Springtime always wakes me up in the best way. I feel so alive communing with dirt and chickens and our garden! On a typical day, Tulsi is laying in dirt playing within 5 minutes of getting out of bed snuggles. Makes sense that one of her first words was “dirt”.
Do you remember making mud pies when you were little? Or just sitting in a mud puddle and painting tribal-like designs on your face and arms and legs? And the feeling of cool, squishy wet mud and how it makes you seriously HAPPY?
Tulsi and I know. So what would be a more perfect day together than taking a women’s adobe mud brick workshop? A couple weeks ago, our very inspiring and talented friend Alice Ko hosted a class. She is a mama, designer, architect, and super green, earth buildin’ goddess. And a total purist, building with only natural materials.
She held the adobe-day on her and her husband Sam’s land — a gorgeous acre that they are caretaking and sculpting in a unique way. They aren’t building one home for their family of four. Alice’s vision is a group of small buildings that will inspire a life of outdoor ‘being’. It’s awesome, too, that Sam and Alice are building it together — by hand — brick by brick, rock by rock, strawbale by strawbale. Their land will consist of a kitchen-house — with a star-observatory loft for after dinner constellation gazing (!), a sleep house, a greenhouse, and more, perhaps. WOW, right? Might not be everyone’s idea of ideal, but I am so into it!
Back to the mud play…around the world, people have been building houses from earth for…ever. Clay dirt is abundant, STRONG, and a sun-heat magnet. Here in the dry, hot high desert, many houses are made of mud, including the Taos Pueblo which was built between 1000 and 1450 AD. I’ve been wanting to learn how to make mud bricks, and when Patrick talked about ordering some to create the central, circular bed in our greenhouse, I answered, “no way, you can’t buy them. let’s make them!” A week later, my friend Alice invited me to her workshop.
First, we built mud brick frames (one is really all you need) and Alice shared all about mud, and building with natural materials. Then, we learned the simple art of “baking” bricks. Mix your dry ingredients together — clay dirt and sand — in a wheel barrel. Create a ‘bowl’ in the center. Add water, and mix into a mud pudding. Slide it out onto a tarp and stomp to your heart’s content with bare feet. Sprinkle some cut straw on top for tensile strength, and squish some more. (Be sure to sing and dance, too — Tulsi’s special, added ingredients.) Then, check to make sure it’s just the right consistency. Wet the inside of your brick form just as you would butter a bread pan, and start packing in mud with your hands. When it’s packed and full, wipe the top of your brick with a wet rag, and pull your frame straight up and off. And, wal-lah! A 4x10x14 inch mud brick weighing 30 pounds that is ready to bake in the hot sun-oven! Alice gave us a trouble-shooting guide to test the strength of our bricks after they dry. Tulsi loved helping, as you can see.
Below are a few pictures from Alice and Sam’s land: 1. Sam creates the building’s foundations by dry stacking rock and filling in with cobb (a wetter mud mixture that you can use as mortar or when you are making more curvy walls and forms). The bricks are stacked on top of the foundation, up off the ground. 2. Their greenhouse. They are building the West and East walls with mud bricks and the north side with strawbales (for insulation — while mud bricks attract heat and store it to release at night, they make poor insulation, so a combination of natural materials is best for a building).
Alice used to work as an architect in an office. She was frustrated that she didn’t understand the building part of what she was drawing on paper and wanted to get her hands dirty. Her boss encouraged her to be at the sites, which is where she was inspired to build with natural materials instead. I agree 1000% with Alice — building with natural materials, and with your own hands, is not only really exciting, but very feminine and feels so, um, “natural”. Hee. She is enjoying the experimental part of building, too — the mixing and matching of natural materials, to best suit their needs, climate, and land. She also shared the problems that occur when a structure is made with natural material and then covered with man-made materials (like adobe covered with cement stucco). The two don’t mix well. This day has really got Patrick and me excited to experiment, too, and to dream.
AND, is this playground AMAZING, or what???! Alice designed and built it with adobe bricks and cob and said it’s a continued work-in-progress. She has two very happy girls. I want to build one for Tulsi!
Of course my list is growing of things Patrick and I want to make! Here is an orno (mud oven) our friend Jon Jaques built. So beautiful, right? He baked us asparagus pizza in it last month. OH MY! And, he said he’d help me build one. Wooohoo! He built the base out of adobe bricks and the oven from sculpted willow branches and cob. YUM.
And, so I don’t get too distracted with my ambitious mud-makin desires, of course we’ll start with the center bed in our greenhouse so Patrick can plant his tea bush and medicinals and tropical fruits. Here is a photo from this morning in the dome. I’ll share more as we build it.
Life is just so…awesome. Hope you are feeling just as happy this Spring! What is inspiring you lately?