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!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Big Gratitude

You know that feeling when you are half way through a project and you think... OH OH what have I started? Well, I have waves of feelings like this, but then I trot round to the back of my round house and enter the kitchen-to-be and get excited again. It is a lot of work but I have been so lucky and blessed with volunteers who have loved to make cob.

I have reached the bedroom floor level and started to put in the upstairs windows.

And we built the stairs! They are so lovely. Solid cob, except for where we made niches. When you build niches with arches they are so strong. Putting the 'arch' back in architecture.

I hope to have a small balcony in front of the upstairs opening window. The room will not be full height as it is 'mezzanine'.

Marion did some plastering and tried bas relief work. I think she has done a lovely job.

I couldn't have got so far without these lovely earthy airy people. Big gratitude.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

If you live near a windmill, expect wind

How it looks in the summer. It's getting rather wild and woolly.

Meanwhile, behind the  scene... The kitchen slowly develops.

Built-in cupboard with cane shelving.

After  the burst of extreme heat it has got considerably cooler. It even rained for about five minutes, yesterday. Today it has been very windy. Too windy to work!

I have the pleasure of Dom and Jo next week. We shall see some progress in the walls going up. During this time of not doing much I have thought a lot about the placement of the windows, so I'm glad I wasn't well enough to work. (Bad cold)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Understanding Everest

I had the two elder granddaughters to stay. So much fun. Playing with water pistols and a tiny inflatable paddling pool. We could get really deliciously wet in the extreme heat. Isabella is quite a dab hand at photos. Here are a couple she took that I was hardly aware of.

Oops, I look a bit grumpy there! Probably expecting the water pistol!

I have been getting on with cobbing my kitchen. Sometimes it feels a bit like Everest. I actually prefer to work alone for the moment in this new room, as there are a lot of things to think about at this level. Windows and the cold cupboard and shelves for storage. I found some big floor tiles that fit the cold space exactly. They make perfect shelves.

It doesn't look like much but I am on the fourth 'row' of mud. Yesss!

Also, today I began the earth floor in Gail's house. We decided not to use any sand (because it had been scattered by dogs and some of it has been used for cat litter tray). Instead we used fresh and fairly fresh horse shit. In this weather it is dry nearly as soon as it hits the ground, but boy oh boy does it make a good mix!

We mixed it in the wheelbarrow so that it was easy to pour into the designated area, which consists of two pieces of lath, (ripas) set a distance apart and amazingly enough, quite level!

A scrummy texture that went on a treat. We wet the floor well before putting it down and made sure that the mix was not too wet. We had to stop as it was getting too hot outside to sieve the earth. Take note: Prepare your materials in advance! Gail has put shade netting over the roof which makes it really fine to work inside.

So it's all stations go for the moment. The vege garden survives and is producing scarlet runner beans and some tomatoes are nearly ready. A regular supply of strawberries for breakfast (and the blackbirds get some). I will have a good harvest of blueberries from one bush, this year.

It feels unusually hot which makes it hard to work much. Siestas and cold vinho verde in the evenings. Yeah!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Mostly Mud

I have been busy.
Workshops and wwoofers.
Mostly mud.

Domenico lovingly sanded the eucalyptus poles which had gone a bit discoloured from rain.

Janosch built the foundation wall using stones that both of them had brought by wheelbarrow from around the place.  Amazing work by lovely guys!

Then I was ready to start cobbing, finally! I made a ventilation hole using an old wine bottle as a mould.

That worked very well. This mud is amazing!

The plastering workshop at Gail's went well and we have more or less finished the inside. It looks great.

The spring flowers have been fabulous and now it's hay-making time. Soon the land will turn brown and dusty. Summer is a coming in!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May Be Wet

We have had some rain and clouds so the flowers and the sky are really something!

The cob workshop went very well. We got up to height, plastered the inside and finally, we notched the rafters and put them in place. That little house is coming on nicely.

This is my view when I sit outside and have tea in the morning.  Far away in the distance there is an old windmill which I can only see when the morning sun shines on it. For the rest of the day it disappears and I feel tricked. Where is it?

I zoomed in a bit so the view is more visible. Lovely and soft on the eyes.

I have two brilliant helpers to get the kitchen extension going. Very exciting. Photos to follow, soon!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

April Update

Tulips by the door. Lovely spring colours. I planted a jasmin by the compost loo which wafts sweet smells in the evening. (The compost loo is not smelly, btw).

I haven't done any more to the extension, yet. Building up my strength to tackle the trench. It won't take long when I'm in the right mood. I am still considering going up a level, but that feels very far away and almost too exciting to think about!

Meanwhile, I have neighbours! Rosa and Raquel are living up in the top house and it is nice to see a light on in the evening, and to say hello on passing. They have done some mounding up of potatoes and dug over one of the terraces. I had planted chickpeas but they looked too weedy to be worth it, so we will sow ordinary peas instead. All good nitrogen fixers.

The artichoke is a major feature in the garden these days. Oh, and there are strawberries ripe in the strawberry patch! Delicious.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Not well-connected but growing deep roots

The internet doesn't work very well down in my little piece of paradise. It is quite peaceful.

I sit and look at the view as I sip a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
The sun rises and shines through one of the bottle niches  as this time of year, the spring equinox. How appropriate and lucky. (I didn't plan it so). So I lie in bed and am blinded by the light.

The cuckoo has begun to call. The golden oriole has made a fleeting visit. The brambles are on the rise. Definitely spring in the air.

Oh yes. I've been digging. Some solid quartz in amongst thick yellow clay.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


This is how we do it in Alentejo. With a wheelbarrow. I just decided it was time to live the dream. The old brick shack on the hill has been a great shelter and has lots of potential, but my heart is in my little mud house.

Anyone who knew me when I lived on Mull will remember we were always 'flittin'. I guess my mum had a restless spirit and we had two farms at once, for a while. I remember coming home from Oban High (where I was a weekly boarder) and being told I was walking in the wrong direction home! Oh, no, she had done it again!

Anyway, back to the present. I must tell you how it feels to live in a house you have actually built with your own hands.... and a rush of words come: happy, smug, amazed, curious, warm, sheltered, hugged by nature. It's grand.

See how my clothes shelves (yes, they came down on the wheelbarrow) disappear when you look at them side-on.

My desk (which is also a treadle sewing machine) and next to it a spare bed/comfy chair, by the fire.

 The window seat, where the heat from the stove slowly penetrates the clay and is a very nice place to sit and drink morning coffee. Beside that is the arts and craft zone.

My bed, where I can look out and see the hills far in the distance, and get the morning sun.

And this is the kitchen area for the moment as it is too windy to cook outside most of the time, which is why I will be building the extension, soon!

And there are daffodils blooming in the garden. Joy.