Earthen Oven and News For The Week

Sunday, July 20th:

One of the highlights of living in Katywil that Judy has been looking forward to is the outdoor earthen oven. The oven was built as part of a workshop on building earthen ovens that was held here in Katywil 3 years ago.   There are many ways to build an earthen oven. This oven has a hollow stone base made from stone gathered from the Katywil property. The hollow base was filled with dirt, followed by a layer of sand, a layer of glass bottles mixed in with perlite (the perlite is an insulator) and a final layer of sand on top of that. The base is also a bit of a time capsule of sorts: I am told that Charles buried a few plaster figurines from his childhood in the base layer of dirt, adding a fun twist to the construction. The top layer of sand had to be very carefully leveled because it acted as the substrate for the firebricks that were laid down. The stone base was built just high enough, to waist level to make it easy to load and unload the oven. The firebricks were laid down very tightly together, sand was then washed down in between the bricks to fill any gaps. Finally to make the dome of the oven, a wet sand mold of the inside of the oven was made with a parabolic width to height ratio. Layers of mud were built up on top of the sand mold. The first layer was a clay/dirt/sand mix.  The next layer was a cobb layer with some straw mixed in, the straw imparting some strength to the dome in addition to acting as a binder.  This was followed by a layer with a slightly higher straw content, and then a layer of sand and clay coating outside. The final layer on the outside was a layer lime plaster.  Haynes has taken IR measurements in the dome and has measured internal temperatures of up to 800F. This Saturday afternoon Katywil was having an open house and potluck party, so we were firing up the oven. and using it for pizza making. Judy enjoyed shadowing Haynes and getting a lesson in how the oven was made and how it is fired up. Judy is looking forward to getting another sourdough starter going and milling wheat again. Hopefully next time the oven is fired up she can try baking her bread in the oven.


Paul and Monique helping to start the fire in the oven
Paul and Monique helping to start the fire in the oven
The fire is going!
The fire is going!

News from the rest of the week: it has been a busy week with some ups and downs thrown in. Last Sunday Judy noticed she had sustained a nasty bite. It was rather large and inflamed, and showed the typical “bulls eye” that is characteristic of tick bites. The first thing we did on Monday morning was to pay a visit to the local walk-in clinic in Greenfield. The doctor thought it might be either a bite from a brown recluse spider (not good) or a tick bite (generally OK if caught on time). Lyme disease is fairly common in this part of the country. However if antibiotics are administered early, it is generally not a problem. The good doctor ordered labwork to determine if it was a spider or tick bite, but then realized that we were new to the area and uninsured. Since labwork is costly, we briefly put it on hold while we signed up for MassHealth. Massachusetts has a universal health care system that was instated by Mitt Romney roughly 10 years ago. Signing up for MassHealth was on our “To Do” list, but all of a sudden it moved into the top spot on the priority list. So, the bite story has a good ending because it forced us to get on to the health insurance program ASAP. In CA we had signed up with MediCal after Judy’s employment ended however there is a 6 month backlog and waiting period before the application would be reviewed. We are told that our MassHalth cards should arrive within 1 week. We also learned when we signed up that  the MassHealth sign-up system is currently “broken” (not sure exactly what that means) but it is estimated that it will take 6 months to fix. So in the interim as a result everyone is being granted “full coverage”! Right now we think this is a great deal for us. Judy got the labwork done, and the doctor also started her on a 2 week course of doxycycline in the event that the bit was a tick bite.

Also this week in the midst of dealing with the bite incident and health insurance sign up process, the Ford Ranger broke down Monday evening as we were leaving Greenfield to go back up to Katywil. Haynes to the rescue! Our neighbor Haynes just happened to be 2 exits away on I-91 and he came by to pick us all up (Paul, Judy, Monique and Sophie) and take us back to Katywil. Since we have not yet built the robust winterproof nighttime lockup shelter for the goats, the goats have been overnighting in the pickup truck.   That night though with the pickup truck sitting in the Big Y parking lot in Greenfield it would have to be their first night out in the open. It was promising to be another stormy night, so Haynes helped Paul put 3 sides on the goat shelter as the rain started to come down. What we were most concerned about was the threat from possible predators to the goats, and in particular coyotes. We made sure that the electric fence was ON and left them for the night. The night was indeed another stormy rainy lightening night, but the shelter kept them dry and the electric fence kept them safe. All was right in the world of the goats in the morning, the goats survived and were happy. The truck story also has a good ending. The next morning our Hero Haynes gave us a ride back to Greenfield. AAA towed the truck to the local Ford dealer (I can hear the jokes “Found On Road Dead”, “Fix Or Repair Daily”). It turns out that the problem was a simple electrical connection that a few zip ties took care off! All jokes aside, the Ford Ranger has been outstanding and unbelievably useful in our move for both the people and the goats. Thank you Sam, a thousand timesJ

On the house construction front, we are still costing out the options for building our home. Right now we are costing out 3 options. Using Bensonwood Builders and building one of the their small Unity homes has not been eliminated but we are also pricing out the cost of building the same floor plan as a conventional on site stick built home. We are also exploring the possibility of using an on site timber frame builder. We have moved ahead with making plans for the well. The first of two well drillers walked our lot and gave us cost estimates. The Katywil site engineering plans had our well located at the bottom of our lot in a heavily wooded and steep drop off. In addition to having to pump the water back up 300 ft to the top of our lot where the house will be located and having to dig the trench up to the top, locating the well on this original site would require larger gauge electrical cable.   Additionally trees would have to be cleared from the well site before the well could be drilled, and some earth work would need to be done upfront to provide a level area for the drilling equipment. All of this would amount to an additional 3-6K cost! Not good news. However with the well driller here we explored the possibility of locating the well up the top of our lot in front of the proposed house site. We took some measurements, and it seems very doable. This alternative well site is located more than the required 100ft away from any of our neighbor’s septic systems and meets the setback requirements from the road.

Communications to friends and family continue to be a bit of a challenge for us. We do not yet have a land phone line and it may be some months before we get this. There is no cell phone service in the valley, and it will be some years before cell phone service gets here. We can however get cell phone service when we go into Greenfield, so we pick up all our messages when we go in to town. We are very thankful to our neighbors for making their landlines available to us when we need to make phone calls. Internet service here is via satellite only. It tends to be expensive and is not the most reliable, but it works. We are investigating the possibility of temporarily installing a satellite dish on the camper which we can later move to next to the house when it is built. Meanwhile, many thanks again to our neighbors for sharing their satellite service with us. Finally, the various websites where we have accounts (banks, sonic, Hotmail etc) do not seem to like the fact that we keep connecting via a different network and we constantly run into security violation issues. We have managed to overcome all of this except one instance. Paul has been locked out of his Hotmail account! Despite hours of trying to get around the issues and restore his account, so far no success. So, he has reactivated his old yahoo account. If you would like to send Paul email and no longer have that old email address, please send email to Judy’s Tasman account and she will send Paul’s email address to you. Our plan right now is to arrange satellite internet service, and then get VoIP phones or use Skype for phone calls. Please bear with us while we figure this out!

We ended the week by attending our first Katywil Property Owners Association (KPOA) meeting on Saturday Morning. These meetings are the monthly meetings for the members of Katywil Cohousing. Paul and Judy were mostly in absorb mode as we came up to speed on the various Katywil issues, experienced the meeting process and roles, and were filled in on a lot of history to date. It was an excellent meeting and the process used to run these meetings is very efficient and impressive (note to Corporate America: take a lesson or two from Cohousing organizations!). At the meeting Paul raised the issues regarding our original well site and our proposal to move the well site to the front of the lot. Right now this seems pretty doable. On Monday we will visit Colrain township and apply for the permit.

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