Blue Rock Station Diaries February 28, 2012

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                                February 28, 2012

24 F outdoors              66 F indoors


In the night, as I listened to the noises of the house, I was thinking about how much everything in life is about to change.  And those changes are going to be at every single level in our lives.

 ImageFirst day of school 2010:  Jay, Miss America, Annie

The most fundamental change will be that we aren’t parents of a child anymore.  Our Miss America is going off into the world this year.  On most days I am fine with the concept of her growing up, but on some days I wonder how my role as nobody’s mother will play out in my own grown-up life.

New chicks, new baby goats, and more adventures with the critters that live here with us.  Spring is such a rich time for new life.  There will be goats and roosters that get sent away, and new ones with new names that will add richness to the barnyard.  This is the time of year that makes me the most anxious, and the most deliriously content.

Next will be the changes as the season’s rotate.  The spring will bring a new roof, solar generated electricity, and new interns.  No more leaks in the roof – I can predict that for the future – whoopee!  No more electric grid unless we want to partake.  The new faces we’ll see will bring young energy and passion for the life we lead.  While I can’t know what experiences we’ll share, I know that I am quite hopeful that the summer will be a good one.


We’ll make new friends, and make time for the old ones.  Lots of new visitors will arrive for workshops and tours.  Out of those groups there will be one or two that we will connect with, and find opportunities to share time.  Jay’s birthday and Miss America’s high school graduation (she will have completed her freshman year of college and doesn’t plan on attending the graduation ceremony) will be big events with a grand weekend planned of celebrating life and our journey together with old and dear friends.  I’m thinking about a trip to Blannerhassett Island on the ferry, a grand Victorian picnic, and lots of story telling.

A new house – as the year grows older we’ll be talking a lot more (and dreaming) of the new place we hope to build – a “nest” for ourselves so that the Earthship can become more of an office and guest house.  The idea has been growing for a while, along with the new pond, which has now become a plan to fix the old one.  I’m dreaming of a building the size of our current living room and kitchen with a deck that looks out over the tiny pond, and the forest below it.  This will be a place to sleep, to read, to sip tea, and to contemplate.

There are more books to be written before the year is over.  We’re under contract to re-vamp the green technology book, and WHEN THE BIOMASS HITS THE WIND TURBINE will be out in print soon.  Before December we’ll have the GIVING THANKS FOR NOTHING book written and hot off of the press in time for another January of using no resources.  We hope that lots of folks will sign up to join us in some form or fashion.

Then there is the new routine we’ll begin to establish to visit Miss America wherever she plants herself.  Our four-day getaway in August is still hanging in the balance until we know more about her summer location. 

A new president – given the choices, I hope there isn’t a different president.  This one just needs to be able to point more powerful folks in a better direction with a new plan, and a new message.

 ImageThe new raised beds just waiting for the April workshop.

As spring unfolds it is clear that the Happiness Factor is high at Blue Rock Station, and the workload is heavy.  I don’t plan to get ahead of myself though by pushing this day away.  It’s just good to look into the future and see that there is hope and opportunity.

Dear Best Friend;

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                  February 23, 2012

66 F indoors                 41 F outdoors


Dear Kati (my darling Hungarian best friend);

ImageChristmas caroler and Kati in Cambridge OH – Kati has a great sense of humor and a fine intellect, as you can see from this silly photo.

Life is so darn full – getting ready for the goats to have baby kids.  Just returned from speaking at the OEFFA conference.  Cutting willows every day until my arms wear out.  Cooking good food and enjoying myself immensely – Lots of interns applying but right now I’ve only accepted four – all women.  That should be interesting.

Jay and I are going off to Marietta this weekend for a weekend special at The Lafayette Hotel that overlooks the Ohio River.  We decided to have a getaway because we’ve been steadily busy – he gets up at 5 AM to write, and I’ve been working full out with such great weather.  On top of all of that I’m editing the book in the evenings so we’re justifying our time away as a bit of a retreat (marketing strategy for the new book) and then off to a great meal and the comedy show.

After THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH in January I was officially weaned from the radio, and I’m still not listening to it so Jay occasionally (not to overload me) fills me in on some of the politics – nothing good except that it IS official that Obama is a dictator that promotes anti-Christian sentiment.  I was glad to learn that because now I can at least rest easier to know the Obama will be winning the next election.

The latest thing on Facebook is that the Girl Scouts promote homosexuality.  Honest to heaven, what’s next?  This is why I don’t want to hear the news.  If the world is going to hell in a giant explosion I want to know that I lived this day to the fullest and I couldn’t do that if I thought you, and everyone else I love was going to die today.  So I am doing what I can to make the world a better place without being told the latest bullshit from the mainstream media.

Life’s so full of normal worries these days that I could pinch myself.  During our time in Europe, when we were struggling to hang onto our Miss America, we dreamed of a day when all we had to worry about were things like annual repairs to the buildings, too many intern applicants and her gap year before she returns to college. 

ImageTaken at our 30th anniversary, here we are looking good – Kati has a great fashion sense…I admire her greatly for many reasons.

My biggest worries are not our health, or how to pay the bills but if I’ve done everything right so the goats will have an easy kidding, and how many chicks to order, or how to keep the two yellow roosters from mating with the hens I want to collect eggs from for hatching.

It all brings me back to the HAPPINESS FACTOR and how truly wealthy I am.  Yesterday, after trimming the rose bush (I call it Aunt LaVerla – it’s over 200 years old) so I can start some slips from it, I walked down the lane with the dogs chasing each other, and Carolyn Cat running beside me.  It struck me hard that life is good because I can savor those very moments…I’m not seeking anything else but the company of two happy dogs and an adorable cat.  My world is really amazing, and I get to be in it every single day.  I’m going to savor every moment.

I miss you…bisous…. Annie

Hope for the future… February 15, 2012


As I prepare for my appearance at a statewide conference I have taken myself down memory lane by gathering in all of the photos from our time with interns at Blue Rock Station.  Looking at those photos is like an emotional roller coaster – lots of ups, lots of leveling out and only an occasional dip down.  They are an inspiring lot.


With the middle of February glaring back at me I have begun to receive quite a few intern requests.  Most of them are from women, which is not unusual.  All of them are from young folks looking for a chance to learn in a way they have failed to experience in a formal education system.

Our way of teaching is to assume that the learning comes from both sides so we have skill-building afternoons where interns teach all of us things that they know.  We also have cooking class once a week.

We use the Happiness Factor Model that I developed as the structure for our time with interns.  They arrive with high expectations – ours are equally high and remain that way so that we are always reaching forward to find what we need.  

The goal is to create a sense of security so they will push themselves to learn new things.  We want them to feel safe to make mistakes and to be creative.  There is a sense of community and family because we cook and eat together, plus share the workload on projects.  Everything is up front with lots of talking through ideas, creating time lines, and evaluating progress – both physically and psychologically.  All of this creates friendships – often lasting beyond their experience here, and a sense of wholeness and health.  No wonder it is a challenge for all of us when it is time for them to go back out into the world.

And what do we get in return…inspiration from their ideas, their energy, their questioning, their knowledge, their nurturing…and so much more.  Truly I believe we would not still have the energy to do what we do without the interns that have walked through the gate to give us a small part of their lives.

Here’s the story in photos:

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageEach of these amazing folks in the photos, and many more have left their mark on us and Blue Rock Station.  If you know someone who would like an opportunity to experience sustainable living with us please pass this along, and don’t forget to press the “like” button.

Blue Rock Station Diaries February 9, 2012

23 F outdoors          65 F indoors




Samuel Sheets.  I will never forget the first time I heard those words.  How could I know that the person that belonged to that name would walk into my life and steal my heart?

There’s a history with this guy – he’s young, handsome and smart.  He also has had some challenges in this life, but when he was with us those things were off in the distance and he belonged.

Sam is good hearted.  He is a joy to work with because he can take any situation and make something good out of it. 

I hesitate to re-tell some of the stories that involve his life at Blue Rock Station because he’s in the Army now, and apparently at the ripe old age of 19 there is a lot to make fun of if you’re from Ohio, particularly farmland Ohio.

His one mistake in life, as far as I can see, is that he decided he was in love with our granddaughter.  Since there can be no choosing anyone over her, Sam’s days with us eventually became measured by when Miss America was off on a trip, or doing something away from the farm.

Since his birthday is two days apart from Jay’s we had some wonderful birthdays together – sometimes taking a little trip, or holding a party, or just doting on him.  Sam loves a party.  He really truly enjoys bringing people together to talk, to play music, to have fun.  I really like that about him.

Even at Christmas he would join us after Miss America went off to her mom’s house.  He also really loves holidays.

So when I saw him in the library two years ago I wasn’t surprised to see him wearing a stocking cap with the word “ARMY” on it.  He waltzed right up to me to tell me he had enlisted, and I promptly burst out crying, right in the middle of everybody.

Last spring, after he graduated from high school, he spent quite a bit of time with us.  He worked on some projects to help out, and we shopped for the things he needed to take with him to basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

I confess that the day I returned his Army-issued backpack (the one I had to take apart and re-sew because it was already falling apart) I planned that I would not be officially saying “goodbye”.  He was leaving in two days at that point, and I hate goodbyes.

That was the last time I saw him until I arrived at graduation at Ft. Benning.   While I waited in the cold morning air just for a glimpse of him I was surrounded by hundreds of parents and grandparents.  There were also wives and girlfriends.  We sang “God Bless America” and recited the pledge of allegiance.  I felt really traditionally American sitting on those hard seats waiting to see this person I hold dear to me.

When he marched out with his battalion unit I spotted him immediately in the sea of gray camo.  His Army-issued glasses changed his face, but it was still Sam.  The sign I’d made the night before “Sam Sheets – our hero” signaled to him where I was standing (actually on top of a chair – I’m short).  He never broke that serious expression, but later he said that he saw me right off.

ImageFt. Benning graduation – Sam and Annie


When they finally broke rank and he came to give me a hug I could hardly believe how strong those muscles felt.  But some things never change – he wanted a new pair of boots and to eat something.

Off we went to the military store where he did find a pair of more comfortable light- weight Army-issue boots.  We also managed to find a pizza buffet where he ate every type of pizza twice.

I spent those two days just drinking in Sam – the boy I first met because Miss America drug him home; The young man who tried to find his way through fishing and teaching kindergartners; The guy who was trying to figure out what it means to grow up in a world with so many mixed messages.


Image  Home for the holidays – Miss America, Annie and Sam re-creating the Georgia pizza experience


After a stint at Ft. Gordon for more training, and home for the holidays (recreating each pizza style we ate in Ft. Benning) Sam is in Hawaii.  He reports that the Army says he will be there for 18 months.  He can’t believe his good luck. 

From the moment he left until the moment he returns I am dreaming of his future.  I can see him coming back here – to Blue Rock Station to be a part of our work.  He can contribute to our conservation efforts by teaching fishing and hunting.  And, he’ll know a lot more about the mechanics of things – plus bring all of that charm.  In his heart he is a country boy.

Maybe he won’t stay, but I also keep reminding him that he has a place to come back to when the time is right.  There’s a lot to be said about having a bunker for security, and we want to provide that for him.

In the meantime he’s busy making, as many mistakes as possible so that he gets all of it out of the way for when he faces even more serious challenges in life – like building a house, finding the right mate, and living an everyday life.  I can’t wait to see how he’s going to pull all of this off, but I am hoping I get to watch from a ringside seat.


Living earthberm ramp to living roof

Side view with tire retaining wall
Side view with tire retaining wall

After drawing the earthberm ramp to the living roof with tires of rammed earth, I saw that it would take about 150 pounded tires to create a retaining wall for the earthberm ramp. Recalling the May 2011 strawbale build for the llama shed, it took us a day and a half with 11 people to pound the 47 tires in the foundation. At that rate, it would take us at least 4 or 5 days just to build the retaining wall! That’s a lot of tire pounding for such a small structure.

In an effort to solve the issue of “how do we avoid pounding tires for 5 days”, I searched the internet for other ideas. I found out that someone has built a retaining wall by stacking unopened cement bags in a running bond. When it rained, the moisture was sucked in through the paper bag and voila, a cement brick wall was formed! It’s a great idea, but at $5 per bag and with at least 200 bags necessary for the wall, it’s well out of budget for this project.

The next “easy way out” idea I had was to just set strawbales in place for the retaining wall, cinch them together, use the usual mud mixtures on them and fill in the ramp. I knew this idea sounded far-fetched because I suspected the outward pressure of the soil against the wall would be too great for the weight of a strawbale wall. I searched Andrew Morrison’s to see if others had ever tried an earthberm strawbale wall, and Andrew suggests that any buried wall be made of concrete block or something similar that then transitions to unburied strawbale walls. Concrete blocks are also out of budget for this project, at $3 per block and about 125 blocks, we’d be at $375 just for the retaining wall.

And, of course, there is the classic milled stone retaining wall. If we can’t afford bags of concrete or concrete blocks, I know milled stone is out of the budget.

Then, the idea of earthbags entered my mind. My neighbor has been toying with the idea of earthbag construction for a while and has a book that he’s let me look through. Filling bags with earth seems like an easier process than pounding tires, and I have access to free burlap sacks from a local coffee roasting company. Perhaps the smell of coffee will stimulate the crew to fill them faster! The website indicates that burlap bags will rot with moisture, but I think that since most of the earth material at Blue Rock Station is clay, it will form bricks that stay in place and rotting burlap should not affect the integrity of the structure. The sacks would then be covered with the traditional mud mixtures and the interior face of the retaining wall will have a vapor barrier of 6 mil plastic similar to the one used in the foundation of the building. If the deterioration of the sacks are a concern for Annie & Jay, we can use woven polypropylene feed sacks available from any large scale agricultural operation. I’ve located a few examples on Craigslist for about $0.19 a piece.

My model indicates that it would take about 225 earthbags to build the retaining wall. I haven’t timed how long it would take to fill an earthbag, but my guess is that it would take less time to fill 225 earthbags than to pound 150 tires.

Another addition to this rendition of the model is the tin roof from with rainwater is diverted to a rainbarrel within the bottle-wall cone. A drainage system for this handwashing station is yet to be devised, but I envision a sink built into the wall with PVC piping draining away from the building to a French drain.

Below are the latest images from the model, and as always, make sure to check my website at for further updates and model images.

Front Right View with earthbag retaining wall
Front Right View with earthbag retaining wall
Front side view with earthbag retaining wall
Front side view with earthbag retaining wall
Rear Left View with earthbag retaining wall
Rear Left View with earthbag retaining wall
Rear side view with earthbag retaining wall
Rear side view with earthbag retaining wall

Are we what we eat? February 6, 2012

February 6, 2012                      22 F outdoors           61 F indoors


Saturday was our first day to be together after the THANKS FOR NOTHING month so we talked about having an excursion of sorts – going to McConnelsville OH to the Blue Bell Restaurant for breakfast.  Jay tried selling me on the idea by pointing out that they had oatmeal, plus I wanted to do some shopping at the hardware store downtown.

Image Jay and Cat at the Blue Bell, across from the Opera House (built in 1892)

McConnelsville ( is situated in what they’re now calling “The Front Porch of the Great Outdoors”.  It is a marvelous place to visit – still a working town with shops, an opera house (showing films on weekends and live music the third Saturday of the month), and four terrific museums, plus a downtown hardware that seems to carry everything.  Jo-Ad’s Market is a first rate market with bulk foods, homemade goodies, a cafe for lunch, and a place to sit to watch the traffic.

The Blue Bell has been around since the 1950’s – maybe even before that.  The walls are covered in rock ‘n roll memorabilia.  There’s a daily special, ice cream, and country fried steak on the menu.  If you eat there, you’ll absorb enough grease, just from the ambiance, to last you a lifetime.  Jay and Cat love the place.

As Jay and Cat placed their orders of well-done steak with eggs (for Cat) and country fried steak with eggs (Jay) and everything smothered in gravy I honestly felt I might gag.  I kept conjuring up how that would taste and it didn’t seem likely that I’d enjoy even one bite of it.  I ordered oatmeal with raisins and peanuts (from the ice cream sundae bar).  I would have much rather just watched them eat – well maybe not.

ImageJay’ breakfast

Image  Cat’s breakfast


When the food arrived they were salivating at the thought of how it would taste.  I was just the opposite – trying not to look too closely at the plates.  When I took a photo of their food and said I was going to write about the restaurant, Cat insisted I take a picture of my food too.

After a “leisurely” meal we walked down the street to the hardware store to buy some hooks and a strap for the goat field gate.  Jay traveled on to the bank.  When we finished our shopping Cat and I started walking across the street to Jo-Ad’s when we saw Jay coming towards us.  He thought we were meeting him at the bank so he started walking up and down the street looking for us – life in a small town.

At Jo-Ad’s we ran into people we knew who had seen Jay walking up and down the street so they waited to speak to us.  We also had a nice conversation about the Chesterhill Produce Auction with Rubin Yoder, the owner of Jo-Ad’s.  We’re in Mennonite country in this part of Morgan County so there are lots of Yoders and Millers. 

As we drove around the Civil War soldier at the roundabout we were sure to notice what film was playing at the Opera House.  Cat had been given two free tickets to the movie TIN TIN when we were checking out at the hardware store.  Life on the farm – it’s grand.