Saturday, November 27, 2010

Clay Oven Part 3

We made a lot of progress this week. The concrete block base was filled with rocks, gravel and is high enough in order to place the oven’s opening at a comfortable and practical level. Near the top, a layer of empty glass bottles is embedded between two layers of clay/sawdust mixture. The bottles and sawdust act as a thermal barrier to prevent heat loss through the oven’s bottom. On top of the clay, sits loose sand, carefully laid firebricks, and a sand/clay ‘plaster’ to act as an external shelf. Finally, we started to raise the oven itself! We constructed a sandcastle dome with a 63% height to width ratio, which someone figured was the optimum internal ratio to foster proper air movement inside the oven. The sand was covered by newspaper divider and then a 4-inch layer of clay, which will be the inner most part of the oven structure. Things have taken shape quickly this week and I think we will add an insulation layer and a decorative surface this coming week.

I’ve been able to contribute a little between classes or afterschool and invite the rest of the Monteverde community to stop by and get their hands in the mush. I will run up there today- maybe in the afternoon and also catch a game of ultimate Frisbee.

Signed M

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Clay Oven Part 2

To get clay for the oven, a hole was dug in a nearby embankment. Well, why just dig for clay when you can create an oven directly in the earth? This past Thursday, our group made quick campfire dough and cooked them in the ‘earthen’ oven. The students gathered sticks, started a hot fire, discussed the heat and its direction and location while attempting to cook the loaves. We spread the fire out and placed the pan directly over the burning embers. Our result: A black and crisp bottom and a soft gooey top and a middle just deliciously right.. This coming week, there should be progress on the main oven and maybe a cooked turkey drumstick or two on Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Clay Oven Part 1

Each Thursday afternoon, students at MFS get a break from regular classes to participate in a Minicourse. Student select from a variety of offerings at the beginning of each quarter and its gives them a chance to work in a multiage group on or off campus. The minicourses are led by teachers, parents, other community members or visitors are designed to be experiential and a time when we all learn new skills.

Over the past year plus, my personal favorites have been Frisbee and woodworking. I’ve led kitchen chemistry and other science related courses, but since I already have much experience in those areas, it’s the new topics that create the most excitement and growth.

This quarter, I and a group of eleven students are working with a family visiting from Vermont to build a clay oven. We have built prototypes using mixtures of clay and sand and are now working on the real deal. I did not realize how big a project this is until we had a list of necessary and desired materials, collected them, and learned that this project could take many months if we worked only on Thursday afternoons. Our goal is to build a working oven large enough to bake bread or a few pizzas with local materials, keep costs to an absolute minimum, and to utilize the muscle, skills and knowledge of the community.

The site we chose, the wood shed behind the school, needed some organizing to free a large enough space for the oven. Last Saturday, a group of us carefully moved wood while keeping our eyes open and alerting others when we encountered nails and scorpions. Before picking up anything, we tapped and kicked or pried things up before putting our hands anywhere - not one snake.

This past Thursday, our group hauled wheelbarrows and buckets of sand, rock and concrete blocks to the site, a woodshed behind the school. After moving two tons of materials, the students ceremoniously placed in the first row of blocks on a bed of level gravel. The visiting family, the brains and primary muscle, of the operation, arrived very early Friday AM to continue the work and I will be meeting them shortly to help with the massive base.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

That's Life!

Our social calendar is keeping us busy and we are happy that we are taking time to strengthen existing relationships and cultivate new ones! As I sit here in my bedroom typing away, the boys are in the kitchen helping Daddy make crepes as my mouth begins to water with the smell of vanilla and cinnamon. Outside the wind is howling as the clouds wiz by, spraying a faint wall of mist. I recall Mike saying the temp was a brisk 53 degrees this morning - perhaps one of the coolest here on the mountain since our arrival almost 18 months ago. That 'cool weather' down comforter brought with us from Chicago is just not doing the trick. I'll likely have to reach my hand into the musty, spider filled closet in our bathroom and rescue some old blankets, give them new life with a quick wash and dry and we're ready to snuggle in for another cool night.

We celebrated Michaels' 5th birthday Thursday so he is delighted with his new status (living a hand/fingerfull of years). He enjoyed his cake in Kinder on Thursday - I also popped into the all school assembly on Thursday at 8:00 a.m. to listen to the entire school sing him Happy Birthday! It is custom to ask before everyone breaks out into song whether the birthday person wants to be serenaded in English, Spanish or Sandwich (a combo of both)! Michael opted for the English version and certainly enjoyed the attention. He bounded out of school at noon with a birthday booklet in hand. A nice keepsake as all his classmates and teachers had decorated each page with individual birthday wishes. Michael was thrilled to read Celimito's page where he wrote that he was going to buy him a new bici! That's some wish huh? In the afternoon the boys helped me make a birthday cake, we opted for a Mexican Wedding Cake; the main ingredient being crushed fresh pineapple opposed to pure chocolate. John was heavy handed with the baking soda, so the cake fizzled over the sides of the pan, onto the already corroded racks in the oven and had a very distinct taste of...well...baking soda of course. Needless to say, with a little cream cheese frosting, was enjoyed by all. The boys enjoyed tearing into their gifts from Choppy and Poppy and the few little trinkets I picked up at the SuperCompro. Yes, both boys opened gifts from Poppy and Choppy together, as you can imagine the scenario that might ensue if we asked John to wait 20 days! They loved their new shirts and socks and proudly wore them to school the next day.

A practical pig I am, but Michael seems to love his gifts from mom and dad, a new Spiderman notebook full of blank pages for him to practice his spelling and his little pencil case to keep his ruler, pencils, sharpener and erasers safe. A good day had by all - we'll do it again in 20 days!

We are enjoying our Spanish potluck on Thursday nights with other families in the zone who are eager for opportunities to practice Spanish. It is a rotating potluck so we will likely get a chance to host next month. We have dictionaries on hand and it is fun to chat as there are a variety of folks at the same/different levels. The kids enjoy a movie, while the adults practice patience and encouragement!

I am also enjoying Tuesday mornings with about six friends, another great chance to practice Spanish. After dropping the boys off at school in the morning, we meet up at the Cheese Factory and walk in the woods for about an hour - it is all Spanish and Veronica is our fearless leader as she is the only one of us who is truly fluent. It is a special time and the hour goes by with a snap of a finger.

Friday night we were invited to La Colina Lodge (which is just across from the school) to share in November birthday celebrations. It again was a Pot-luck and this time...I did the cooking. I made a chickpea loaf which was a hit - thanks to the Griswold family for passing it along. Nanci, the owner, has a great reception area which showcases her artistic talent and mosaic work. The kids had fun chasing each other with balloons while the adults (and some of the older kids) sat in a circle and went around remarking about what they liked about each of the birthday folks. It was a great way to celebrate and express gratitude and friendship. Of course, for Nanci (the owner) it was all about 'poo poo' for me. How many times have we just gotten out of school down the path and I hear the words "poop and I can't wait". Thank goodness for La Colina and the open door policy. Thanks Nanci for opening up your inn and your bathroom! A great shot of the Lodge at sunset. Trees on our walk to school - magical with the steam rising in the morning sunlight.

I continue to be busy with the Project and am finally finding some rhythm. We had a marathon meeting at the house on Friday (8 to noon) to review the project plan. We are moving forward slow and steady.

I continue to be very thankful for Gaudy - she has been making great use of some of our veggies here at the house that have been sitting around waiting to be cooked. While I'm off to a meeting, she is busy involving the boys in tortilla making, slicing up yucca and other root veggies for picadillo and boiling others for soup. It is amazing how quickly she prepares food, cooks it up, cleans it up and then VOILA...a dinner for four ready and waiting!

The boys continue to amaze me with how they entertain themselves, whether it is hauling a bowl of oranges and bananas up a tree for a picnic or designing a masterpiece on the front patio - their imaginations are active, always on over-drive. They had a fantastic play date with Jackson this past week (one of their best friends in Kinder) - we ended the date on a great note (no kicking, screaming, shouting...just sharing hands and touching gently!) I call that a good day! We enjoyed our conference with their teachers on Tuesday afternoon - they are doing so well and we were all smiles when they mentioned the word 'courteous' and mannerly - so perhaps something is rubbing off here at home! They are right where they should be, and will be bringing home small books to start reading as they are ready! Boy, they grow up fast. I love the pics of the kinder kids partnering with students from 3rd/4th grade for a reading activity outside.

They are so inquisitive and I am amazed at some of the questions that come out of their mouths after reading the children's bible stories. Lots of questions about God's appearance and whether they are taller than God and if God has long hair or not. Clever answers welcome!

Mike is busy with second quarter and has done and is doing some pretty cool stuff in his Thursday afternoon mini-courses - I'll leave that to him to share, but truly some amazing stuff.

Well, time for Silent Meeting for Worship at the School then Pot-luck with members of the community. I smell platanos boiling on the stove. - we are planning to bring a sweet platanos bake (a cousin to sweet potato pie) - this has coconut milk and shavings - very yummy.

Mike and I have to chuckle with John's newest ritual - putting on all grey before story time before bed, socks on hands and feet, hooded fleece, sweats and shorts over his hood - can't wait til the next phase.

Super excited to meet with Hugh Gray tomorrow - just got off the phone with him. We'll meet at Stella's Bakery tomorrow afternoon to talk about providing other alternatives for faith and worship in the community. He comes from many years in the Episcopalian church and choir director at two Presbyterian churches outside of Rochester. He and his wife have attempted throughout their seven years here in the community to start a church - I am eager to hear about their experience and see if we can partner to make something happen. My next project!

Peace for now.
Signed: S