Category Archives: Kat Heatherington

the dance ground, the rain, and the mulch

Over the last couple years, the mulch on our dance ground has gotten very thin, exposing the hard clay to a lot of sunlight, which hardens it further. And enables more weeds to grow. The purpose of the mulch-layer on the dance ground is to prevent weed growth, and to soften the earth under the mulch, so that when we rake it aside for dance events, it is soft on bare feet, and level. Without mulching, the rain/sun cycle leaves the ground very hard and uneven underfoot.

We did not get a new mulch layer accomplished before the solstice, and then that week, Hurricane Bud swept up from Mexico, and it poured! A blessing of rain, an abundance of rain, 1.5″ in one day.

it got a bit muddy.

And then it dried out, over the next couple weeks, into a complete mess.

Last winter when we chipped up the Epic Stick Pile, we provided ourselves with a significant supply of mulch, of which quite a bit was (and is) left. So at the work party in early July, a team of stewards and interns tackled the fire circle and laid down a 3″ layer of mulch throughout!

in process:

and finished:

sticks, redux.

We conquered the stick pile!

First we rented a big landscape chipper. Then we had to get it back to the stick pile. We almost didn’t make it past that part. Plan A had us driving the chipper up the neighbor’s road, and somehow getting this 1800 lb piece of machinery (on wheels) over the ditch. We probably could have done it, with Alan’s bridge plan and enough help, but the timing was really refusing to align, and it became celar that this plan would not manifest. Plan B was to park it in the main ritual ground, which is accessible by truck, and bring the sticks to it. This plan had a major fail-point — bringing that mountain of sticks up would be days and days of work all by itself, not to mention chipping them. It would have been almost certainly unattainable.

Then the day I brought the chipper home, Rev came up with a plan for how to navigate driving through the middle of the property, in spite of lattices, a shade structure, a giant root cellar hole, berming and paths that were not there the last time we did this, in 2008-09. So we got the chipper back to the site, fired it up, and dove into the work! We had 12 hours of run-time on the chipper under our rental contract, and we aimed to use every minute of it to best advantage. We also had help, both that day and the next, and our stalwart crew of volunteers, some of whom had so much fun on the first day that they came back on the second, made our success possible! This was truly a team effort.

here’s our starting condition:

and the team working:

end of the first day

the second day was the official work party day. We all got up with the sun and bundled up, and had the chipper running and teams hauling sticks around by 8 a.m.

That was one long day of noisy machinery, wrestling sticks out of brush piles and into bunches of the right size for the chipper, hauling them over, stuffing branches and sticks and whole small trees into the chipper, getting stuff thrown at us by the chipper, bringing up sunflower stalks from the person-height pile by the compost, wrestling more piles of sticks out of various corners of the property (spoiler: no, we didn’t get them all, but we eliminated more than one gnarly sub-pile completely, and we made really big dents in at least two others). At the beginning, and at various points, someone would grab a wheelbarrow full of mulch and trundle it up to the main ritual ground and bring it back to stick under the outflow chute again, but somewhere alon gthe line we decided to just save that problem for later (haha, this is totally not a perennial pattern for us, of course not…).

By the end of the process, we were dumping barrows full of small stick material, which, as time has shown, does not effectively compost in this climate in less than a geologic era, into the chipper.

and by the time we ran out of time on the chipper, and the sun was beginning to set, we had genuinely succeeded.

As you can see, there are still some sticks available. Since this photo was taken, two truckloads of these larger stumps and logs have found their way to other homes, some to be firewood, some to become a barrel course for our friends at Enchanted Equine Adventures. A couple of friends and several MFA students from the University are coming down in the next few weeks, to pick through the remaining piles and pull out the interesting art logs and stumps that they can make things out of. If you’d like to come down and get some, too, just message me! (email or text is better than leaving a comment here, but that’s an option, too). I’m feeling pretty confident that by planting time, the whole field will be free of large sticks!

this is the blog of apologizing for not making enough blog posts

i aim to post here roughly once a month; apparently I can’t quite manage that this year. too much time goes by and the idea feels larger than it really is, because there is more to catch up on. and of course, there’s other stuff going on, that slows me down. maybe i can make up for it with a couple smaller updates.

so first of all, the wall! we aaaaaaaaalllllmost finished it. as in, to 100% completion. as it stands, we have the east face to complete the final thin finish-coat of plaster on. however, it is entirely stable (and then some! it’s way more done than i originally thought we’d accomplish!) to survive the winter unscathed, and we are very proud of how good it looks and how well it matches the house. this is the best piece of wall we’ve ever built. we learned things! and applied them!

if you want to get in on earthbagging at Sunflower River, next summer might well be your last chance: we will build the final segment of the security wall then.

July:
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November:
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finishing the interior finish-coat:
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we installed some rockin’ gates from Groff Lumber, too.
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i don’t know about you, but i sure am proud of us. and pleased to live behind this wall!

The Penny Floor Project

first off, here’s the whole photoset in one shot.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157647344851667/

So, Jenny and I had been talking about making a penny-tile floor. For those of you who maybe don’t hang out on Pinterest, that means using pennies to tile a floor. it’s cheaper than regular tile (running about $1.44/square foot, vs upwards of $3 for most tile), but of course, since each penny is a tile, it’s more work.

but the results are simply stunning. here’s the finished product.
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and here’s the process in order.

sort pennies: shiny, not-shiny. this step can be skipped if you are not making a pattern, but why make life easier? the pattern totally makes that floor.
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here’s the starting condition of the floor: cement slab, with shower installed.
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we added backerboard:
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and began to make the pattern. 20140711_151923

you can see the florets between the diamonds coming together in the top rows here. 20140711_152255

after a bit, we settled on one person making the pattern, and the other person glueing pennies down. we used epoxy to glue them. 20140711_174750

by the end of the first night, it felt rather like it was coming together. 20140711_203729

then we experienced several setbacks, including shining a batch of pennies ourselves, laying another foot or so of floor, and then having it tarnish over the next two days. that whole section had to be pulled up and redone. we ceased attempting to shine pennies, and instead took them back to the bank and traded them in for new batches, which we then sorted.

eventually, however, we totally did it. IMG_0358

meanwhile, Jenny made a row of penny-tiles on backerboard, and when they installed the shower-surround, added that row to create an accent stripe. IMG_0364

the pennies, both on the wall and in the floor, are grouted just like regular tile, then cleaned.
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Jenny cleaned any debris, marks and unevennesses from the pennies: IMG_0385

and then we sealed the floor.
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the spray-on sealant was cloudy till it set, then cleared.
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isn’t that just gorgeous?
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we’re all very pleased with the final product. our contractor, Bryan, called it “an award-winning bathroom.” it’s already so very worth it.

a whirlwind summer becomes a whirlwind fall

it’s so easy to get so far behind, here. we’ve been running to keep up with ourselves all summer, with the remodel project on top of just running the daily operations of the farm (garden, poultry, interns, events), and as summer begins to drop into fall, we’re still running to stay ahead of all those fronts.

Mahazda is so incredibly close to being finished! we’re hoping that this year’s Thanksgiving gathering will be our housewarming. Jenny and Tristan have been working themselves ragged getting various projects in Mahazda done, and all of us have been pitching in as much as we can. there are so very many pieces to a functioning house. all that’s left at this point is the kitchen cabinetry (Rev is working on that as I write this!) and tiling the west bathroom, which has Jenny and Tristan working hard. at some point we’ll do baseboards & shelving and some built-in furniture type things, but those are all kind of optional and later. we’ll move in before that.

so as usual, my photos are kind of out-of-date. what with all the running, and events, and working, and the most intense fall semester i’ve had in several years.

so here’s some shots of further work in the house, as of a couple weeks ago. and it’s moving *fast* right now! with any luck i’ll manage to take more pics this weekend, but don’t hold your breath for another post next week; i’m still slammed at work and barely keeping track of my to-do list.

wood sills and wood floors
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Jenny masterminded this super-cool bathroom floor. before you ask, yes, of course it was a lot of work. but just look at it! we get to live with that forever now. and that’s not work at all. it’s pleasure.
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the penny floor will get its own full photo-post in a moment.

Gawain’s room gets a wainscot of alternating blackboard & whiteboard, for drawing or writing on the walls. IMG_0370

transom windows in both bathrooms: IMG_0373

you can see the concept of what the kitchen is going to become, here. process shots. IMG_0375
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the dishwasher goes next to the sink, the range top goes into the counter there, the cupboards all get painted a matching deep blue, and the oven/microwave/etc stack goes to the right of the range, fridge to the right of that. i think. we’ll be moving the fridge in on sunday, which will no doubt clarify the layout in my mind!

slate tile in the back hallway/ utility area/ west bathroom. the wall is wholly painted now. IMG_0376

transitions: IMG_0379

Tristan working on the windowsill in the great room: IMG_0384

finishing the windowsills: IMG_0388

Jenny cleaning up the pennies before sealing the floor: IMG_0385

the end of the night:
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turkeys in the snow

every year, we process around forty turkeys for the thanksgiving market (including a few for our own table). these are the cage-free heritage-breed birds that we raise up from hatchlings starting in March. they are beautiful creatures, and get up to around 18 pounds. because they’re raised outside, and they’re heritage birds, and also because we sell them fresh, not frozen, they are juicy and delicious. we all really enjoy eating them.

saturday & sunday we got up early in cold grey weather to process turkeys. both days the energy was high and we got our day’s work done. saturday we got shut down early by freezing wind, which made it impossible to keep the scalder up to temperature. first time we’ve ever had that problem. so we knocked off before noon, and made up the difference the next day. both days we had good volunteer turn-out, though sunday’s was impacted by the snows. several of the people who didn’t want to drive down on icy roads in the morning, did so in the afternoon to pick up their bird, and the rest made arrangements with us to get their birds. i took wednesday off work, and spent most of it selling turkeys. and a lot of people did come down over the weekend, and the day’s energy was fun. I had great conversations with people all day, and heard other fun conversations going on all around me.

sunday while we were working, we got about a half-inch of snow. no rain. because it was snow, the air was very still, and it was actually pretty nice to work in, if muddier than we are used to. we did 18 birds on saturday and 24 birds on sunday, and now the barnyard is quiet for the winter. nobody left but the laying hens and the dog. on sunday we finished with turkeys around noon, including clean-up, since we had an abundance of volunteers to put to the final tasks.

a few photos from the day:

family education and involvement
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scalding (you can see our super-professional set up, here — it’s a water trough propped on saw horses over a camp stove, with a tinfoil windscreen. that stick i’m using to push the bird into the water? that stick is THE tool; we’ve used that same one for six years now. it’s got a fork that’s exactly the right angle and size to dunk a bird.
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the scalded bird goes into the plucker, without its feet, which jam the plucker.
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our whiz-bang poultry plucker in action (thanks to Chad Person for the photograph!)
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Thistle really enjoys a good turkey foot. she enjoys all of them, actually, though we usually save them up to dole out as treats over a month or more.
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the enthusiastic butcher crew. this is Hannah, enjoying the morning’s work.
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most people work the butcher table.
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we didn’t need to use ice to keep the birds cool this year. the daytime temp never exceeded that of the interior of a refrigerator.
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Alan and Dave wrap some hearts.
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i promised i’d publish this. Dave, photobombing the butcher crew with a head. you’re welcome.
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sunday’s snowfall (the blood from the butchering goes into the garden, to enrich our iron-poor soil).
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working in the snow
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in the late morning, the sky cleared, and the work moved fast. Chery and I had a lovely conversation over our work.
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and here is the lovely little snowfall:

broomcorn in the field
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the garden
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the north drive (look at that beautiful wall in the snow)
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the front drive
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wheelbarrow
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sunflowers, resting after their successful mission of total farm domination this summer
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snow dog:
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spotted towhee
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the rest of the photos are on our flickr page, here:

turkey day: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157638065392304/
snow: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157638064681325/

and we also received this wonderful approbation from Tristan’s mother Britta, after the holiday:

“I will now take this opportunity to tell you how impressed I am that you and your volunteers spent those cold, snowy and windy days slaughtering turkeys so the feast of thanksgiving could be held. The next time one of my geezer friends moans and groans about how irresponsible and lazy young people are today I will whip out my tale of the turkey slaughter held outdoors during a winter storm. I thank you for adding to my store of stories.

“As a final note, I want to share with you what happened on the way home. Someone made a joke about eating in a sardine can. I piped up that next year we should be about to gather in the great room at Mahazda where there will be room to seat 40. Deb observed that when that happens you will invite 50. That perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sunflower River Farm and the stewards who have created that haven in the South Valley.”

absolutely. we’ve never been accused of an insufficiency of ambition, not even when it comes to hosting a good party.

on that cheerful note: we paid off the mortgage on Sunflower River last month! and closed on the construction loan for Mahazda this week. rolling right on through. we can start construction on the remodel in the next couple weeks!

Kat: Mahazda floorplan

Here is the promised image of our brilliant new floorplan for the “new” house.

FloorPlanRemodelWithWall

In this image, north is the top. so what is marked as the kitchen, is where the garage presently is, etc. the central adobe area becomse the common room. we like this, because it preserves the structural heart of the old house as the living heart of the new. we also like this layout because it provides a generous allottment of space for everything — the bedrooms, the office, the common room, the kitchen. a utility room, a mudroom area so we really can avoid tracking through the house, especially during mud season. two bathrooms. (TWO. just in that house. for a total of THREE on the farm. this sounds so heavenly. unless you have lived with six people and one bathroom, you have no idea.)

five minds are so much more powerful than any one by itself. this plan took all of us, in synergy, to create, and we are all so delighted with it.

Kat: 2013 Annual Retreat

This is maybe a bit non-linear, and i apologize if that impacts its readability. I’ll do my best.

Each year, Sunflower River takes a long weekend retreat to connect with each other, evaluate our current situation and our long-term goals, and plan our next year. For a variety of reasons, last year’s retreat was really rough for everybody, and we all went into this year’s with a certain amount of trepidation. But we also all showed up with the will to hear each other, ensure that we were all heard, and to repair the rifts. Every one of us stepped up and did their best, and it really showed. By the first night, we were all a lot calmer and clearer, and by the last day, we had accomplished a very great deal, on personal, organizational, and planning levels. It was magical, in the particular way that committment, integrity, love and intensity of purpose combined can be.

This is what our Retreats look like, pretty much for four days.
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Rev is on track to become a Sunflower River Steward. So we re-visited this conversation:

What Makes a Steward?
–decision-making authority supported by the group
–personal projects & visions supported by the group, & as they impact SR, funded & assisted
–our responsibility to take care of the place and each other; we take ownership of the responsibility (as well as of the land and our actions)
–we cannot pass the buck.
–willingness to step up to all this
–focus on action & creation
–philosophical alignment/ acceptance by the group
–intensity of purpose
–1+ year on the land before attending a Retreat
–attending/participating in a Retreat
–accept increased responsibility and do well with it; make decisions that are aligned with the group
–committment (ongoing: we are not walking away from this)
–we don’t account for each other’s time
–we pay what we can, and put in as much time as we can

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In sorting out what exactly it is that we are doing and why we are doing it, we developed the following pyramid, derived loosely from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

SR’s hierarchy of needs:

                                   emotional/
   T                             family support
   h
   r                              Stewardship
   i                              
   v                     Project Process (how we perform 
   e                              what we do)

                  Decision Making (how we arrive at what we do)
              
Qualitative 
____________________________________________________________________________

Quantitative
    S                         Operational Control
    u                            (what we do)
    r         
    v                          Resource Control
    i    
    v                      Critical Infrastructure
    e           (water, food, electricity, money, communication)


Why are we here?
-belonging
-group-decision making and problem solving
-retirement security
-participation in a coherent culture that is not a monoculture
-spiritual connection
-resource sharing
-inter-sufficiency
-home base
-something larger than oneself
-opportunity to be stretched & challenged
-surviving/thriving in a changing world
-moral & tangible support for manifesting personal goals

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new projects: barnyard grows north; expanded animal housing. new workshop 20′ square under north elms. Alan’s experimental greenhouse, southeast garden corner. MZ field is 70’x170′; community building as an “addition” to MZ, in field, south-facing.

Gawain’s first acro.
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Social Contract: we have to feel safe enough to say things are broken, without it being blame-oriented, so that we can talk it out and fix it, without brokenness-reporting being a primary goal, but a tool we actually have access to — “no fault fail”

Project Control System
Needs:
–functionality to handle increased complexity on an increased number of projects
–autonomy
–everyone’s needs getting met in project implementation
–efficiency of time & decision-making
–high quality outcomes
–consistent, obvious process
–iteration — feedback — sign-off — project completion — retrospective/evaluation

Project Control
System
1. Temperature Check
2. Background/Context (R&D)
3. Initial Proposal/ Problem Statement
4. Needs Assessment (and modifications as needed to accomodate needs; lather/rinse/repeat)
5. Formal Proposal
6. Stewards all sign off. Project cannot substantively change without bumping back to needs/proposal stage.
7. Do the work. Update everybody as it goes. Hydras are possible here, and they send the project back to Needs/Proposal.
8. Evaluation/Retrospective

formal proposal includes: budget, design, roles, resources, timeline, evalution of risk, operational impact.
sign off must be all Stewards together in person. sign-off expires (needs-re-upping) in six months. sign-off can’t be retracted (no “just not feeling it today” style regrets after that point).

Mahazda

we then spent an entire day sorting out the new floorplan for the now-mostly-gutted Mahazda house (MZ). it’s fantastic. we are collectively so much more brilliant than any of us could be individually. we’re going to make the oldest part of the house, the central big adobe room, into the common room. this is also the largest open space in the house, and making it the community space honors the spirit of the dwelling.

details: if we can put a clerestory roof & windows over the kitchen, we will; we’ll price that out. we want to do a strawbale wrap for insulation. heat is an open question — as passive as possible, but then what? wood floors. light colors, like white oak or similar. sun tunnels in the roof of the kitchen and common room. bay windows in the breakfast nook, office, Jenny’s room, and common room. we can start seeds in them. enlarge the common room window. french doors into the kitchen (where the garage door presently is). all doors in the hallway open away from the hall.

Usages: Jenny & Gawain move into MZ; G gets his own room. Tristan moves into Jenny’s current room. Cottage livingroom becomes the Library; cottage south bedroom becomes the Craft Room. MZ also holds an office, a large common room, a generous kitchen (at last!), with a breakfast nook, a utility/mud room area at the back door, and two bathrooms, at the front & back of the house. (i’ll try to post an image of the new floor plan. we moved EVERYTHING. the garage is the kitchen, the “back bedroom” is the breakfast nook, the whole adobe center remains open for common space, the kitchen is G’s room, the livingroom divides into office and J’s room. Bryan wins and we do put a bathroom where the pantry was [he initially said we would], and the back bathroom is at the far back of what is presently the garage but will be the kitchen.)

House Meeting

House Meeting has been variously broken for a while now. we identified three needs it fulfills: planning, emotional support, and social time together. we blew it once through overplanning (we drowned in our agenda) and once by failing to be capable of providing emotional support for each other. we are addressing that. new house meeting strategy: dedicated planning meeting the first week of every month. other meetings will be social, and we’ll do something together (even if that is to just chill, or do any kind of activity one can do on a wednesday evening), and who is in charge of organizing the activity (or picking up the beer, you know) will rotate, alphabetically, amongst us all. this should take a lot of pressure off, stretch us in interesting ways socially, and provide some real fun. as well as providing a dedicated planning space. we’ll re-evalute this system in 3 months to see if it’s working, or if we need to tweak it, or if we need to pitch it and try something else new.

Electrical Infrastructure

sooner or later, we need to make the Cottage be 200 amp instead of 100. unfortunately, this will require re-wiring some or all of the cottage, and the pump house. the barn is probably okay given that we are going to build a workshop, so the tools will move. eventually. things that will probably stay on conventional grid for a while: cottage, MZ, barn, hottub, workshop. Things that could go solar incrementally, much sooner: potting shed, greenhouse, AP system, yurts, barnyard (coop lights), hexayurts (proposed wwoofer housing we plan to build in the green belt this summer), abbatoir area. we’d like to create a series of small independent systems with interchangeable parts, so that it will scale up, and integrate.

Here’s Gawain cleaning up after us:
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every retreat needs cute animal pictures.
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and it’s awfully nice to come home to this:
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Kat: catching up

i get so behind on this. I have Mahazda updates on the demolition work, we remodelled the Cottage bathroom a couple weeks ago, we’re working on tilling the garden for Spring, and then this past weekend, my beloved cat Tattersall died.

it all gets to be a bit too much, sometimes.

and then, you know, it’s not really too much. it’s just life, and it keeps moving, and one of the things that falls by the wayside is making time to update the interwebs. for much steadier information on what we’re up to, do consider “liking” us on facebook.

anyway.

the demolition proceeds apace, and we’ll be at it again this Sunday, tearing out the remaining bathroom wall, the floors, and the kitchen. Feb 16th will be the rest of whatever we don’t get done this Sunday. hopefully. we might have a make-up day in March. then we’re going on retreat, during which we will Scheme a great deal, and come out with a solid plan for where the new walls and rooms go (because we are re-imagining this house), and we’ll turn that, and the house, over to the contractor. soon!

a couple weeks ago, we entered the next phase of the Cottage bathroom remodel, which process found me on my knees, re-tiling the bathroom in the middle of the night. (well, 10pm, which i totally did to myself. and for the record, Gawain is heroic at Sleeping; he can sleep through a remodel going on one wall away. it’s wonderful.) as Jenny put it, she and i spent the weekend trapped in a bathtub with a good friend & two razorblades. cleaning grout! and removing the old wall-tile-caulk. and making truly appalling caulk jokes. all day. plus we redid the floors. Jenny and Rev removed all the cabinetry, & chipped out the old tile. Then we repainted the room, tiled the floor with nice tile, and put some of the cabinetry back, and replaced others of it with these nice new shelves Rev has been building. and we cleaned and cleaned and cleaned that poor bathtub, and it is really much nicer now. we levelled up. There will be one more phase of this project, when the final shelf is built & installed, and then we’re fully finished. meanwhile the room is actually quite nice.

and then, on a more personal note, my sweet old cat, Tattersall, who was made entirely of Love, died last weekend. he has been failing since autumn, when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. sunday night, i came home from a weekend full of circus events (y’all knew i’m in the circus, right? well, and so. it’s a semi-recent development.) to find that the cat, who had chosen to stop eating about a week and some before, was no longer able to walk, nor interested in drinking water when it was brought to him. i knew then that it would be very soon. he died peacefully, at home, surrounded by his people and by love, because he had chosen his time. it was a very gentle way to go. Alan and I were both able to be there for him at the end.

we buried him the next day on the edge of the small ritual ground. in the spring, i will plant a lilac there, where it will grow big with flood waters, and honor his memory.