Art and Nature Centre, Knowlesville, New Brunswick

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I had the wonderful pleasure of taking my daughter away with me for 2 days to Knowlesville, New Brunswick this past weekend.  The Fall colours were mind-blowing and at times when we crossed a ridge, my driving knees would go weak with awe at the gradation of colours. Nature gets very showy at this time of year and I feel so blessed to be able to enjoy it in one of the most magnificent places in the world.




There is nothing so awesome to me than hitting the top of a ridge and seeing nothing but trees, trees and more trees.  Central New Brunswick has little to clutter up it’s beauty but a few choice farms and fields of harvested food peppered with livestock on it’s landscape. There is no industry, few gas stations and fewer factory farms.  It feels like Vermont, only about 200 years ago!

Our chosen destination had a few purposes.  I’d chosen to take my daughter away before my husband and I leave Canada for a warmer climate for the next 6 months.  I also wanted to visit the Knowlesville Art and Nature Centre and my new friends Tegan and Leland, educators, natural builders and off-grid homesteaders.  I wanted to connect with the people that I’m working to become.


When we arrived at the straw-bale constructed home, our hosts had let us know that they would be attending a birthday party nearby and that we should just go on in, settle ourselves and then go in search of children’s voices to join them at the bon fire celebration.  Once I entered their magnificent home and cozied in next to the fire after the 3.5 hour drive, from Saint John, it took a lot to tear myself back outside into the brisk Fall air.


I felt myself take in the walls with awe and wonder.  Most of the walls were finished with a white lime wash, while others still had their “rough coat” only where some bits of straw were visible in the corners.  I was very thankful that I got to observe the living phases of a natural building on these more exposed walls.  It was like observing everything that I had studied about natural building thus far.

The walls felt warm, insulating, enveloping and they seem to lower my more churned up city psyche and bring it down several notches.  My gut was smiling into the roots of my being.  It confirmed how much I’ve craved this feeling full time in my own home.  The post and beam construction spoke to a solidity and master craftsmanship that made me almost weep with the detail and care.  My woman’s heart felt love and beauty carved in each male and female joinery.  This home was an artful rending.  My soul rejoiced!


Each window provided a seat for one of the four children that I later observed reading or napping in the warmth of the sunlight.  The lights were few and remained off much of the time due to the desire to conserve the solar power stored in the bank of batteries and so often you’d feel drawn to the deeply magnificent linseed oil sealed windows to see or read something more clearly.  Beauty and activity abounded by the portals of light.

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I loved how each wall curved in the most feminine way from the surrounding straw bale shape making the window that much more accentuated.  The ledges so wide and inviting that a bowl of fresh picked Quince, a Russian Doll, the ingredients to make sourdough bread and necessary travel books, lanterns and a hat all graced the ample surfaces.  Posies from a day gone bye dropped the seeds of potential for next year’s planting.

I was truly besotted by every detail.  So much love, meaning and tenderness went into this more than 3,500 square foot dwelling.  I was captivated to such a degree that it was like falling deeply in love.  I could not wait to meet my hosts!

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Tegan and Leland were both the most generous, talented and loving individuals that I might ever have had the pleasure to meet.  Their home was a tapestry of muted children’s voices, the straw bale walls seemed to absorb and then exhale their calls for their mother or the 8 month-old baby’s mewling in the early morning shortly after the near light of dawn.

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Both Leland and Tegan chose to build their house on a 4 foot poured concrete foundation given the height of this buxom timber frame structure.  Each floor above rose in a slightly smaller proportion allowing for the slope of the roof and the load bearing posts and beams.  My daughter and I were on the top floor in the loft, just below the ladder to the pinnacle which is “tree-house” sweet spot of the home.  What an awesome place to play, sleep and marvel at the world from above the surrounding treetops.

The bath had a traditional four claw tub and a humanure toilet.  I’d read extensively the practice of bucket pooping, but I’d never personally sprinkled sawdust onto urine or excrement until this weekend.  I was sure that my olfactory senses would balk, however, I only noticed a mild earthy-like odour that smelled very much like an early day in Spring,  just alive and healthy without wasting precious drinking water.  Leland let me know that the compost from this culmination of organic materials created the richest of soils about every 3 years.  I was so excited to have lived everything I’d studied in books and watched hours of Youtube videos about natural/off-grid building.

We chatted for hours over freshly pressed apple cider from the apples in their yard, or warm milk from their family’s jersey cow with a dash of organic molasses. Yum!  Tegan and Leland informed me that their house is powered by 30 year old solar panels that the Reagan administration had done away with during the oil and gas boon in support of the petrochemical giants.  Some unassuming fellow in Maine had the foresight to buy them up and sell them to other off-grid-ers for a reasonable cost.

Tegan mentioned that they did have back up wind power for November and December when sunlight is in short supply, however, one day after stepping out of the bath, during an ungodly storm, she heard the wind rip into hollow beside their house and watched with horror as all the blades of her windmill got blown to smithereens, scattering like toothpicks across the gnarly landscape.  She said that someone had kindly donated a new kit, but that they’d been so busy, of recent, to have gotten around to installing it yet.

As we got into the territory of She-Bear Construction, Leland said that he was blown away by the recent surge of women builders.  He said that women were adding a real artistry to their homes with coloured glass bottles in transoms over the door to river stones in the shower or hand-made tiles for back splashes.  He said that they all seem to want round homes!  In fact, he’d just finished building a permanent round yurt out of straw bale for a hospital nurse neighbour up the road, “The cedar shakes for the roof was the biggest challenge.  She’ll have to apply Linseed oil on them every 5 years on a hot day during the summer to maintain it’s durability.”

After a pause, Leland spoke, further ruminating, “With all our traditional supplies designed to build square structures, I sometimes wonder if there will be a place in future for a male builder like me.  Natural building is evolving so quickly that I’m unsure how I might fit in to serve this burgeoning evolution.”  When I looked around his home, I could see no reason for him not to be served by an apprenticing natural builder like me.  I’d do just about anything to spend a summer working for him.  Also, he could build me a square, triangle or round house for me any day … his craftsmanship was superb!

After Leland had provided me with about 5 different female builders from Nova Scotia to Oregon, I decided to go for a walk to clear my head and check out the area.  I walked down the road to get a good look at the round house he’d built from the outside.  900 square feet with a naturally peaked cap of the roofline over the doorway, lent an artistry that was awe inspiring.  The chimney was blowing smoke rings from the height of the central peak.  What a masterful feat of thought and engineering!  Would I ever be able to pull off something as beautiful as this?

I continued my walk while being passed by periodically by trucks with men and women wearing camouflage gear and bright orange vests.  I waved to them, as all New Brunswickers wave to each other on country roads.  It is buried courtesy in our culture.  I got down quite a piece when I heard the hunter’s shots not too far off in the distance.  Even though I was wearing a bright yellow rain jacket, I decided to turn back.  I hadn’t slept well the night before due to the excitement and so I had the desire to take an afternoon nap in the loft next to my teenage daughter who still wasn’t out of bed yet.


The snowflakes on this late October day fell in giant clusters as I reached the front porch. Several laying hens, and their accompanying roosters, had hopped up on the wrap around deck in an attempt to stay warm and dry as the early snowfall must have also accosted them.  I found them hiding behind several cords of wood stove wood.  The hammock hanging at one end spoke of summertime’s passing and Tegan’s work in Mexico and Central America as a biologist, propagating orchids, before marriage and children.  She now spends her days studying and applying the principles of holistic and inspirational education from the inside out.


The next morning, on Sunday when we departed, full of wonderful, dynamic conversations about Waldorf education and natural building, I stopped by the church cum school that they’d had moved from the village of Knowlesville a few years prior.  The sunlight dappling it’s mustard walls with the early tree figures from the sun on the rise.  Our bellies also full of homemade oatmeal peppered with raisins and fresh apples from this years bumper crop.  The local maple syrup, the chai tea made with fresh cream skimmed from their Jersey milk still churned with pleasure in my mind and belly.  I’d enjoyed a little slice of heaven on earth.  I had embodied my model of excellence in natural living for myself.  The key for me will be to hold this ideal in my mind while I work to become it for myself.


To find our more about Tegan and Leland Wong-Daugherty’s Natural Building, Land Trust and Intentional Community, you can find them here:






Lime Plaster; Making My Hempcrete Build Feel Finished

I love talking about hempcrete building.  However, it is a little leap for most, including me, to think of eliminating all the layers in a traditional build.  I get lots of comments like, how will you keep the moisture out without a vapour barrier?  Will the walls look industrial-like when we’re all done?  And my personal favourite, can you paint the exterior and interior walls different colours?

First of all, you want the walls of your hempcrete home to breath.  This is really important for the insulation factor of the building.  This counterintuitive measure is what actually increases the R-factor so you don’t want to seal off the building with a traditional vapour barrier or you actually compromise the efficacy of the hempcrete.


Also, if you take a look and traditional homes in England, where the climate is very wet, you’ll see post and beam construction with lime finishes everywhere.  Lime is actually a calcium based slake that can be crushed to a powder and applied as the smoothest of finishes with a little water and a fine trowel.  And yes, with some stunning milk paint, you’ve got a gorgeous finish.  Take a look here:

Lime Plaster 101: the basics

by Sigi Koko

Lime is a confusing term, because it can refer to various chemically different (but related) materials.  (Not to mention the citrus fruit!)

For example, cured lime plaster, chemically speaking, iscalcium carbonate…basically limestone.  But theuncured material that goes on the wall, is also called “lime plaster”…but it is calcium hydroxide to a chemist.  Yikes!

So let’s go through some of the basics of lime to give you a great understanding of the ins and outs of how to use it.

What’s the big deal about lime plaster?

Lime has been used for thousands of years as a fabulous binder in mortars, plasters, and paints.  It wasn’t until the post-World War II housing boom that quick-setting cement products eclipsed lime in construction.  Lime cures more slowly than cement, but it holds many advantages because it is a workable, self-healing, breathable, nearly carbon neutral material…making it a great choice for natural building.

Why is lime plaster aligned with natural building?

First, lime-based products have a smaller carbon footprint than their ubiquitous cement counterparts.  Cement production creates 1.25 pounds of CO2 for each pound of cement produced, whereas lime is nearly carbon neutral.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, lime is what’s called “breathable”.  Breathability refers to a material’s ability to allow air-borne vapor, ie humidity, to pass through it.  Think Gortex…water-repellent and vapor permeable.  The breathability ensures that moisture will not build up inside the wall system.  In turn, this ensures that any biodegradable materials, such as wood or straw, are protected from decomposing.


How is lime made?
(a little chemistry…)

  1. Limestone, shells, or other material that is high in Calcium Carbonate is burned in a kiln.  The heat drives off Carbon Dioxide, leaving Calcium Oxide. This is also called Quicklime.
  2. Quicklime (Calcium Oxide) reacts with water in an extremely heat-producing reaction, a process called “slaking”.  The result is Hydrated Lime, or Calcium Hydroxide (since hydrogen from the water bonds to the Calcium Oxide molecule). This reaction can be quite dangerous, so it is common to purchase Hydrated Lime (Calcium Hydroxide) instead of Quicklime (Calcium Oxide).
  3. Once Calcium Hydroxide is exposed to air (whether it’s in powder or putty form), the lime reacts with Carbon Dioxide in the air and ends up where it started…as Calcium CarbonateSo except for the energy of the kiln, the lime is carbon neutral.

Because lime plasters react with carbon dioxide from the air in order to harden, you can easily keep the calcium hydroxide form of lime in its putty form indefinitely by storing it with an inch or so of water on top of it (or in a completely air-tight container).  This effectively prevents the lime from getting into contact with air and thus prevents curing until you are ready to use it.


How is plaster made?
(tips for mixing, & applying)


For general lime plasters (especially on the exterior), I use 3 parts sand to 1 part lime (calcium hydroxide).  This is a great all-around mix that is sticky enough to work and cure strongly, yet with enough sand to prevent lots of cracking.  If you intend to work your finish to tighten and smooth it out, you can use a more “lime rich” ratio of 1:2 (lime:sand) or even 1:1 for very very finely worked plasters.


Lime putty increases plasticity and workability the longer it is mixed.  So the longer you mix it, the creamier and easier to spread it gets.  (Magic, right?)  I mix in a mortar mixer (not a cement mixer!) for at least 20-30 minutes.  Only add water (a small amount!) if your mix is extremely thick.  The plaster should be stiff but should spread easily, like cream cheese.  Allowing the mixed lime plaster to sit overnight improves workability, but remember to remix the plaster again before using.



To prepare strawbale walls for lime plaster, first shape your walls exactly how you would like them to look once plastered.  It is time-consuming to build up the lime plaster to fill in large voids (since it must be applied in thin coats).  Next, install expanded lath (not chicken wire!!) to cover any slick surfaces, such as wood…anything that is too smooth for plaster to hold onto.  Make sure your lath bridges across the wood and at least 6″ into the straw so you don’t get a crack right where the lath ends.  I do NOT recommend using lath over all of the strawbale, unless you live in a seismic region and your code requires this.


Be sure to dampen your walls down well before applying each coat of lime plaster.  For the first coat, this means soaking the strawbales until they are damp and the straw is pliable.  For each subsequent coat, soak the wall down the day before you will plaster, again the morning of plastering, and throughout the day keep the wall damp as you work.  Otherwise the wall steals moisture out of your plaster quickly, and can pop the bond that holds your plaster on the wall.



I generally use 3 coats of lime plaster for exterior walls or showers.  You can use 1 or 2 coats for decorative interior finishes.  The first coat can be up to 5/8″ thick if it is applied to strawbale, otherwise each coat should be a maximum of 3/8″ thick.  Any thicker and the lime cannot absorb carbon dioxide adequately for curing to fully take place.


I apply the plaster with a wooden float to create a well-shaped wall that has decent texture.  For the finish coat, I smooth the final surface using a flexible pool float.  You can continue to buff or polish the lime as it is curing for a very smooth sheen.  There are many highly refined finishes that can be achieved with simple lime plaster.


Score the surface of each coat (except the finish plaster) to create lots of surface area for the next coat of plaster to key into.  And allow at least 7 to 10 days between coats to give each ample time to cure.  (Also see the next section for curing tips.)


NOTE: I do NOT recommend lime plaster over clay plasters for exteriors in wet climates.  The clay substrate shrinks and swells depending on moisture content.  The cured lime cannot shrink and swell with the clay and so it will be more susceptible to cracking when used over clay plaster in a wet climate.  Lime can be used over solid clay walls, such as cob & adobe, because there is so much more clay present to absorb ambient air moisture without measurable swelling.




You want the lime to cure…NOT dry out.  That means it needs to react with carbon dioxide from the air before all of the moisture evaporates.  If it dries out before it has cured (and converted into calcium carbonate), the resulting plaster will be weak and possibly crumbly.  So protect the plaster from wind and sun until it has cured, and it helps to dampen the wall daily as it is curing.


Do not apply exterior lime stucco if there is any risk of freezing, otherwise moisture in the plaster can freeze, expand, and cause critical failure of the plaster.  The temperature needs to be above 40 F for at least a week to keep the curing process going.



Some nitty gritty details
(and where to find materials…)


Note that lime is highly alkaline, and can severely burn your skin.  Unlike acid burns, you generally do not feel an alkali burn until the damage has been done.  So please use full protective gear whenever working with lime, including elbow-length rubber gloves, long sleeves, eye protection, etc.  If your clothes get lime putty or lime water on them, change, so the lime is not in contact with your skin through your clothing.  I always keep a bucket of water & vinegar nearby to neutralize my tools, gloves, and hands as I’m working.



I use fresh hydrated powdered lime and then soak it on site from the very beginning of construction (ideally several months).  The longer you soak it, the creamier and easier to trowel your plaster will be.  I have had most consistent results with vertical kiln products fromMississippi Lime.  The vertical kiln operates at a lower temperature and so there is less inert material in these products, meaning they are very high in purity and total calcium content.


I ask for bags that are date-stamped less than 6 months prior to purchase.  This ensures the lime is fresh.  If it has been in the bag for a long time, it gets exposed to CO2 in the air and begins to carbonate and become inert.  Powdered lime that has converted to calcium carbonate looks identical to calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime), but when you soak it, it will not get very thick and when you put it on the wall it will dust or crumble.

Choosing the sand for your plaster can seem mundane and unimportant.  But that is not the case!!  The key variable is that the sand must be “angular”, which means it has a lot of surface area to bond with the lime.  I use “toothy” or “angular” mason’s sand for all three coats of lime plaster.  You can also use concrete sand (which is larger)…just remember that your plaster needs to be thicker than the largest particle in your mix (otherwise the pieces will drag around with your trowel).  Note that the color of the sand will impact the final color of your finish coat of lime.  If you want very white plaster, experiment with white sand.


Yes!!  Any pigment that can be used in concrete will work with lime.  The pigments must be able to handle the alkalinity of the lime.  Mineral pigments generally are fine, plant-based pigments generally will not work (they change color and fade due to the alkalinity).  In any case, do several test patches to confirm how much pigment to add to achieve your desired color.


To follow Sigi Koko at “Down To Earth Designs” and perhaps take with her in Maryland or Pennsylvania, follow her offerings at Sigi Koko at Down To Earth Designs.


Why A Romantic Wee Abode?


“Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have.” ~Walden by Henry David Thoreau“Consider first how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary. I have seen Penobscot Indians, in this town, living in tents of thin cotton cloth, while the snow was nearly a foot deep around them, and I thought that they would be glad to have it deeper to keep out the wind. . . . I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free” ~ Walden by Henry David Thoreau


As a kid, you would always find me on my bike en route to the forest with the boys.  As a self-stated tom boy, I had little time for dolls as I wanted to build stuff.  In the forest, we would bear culled wood to make tree forts.  Everyone in our group would communally contribute a board, nails or a found ladder, a piece of cloth for the curtain and a whack of carpet for the floor.  Someone’s mom would bake chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies and we’d play for hours, always protecting our coveted home base, from errant mischief makers and perceived enemies.


We’d all pinky swear never to share our secret hidey hole, especially with any adults or stupid prissy girls whose sole profession with to giggle inanely.  We were serious about our cowboy adventures using cap guns to protect our dominion.  If someone leaked its whereabouts, they were kicked out of the secret club without a word.  Within a day, under the cloak of darkness having snuck out of the windows of our parent’s homes at night, we’d secretly remove the fort limb by limb to another forest entirely using our wagons attached to our bikes.  It was quite the task to remove all traces of our meetings, often splitting up before getting a mile within our sacred abode, separating into different directions of approach before convening within 15 minutes or so at our secret den.

We’d use leaves to cover our CCM tire tracks before getting to the order of our serious plans and meetings.  Much later, into our pre-teens, our forts became a way to explore each others very interesting bodies and cultivate the first streamings of romantic lust and love.  Spin the bottle and double dare games had us racing home before the street lights came on with pink stained cheeks and dreams of forbidden love.  At this juncture, it became to my greatest advantage to be the only girl in our gang, even though I had still had the best lateral pass and was captain of our softball team.

I loved the feeling of freedom in those forts, our domain, our privileged space in the world.  Our anarchy stated in a shared dominion of pieced together culled wood.  We owed no explanation for our plots and no one had any right to question where we set up our utopian estate.  We did as we pleased, the world our little plywood oyster, no questions asked.

In our early teens, we even stealthily built a new fort, far more sophisticated to an island in the middle of the Ottawa River called Upper Duck Island between the province of Ontario and Quebec that you could only get to by canoe.  It was one heck of an undertaking to get the supplies across a body of water without tipping our vessels.  And no, we never used life jackets back then.  Life jackets were cumbersome and also for sissies.  We were in utter command of ourselves and our project to build our romantic abode at any cost.


Much later, having grown up and assuming adult responsibilities, a loss of my health and also parenting to the expectations of the society that I still secretly most abhorred, I felt broken and fake.  I hated how I systematically dropped each of my ethical values into the fibreglass pink world of ugly aluminum siding and cookie cutter off-gassing pre-fab homes.  I worked endlessly just to pay the mortgage and bills.  My life a tax proliferating diseased matrix.

There was nothing culturally endearing in the suburbs where faceless women jammed the side walks with their baby strollers, where the constant drone of lawn mowers required to cut grass that never served any functional purpose, sucked up precious weekend time to keep shorn.  My husband and I working long hours, while our kids spent their days at the caregivers, to pay for their childcare and the home we stupidly abandoned every day.  Each yard surrounded by  8 foot fences for privacy with barking dogs trapped in the same micro yards that I was.  Dinner with friends and a bottle of wine, once a week, was my only escape in a much too false construct became the high pitched scream of my broken meaningless life.

I’d lost my intrinsic connection to nature.  Gone was the life of ducking branches as they whipped by my head, careening through forest on my blood red bike in the fort we once had by the “red bridge” in Rothwell Heights.  If I tried to even bike up that Delong Rd. hill today, I’d probably lose a lung onto the asphalt.  I yearn for the feeling of the natural tiny house in the trees, although, I’ve so very beautifully narrowed my romantic love down to one very resonant boy now that I’m 50 who will play spin the bottle with me any time i like!  I ache for my fort in the the forest with him.  I will actualize my dreams to be intimately licked again by the seasons.


My new tom-boy friend (although she doesn’t know it), and Tiny House owner, Dee Williams describes the “thousand different ways it rains” just above her sky-lit head in her book, “The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir.”  As per Dee, if you clap your hands hard and fast, that is November’s rain! You can also watch her phenomenal YouTube videohere where you’ll hear her explain how the limitations of her heart condition caused her to reduce her living to a grid-free tiny house where she lives in community in her friend’s back yard sharing a garden as well as water access.  She is the master of her fort, her resonant kinship for herself within her space while also immersed in nature.  I was deeply moved after I watched her Youtube video above.

I also realized that I want a little little house based on the same principles as Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine.  I want to live in a space that energetically hugs me.  I abhor the 4 and 5 bedroom McMansions of my yesterday that literally sucked the special sauce from my life.  Years ago, I was studying all of Temple Grandin’s books and her view of her world of autism to gain more insights into the human psyche for my own research as a Physician of Heilkunst Medicine.  She is a very autonomous and brilliant thinker.


I treat many patients in the spectrum, often successfully relieving them of their predisposition to stimming, gut issues and OCD behaviours by detoxing them from their life’s emotional and physical traumas including the vaccines and more importantly the Genetic Miasms.  It was only meeting with a colleague who owns a squeeze machine, like Temple Grandin’s, that I wholly understood on every level the advantages of being in a small space and how comforting that is.  Temple talks about the function and purpose of her squeeze machine, revealed in her movie here.

After a series of erroneous mishaps into disease myself and my son’s own perilous voyage into the autistic spectrum, and then out again which I tell in great morbific glory here in my first book, I came to know myself intimately as a child of the natural world. I realized that I want to go back to reclaim the parts of my childhood that most speak to me.  Camping in the tent with my family, spending time in the forts with just enough resources to be comfortable, with no hassles while keeping societal expectations at bay.

A couple of years ago I asked myself;  where am I happiest?  Camping alone in my tent with loads of time to ruminate, read, write, draw, eat good food both indoors and out with the basic necessities was the resounding answer.  I’ve made the luscious resolve to have less space and more intimacy with myself and my husband with fewer inane responsibilities like mowing the friggin’ lawn.  I will cultivate a permaculture acre in the woods while also living in a smallish home built from natural materials, windows to sit in while studying and writing by our wood-stove, a beautiful tiny kitchen with all the amenities, a pond, raised gardens, fruit trees and a wee separate fort for my artistic pursuits and above all, no stupid grass, adults or barking dogs.  Also I’m the only prissy girl allowed, pinky swear!