Bhudeva Tour 2012

In what may become a tradition, we are happy to once again, as another year of activity comes to an end and we move into a kind of winter hibernation, post some images from Bhudeva to remember, appreciate and share some of the new things we’ve been gifted with. In this post we will highlight the changes and additions so if you want to get a fuller picture you may wish to have a look at the 2011 tour.

We’ll start this tour just outside the house. A few days ago we were gifted with a relatively warm and pleasant day and Andreea embraced it and headed outside to butcher some of our roosters (inspired by this lovely woman). We had 9, way too many for our flock (we need 1 or 2 at most), we butchered 5 and will cull 2 more in the spring once we see how the remaining 4 behave and choose which 2 to leave. As usual, I did the slaughtering and Andreea did the butchering:

Which brings us into the hall/kitchen where you can see some of the chicken breasts being prepared for dinner. On the left you can see that we have really taken to hanging things to make better use of the space.

We also added some more stuff around the sink. A backboard right above the sink with a small shelf for sink-stuff and a top shelf with … yes … more hanging … this time for the pans.

I also built a second second door. The first second door is for the warm months – it has netting to keep out flies and friends. For the winter I built a door that has 5cm of foam insulation to keep the kitchen/hall from freezing. It’s still a cooler space (unless we allow some heat to pass to it from the new rocket stove in the living room …. see below) – but so far it has been much more pleasant then last year.

In the bedroom we added a headboard (the shape is inspired by a drawing Andreea made) and two small shelf-thingys on either side of the bed.

We fixed our first rocket stove replacing its metal top with bricks. We moved one of the large book-shelves from the living room to the bedroom.

In the living room the sofa was extended to fill the corner (and can be rearranged to form a double bed). Andreea added her touch by sewing pillow covers for the pillows.

We also replaced the old metal stove that was in the room (and we avoided using it due to its terrible performance = needs tons of wood to heat and keep the room warm) and built another rocket stove.

The rocket stove burning in the background is an audio experience (you don’t see a fire burning) … it’s a sound we have learned to love … however I never get tired of peeking inside and watching the remarkable quality of fire burning sideways.

So now we can (and do) spend days in the living room (last year we spent most of the winter in the bedroom), which warms up very fast (and stays warm)  … AND due to a tip from friends, we had an opportunity to purchase a good desktop computer from a company that was closing and selling its equipment, together with an office desk and drawers … and we added a chair … and we now have a decent work-station in the living room. I did not dream this would be possible, even when we decided to purchase the computer, we did so assuming there may not be space for it right now … until we moved one of the bookshelves to the bedroom – and here I am writing this post at it 🙂

Andreea begged me to let her bring Ricky indoors during the cold winter nights (and sometimes days) … she is a small dog and unlike Indy, she doesn’t have much body mass to deal with the cold.

I eventually caved and agreed to arrange a corner for her in the entrance hall/kitchen. And now, she has a very nice corner and the living room right next to the rocket stove … and whenever we open the front door and she feels like it (even if the sun is shining and its warm outside) … she waltzes in and takes a nap. I am ok with it because she knows her place and doesn’t travel around the house … though I am looking forward to the spring and her moving back outside.

The bathroom hasn’t changed much, except for a small electric boiler which we added. It provides us with 10 liters of hot water whenever we need it. We love it … it has been a huge upgrade to our quality of life. We can brush our teeth in the morning without heaving to heat water in the kettle AND we can wash our faces to … and doing the dishes doesn’t hurt at all anymore 🙂

Our pantry is once again filled with foods that will nourish us in the winter and through most of the spring until fresh foods grow once again.

This pile includes sacks of potatoes, carrots, beets, nuts, a few apples and some pumpkins:

A big project outdoors was our Sepp Holzer style Hugelkultur raised garden beds. They didn’t do well because of the drought. After harvesting what was there to harvest we cleaned and mulched them (covered them with straw) and they are now covered with an additional blanket of snow … and hopefully precious topsoil and biological  life is growing there right now … so that by next winter we will have good soil and enough water to survive the dry summer months.

We started implementing a mobile chicken grazing system this year. A mobile electric fence and a mobile chicken shelter (red-roofed thing in the image below) will enable us to move the chickens around different plots of land so that they continue to enjoy fresh green food and do not destroy one limited space.

I finally got around to completing our humanure hacienda. This was my first roof-build project, I learned a lot from it (though some of the learning is still in the form of questions) … and I am happy with how it turned out. I still have plans to put in rainwater collection into a barrel so that I don’t have to carry water to it. We have hay in the middle chamber. The left chamber has been resting since late March 2011 … which means that next spring we will have our first batch of home-made fertilizer. The right chamber is built up quite well and come spring we will complete a first full cycle – we’ll empty the left chamber of fertilizer, close off the right chamber and it will begin its year of rest. This is a sign that time is indeed passing with us here 🙂

We purchased 12 cubic meters of firewood this year. We were both kind of overwhelmed when it arrived and thrilled that I managed to make my way through it (chainsaw, chopping, moving, storing …). Most of is cut up and stacked and is slowly drying. We will only be using part of it this year. The rest should last us another 3 or 4 years (yey rocket stoves).

The solar dryers (which I really should write more about … so stay tuned) are still outside, we intended to stow them away for winter, but that hasn’t happened yet (they should be OK outside too). A couple of weeks ago they had about a foot of snow on top of them.

The bee-hives also seem fine (the snow cover they already had on their roofs also melted away). We haven’t checked the bees recently. We checked before winter arrived and they seemed to have an ample supply of honey (we didn’t take any). We will probably peak in once or twice more (on nice sunny days) to see how they are doing.

Last year was very intense. We had just a few months to prepare for winter and we had no experience with … pretty much everything. It was a tight race. The weather was on our side and let us work right up to Christmas (the first snows arrived after Christmas). This year was still a lot of work but less of a race. There was space to take our time, to enjoy the work, to explore, to pick and choose … things needed doing but there was much less urgency.

Last winter was not as restful as we had hoped it would be. We had quite a few problems (water system froze, car froze, chainsaw died, house almost burned down …). This year winter arrived much earlier (by mid-December we witnessed snow that we only experienced in late January last year) and it seems we are much readier (the water system has been insulated, we have a charger for the car to keep the battery from losing its charge in the freezing temperatures … and snow chains …) … so it looks like we will have definitely have a period of rest … which will hopefully lead us into one of the softest years of our life together … as next spring we plan to embark on a leisurely year of playing around in the garden, continuing to develop Cutia Taranului, planning our new house … and enjoying the passage of time 🙂

 

 

Fixing Our First Rocket Stove

Our first (bedroom) rocket stove worked really well … it literally saved us during our first winter here. We did not have enough wood prepared … and it’s super efficient burn-and-battery kept us warm. However there was one recurring problem. The top surface was made of metal. It was intended to both radiate heat quickly into the room and to provide a potential cooking surface. It was also an easy way to cap the brick tower. This metal surface responded to the intense heat of the rocket by warping which in turn placed pressure on the cob seams that sealed it in place … which in turn leaked poisonous gasses into the room. The temporary solution was to keep fixing it and adding more layers of cob to it (which we did all winter long). The long term solution was to replace the top.

I started by modeling the top and I opted to use rebar to support the bricks that would make up the new top. I didn’t want to mess with or work on the existing brick tower so as not to mess up the room (cutting bricks creates alot of dust). So I added half-height layer of bricks and notched it to accommodate the horizontal rebars.

Opening up the existing top was fairly simple since it was already coming apart. I took this opportunity to replace the insulation around the heat riser. When we built it we used ashes (which is all we had) and they settled quite a bit. I scooped and vacuumed out the ash insulation and replaced it with a perlite & clay slip mix (we managed to find perlite in preparation for the second rocket stove). Then a little bit of refractory (heat resistance) mortar and the rocket was fixed.

Later (this was done back in October, I just now got around to posting about it), when we got to work on the second rocket, Andreea added a layer of finishing.

I still wonder if there was an alternate solution, to somehow prevent the metal from warping …

 

Respctful Chicken Harvesting

Despite the overall vegetarian lifestyle we live, Andreea’s occassional consumption of (and love of good) meat and the fact that we raise animals (and intend to raise more) seems to have recently brought meat to these pages. On the heels of the beautiful people and work of Farmstead Meatsmith we came across Alexia Allen, another beautiful woman who does beautiful work … this time a wonderful demonstration of chicken slaughter and butchery. We picked up quite a few tips from this video and put them to use when, a few days ago, we slaughtered and butchered 5 roosters.


Ironically, to view the second video you need to prove to Google that you are over 18:

 

How to Move from City to Village?

We are meeting more and more people, couples, families who are interested in a kind of way of life we have chosen: living closer to nature, reducing dependency on money, experiencing community, eating healthy, etc. One of the recurring worries and questions is about money … how to make money in a village life? They are used to being dependent on money to create their life and they know that money is hard to come by in Romanian village life. It is a horrible question because it seems like a dead end and is an energy drain.

We didn’t ask this question, we came here riding on wings of faith riding on currents of surrender. We were gifted by difficult life experiences that taught and trained in the arts of faith and surrender. But that isn’t very practical advice. I don’t believe that hardship is the only way to motivate transition. So I reflected on our life here, where amongst other things money has appeared … a new kind of money, a healthy and sustainable money, and in retrospect I noticed two things.

The first is that we are pursuing our passions. We are no longer trying to make money to pursue our passions. We are bypassing money altogether and going directly where we want to go. In terms of money we may have come here (kind of) empty handed but in terms of passions and skills we came here filled with riches. This wasn’t because of some grand master plan that we can take credit for. This was a continuation of a long and ongoing journey of discovery that ultimately helped us fade out of one existence and fade into another.

However that too is a precious gift and not necessarily available to everyone. Which brings me to my second observation. Instead of asking how to make money I suggest reflecting on another more interesting question: What do I have and can bring with me to contribute to village life? This morning in reading Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics I found this very thought:

“In times of social turmoil, I can’t imagine anything more dangerous than possessing a few hundred ounces of gold. Really the only security is to be found in community: the gratitude, connections, and support of the people around you.

Resisting or postponing the collapse will only make it worse. Finding new ways to grow the economy will only consume what is left of our wealth. Let us stop resisting the revolution in human beingness. If we want to outlast the multiple crises unfolding today, let us not seek to survive them. That is the mind-set of separation; that is resistance, a clinging to a dying past. Instead, let us shift our perspective toward reunion and think in terms of what we can give. What can we each contribute to a more beautiful world? That is our only responsibility and our only security.”

I came here dis-believing in people. I wanted to life on our own, insulated and isolated from people. That was my past experience holding me down. Fortunately, life got the better of me. From shortly after we arrived life keeps bringing us together with people who are like-hearted and like-minded. I now believe that security and sustainability can only achieved through grounded community.

My advice is that if you want to move out to village life in Romania, leave behind your isolated-city-money-survival mentality. Instead focus on what you can bring with you to contribute to village life. That question, at least, has potential for constructive expansion … it may nurture you and shine light on parts of you that have been ignored and in the shadows for too long. Going towards something is better then running from something.

 

Our Second Rocket Stove

It is almost the end of December and winter is well upon us. It arrived much earlier then last year (we are now experiencing snow and temperatures that arrived in late January last year). I am relieved that we got the second rocket stove done in time … it means this year we can enjoy life not just in the bedroom but also in the living room. We were able to find a barrel which means it looks (and works) more like a standard rocket stove. Circumstances still did not invite building a proper bench for thermal mass. So we opted to build another “bell” like chamber to retain more of the heat inside the space. We also experimented by building a small metal oven into the bell.

Despite a successful rocket construction during our first build, I was hesitant about this second build. While rocket stoves are a relatively simple, do-it-yourself technology, they do require a certain level of precision and accuracy in design. I am not really worried about efficiency (it’s so much better then standard stove technologies – that you really can’t go wrong with it. I am worried about smoke and poisonous gases leaking into the room. Two things can prevent that (1) a proper design (proportions of different elements) and (2) good finishing. I have proper design pretty much under control. Finishing was, and continues to be somewhat of a mystery. Our experiences with cob and earth finishes have been … well … mysterious. We are still not confident about it.

I was able to delay the project itself by two preparations that needed to be made. The first was to build some kind of small platform on wheels that would enable me to get the existing metal stove out of the way. Though this picture comes later in the time-line … this is the platform in action. Due to two wheels with brakes I was able to get the metal stove onto it and out of the way on my own (though the story of getting it out of the house took a funny turn):

The second preparation was to prepare the barrel. First I had to cut it open and then I had to burn the paint off it (so that no poisonous paint fumes would be emitted from it as it got hot on the rocket stove):

Because of my hesitance I started the project slowly, giving myself time to get back into the “rocket vibe” and to explore what I wanted to build. It began with a rough model that was constructed in the garage. I completely took apart and rebuilt the model a few times over many weeks. I spent quite a bit of time staring it, letting questions appear, letting solutions appear, moving parts around … I took my time with it … until I had a reasonable model … and restored confidence to start actual construction. I lit the model once to check for good draft … but given its design (round barrel meets square bell) it was kind of pointless since it was difficult to temporarily seal.

When I took the model apart I took a few images to document the different layers. I used those images to recollect and reconstruct dimensions during the actual construction. The construction began with a “subfloor” upon which I could build the floor of the rocket itself. The subfloor is built with mostly used adobe bricks. There are two ash-pits (the one in front and on the right is just under the feed chamber and the one on the left is under the future chimney exit) which are built with firebrick.

The floor itself is made of half-thickness firebricks.

Then came the first layer of the core. Though at the end of the day I decided that this would create a burn tunnel that was too deep so the next day I ended up taking apart most of what I built the previous day and removing this layer.

So this second layer was actually the first layer of the burn tunnel (though the picture still has the above pictured layer before I took it out)::

… and then on with the core including a (this time) brick riser (the oven is just set in place to measure precise location optimized for brick sizes), not yet built in):

… then a test fitting of the insulation container – rounded sheet metal tied in place with thick wires:

… and then a test fitting of the barrel itself:

with the core complete it was time to start building the heat-storage bell that contains the oven:

I then realized that it would be easier to continue building up the bell with the barrel in place (so that the quirky round-square meeting could be properly built). But to do that I had to first put in the insulation. The insulation is a mix of perlite and clay slip. It went all around the heat riser and almost all the way around the burn tunnel (no insulation was put in on the bell side of the burn tunnel).

All insulation openings were then sealed with a thick clay (cob-ish) mortar to keep the light and airy perlite from flying around.

Then it was time to complete the bell walls.

… and a concrete-slab we had lying around (of which there are more) was placed on as a cover (it was already fitted in place in the model) providing a lot of thermal mass (it was very heavy – a job for two) and an easy solution for bridging the wide opening of the bell:

The last part that was built was the ash collection pit/chimney exit chamber (on the left):

A few more cut firebricks were used to close the gaps between the barrel and the bell … including the installation of another clean-out opening that gives access directly to the passage-way between the two. Then all that was left to do was to seal all the opening with cob:

and install the chimney:

… and we fired it up and it worked like a charm. The immediate heating effect is new to us (in the first rocket we built where we didn’t have a barrel to radiate heat it takes time to heat up on the inside before that heat is radiated into the space. With this one the barrel gets hot within minutes (with still just the initial kindling wood burning) and quickly becomes too hot to touch. The room it was in was very cold since we had not heated it at all this season. We had a little smoke during the first firing (natural since the entire stove core is cold and damp) so a window was open … and the door to the entry hall was open and the hall itself was open to the outside … and still there was a very fast and noticeable heat throughout the entire space.

I never get tired of watching a hissing fire fire get sucked into the burn tunnel:

 

Then came the finishing stage. Despite numerous soil composition tests we seem to have ended up with cox mix that was clay rich. We were starting to run out of time (=running into extra cold) and drying the cob takes a good firing up of the rocket over two or three days … so I decided to risk it and applied the cob to the entire stove. Being clay rich meant that it contracted a lot … leaving a lot of cracks … which we could have dealt with … but is also pulled away from the body of the stove itself … and fell of in large chunks.

This is Ricky (in one of her winter outfits) making good use of the straw-bale we used to create the cob mix:

So we ended up pulling it all off and creating an alternate mix … a formula we learned of when we re-finished the north wall of the house. The base was a different clay earth … very sandy (10-15% clay and the rest a fine silt). At first we added to it gypsum as a binder (instead of aiming for a more precise clay-betonite mix). The resulting mix dried way too fast, so we added to it some hydrated lime to slow the drying. We ended working with a formula of 1 part gypsum, 1 part lime and 4-5 parts sandy clay. It gives a hard finish that had much better adhesion and seems to be heat-resistant. It did crack a bit, but that did not compromise adhesion. We will probably try to add another finish coat and maybe some color to it in the spring (all the soil is frozen now).

Initially we had to keep the rocket going for longer periods to really drive the freezing cold out of the room and the walls. The more regularly we use it the less we need to keep it going to enjoy a warm room. When the room is already warm it takes one feeding of the rocket to drastically boost the temperature in the room. It is crazy efficient.

It works amazingly well (to my surprise) as a cooking surface. The only limitation is that you can only cook on it when there is wood burning inside (and for a short time after the fire dies … while the barrel is still hot enough) which, because it’s really efficient, is not a lot of time. So to use it we need to consciously plan to do our cooking while we light and feed it.

The oven in the bell does not work. The rocket is so efficient in heating up the space that it simply does not run long enough to heat up the bell enough to get the stove warm enough to be useful. That’s the nature of this super-efficient stove!

There is more to be said about its performance, but that will come in a later post and after we’ve had some experience living with it. So far we are very happy 🙂

 

 

Farmstead Meatsmith

I don’t eat meat. But, to my surprise, I am learning to slaughter (so far chickens and Muscovites) while Andreea does butchering. Andreea eats some meat (not much) and we prefer to eat home-grown foods, including meat (I do enjoy eggs, and I do eat a morsel of meat from every animal that I slaughter, out of respect for the animal … and Muscovite meat is the best I’ve tasted in my entire life … I used to eat meat). The truth is that even if you keep chickens just for eggs, you will end up, eventually, with chickens that need to be slaughtered (old hens, too many roosters …).

My first visit to Romania took place during the holiday season, the time of year where many (if not most) villagers butcher a pig. Everywhere we visited people tried to impress me with their meats (a symbol of wealth) when all I really wanted was their potatoes ( a symbol of poverty) and other root vegetables. Andreea was constantly on the lookout to make sure that they didn’t fin a way to inject me with meat (like cooking Mamaliga in pork-fat, or mixing in a chopped pork for good measure). At the time, when this piece of meat was placed before me I couldn’t handle it and asked politely that it be moved away:

Fast forward two years and I found myself living in a Romanian village and documenting up close the slaughter of not one but three pigs. I got to witness how different people approach butchery in different ways and it was easy to spot the one doing the best job … even there quality was evident.

Slaughter and butchery is still common knowledge in Romania. Even many current city-dwellers have village-life in their pasts and they can take apart a large pig very efficiently. However there isn’t much quality and there isn’t much appreciation. It is another typical opportunistic action, something that’s done to provide food for the cold winter. Andreea has tasted quite a bit and she wasn’t very impressed by the cooking either.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I find Andreea drooling in front of her computer. She was watching the beautiful people at Farmstead Meatsmith. They are reviving meat harvesting in the USA. They do it with exceptional quality and care … from butchery through to cooking. Andreea was very hungry when we stopped watching.

I joined  her as we watched their introduction video (used to raise money on Kickstarter for more video productions):

<br/>And then this video, the first produced after their successful Kickstarter campaign:

<br/>Beautifully produced videos, by and of beautiful people doing beautiful work.

 

Rex

Last night Rex died.

We took him in 5 months ago. Our neighbors wanted to get rid of him and tied him to a post outside their yard next to the “road” in the hope that someone will take him in. Mind you, this is a road that sees at most a few horse-carriages a day and everyone here has more dogs then they need. We found him there and I suggested that we take him home and so it was. Until we took him in he lived most of his life tied in the same place – through hot summers and cold winters. He was also beaten quite a bit – so he was kind of messed up to start with. He was a very energetic dog and because he was tied he was also very excited. It took careful attention on my part to keep him focused and to walk him properly to his new home.

He took to us fairly well and we quickly became home (even though his previous home was 200 meters away). I enjoyed him. He had precise responses. Though he was very energetic he was also very gentle. At his most excited he could jump at me but touch me ever so lightly (unlike Indy who can topple me if I am not ready for her weight). However in the first days he was here, he and Andreea collided. The result was numerous bone-deep punctures in Andreea’s arm and our first visit to an emergency room in Romania.

That was when the seeds of the end were planted. Rex also became vicious once towards Andreea’s father who was visiting with us and he put on an unpleasant display of aggression towards Andreea a few weeks later. Both times I arrived in time to gain control over him. In reflecting on this second incident it occurred to me that Rex attacked Andreea for me … I was feeeling resentment toward Andreea at the time … and as I was processing those emotions, Rex seemed to act on them.

I came close once to being attacked by Rex when I was holding a stick to keep him away – he was used to getting hit with a stick (while he was tied and helpless to run away or attack) … so I learned that a stick pointed at him is not an option with him (a stick held in my hand, planted in the ground did work).

He needed clear and sharp leadership. I was very demanding towards him and he responded well. When I had to raise my voice to get his clear attention he would either run to his box (a temporary rain-shelter we setup for him when we brought him over) and sit down in it, or he would sprawl down in front of me in complete surrender (which was at times amusing, given how hard he was trying to contain his excitement). Andreea wasn’t able to provide him the clarity he needed.

The result was that Rex dominated Andreea. She was afraid to go outside. She would only go outside with me or if I first tied Rex down (which only made him more excited). When we both realized and clearly communicated to each other the intensity of the situation I suggested that we put him down. We did not have the tools to create a more balanced existence and it is not right that Andreea be fearful at home.

Andreea had a hard time with my suggestion, even though she agreed with it. She pondered it for a few days and then decided she wanted to try castrating Rex to see if that would moderate his behavior. She found a veterinarian in a nearby village  that could come and with my help do the castration. Scheduling didn’t work out and that was delayed.

Meanwhile, another complication appeared. The same neighbors who wanted to get rid of Rex have another dog, Beethoven. He is treated pretty much the same as Rex was. He grew up to be a large and strong dog. During the last couple of months, whenever he got loose he would come looking for Rex and attack him. Rex met him with his own viciousness but was never the instigator. It was always Beethoven attacking Rex. The village veterinarian recently came by to vaccinate the dogs against Rabies. He told us that Rex’s behavior had improved drastically … that Rex was the dog he most feared when doing his rounds in the past (and there are plenty of larger and mean-spirited dogs in our area). I managed to very carefully separate between Rex and Beethoven a few times. It was an unpleasant task and it frustrated me that I had to collect other people’s mss.

Yesterday our neighbors slaughtered their pig. In the evening they invited us to join them so that Andreea could enjoy some of the freshly cooked meat. As always, all three dogs joines us for the short walk … and actually led the way. As we headed down we encountered Rex and Beethoven at it again. It was cold, dark and I was tired of this and decided to let them resolve the situation on their own.

This time Rex didn’t survive the attack. This morning Levente came by and told us that he saw Rex’s corpse next to our neighbor’s gate. Andreea felt his death (without knowing clearly that was what she was feeling) while we were there last night. She suspected something was wrong when he didn’t appear this morning. He was probably already dead when we left our neighbors last night. We probably passed just a few meters from him on our way home but didn’t see him in the dark (it was even colder and darker and we were focused on getting home).

Andreea has met his death with sadness and gratitude. She thanked Rex for understanding the situation and for bringing it to a resolution. She feels free again … a huge relief for her and a return to a more natural order of things for Bhudeva.

The ground is already frozen solid and it is nearly impossible to bury him. Rex’s body was also already frozen solid. Levente (on his way home) tied a noose around him and dragged him off to an open hill where the foxes will have a feast on his remains.

I am reminded of the words of the Indian chief in the closing pages of Lila. Rex was a good dog.