Open work weekend

August 2, 3, 4 August 2013

raspberriesThe raspberry canes are as high as an elephant’s eye, and bearing fruit twice daily. Everything is green and lush – a real pleasure to behold. And there are a couple of pieces of work we need to complete that call for more arms and legs than three women can provide.

The party wall with our neighbour Pedro needs a couple of coats of paint – Guido, our friendly eco-builder has lent us the scaffolding to be able to do it, but we need some (wo)manpower to help us get it done (perhaps including putting up the scaffolding).

And there are some other jobs – like roofing our woodshed, transporting some old wooden beams, harvesting vegetables, etc. – that would welcome some co-creative energy.

As always, Chrisje will be transforming the fruits of the garden into delicious fuel for our labours, and there will be friendship and good conversation as we work.

You are welcome to join us

on Friday 2 August, Saturday 3 August and/or Sunday 3 August

from 10 am until tired, fed up or dark!

For those who want to make a holiday of it and stay for one or both nights, we do have some mattresses, and there’s plenty of space for pitching tents.

Please let us know if you are coming so we can cater. Either send a mail to Ria or Helen or post a comment here.

Bring working gloves (we do have some though!), old clothes and stout outdoor shoes/boots. If it’s raining that weekend, please check with us before setting off, because we might need to shift to another weekend!

We are looking forward to welcoming you and having a good time together!

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Open garden days – June 1 & 2 2013

As part of the Velt Ecotuindagen, Dorpsstraat 136 in Ransberg is opening its doors to

Velt ecotuindagen

welcome visitors who want to come and explore our land and garden, and discover the story that Ria, Chrisje and I have been living these past 3 years.

You are most welcome to come between 10.00 and 18.00 on Saturday 1 June and Sunday 2 June. The address is:

Dorpsstraat 136, 3470 Ransberg, Belgium

This being Belgium, we recommend sensible outdoor shoes! If you think you might like to ‘potter’ a bit, bring your gardening gloves with you…

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Saving lives without getting out of bed

Something rather extraordinary happened early in the morning of 1 May 2013… A gentleman driving through the village, somewhat worse for drink, blinded by the sun rising over the rooftops and reaching for his shades… came off the road at rather an immoderate speed, drove up onto the pavement. Entangling wing mirrors with Ria’s car, parked in front of the house, the two cars slewed around, Ria’s piling into Chris’s lovely new hybrid Auris, parked just behind. His car came to a halt with the back end bare inches away from the wall of our house.

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Pedro, our staunch neighbour, was the first to the scene – as Chris and Ria lay sleeping in the attic, behind snugly insulating windows…

Both their cars were written off – thankfully the insurance of the unfortunate, greatly chagrined, gentleman will come into play. Still, I was left wondering, when I heard the story, what on earth was going on? This kind of misfortune didn’t seem random or innocent. This kind of seeming bad luck isn’t part of what we are creating here.

On closer inspection, though, we became aware that if our two cars had not been parked exactly where they were, to slow down the momentum of the out-of-control vehicle, it would have careered right into the jutting corner of our neighbour’s house, almost certainly killing the driver.

And so, ‘saving lives’ becomes another of the roles that we, as this place are called to fulfill in the greater scheme of things. This feels like a strange and humbling (not to mention bloody inconvenient!!) turn of events, that will call for close observation as the future unfolds.

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Nature abhors a vacuum

We have lived in so many different ways inside the spaces offered by the house here at 136 Dorpsstraat. We felt right from the start that the ‘house spirit’ of this place was a very shy and simple soul. It was months before I could even sense it – probably because the house had been standing empty for so long. We had to live in the place for 18 months before we could make a start on any renovation or remodeling work – it took that long for the house spirit to get used to us and start to trust us.

In the mean time, we have squatted in the ground floor rooms, changing and adapting their configuration in ways that have challenged the adaptability of the spirit without overstepping its capacity to accommodate us (apart from the occasional blown fuse – the electrical system was very primitive). As the build has progressed, more substantial interventions have been called for, the most radical of which have been Chrisje’s foot through the ceiling in the living room (fortunately not followed by the rest of Chrisje!), the demolition of the chimneys and removal of the coal- and fuel-oil-burning stoves and the addition of the wood-burning stove. The most recent innovation has been the addition of a high-tech hospital bed to accommodate Chrisje as she recovers from the operation on her foot.

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Now, with almost dry walls, an almost clean floor and an almost finished source of warmth in the new living space taking shape in the back, family life is starting to move in. This weekend, Ria has been hosting two of her small granddaughters, and I turned up this Sunday to find the traditional living space deserted, and Chrisje, wheelchair and all, installed with her brother and his wife around the table in front of the windows overlooking the garden, with the new stove radiating warmth and the winter sun streaming in. On all available surfaces (mostly floor and windowsills) were strewn the tell-tale signs of small inhabitants, toys, shoes, items of clothing.

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It feels like a new beginning – there have been so many already in this story. And so many endings, too – the disappearance of elements, like the workshop and the back house; and the loss of both our walnut trees. First, the younger tree that was blown over by the hurricane in August 2011, and now, on the night of 22 December 2012, the venerable, lightning-blasted old being standing sentinel above the compost corner. We had been expecting it to come down at any moment, since it was so tired and rotten. With all the rain we’ve had this December, it’s no surprise that it chose that night to come to ground. And it came down exactly in the expected trajectory, handily blocking all access down to the orchard, chickens and swales. May it rest in peace. With the time it takes a walnut tree to grow, I guess we will be eating no more home-harvested walnuts in our lifetimes here on this land.

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One Hour at Work.

While doing renovations on the house I needed a nail gun. I phoned a friend who lives nearby to ask if I could borrow his. “Yes,” he said.
“Can I come and fetch it right now?”
“Sure,” he replied.
I was very happy it was all going so smoothly and gave myself a pat on the back. I took a sample of nails along to make sure I got the right gun.
When I got there and tried the nails they fitted perfectly. As he was giving me tips on using the gun I had this feeling that the gun would not work.
On later reflection I knew the gun wouldn’t work. I took it anyway. I clung onto a hope that somehow the gun would suffice and we’d get the all the insulating that needed to be done by the end of the day.
The gun did not work. Not at all. I was furious, my plans were now ruined all that backpatting had been premature and I still had to return the dud gun. I inwardly cursed my friend, “You b3#d², you gave me a dud and wasted my time,” when actually, I had preferred to cling onto a belief that the gun would work rather than listen to my intuition.

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Transformation under the eaves

I’ve been remiss in telling the story of the renovation going on inside the house. It turns out that this kind of blogging is time consuming and I’ve not been as disciplined (or is it motivated?) as I fondly imagined I would be when we started out!

And now, Chris and Ria are both safely installed upstairs in the attic rooms, and it is time to unveil them – even though there is still some finishing to be done.

A new roof, and windows bringing light

The first big change was having light in the space beneath the roof. And a floor you could actually walk on! (two layers of OSB boards with soundproofing mat in between)

Next came the insulation in the roof – using cellulose blown in behind a heavy paper covering (isofloc process), and wooden frames for the partition walls – transforming a single space split by a brick separating wall, into two bedrooms, a bathroom and a light and airy stairwell right down through the house.

Isofloc insulation using recycled paper

At this stage, Martin went to work. The walls are made of simple oriented strand board (OSB), that will be covered with a variety of different finishes.

This will be the bathroom

Next came an intensive bout of preparation as we painted the wooden slats we would be using for finishing the ceilings. The first floor rooms became storage space and paintshop for a few weeks, as length after length of wood came under the roller and the brush.

Chris at work

Finishing the ceiling was back-breaking and exacting work, but well worth the effort (says she who observed it all from a safe distance)!

Ceiling in the small attic bedroom finished

The brick outer walls first had to be insulated with isoflas hemp fibre and then covered with fermacel.

Outer wall, showing wood frame, isoflas insulation and fermacel covering

Next we tackled the inner brick wall in the big bedroom, which we covered with lime plaster, helped by Bram de Beul of Stuccotec, a true master of the craft, who patiently guided us as we learned how to work with this material ourselves.

Getting heavy buckets of lime plaster mixed with hemp up the ladder to the attic was a challenge

Lastly, a beautiful natural lime finish on the outside wall, and all was ready for Ria to move in.

Ria finally moved upstairs in October, just in time before the fireplace was demolished in her old sleeping space

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Dirty hands, happy hearts!

Invitation to a working weekend – Saturday 27 & Sunday 28 October 2012

Dear friends of Dorpsstraat!

Applying ‘trass-kalk’ to the strawbales on the outside

As you can see, things are progressing with our new living space. We are finishing off the outside walls, and this weekend it will be time to start on the inside walls.

We will be working with a mix of lime plaster and straw to create a flat surface on the walls (right now they are quite bumpy because of the straw bales). It’ll be dirty but contemplative and grounding work – you can expect the usual good conversation and yummy home-grown food.

You are welcome on either Saturday or Sunday (or both!) any time from 10am onwards. Please bring old clothes and sturdy outdoor footwear, plus (washable) working gloves if you have them. And please let us know if you’re planning to join us (by commenting on this blog or on our Friends of Dorpsstraat facebook page) so we can cater for food.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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