Friday, December 10, 2010

Roots in the Texas Soil.

     I was born in a log cabin. Okay, actually I wasn't. I was born in Georgetown Hospital, Georgetown, Texas August 18, 1950. My Texas roots go back 6 generations or more. One line, my mother's Millard line, goes back to Col. Henry B. Millard, who was a Colonel in the Texas Army in the battle of San Jacinto. Other family lines include, of course, Seward, Adams, Tucker, Stanley, Hunt, and a bunch of others. 
     I've been involved in genealogy, tracing family roots, most of my life. My paternal grandmother, Bertha Mildred Adams Seward sort of got me started. She and two of her sisters-in-law put together a small book on the Seward line back in the '50s. I still have a copy of that. Most copies were individually typed, some hektographed or carbons and semi bound into file folders with a hand-drawn copy of a Seward coat-of-arms on the cover. 
     Williamson County, Texas has a very good society, the Williamson County Genealogical Society, that includes many professional researchers and other resources. I was active in the WCGS for several years, as well as the Williamson County Historical Commission.
Genealogy can be a fascinating, and sometimes riveting hobby. A lot of people seem to think that they can go online, or zip down to the library and "look up" their family tree. It is rarely ever that simple. The only time that actually is productive is if someone very close to you has applied for Daughters of the Revolution, or Daughters of the Republic of Texas membership AND has put it on file AND it is actually easily located. 
     It takes a lot of digging, and luck, and talking to relatives and others who are actively researching. A good genealogical software program is of incredible help. You will be able to share files with others if your program has the capability to use .ged files. Also called gedcoms, they are pretty standard with most genealogical software programs. Current programs also have wonderful tools for adding pictures, documenting discoveries and adding notes. Many will even aid you in generating a book of your files. 
     The main program I use is Personal Ancestor File from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is still a very inexpensive program, sometimes free, with a lot of really good bells and whistles. There are lots of others available, including RootsMagic, Brother's Keeper, and on and on. Whatever looks good to you or works the way you want to work is great. I would definitely recommend the PAF, but if you use anything else, be sure it works with the gedcom files. 
     However you feel about the LDS Church, their genealogy files are extensive, and if you are a serious genealogical researcher you will definitely find a lot for you in their library. They are always very generous in sharing as well.
     One imperative for serious research is good record keeping. Start a log and give every letter, interview, email, book citation or other source of info a number as if you were making footnotes. Sometimes in the moment it is easy to forget, or seem trivial, but it certainly makes it so much easier to track down that information you have filed away. Yes, your software will also usually have a provision to annotate information, but that hard copy log will be invaluable. Trust me!
     How does it work? Perhaps you get a letter from Aunt Sally with information on cousins. You open your reference log, see what the next number in sequence is, make a note in the log of Aunt Sally's letter and the gist of the info. Don't forget to write that number on the actual letter where you can see it before you file it away. Then, in the software, where you actually enter the info, use the same reference number. At a later date someone may ask about the information and you can quickly locate the original in your files. You can do the same with emails, gedcom files, books you consult, and so on. 
     It is also very easy online to begin a family website to present your information for others you are related to. I have one at If you are family, let me know and I'll add you.
     The book I would suggest any beginning genealogist get would be Emily Croom's "Unpuzzling Your Past". Emily is a fellow Central Texan and her book is an incredibly thorough introduction to genealogy. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oh to be writing!

Between recurring colds, the farmer's markets and the work out at the Sherwood booth I haven't done any writing at all except for this blog. I'm beginning to think I won't have any time for it until after Sherwood Forest Faire is over for another year, in April. Oh well, so be it. The booth is the most important goal on our plate at the moment. We really need to finish! 
At least I can make time to read!

Building the Magnificent Cat Dancing Creations Vendor Booth! Part 5

Plugging along with the booth construction. I thought I would post a few pics of the straw/mud process, as well as where we're at, now that the blog is finally up to date. 
 Here's the back wall with bamboo up several more feet and the wall filled about halfway up the doorway.
 The South end wall, about half done.
 Inside, looking out through the front door and windows. Wall is filled up to the porch roof level. You can see that the upper part is still damp.

Outside view of the front wall. See the booth number?

Looking up at the South end back corner. The triangular space will be a window. Staining is not quite done. Still have some bamboo to finish it out as well.
 The North end wall. Some of the rock stem wall is visible here as well.
 A close-up of some of the joinery of yours truly. Leaves make some of it look a bit strange.

 A shot from inside the rear wall. You'll see Cat stuffing some of it in a bit. The 2X4s serve a dual purpose, or maybe triple. They will be supports to hang art from on the finished wall. They also give points to tie the bamboo too, as well as lateral stabilization for the walls.

 Another close look at the inside of the South end wall. The front of the booth is to the left of the picture.
 A closer look at the wall. Kind of hairy looking, isn't it?

An even closer look at the packed straw/clay mixture.We're even getting a few green sprouts.

Here's the good stuff!

And here's where it starts. As mentioned before, the clay is mixed with water. We use both a garden fork and a paddle till it reaches this consistency, a bit like a not too thick chocolate shake.

Silas row the boat ashore! However, shore never seems to get any closer!

 Loosened straw is mixed in and left to soak for forty-five minutes or so.
There it is. Al dente! Sort of.

 The fork transfers the mix to the wheelbarrow.
Wheel it where it is needed, grab a handful.

Stuff it in the forms. Muddy hands are GOOD for you!

 Keep going till the forms are full. If you look closely you can see the bamboo sitting on the nails that hold the bases in place. A vertical 16d nail serves to hold them in place, while smaller nails are used to attach them to the horizontals and top pieces.
Holes and depressions are inevitable. You can go back and fill them in as you go. The clay also shrinks a bit, it pulls away from the wood above it and to the side, so that needs filling later as well.

 Back to tools. Here are our professional looking mixing barrels.

 These are the buckets we soak extra clay in for mixing. Also professional. Can you tell what they held originally?
 The screen. Made from half inch hardware cloth and 2x4s. At times a finer one would help, quarter inch, perhaps.
Wheelbarrows and, hey, remember that Flintstone roller? The iron barrow at bottom is the really old one. The narrow steel wheel is a problem sometimes, but it is never flat! It also doesn't flex like the plastic barrow.

 Another fun part of the project is the flower spiral garden out front by the ramp.

 A lavender plant tops the spiral, the rest is planted with snapdragons, dianthus, and alyssum. Most of the plants came from the nice folks at Bastrop Organic Gardens, along with good advice on planting. The spiral was planted on the day before the full moon while the moon was in Scorpio. We got Microbial Extract and Castings from Microbial Earth to fertilize it and get it started right. 

There it is! The spiral garden, more specifically used as an herb spiral, was a concept I learned in my Permaculture Design class. 

Work continues!

Book Review

Silent Night, Deadly Night
Silent Night, Deadly Night by Lisa Lach

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is a confusing read. It is apparently self-published and shows it. It would have seriously benefited from being edited. The book badly needs better organization and an index. I am very fond of local historical accounts. I am a past member of the Williamson County Historical Commission, Williamson Co. Genealogical Society, Round Rock and Liberty Hill libraries, and an author. The quoted sources were informative, but the connecting narrative was very hard to follow and suffers from grammar and typo/spelling challenges. I would only suggest reading this book if you want to see the source material, which is plentiful. Don't read it to find a coherent story.
We also are not told anything of the author's background or her purpose for writing the book.
I will finish the book, I will learn from it, but it is not a "Good Read".

View all my reviews

The above is my review of a book I am nearly done reading. The book purports to tell the true story of the lynching and Christmas Day shootout in McDade, Texas in 1883. Guess I should have been clued in by the toy cap pistol on the cover! I'm a writer, I support self-publishing. However, books like this illustrate the drawbacks.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Building the Magnificent Cat Dancing Creations Vendor Booth! Part 4

After the 2010 Faire season concluded, they kicked everyone out for awhile for cleanup, etc. It was a mixed blessing. The weather was very nice and would have been great for working, but on the other hand, we all needed a break after many weeks of spending weekends at the Faire following many more weeks building. We had to pass up a few chances at free rocks, etc. because we had no place to put it. Once the grounds opened up again, we started back in. We took down the plywood and started hauling in rocks and fill again. Silas got right back onto shoveling, raking, and rolling dirt. We obtained a couple of loads of packing sand from Fenske's, a local dirt supplier near Elgin. He suggested the red sand as being very "packable", which we needed for the packed earth floors. 
Here you can see the new dirt being shoveled onto the floor. The plywood has also been removed and returned to the theater!

Lots and lots of red sand. It actually did pack really well!

More of the new pack sand was added to the porch and ramp as well as re-doing the rock edging. 

Here the floor is filled and ready for final finishing, but that must wait till the walls are done! We're going to be kicking it around for awhile till that is done. At least the extra traffic will pack it down further. Kudos to Silas for spearheading this part of the job especially. He and Michael did the bulk of the floor work you see. The corner you see on the upper left has been filled with dirt and rock over three feet deep to level it out!

At this point I went for a couple of changes. Originally intending wattle and daub walls, I had the idea of going to light straw and clay. I had learned the method in my class for Permaculture Design recently and it seemed a bit less labor intensive, while giving the same visible result. 
The following explanation comes from

Light Straw-Clay (Leichtlehm)
Leichtlehm (literally "light-loam") is a German technique of ramming loose straw coated with a clay slip into forms as an infill for timber frame structures. This technique has been popularly reintroduced to North America by Robert Laporte who teaches natural building courses nationwide. He has been joined recently by Frank Andresen, a builder with extensive natural building experience in his native Germany.

The technique consists of surrounding a frame structure with a thick infill of the straw-clay mixture. The frame is usually fully expressed on the interior of the building to take advantage of the beauty of the timber frame joinery. A lighter frame of wood is built on the eventual outside face of the building as an anchoring system for the straw-clay walls.

Loose straw and a clay slurry are tossed with pitchforks or mixed mechanically, then allowed to age for up to several days in order to allow the straw to absorb the extra moisture and thus create a stickier and more easily tamped mixture. For higher insulation values less clay can be used. Slip forms are set up between the framing members, and the straw clay mixture is tamped by hand in two-foot layers.

Occasional horizontal members spanning between the exterior frame are placed in order to "lock in" the straw-clay mass. Frank Andresen places the ends of these horizontal members at the upper ends of vertical slots in the frame in order to allow for shrinkage of the straw-clay as it dries. Once each layer is complete, the slip form is moved up and the next layer is tamped until the wall is complete. The walls are allowed to dry before final plastering occurs. Any shrinkage is taken up by stuffing more of the mixture into the cracks.
--- end of quote
The material requirements were about the same, but wattle and daub requires both the vertical members I'd already started installing and woven horizontal members to form a mat that the straw-clay mixture would be plastered onto. Light clay and straw is not so old a method, but it was adapted from wattle and daub and looks about the same in the end. 
I made a few of my own adaptations to the style. I retained the verticals to act as reinforcing inside the walls. This was something I hadn't seen done before, but it made sense. I did stop using the saplings, as I found several sources of local bamboo, which is certainly a sustainable material, and tends to be much straighter!
Luckily, we found a local source for the straw. Acceptable straw for use in alternative construction is often hard to find locally. We happened to find someone who had built their own straw bale house and had over thirty bales of good straw left over in storage. We quickly purchased it from him. It is very close to the right amount required for the project. 
Once again, Fenske's came through for us. Here is a load of clay we got from them (separated from some of the red sand by a tarp). 
We shoveled the clay into the buckets shown and soaked it. We added four more of the half barrels and a lot more of the smaller buckets. We've found it helps to soak the clay overnight. Already soaked clay is added from the smaller buckets as the mix in the barrels used up. At end of day, we shovel in more clay and let it soak for the next day. At start of day, we stir the clay and water, adding whatever is needed of each until the consistency is that of heavy paint or a good milkshake before adding straw. As  much loose straw is stirred into the barrel until no more will fit and be covered by clay.

As mentioned in the quote up above, some builders soak the straw in the clay for a day or more. I found that others don't think that makes a difference. We found that soaking for forty-five minutes or so is enough. When the straw begins to become soft and a handful of straw retains the mud on it then it is ready. 

Here is a shot showing a row of mud already set and drying, another form filled on top of it, and vertical bamboo pieces ready to go. We went with twelve inch forms, as anything deeper was hard to pack mud into well using hands. You can see a lot of the straw in the mud here, as well as our stockpile of straw bales under the roof. The poles are getting the bark peeled off before they get mud also.

Here's one of the front walls under a window. A bit closer showing a couple of runs of straw and clay, as well as some of the short forms. You can see the difference between the previous saplings and the newer bamboo.

 Another shot of the front walls and ongoing forming. 

Here is a shot of another new development on the front wall. The framing just visible that somewhat resembles a rainbow will be filled with stained glass ultimately.

Guess what? This blog is nearly up to date now. Next time we'll have current pictures of where we're at and more details. Enjoy!

Building the Magnificent Cat Dancing Creations Vendor Booth! Part 3

Building stem walls and filling the floors continued, actually has hardly stopped even now. Silas continued with that process with Michael's help and Cat, Michael, and I continued to haul scrounged rocks for the process. 

However, we also were getting pressed for time to get at least some of the booth ready for the opening of the Faire in February. Michael and I pushed on to get the roof on. The roof was also needed to protect the new dirt in the floor from rains.

We went ahead with metal roofing for the high roof, as that roof slopes away from the "on stage" area, I felt we could camouflage whatever metal was left showing there and have the benefits of metal.

Here, most of the high metal roofing is on. You can see one of the two translucent fiberglass panels we included to provide light. We plan to conceal the underside of the steel roofing with burlap.

Here's an angle showing the whole high roof on with both skylights.

 Here's another shot with all the roofing on. Also showing some of the bracing and the Flintstone roller.

As the porch roof is totally visible from the Faire grounds, I decided to go with cedar shake shingles on that to be durable, and period.
Here is the porch roof nearly finished. We had already purchased metal roofing for the high roof. I was surprised to find that the square footage cost was roughly the same.

 With Faire opening rapidly approaching we needed to find a way to acceptably vend out of our unfinished space. Theater friends we knew loaned us several theater flats made of plywood which we painted and closed off the front of our building. The square opening here will be one of our front windows, but for 2010 Faire we displayed art in it as you'll see later. Here you can also see the initial uprights for the wattle and daub walls. These were saplings I harvested from trimmings on site. These were various types of tree limbs, reasonably straight, a few are juniper. It wound up looking nice in front of the plywood, didn't it?
Here is the same area in the above picture, as it was when we opened. Some of Cat Dancing's stained glass is in the foreground, the Intarsia wood art is in the window space.

Here is the whole booth as it looked when the faire opened. You can see the rest of the flats. We covered the exposed front of the metal roof with a wood soffit of salvaged wood. The rest of the art is visible here, and you can see Cat standing on the ramp. More saplings were used to make railings around the porch, as there was easily a two foot drop off of the right side! The front doors are again made of salvaged wood and are fixed partly open here. We kept the sales accounting stuff in back. Exposed roofing on the ends was covered here with white fabric for the faire. 
Another shot of the porch with the lovely proprietress, Lady Cat Dancing, in faire garb. The open doors with curtain are visible here, as well as the verticals over the door.

For the sake of balance, here's a shot of the right side of the porch, the rest of the art.

Sir Silas all garbed up in the plaid of his sept.

Sir William of RainCrow. Yours truly. Holding up a post, or vice-versa. Too much mead perhaps? I'm also in a family plaid. The 3M family, I think!

And, of course, Sir Michael. 

All in all, the first year of Sherwood Forest Faire was a huge success! 
We took a couple of months off afterward and then began the work to finish the booth for real!

Next: More floor dirt, and design change! Stay tuned!