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I had fun today. Hubby gave me a day alone to ruminate. While the hubby’s away, the gardener will play. . . .

Guess what happens when your sweet eight-year-old daughter plays with your phone while you are cleaning your gardening mess? You arrive back on WordPress a week later to find a MASSIVE photo in the middle of your post and all the rest of your post disappeared! Whatever I had to say, I thought it was very clever at the time, and I’m sure it won’t come out near as brilliantly this time. :-(

I’ll post the photos anyway and see what happens.

Frozen chunks of soil mix

Frozen chunks of soil mix


Nice, fluffy soil mix

Nice, fluffy soil mix



Can you guess where I am?


Filled halfway and waiting for the transplants

Filled halfway and waiting for the transplants


Clean up

Clean up











































The basic story behind all that is the week before these photos, I found the need to do some soil work inside the house at Forkland. Hubby put up a great fuss, saying what a mess it would be. I remained steadfastly unwilling to suffer in the cold with numb fingers while trying to do my work. He eventually caved upon promises to clean the inevitable mess immediately upon completion.

Fast-forward to the week pictured above, and you find me home alone at the house in town (Asbury Seminary campus) once again needing to do some soil work but with no place or tools to do it. As I began to contemplate my situation I felt my soil and looked outside. Shoving large chunks of frozen soil to the side, I took my trowel and tried to reach to the bottom of my soil barrel to mix the layers I had put in the week before.

To no avail – I couldn’t even reach to the second layer to mix it in with the top, let alone reach to the bottom of the barrel. Hmmm . . . no wheel barrow, no shovel. Grrr . . . stuck again, or maybe not! I felt an impish grin come all over me as I pictured my absentee husband’s reaction to the thoughts flurrying through my brain. The kitchen floor is so empty, spacious, and warm.

It is, after all, one seamless piece of vinyl. Oh boy! If I had a tarp to lay down, that would be even better . . . oh yes, the huge mass of plastic the painters left that has been all up in our way. Perfect! Down she goes, over tips the soil barrel. Beautiful!

I ran my hands through with delight and felt like a kid again. I remembered how my mom used to marvel that I could make mud pies for hours and come in clean. Good times!

Who needs a trowel? My hands worked more efficiently anyway, so I set the trowel aside. Once I finished, the only puzzle was how to get the leftovers back into the barrel without a shovel and without nicking the vinyl or shredding the thin plastic I had laid down. Puzzle no more, I discovered our then dog’s melamine salvage food dish, and it was just right.

Immediately after I had put all the mess away to the point of walking toward the broom closet to sweep the floor, I heard our vehicle pull into the driveway. My heart skipped a happy beat, knowing I was nearly undetectable. I dashed for the broom and began sweeping innocently just as my husband and children walked through the door, completely and blissfully oblivious of my playful fun.

Playing in the dirt is good for your soul. You should try it sometime!

Living in Two Places

A LOT has happened since I wrote last, and at the same time, not much. I began our move into the little house in Forkland with grand permaculture ideas and ideals. Then, life happened.


Need I say more?

We began in the middle of winter by living in two back bedrooms of the house, as the rest of the house was unlivable. Since our lovely predecessors had presumably stolen the copper piping out from under the house, we were without running water, unless you count the creek out back. Indeed, for a while, we actually did use that creek for water. Everybody say, Thank God for Berkey (water filtration)! My mother, being a nurse, understandably freaked, but we all survived without any bowel distress. :-)




Even when you're shivering, you can still appreciate beauty.

Even when you’re shivering, you can still appreciate beauty.


As we huddled around the space heaters in the back bedrooms, snow drifted under the back door in the kitchen and stayed frozen on the floor all day. At one point, as I was trying to bake my sourdough bread on our BabyQ, my husband saw that the loaf was darkening too quickly on the bottom, and without thinking, he quickly pulled it out and set it on the  frozen kitchen floor. What an exciting moment of living science we had! The “explosion” was instantaneous.


How we survived

How we survived

Spring of that year came along with great plans I had drafted while dressed like the abominable snowman. Next year, we would have a rocket mass heater, use water from our cistern, fresh-caught from the metal roof, and have fruit and nitrogen-fixing trees in place. We would also be rotating our chickens on plots that had been plowed up by them and planted with their favorite grains and be milking our own cow. Uh, yeah, reality check!

Our beloved Mama Carmen: may she rest in peace.

Our beloved Mama Carmen: may she rest in peace.

Instead, this year we have a very small woodstove that kept us fairly warm in one room, we’re still using city water, and we have purchased exactly zero trees so far. Traveling back-and-forth has only gotten three chickens killed by an opossum and six ducks either hit by a car, eaten by a hawk, or carried off by some unknown predator. Like I said, life happens.

Hey, at least we’re still making full-on compost (if you permies know what I mean). That counts for something, right? In the meantime, while I continue to work toward utopia, I have forged ahead learning new skills in the kitchen and wherever else possible. My first Indian paneer cheese came out tasty, although with a slight hint of apple cider vinegar (oops). Though my kefir didn’t seem to like our cold kitchen, it made a fine kefir cheese.


Ha, ha, ha I totally forgot about the pixie shovel I was using!

My pickled kombucha scobies are waiting patiently to be put back into use, and the molded ones that were left in cloth-covered fermenting jars fertilize the garden. Reality knocked my hopes for the garden down several notches. I began the spring thinking, Surely, I will knock a massive hole in our food budget with all this fresh produce!









How about, No, no noticeable difference. I blame it on the fact that I did not have enough man-power or man-hours on my own to properly get the garden into ideal workable conditions. By the end, I was so tired from the work that I dug my garden bed sides out, flopped the sod over onto the bed, scattered as much leaves, sawdust, compost, and whatever I could get my hands on and said, That’s it! Maybe, all things considered, I did get a really good harvest. The budget just didn’t reflect it that first year.


My one decent bed, the one hubby carved out some time to haul mulch for. I’m not going to show you what the others looked like.

However, I believe God sent the Amish to our rescue. The blessings they have provided us have cut our food bill in half, and we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Thus, we come to the subject title of this blog.

My husband alerted me to an amazing opportunity. Asbury Theological Seminary was on the hunt for a Community Developer/Head Gardener. The position was only part time but came with a house on campus. My husband had been spending two hours on the road daily on the days he did not work from home!

Needless to say, he and the kids supported me, I applied, and voilà. Here we are, living between houses. At this point, we still have the animals back on the Fork, so we have to care for them a couple times a week until they find new homes. I was unable to convince my boss in a timely enough manner that our chickens would be a lovely addition to the community garden. :-)

The Fork house still lingers in a state somewhere between not-suitable-for-homeowners-insurance and too-far-along-for construction-insurance. Right . . . Need I describe the feelings of extreme irritation we felt as we tried to justify ourselves to the insurance companies for why we still have piles of lumber hauled out from the wreckage, waiting to find a more orderly home in the garage packed with hay for the cow we never got and no-good salvage lumber for the too-small woodstove. (It’s a very humbling experience to see yourself through a stranger’s eyes sometimes. At the same time, I remind myself, Natasha, when you meet someone new, let this be a lesson to you, you have no idea what they are going through or why their life looks as crazy as it does.)

Doesn’t that fearless face just spur you on to dump your debt-inducing ways?

While I’m on a rabbit trail, how about the irritation bordering on true anger I feel when I think about how far our society has “progressed.” No longer is it normal for a family to want to work their way to a finished house. No, society, insurance, and banks do everything in their power to force you into the fix-it-now-on-borrowed-money mentality. They have tried to make us feel criminally negligent or unintelligent or backward.

I refuse. I stand with my head held high, pleased with our choices and honored to be among the ranks of our great-grandparents and theirs before them who worked and saved and paid their own way with patience and perseverance. Debt is a slave master, and I will not choose the path of slavery any longer. (Any Dave Ramsey fans out there?)

Okay, back on track, life between houses: Only this weekend, as hubby and children were away, I was responsible to go home to the Fork to feed the animals and do our weekly Amish run. Insert really old community garden van and output surprise quiet weekend stuck in town. Yeah, life happens.

Or, how about that time when It’s such a warm, cozy night, and it’s already so late that you decide you’ll ride home to the Fork in your pajamas after a nice shower at your house in town (an hour away). You’re going right home to bed, so why bother putting on a certain feminine undergarment. You’ve got an extra one at home. Except, when you don’t, and it’s Sunday morning, and everyone else is almost ready for church, and it’s waaaay too cold to get away with wearing a sundress with built in coverage. Try to explain to your kids why you may not be able to make it to church with them . . .

When you’ve spent the entirety of your marriage moving from place-to-place, you quickly learn to become a minimalist. That usually works in your favor, except when you suddenly find you have two houses to live in. “Okay children, we’re bringing one spoon for each of you, one fork, etc. You are each responsible to wash your dishes as soon as you use them, so you will have them again when you need them.”

Oh drat, I only brought one mixing bowl! My sourdough bread is rising in that one; I guess I will need to make the pancake batter in my saucepan.

Here we are, and though it gets hairy at times, we are truly thankful for this opportunity. The children are excited to make friends from all over the U.S. and the world. I am extremely pleased that I still have the privilege of homeschooling my children and working with a budget outside our own to implement permaculture design while building community, and my husband couldn’t be any happier to have excommunicated the commute to-and-from work. Once the animals are given new homes for this season of our lives and we figure out a workable plan for making progress on the Fork house, you may well just find us over the moon!

Asbury Theological Seminary Community Garden

Asbury Theological Seminary Community Garden


Rocket Mass Class

This video is making rocket mass heater science clear to me finally. There are many excellent snippets of information. It’s worth an hour of your time if you are curious about how these heaters work.

Mentor Check-in

My husband and I grabbed the opportunity tonight, the niche in time, to catch up with my permaculture mentor, Doug Crouch. He’s been in Portugal for the past five months, so we really enjoyed hearing the progress on his work there. He asked about what I’ve been reading, progress on the land purchase process, my opinion on my online course with Geoff Lawton, and how the design process is coming on the land (Forkland Rd.).

I was really honest with him that I am getting mired down in the details of the elements and throw my hands up in frustration many times. Doug has re-encouraged me to take some steps back, print out an overview map, write down simple elements on small slips of paper with no details at this point, and start playing around with placement. He wants me to get back to the fun of the process.

We talked about a vision for field schools as an alternative or complement to university training, considering how ill-prepared for real life we have become with the lack of practical skills-training we receive. This really hits home right now, as we face all the work we need to do on the house to make it live-able to American standards. Especially since our return from Haiti, I find it very ironic that it is practically illegal to live without running water and electricity here.

Just a few days ago I read an article in the local paper where the lack of these two conveniences were held forth as two of the standards that determined a couple was unfit to keep and raise their own children. I found that nauseating. Yet here we are, and now we must scramble to learn these skills from scratch to make our own home acceptable to our culture.

More thoughts to come . . .


Plans for Winter Hot Water

So here’s what I’m thinking for our hot water this winter:

I love the calm, simple way “Hadley” explains his system. For the first couple weeks in our “new” house we will probably be heating water on top of the woodstove, but I hope to graduate to this system once we feel comfortable that we can execute it properly. During the summer I would like to go solar. We would have electric back-up for both of these.

Eventually, we may be able to work in a rocket mass heater as the primary winter hot water source, to save on wood and the environment, but we need to gather more knowledge/experience before we go there. I don’t think our floors can handle three tons of weight without shoring up.

How to Use USGS to Create a Base Map

There was a time when I had no clue where to get started with making a base map. I taped together six to eight sheets of paper, trying to get something big enough to work with. I quickly got irritated, because I like precision, and I could not seem to get my sketch adequately accurate.

After much trial-and-error and many google-searches later I finally stumbled upon the United States Geological Survey website. At you will see this page:


Once you click on the Map Locator & Downloader, enter your address or keep double-clicking (PC) on the general location you want to see until it zooms in as far as the map will go.


Once there, you will want to select MARK POINTS, and add a marker to the specific location you want.


Next, click on the marker (1), and a list of map choices will pop up. For the longest time, their wording escaped me, and I thought I would be “buying” one of these downloads or buying a physical map. I did not go past this point and only used the map I could see for visual reference. No, it’s much simpler, and it’s free. You just click on the download size for the map you think might work for you (2) (you can check the preview first if you want), and it will download to your computer.


Once you locate the download on your computer, open the PDF. Find the location for which you want to create a base map and zoom in until it is mostly those property boundaries filling the screen. This large map does not lose quality, so you can zoom in very far.

Press and hold Alt and PrtSc [Print Screen]. This will create an image of the portion of the map that is on your screen. You will then want to paste this image into the program of your choice. I use Fireworks, because that is what I have, but Photoshop or possibly some drawing programs or PowerPoint would work. When you open a new document in Fireworks or Photoshop it should be automatically sized to the dimensions of your saved image. Once the new document is open, just Ctrl + P [paste], and your map section should appear.

From there, crop off all the messy edges. I will save the rest of the details for another post, because from here it gets a little ugly, at least for me, working out the legends to be sure that any overlays you have or elements you add are to scale.