Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url:

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Photo credit

In my last blog, when I gave the link for more photos, I said that the ones with a black border were Emily and Roelands' photos. Well, after converting them to JPEG, they lost the black border. Theirs are the ones which are slightly wider than ours, entitled DSC instead of SAN.

Leo's first Christmas

We have just got home from a wonderful trip to see Abe's family. Part of the journey home was through snow, which was a little stressful, but it's over and we are now back to the civilized temperatures of 40 to 70 degrees!!

It was Leo's first real Christmas and it was quite an event. There were 14 of us altogether, including Jim and Vickie, their five kids and partners, and the three grandkids.

Leo was fantastic. Despite, or perhaps because of, all the people and commotion (remember that we live a pretty solitary life), he had a blast. He had trouble falling asleep, afraid that he would miss something, but when he went down, he slept great. And even though he got overtired at times, he really didn't have any tantrums.

He found the whole present opening affair a little overwhelming and confusing, but seemed to enjoy it nonetheless.

There were horses, chickens, cows, a horse and cart, a trike with Leo-sized basket. In other words, he wanted to be outside all the time, and he didn't appreciate being told no, when it was too cold. Still, there were plenty ways to distract him in the house too, such as his new talking, moving Elmo and stick horse.

He seemed to have particular games he reserved for particular people. For example, every time Jim would come in, he would run into their room, open Jim's sock drawer, take out a pair of socks, and then throw it at Jim, shouting "ball".

We want to thank all the family for a wonderful time, especially to J and V, who housed and fed us. Hopefully it won't be too long before we can do it all again.

For more photos and videos, please click here. The ones with a black border were shot by Roeland and Emily.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a wonderful 2010.
All our love,
Abe. Josie and Leo

Kids Rooms Floors

We only worked a couple of days this week, but they were very productive (and tiring!).

We finished working on the sheet rock, then moved onto the floors.

We got both floors done, using a basket weave pattern out of CEBs. They look great, and Leo has already christened them by taking almost all of his toys up there to play. Didn't get to do the landing floor, but no biggie.

Once we get back from the holidays, we just have to do the landing, paint, seal the floors and brick walls, and make shelves. Then we can move in. Yippee.

More Photos

Sunday, December 13, 2009

20 months old

Another month has passed for Leo... already. Goes so fast, but he does seem to pack it in.

Communication is improving, word by word, though still fairly slow. He has now said his first Spanish word - "huevos" or eggs. He will also repeat the alphabet and numbers when you say them to him. His attempts are pretty incoherent, but great to hear him trying, and he gets so proud of himself!!! He seems to be into a stage when he will repeat things back to you. I guess it won't be too long before he starts to commit the things he says to memory and then come out with them independently.

Physically, he is progressing leaps and bounds... literally. He has loved getting on things and jumping off them for a little while, but now he's trying to jump up in the air from flat on the ground. It's great to watch. He is also developing a pretty good throwing arm, hurling a ball clear across the room. He is starting to catch too (by catch, I mean he puts his hands together and you throw a ball into them!). He seems to be getting stronger, taller and heavier by the days.

The favorite toys this month are balls, legos (which he likes to stack in one teetering tower), one particular book (which he'll put on your lap - over and over again - and point and say all the things in the book, like the dogs and cat and eggs and water and hat, etc.), his tractors and farm animals and three cuddly toys (a kangaroo, rabbit and bear). He will sit for a long time lining up his toys, and then rearranging them, and then putting them back how they were. It's quite strange. He is also getting more imaginative, like pretending to give them drinks from his water.

Eating has been harder this month. He's been kind of picky, preferring to snack and pick at food rather than eat a meal. If you would let him, he would happily just eat nuts "nu nu" and grapes all day long. But we don't let him, and when we curb the fruit and nuts, he hunkers down and eats his meals a lot better.

He's been able to brush his own hair and teeth for a long time, but he is now starting to do a few other things for himself, like put his shoes on. He hasn't yet shown any desire to dress himself, although he puts his arms out and pushes them through the holes for you. He seems to prefer to take clothes off than put them on, but that seems pretty natural to me!

He did go through a tantrum phase, and although this is not over yet, it does seem to have eased up a lot.

It's all an adventure, that's for sure.

For photos of the last month, click here. Blogger hasn't allowed me to insert images today.

Insulation and Sheet Rock

First, we put up the insulation. We stapled black plastic to the top of the ceiling framing and then put 8 inches of polystyrene on top of that. Made sure that the two layers of polystyrene overlapped, so the joints are covered by the layer on top.

We then put up the sheet rock on the ceiling and interior walls. And all of a sudden, there are two rooms separated by a hall with stairs. It's also now holding in heat and is very comfortable to work in, even on cold and windy days.

We started taping and filling the joins and screw holes, but didn't get that finished.

More photos. For some reason, Blogger didn't want me to put a photo on this post... not sure why.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Framing and Wiring

We are doing the interior walls and ceiling out of stud and sheet rock.

We have now framed up both the walls and the ceiling, and Abe has done most of the wiring.

Almost ready for insulation and sheet rock. Next week should see some drastic changes!

For more photos, click here.

Room Closed off

The room is now closed off, just in time for the weather turning pretty chilly, getting down in the 30s this week!

We poured the bond beam on top of the brick walls. As usual, our mix was 3:1 sand to concrete, with added fibers. We used castillos, with extra rebar at corners and above the door and window, as reinforcement.

Once the bond beam had hardened, we made the sophet (out of sheet metal), which seals the eaves, from the gutter board to the bond beam.

We also hung the last of the windows - the only one in the brick walls.

It is amazing the difference in temperature inside the rooms, now that it's all closed off. The only opening is under the door, which will have to wait until we do the floors.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brick walls are finished

After another week of not being able to work on the house, we did get a few days done this week, and saw a lot of progress.

The bricks are now all laid. This was our first brick laying experience and on the final (5th) day, the two of us laid 180 bricks: we are getting better and faster.

We then poured the posts at the corners and at either side of the door and
window. We used wooden forms for these instead of our preferred fabric forms. The door and window frame are now in place. It is looking more and more like a real room.

We have now started framing the bond beam. We should be able to pour that on Monday.

For more photos, click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

19 months old

Our little guy just turned 19 months. I'll be putting all photos and videos over the coming month in 20th Month.

The truly great news is that all his teeth, except the 2nd year molars, are now through. Leo has suffered terribly with teething - they come through slowly, painfully, often with blood blisters, sometimes causing a fever. But now we all get a little break from the whole ordeal.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in the past month has been the level of independence. He's by no means ready to leave home, but he does seem to be able to entertain himself for longer periods of time. Animals, books, toys, Sesame Street, music keep him engrossed for lengthier stretches.

Plus, he is now wanting to work along side us. If we're moving rocks, or shoveling sand, or anything, he wants to do it too. He's even done a little concrete work!! We like the fact that he's willing to work, but we are so far not that impressed by his work ethic. For example, when I was filling up the area in between foundations with sand, he would move around behind me, filling up a little can with sand and throwing it back outside!! Mmmm!

He's still not talking that much, sticking to his comfortable grunts and signs. A few words here and there get added to his vocabulary, but very little. Hasn't yet said a Spanish word, though he seems to understand it almost as well as English.

He's quite the little charmer these days. With strangers, he'll wave and shake their hands. With friends, he'll shake hands and kiss.

We watched an extreme skiing video the other day, and ever since he will climb every boulder he sees, jump off and shout "Wow!". I am filled with dread at the years to come!!!!!!!

CEB walls

This week we worked on the brick walls (north and east) of the kids' rooms.

We are using Compressed Earth Blocks, basically adobe bricks that are stabilized, compressed and use very little water. They turn out much stronger than regular adobes. We use them for the floors too.

It was our first experience of brick laying, but we really enjoyed it. It goes fairly fast and comes out beautiful. Between us we lay about 160 bricks a day. So far, in four days, we have completed 25 feet of wall, and have started on the last 12 feet. Just another day or two to finish.

We start off by doing the ends of the wall, three layers high, but with just a brick or two. These we level well, in all directions. We then put a string in between the end bricks of each course and fill in with bricks, using the string as our guide. It's pretty simple stuff actually.

We will the pour the castillo posts at corners, ends and either side of door, and finally pour a bond beam.

For more photos, click here.

Homestead maintenance

We usually have our two closest friends, Armando and Estela, come up and help us with the house. Armando, Abe and I build; Estela keeps Leo out of trouble. Last week however, they couldn't make it, so we took a break from building.

We did a few bits and pieces to the building site, like fill in with sand, but for the most part we used the time to catch up on some stuff around the property. We made a new road into our place, did some maintenance to the road up here, fixed the fence in a couple of places, worked on some compost piles. That kind of thing.

This week we got back to the kids' rooms though.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


We poured the foundations for the brick, exterior walls (42 linear feet, 10 inches thick, 6 inches deep, with two strands of 1/2 inch rebar running through them) and for the interior, stud walls (20 linear feet, 6 inches thick, 6 inches deep, with two strands of 3/8 inch rebar running through them).

First of all, Abe compacted all the sand sub floor with a compacter we borrowed from our local city council. Yes, that's right, I did say borrow - our city council lends out its tools, no charge, to its constituents. It also delivers our sand by the dump truck load for $18, and we had a load arrive this week.

Next, we set up the forms for the foundations. We used fabric forms. We loved the system for pouring posts and have been eager to try it out on foundations. It worked a treat. We used 2"x4" lumber, raised up to the level we wanted on little stilts, which were pounded into the compacted sand. We leveled the top of these boards. We then stapled black plastic to the top of the boards, allowing it to sag down to the ground the depth and width we wanted. We put in our rebar reinforcement and our corner castillos, and then poured a 3:1 mix with added concrete fibers.

We are now in the process of filling the rooms up with sand, up to the level of the foundations.

More photos

First touch of winter.

This week we had a couple of days of HOWLING wind, and with it came the first hint of winter.

It was blowing so hard that it nearly lifted me off my feet when I went outside. In the house, however, it was deceivingly calm and quiet. We just snuggled up as a family, watched movies and read, enjoying the days off work.

Since then, it seems as though the temperature has taken on a chillier turn at night. Still not super cold, it is getting down into the 40s instead of 50s. The lowest we've had inside the house has been 57 degrees. In the mornings, with the curtains open and the sun pouring in, the temperature rises about 3-4 degrees an hour, and by 11am we shut the curtains to avoid getting into the 80s. So far, we are super impressed by the solar heating system. But it's not really cold yet, so this front was enough to make us get a little more prepared.

Over the past three years, they have been building a paved road to our village and beyond. They finished it about 6 months ago, but the oak and pine trees they had to cut down are still all along the sides. So we decided to take a drive up the new road, with its breathtaking vistas of pine-covered, 9000 feet mountains. We took the chainsaw and filled the truck in no time. Leo did his part by finding twigs and throwing them in!!!!

We will be building a wood-gas heater for when it gets colder, but in the meantime we went ahead and bought a wood-burning heater for the living room. We have a wood burning stove for the kitchen, but the size of the logs you can use is very small; the new one will allow us to put a big, all-night log on before we go to bed. With the stove pipes all hooked up and wood all cut and ready, we couldn't resist trying her out, even though it wasn't really cold. Man oh man, did it get hot! It was beautiful. Almost makes winter appealing, though not quite!

More photos

White, white!

We painted the outside of the south and west walls of the kids' rooms, which meet the roof of the previously constructed rooms. So far, we have just used a waterproofing paint, which is white. We will probably leave it white as it helps reflect heat in summer, but who knows.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Twinkle Toes

Originally uploaded by velacreations
This one was worth a mid-week blog!!

Turn the volume up.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stucco finished!

This week, we finished the south and west walls of the kids' rooms.
Ferro-cement basically consists of a rebar, remesh and lathing frame, stuccoed with concrete. The concrete mix we use is 3 fine sand, 1 cement, and a little waterproofing additive. On each side, we do a scratch coat (fairly dry), then a brown coat, and finally a cement and fiber coat, all of which are now finished. Even the 4 windows are in.

We still have to paint them and silicon the window/concrete join, but that won't even take a day.

Next week we start work on the north and east walls.

For more photos, click here.

Top Bar beehive

Something very exciting happened this week - we got our prototype top bar beehive made.

We want to start keeping bees as soon as possible, for both honey and pollination, and this method seemed like the best suited to us and our way of life. It is cheap, easy to do, and other people that use the top bar system say that they see a marked reduction in bee diseases. It seems to be the "organic" way to keep bees.

In short, the hive consists of half a barrel on 2"x4" legs, a frame around it on which rest 23 bars for the honeycomb, and a roof. We will be writing a full how-to over the next week or two, which we will post at

All we need now is to find a swarm of bees. Usually they swarm - which is when a new queen leaves the old hive with a group of bees, ready to make a new hive - in Spring, although people say that bees do swarm as late as this here.

For more photos, click here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Managed to sew most of the curtains for the kitchen, dining and living rooms this week.

At this time of year, the sun is starting to come into the rooms a lot more (in summer it doesn't come in at all, and in winter it almost hits the back wall). However, it can still be kind of hot in the days (80s in the shade), and the rooms were getting a little warmer than perfect. But now, with the curtains pulled against the sun, we can control the temperature a lot better. Plus, the fabric we used is fairly thin, so light can still pass through without letting in the heat.

Winter Planting

We made use of bad weather this week to do some gardening.

We harvested all the beans, potatoes and most of the winter squash. All that's left now is collards, cabbage, turnips, carrots, parsley and lettuce.

We cut all the weeds and plants that have already produced, making a huge compost pile. We then replanted most of the beds with wheat, rye and barley, and spread compost on top of everything for food and mulch.

This year's focus has been the house. Next year, we hope to concentrate far more of our time on the food systems.

Scratch Coat

Having said that we were now past the season where we have to call off work due to rain, it rained half the week! So once again, we had a very light week building-wise.

Still, we did manage to get the scratch coat of the ferro-cement walls of the kids' rooms done. It is starting to take shape, emphasizing the windows.

We also made a small concrete retaining wall on the north side of the building site. That was the last place that needed building up before filling in with sand, which will be compacted before we pour the foundations for the brick walls.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Jar Organiser

We were doing some work in the garden today, getting it ready for the winter/fall's planting, and picking and drying out seeds. It made us think, we need to get a better system for organizing our seeds - we are now starting to have things that have grown in our soil for a couple of years and we are starting to select which plants do better and produce heavier.

So, we decided to make use of some of the Gerber's baby food jars that Leo has used, and make us a seed organizer. The same thing can be used for seeds, buttons, electronics parts, etc. etc.

We took a chunk of 2"x2" lumber. We screwed the jar lids into it on all four sides (must use two screws per jar). Then we screwed the jars into their lids. Very simple, 30 minute project, and it looks great. It can stand upright or on its side.

For more photos, click here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

18 months old

Yep, that's right, Leo is now a year and a half old - can you believe it? When I was pregnant, time seemed to go so slowly, but now that he's out in the world, time just zooms by.

We went for his 18 month check up yesterday. He's always been a little on the short side, in the lower rather than higher percentile, but now his weight is down. According to the weight per age and height charts, he is considered underweight. The nurse was kind of upset by this, but the doctor agreed with my lack of concern. Although these charts are very useful as a guide, to me that's all they are, a guide. I refuse to acknowledge that Leo is underweight/ undernourished. He eats great; he is constantly running around; he is never ill (except for two small colds since birth); he is bright eyed and alert; he's got great muscle tone, far from either skinny or fat. All in all, he looks in great shape. As far as I can see, we are each of us individuals, growing and changing in our own unique way, so why should a baby be any different?

Apart from that, he is a regular toddler - you know, either making you laugh or scream! The tantrums have definitely started. When he wants something that he can't have, boy, does he let you know he's not happy! The temper doesn't usually last long, and we're hoping these will fade out as his communication skills increase. He's certainly adding to his vocabulary all the time, which he loves.

His latest favorite toys are his books, surprisingly. He never had the patience for them before, but ever since getting a Sesame Street DVD, he wants to play with his books, his alphabet pieces and his number flash cards. He tries to sing along with some of the Sesame songs - it's great to watch.

He's also wanting to put shoes on more and more. He's never been interested in them before (he can run barefoot on rocks without missing a beat), but now whenever we go outside, he says "shoes", sits down and puts his foot in the air. I guess our little monkey is starting to put on airs!!

Still loves his animals. He goes up and kisses the dogs several times a day, and will even try it on the chicks when they let him! The weather is starting to change, and in anticipation of the coming cold, we have had a couple of garden snakes trying to get inside. Leo is the one who noticed one of them - he was pointing to a crack and saying his sound for "critter". He wouldn't go close to it, but was trying to make one of us check it out. We couldn't see anything and figured it was a fly or something that flew away, but he insisted. So we looked again and could just see the tip of a snake's tail - the rest was hidden. We took it out to the garden.

I don't have many photos or videos of him this week, but will post any I get this month in 19th Month

Back to work

After a few weeks off, we have now started working on the house again. We only ended up working a couple of days this week, due to one thing or another, and we're sort of glad - as we both feel a little stiff and sore and tired!!! It's amazing how fast you get out of shape.

We are now working on the kids' rooms (and for all those who have noticed the location of the apostrophe and wondered if Leo has a sibling on the way - no, we are just planning ahead!!).

We're doing the south and west walls first. They join onto existing walls/roof, and will be made out of ferro-cement. Abe welded the four window frames and we now have them tied into place, as well as the rebar, remesh and most of the lathing tied up. This makes for the frame of ferro-cement. We should be starting stuccing it next week. For photos of these walls, please click here.

The north, east and partition walls will all be made out of Compressed Earth Blocks, but we probably won't start laying the brick for another two weeks.

Work should no longer be called off due to rain, as that season is pretty much passed. Now we are headed into Fall - windy at times, and chilly at night. So far, the house is staying a consistent 10 degrees warmer in the house than outside at night, without any heat source. We'll have to see how it does as it starts to get really cold (so far, our low at night has been 50 degrees; daytime still sees 70s/80s).

Monday, September 28, 2009

A blog entry from my mum

A little different this week - this one is written by my mum about their trip to come and see us...

We got up early on September 11th and were driven to Orlando. A good journey saw us arrive on time at our destination. As before, the easiest airport in the world had us reunited with Abe, Josie and a sleeping Leo in 10 minutes from walking down the stairs onto the tarmac.

We went straight to the dentist – Bob decided to have the work done that they suggested he needed, 4 visits, 4 fillings, 2 root canals and 2 crowns……. I decided not to bother!!! We then drove the 2 hours back to their place. Unfortunately, we had rain and rain and then a little bit more, and by the time we arrived at the turn off to their village, the river was raging and we couldn’t cross. So drove to the next town where there was a motel with rooms for $10 each. We ate the chicken we had bought enroute and went straight to sleep.

Early the next day, with the river back down again, we had our first look at the work Josie and Abe have done since we were there last May. My goodness! They have a beautiful house. The views from the large windows are spectacular and they have designed the house with that in mind. Using Abe’s genius, there is heating and cooling underground with ac and dc power in all the rooms. Josie has her kitchen and it is wonderful. Rustic and practical, with everything one needs. Josie is an excellent cook and we had wonderful meals including apple pies (made with fresh, free apples from the village), fresh bread, pancakes, cookies and much more. The dining room furniture is bright and they have painted all the rooms bright and cheerful. We had the sitting room and a very comfy futon as our bed.

The bathroom is not yet done, but there was a compost toilet and we had outside showers which we both enjoyed – they have a wonderful system of collecting water and all their tanks were full.

The dentist took up 3 days, but 2 of them Josie, Leo and I stayed behind and caught up, which was wonderful. Bob and Abe took some walks over the mountains and neither of them stopped chatting about future projects. The evenings saw the 4 of us with a glass of wine, playing cards and having a laugh. I slept wonderfully even with the coyotes, mouse and dogs.

Leo – my goodness he captured our hearts totally and completely. He is a wonderful little boy. Doesn’t say much at the moment, but points, nods and shakes his head and seems to get exactly what he wants across – doesn’t always get it but……… if he wants anything, he takes you by the hand, or pushes you up off your seat and takes you to it. We had so much fun just watching his antics. He decided that Bob was his best buddy. Would give him one end of a slinky and lead him around all over the place for ages….. if Bob put it down or got a bit tired…. He was reprimanded and given the end again. Off they would go. We just killed ourselves laughing. He also has many different walks and faces that he entertains you with. I could go on and on, but am sure everyone has stories about their own children/grandchildren that are equally as sweet.

Given the problems of crossing the river after heavy rains to get to a ‘proper’ highway road in case of an emergency, Bob and Abe took themselves off one day to scout out a little used route across the hills that could be used to get to a roadway avoiding the river or any creeks. The going was so good that Abe’s low clearance small pickup truck managed the entire route with very few problems. There was just one section, where the three of them, (they had got Leo there as well of course, with it being a mans’ outing!) took over an hour to sort out a path over some rocky terrain to join up the paths on either side of the hill top’s crown. But the good news is that they can now (if they want to) get from their house all of the way to a paved highway without any risk of being carried away in a flood.

One other rather memorable event occurred (for Bob mainly). While Josie was outside watching Leo in his small inflatable splash pool, she called for Bob to take his camera outside as there was something there he might be interested in photographing. Turned out to be a monster tarantula! Now, it’s well known in family circles that Bobby is afraid of spiders, (well, some anyway) and yet, seeing how Leo wanted to play with this one, and how Abe just let it walk all over his hands and arms, our Brave Bob decided it was time to put away his fears and get better acquainted with that form of nature. Anyway, we now have pictorial evidence that there is at least one very large member of the arachnid family who was kind enough to let Bob host him for a while without so much as a nibble!

I guess that having the snake in the house was also a bit of a test for Bobby, who for years had avoided going anywhere that he was likely to encounter such a slithery creature. Once more, the proof of the pudding was that all snakes won’t just take it into their minds to attack without cause and the brave old soul is rethinking his irrational fears and hopefully will learn, even at his age, to live more in harmony with those who share this space.

Walking around their homestead and knowing what they have both planned to do eventually by way of development there, it’s easy to see the attraction of the place that they have chosen to live in and to bring Leo up in. He’s certainly one very lucky young boy. He’ll grow up with both of his parents available to him, to teach and explain all there is around as well as to open his mind to the type of questions that present themselves daily when growing up in any natural environment. OK, so he won’t get to experience the city stress, or the type of peer pressures to do wrong that other kids might face as they grow up; but he will still have access to other young people of his own age, will see respect being given to those around him, will share a great work ethic with his parents and their friends and will get to know life at its best. Like I said, one very lucky little boy!

To say the very least, the trip was wonderful, and we both look forward to our next visit and to seeing what additional progress they have made. Next time too Leo will be able to vocalize his needs and perhaps Bob can come off his leash and simply respond as asked whenever his number one fan has a request!

Thank you very much Josie and Abe xxxxx

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bob and Janet's visit

For more photos and videos, click here.

We have been having a lovely time with Bob and my mum. Mostly relaxing and enjoying our time together (who knows when we'll get to do so again). We play cards when Leo goes to bed; we've gone for a few hikes; got a few odd jobs done (like the boys making me a beautiful shelf for my kitchen - photos); picked some apples. A pretty perfect vacation actually. But of all the positive aspects of having them here, the most striking has been with Leo.

He's at a stage where he communicates perfectly, but does not use many words. He will point at things, grab your hand and pull you to what he needs or wants, grunt - in fact, he has a whole array of putting his point across without actually speaking. We haven't been at all worried, as he seems to understand everything (in both English and Spanish) and he is quite ingenious at making you understand him. However, with Bob and Janet here, it seems like his vocalization is suddenly kicking in. Maybe it's the fact that since they've been here we have only spoken in English, rather than the two languages, or perhaps the new Sesame Street DVD (which he LOVES) is helping, or maybe it's just that British is easier to mimic than American (!!). Who knows. Whatever the reason, all of a sudden, he is starting to use more words. He nods and shakes his head at appropriate times, answering questions. He seems to be adding words, or trying at least, each day. Even if he doesn't say the word, he will make you say words until you get the right one, then nod. Here's an example "conversation":
- He makes the sign for eat.
- "You want to eat?"
- Nod.
- "What do you want to eat? Cereal? (shake) Fruit? (shake) Nuts?"
- Nod. "Mm- huh." And then an attempt at nut.

We also finally, now that the whole place isn't a building site, got out the paddle pool that his American grandparents got him. And since we did, he has spent a HUGE amount of time in it. He likes to be outside most of the time anyway, but now every time he passes the pool he starts to climb in, taking as many of his favorite toys with him. He gets kinda mad when you tell him it's too cold or we're about to eat.

He has developed a strange preference for toys. He has always liked wheels and anything with wheels (like his cars or tractor, or our wheelbarrows, trucks, etc.). However, over the past month or so that preference has been fine tuned to round things. He will empty out all his shapes and carry the two little circles, blue and yellow, everywhere with him. He will play with the alphabet, but eventually discard everything but the 'O'. He loves balls, wheels, bottle tops. Other things still really interest him, but it seems like at all times he now has something round in his hand.

He has loved having the constant audience of doting grandparents. He is a naturally funny baby, always thinking of different ways to make people laugh. However, with this new audience, he has really been able to show off. In the evenings, we sit back and watch his show, as he stomps through the house doing different walks, different noises and faces, little dances. He'll then move around the crowd giving everyone a kiss. And of course, while we are all in hysterics, his face is lit up in delight. We are the ones who get tired first, getting to where we just can't laugh any more, and only then will he decide it's time for bed.

I'm sure he's really going to miss Bob and Janet when they go in a few days, as will we.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moved in!

It has been an incredible week and a half since I last blogged. Like most weeks, we got a lot accomplished, but this time the result is far more tangible in that we are now living in the rooms we built!!!!! Yep, that's right, we have finished the living room, dining room and kitchen (of course there's always a few details that remain to be done, but for the most part...).

We laid the brick floors, in a different pattern, in each room. Running bond for the living room; basket weave for the dining room; herring bone for the kitchen; running bond, in a different direction, for the entrance. They came out really beautiful, and a lot cheaper and easier than a concrete floor. We will continue to fill the cracks with fine sand as it settles, and then seal it with a varnish in a couple of weeks. More photos.

Each room is painted with at least four colors, sometimes more. It is a colorful house. This is helped by the huge windows that let in so much light, and make the whole place feel bright and airy. Incidentally, we had originally put polycarbonate windows in the living and dining rooms, but we had to change them out. They had an interesting and annoying flaw: they intensified any light from outside (like the sun!), and made a point of light into a band all the way up and down the window. It had the effect of BLINDING you as you walked into the room - as I said, annoying! So we now have clear plexiglass instead, and it is wonderful - it feels like there's nothing in between you and the outside, other than you don't get wet in the rain. Photos.

Even more exciting is that we bought furniture (for more photos click here) and have actually moved into the rooms. After living in a single room, with a toddler, for two plus years, the extra space is wonderful. I have real cabinets and a proper table, and a sofa - it all feels so luxurious. We now even have space for Leo's crib, so he has finally moved out of our bed. It's about time, as he needs the extra space for sleeping these days. Unfortunately he has had teething pains the couple of nights he has slept alone, so he has woken up a lot. Never mind, all in good time.

And then, to make it all even better, my mum and Bob arrived the other day for a two week visit. We are so very tired after the past few weeks of non-stop work, and now we get to enjoy a two week vacation with family. I think we deserve it!

Saturday, August 29, 2009


The roof to the kids' rooms is now finished.

- We put the remaining layers of latex concrete on the roof.
- We filled up the holes we had left for easier access.
- We painted the whole thing with a white waterproofing paint.
- We attached gutters to the sides.

So that roof is now done and catching water.

More photos

Brick Floors

This week has seen our first floor laid, and it went really well. It is the first floor we have had in the 7 years we've been together, so probably anything would seem great.

It is a brick floor, using compressed earth bricks that were stabilized with cement.

- We started off with a compacted sand base.
- We put black plastic down first as a vapor barrier.
- We laid 1 inch insulation over the whole floor.
- We cut a piece of remesh to fit the room.
- We tied PEX pipe going up and down the room. This sub floor pipe will be heated by solar boilers that we will later install on the south side of the roof.
- We put screened sand on top of the pipe, which we then leveled.
- We laid the bricks on the sand in a running bond pattern, knocking each brick level and tight against its neighbors with a rubber mallet.
- We cut the edge bricks and laid them.
- We swept screened sand into the cracks. As the sand settles we will sweep more sand into the cracks until they stop settling.

We will have to leave the floor a while before we can seal it, but it looks finished. Furthermore, the living room is now fully painted, so we have our first room done (more or less!!!). Very exciting.

More Photos

Friday, August 21, 2009

Latex Concrete Roof

Despite only having three work days this week, due to rain, we have got the first two coats of latex concrete on the kids' rooms roof.

It's too soon to tell, but we think we have found the way we will do roofs from now on. We are always looking for the best way to build, balancing the Time, Cost, Energy factors (strength and durability being things that cannot be compromised). Walls are easy, with endless good options out there, but the roof is one of the most important and expensive elements of a building, and up until now we have not found the system for us. However, that seems to have changed...

Its advantages are that:
- it is very light, so the support structure does not need to be as extensive as with other materials.
- it sets up super fast, so you don't have to be as scared of clouds on the horizon as with concrete.
- it is very fast to apply, almost equally the speed of putting up tin, which is a material we do not want to use as it does not last as long or look or sound (in rain) as nice as concrete options.
- for its strength, durability and speed, it is cheap.
- it allows for many different designs, though a pyramid structure seems to be the most efficient.

We had never tried this method before, but it was very easy. This is what we did:
- We made a wooden frame, in a three peak design, set on concrete posts.
- We then stapled two layers of fiberglass screen onto the frame, alternating the direction of the fabric for each layer.
- Once the fabric was in place, we poured our mix onto it and brushed it in with long-handled broom type things. The mix wants to be pretty liquid for this first coat, so that it penetrates the fabric.
- We then used paint brushes to put a slightly thicker mix onto the underside.
- We left three of holes in the structure, at the tops of the peaks, so that we can pour the next coats easier. We will pour these before we do the final coat, when we can walk on top. Latex concrete binds very well to itself, so we do not have to worry about cold joints, as with concrete.

The mix for these first two layers was a 1:1 of acrylic and cement, adding a little water to make it more runny. We used a product called Sikalatex, but we ran out and have moved on to a 100% acrylic concrete bonding.

We will now put 3 more layers on top, though these will consist of a 1:1:1 acrylic, cement, and fine sand. Even after just two coats, the structure is hard (will probably be able to walk on it after just one more coat) and fairly waterproof - water seeps through as it cures, but does not really drip. We should be able to do two coats in a day.

For photos, click here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The chicken population on this property has grown substantially this week.

We already had 9 grown chickens, 2 of which are roosters, and 2 chicks, whose mama was killed by a predator when they were just a couple of days old.

We let the chicks loose in the garden, which is fenced, and they are super happy there. They disappear into the undergrowth, and stay very busy eating bugs off our vegetable plants. The only downside was that they seemed so small in there, as if they needed a few companions. So when a man came to the village selling chicks, we couldn't help but buy 15, for 45 cents apiece.

They were just a day or so old, and so very susceptible to the elements. We have therefore set them up in the dining room flower bed for now. We bring them into our bedroom at night, in a cardboard box with a hot water bottle under it. When they are old enough – when their feathers start to come in - they will join the others in the garden.

Then today, we went to a small town nearby and ran into a friend who had older chicks for sale. We bought 10 of those as well, for 75 cents apiece. They are not nearly as vulnerable as the babies, so they have gone straight into the small chicken tractor. Once they have become used to roosting in there, which is sheltered from rain, we will open its door into the garden too.

So in total: 9 adults, 12 chicks, 15 newborns. Leo is as happy as can be – everywhere he looks there are chicks to play with.

More photos

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