water won't dampen our earthship lifestyle.

Anthony, Kate and Zac ensuring the correct placement of the french drain before breaking ground.  We invested in a transit this year and it has made our build go much more smoothly.  We wish we had purchased one at the start.  It was costly but absolutely worth it to ensure that everything was constructed up to snuff.

Our architect, Matthew Stanfield from FiELD9: architecture in Mansfield, OH came out with his family to help us in mid- July.  We are incredibly fortunate to have found him and we would highly recommend his services if you are in the market for building a home with sustainability in mind.

I was seriously beginning to question my sanity near the end of July as taking care of a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old who were both in high-needs stages was wearing on an already frayed and weathered mind.  My mother-in-law offered to watch our older guy so that I could get some things done.  Instead of tackling my personal to-do's, I got outside and worked on digging the french drain trench with Zac.  Is it sad that we had the GREATEST time ever digging a trench together?  Seriously.  An expensive night out has nothing on the joy we felt working together and actually talking for the first time in months.  Throughout building our earthship home, we have ended each night talking about our respective days and what tasks needed completed that week.  Usually, we'd get some brief moments within those conversations that were centered on how lucky we felt to be pursuing our dreams but these would always be short-lived due to a crying child or simply because our bodies were crying out for sleep.  While digging, we took note that this year of our earthship build just felt different than the last.  We felt more optimistic and more energetic and truly believe that 2015 will be the year that we're under-roof!  

This past weekend (August 1st and 2nd) marked another next phase of our earthship build: The Adobe Pack-Out Stage.  The interior walls of earthship homes don't have exposed tires because of off-gassing and flammability issues.  Thus, the voids between the tires are first packed with a layer of adobe (1 part sand, 1 part fine dry dirt, a handful of straw and some water to achieve the right consistency).  The adobe should be thick and moist and have the ability to stick to the tire wall with ease.  Aluminum cans are crushed into the adobe to take up some space which reduces the amount of adobe needed to fill the voids.  Once that has dried, another thick layer of adobe is added to bring the tires more level with one another.  It isn't imperative to achieve anything close to perfection in this stage of building out the wall. This stage simply helps finishing the walls later on go more smoothly.

Everyone had their own techniques for applying the adobe.  Interestingly enough however, many people eventually found it was most advantageous to adopt the bowling approach.

Another version of the bowling approach as demonstrated gracefully by Wyatt.  You were a swan in a past life, my friend.

The day couldn't have been more gorgeous.

Taking a break.

Elliot fetching some sand with Kate.

Wyatt, Elliot and Zac applying the second layer of adobe to our tire wall.

Elliot was all about the adobe pack-out portion of our earthship build.  Fortunately for him, the process will continue this upcoming weekend (August 8th and 9th).  If you're interested in coming out to learn the skills to build an earthship home, we'd love to have you out!  Not only do you get to learn sustainable building skills for free, but we will provide food for FREE to boot!  Oh, and entertainment comes with the territory so be prepared to get your weekly dose of weird.  If you'd like to come out, send us an email so that we can plan to have food for you.  We begin working both Saturdays and Sundays at 9:00 AM and finish off each day around 5:00 or 6:00 PM.  The address is 2687 S. River Rd., Cedarville, OH 45314.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Earthship Existentialism: More Than Just a Home

We all long to feel a part of something.  I feel the lack of connection with our fellow man causes us all to search for a link so that we don't have to feel so alone in this life.  This innate, primal urge causes all of us to latch onto some group somewhere or less struggle with ill effects.  This connection used to be readily available and survival-based as we needed our neighbors and family members to make it in this world.  We forged connections with the guy down the road because he supplied our family with something essential in exchange for our goods and services.  We didn't cast our aging family members to live out the rest of their days in a rest home because we needed the knowledge they had to hand down and were indispensable members to our families.  These connections were what kept us alive.  So it's not surprising that people in our era use more superficial ties such as sports, television shows, political affiliations, food, spirits, etc. to forge connections with others as all of our needs can now be met by big corporations wielding machines that can be operated by a computer.  We go to work, get paid by our employer and then pay big corporations to supply us with our food, clothing, housing and utilities.  Very few of us actually have forged a direct link to our needs.  And despite all the technological advancements allowing us to connect with anyone at the touch of a button, we are more disconnected from one another than ever before in history because we don't technically need one another for survival anymore.

It is my belief that in all humans resides a need for community as well as a direct connection to our earth.  Due to the technological advancements and our subsequent change in mindset, we are more disconnected from our fellow man and from our earth than ever before.  These needs don't just go away though and so we each work to fill the voids in our own modern ways.  In place of forging relationships contributing to our survival, we spend countless hours on social networking sites, engage in surface level conversations in passing with work colleagues, and text back and forth endlessly; avoiding eye contact with real live people breathing the same air as us in place of a device made of plastic and metal.  If someone sits down in a seat next to us in a waiting room when there are a plethora of other seats available, it is seen as awkward or as an affront in some way.  We value our personal space as a culture and view ourselves as separate from everyone else; working hard to secure our own material things in order to prove our worth.

This is probably the time I should jump down from the soap box for a second and state I am not holier than thou and I struggle with these same issues.  I work each and every day to make more mindful choices truly connecting me with members of my community and the earth.  In addition to thinking that I'm pompous, you may also be questioning why I'm talking about existential issues on a blog about building an earthship.  What Zac and I didn't realize when we started on this journey was how many cans of worms would be opened up for us throughout this process and how many untouched areas of our brains would be called into action as a result.

Building an earthship home ourselves has caused us to see the world in a very different light.  It is much easier now to see how connected everything in our world is and how neglecting one area can negatively impact all the others.  I realize I'm being vague so here is a (long-winded) example: By supporting larger than life, pesticide and GMO wielding agriculture giants, we are stripping many areas of the earth of life giving soil, are forever changing the genetic makeup of plants, animals and insects that come in contact with GMO grown crops which in turn could very likely be changing our genetic makeup and causing serious life-threatening health issues.  Continuing these practices continues to eat away at our planet and make farming that same piece of land harder and harder each year; causing more and more technologically based modifications to be made so that crops (they don't deserve to be called food crops) can continue to be grown there each year.

And what feeds this broken system you ask?  Our disconnect with where our food comes from.  We can stroll into a grocery store and pick up any ingredient under the sun without knowing its story.  We don't have to think anymore.  And yet, when we stop asking questions, we lose basic freedoms.  When we start asking the hard questions and look under the surface to see how our food is produced, we might be more motivated to begin growing more of our own and in doing so, working to repair the damage that has been done to our earth by building up healthy soil once more.

I firmly believe this disconnect with where our food comes from and thus from our earth, directly correlates to our disconnect from our fellow man.  As I stated before, we don't need one another for survival anymore.  We aren't self-reliant and look to large corporations to keep us afloat which keeps us disconnected from other humans and from the earth.  In searching for some type of meaningful connection, we spend countless hours devoted to various forms of entertainment searching for meaning and a sense of community in our world.  If Americans spent even a quarter of the time they spend in front of the television watching reality television shows and sports instead gardening or learning basic skills to repair household items, we may begin to have more respect for what it takes to grow food and/or produce the household items that many of us view as disposable.  Again, just so I don't appear holier than thou, I'm guilty of having a weakness for reality television shows and we did away cable so it wasn't as much of a temptation anymore.  Since then, I have found myself spending so much more time reading, gardening, crafting and thinking and feeling much more fulfilled.  (Note: That's not to say we don't watch TV.  We share a Netflix subscription with family and more selectively watch shows or movies.  I believe the difference is that I'm choosing exactly what I want to watch and don't feel locked into anything in particular.  Additionally, I don't have commercials to contend with... win!)

Each day, I find myself checking in to ensure I'm pleased with how I'm spending my day.  Prior to making our lifestyle switch, we were still operating as cogs in a much larger system.  Zac worked a 40+ hour work week, came home to take care of Elliot while I worked part-time in the evenings.  In our "free time" we caught up on shows backed up on our DVR because that long list of recorded shows begins to feel like a to-do list.  We mowed the lawn, weeded the garden beds, went grocery shopping for food though we didn't always buy real food.  When you are caught up in the system, you find that you have very little time to prepare real meals.  It took a lot of effort on my part to do so with everything we had going on so several nights a week, we would either go out to eat or I would whip out a box of this or a can of that so that we could have a quickly prepared meal.  I relied on going to the gym for exercise because real work or labor wasn't built into my daily life.  All of these things cost money and all of them ensure that we remain reliant on large corporations.

Taking a step back in time before big box stores and food chains existed, the family unit was intact day in and day out.  Each household was self-sufficient and was able to secure everything they needed for their own survival.  This was a much healthier lifestyle as it had all of the vital components to a healthy lifestyle built into it.  The life-sustaining necessities also served as hobbies and pastimes; many of which were physical in nature and also provided a built-in means of exercise.  There were no gym memberships then and there was no need for them!  People didn't need to go to work everyday to earn money to support their families, they skipped the middle men entirely and work was actually producing their own food, making their own clothing, building their own homes from materials they secured themselves.

In our age, we now have a choice people hundreds of years ago didn't.  We have scientific research to further support healthier overall lifestyles, we can use the Internet as a means of connecting ourselves to a larger community of like-minded individuals and can access a wealth of information at our fingertips.  We can choose to use modern advancements to further find freedom, or they can be used to keep us locked into an unhealthy, detached lifestyle.  We can choose to continue to be a cog in a broken system or we can break free and begin making more sustainable choices for our families that connect us not only to other people but to the earth.  Granted, it takes time to make these changes and not everyone has the resources available to make a drastic switch all at once, but everyone is capable of making small changes that add up over time and everyone has the ability to educate themselves.

It isn't all rainbows and sunshine though in having made the commitment to build an earthship home and live a more sustainable life.  Zac still has his 40+ hour work week and I'm at home with our two sons each day.  When he gets home from work at 4:00 PM, he works until 10:00 PM every night on our home or on something pertaining to our home.  I take on all the household duties and taking care of our sons.  Even though on the outside, it may appear our family is more divided than before and that we are running ourselves ragged, we are working as cogs within our own small family system.  We have broken free of the larger system and everything we do is with the same end goal in mind.  When Zac comes in after the sun has gone down, we sit and chat about our day before we head to bed.  Nearly every night, despite how trying our days may have been, we find ourselves saying "what an awesome life we have!"  We have never felt more united as a family and feel this way because everything we do serves our larger family goal of becoming more self-sufficient.  This goal is now tangible and we are seeing the benefits of cutting out the middle men to secure our own happiness.  I have to say that having worked toward the typical American Dream and now working toward a more sustainable future, the grass is much greener on this side and we have never felt more fulfilled.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Community of Kindred Spirits

When we took Eivin in for his first well baby check-up post-birth, our magnificent pediatrician (who writes us "prescriptions" for books and fermented foods) asked us about religion.  We told her we don't identify with any religion in particular and don't feel organized religion is right for us.  She responded by saying she believes it is imperative for children to have a solidified view of their family values and beliefs in order to have a sense of order in the world.  Having grown up in a Catholic family in Catholic schools, I understood this as I felt a sense of security in knowing I was surrounded by people whom I shared something with.  In this way, I was never alone in the world and knew I had somewhere to turn when times got rough.

Dr. Seiler went on to suggest that we create a family "bible" including photos and descriptions of pastimes we share together depicting what we collectively value.  This sparked some discussion between Zac and I on our way home.  The sense of belonging and community which has arisen throughout our earthship build thus far is the connection we feel we had been lacking prior to changing our lifestyle.  Additionally, the values of conservation, respect for others and the natural world around us are shared with our children day in and day out due to our move to live a drastically more sustainable life.

We decided the components to our family "bible" were in place and it would simply be a matter of putting it down on paper for Elliot and Eivin so they could reference it as they grew.  If anyone questions them about their lack of "religion" as they age, we want them to be able to provide a meaningful answer about how we as a family derive meaning in our day-to-day life despite our lack of organized religion.

Every week since we began our earthship journey, we've attended our version of church or mass in that we spend time pouring our heart and soul into something we believe at our very core.  Friends, family, new volunteers and veteran volunteers turned close friends show up to help us work toward our goal of building an earthship.

This past weekend at our first formal earthship workshop of 2015, we were deeply moved by the turnout and received our spiritual fill.  One thing stands out about the people we've met on our journey is we recognize each of these people as a kindred spirit.  When conversation begins with someone who comes out to a workshop or to volunteer, the small talk is bypassed and we enter into meaningful conversation with ease.  This speaks volumes.  These are our people.  We get them and they get us.

By the end of the first workshop day, an undeniable bond had been formed and was palpable.  We capped off the day around a bonfire with many of the participants camping out for the night.  The conversation spilled out effortlessly as though we had known one another for many years.  This sense of community is vital to our family.  We want Elliot and Eivin to know that they aren't alone in the world and are proud to be creating an environment where our guys can feel apart of something larger than themselves.

My heart was overflowing when Elliot moved around our land calling out greetings to people by name as they worked on the earthship.  He was blissful and in his element.  The photos from this past weekend and weekends to come will surely enter our family "bible" so that our boys are able to identify the congregation they belong to.  Additionally, the pride, determination and selflessness that each person who has worked on our house has shown is utterly moving.  We've learned so much from everyone who has come out and are inspired to give back every chance we get.  This is another element that will be integrated into our "bible" as we want our boys to be interconnected; not compartmentalized from their fellow humans.

In our culture, we tend to live in self-contained bubbles and shudder at the thought of having to share anything with anyone.  We all strive to be independent yet I believe this is at the demise of the human race.  We aren't meant to be separate from our fellow man.  I believe we are meant to run with a "pack."  It isn't difficult to identify people with this open mindset as they live out their lives very differently from the rest and give selflessly without effort.  I admit that I have a selfish streak and have been challenged and changed by each of the people we've come in contact with on our earthship journey.

I'm electrified with the knowledge that our family has finally identified our people and that our boys will grow up in a world without walls; where we live interconnected with the people and the land surrounding us.

I would be remiss if I didn't send out a heartfelt thank you to all of the people who came out this past weekend and who have come out in the past.  You have helped us build our dream home and in the process have been a constant source of inspiration; ultimately changing the course of our lives.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TOO LEGIT TO QUIT- Earthship Building Permit (Check!)

April 14, 2015:  This day will forever be etched in my mind as one year and two days ago we began building our earthship home and today, we were finally granted our BUILDING PERMIT!!!  We've been waiting on this "okay" for longer than we've waited on our second son to get here... which, by the way is also taking longer than expected as we are a week overdue with laid-back Eivin Nikolai. 

Anyhow, as I've mentioned in past posts, we jumped on board with building an earthship home after only just hearing about what was entailed in June 2013 and had purchased land for our future home by September that same year.  We pushed forward despite not having all the kinks worked out with hope that with enough determination and vigor, we'd get it all worked out.  Driven by a happy-go-lucky, naive haze, we vastly underestimated the amount of time it would take to obtain a building permit.  So a word to others out there hoping to build an earthship home:  If you choose to design your own home as we did, be sure to turn everything over to an architect to fine-tune and adjust as necessary and then have sealed as your county will likely require this... preferably before you begin building the home.

All of this may seem like a no-brainer but we were so dead-set on making a lifestyle change ASAP for our collective sanity that waiting on this vital "okay" was just not an option.  We were lucky that our county still allowed us to begin the tire foundation portion of our home with periodic checks so that we could get going while we ironed out the details of our future home.  In moving forward, we will need to have further density testing performed on several tires of each of the remaining layers of the tire foundation but that's a small price to pay for being granted formal permission to build our dream home!  For more information on density testing, check out our past blog post here

Obtaining a permit is such a HUGE relief to both of us and was something we had high hopes to have granted before our second guy arrived so that we could spend some time nesting together as a family before diving headfirst into building for the year.  Now we can do so with peace of mind knowing that we are finally LEGIT! 

We couldn't have gotten to this point without the help of our friend and architect, Matthew Stanfield, owner of FiELD9 Archtecture based out of Mansfield, OH.  He was so easy to work with and specializes in creating sustainable, modern structures.  We couldn't be happier with his services and it doesn't hurt that he's just a really genuinely good person to boot!  Be sure to get in touch with him if you desire to build a similar style home as sustainable architecture is his passion! 

Now, our energy will be directed toward welcoming our second son into the family and after the "babymoon", building will be in full swing!  We still have open slots for our first Earthship Build Workshop of 2015 and would love to have you out to build skills, a sense of community and help kick off the 2015 building of our earthship home!  Here are all the details:

We will be hosting the first of several more "formal" workshop weekends on Saturday, May 2, 2015 and Sunday, May 3, 2015 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM each day. The cost will be $25 per person for the WHOLE weekend and mainly covers the cost of food and making copies of any material handed out. We will provide breakfast and lunch both days (meat and veggie friendly) and camping is available upon request. While we will host more informal, FREE work and skill building weekends every other weekend throughout the building season (April 2015- October 2015), the workshop weekends will be more informative, will include much more time for question asking and answering and we will be providing some handouts outlining the information we plan on covering.

 The first workshop weekend (May 2-3, 2015) will cover the "Tire Foundation" portion of building an earthship. We've refined our process throughout the past year and would like to pass on our tips and tricks of making progress swifter and less physically taxing. Thus, this first workshop will cover the following topics:

  • Site preparation
  • Obtaining building materials and obtaining special permits through the EPA 
  • Overall costs of building an earthship
  • "Pounding" a tire by hand 
  • "Pounding" a tire with a pneumatic tamper
  • Installing drainage
  • Building the berm
  • Compaction tests via geotechnical engineers
  • Constructing a half-tire, etc.

While there will be portions that will be discussion and Q&A, a great deal of the weekend will be physical in nature as we've learned best by doing and feel this is the best way to obtain a realistic view of what it is like to build an earthship home.

We ask that all participants are over the age of 16 and that those between 16 and 18 years of age attend with a parent or guardian. Be dressed to get dirty and if you have any of the following items, please bring them with you (marked with your name):
  • Gloves 
  • Protective eyewear 
  • Boots 
  • Shovels 
  • Sledgehammers 
  • Hand-tampers 
  • Buckets
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Water Bottle- We will have drinking water available on-site but please bring a water bottle with you if you have one handy to save on having to use plastic cups.
If you'd like to camp the whole weekend, let us know and we will ensure you have a suitable place to do so!

You can secure your spot for the workshop via PayPal (see below) or you can send a $25 check to: Lauren & Zachary Craig, 2687 S. River Rd., Cedarville, OH 45314. Once we receive payment, we will send you a confirmation email with any updated information. PLEASE NOTE: If the weather doesn't cooperate (i.e. too much rain), we will plan on holding the workshop the next weekend (May 9-10, 2015).  We will contact you via email and/or telephone to confirm date change should  inclement weather arise.

Do you plan on camping on-site?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

First 2015 Earthship Workshop Weekend- May 2-3, 2015

We've pinned down a weekend for our first earthship build workshop of 2015! We will be hosting the first of several more "formal" workshop weekends on Saturday, May 2, 2015 and Sunday, May 3, 2015 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM each day. The cost will be $25 per person for the WHOLE weekend and mainly covers the cost of food and making copies of any material handed out. We will provide breakfast and lunch both days (meat and veggie friendly) and camping is available upon request. While we will host more informal, FREE work and skill building weekends every other weekend throughout the building season (April 2015- October 2015), the workshop weekends will be more informative, will include much more time for question asking and answering and we will be providing some handouts outlining the information we plan on covering.

 The first workshop weekend (May 2-3, 2015) will cover the "Tire Foundation" portion of building an earthship. We've refined our process throughout the past year and would like to pass on our tips and tricks of making progress swifter and less physically taxing. Thus, this first workshop will cover the following topics:

  • Site preparation
  • Obtaining building materials and obtaining special permits through the EPA 
  • Overall costs of building an earthship
  • "Pounding" a tire by hand 
  • "Pounding" a tire with a pneumatic tamper
  • Installing drainage
  • Building the berm
  • Compaction tests via geotechnical engineers
  • Constructing a half-tire, etc.

While there will be portions that will be discussion and Q&A, a great deal of the weekend will be physical in nature as we've learned best by doing and feel this is the best way to obtain a realistic view of what it is like to build an earthship home.

We ask that all participants are over the age of 16 and that those between 16 and 18 years of age attend with a parent or guardian. Be dressed to get dirty and if you have any of the following items, please bring them with you (marked with your name):
  • Gloves 
  • Protective eyewear 
  • Boots 
  • Shovels 
  • Sledgehammers 
  • Hand-tampers 
  • Buckets
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Water Bottle- We will have drinking water available on-site but please bring a water bottle with you if you have one handy to save on having to use plastic cups.
If you'd like to camp the whole weekend, let us know and we will ensure you have a suitable place to do so!

You can secure your spot for the workshop via PayPal (see below) or you can send a $25 check to: Lauren & Zachary Craig, 2687 S. River Rd., Cedarville, OH 45314. Once we receive payment, we will send you a confirmation email with any updated information. PLEASE NOTE: If the weather doesn't cooperate (i.e. too much rain), we will plan on holding the workshop the next weekend (May 9-10, 2015).  We will contact you via email and/or telephone to confirm date change should  inclement weather arise.

Do you plan on camping on-site?

Here are some pictures from our build last year!  We finished up the year with 5 courses of 9 complete and our goal is to have the tire wall done by Summer 2015... come on out, learn truly beneficial skills, meet like-minded people and help us reach our goal!