Pod living

dream house w/attached office

Earlier this year I drew up plans for a dream house. We seemed on the brink of acquiring an acre and a half very near where our trailer is now, next to two sets of in-laws. I read obsessively about passive solar, kitchen ergonomics and earthships. We visited locals and I revised my drawings daily.

dream kitchen sketch

The land, it turned out, was not (yet) for sale, and with Nathen working full time we knew we wouldn’t have the time to start building right away anyway.

Around the same time, I got concerned about water. Plenty of places that call themselves deserts get 10 or even 20 inches of rain a year. Joshua tree gets about 4. If you haven’t thought about rain in inches much, those four inches could come down in 4 torrential hours. PER YEAR.

weather station screen
Half way through the August rain event, our weather station registered .54 of an inch.

Because of some questionable uses of our local aquifer, Joshua Tree has recently started buying water from Northern California, via the California aqueduct. Aqueducts are huge energy consumers and don’t contribute, generally, to a strong sense of water security.

Given all that, does it even make sense to put down roots here? Am I ready to make that leap? 

So I temporarily put away the idea of home-building. But here we are, and the need for a more functional home didn’t go away. Recently I’ve been thinking that my dream house, under the circumstances, might not be a house so much as a series of pods.

pantry/trailer aerial
Nathen putting a new roof on the pantry, where our fridge and chest freezer live.

Pods are a way of meeting our shelter needs while turning the idea of a house inside-out (or rather, outside-in). A pod-based design allows building in stages, as time and resources permit. It allows experimentation with materials. Pods are also potentially moveable if we end up with land nearby. And local building code allows for 100 sq ft sheds (eg, 12′ x 8′) without permits.

bathhouse aerial
The bathhouse, with Grandpa Bob’s trailer off to the side.

The bathhouse and pantry are already useful pods. My sewing RV is too. Each of those can be improved, aesthetically and functionally. The next pod on my wish list is a sleeping pod. The trailer is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Building a little, well-insulated room that fit just our bed and clothing would also take a lot of pressure off the trailer: the area that is now our bed could become two couches with a hallway between them, which would give us somewhere to sit other than the kitchen table.

We converted two single beds with an aisle between them into a king-sized megabed, which we have to crawl over to get to the closet on the other side. It's worth it.
We converted two single beds with an aisle between them into a king-sized megabed, which we have to crawl over to get to the closet on the other side. It’s worth it. Pictured here is the shaker peg rail we installed to hang our curtains and “bedside pockets.”

So here is the plan, as of today:

pod plan v5
“Inertia” and “Tioga” are names of RVs (guess which one drives?). South is to the right – most of the structures have a long side facing south, for solar gain in the winter.

And here’s are two books that have inspired my pod-homestead thinking:



June/July homestead update

It has been very hot.

How to make clarified butter: put regular butter on the counter for about an hour. Your results may vary.
How to make clarified butter: put regular butter on the counter for about an hour. Your results may vary.

I started a new part-time job. I really like my new workplace and my employer.

What you see when you pee at my new workplace
Recycled metal siding at my new workplace.

My brother-in-law, Damian, harvested mesquite and palo verde off their property and shared some with us.

Mesquite flour ground in a vitamix.
Mesquite flour ground in a vitamix.
Palo Verde beans, blanched.
Palo Verde beans, blanched.

The next day I harvested some palo verde myself.

Hard work, yummy beans.
Hard work, yummy beans.

From the garden, we’re getting a lot of tomatos… and tomato worms.

tomato worms

I leave for Oregon and Not Back to School Camp in a week, and then Vancouver. I’m excited to get out of the heat and see some of my favourite people up there.

Hi Desert Homesteading Fair

David & Sant's Tiny House, photo by Stephanie Smith.
David & Sant’s Tiny House, photo by Stephanie Smith.

The Hi Desert Homesteading Fair was this weekend. We had more than 50 people! Kim Stringfellow gave a talk about her Jackrabbit Homestead research. People brought DIY technologies, things to taste and things to trade (I brought sauerkrautquilts and a sun oven). Stephanie took lots of great photos – you can see more of them on the new Hi Desert Homesteading website. 

Desert bread, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Desert bread, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Talking kraut, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Talking kraut with Tania Hammidi, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Angela's creosote bundles, photo by Stephanie Smith.
Angela’s creosote bundles, photo by Stephanie Smith.

When I got home, my copy of The Good Life Lab had arrived. I love it. It’s scrappy and very desert-oriented: where other DIY books have instructions on soap making and canning strawberries, this book has a papercrete dome built with a drag-behind mixer and a recipe for taking rust off old tools; the recipes use wolf berry, ocotillo and prickly pear, with instructions to substitute local plants as needed.

How to be a cactus eater

When I saw Damian, my brother-in-law, walking around with a pair of tongs and a bucket full of cholla blossoms, I thought he was on some crazy mission to stem the proliferation of spiky flora on the property. But no, Damian had learned that cholla buds are not only edible, but were a staple of native peoples in the desert and are an excellent source of vitamin C.

Well, great! The cholla forest is blooming this month, so I went out collecting too.

Getting the spikes off is a trick. I eventually settled on using an old screen door propped up off the ground and a straw broom. Sweeping the buds back and forth across the screen works pretty well: the spines catch in the screen and break off, and the ones that are left become dull enough to pick off by hand. Even better would be a box with tall sides and screen on the bottom, to allow for more vigorous sweeping.

I learned the hard way that its important to do this while the buds are fresh; the job gets much harder as the buds dry out. Once spine-free, I boiled them for 15-20 minutes to remove oxalic acid. I added lemon juice to the boiling water and ran them under cold water once cooked to try to keep some of the bright green colour.

The flavour has tones of artichokes and asparagus with a little of the sliminess of nopales or okra in the middle. I served them with butter and lemon, and then we dipped them in some roasted garlic and balsamic salad dressing Nathen made the other night. Delicious, and well worth the effort.

The Phoenix New Times reports another method for de-spining:

All you need to prepare your cholla in the wild is a lighter and a pocket comb. Grasp the comb and rake in a downward motion along the shaft of the plant. The fruit should pop right off and be trapped in the teeth of the comb. Skewer your cholla onto a small branch and use the lighter to spark a pile of brush. Cook until the spines char and break off. Once the fruit is clear of spikes, simply peel the skin and roast until warm.

I’d love to know what tools and methods native peoples used, since plastic combs and metal screens are relatively recent inventions.





Home improvement

Seeing Nathen put in a new garden in just a few days made something click for me: a little bit here and there makes a huge difference. Here’s what I’ve been working on the last few days.


Springtime is garden time.

Nathen dug a garden in the old goat pen. Have I mentioned that my husband is very good at getting things done? He bought starts and we filled up the garden on Saturday: tomatoes, hot peppers, cantaloupe, squash, corn. It was so fun, and has changed my relationship to the yard. I see new possibilities in every direction. Next up, rabbit proofing and a couple trips to the dump.

Women! In the desert!

My friend Katie hosted a Women’s Dinner in the Desert last weekend. She asked people to bring things to contribute (I brought quilts and fermented soda). Andrea Zittel wrote a good post about the dinner and the growing desert community, with more photos.

Katie and Kate and Sarah say there will be more dinners, and a publication is in the works.



Trailer tour: bathroom turned closet, with home-made wallpaper.

I finally tried the solar cooker today. I’d been waiting to find the perfect pot in one of the thrift stores (Cooking with Sunshine recommends thin black enamel cookware). Nothing has turned up yet, so I just went for it with my grandma’s heavy cast iron pot.

I put the quinoa in the cooker at 10 am, and pointed it at the sun. The thermometer read about 200 f. Nathen re-aimed it once or twice while I was at work. At 5 pm I pulled the pot out and the quinoa was starting to burn at the edges.

I think I used too much water and the quinoa was a little mushy – tho if I’d used less it probably would have been more burnt.

Clearly we have some refining to do, but this awesome cooking power is great news, as using the stove inside the trailer during the day is pretty unappealing.