Strawbale House Workshop in Arizona

Deciding to build your own strawbale home is a calling.  The first strawbale building I walked into really did call out to me.  Those absurdly thick walls covered in mud plaster, the delightfully lumpy edges and curvy planes said to me stay awhile, touch my surfaces; this space is for living, breathing, daydreaming.  I walked into that gift shop and knew I could never settle for dry wall, plywood and 2x4s again. I took Joe to see it and he also fell in love instantly. When he realized that plaster coated walls are termite resistant, fire resistant, do great in earthquakes, and do a darn good job of blocking out EMFs and wifi, he was completely sold and we began making a plan.

This Canelo Project workshop was our first step toward making our 5 year plan come true.  Bill and Athena Steen are experts in natural building.  Over many years of trial and error, they have developed a system that is so simple, elegant and doable. No fancy machines or expensive materials to build our “mock house” (a house we built and then tore down for learning purposes.)  Just straw, mud, sand, bamboo, wood, and cement blocks for the foundation. Many of the materials can come straight from your own land and last a surprisingly long time.

Housebuilding always seemed impossible to me- this big intimidating project just for men.  But this workshop stripped away the mystique and showed me that it’s possible for any man, women or child with determination to build a strawbale home.

So yay! Anyone can do this! The materials are quite forgiving and any mistake can usually be undone.  But you have to to be a special kind of human to commit yourself to such a project.  You’ve got to be a little crazy.  Putting up the bale walls was the easy  part- took a few hours tops. The hard part? Mixing up the trays and trays of mud plaster to the perfect tuna salad consistency. Applying the many coats with trowels in just the right way. Sculpting the walls, niches, windows and shelves.  These steps cannot be rushed.  They can take months and months.

Beautiful cob shelves.  The artsy finishing touches like these are what I’m looking forward to.
We destroyed a wall and used the bales and plaster to build a new wall. Next year’s class will tear this one down and create something new.

I mostly took this workshop as a trial run, having never built anything before. I had so many questions, mostly about myself.  Can I handle manual labor?  Do I enjoy the process of building something?  Can I live in a construction zone for a year or two?  Will this be worth it?

This workshop encouraged me and freaked me out at the same time.  I doubt I’ll enjoy living in the midst of half-done projects and construction mess for years. It might be a hard and frustrating season in our family’s life. Truth be told, I’m not really excited about the actual building process.  I prefer small handicrafts (like embroidery) that fit in my hands and can be completed in a few sittings.  Building something big scares me.  And I can only guess how many annoying mistakes we will probably make. This is scary for a perfectionistic HSP who likes stability and calm.

But I also know how much I will celebrate this home that our hands have sculpted, made from the clay of our very own land.  The prize will be well worth the struggle.  We will look back and laugh at our struggles and mistakes. Our kids will always remember building their own home.  They will know that they can do something so big.  Who knows what dreams it will inspire in them.

Joe and I posing in front of my favorite structure on the property- the strawbale playhouse! A kids’ dream and a doable project for anyone.

I want to thank Bill and Athena Steen for opening up their brains, home and hearts to us.  They have built a welcoming oasis out in the middle of the desert. I was expecting a strawbale bootcamp of sorts, and ended up having the most relaxing and fulfilling vacation.  Bill and Athena have added new layers of inspiration to this dream of ours. One day we hope to open up our brains, home and hearts to otheres in much the same way.

 

 

 

Lifestyle Design for the HSP

I have a mustache.  No, not that kind.  I’m a mustachian, meaning I subscribe to the philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache. Which is this: save a huge portion of your income (50% or more if you’re a badass!) invest that money wisely, and then retire early while living a humble but fulfilling life doing whatever you love to do.

I came upon his blog 6 months ago when I was finally ready to make radical changes. I was already disillusioned by the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that is considered “normal” in southern California (hence this post).  I had already decluttered my house and my schedule pretty drastically.  I had already come to embrace my highly sensitive nature, and the idea that taking care of myself meant saying no to many things-  obligations, social media, mindless consumption, etc.  This led me to the question- what do I want to say YES to?

My answers:  family time, deep (face-to-face) friendships, my Christian faith,  nature and healing, peace and quiet, .

Mr. Money Mustache’s blog has inspired me to make design my life around these YES’s.  If my family can get off the rat wheel, be freed of the bottomless pit of consumerism, allow our money to work hard for us, then we are truly free to design the lifestyle we want (and need).  It’s like hippie meets savvy investor.  This mustache suits me well.

So here is our dream… In 3 years, you will find me on a 5 acre plot of land living in a small guest home (or tiny home or yurt- TBD) while building our dream home.  Joe will take a 2 year sabbatical to build our straw bale house, but we will all help, including the kids, because it will be the world’s coolest homeschool project.  We will grow much of our own food, raise chickens, the whole deal.  After that 2 years of building, Joe will either work a computer IT job remotely from the comfort of our homestead, or start a completely new career doing one of the many things he’s amazing at (too many to list.).  Of course, there are many steps in between.  You can read this Mr. Money Mustache post for the basic steps we’re taking.  

My message to HSPs who feel trapped by a certain lifestyle,  who long for a simpler life that engages all 5 senses without bombarding them, maybe it’s time to dream big and jump off the wheel.

 

 

Camping is Stressful and Awesome

camping-is-stressfulI just returned from a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Forest.  It was an awesome trip, but I had to apologize to my whole family for being such a complainypants.  I was pretty stressed out and I think I set a bad tone for the trip.  The point of a camping trip is to relax and unwind, right?  It just showed how much control I like to have over my environment, and you can’t control nature.

So why do I camp?  Many HSPs have a special connection to nature.  Open spaces give us permission to slow down, daydream, and breathe.  For example, a day at the beach tingles all 5 senses just enough to keep us pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed the way city life can be.  I also believe strongly in the benefits of physically grounding oneself in nature– digging your feet in the sand, hugging a tree, wading in the water, bathing in sunlight.

As a kid in suburban California, I never got to camp.  My dad was not interested, and my mom was too busy working and holding the family together.  My one and only camping trip took place in 7th grade when my best friend’s hippie family invited me on their backpacking trip in the high Sierras. I’m sure they  didn’t realize what a dead weight I would be.  I remember complaining.  A lot.  About: being devoured by mosquitos (they always like my blood best!  So unfair!), ear pressure and faintness from high altitude, being afraid of slipping off the side of the mountain or falling off the log bridge, etc.  With that family, I’m still infamous for being a complainypants on that trip.  They love me nonetheless, and understand that I’m a product of suburbia.

As an adult, I make it a priority to camp.  My daughter loves it. She’d chose a humble camping trip over a fancy hotel trip any day.  As an HSC, I see her thrive in wild, open spaces.   I am hoping my kids will be rugged and confident outdoors like my husband is, and camping regularly will help nurture that quality.

matteo-nook-1

But let’s be real- camping is called “roughing it” for a reason.  It’s not easy, and nature can be scary, especially for someone who is highly sensitive.

Things that stress me out about camping…

  • Packing light, but not too light.
  • Mosquitoes. Why do they love me and my daughter so much but barely touch my husband and baby? Do mosquitoes like HSP blood more perhaps?  Just a hypothesis 🙂 Also my bites become golf ball sized welts.
  • Fear of wild predators (bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, etc.)
  • Keeping the tent clean and uncluttered and mosquito free.
  • Going potty in nature.  It’s just sooo hard for me.  Perhaps a gadget like this pee funnel might help next time?thanks for your support!
  • Making sure the kids are safe and comfortable.
  • Dangers in general, like falling off a cliff.
  • Worrying about food poisoning because the cooler didn’t keep things cool enough, or I didn’t wash the dishes well enough.  This amazing germ busting cloth helped ease my worries about the latter.  I used this cloth to clean EVERYTHING on this trip, including myself and the kids.
  • Worrying about breaking the rules of the park or getting yelled at by the park rangers. I’m such a goody goody.  I also fear accidentally setting a forest fire.
  • General discomfort of being sweaty, itchy, too hot, too cold, dirty, smelly, etc.

I read this list to my husband and he couldn’t believe all the things going through my head on a camping trip.  He’s the ultimate bare-footed, tree-climbing, rock-scrambling outdoorsman. It’s hard for him to even imagine being stressed in nature.  I’m hoping that by camping several times a year,  I can desensitize myself to some of these worries/fears/discomforts because camping is totally worth it.  The best things in life aren’t always easy, right?

When you read this list, can you relate?  Do you have a complicated relationship with camping, too?

camp-site cholla-garden-2   pesto view