Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 In 60 Seconds

Year-end is a great time for us to reflect on the best and worst of the previous 12 months. For us, those months have been spectacular. Here's a visual summary of some memories from 2014.

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala (Feb-Mar)

The patron saint at the center of San Pedro.
One of the streets adjacent to the market in San Pedro.
Our Guatemalan hosts Mayda and Mauricio with their daughter Aweex on her 2nd birthday.
Our host's mother Magdalena makes tortillas on the wood-burning hearth in the kitchen.
Our family and Spanish teachers at Cooperativa language school.

Ecuador (Apr-May)

We never tired of sunsets nor of the ocean along the Ecuadorian coast.
Our beach-front lodging at Villa de los Suenos gave us our most relaxing vacation ever.
Miles of sandy beach, mostly to ourselves.
Atticus's improvised oatmeal bath when he got chicken pox.
To this day, the playful Lab Choco is one of the boys' favorite memories of our year.

North American Camping Trip (Jun-Sep)

Mountain biking in Moab, Utah.
Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park, the family's favorite of the 17 national parks we visited.
Jumping on a glacier along Canada's Icefields Parkway.
Strolling through Prairie Creek in Redwoods State and National Parks.
Trying to feel significant in Sequoia National Park.
Taking in the vastness of the Grand Canyon.

Homesteading in Maine (Oct-Nov)

Our "gnome home" or "hobbit house" in the Maine woods.
The classroom building at Koviashuvik Local Living School--a construction project we worked on while apprenticing.
We named our blog 525,600 Minutes in reference to how many moments or minutes there are in a year. Our retrospective here is brief but to us it's mind-blowing how diverse and exceptional our 2014 experiences have been. We're fortunate to have these memories.

Have a Happy New 525,600 Minutes!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saying Goodbye

We awoke one morning in our "gnome home" and saw through the porthole window in our front door a clear sign of the changing seasons.

The air temperature in central Maine has dropped and we could feel it in the lodge. Warming by the stove and eating oatmeal for breakfast became part of our comfort routine.

For our kids, the snow inspired snowballs, snow forts, and boot skating with their friends.

For the adults, it was time to make sure we had everything prepared for winter. The root cellar has been stocked with crates of apples, sacks of root vegetables, shelves of cabbages, and jars of sauerkraut.

It's also time to transplant kale from the garden into the greenhouse alongside the less hearty greens Shelly and the other apprentices transplanted weeks ago.

Cooler temps also meant that Shelly's baking not only filled our bellies but warmed the lodge. She's mastered bread baking in a cast iron skillet and has continued to experiment with things like acorn-flour biscuits.

Shelly baked some biscuits and squash for a game night in the lodge with the other apprentices. It was a fun way to enjoy one of our last evenings with these three great people in our community.

Indeed we'll miss the community that we've enjoyed for two months. There is strong character in the hearty people that live and work here.

But even as we say goodbye to the people of Koviashuvik, there will be some things that live on with us. The songs we sing at meals. The skills we learned living off the grid. The inner strength we each find when we're stretched out of our comfort zone.

But again, most of all, we take with us the confidence that our family can do anything. Together.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Just Having Fun

Yes, we chop wood every day and go to the bathroom in a bucket out back. But not everything we do is a chore. There's some fun we have in our small community too--especially for the kids.

Our boys have had fun playing with the other kids that live here.

The boys enjoy a Bonnie Bee sandwich.
Snacks and chess and friends. Excellent.
Tumbling on a tarp full of leaves.
And sometimes the fun is with the animals: chasing ducks, petting the cat, or holding the black bunny.

Hannah is a tolerant bunny!
When we leave the kids to their own devices, often they get creative.
Baxter devised a way to stand-up paddleboard on the pond. . . .
Certainly our environment encourages being crafty.

Atticus concentrates on carving a wooden leaf.
Baxter chooses a leaf wreath instead.
Atticus starts making a cedar spoon by burning out the deep cavity with a coal from our wood stove.
And sometimes the line between chore and fun gets blurry. Helping with raking and harvesting and nail-pounding and fire-starting and cooking and wood-splitting can be fun in and of itself too.

Boys help make applesauce from foraged apples.
We have one more week in our apprenticeship and then like most of you we'll pause to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. Family fun will certainly be on this year's long list.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tools of the Trade

Our teachers at the local living school where we are apprenticing consider things from the natural world as gifts. Water from the spring is a gift. The sun that warms the greenhouse is a gift.

The things we get from trees are also gifts: the acorn we wrote about in our last post; the leaves that give back their minerals as they decay; the sap of the maple that becomes syrup; the basswood bark that becomes string, the growth rings of the ash that become baskets; the timber that becomes shelter; the firewood that warms our food and our bodies.

I have a personal affection for the tree gifts. I've participated in harvesting all the above gifts from the tree and am most fond of the wood gifts that are used for building and warming. Using time-honored techniques, I am learning how to construct buildings, make furniture, and create firewood with a small quiver of tools.

Every day, we use a decent amount of wood from our stash and need to replenish it.

Though chainsaws are sometimes used here at Koviashuvik, there's a preference for using bow saws to cut fire wood to length.

We'll split these logs once or twice and let them dry for use by future apprentices to use just as we pull from the pile that was split and stacked many months ago by others. Every morning we use a lovely, hand-crafted splitting maul to split them into thinner slices that burn great in our stove.

It's true what's said about wood heating you twice!

When woodworking, we use a different set of tools.

Perhaps second only to the handsaw in usefulness is the drawknife.

It's the tool that stripped the hundreds of fir poles used in various construction projects here at Koviashuvik. It's also the tool I used to strip, shape, and size four legs out of hornbeam wood for a bench I've been making. Here's one of those legs clamped into the shave horse bench, a partner to the draw knife:

On bigger building projects, we've used additional tools to turn trees into shelter. After being cut down, trees that are going to become lumber are cut with a portable saw mill and then "stickered" in stacks for air drying for a year. From there, the rough lumber is often run through a gas-powered planer for smoothing or shaping. We cut the pieces to length with handsaws. Last week I was cutting compound miter cuts in boards for roof sheathing freehand with a handsaw.

Thereafter, I found myself tapering boards into shims only 1/4 inch thick using an axe visually similar to our splitting maul but very different in its utility.

In addition to mortise and tenon construction in the framing of the new classroom building, we nail and screw things together. Fasteners are one of the biggest expenses in the whole building process here. When fine tuning fits and finishes we use tools like block planes and--like I'm using in this picture on the bunk room roof--spoke shaves to get things just how we want.

On my personal goals list was learning about constructing with wood and hand tools. I've recently gotten an abundance and am thankful for the gift from the tree.