Sunday, March 11, 2018

News From Storm-bound Alentejo

It's been a Hell of a month. Cold frosty stuff which we are not used to, and then came the rain and high winds. Sometimes bits of straw got blown off the new roof, but I have been warm and dry.

The swallows are still avoiding this hill. I have seen them nearer the coast. I wonder if they will come and nest on my clay walls.

Here's a photo of the pizza oven after I had just finished it. It looks a bit weather beaten since this photo was taken, but still functional. When this stormy weather passes I will give it another coat of cal/clay paint.  It is for my neighbours. I hope they like it!

Here is one of the terraces, planted with potatoes and broad beans. When I dug them over the soil was dry. Now, after monster rainstorms the ground is sodden and beans and potatoes are beginning to sprout.

Lower down I have green beans and on the third one the garlic which I planted in November is looking tall and strong.

My house, seen from below. I will never build a two story house again. It is so much more work to get stuff on the walls. I still have to render the outside. We have had a few days of driven rain from the South West and the walls got very wet, but still firm and dry inside. The miracle of cob. The roof needs to overhang more so I think I will make a veranda to go round it, which will protect it from the rain and keep the sun out in the summer.

I thought I'd try a paleo food thing. No bread! No biscuits! I'm into my third week and I feel all right. I sleep like a baby (crying all night Not!!) and have got over the craving for bread. Nuts, apples and meat.

Daffodils are out and lots of plants are thinking it's spring. After this much longed for rain we look forward to the gentle heat that comes in April.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Too Cold for Swallows

Well, it's been COLD!

We are not used to this kind of cold. For so long. Usually it gets cold for a few days, not weeks, and it feels hard to get a room warm, let alone a house. The wood burner works away but to little improvement of temperature... and I have just put the last few logs of old, seasoned firewood in the fire... and madly sawing up bits and pieces of anything that burns to just keep from feeling really cold. The best thing at the moment is the big beach pebble that I warm up on the stove in the evening and put in my bed at night. Bliss. Even the dog knows where to lie on the bed now! Maybe I need two pebbles!

I have also got a new (to me) computer, (thank you Universe!) so it's challenging for a dinasor like myself.

The swallows have not yet returned. I am glad for them due to the temperatures, but I hope they are all right.

I have dug over some of the vegetable garden and two of the long thin terraces on the hill. I put in some broad beans in the terraces and dug up some stray new potatoes which are delicious. The carrots and cabbage seeds all germinated earlier, before the cold set in, and seem to be doing fine. I will plant potatoes in the next few days. Now we can pray for rain.

It is Carnival time in Portugal. Sao Luis is getting a reputation for it's politically incorrect displays. Mostly it's the men who dress up as women and get very drunk. It is quite fascinating and a bit weird. Maybe I could dress up as a man and behave badly... but I'm not sure what that would entail... And would it be fun? Probably not. Seeing them get such pleasure out of wearing tights really makes me wonder. We live in quite a separated society here. There are cafes which women go to and there are cafe/bars which men go to. Some overlap a little. In the evenings, women don't go out. At least Portuguese women don't. I certainly don't as I'm a home-loving person, it's hard to go anywhere after the sun has gone down.

The pizza oven is just about done. Photos to follow when I've learned how to put them onto this computer...

Roll on Spring!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Pizza Oven

My Cob Kitchen

What I'm Working On Now
My Homemade Home
I gave myself a month off and by January I was ready to get on with stuff. I know that now that I have moved into my new bit of house I may never 'finish' it! There is still plastering to do inside, and the earthen floor, and all the outside needs rendering, too. But not now...
Now I am building a pizza oven for my neighbours. I picked up lots of big stones that have been ploughed up on the nearby hill. Put them in the back of the car and took them to the site. Then I built the plinth, dry stone style, and filled the top layer with earth, bottles and sand on top of which went the firebricks. After lots of digging earth for the cob and lots of hauling sand to make a mould, I have put it all together and it is beginning to look quite good. I am waiting for the cob to set before I remove the sand mould. Photos to follow!

Soon the swallows will return!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Nearly Sixty

It's amazing to think that in January 2014 I began to build a cob house, Just using my hands and basic tools and a book. (The Hand Sculpted House by Ianto Evans.)

Since then I have been busy building with mud and loving it.

I was going to post some before and after photos but the computer doesn't want to cooperate so instead I will just have to write about this building experience.

It has given me so much more than just a roof over my head. Through thinking and working at my own pace I have learned to trust my judgment and to make decisions. That feels really good.

I have helped others and learned that that is fun, too!

Now I have a beautiful kitchen and bedroom and the original studio, where I am sitting now, with the stove lit and the dog next to me on the sofa.

And it has rained! Not much but enough to water the onions I planted this morning. Yes, I have actually had time to garden again. This summer was manic and so hot that the garden had to take third place, but now that the ground has softened it's easy to dig and all the coutch grass comes out easily. There is a lot of it. I am going to put it on my green roofs. Why not?

Tonight will be my first night in my new bedroom. I haven't got a proper front door yet but have nailed up a blanket. It will do fine as it is not cold, just a bit damp.

Next month I will be sixty! 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dag-ends and Dangle-berries

The nights are drawing in. There is still no rain.


The Roof

Wool Insulation

I have been sorting out and fluffing out two huge bags of local sheep's wool for the insulation of my new kitchen and bedroom.

Dealing with dag-ends and dangle-berries is not a problem for me, having been brought up on a farm with sheep and sheering and other 'mucky' stuff.

So I put it all into smaller feed sacks and staple them onto the lath on the roof.
Next, the waterproof layers, then the straw and old roof tiles around the edge. Sounds simple, but it means going up a long ladder carrying stuff.

I can't wait for this part to be done!

There is talk of rain.

Granddaughter #2 had her fourth birthday on the weekend and we had a great feast in a lovely place, full of trees and plants, grass and playground. The 'Parque das Aguas' is perfect for lunch parties.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Still hot and Dry

It's been a long hot summer and the heat has not lessened as the season changes. Now the sun slants in under our hats and we all squint to see. Cars are dusty, windows are dusty. Trees are dusty. There has been no rain for four months and the reservoirs are at their lowest in 20 years.  We pray for rain. The olives are dropping off the trees, shriveled and too early. Not good.

My massive building project has reached a good height. The top! I am now working on the roof. My sudden impulse to build another story has proved to be a major campaign. It is much harder to get the cob on the walls when they are nearly four meters high!  Also, I damaged my shoulder, mixing too much cob, which slowed things down considerably. Hmm, I'm beginning to feel a bit older... Now I will get the roof on before the rains (if they come) then I can work on plastering the inside.

My garden has suffered from 40 degrees all summer and my neglect, but still there are a few valiant vegetables. Tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. The figs also suffered from the heat but the ones that we managed to pick were tasty. I would say that the grapes were the best crop. Every vine had a different explosion of taste. I haven't made wine this year, but it looks like next year it will be possible.  The 'morangeiros', the wild grapes, which I planted a cutting of, did very well. Lots of fruit for a three year old plant, and no water! They are called morangeiros as they have an almost strawberry flavour.

We live 25 minutes from the beautiful west coast but I seldom go, especially during July and August as the beaches are packed and the seaside towns are too, but now it is back to almost empty and we are coming out of the woodwork to enjoy what the tourists enjoyed earlier. I went for a lovely walk along the coast near Cavaleiro the other weekend. All the coastline has been marked as a massive footpath from Alentejo through to the Algarve to Spain and it is becoming very popular throughout the year, so I passed a lot of walkers with their boots and backpacks. Everyone very content, it seemed. The cliffs are quite dramatic and the sea air a relief from the heat inland.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Wider-Angle Lense

It's not all about cob... Especially when it is 40 degrees and there is nowhere to hide...

I have been nursing my left shoulder and crocheting. My cob house stays about 26 degrees, which feels frigid if you come in from outside, but with the windows and doors shutting out the heat it gets a bit claustrophobic. Anyway, I have survived and made a pair of slippers and a tea cozy and a rabbit with clothes. Oh, I have also managed some cobbing, having this great, crazy Irish girl come and swing the pick-axe and muck in.

A week ago we had 'As Montras' in Sao Luis. It is a weekend of music and local artists and artisans and all sorts of other things, organized by the transition group of Sao Luis. (I know, this is the Totness of Alentejo!) Anyway, it's all about showing what people do in our neighbourhood, using the shop windows (as montras in Portuguese) of the shops in the main street leading up to the church. My daughter and I got invited to participate so we filled Hugo's shop window with an iron bed covered in quilts, bunnies, knitting, spinning and some paintings. It looked really cozy. My granddaughter took off with my camera and took lots of photos, a set of which are when a horse and rider dance to a fado singer and a guitar player.

Me and my beautiful daughter outside our 'Montra'.

Every month for the past 12 years there is a market in Sao Luis on the third Sunday of the month. Myself and Renate and Jurgen started it and it has grown into a real social hub. People come out of the woodwork and buy, sell, share stuff and news. This Sunday it was busy! I brought a bunny and Renate put it on her stall where she sells lovely creams, soap, home-made bread, yoga mats, and other good things, alongside her man who sells guitars and percussion instruments.

Figs and almonds from the Algarve and other goodies.

I did some tie-dye the other day. Then made a dress with some of the stuff.

So on we go, keeping busy but trying to stay cool. It's August in Alentejo!