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Children, Creativity, and Decorating Your Own Cathedral.

When Bethe Almeras sent me her post Decorating Your Own Cathedral, I had no idea it would spark such a response! But it reinforces what I believe- that there's a lot to do for children if you provide them with nothing.

I love the analogy of cathedral - you should see the architectural “scenes” our 4 year old has set up all over the house- EVERYTHING is a staged scene with animals grouped with furniture and blankets to create a finished piece…

But along with creativity I think we should also mention the lack of “stimulation” can be a critical ingredient. Or what people today think of as “nothing.”

Our 4 & 6 year old have very little access to tv (general rule is tv only if you have a fever), and no video games. They do not know what Saturday morning cartoons are.

So, for example, today, on a Saturday, they have spent hours constructing an elaborate “set” of tiny dolls, My Little Ponies (all purchased, recycled, from Thrift Stores), our furniture, blankets, plants (sigh, my prized orchid has ponies and unicorns on it…)…
which resulted in one huge scene filled with minute detail of micro-interactions that created a whole.

Would they have the attention span to achieve that amount of detail if they sat their childhood away in front of tv?

Similarly, their afternoons are spent in the backyard with no entertainment except for what they can make or find. Endless days of hunting caterpillars, digging holes… sometimes I watch them, dogs by their side, just slowly pace the yard, looking… And then they come to me with questions, and learn.

As I drove to kindergarten yesterday, the preschooler piped happily as we passed signs of spring: “Forsythia! Grapefruit pears! (That’s what she calls Bradford pears) Cherry trees! Pine tree-Pine tree-Pine tree-Pine tree-Pine tree… Grapefruit pear!”

And I thought about children who can’t identify a tree.
To identify a tree takes observation, study, pondering its differences to then settle on a species’ traits that match what you see.

So creativity, yes!
But I also think that much creativity comes from the stillness of settled quiet, which then allows thoughts to gather, form, then spark something new.

(Not to go off topic but I also wanted to say… sorry for being so verbose! This is why I should be relegated to Twitter, at least then I have to stick to 140 characters…)

P.s. Regarding Charrise’s comment on “teaching kids fear”- our children also know what black widows and copperheads look like, that they always need to be with the pack because of the coyotes, to bring your whistle in the field during hunting season so when you hear a shotgun blast you can let ‘em know you’re there (and to NEVER walk the woods then!)…

How has reality affected them?
Practical and aware of real life issues, yes.

Fearful, they are not.

In fact, only one of them has had a nightmare, once.
Whereas most parenting books have chapters on “when nightmares begin.”
Could it be the incidence of nightmares increased in children with the exposure to tv and video games?

Even when my children see tv now, the Heffalumps in Winnie The Pooh make them turn away- *that’s* scary to them.

Reality? Yes, it’s scary in a different way- but they are secure in their pack, that their pack is there protecting them, and, with their knowledge of real scary things, feel in control to prevent that bad thing from occurring.

Hence freeing them to hunt caterpillars and dig worms with their dogs for hours.




Heeeeyyyyyy Hey Hey Hey Hey, Concrete Is Sealed

This weekend HandsomeHusband will again brave the elements and lonesome trail to the land to seal the concrete. Hopefully, we will be singing praise for his success when he returns from his journey!

As he so fascinatingly puts it:
"Great. Drive out, roll on sealer, go to shed, sort the VMI basketball floor boards for eight hours, put on second coat of sealer, then drive home by myself. Good times!"

But look on the bright side!
We'll be singing, Heeeeeyyyyyyyy Hey Hey Hey Hey, Concrete Is Sealed...

Earlier this week I spoke with Ron, our handsome contractor who is in Florida loving on his grandbabies, about the concrete sealant application, and here is what he said:
"I went to Lowe's- there is a product by Qwikrete I bought. It says it serves 800ish sf but buy two and expect to take one back, it went further than I expected. Don’t get a plastic paint pan- check because I don’t think you can put it in a plastic pan, so you might need to get metal.

The paint roller- I liked the ½ inch nub – don’t get the regular paint-your-walls thickness. If you use that with a broom handle it works well for covering the floor.

When it rolls on, know that it’s milky but will dry clear. Also don’t roll it on too thick- I would say it’s better to do two thin coats than one thick coat because if it’s too thick it will start to pull up as you roller it.

It says to stay off of it for 8 hours to dry so you will want to think about what y’all will be doing with the children and dogs that day…"
Instead of Qwickrete we decided to use Eco Tuff:
"Eco-Tuff tm Industrial Floor Coating is the world's leading environmentally compliant safety coating that outperforms all other floor coating products. The advanced formulation of cross-linking modified acrylics, urethanes, and co-polymers delivers a Green Building compliant safety coating with superior durability, flexibility and safety. Available in 17 standard colors.

Eco-Tuff is a single component, zero VOC, ultra tough waterproof coating material. There are no hazardous ingredients, is non-flammable and virtually odorless. It is engineered for the most extreme environments from freezing cold temperatures to the hottest climates around the world. It is capable of withstanding abrasion, UV, chemicals, hot tire pick-up, and submersible applications."
I also had a discussion on SIPs and concrete with the SIPs manufacturer, and he had some good advice for determining when the concrete was cured enough / dry enough to seal. Here are his words:
"When you have a poured concrete slab foundation, moisture is coming out for the first 30 days (at least- especially when you poured when you did and now have the saturated ground emanating moisture).

I recommend taking about a 1 sf piece of plastic and let it sit on the concrete for about two days. If, when you lift up that plastic, you are still getting a lot of moisture, then you should let the concrete dry out a little more before sealing."
Great advice! Hope that helps someone out there!

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House Kit Update: MUD

I would like to present a Medal of Valor to HandsomeHusband, who, when the family came down with fever and colds all weekend, braved the elements and viruses and went to the land to clean the mud off of the house kit's concrete floor.

If any of you are thinking "Oh it's no big deal, we'll just clean it all later..." when constructing our house kit with an unsealed concrete floor, I have one word for you: Don't. Clean it asap, seal it, and then you won't have to spend EIGHT hours alone scraping and wiping and mopping mud off of your floor.
Just ask HandsomeHusband.

And remember: This zero energy house is off grid, and the systems aren't hooked up yet, so HandsomeHusband had no running water, much less faucets, to tap into. He just had the water he had brought, and the creek.

So let's all take a moment to commend him, and... feel his pain. : )

(P.s. For those of you with sharp, sharp eyes: That's also why I haven't washed the mud that is on one of the south top cladding panels off yet- I will get to it in the next week or so...)

We were also excited this week to be featured on PrefabCosm - a directory of prefab homes.

Oh, when HandsomeHusband mentions potato chips, it is because some crumbs fell from the table last week and we were amazed that the fat from the potato chips was sucked into the concrete, making a stain that was obviously difficult to remove.

So make sure to seal your house kit concrete quickly! : ) Lesson learned.

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Green Building Is Dead

I just read a post by Paul Eldrencamp entitled, "Green Building Is Dead."

When I first skimmed it, I indignantly thought, "Well maybe he should try making buildings that work." Then I read it again, and again... and stewed on his credentials... and I have to say I agree, and am very much looking forward to reading his posts on this subject.

As a longterm fan of, and volunteer for, historic preservation groups and history nonprofits, I value historic preservation and how it can benefit a locale's charm and become a resource, promoting character vs. another bland "could be anywhere" cityscape for the community.

I am also a fan of what has been recently termed "Refab." Lloyd Alter's take on Refab Philosophy is practical and right on the (frugal waste-ye-not) money. (You may have noticed that I'm BIG on practical livin'...) ; )

I sell buildings.
I sell buildings that are passive solar design, that are supposed to function, to work.
How do I reconcile this with my preservation / non-waste philosophy?

Maybe we should look at crop tree release.

If we approach construction as we do crop tree release, we might be able to help our industry flourish by removing the ineffective, non-functional "weed" buildings, while preserving the ones that are of value. In crop tree release,
"...woodland owners have many different reasons for owning and managing their woodlands. Some desire woodlands that provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. Others want a woodland that supports particular types of recreation such as hiking, hunting, and bird watching. Still others want to harvest timber and non-timber products from their woods for home and farm use or to provide periodic income. Most aspire to maintain or improve the health, vigor, and attractiveness of their forest. For many private woodland owners, the ability of their woodlands to provide these and many other values can be enhanced through crop tree management. " (from
Now I'm no timber-er. But using crop tree release I will better the woods and land, benefiting the wildlife and strenthening the ecosystem.

Maybe we should look at construction business models:
  • Does your business sell to people who come to you with an existing need, where you provide a product that will work for generations or
  • Do you develop blocks of buildings people might not need or want that do not take smart-growth or passive solar design into consideration?
  • Are you building to just sell or fufilling a specific asked-for need?
  • Does your business mass grade soil on land parcels?
  • What does your business do to reduce waste?
  • Do your architects design for the product (i.e. the width of a SIPs panel) utilized vs. cutting, creating waste?
  • Do you encourage reuse and recycled materials when possible?
These are my first thoughts, and I look forward to musing over Mr. Eldrencamp's writing more. What do YOU think?

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Passive Solar House Kit - In it, we camped!

Still no interior walls (Ron is off building his pastor's house who needs to move in by Easter), but that did not deter us from camping in the house kit.

After four years of camping in the tiny-but-fantastic 1960s aluminum Scotty camper, I have to admit it was nice to lug a bunch o' the camping equipment from the Scotty to reuse in the open, spacious off grid modern house. As I pulled the practical, necessary camping equipment we had relied on for years from our beloved camper, I looked at it anew and realized that a lot of camping equipment is not eco-friendly! When we bought the necessary equipment years ago, it was because the folding chairs, storage tubs, cutting boards, machete knife cases, blaze orange hunting hats/gear were IMPERATIVE to have in an isolated place when camping through all seasons.

Now, in the comfort of the house kit, I'm looking at all this and thinking, "Man. If someone made environmentally friendly affordable camping gear they would make a FORTUNE!"

(Hmmmm. HMMMMM...
Nah, I already have too many jobs. But YOU do it!)

I was gone all Saturday at a social media conference nearby, so when I returned the mattresses had been blown up, the sheets and blankets were on, the "solar soldiers" (as we call the solar exterior lights) charged from a day in the sun, and two happy pipsqueaks were jumping and playing in their new passive solar living space.

Just seeing the queen-sized air mattresses in the still-not-framed-in bedrooms gave me a better idea of the room dimensions. Setting out the beds, the card table, chairs along the east side, really gives us a sense of the future finished space. It's perfect. It's open, filled with natural light, yet warm, cozy, interactive without being cramped. I can't wait to see it more furnished. It's getting very hard not to jump ahead and move in.

It had snowed over ten inches earlier this week...
The ground was wet and there was mud.
Oh, was there MUD.
A LOTTA mud.

I swept muddy dog tracks, children tracks, my tracks, his tracks.
(This is starting to read like a Dr. Seuss book, no? Say it ten times quickly.)
Aaaaaand was grateful we had chosen the smooth take-it-all concrete instead of frou-frou bamboo.
(I would have spent the rest of my life trying to protect that floor. It would have been awful. I would have been miserable.)

Yet, just days after a major snowfall, it was so warm this weekend we opened wide the doors wide and WOW could you feel the cross breeze- I can not wait to spend time here in spring! The dogs naturally gravitate to the passive solar sunbeams in the concrete thermal mass- and love surveying their kingdom from the open doorways while listing against the frame, half awake, in the sun.

I went for a nice long (muddy) walk with the 4 year old, watching while she measured creeks with her stick, surveyed the breached pond, and climbed hills with the dogs. A lot of trees had been downed from the heavy snow, so we had to cut some. Don't worry, the ones that fell were scrappy young ones that weren't part of the crop tree release strategy we have. We will never timber; but are trying to help prune and encourage healthy growth of the woods through selection so they can grow strong vs. competing for resources with weed trees.

It was good to hear the frogs.
They, and the bees, have had a rough few years. So to hear them peeping so exhuberantly in March was glorious. (Listen to video, below...)
I remember a few years ago on my family farm noticing that the pond was quiet, the 35' deep pond where I grew up fishing and canoeing and swimming and... listening to peepers. It was so strange to hear the blowing of the wind, the water, and, on that day, no frogs.

Frogs are loud. My entire life had, until then, been filled with the cacophony of peepers and bullfrogs. So to hear the frogs so loudly happy on "the land" gives me hope.

On Sunday, I spent a good bit of time curled up in a chair, reading fifteen year old issues of Countryside Magazine given to us by Ron & Judy while the children and dogs played.

Now HandsomeHusband, I will remind you, is from a large European city. He delighted in the scouting camera he had erected on a nearby tree and what it revealed: two deer stopping by to check out the off grid house kit! I'm including some of that here too.
: )

Here are more pictures, below, than you would EVER want to see of our fun weekend camping in the off grid zero energy modern house kit!
Just click on 'em to get the large version and captions!
(And some videos o' frogs and passive solar musings, below.
Hey, it was a fun, muddy weekend. : )

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Letter To The Editor

Dear House Kit People,
Despite the biggest March snowstorm that has kept my children out of school for three days, the weather forecast predicts temperatures in the 70s this weekend! So we plan to camp in the house kit, still without interior walls or systems installed.

Expect many more photographs and inside shots this coming week...
: )
In the meantime, I was excited to see my Letter To The Editor was published in today's Richmond Times - Dispatch!

So, thought I'd share:
Keeping Chickens Would Help The Family Budget
Editor, Times-Dispatch:

I enjoyed the recent article on the sustainable elements in the MAC Events Hme Show / Maymont Garden Show, especially the Victory Egg Garden by Days of Old Herb Farm. However, readers should know that unlike Seattle, Brooklyn, Atlanta and even Los Angeles, Richmond and counties like Henrico do not allow laying hens in our average backyards.

With the Food Bank empty and many families out of work, we should have the right to responsibly have a few laying hens in our gardens to provide our families with fresh eggs, and one or two mini-goats (about 50 pounds) for milk. In Henrico, I can legally have three 200-pound mastiffs in the same back yard, yet I can't have a few hens. I encourage everyone to contact his or her city council or board of supervisors to ask why they are denying constiuents the right to sustainability.

Copeland Casati

I am feeling very civic minded today! Hope you enjoyed. : )

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