Tuesday, November 30, 2010

lifestyle shift

The frequent questions we're getting these days are about our indoor camping lifestyle. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I'd share how we currently feed and clean ourselves with a short photo essay.
The Pantry
The Cooktop
The Appliances
The "Sink"

Monday, November 29, 2010

the state of the house address

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. The Boy Builder's Iron Chef birthday party (post to come) was October 29, we passed our 4-way inspection on November 2, we moved out of the condo we were renting and into our house on November 8, and the Boy Builder and I left for a trip to Mexico on November 9 and Troy started sleeping at our new house (post about our trip to come). All this was mixed in with work, which did not seem to let up in the meantime.

So, what I figure is in order is a brief update on the "state of the house," if you will. Because someday I hope to get all the details written up in blog posts, but it might be a while.

~ All the windows are installed (but not the glass in the greenhouse, although 3/4 of it is here at the house awaiting installation)
~ 99.5% of the exterior foam insulation is installed
~ One exterior door is filled in with a temporary operable door (thank you James!) and the remainder are blocked off with wood and/or foam
~ We have a very fancy, very engineered "panel" to control all the water and heat in our house that is fully installed and functional
~ The heat is turned on in our house!
~ All our plumbing is in the walls and has pressure tested appropriately
~ We have running water!
~ All our electrical circuits are installed, including fancy stuff like speaker wire for future speakers and ethernet cable for future ethernet connections
~ We have a functional photovoltaic solar system that is producing most of the power for our home
~ We have several light and outlet circuits functional, so that we have power and light!
~ All our kitchen appliances are in the house, although none are installed
~ We have one sink in the house, but it's not installed, so we're temporarily using a bucket that we periodically empty down a floor drain
~ We have a functional septic system
~ We have 4/5 of the corrugated steel roof installed
~ We have all the netting for the blown fiberglass insulation installed and 1/3 of the fiberglass blown in the walls
~ We have piles of drywall stacked all over the inside of the house waiting to get installed once the rest of that insulation is blown in
~ We've got a pile of lumber outside ready to be transformed into our deck, as well as some very custom steel support brackets for the catwalk leading out to the deck
~ We have a "good bit" of our rock work done on the outside of our basement
~ We have a huge pile of wood chips in our front yard

Home, 28 November 2010

Oh, and we've also got a few feet of snow in the front yard, because, theoretically, that's why we live here. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010


We've been clearing out the old to make room for the inspector to do his work (and for us to move in!). In the process, I've got piles of useable stuff that I don't need anymore, but someone else might be able to use.

So, I've been embracing the concept of freecycling, a practice that fits my personality and my values perfectly. In Salt Lake City, as in many other places in the country, we have an official freecycling chapter, but I actually find it to be a bit of a hassle, so I instead use a free classified ad service through a local media outlet (KSL) for all my freecycling needs.

Tonight I posted an ad for a bunch of surplus and it was picked up and in someone else's truck within 45 minutes of my posting the ad! Yowza!

It makes me happy. I get to rid myself of excess junk. Someone else will (hopefully) get to use it. I usually make a temporary friend. And, maybe, if the Hindus are right, I get some good karma coming my way, which I can always use. And, even if the Hindus are wrong, I still get to feel like I'm "spreading the love" of all the fab deals I've had come my way in this building process. I feels good all the way around.

To my way of thinking, this type of freecycling is critical to keep our landfills leaner and make self-build projects attainable. So, we're doing our part.

happy transformation

For the last few months at our building site, we've had a big pile out front that looks like this:
Scrap un-burnable lumber 4-and-a-half feet tall. We had a dilemma because we didn't want to put it in the dump, recycling it was proving to be super challenging, and our main solution of getting it chipped up into mulch for our yard was not working out because the truck we were planning to use got repossessed by the bank! Ugh!

On Friday, my knight in shining armor showed up at the house across the street in the form of this truck:
They were willing to head over to our house and throw that gigantic pile of scrap lumber into their chipper and turn it into this!
You can't possibly imagine how happy this pile makes me. It means 3 things:

1. I don't have to send a huge pile of useable material to the landfill.
2. I don't have a huge pile of unsightly garbage in my front yard anymore.
3. I will have lots of luscious compost in the near future after we add nitrogen and mix it up.

For those who are likely to be curious, we did a lot of research about the glues in OSB and plywood and their potential for compost. The glues used quickly biodegrade into non-toxic compost once the wood is chipped up, as they are based on formaldehydes, naturally occurring organic compounds that are involved in metabolic chain reactions. We left out the pressure-treated lumber scraps, as the chemicals they are treated with are toxic and are designed to prevent biodegradation.

Yay for compost!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I've been spending the morning tracking down remaining parts for moving water around my house and realized I haven't posted about plumbing.

We have water moving around our house for lots of different reasons.

:: There is the radiant tubing in the floors
:: Radiant tubing in the walls
:: Tubing taking water to and from our solar thermal panels under the photovoltaic panels on our main roof
:: Tubing taking water to and from the solar wall behind our metal siding on the south side of the tower
:: Stainless steel tubing taking water to and from the large solar thermal panel that will be installed on our deck roof

:: Tubing connecting all our fire sprinklers

:: Hot and cold tubing going to all our appliances like sinks, toilets, bathtub, shower, laundry, kitchen, etc.
:: And of course the drain plumbing away from all those appliances
:: There's also some hot water drain return to make sure we have on-demand hot water whenever we need it and drain heat recovery lines somewhere mixed in there as well.

All this plumbing is connected at some point with the riser bringing fresh water into the house from our neighborhood spring.

Hot water is stored and distributed through the 2 stratified solar tanks and 1 regular hot water heater in the mechanical room

And all the water moving around between all these different components comes through the radiant panel in the mechanical room

The picture doesn't quite do it justice, but it's a beautiful art installation piece, this radiant panel.

All this has been going on with help from numerous hands over the last couple of months. I can't wait until we can flush the toilet and wash our hands in the sink!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

&hearts &hearts &hearts


Sometimes our version of homeschooling takes unconventional turns. The last few months, the Boy Builder has been learning about fire. Learning how to make it, what the components are that keep it going, how to be safe around it. It's all part of the process.

He's putting his new masonry skills (learning from the Girl Who Rocks Utah) to work and building fire rings and then practicing his fire building skills. He's getting it down.

Today, Eden brought ingredients up to the building site for cooking on his fire. Pre-cooked sausages for roasting on sticks and marshmallows for s'mores.


Friday, October 8, 2010

in the kitchen

Things are hopping these days. Lots to do. Our family respite from the craziness occurs in the kitchen. The Boy Builder is working hard to become the Boy Chef, and his creations are inspiring.

Yesterday, he and I surprised the work crew by bringing to the building site Philly cheese steak sandwiches (eggplant for the vegetarians, recipe inspired by Rachael Ray, with hefty amounts of creativity from us), roasted fingerling potatoes, and, because Boy Chef was involved, a super surprise of cake and pear compote. It was a chilly day and warm food seemed in order. (Unfortunately, forgot to take pictures.)

For the Boy Chef, presentation is just as important as taste, so the other day he tried his hand at candy making for this sundae he invented that was scrumptious:
Sundae of vanilla ice cream, cashew brittle, mint leaves, and fresh raspberry
Boy Chef seems to be working on his sauces (lots of watching Food Network and their French-inspired techniques) and this blueberry sauce over plain yogurt and his own chocolate waffles was an unequivocal success:
The Boy Chef also made the (unfortunately, unphotographed) best salad I may have ever eaten for dinner 2 nights ago: Romaine lettuce, fresh parsley, roasted corn cut off the cob, roasted sweet red pepper, chopped jicama, with a lime vinaigrette.

I promised to share a go-to recipe every now and then for nourishing busy builders, so I'll share this spontaneous curry invention we ate a couple nights ago that turned out really delicious. You can really use whatever veggies you have around, or even throw in fish or chicken if you like. the curry is a canvas you can paint and layer flavors upon.

Coconut-Tomato Curry

Vegan, serves 6-ish people, about 30 minutes of preparation

Ingredients (all quantities approximate as I didn't measure anything when I made this)

2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1-1/2 teaspoons cracked brown mustard seed
1-1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 fresh jalapeno, small dice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 Tablespoon prepared curry powder (I made my own sometime ago and use that)
1/2 bunch of cilantro stems, chopped
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons minced ginger
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes and their juice
1 cup coconut cream

3 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced (I peeled because the potatoes were going south, but no need to peel)
1 purple eggplant, diced
3 small jewel yams, diced
1 can drained garbanzo beans
1/2 bunch of cilantro tops
Lemon juice to taste

Note: I season my food in layers as I add ingredients, so be sure to salt and taste as you go so everything comes out yummy.

Begin making the curry by pouring the peanut oil in a large saute you have a lid for over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, but long before smoke point, add the mustard seed to season the oil. About 30 seconds later, add the onion and jalapeno (layer in salt). Sweat them until the onion is proverbially translucent. Add all the spices and the cilantro stems and cook for a bit until the spices are fragrant and yummy and the veggies are brightly colored. Add the garlic and ginger and stir around for 30 seconds or so. Then add all the juice from the tomatoes. While the juice is getting hot, pick up the tomatoes one at a time and smash them in your hands to break them up into pieces and add them to the pot. (Layer in salt.) Let the tomatoes get all nice and bubbly and yummy smelling and then stir in the coconut cream. Do it so the coconut cream blends in smoothly and beautifully and doesn't curdle or lump up.

Next add the potatoes, eggplant, yams, and garbanzo beans. (Layer in salt.) Then add enough water to just barely cover the veggies, put the lid on, and let the veggies cook until the potatoes are tender. At some point, you'll need to turn down the heat once everything is up to temperature so you've got a simmer going and not a raging boil. This will take about 20-30 minutes, depending on your altitude, how big your veggies are, and other factors.

When the veggies are cooked, take off the lid and turn off the heat. Add the cilantro and stir it around in the still warm food. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve over good quality basmati rice. I made about 4 cups of dry rice and that seemed to be the right amount for this quantity of curry, but it was especially yummy rice, so your rice mileage may vary.

Bon appetit!


This morning from the condo:
Grateful we have an interior to work from these days. And very grateful James is working on stuff like this:
Once we have some doors it won't be so blessed cold inside anymore!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Things are moving nearly full-tilt at the building site these days. We are busy bees getting ready for the 4-way inspection next week. The 4-way inspection looks at these four things: 1) rough framing and structure, 2) rough plumbing, 3) rough electrical, and 4) rough heating system.

The Boy Builder and I started the wiring process months ago. We ordered outlet boxes from Airfoil Inc. because they are specially made to allow excellent sealing and prevent air infiltration around the outlet boxes in external walls (remember the balloon theory post?). We started putting the outlet boxes in the external wall before the internal walls were even built.

These days, we've been completing putting the outlet and junction boxes in place
Drilling holes in the studs so that we can
Pull wire between them and back to the breaker junction box.
Then we connect the wires to each other with push wire connectors
This all sounds rather banal, but is a huge step forward — not to mention a lot of work. All that drilling of holes and thinking through where all the wires go and pulling the wire (isometric work-out at its finest) and labeling everything so we know which wires go where. 

Our walls are now riddled with wires going every which way. Progress!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


There are many facets to building a green home. We decided to start with two fundamentals: 1) Energy efficiency, as this has to be built in at the beginning and is hard to retrofit later; and 2) building the home ourselves.

Another facet of green building is using materials local to the site. Local materials not only use less energy for transporting them, they also tend to beautifully blend into the environment.
On our mountain, the one natural building material we have a lot of is granite cobble. If time (and consequently money) were no object, we might have decided to build our home entirely of that granite. While we couldn't manage an entire stone house like this one in Montana, we have decided to incorporate that stone where we can.

Three and a half years ago when we began this building project, moving dirt around was a primary occupation. We dug holes for our septic system, our black water tank, our footings, and so on. Every time we dug a hole, we sorted the cobble from the dirt using a homemade rock separator and a lot of serious muscle into large piles all over our property. I can't even tell you how many thousands of pounds of rock I've lifted and moved.

Today, all that very hard work of moving and stacking all those tons of rock started to take shape in a beautiful and satisfying way.
We are quite pleased so far with the work of Shannon from Girl Rock Utah, a stone-laying company based out of Ogden.

The rock looks as beautiful as I could have imagined and ties our home so specifically to its landscape.

A few notes on technique: The blue stuff is a fiberglass mesh that will help tie the mortar mix to the foam insulation behind. We chose fiberglass instead of a more traditional metal wire mesh (a.k.a. chicken wire) because we didn't want to introduce a thermal bridge from the rock to the house. The mortar skim coat over the mesh is there to keep the mesh in place while the rock it going up. The mortar mix is a pre-mix called "Spec-Mix" made locally and bagged by a company called Ashgrove. We did tests last fall with several varieties of mortar mix and liked how this one performed the best. We're using a thin mortar joint between rocks. This was a purely aesthetic decision. The rods sticking out of the house are non-thermal-conducting fiberglass form ties we specially sourced to build our concrete walls with. We kept a short length of fiberglass sticking out of the wall for the rock and mortar to grip around, thus keeping the rock connected to the foam and concrete of the rest of the wall. When asked about how to make a corner, Shannon says "I find a rock that looks like a corner and I place it." Perhaps masonry isn't quite as mysterious as the Masons tell us it is. :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

testing the furnishings

We've been spending a lot of time thinking about lighting. One of the most challenging design tasks for me is imagining how the lighting will play out before the finish wall surfaces are up. It's a design decision that has to be made and wires have to be run before the drywall is put up, but you have to have serious design sense to be able to pull it off well.

In the middle of our kitchen we have a large round chopping block that 3 people can work around simultaneously. We know we want a lighting fixture over this work area, but we're still up in the air about the potential hanging pot rack this lighting fixture will be incorporated into. We decided to build it in such a way that the future lighting fixture can hold 200 lbs worth of pots should we choose it. Future-proofing, so to speak. I love it when we can do this. I really wish Tesla has gotten his wireless electricity working for the consumer market so we could so the same with lighting fixtures.

When I installed the junction box for the lighting fixture over the chop block on Wednesday, I incorporated a serious amount of structure to hold up all those potential pots and pans. Here I am testing out my handy work.


The first day of autumn coincided with the full Harvest moon last week. Though I'm not religious, the cosmic coincidence did feel portentous to me. The last few years, autumn is a time of emotional upheaval for me. On the one hand, it's a time of year I love, filled with outrageous, flaming, golden beauty. I'm reminded of the last of my pregnancy with my sweet boy. The harvest season is in full swing. The promise of cozy winters hunkered in with knitting and hot cocoa and skiing flirt in the anticipatory centers of my mind. The autumn sun is strong and sharp and it's warm glow feels like a glorious gift.

But, for me the pleasures of these last 3 autumns have been heavily tempered by my annual agonizing over whether we can move into our house before winter strikes. Winter on my mountain, while beautiful and white and as splendid as winter can get, arrives unpredictably and irrefutably on her own time-table. And once she's here, my world changes dramatically.

So, I scurry about like the grasshopper in Aesop's morality fable, trying to accept whole-heartedly the moments of stunning beauty surrounding me, fending off (sometimes unsuccessfully) the panic of uncertainty and fear of homelessness. Will this winter be the winter I live in my home for the first time? Only time and lots of hard work will tell.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to soak in these fleeting, golden, gorgeous autumn-y moments while they're here.
Autumn on the move — looking east from my new kitchen

Pear crisp at an autumn equinox celebration
Autumn blooms
Building shelter for winter
Golden carpet
Autumn color wheel

Friday, September 3, 2010

10 things

Inspired by a repeated feature at a favorite blog of mine (Soulemama), I'm making a list of 10 things I'm grateful for. What better exercise on the anniversary of my birth. :)

:: Clean bathrooms. Sometimes, simple and mundane chores bring a surprising amount of satisfaction and pleasure.

:: Sunshine. There is a nip in the air telling me that autumn is on the move, but I'm relishing every last moment of this short and flourishing summer while it's here.

:: My family, near and far. My heart takes daily trips all over this wide earth sending love and well wishes to all the people I love.

:: Windows! 10 more windows have been installed in my house in the last couple of days and it feels so very good.

:: My sweet, smart, energetic boy who makes homeschooling a joy instead of a chore.

:: Dear friends who have been endlessly patient with my lack of availability these last many moons.

:: All the strong, diligent, talented people who help me build my house. I am so grateful for all they do.

:: My new phone. I feel almost silly mentioning it. But, I've never had a truly functional phone before and it's so nice. Thank you, Dad, for passing along such a useful hand-me-down. :)

:: Work that supports my family, allows us to work together, and is supportive to our community and planet.

:: My own strong, healthy body that can build, cook, clean, nurture, hug, run, climb, hike, stretch, dance, and sing (among other things).

I think I've already made it to 10, but I want to add an extra special mention of my kind, smart, committed, loving husband. I'm so grateful to have his partnership.