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                                 Intern -  bio and thoughts 


         Welcome to the Strawbale Studio Blog          

 Strawbale Studio blog entry by intern, Kate Hensley:
Welcome to 2010, our dear friends, lovers of natural building! Your favorite cob slinging studio members have been enjoying the first several weeks of the new year with a couple of familiar activities. First of all, we all received and took advantage of the opportunity to surround ourselves with family members and friends during the holidays, making sure to stuff our bellies with good foods, telling stories and taking gentle naps. Deanne, Abbie and myself (Kate) reconvened here at the Strawbale Studio to begin the warm labors of winter.
From Interns 2010
From Interns 2010

 We began with hearty work in the fields, almost everyday the first few weeks of January, collecting and harvesting phragmite, a reed grass, for thatching roofs later in the year. This is very satisfying, physically intensive work, even in the cold January Michigan temperatures. Sunny days are the best for venturing into our dense jungle of reed. We like to pack little snacks of dried fruits (apples from the wild orchard in Strawbale's very own back property that were picked last fall) and walnuts and chocolate, and thermoses of coffee and dandelion root tea. After collecting several bundles apiece, we sit for a few moments surrounded by cattail and reed, telling stories or jokes or maybe relaying a song that we might have in our heads. The three of us are unconcerned with how much time passes while we cut and pile, sort and tie, reed in the fields. So, we maneuver by the light and if the sun is setting we begin to pack our things in the truck over the course of a long, evolved discussion about what our mouths and bellies desire. We carefully wrap the phragmite in tarp, and hop in the truck, oohing and aahing at the ripe neon sunsets and the deer posing so starkly in the snow-covered farm fields.

We have also re-heated the rocket stove in the red shed workspace! Deanne showed Abbie and me how to fire up the stove and we were amazed at the simple yet intricate details of the process, the pickiness of the stove to what size and type of wood it will successfully burn. Then, though, with our new found knowledge stirring in our idea pots, the information gained beside that inferno of a rocket stove began to make sense. We collected wood from around the studio for keeping the fire going so to heat up the workspace, so to make cob, so to add on to the details of the earthen bench. The work is gratifying, exciting, and also nurturing, calming to the mind's wandering eye. It's perfect hard work for the winter restlessness.

As far as welcoming the new year in general, however, the year of the tiger (that's one rowdy animal we happily and joyfully welcome!), we are all thinking about our own plans and our own wishes for the future. Some of these plans we know we can accomplish within the year, others are more distant desires and goals for ourselves, lifelong dreams that we're looking at more squarely in the eyes, affirming what we can do to get closer to them over the next year. One fascinating place of refuge the three of us here at Strawbale Studio have noticed is that we support each other's ideas and help one another out when needed, and gladly. I sense, further, though, that we're all suppressing a giddy desire to move more prominently and vigorously forward with our plans. We are allowing January to slow our tempos a little, so we can catch our breaths for all that 2009 was, and all 2010 will be. It reminds me of a beautiful story I've heard Deanne tell two times, of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly. This, however, is a story she tells so well, I will stop here so she can tell it.

 Deanne writes: Thanks, Kate.  Here goes...

  Metamorphosis of a Butterfly ~ A Metaphor for our Times ?   

The voracious caterpillar which outgrows its own skin over and over  ~ it suddenly comes to a moment, a state of maturity, or perhaps the end of one way of being and the beginning of another, when it simply stops.  It stops eating, stops consuming ... and looks for a place to hide, usually under a leaf. By creating a sticky pad made of silken threads which are generated by a gland (conveniently) situated by its mouth, caterpillar is able to hang down from this attachment point with hooks (conveniently) located near the end of its body!  The caterpillar appears to wriggle, as it again outgrows its outer skin one last time...but instead of revealing a new "exoskelton" as in previous moltings, this new inner skin is a hard-cased "chrysalis". It looks a bit like a butterfly all wrapped up.  And inside the chrysalis a yet more amazing process is taking place as "imaginal cells" who have the DNA "knowing" of the butterfly, become awakened, communicate with each other and increase in number.  These embryonic cell clusters are beginning the process of imagining the butterfly, while the caterpillar is dissolving itself, from the inside out, by it's own digestive juices ! Caterpillar almost completely decomposes down to "ooze" in this process, and from this rich resource the imaginal cells are able to apply their vision and build a new nervous system, a new digestive system, a new heart...new legs and wings !  

Perhaps we are seeing the natural ending of the voracious caterpillar cycle and the emerging creativity of a new vision, a new way of being, so radically different...thatit would be impossilbe for caterpillar to even imagine it. And yet this transformation comes directly out of the resources and maturity of the caterpillar.  So in this metaphor there is no reason to hate or work against caterpillar ... but to focus our attention on going forward, using our innate knowing, coordinating with others and bringing forth that which we have been ready and waiting for: new wings and a new heart !

This information comes from the research of Norrie Huddle who wrote "Butterfly", and my own research to verify the concepts she presents. It is my best understanding of this process to date.                  Deanne Bednar

January 30, 2010 .  Full Moon Potluck & Bonfire  

Our Full Moon Potluck is blessed with around 30 folks, and as usual, with lots of young people.  New folks take a tour of the Studio, lit with the enchantment of candles, Renaissance music in the background, warmed by theStrawbalewoodstove burning.  The Sun Face Earth Oven, fired up by Abbie and Kate, bakes their awesome pizzas complete with home-made crust !  Guests share the background of the food they brought, and folks settle into the couches and table in the kitchen, and spread out to the tables in the East and West Wings. Later guests wander out to the campfire and hang out in the Strawbale Studio for further conversation and "fire stare-ing"


Apprenticeship in Ireland:

Sam Wagner visited the Strawbale Studio, and got totally fired up!  He applied and was accepted into a 6 month Natural Building Apprenticeship in IRELAND that he found on the Cob Cottage Company website!  Congrats, Sam!

Sam is the guy on the right in the Potluck picture !  


 Intern Kate is... Who?


I am Kate, one of Deanne's interns of present and past. Back in September and October I helped collect cattail for thatching the ridge top of the roof of the Oxford Kid's Cottage here on the land, as well as prepared the Strawbale Studio for a felting workshop (for which we used local wool - very beautiful, nearly priceless stuff from Three Roods Farm up north from here). We also thatched the roof and began working on the stone walls for the kid's cottage. The other interns and I harvested lots of apples in the wild orchard in the Strawbale Studio's back property (aka heaven), as well as a very secret spot that, I'll hand it to myself, my spy eye located (I also joyously found a hidden pear tree on the property my last day, ripe with fruits easily falling from the branches to the meadow's floor). And I'm not talking just a couple of barrels of apple harvesting, dozens and dozens of pounds rather. So, we made a lot of different apple concoctions, and indulged in many refillings of the food dryer to store a good bulk supply of dried apples. I learned so much while I was here, and realized there was a potential for learning so much more, that I sensed the need to return before I even left to go back home to Kentucky. During my winter stay I renewed spirit and body, and also enjoyed some elemental activities: plastering on the Rocket Stove heated bench, harvesting reed, fermenting & sprouting, baking bread and chocolate cake, stacking wood, firing up the earth oven and making pizza from scratch for the full moon potluck, and sharing activities and conversation with another intern, Abbie.  In my spare hours here at the studio I've enjoyed building fires in the woodstove, reading in the greenhouse (best  hours are between noon and 4 p.m.), and ultimately finishing a small literary zine called Monolith Magazine, with the virility of Deanne's reliable and steady Singer sewing machine (which stitched the binding).  Once I depart from Oxford, I will make way to Detroit to help with several urban farming projects. Later in the year I plan on making a photo documentary (via a cross-country roadtrip) with my sister and her boyfriend about WWOOF experiences and off-the-grid farms.   (Kate embarked on her adventure in Detroit on Feb 11, 2010 !)

February 9, 2010.  Blog entry by Kate


I have never been a bird watcher. I've always been fascinated by bird watching, the ability to know little flying creatures and their daily existences so intimately, to take the time to appreciate and be patient with this unknown world. Upon arriving in Oxford at the Strawbale Studio I've had the pleasure of playing voyeur to the sweet winter birds of southeast Michigan. The eating nook in the house has a large window, viewing several bird feeders that hang from a few sturdy switches. The activity here has been all but subdued. I've come to cheerlead the little black-capped chickadees (who are, I admit, common, but round and cute as a button factory in a sugar storm), as they flutter together until they are all hanging out at the feeder together, taking turns. The tufted titmouse, while cute and round like the chickadees only with a bit of a mo-hawk on top (hence "tufted"), are also a little zestier and aggressive in their pursuits, though notably shy about eating "in public" or at least near the feeders. Then we have the downy woodpeckers, who appear so large and alpha compared to our tiny chickadee and titmouse. They are less colorful in their pursuits and more functional about their eating habits.


Feb 15, 2010  blog entry by Deanne

From Food & Gardens 2009

Getting greens from the greenhouse still in February. A small amount, but enough to keep us satisfied! I assume that things will really take off soon, as the sun is returning, and I should see a "jump start" on the growing season. The hoop house is 12x 18 feet made of metal pole framing covered in plastic, with "row covers" , a light fabric which floats right on top of the plants, creating a 2nd layer of protection from the cold.  The plants, which can tolerate freezing and thawing, survive in the 25 - 65 degree temperature inside the greenhouse during the winter.
From Food & Gardens 2009

Sourdough bread & acorn meal porrage.  My 2nd try at using Hannas recipe from the Earth Oven Book, and also Hanna's sour dough starter, passed on by Betty Seaman whom I visited in CA in December, 2009.  .  Baked in the oven at 500 degrees, it came out deliciously wonderful, damp & spongy.  The porrage is made organic whole oats (not oatmeal) soaked overnight (24 hrs was recommended) with a dollop of keifer in hopes of getting some fermentation going.  I also added lambsquarter (which came from the word Lammas Quarter) seeds and acorn meal (leached with water to remove tannins, ground and dried last fall with interns.).  Quite, quite fullfilling.



February 17, 2010  Blog entry by Deanne


Teens build 2 Worm Composting Bins ! Jared Bogdonov-Hanna came by in the morning to do some planning for potential collaborations this year, and then at noon, the Teens arrived. We asked Jared some wom questions before he took off (to recieve updated training in giving a sustainability tour at the Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center down the road. Jared has been giving outstanding Vermiculture presentations on worm composting, helping folks make bins, and giving dynamic information on SOIL!  Deanne has had a 3 tier worm bin in action since it was purchased about 15 years ago.  Jordon, Adrian and Brooke, homeschoolers attending today, learned about the details of worm composting, soil qualities, the structure of the bins, how to feed and process the castings, and more.  Then we made a worm bin system by drilling drainage and ventillation holes in the bins, creating the bedding, adding the worms and feeding them. 


Lunch included sharing of food: the sour dough bread made this week and cooking some "Injira", Ethiopean Sponge Bread. 
February 26, 2010  Blog entry by Deanne  
  Experiments with whole soaked grains & sour dough starter.  What if we could skip the flour process and make break from whole grains?  I soaked soft winter wheat (organic, local from Hampshire Farms) overnight, then added it to sourdough starter and flour.  Today I made pancakes (adding a bit of baking soda, salt, leeks, and some with added egg (local from 3 Roods Farm) as well).  All were yummy wrapped around the brocolli seeds sprouted on the kitchen window ledge.   Next step bread with these fermented whoe wheat berries. 

March 19, 2010


I see patterns.  Repeated shapes, Personal habits, cosmic cycles.  Some thoughts on patterns.

Patterns create comfort and context .....read further


August 5, 2010.  Ian Goode, from Ireland, arrives at the Strawbale Studio.  Here is a recommendation for him from a friend...and a little summary of our work together on the land today. 
Neil writes: I would highly recomend Ian to intern at Strawbale Studios with you. I currently have about a 3 acre plot of land and a glasshouse that myself an Ian wish to renivate, to grow organic produce on. I can a backround in horticulture in my family and Ian has shown a great interest in helping me out and I cant wait to work with him. Ian is highly trustworthy and I have known him for many years, he has been a great personal friend of mine since we were in school together. Im sure you will find him a pleasure to work with as he has a great willingness to learn , im sure he has told you all about his editorial skills on his college newspaper that he ran for quite some time, organising items within the newspaper and setting workloads for members to follow. Its a credit to his work rate and personal motivation. If you need any other information dont hesistate to email me. Im looking forward to hearing all that Ian has learned when he returns in september.
Neal Hickey


Thanks so much, Neal !   Ian is at the Strawbale Studio now with me and he is a delight !  Today we went in the woods and harvested trees for the frame of a small thatched roof.  He took off the bark with a draw knife, and this evening we will watch a movie about indigenous skills. 


The very best to you in your endevors on the land!!!

Warmly, Deanne





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