Springtime in the Rockies

•31 May 11 • Leave a Comment


In spite of a couple of May snowstorms, its feeling very much like spring here on the mountain.  The goats we milk 1x/week have had three sets of twins so far, and there is a baby yak that was rejected by the herd who lives next to the goats and loves to suck on human fingers in his pursuit of a meal.


Wildflowers are starting to bloom, hummingbirds are whizzing through the air,  and the spring winds have been reliably relentless.  I’ve been volunteering a few hours per week on the mountain farm, planting in the greenhouse and in the ground.  Jeff constructed a small hoop house here on our land and he’s been planting pots of full of veggies and flowers.

I had a successful and fun tour of NM and Colorado with my friend Matt Meighan last month.  I met lots of kind folks and saw some beautiful landscapes.  We’ve had a couple of pickin’ party potlucks at our place, and music has been a central theme lately.  Jeff built a washtub bass, and he also acquired an upright bass and a mountain dulcimer, and finally got the old banjo all put back together.  We’ve been working out a few songs and he’s pretty much a natural on bass.  Which is a good thing because bass players are a little hard to come by around here.


The biggest news is that we’ve started living in the house.  Its still under construction, and probably will be for a couple more seasons, but we have a nice temporary kitchen set-up and its so nice to have all this room.  Even though the house is only about 560 sq. ft. living space (400 sf footprint), it seems like a mansion compared to the trailer.  Jeff is working on finishing the framing and straw downstairs, and then I’ll have plenty to do for the next weeks and months ahead getting it all mudded.

In a couple of weeks, Jeff will be participating in a permaculture workshop at the Lama Foundation, which is a really great opportunity.  We’ve been enjoying getting to know the people who live there and have been volunteer cooks about 1x/month for them. We were recently featured in a blog on off-grid living for Mother Earth News magazine, and they also used a photo of Jeff taking a bath in the outdoor tub for a column about DIY creative reuse of cast iron tubs.

Cassien’s Finch and a Black headed Grosbeak ..


New kid Rusty, Choir, and Forestry .. oh my!

•4 April 11 • 2 Comments

Introducing our newest family member, Rusty the orange tabby, yeah!  He has fit in here remarkably well and smoothly.  He spent the first few days carefully slinking around through the dogpile and got to meet Palo, they became quick friends.  One of the reasons we were wanting another cat was to give Palo a buddy, but also to have an extra mouser around the property  ..  However, I think the new kid may be dyslexic, rather than catching the mouse in the house, he caught a mouse outside then brought in in alive and let it go!  Good thing Kate wasn’t here at the moment.  When he’s not out mousing at night, he stay very close, insisting on sharing our pillows.




Kate has joined the Taos community choir.  They are singing “Elijah” and she has been recruited in as the soprano understudy for solo parts, and will be doing a series of performances in May.  Kate’s friend Matt Meighan from Portland will be visiting the area soon and the two of them are heading off on a two-week tour between Albuquerque and Boulder, CO.  Check Kate’s website for tour dates.

I ended up not having to ‘take on’ the Forest Service after all, but more so maybe joined them.  The short story is that there is a proposed thinning project immediately adjacent to our northern property line for the purpose of creating a fuel break for potential forest fire.  The actual work would be carried out by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.  So in the end, I have become the community liaison between Lama and RMYC in an effort to make this a collaborative project.  As a result, I have also begun a pretty serious study of silviculture, forest ecology, and fire risk management.  I also enjoy a nice hot tub on cool early spring days ..

It feels very much now like spring has sprung.  Though even this morning we has an inch of snow ;-|  The past week has been a little breezy, but quite warm occasionally pushing 70!  With spring in the air, we are getting started again working on the building.  Kate has been mud plastering the walls in the loft, while I have been working on building a new dog yard area and various landscape projects.  We are looking forward to a busy and productive work season and will be moving into the loft “soonish”.

Winter Vacation

•14 February 11 • 2 Comments

self portrait

We’ve been taking a break from the building and other projects since our last writing – you might say we’re on an extended winter break.  Being on the mountain makes it easy to be in sync with the natural rhythm of the seasons, and winter has been quiet except for a few species of birds and the occasional coyote howl.  Everyone here is doing fine staying nice and toasty in our “cozy” ol’ Argosy.

We’ve gotten a couple more snow storms, including one that brought some of the coldest temperatures in New Mexico history.  This storm really drove home the advantages to off-grid living.  Due to rolling blackouts in Texas, the natural gas pipeline from there to New Mexico lost pressure and the gas company turned off service to many areas of the state, including Taos. People who rely on this for-profit, privately owned  “public utility” to heat their homes and cook their food and heat their water were left literally out in the cold for an entire week, while temperatures dropped to -25 degrees.  We were not directly affected, other than our favorite restaurants being closed, but were saddened as we listened to the radio for several days and heard person after person calling in feeling desperate as the (Minnesota owned) New Mexico Gas Company displayed a high level of incompetence and arrogance in dealing with the situation – a bad combination.  Homes were frozen to the point of broken pipes, businesses and schools were closed, and stores ran out of electric heaters.

On a happier note, the storms have also brought lots of fun with them.  I went snowshoeing with the dogs on New Years Day, which was a great way to kick off 2011.  This past weekend, we had a sledding party on our road.  Its about 1/2 mile from top to bottom, and we got a disc saucer and a tobaggon.  Funny enough, the best ride was Jeff’s river kayak – worked great on the frozen river that is our road.  He spent the day taking kids from the mountain up and down the road and they had a great time.

Click here to watch Jeff’s ‘luge style’ sled-cam ..

Now the temperatures are starting to get warmer and the snow has largely melted from our sled run, slowly morphing to the seasonal mud.  But of course, winter isn’t over yet…

Stay tuned for upcoming stories:

  • a new cat
  • Kate joins the Taos Community Choir
  • Jeff takes on the Forest Service

sighs of anticipation & the return of the Sun

•27 December 10 • 3 Comments
Mona tries out for roller derby!
“Mona Spumoni”

‘you tawkin’ to me?’

We’ve been making steady progress on the house, and ironically the more we get done the smaller the trailer seems and the more eager we are to get moved over.  Our  friend  Todd came over and helped Jeff set the wood stove so we’ve been having fires in there regularly, both for warmth as we work and to help the mud dry out.  I finished staining the floor boards for the loft and Jeff got them all put in. Right about then, our neighbor Adrian, who is a rug dealer, brought us a Persian rug as a housewarming gift.  We’re saving it until the mud is all on the walls, as it is pretty dirty work.

Ravi,  another friend on the mountain who has worked on a lot of straw bale buildings, came over and showed us how to get started mudding the bales, and the upstairs has a first coat done.  We’re planning to get a second coat on the walls up there and then we’ll move in upstairs.

We’ve also had our eyes open for things we need, trying to  to find used things that are still in good condition.  In the last couple of weeks we’ve found an oven on Craigslist, a 100 pound propane tank on Trash and Treasures (a call-in radio show on a local station where people can advertise things they are trying to unload), and a unique galvanized metal ceiling fan from Habitat for Humanity

We’re continuing to plug into the community  as much as we can.  Possibly against my better judgement, I’ve become vice-president of the school board for the Roots and Wings, the charter middle school on the mountain.   I also volunteered to feed the goats at the ranch once a week. Jeff is getting involved with a sustainability council that is getting started on the mountain, incorporating the school, the ranch, and all the various non-profits, animal scenes, and vegetable growings, and other community based activities.  He’s been feeding the yaks for a few days while Daniel, the main ranch hand, is out of town.  He also helped our friend Surya change the alternator in her car.

The weather is still pretty mild for this time of year, but we have gotten a couple of snow storms.  The dogs love it – they bounce around like a bunch of puppies.  We’ve been having our share of fun too.  I played a show in Taos on Solstice and a bunch of folks from the mountain came [watch on youtube].  The next day we went to a gingerbread-house building party, Lama style.  This gingerbread house was an adobe and it included an outhouse, a goat pen, even goats and chickens and an horno. .  We shared Solstice/ Christmas dinner with about 10 other folks, and the food and company was excellent.

All this and it isn’t even the New Year yet!

Be Careful What You Wish For…

•30 November 10 • 3 Comments

Before we moved to the mountain, I kept saying I wanted to be more physically active and engaged in my life.  Not the going to the gym for $500/year kind of physical activity, but the shoveling dirt/carrying stuff/getting dirty kind of physical activity.  And I got my wish.  I’ve worked physically harder since moving here than I have in the previous 30-some-odd years put together.

Gathering firewood is one such activity.  I knew we’d be doing this, but I didn’t know how much work it would be.  As Jeff told me, firewood warms you up three times…when you get it, when you cut it up, and when you burn it.  On a recent wood-gathering expedition, we hauled two dead ponderosas out in pieces to the truck, and I can tell you that is harder than it sounds.

In spite of the occasional sore muscles, I love it.  Sleep is so much sweeter, food tastes so much better, and we aren’t paying some faceless utility company to keep us warm in the winter.

Speaking of keeping warm, we’re managing to do pretty well even though the temperatures at night drop well below freezing.  I’m learning how to dress in layers, and the woodstove in the trailer does a pretty good job.  We’re also getting closer by the day to moving into the house.  Jeff got the last of the windows in, and we’re working on the floorboards upstairs.  Just a little more straw and a little mud…


On another note, I’ve been playing monthly at a sweet little place in Taos called the Adobe Bar.  Its inside an historic hotel by the plaza, the money is good, and the gig isn’t too much past our bedtimes.

We had our first Thanksgiving on the mountain and ended up going to not one but two feasts, including one at the Lama Foundation, which is the last remaining 60’s commune in the area.   We are reminded how much we have to be grateful for this year, moving to this beautiful mountain full of kind, generous, like-minded people.




first snow & house dried in

•14 November 10 • 3 Comments

It seems just in time as the temps continue to drop approaching winter.  It is about 12*F this morning, though daytime in the bright sun still continues near 60*.  And just in time that we now have the house all dried in.  House wrap around the outside is all temporary for the season since we won’t be getting to any of the exterior plastering this season – that will be next summers project.


We are still on target for getting moved in to the loft around Thanksgiving.  From there, we will work on doing the mud-plaster on the inside through the winter.  Already the whole building heats up nicely during the day from the direct solar gain with the building oriented toward the low winter sun.  Most of the windows are in, but for the big ones in front which I still need to build frames for, and the two doors are in – the front doors and another in the loft opening to a future deck off the back.



The antique doorknob came from Uncle Bruce along with some old handtools, so we were able to make nice use of it as a decorative bit.  About 3/4 of the strawbales are stacked in the walls now, still some left over the top of the windows.  We planned for maybe 75 extra strawbales we will use for the garden** next season.  In the meantime, we needed a place to stack them outside to make space in the house, and we also needed some sort of covered tool shed area – so we built a little strawbale “garage” to get us through the winter.  Eventually, the trailer we’re in now will become the tool shed, but we have to get moved over first ..


** strawbales in the garden —  a method we used in Oregon was to turn a strawbale on edge, then cover with 3-4 inches of topsoil with a small edge border to hold in the dirt.  We then plant this with salad mix and have a nice little lettuce garden all summer.  The application here is a little different.  The native soil here is not so good for planting in – heavy clay is hard for roots to penetrate and doesn’t hold water well, mostly just runs off. 

So the experiment we did was to bury the strawbale into the ground creating a water sink and loose material for roots to move into.  It worked great and we had a little one strawbale worth of gardening oasis.  So the building of our new garden area for next season will be to bury these extra 75 bales then cover with 6-10 of finished compost.  Yes this will be a lot of work, but we only do it one time and it will continue to produce for years.

 Kate and I are doing well and adjusting to the cold seasons easily enough.  The little woodstove we have in the trailer has been plently sufficient to keep us and all the pups & Palo the cat comfortable – though mornings are chilly, the days heat quite nicely. 

Thanks to all of you who have been supporting our project here and reading our story with interest.  And Kate won’t like that I mention this here, but remember her Big Black 40th birthday coming in ten days.  Best regards, ~jeff & kate

busy week on the hay barn ..

•26 October 10 • 1 Comment

So, this is what we have to deal with now, 312 bales of straw in our house .. we have about 75 more than we need, extra for the garden next year, the rest go into the walls.  We have gotten started some, but it’s a bit slow going with all the windows – most bales need individual attention to be fit – the small building (<600 s.f.) means not many long runs of walls, so most bales need to be fit around windows, doors, and corners.

The following picture here is Carlos delivering out full load and the end of the driveway.  I am pointing toward the back where the building is and we shuttle the bales all back in loads of the pickup truck.  We had about eight of our neighbors out to help on this day.  Carlos asked if we were Amish ..

Later that afternoon, a pair of woodpeckers quickly moved in, or at least came looking for a quick meal.  The following day, all our metal roof material was delivered and we got that installed right away.  Now we have a dry roof to work under while we set the rest of the bales.


Mona has also been hard at work, helping eat all the dog treats and some napping.  I don’t have the pics out of the camera yet, but we got our first snow last night – not around the house yet, but higher up on the mountain .. more on that next time.  But we did build our first fire of the season yesterday.


As usual, there are more pics over at the flickr site, mostly of framing details comvered in last weeks video.