Monday - September 12, 2011

Today I put the shower-stall project on hold since I couldn’t go much further without doing some finishing and assembling (which I couldn’t do because I didn’t have the finishing materials) so I dove into another woodworking project – also water related – a cabinet which will support our sink. Yes water related projects are a theme since we have running water outside and we want to get it in. So we are collecting all the pieces that are involved in having water indoors (sink, shower, water heater and washing machine) so that we can call in a local professional do to the water installation for us.

I fumbled about a lot as the salvaged wood pile is getting slimmer and good findings are harder to come by. I finally managed to get the first pieces cut and planed and assembled – this is the top frame into which the sink will fit. It was a tricky frame to do since it had to accommodate the size and fittings of the sink. The simple way to do it is to make a counter-top surface and cut out a hole for the sink – but that strikes me as wasteful. In our case the cabinet is the exact width of the sink with a small extension counter to occupy the space we have for it. Designing and building the frame was tedious … but it worked.

I then cut to length all the remaining pieces (it was the end of the day and I was tired) – I now have a ton of planing and sanding to do but we will soon have a sink cabinet … and soon after that running water! so many details in something that was so obvious to me all of my life.

I also drove to the village center to pick up a few things – including some finishing materials for the shower stall … oh and also harvested another batch of corn with our neighbor. Tomorrow we will cook it (rocket stove!!) and freeze it.

Also, working around me was a local villager who we hired to continue the cleaning up of the yard around the house. He made good progress. But, most interesting was learning about him. He is of the gypsy community of the village, around 30 years old, married with three kids – they all live in an improvised house of one 5 by 6 meter room with no running water. They have one electricity outlet that they run from a neighbor (they can’t afford to hook up their impromptu house to electricity) and they use it to operate one light-bulb for the kids to study with. The neighbors rip them off and charge them  half of their electricity bill. Their (heating and cooking) stove broke when their improvised cardboard roof caved in and broke it (we invited him to join us when we build our rocket stove – but he declined saying everybody would laugh at him when they saw the barrel). He seems content with his life. He is consistently (and unimaginatively) to convince up to let him bring his wife to work with him. The gap between our lives and mentality is a huge reflection for me.

There is a very strong (and probably not completely unwarranted) prejudice against gypsies in Romania. Romanian look down at that and are careful around them. Our dogs (I haven’t gotten around to telling about them – there are three!) were very aggressive towards him – more then usual. We had to tie Indy (the pack leader) to let him work. Andreea explained to him that she is a very aggressive and dangerous dog – that he shouldn’t come around without letting us know. She is being protective of our home. It’s a very strong prejudice!



Moving Out

It’s been a few months since I’ve updated this blog. We’ve been very busy and in an in-between existence. That’s slowly changing. This past week I started publishing some short daily updates and this post is the first full fledged post in a while. Though I wasn’t writing much the camera was with us at all times and most of the story of recent months is on it.

If I remember correctly we completed the official purchase of Bhudeva (our land and home)  in mid May (I had just returned from a visit to the UK to meet with Ralph Carpenter to consult on hemp construction). This left us with about 2 weeks before our apartment contract expired to finally move out.

We started going out for single days visits to see what is there and start making the place livable. As we got accustomed to being there we began to stay over night. There was no livable place in doors so we added an extension to the house in the form of a tent. At first we camped at a distance from the house:

 … and then gradually moved closer:

We had hoped that many things (beds, cabinets, etc.) left in the house would be useful but instead we found ourselves emptying most of the things in the house. When we began to move things around we also found that the walls were in bad shape. Whole panels of cob were coming of the wall and the rest was cracked – sometimes only the lime finishing layer sometimes deeper.

This image is after we already dragged out quite a few things and there was space to move in the room (the house was very densely packed):

 Outside the grass was overgrown. Fortunately we found an old scythe in the barn (I say this as if it were obvious – but until then I did not know what a scythe was … and when I was first introduced do it, it was using its Romanian name – Coasa – only weeks later did I find it’s English name). Here is Andreea hacking away after some rough sharpening:

 The barn (until recently) was filled with junk and two very large grain storage containers:

When most of the contents of the house were dumped outside we set to work on the walls. We collected some clay from a hill behind the house and created a first cob mix:

When that seemed to work out OK we began mixing larger quantities and applying them to the walls. The results were questionable.

Our neighbor, seeing our efforts, brought over a power-mixer which made cob mixing much faster and easier.

Then we hit our first great obstacle – our cob mix (a natural clay-sand mixture with water and cow-poop) didn’t work. When it dried it cracked and fell off the walls. Before and after:

After 2 or 3 different failed attempts we decided to hire help. We contracted a team of 3 builders (a father and two sons from the village) to fix the walls for us and to pour concrete on the floors (the existing floors were earth floors covered by sheets of a tar-like substance covered by strips of slightly overlapping linoleum).

Unfortunately we were not able to be there when they were working. I really wanted to see how they do the work. They sent us to bring clay from another source – it was a finer and more consistent clay then we had used (our neighbor helped us – he took us to the source in a horse and carriage … we brought back a fully loaded carriage of clay). What I can say is that their technique involved:

  1. Putting large nails into the walls.
  2. Weaving a kind of net using some kind of thick wiring.
  3.  Creating a cob mix that included the finer clay, sand (of which we purchased a truck load), water and gypsum.
  4. A lime render was sprayed onto the walls (using a manually pressurized pump).

We were there when the sand was delivered but not much more.

During our last visit (before moving out) we took some time off from work to harvest some Tilia (but not just!) flowers for drying:

Every time we came out we packed the car with things and moved them out to the village. On the last day in the city I made one final journey with a full car (so full there was no room for Andreea). This is what the place looked like when I left it. All of our things were tucked into this storage space:

The refrigerator was delivered the previous day and the laundry was the last batch from the apartment which had not yet dried):

The house didn’t have a door – it was taken off when the concrete was poured … and when the workers had left had not yet set. So the entry to the house was blocked with … a broom:

The house was looking MUCH better inside:

Outside was a huge mess:

I came back to the city and we took off on a small road-trip  … which I well get to in the next post 🙂

These first weeks were very difficult (I think for me more then Andreea) … they were emotionally draining. The task of clearing the house and making it livable looked impossible. It felt like we were doing much more then cleaning … we were resuscitating the place  – it was dead and we were trying to breathe life into it. It took a lot of persistence and faith to pass through the heaviness and resistance that awaited us.



Sunday - September 11, 2011

Yesterday I started more woodworking … but got tired after a couple of hours. So the rest of the day yesterday and today have been days of rest (as much as possible … since even cooking and washing dishes are still not obvious tasks).

I know my life life has changed when I find myself sitting in a small plastic bathtub, bathing at the end of the day while chicks and ducks are walking by, some stopping for a drink of soapy water and a dog is insisting on gaining your attention behind you.

Now sitting down to write the first full post I’ve written in months.

Friday - September 9, 2011

Did some final cutting (based on real rather then planned measurements), sanding and assembling of the base (action the top half of the base) of our shower stall. Very happy with the progress of this woodworking project – also all from salvaged lumber.

Andreea (with a little help from me during breaks) de-podded 5kg of green peas freshly picked by our neighbor while in the background our impro-rocket-stove cooked another 40 cobs of corn also freshly picked. Corn and peas are freshly bagged and tucked into the freezer that was delivered just yesterday 🙂

The wood-stove oven is now working on a Pizzaliga (our invention of a pizza like thingy based on mamaliga). It took forever to bring this day to an end … but we are almost there. Time to to sit down for food and a movie … the room is already nice and cozy.

Thursday - September 8, 2011

The kitchen shelves are assembled. Woodworking wise the result is OK – I hope to improve. Functionally it is amazing. It has tons of space and is sucking up loads of things which were in a mess all over the place.

Minutes after the shelves were put in place our delivery of a freezer, washing machine and vacuum arrived.

The rest of the day off … it’s (another) holiday – they seem to have loads of single-day ones scattered all around.

Wednesday - September 7, 2011

Yesterday and today were mostly woodworking – focusing on our future shower stall. I am recycling wood that we took apart from large grain containers that were in our barn. It’s a lot of work sorting through and cleaning up (lots of planing) the old one and its hugely satisfying to fin beautiful clean wood underneath and to know that it cost us nothing. I got most of the pieces for the shower stall cut. Today I used glue for the first time to create composite pieces (more on that when I get to writing extensively about the shower project).

with a stroke of pure talent I cut the planer wire by running over it with the planer. So I spent some time getting the wire parts out of the planer and then soldering the wire back together. First time around I didn’t insulate the wires properly so that caused our primitive Romanian fuses to  blow … which was a great opportunity for Andreea to teach me how to fix a fuse. The simplicity of old Romanian solutions is both hilarious and amazingly reliable.

Tomorrow expecting satisfaction – putting together the kitchen shelves which are drying after lingering in finishing for 4 days (oil based finishes dry really slow!) … and that should sort out the ongoing mess we call our kitchen.

Oh … and our neighbors sold their cows … very sad. We loved their fresh milk. We’re still getting fresh milk from other neighbors … but we miss the milk we got so used to.

Monday - September 5, 2011

Built an improvised stand for placing freshly finished pieces of carpentry to dry (yesterday they were on my saw horses but today I needed the sawhorses for something else). Started importing and tagging hundreds of pictures that have accumulated in the camera to tell our story – preparing to start blogging again 🙂 Now a little WordPress coding to make these short updates possible. Then a bit more tagging and then out to do some more planing (now that the saw horses are free).

Offline Onlife

Though it isn’t apparent on here Bhudeva is in full swing … we have no Internet connection yet (and are having difficulty getting one!) … which means we are spending most of our time doing physical work. We hope to get around to writing and showing more soon  … here are some highlights:

  • We moved out to the village completely last weekend.
  • We drove across Romania and came back with a car full of 10 chicks, 1 mother duck, 7 ducklings, sacks of wheat, corn, cornflower, nuts and a few plants …
  • We built and are using a composting toilet.
  • We cleaned a night-time chicken coup and built a day-time one for the chicks to roam.
  • We have a working gas cooker and a refrigerator.
  • We have a clean well … now working on getting running water into the house.
  • We are sleeping indoors on the floor on a pile of carpets, a wool mat … soon we hope to have a raised and healthy bed/matress.

We are now in the city in a coffee-shop with an internet connection – preparing for a day of shopping and roaming the city.

There is endless work but we have a lifetime to do it … so … we hope to be back partially online soon

What is a Forest Garden?

I’m going to be referencing Forest Gardens quite a bit and this video, which I should have posted long ago, is a good introduction by Martin Crawford of Agroforestry UK