Today I took a break from physically demanding work and stuck with physical work … in the shade … in the workshop.

I finally cut the first board that will be at the top of our bed headboard. It is the top board – and rounded … a huge radius … but I got a decent enough result 🙂

Then I moved back to working on more frames for the solar dehydrators. I liked going back to this task because it brought with repetition that carried over from the first, more erratic batch.

Now … we have swallows all over the place … they even tried to build a nest inside the house.

One of the swallow nests sits right above my mitre saw. So I found myself cutting away while a mother bird kept flying in with what looked like spiders to feed 4 apparently hungry chicks … funny looking chicks with flat heads and … mohawks.

Due to the repetitive tasks I had I was able to move into ” the zone” …  thoughts flowing rapidly and creatively all over the place. My thoughts went back to the Cutia Taranului information system and some ideas that came from it … without going into boring details I’ll refer to it is AppYours.

Then my perspective shot way out … and I saw myself … woodworking under flying swallows thinking about information systems … it doesn’t get any … richer then that 🙂

Laptop Chick Warmer

On to less serious matters … the weather has taken a sudden change … from a hot summer day it went to cloudy and humid … and now stormy … winds and rain. In the midst of this all … a small 3 day old chick was left behind outside … found cold and shivering … so Andreea brought him indoors and asked me to keep him warming. One option was to use both hands (which makes typing kind of difficult) … so I came with this solution. One hand for the chick … held up next to the heat exhaust … and voila … hot chick and another hand free to type:


Hay Delay

For the past week or so we’ve been wanting to hire someone to cut, turn and bale hay from ~3 hectares of our pasture (you need good weather conditions – a few days with no  rain so that the hay can be cut, dried and collected without getting wet). Initially we put it off because we weren’t convinced if and how much hay we needed (we were using it mostly as mulch … and we prefer not to anymore … so looking for better, accessible mulch materials). Recently we were putting it off because we don’t have enough cash money on hand to pay for it (a visit to the city is planned).

We’ve been approached numerous times by two sheep-herd owners (and a neighbor with cows) to let them pasture their herds on our land. We’ve refused because (a) we wanted to let the pasture rest; (b) we were planning to cut hay from it; and (c) we had plans to begin improving and converting parts of it.

Today we went to the village to pick up a few things from the market and to have a coffee. We met with one of the herd-owners and he asked us again for permission to pasture his herd on our land. We thought about it and decided to let him. The pasture has been rested and if not cut will become overgrown. Our efforts at improving and converting parts of it are on the way but moving slowly … so we won’t be getting to much of it at first. So, at first we said to him that we will cut hay from a part of it and then let his herd in.

But then I stopped Andreea as she as speaking and asked her to try and make a different trade. We asked him if he can bring us baled straw which, for our uses, is much better then hay in which case we won’t cut hay and he can bring his herd in right away. The look on his face was priceless … he was shocked and confused … he couldn’t figure out if we were joking or serious. However, once he got past the initial shock he easily agreed. He has 0.8 hectares of straw he can bale and deliver to us and everyone is happy (in addition, starting in August, we will be getting sheep cheese products).

Hay here is considered precious as animal feed that is both grazed and cut and stored numerous times a year for the winter months … straw isn’t (animals don’t eat straw). Therefor there aren’t many local uses for straw and it isn’t considered valuable. Once again our values seem to point in a different direction 🙂

So everyone got a great deal. We don’t need to spend any money on cutting the hay and we don’t need to spend any money on getting straw as mulching materials. He gets more pasture for his herd. It feels soooooo good to come across such win-win exchanges where money is simply taken out of the equation.

This is also a great example of a hidden purpose behind delays. We come across this a lot … sometimes over much longer periods of time. Delays are there for a purpose … you have to have patience and to let things be because only time can reveal their purpose 🙂

Stainless Steel Mesh

We’ve finally managed to track down here in Romania some stainless steel mesh. Why would we need stainless steel mesh you ask? We are collecting materials to build our first solar dehydrators for food preservation. Regardless of the design you choose to go with (except of course for buying an electric one) you are going to be building trays to place the food on. These are most likely going to be wooden frames with a wire-mesh to place the food on. If you care about what comes in contact with your food and longevity of the trays then you are most probably going to end up with stainless steel.

Today we went to the post office to pay an advance so that the order can be shipped to us. As Andreea was speaking to the lady who accepts payments I had a few seconds to stare at the invoice we brought with us to make payment and that single invoice embodies so much of our experience in creating a sustainable life here in Romania … it seemed worth putting into words. So this post is about that … a post about solar dehydrators will come at a later time 🙂

I’ll start at a point in time at which we already know what we want to do … though getting there is often as demanding a journey as actually creating it. In this case we knew we wanted to go with Solar Drying as a means of preserving food, drying tea leaves, herbs … and eventually using it to dry medicinal plants which is a direction we wish to explore. We started looking around and found a few approaches to dehydration. After much reading and re-reading and head scratching to understand not just design choices but the reasons for them … we settled on a design we wanted to implement.

Then comes the work of more detailed study … there are many details … many of which I can recognize and appreciate only after numerous readings with time and space for contemplation (and even then some considerations only become clear when I actually do the work of construction). By the time I’ve got a good idea of how to approach construction I’ve also got a fairly good grasp of the materials we will need. Many times these materials are new to me.

Then comes the task of tracking them down. Some things are available in the village hardware store, others in the larger DIY chain stores in the city and others are often more difficult (ranging from slightly to damn near impossible) to find. At best, the search needs to be conducted in Romanian (other times I have to find German terms to search either German suppliers or when we can’t find things here in Romania). Sometimes just finding the names or terms in Romanian is a formidable task … one that Andreea has to take on. Then comes the searching. It can take anywhere from hours to days … to weeks (when we get tired of not finding anything and have to take a step back to gain freshness and perspective).

We finally found a source … two online shops for beekeeping equipment. They carry stainless steel mesh that is used for the bottom of beehives (so that Varroa mites can fall out). Andreea called them up but they were out of stock and the density was too low  … the holes in the mesh were too large … yes you need to know what is the wire thickness and what is either the density (number of wires per centimeter or inch) or hole size. We had to realize that (a) we needed to know these measurements and (b) then locate a mesh with sizes that would work for us.

The search continued … we found one other source in some cheesy Romanian import/export website. We found three kinds of mesh … none of which was suitable … one of which was close enough to warrant further attention. We called and asked for more information … fortunately they had many other sizes. We got a few more quotes. Some were very expensive (prices per square meter) and/or came in very large long roles (which made them even more expensive). We fine=tuned the search and asked for more prices. And then it appeared … an excellent match, mid-range pricing and in a relatively short (10 meter) role.

The prices did not include VAT or shipping. Shipping was expensive … we searched for other options … found none. We decided to go ahead. We placed our order (email communication) and were sent an invoice with a request to pay an advance. It wasn’t cheap … actually its pretty expensive. It scared us … we still don’t have any income … and are trying to keep expenses down … without immobilizing ourselves.

Regular mesh materials (plastic, cheap metals …) can be found for 10-20 lei per square meter. Our stainless steel mesh will cost us more then 150 lei per square meter. For the price of just the steel mesh we could buy a pretty fancy and comfortable electric dryer (and we may yet need a simple one for drying seeds!). Yet solar means no need for electricity. Solar means no dependency on machinery that is bound to fail. Solar means easily being able to scale up our drying operation (already we can go up to 10 sqm of dryers). Stainless steel means our food will be without any chemical contaminants. Stainless steel means it will be easy to keep clean. Stainless steel means, if treated well, it will last us a long long time. In the end, Stainless steel will be not just cheaper … but priceless.

Yet, knowing all this, there is still an emotional fear … for us that is (currently) a lot of money. Sustainable isn’t easy, it is usually more expensive then commercial/industrial alternatives (that are ofen falsely presented as cheap), it requires long term thinking, in the beginning it is usually an unknown, it takes faith, it takes patience, effort and work, it is about building long-lasting infrastructures … and it can lead to an embracing, secure, empowering and abundant life.

All this goes through my mind in the space of a few seconds as I stare at the invoice. Then the lady tells Andreea she can’t help us … some postal services are only available in larger/central post-offices in the city. Sending money this way is, apparently one of those things. So … we still haven’t managed to complete the order … but we are getting there. Then we can move on to the next materials on the list … and hopefully soon we will have everything we need … then … we can get started building the solar dryers … and then enjoy them for life … or at least a very long time 🙂

Mine is smaller then yours

So the other day Ildi calls Andreea and asks if we would like to adopt a dog … one of those small dogs that look up to pinchers. I said no … those are not dogs … and we really don’t need a 3rd dog … and that was that. Then we went over to Ildi and Levente to pick up a few things and there is this … overgrown mouse … and Andreea picks it up … and looks at me, and then everyone else looks at me … and I say … wha the heck. Now we have two dogs and one not dog … meet Ricky:

She’s already a “big dog” … 3 or 4 months old … and she aint going to get much bigger 🙂

Ricky is a lucky dog here in Romania. Romanian villagers shudder at the thought of sterilzing or castrating dogs. So lots of puppies are born … too many puppies. What to do? Drown the extra puppies and keep the ones you want. I kid you not. Well Ricky wasn’t drowned (I told you she was lucky). She was raised for a few months (from the looks of her, in very poor conditions) and seems to have been dumped in the middle of a field. A sheperd found her and brought her to Ildi and Levente … and now she resides with us here at Bhudeva. Loui has taken a liking to her, Indy is jealous .. and Ricky seems to feel at home 🙂 Now we just need a huge saint-bernard that we can call Martin 🙂

Community First?

When we came to Romania I was socially drained. Despite recurring creative attempts, I could find no way to partake, contribute or benefit from society while living in Israel. As a result I came to Romania wanting to be left alone. I just wanted to retreat to our own place in the village, to create a self-sustainable life and forget about people.

Yet very shortly after we arrived here we started meeting beautiful people. People who shared our life values, who are on their own paths of exploration and discovery, people we could relate to, people we were drawn to (people who were English speakers … so instead of my Romanian getting better, Andreea’s English got better). I am not saying that Romania is made of up just these people, it isn’t, they are still a minority. But they are the people who kept appearing in our life. This took me by surprise.

Still, once we moved out to Bhudeva, we landed in a fairly reclusive lifestyle. The people are still there, but more distant and though the bonds are strong we see less of them. My Romanian is still coming along slowly because we spend most of our time here 🙂 Andreea is naturally socializing more then me through her interest and work with Feminitate and the fact that she is a native speaker.

When we moved out to Bhudeva the one thing we (I more then Andreea) wanted was to build a new house. That didn’t work out, and still hasn’t. We have begun numerous experiments including composting toilets, hugelkultur raised beds, natural poultry keeping, natural beekeeping which are fascinating and going very well. Yet very soon after we moved out we came to a sobering realization about self-sustainability. There is no such thing. Sustainability can only be achieved through collaborative effort. To put it more simply … sustainability can only be achieved in community. Yet community was a mystery to us (me more then Andreea).

Then came Cutia Taranului and spread its wings. It takes up much of our time and attention. Andreea spends much time on the phone talking to peasant families describing to them the project and then guiding them into it when they choose to join. She is also constantly monitoring and making sure that information flows smoothly between village and city. I have been very busy setting up all the technical aspects that she uses to contain all the information and vibrant energy that the project has created (and when need or opportunity present themselves I too speak about it) . Then we realized (it was more of a surprise to me then to Andreea) we are building a community. Though we are using technology to do it, it is a very real community where real people are connecting in real life around real needs … with real food!

Though I still feel an egoistic need to be in house that will better support and embrace us, we don’t even have plans drawn out for one. However we seem to be very busy building … of all things …  a community 🙂 I came here from a modernized, advanced, western-cultured country yet with a heavy load on my shoulders. I am now living a much simpler life in an immature country (there’s no way around it, as a country, as in an organized society, Romania … sucks) yet I feel at home amongst my neighbors and touched by a growing community of people all over Romania who’s values seem to much more aligned with mine. So much so that I feel that, working from the stomach up, there is a We, I am part of it … and We can do some great, sustainable things for Romania together.

After a Storm

The night before last was horrible for me … I felt attacked and as if I had to defend myself … so I didn’t get much sleep. Then yesterday felt horrible (tired and achy). Tonight I didn’t sleep much either but I wasn’t attacked again and so I did manage to get some rest. I’m feeling better today. So,before I do anything else today I wanted to share this panorama image taken a couple of weeks ago. A short lived rain storm has just passed over us and the sun broke through the clouds again. This images is facing east … the dark storm clouds with the sunset-lit greens is one of favorite color palettes (you are welcome to click the image for a larger view).