Let Me Sum Up

by jericho | June 26, 2012 at 03:15 PM | categories: sheep, yurt, chickens, maine | View Comments

As you can tell from our long hiatus from blog posting, the growing season has officially begun! Everything that has happened to us in the past month is worthy of about 20 blog posts, but I recognize that we will never get around to writing them all so I have decided to sum things up as best I can.


Last time we posted, the yurt had been raised (with lots of help from friends and family- Thank you all!) and we were getting ready to move onto phase three of our living quarters this year. We waited to transfer our stuff into the yurt until after a rainstorm so we could make sure that it was watertight. Rain came. The yurt stayed dry! Amazing! This is unfortunately not the end of the story. As the rain continued (and continued and continued) a few drips appeared here and there. Nothing a few strategically placed buckets couldn't handle. Then, one day the drips increased to the point that we decided to at least move our bed out of there and back to the cabin. When I went back to check the yurt later that day the entire floor was flooded.

Rising to the challenge, we decided that our best option for waterproofing would be to cover the whole thing with plastic, which we did with lots of help from the Mazzeis. Here is a picture of our new,improved yurt. In some ways the ropes actually make it look a little bit more authentic. Go figure.

The story ends happily with us back in the yurt and no more floods (keep your fingers crossed for us please). Phew.


You know how in my first post about chickens I mentioned that none of our chicks had died yet? Well, they continued that way until they were nice and big and just about ready to eat. Then, one morning Jean-Paul was greeted at morning chores by one chicken that was lying down, unable to get up but still alive. We brought the sick chicken inside to get warm, tried to get some food and water down its throat and kept an eye on it. A few days later the chicken was no worse, but had not shown any improvement so we put it down, thinking that if it was sick it would be better to kill it before it spread anything.

We then kept watching our other chickens carefully and started adding some apple cider vinegar to their water. Some people say that this helps to prevent coccidiosis, a parasite that chickens sometimes get and may have been the reason for our sick chick. Everybody seemed ok until a couple of weeks later when Jean-Paul again had an unpleasant surprise in the form of a dead chicken. At this point, I called our local Extension Agent and she suggested that we could take the dead chicken to the necropsy lab at UMaine to find out what was wrong. As Lincoln said, it's kind of like CSI, but for chickens.

To our relief, the lab results showed no horrible contagious diseases or parasite, but rather that our chicken had pnuemonia caused by a "crop problem". The crop is located at the base of the esophagus and is essentially a little food storage tank. When food is available, the chickens can eat a bunch all at once, but then store it in the crop to be digested over a longer period of time. Apparently our bird had a blockage of grain in the crop which then somehow caused it to get pnuemonia. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot that can be done to prevent this problem. Just cross our fingers and hope the other birds have better digestive systems.

Onto the sheep. They are wonderful and cute and I love them (and yes, despite all of that I am still going to eat them). I mean, they are definitely not the perfect children or anything: they sometimes try to push through the fence, get tangled up, and then escape and go leaping off across the field; and thus far they don't have a shelter because they have pretty much destroyed the two shelters that we have tried to put in there by jumping on top of them (it's tricky to make a shelter that is light enough to move twice a day, but sturdy enough to withstand sheep playtime). Despite their foibles they are fun to have around because they are helping to mow and fertilize the hay field, and they are just adorable.

The one with the most outstanding personality looks a little bit like an Ewok so we named him Wicket. Sticking with this Star Wars convention, the others are Jaba, Chewbacca, and Storm Troopers number 1 and 2 (we can't tell those two apart yet). Can you guess who's who?


For a while there we thought that all of our hard work was either going to be devoured by slugs, drowned in 6 inches of rain, stifled by sod, or just remain stunted for lack of nutrients in our soil. However, just in the last week or so things started looking up. While Morgan, Cole, Parker and I were weeding the brassicas yesterday I even found some tiny heads of broccoli forming!!!

All in all, it's been a pretty exhausting month. I'm not gonna lie: I've cried a lot and sometimes it is hard not to want to just give up. This is when it is really good to have a partner in crime: when I am ready to throw in the towel, JP is there with hugs and reassurance, and when he is overcome by pessimism I bring on the optimism and am ready to figure out how to get through our most recent crisis. But it is definitely hard sometimes. I think this is the appropriate time to say: c'est la vie, right?

HEY! We have made it through half of the year though! Amazing to think about really. That means there is time to double the adventures that we have had so far this year. Hmmmm....Should I be happy about that? I think so. We've learned so much already and though I am sure there will be more challenges to come, perhaps the second half of the year's adventures will be a little less traumatic and a little more fun.

Happy Summer Everyone!

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Yurt II: The Yurt Returns

by jean-paul | May 22, 2012 at 09:00 AM | categories: yurt, maine | View Comments

With the season now in full swing, finding time to actually reflect on what's happening is harder and harder. All of the farm projects are exciting, engrossing, and educational (usually heavy on the education, if you catch my drift), but I'm so glad when my head hits the pillow at night. This also makes me intensely appreciative whenever someone lends a hand. Jericho and I were fortunate enough to have a great group of family and friends do just that for us the weekend before last, at our yurt raising work party.

This was the second time we put up the structure. The first time wasn't too bad, and this time was even smoother. First, cribbing on which to level the platform.

You might think that's my overseer stance, but actually it's my I'm-tired-from-carrying-these-platform-pieces stance.

Then come the walls. One, two, four. You might thing three would be in there somewhere, but it's not.

And a door.

Next the roof, which consists of a ring and about a million rafters. Fortunately we had lots of help to move the rafters.

Then the canvas goes over the roof.

The crown goes on and then the canvas for the walls.

And then it's a yurt!

Though we've been living in a cabin without electricity for the last four months (albeit less than a quarter mile from my mom's, where there is electricity), we decided we wanted electricity at the yurt. Beyond the obvious, there's a very practical motivation for this.

Last weekend we got the solar panels installed and set up some electric fence. The electric fence is part of another story, though. Tune in next time for more on that.

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A Teacher, a Carpenter, and a Programmer Walk into a Yurt

by jean-paul | February 06, 2012 at 07:48 PM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

Wherein our adventures perform some more living-arrangement related construction. However, I know better than to bury the lead. Hence, first, the conclusion:

Over the weekend, I finished preparing the rafters and Jericho did some more sewing for the wall canvas.

The last sewing for the roof canvas can't be done until we fit that piece of canvas to our actual roof and measure the position of the final seam. This requires setting up the yurt.

So, first we set up and leveled the platform.

Then we expanded the wall pieces (khana) and lashed them together and set them on the platform.

With all four wall pieces up, we made room for a door.

And then the really wicked part, Jim held up the roof ring (toono) while we stuck rafters into it.

Those loops you saw in the first picture go over the ends of the khana and the tension cable (1/4" steel, rated to 1400 pounds) holds the wall and the rafters in place.

And so on, forty-some more times.

This ends up creating a pretty strong structure, apparently.

Unfortunately, once the rafters were all in place, a space monster warped in and ate Jericho.

After that, we could fit the canvas to the roof, which took some fiddling, and a poorly timed gust of wind didn't help. We managed it, though (you did see the first picture, right?).

There's some more sewing to do and a few remaining details to sort out for the door and the toono. Those things will probably get sorted out this week or when we set the yurt up in Maine.

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Back From California

by jean-paul | February 03, 2012 at 08:02 PM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

While Jericho wrestled with that mountain of canvas, I had a great week in California. I finally managed to find some redwoods to look at. I also met a lot of great people, got some good work done, and (implausibly) met up with a couple friends from Boston.

San Francisco is a lot of fun, but I don't love everything about it.

It was really great to get back to Vermont and back to work on the yurt. Before I left, we had just finished preliminary assembly of the walls (khana). These four wood lattices are each made up of 34 one by twos varying in length from two feet to nine and a half feet. The lattice pieces are secured to each other with a piece of rope at most of the intersections. We first laid out the pieces to ensure they fit.

And then tied them together at each end.

This was more cold finger work, since the expanded lattice doesn't fit indoors. Fortunately, with rope at all the ends, the lattice can be collapsed.

In this more compact form, we brought them into Jim's workshop and got to work tying rope at the remaining (approximately) four hundred intersections. Joan lent us a hand here and finished off one entire khana. Jericho and I finished the remaining three pieces today.

I've certainly never before tied so many knots at once. My fingers are ready for a break. But we're not done yet. Tomorrow I need to finish the rafters and Jericho needs to finish the canvas for the walls, so that on Monday we can set it all up and fit the canvas for the roof. More about that later, though.

Good night from the NEK!

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Mountains of Canvas

by jericho | February 01, 2012 at 11:36 AM | categories: yurt, building, vermont | View Comments

It's been quite a busy week up here in the NEK. Actually I guess it has been more like a week and a half since I last posted. Oops! It's hard to keep up with it when there is so much yurt building to do!

Jean-Paul is in CA for work this week, so I decided to try tackling the canvas since that is something that is mostly a one person job. I spent a long time on the phone and the internet a few weeks back trying to figure out the best type of canvas to get and also to find a source for that canvas. The book that we have recommends 12oz waterproofed, mildew resistant, fire retardant cotton canvas, but says that 10 or 15oz would work as well. However, a friend who lived in a yurt for a while recommended straight up untreated cotton canvas for better breathability. She said that when the untreated canvas gets wet for the first time the fibers will swell and the fabric will be naturally waterproofed. After calling around and finally getting in touch with the people who treat most of the cotton canvas that is on the market I found out that the waterproofing is a mix of paraffin and a flourocarbon; the fire retardant is "phosphorous based"; and the mildew resistance is something that is not a heavy metal (I was assured that they no longer use mercury.What a relief.). Jean-Paul then did a little research and found out that flourocarbons tend to cause cancer and we decided that perhaps we would try our luck with untreated canvas after all. So...

I ordered a 100 yard roll of 10oz army duck canvas from Top Value Fabrics. We only need about 50 yards (because this fabric is 60 inches wide), but our options were 100 yards for $330 or 50 yards for $250 so it seemed to make more sense to buy the 100 and then have extra for a replacement cover, patches, etc. The roll is ridiculously heavy though. Dad and I managed to hang it up in the garage as you can see below, but I thought we might be in the running for a Darwin award: "Father and daughter squashed by giant roll of canvas".

I initially thought that I would be using my great grandmother's sewing machine for this project since it is an old Singer (so beautiful!) and has done some heavy duty work in the past. Sadly, the thread that I got (V-92 bonded polyester) is too thick for the machine and the bobbin wouldn't work right. Before panicking I decided to try out my own modern machine and it worked!! Phew.

Working with all of this canvas is quite a challenge. The name of this post doesn't even begin to describe it. Last night, I finished all of the sewing that I can do on the roof until we have the frame up and I can fit it exactly. It felt a little strange though because I finished it, but there isn't enough room in the house to spread it out and look at it so I just have to hope that I put together all of the pieces properly and my seams are facing the right direction. Considering the amount of time that I thought about each pieces before I sewed it (my brain seriously hurt), I am fairly confident that it will be fine, but I am looking forward to trying it out next week!

While I've been busy sewing, Dad has also been hard at work on the crown or Tono. This is the circle at the top of the yurt that all of the roof poles attach to and where light shines down in a lovely fashion which is part of what makes a yurt so awesome. Also, it is where a chimney will come out if we end up spending a winter in there. The pictures below show Dad drilling holes at a 32 degree angle for the roof poles using a wooden jig that he made and the top part of the crown that will attach to the piece he is drilling. Spacing the holes was a bit tricky so we ended up with one more than we should have, but no worries! We'll just add another rafter. Yurts are so forgiving.

In the name of full disclosure I feel that I have to add a note stating that I have not spent every minute of my time working on the yurt (oh, the guilt!). I also spent a day at my aunt Robin's and she taught my aunt Wendy and I the art of Japanese braiding called Kumihimo. Now I am super excited for the Japanese-Mongolian fusion that will be our yurt decorated with beautiful braids!! Not to mention all of the great gift possibilities...

And, Mom also took the time on Tuesday to teach me how to make a ruffly nuno felt scarf. Not sure I can really link this to the yurt except to say that I will be a very stylishly dressed occupant of a yurt.

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