I can hardly recall such a dynamic, diverse year as 2014. 2014 marked a transition year for April and I, and I’m happy to say that it was a smooth one. It was our first year living in the Berea, Kentucky area, having left Dancing Rabbit in the fall of 2013. This move was not an insignificant event, as I spent seven full and formative years in the northeast Missouri ecovillage.
I like to think back on the year past and try to remember all that has happened — maintaining this blog is actually an important way for me to be able to do that. It’s as much about documenting what we’re up to as it is a way for me to preserve some of life’s countless details. Here I’ll share some of the notable events and experiences of 2014, the year of our transition into a new life outside of Berea, Kentucky.
2014 Year in Review
In 2014, a quiet winter getting acquainted with the Kentucky landscape and new friends turned rather quickly into a bustling spring and an even livelier summer. The pace didn’t slow down until winter, after a productive autumn back in Missouri, wrapping up work on our straw bale/timber frame home there.
A Quiet Winter
We moved to Kentucky in December of 2013, and I’m glad our move was during a quieter time of year. It gave us the opportunity to explore the land around Berea and plan potential projects for the remainder of the year. Wintertime also presented a chance to get to know some of the people we had met during our first visits to the area here, before everyone got really wrapped up in their own work.
Without a massive building project in front of me, I jumped at the opportunity to catch up on reading and spoon carving. Chelsea Green sent me a package full of winter reading material, which I reviewed and posted here: Gene Everlasting, Paradise Lot: Creating Eden in the Suburbs, A Handmade Life, and Meat: A Benign Extravagance.
Towards the end of winter, I stumbled upon the Timber Framers Guild workshop scheduled for March in Nacogdoches, Texas. With a relatively clear calendar at that point, April and I both applied for the available scholarship a mere two weeks before the start date, and we were fortunate to be granted the award.
And so we headed to Texas for the opportunity to spend 12 days learning new timber framing skills. The workshop was a blast, and learn we did. We got valuable new layout, cutting, and raising skills and experience. The trip ended with the frame raising, a very memorable event in and of itself.
Shortly after our Texas jaunt, April and I headed east for an overdue visit to see family and friends. Somewhere along the way, we visited the Shofuso house in Philadelphia, an authentic reproduction of a 17th century Japanese home, featuring traditional building materials and techniques. It was hard to tear myself away from the beautiful setting and the impressive construction.
When we got back to Kentucky, spring was about to enter full swing.
Spring is for Cob Ovens and (More) Timber Framing
With our Natural Building Workshop schedule now planned, it was time to put the gears in motion. Our timber framed outdoor kitchen pavilion for the Clear Creek Festival took a lot of our design and planning energy. There were timbers to secure, a foundation to build, and lots of tool and site preparation. Simultaneously, we began building a cob oven for the festival (to be held in August), and mixed our first batch of Kentucky cob in the process. I knew we had really arrived in Kentucky now that my feet were sunk in that pile of clay.
During all of that, we assisted friends with planning and site preparation for their new off-grid straw bale home in the foothills. It was a shock to see the wooded site transformed so quickly.
Preparations continued for our Timber Frame Workshop and pavilion build, and we used every available minute to get ready for our start date. We snuck in some small amount of gardening wherever we could, and spoon carving definitely took a backseat to more pressing affairs.
Thankfully, our first Kentucky workshop went off without a hitch, and I was once again reminded of why we spend those countless hours preparing for these events. They are just so much fun, and the “workshop magic” effect is a wonderful one. I love the combination of work and play, and getting a bunch of far-flung people working on a building project together.
Nothing Slows for Summer
Work on our friends’ off-grid straw bale cabin continued whenever we could find time, and the completion of our timber frame pavilion project took most of the available days that we had. The cob oven, too, was finished during all of that madness.
The frame raising took place in July, with just enough time for Jacob to deck it out with counters and sinks for a theater event featuring a large meal component. (There were a lot of close calls, timing-wise this year… whew.)
On the web end of things, July marked the beginning of a giveaway series with Tuttle Publishing, the first book being Just Enough, one of my favorite books of the past couple of years.
Food from the gardens was just beginning to get really good, and in August, we put our new cob oven to excellent use when I fulfilled a childhood dream of mine: making and selling handmade pizza to a very receptive festival crowd. We made all of the cheese from scratch (20+ pounds of it), and the sauce and dough, and ended up selling over 100 pizzas in two nights. Not bad for what ended up being a small festival turnout.
A Feverish Fall
Sometime late in the summer, we got the notion that a trip back to Missouri was in order, to complete “Strawtron”, our timber frame/straw bale house once and for all. It was difficult to admit to the importance of traveling all that distance to spend all of that time wrapping up loose ends, but once we committed ourselves, that was that.
Before we could do that, however, there was that Cob Building Workshop to complete. Compared to our Timber Frame Workshop in June, this second course was a lot less hectic to ready ourselves for. It was a downright breezy pace comparatively speaking. Needless to say, it too was a success and a beautiful cob bench came out of it. We had a great group of folks in attendance, and the social atmosphere was wonderful.
A mere two days later, we left for what ended up being more than a month. Thankfully we had good help from Jacob, and our new friend Tyler for at least the first two weeks. We fully wired Strawtron, installed baseboards and shelves, did the finish exterior lime plaster, finish interior clay plaster, installed ceilings, installed a handrail, shored up the roundwood spiral staircase, and otherwise completed a multitude of other building tasks. Once we left, we finally felt like the job of building Strawtron was now complete.
We headed back to Kentucky after the adrenaline of the massive work effort died down. We were sad all over again to leave “our” house, and the experience provided another opportunity to learn about “letting go”.
Transition to Winter
November was a blessing, a respite after an incredibly dense spring, summer, and early fall. I think there was even a morning or two of sleeping in. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with our new community.
We got an early start on our 2015 workshop schedule and posted details for our July 2015 Straw Bale Workshop.
In December, we took a pleasure trip to do some woodworking with our great friend, Greg Pennington of Hendersonville, TN. I built two Windsor chairs, Jacob made two stunning banjos from scratch, and April finished her handmade spinning wheel. April and I cut our first dovetails on our Shaker-style blanket chest.
After two weeks, we packed up our projects and headed home, and here we are now… reviewing all that has happened in the prior twelve months.
It’s been a great year, needless to say.