Top Lit Updraft Stove

Here is an even simpler cooking version of the rocket stove. I am wondering how to make it a steadier cooking platform – but other then that it’s so simple and looks very efficient.

Day 1

Thursday we signed papers, gave money and took responsibility for 94,000sqm of land we can now refer to as ours. Today we headed out there for the first time in this context. We planned to stay over one night and come back tomorrow … but, as is apparent from these words, that didn’t quite work out. We will be going back out there tomorrow morning for another day of work.

We were given one key which opens up one of the existing structures where the other keys can be found. There are many locks to the different structures on the grounds but there seemed to be way more keys. So we began fishing around trying to find a key to open the house. About half way into the pile of keys we found one that worked.

We went inside walked around a bit and looked at each other wondering where to begin. We couldn’t find an answer so we went for a walk outside to have a look around. We then came back in and found two ideas to get us started: (1) clear the space as much as possible and (2) begin rough cleaning from the top down. Andreea went on to fill trash bags with trash and I began cleaning the walls and windows … oh and I brutally disassembled an old bed so I could carry it out.

The house is built of mud and cob and it has an earthen floor covered by plastic-like sheets. On one of the walls we encountered a large slab that had come loose from the wall (I’ll try to get an image of it tomorrow … I didn’t feel like taking pictures today) – which we will fix using locally and naturally available clay behind the house.

We managed to get through one of the rooms. I was the first to lose confidence about staying the night. It was an overwhelming first experience for me (for Andreea too, but I think less then me). My breathing was getting rough from all the dust and I felt emotionally drained. The house has been dormant and going into it feels like a huge resuscitation – we are bringing life back into it. It goes way beyond cleaning and fixing … we are slowly generating energy inside it … an energy that now requires careful maintenance but eventually will grow to support us.

Andreea wanted to light a fire to warm and dry the place from the moisture we brought in. As I started to get the fire going smoke began to pour into the room, apparently our chimney is blocked … here we go … so now we have a dusty, cool (we opened all the windows to let air flow through the house) and now smokey house.

Andreea finally called it and decided to head back to the city and come back again tomorrow morning.

It was a difficult day for me. I am intimidated by the thought of living in this house for a year (as it is still unclear if we will be able to build this year).

We sat down on the stairs to the house to eat before leaving and as we did this I watched our neighbor sowing seeds. She was bent over manually sowing one seed at a time of one plant (I think it was some kind of bean) and in straight rows. I was watching her and thinking of a video of Sepp Holzer tossing a seed-mix onto his terraces … and re-realizing what a long journey it is we have set out on.

On the way back, though tired, I realized the amazing abundance in which we live. Even though we have only basic possessions with us, there will not be space for all of our things in the existing house. Yet in this house lived 5 people (a couple with two kids and a grandmother) with all of their possessions.


Monday we visited Mociu again hoping to meet with the mayor of the village to talk about fixing the road that leads to our property. It was also an opportunity for us to show our beautiful corner of the world to a friend who was staying with us.

It had been raining lightly and consistently for almost a day so this time we encountered muddy terrain and we rejoiced that we listened to Horatiu and got a 4×4 car which carried us in with confidence.

Our neighbors prepared a kind of petition request and they got all the people who would benefit from this road to sign it. We then drove back to the village center and filed the petition. The mayor wasn’t there but we met with someone else from the municipality who was attentive and helpful (and also interested because his property is just after hours and the lack of car access has made it difficult to sell it). We have already gotten word that this person spoke to the mayor and that our request was received positively and that hopefully work on the road will commence soon (this issue has been on the table for some time).

We spent some more time on our property, walked around with our friend and visited the Tilia tree we planted a week before. We found a tree filled with fresh green leaves and even new growth branching out from the ground. Indeed we are putting roots into the ground 🙂

From Dirt to Forest

This video is a time-travel demonstrating 7 years of evolution of a forest-garden – from nitrogen-fixing ground-cover through to a autonomous and perpetuating food-forest.

Planting a Tilia Tree

Saturday we drove out to our land by ourselves for the first time. We came with the intention of planning a Tilia tree (that we got the day before). It was a beautiful sunny day.

We stopped at our next-door neighbors to ask borrow digging tools. That led to a lengthy and pleasant conversation over coffee and cakes. We got a little better acquainted – they too have recently (a year ago) returned to living on and working their family’s land. We found much in common. We talked about organic farming and permaculture and water and the road that needs to be fixed so that there is reliable decent access to our properties.

We then moved on to our property and began a tree planting ritual. This was an event dominated by Andreea’s wishes and intention and she led the way for us. It was a transitional ritual … letting things from the past come to a rest so that more new things can grow in our lives.

We dug the hole and filled it with water. This turned out to be an excellent water percolation test – we already new that our soil has high clay content – but now we also know that it is very slow percolating as well (something that needs to be factored in our grey water system planning and good for making future ponds). We left the hole and the water to settle and we parted energies for a while. Andreea stayed and I roamed.

Our neighbor’s cows were grazing on our fresh green hill.

I began walking up the long hill that makes up the majority or our arable land.

This time I went all the way up and realized how large it truly is. The top part flattens out so that it is invisible from the bottom. At the very top I found these fresh blossoms:

And then this view to the south-west – at the foot of the hill I am standing on you can see a part of the “road” that reaches our property – currently passable only with a 4×4 vehicle.

As I headed back down I saw Andreea was stil engaged …

By now the sun had moved to the west and offered excellent light on our small valley – so I paused to take yet another panorama (click to zoom in):

I rejoined Andreea and we completed planting the tree and setting up an improvised fence around it to protect it from wild-sheep that roam the area.

Andreea stopped to say hello to the cows, especially a young calf that was grateful for her attentions:

We also revisited the new house markings we left behind during our previous visit and decided to leave our house oriented with the natural curve of the land instead of the precise magnetic north-south alignment. We decided where we will build our compost pile … and finally I took advantage of our car’s 4×4 capabilities and took Andreea up the hill too:

On the way out we stopped by the neighbors to return the tools we borrowed and we were gifted with fresh milk (from the above mentioned cows) and eggs from their farm. It was soooooooooo wonderful to be out there. We hope to complete the acquisition process in the coming weeks and to move out there at the beginning of June.

We will be heading out again this week to meet, together with our neighbors, with the mayor to discuss the issue of the road which needs to be fixed for us to be able to bring in construction materials.


Another 1st: Our Car

We wanted to live without a car but we chose to live in a rural area and self-build our home – which pretty much forced us into getting a car. We deliberated what to get for many weeks … we put off making a decision as long as possible. We were intimidated by another large expense taking a bite out of our finite “creating a home” budget. We were also intimidated by the actual act of buying a 2nd hand car in Romania. Finally it became a hindrance and  we had to take action.

Our needs were:

  1. 4×4 to give us access to and from (and on) our land all year long (including snowy winters and muddy springs).
  2. Automatic – Andreea is not used to driving a stick-shift … and thinking into the future of driving with kids in the car … convinced us to go with an automatic.
  3. Not a pick-up truck – although it would have probably been very useful in the short term (construction project) it was (a) too expensive and (b) yearly taxes are higher because it is considered a commercial vehicle.
  4. Limited engine size (2.5L) – again a tax consideration – the larger the engine volume the more expensive the tax – and it rises drastically.
  5. Powerful enough to tow a loaded carriage (instead of the open bed of a pickup truck).

We narrowed our search to Kia Sorento, Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Tuscon. We had the opportunity to ride and witness the capabilities of the Kia thanks to Horatiu (our architect) who owns one – including driving to and arriving at our property. So we focused on the Sorento.

We were strongly advised against purchasing a 2nd hand car in Romania (poor maintenance, poor roads, unknown and untraceable history, plenty of devious ways to disguise car problems). Instead, we were told to purchase a car in Germany. This used to be a good option until the end of 2010. Then Romanian lawmakers imposed extremely high registration taxes for foreign cars. The tax is based on the car pollution/ecological rating – naturally the older the car the lesser the rating and the higher the tax. These taxes made it irrelevant to bring a car from Germany (or any other country for that matter).

So we started by lots of online searching. At one point, to bring more focus into our efforts, we visited a very large car-market outside of Cluj city and that only fueled our fears. The market was overwhelming and according to rumors (which we could feel in the air) is dominated by local organized crime. So we headed back home happy to have made the effort, but dismayed by its results.

We hit the online searching again and found a very few (we only need one!) appealing cars. We had two primary cars listed (both Kia), one in Bucharest and the other in Costanta (we also had one or two other cars as secondary options in both cities). We were still inhibited and had no specific travel plans (~9 hours by train to Bucharest + another ~4 hours to Costanta) until Horatiu came to our karmic rescue and invited us to join them on a drive to Bucharest. We still deliberated until the last day but decided to jump into the water.

The owner of the Kia in Bucharest was kind enough to come and meet us where we arrived in Bucharest (near Horatiu’s in-laws). We looked over the car, it’s service record and spoke to the owner. Horatiu was again with us and supported us in looking at the car and communicating with the owner. It looked well kept, immaculately serviced and loved by its single owner. It already had a tow-hook installed (valuable for us) and many other extra amenities (less valuable to us). Andreea and I each looked inside our hearts and bodies and then at each other and decided to go for it.

We made an offer that the owner was reluctant to accept. We openly shared with him that we had another similar car waiting in Costanta but that we would be relieved to spend a weekend in Bucharest instead of having to travel to Costanta and happy to buy his car. We asked him to consider it and let us know by the end of the day, so if need be we could prepare to continue our travels the next morning. Later that night he called and agreed.

Despite all the warnings about buying a Romanian car and the nagging bureaucratic processes involved we had a smooth and great experience. The owner was pleasant, understanding and supportive. We drove around the city (making arrangements) with him an entire day and were happy that he was a safe and pleasant driver (not typical of Romanian drivers) which also reflected on his use and care of the car. At the end of the day, having recognized our discomfort in navigating the vast and unfamiliar city, he left us where we were staying and took a taxi back home. He was sad to part with the car. He also invited us to contact him if we have any questions on using and or maintaining the car  … really a great all around experience … and this is now our car:

We are happy to add this to our magical list of firsts:

  • The 1st taxi driver – the one that drove us from the airport when we first arrived in Cluj (and also moved us into our current apartment) was also the driver who took us on our 1st and only tour of the county to Mociu where we found our land.
  • We are currently living in the 1st apartment we saw (though we did see more apartments we came running back to it).
  • Horatiu is the 1st and only architect we met with.
  • Our land in Mociu was the 1st property we listed in our spreadsheet and the 1st and only property we saw.
  • Our house plans, though they have gone through numerous iterations, are true to the 1st sketches Horatiu drew for us.
  • Our car is the 1st car we physically saw.

Our process repeatedly involves a lot of waiting, thinking, feelings, talking and research followed by clear and focused action yielding magical results. We usually arrive with an odd mix of clarity and doubt that together seem to guide us with phenomenal precision.

Today we are going in our 1st car to to our 1st land to plant a 1st tree:)