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:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hot water panels

We worked again on the hot water system this week.

I finished interior stucco, but I still have other concrete work to do.

SANY6744 Abe stripped, cleaned, tested and put up the solar water heating panels. They are each 8 feet by 4 feet metal, insulated boxes, with copper pipes (painted black) snaking back and forth inside. They are then closed with glass.

The panels were on the verge of being thrown away some months ago in New Mexico. They were saved from the dump by Abe's dad, Jim, who is just as loathe as Abe to see anything useful become trash. Though he didn't need them, he immediately told the guy that his son would use them, so the man gave them to Jim for free. One of the panel's glass was broken and they were a little dirty, but otherwise in perfect condition.

They now have a new home, mounted on our roof. You cannot hold your finger inside the copper pipe as it gets way too hot.

This week, we work on the tank and controls. Next week, we should be having hot showers inside our bathroom!

For all of the photos, click here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two and a half

SANY6254 Leo has just passed the 2 ½ year marker. Hard to believe at times, but the little baby is now almost completely gone, and in his place is this disarmingly cute little boy.

Physically there's not been too much change in the past 6 months – he still runs, jumps, climbs all over the place. Still loves to swing from stuff and be thrown around and up in the air. Accepts any chance he can get (no matter if he's never seen the person before) to ride a horse with someone. His throw keeps getting stronger and more accurate.

His coordination is certainly heightened. He can get into far more complicated devices and wrappers than before. He can take off shoes and socks (always putting the socks inside each shoe), and is starting to tackle dressing, or should I say undressing.

He's very tidy and organized and will always put his toys back in their exact places. He also has a fair amount of respect for things that aren't his. That's not to say that he doesn't mess with our things, but he USUALLY asks you first.

Verbally is the biggest change for sure. His language skills have taken off. Having spent 10 days with a bunch of Brits, his pronunciation, especially of “t”s, has gotten a lot better. He will repeat a word back instantly (not always clearly, but he's trying). He also forms pretty good sentences now, with noun, verb, adjective and object. Hasn't yet used any prepositions or adverbs, but hey, he's just 2. And something that is super cool is his Spanish. This week Abe and I have been working hard on the bathroom, and Leo has been spending time with Armando and Estela. In just three days, he is now saying over 15 words in Spanish and learning more each time.

He now knows every letter (except X) of the alphabet, and at least two words for each letter. He can repeat back to you the numbers 1 to 10 in both English and Spanish, though only does 1 to 5 in English independently. He knows all his basic colors and uses them correctly.

SANY6224 He is also exceptionally observant. Abe's the same way, he sees things I wouldn't even think to look for, and Leo has inherited this very useful gift. We'll be outside at dusk to see the first stars come out, and I'll point out the bright ones (planets). Leo will then point to something and say “baby star”. When he points it out I see it, but wouldn't have done before. The same goes for horses, cows, birds, etc. that he can see on the surrounding hills or skies.

Personality-wise, he is overall a very sweet and loving boy. He is curious about everything and generally enchanted by life. He does throw little fits of course, but generally not too bad. He lets out a little frustrated scream whenever he's trying to do something and just can't, but I think we can all sympathize with that.

Right now he wants to go play with other kids all the time. He still asks for his little cousin Timmy, and then he remembers that “T-Tim gone home white car.” I have a friend who has 3 boys, the middle of which, Martin, is just 5 days older than Leo. I go and see her whenever I have some spare time, and Leo loves to play there. He is not as advanced as Martin at sharing toys, but I'm hoping that will improve with practice, not to mention a new sibling next year.

His play is getting more entertaining for us. He will entertain himself for longer periods of time now, especially if you are close by. And some of his antics are so funny. His latest thing is teaching his toys how to talk. He'll line up a few of them in front of objects like “Juice” “water” “car”, etc. and repeat each object clearly to his toys. They are not quick learners, but Leo's patience with them seems endless.

I'm sure there are a million other things I'm leaving out, but when you see him every day it's very hard to realize what's new and what's not. Some things we hardly notice as anything special until someone else brings our attention to it.

I haven't taken any photos of Leo since getting back from vacation, but I will try and amend that. I will be putting any photos and videos of this month here.

Bathroom and hot water system

SANY6706 Since getting back from holiday, our focus has been prepping for winter. First we gathered and cut firewood and did a few other basic bits and pieces, and now we are attacking the bathroom and hot water system. Our goal is to get it finished by around the first of November.

Because it is an integrated system, there is a lot involved.

I've been doing the concrete work – stuccoing the walls and underside of the bathroom ceiling. For those of you who have never done overhead stucco, it is a bitch, leaving you with aching neck and shoulders. However, Abe had saved some acrylic sludge that was in a used barrel we bought and cleaned out, and I added it to my concrete. It made the hardest part of overhead stucco a million times easier. I have another two days to finish the interior of the bathroom and I will then start stuccoing the tank and other bits and pieces outside. SANY6715

Abe meanwhile has been doing everything else. He's laid the grey, hot, cold and floor heating lines within the house. So far all these lines (except the grey) end just outside the kitchen's east window, which is where the tank will go. This is our 300 gallon heat storage tank. We will have panels on the roof that will heat water and circulate it into the tank. We have not yet set up the tank or the controls – that will be next week's project.

Abe has also been working on the brackets that will hold the panels onto the roof, welding and bolting them together. Next week should also see the panels mounted.

The grey water lines will empty out into the flower beds that are inside the house, in the dining and living rooms. We will be using a wicking bed system for them, whereby the water sits in gravel and rocks, and is then wicked up by the soil to the plants. We'll be adding the soil next week or the week after – that will be almost the last thing we do.

SANY6710 All in all, we had a very productive few days. We're both pretty tired, as it's been a while since we worked like this. But hopefully just another week or two at this pace and we can slow down for the winter months.

On a side note, I have found the cure for morning sickness: since starting working with concrete (which I did all the way through the first two trimesters of Leo) my nausea has disappeared!

For more photos, click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bun in the Oven

Our biggest news at present is that I'm pregnant again, just entering my 2nd trimester.

Though sex is still unknown, calling the baby "it" feels a little impersonal, so until we know otherwise, it will be "she". There isn't a single girl in Leo's generation on either mine or Abe's side of the family, so we think it's about time to change that.

We had our first ultrasound last week, which is always a wonderful experience. She's an active little booger, dancing around, moving her hands, playing with the umbilical cord. When we had our first view of Leo, he turned towards the camera and we had a perfect shot of his face. With this little one however, just as the doctor was trying to measure her head or spine and be about to click, she would lurch away and he'd have to begin all over again.

As far as the day I ovulated is concerned, she is due on the 10th May. However, based on the size of her head and spine, the doctor is estimating 28th April. We had planned this pregnancy so that the kids wouldn't have birthdays in the same month, but I guess she may not want to cooperate... we'll just have to wait and see.

She's definitely been more trouble so far. With Leo I never felt any morning sickness or anything in the first trimester. With this pregnancy, I have felt sick pretty much all day every day. It is now starting to ease up thankfully, so I'm just getting ready to enjoy these next three months. 2nd trimester is definitely the best – all the fun stuff, before the sheer discomfort sets in!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shelly's Wedding

SANY6511 The second part of the trip took place in Arizona. We had a long day traveling from Florida to Tucson. It seems like Leo just got used to the three hour time difference and then we came back. Oh well.

Abe's second eldest sister, Shelly, was getting married, and pretty much the whole Connally clan came to share the day. All the siblings, the parents, uncle and aunt and two cousins.

We had a family party on Saturday night, where the Connallys got to hang out with their new in-laws. It was a lovely evening.

Then, on Sunday, we all went down to the river for the ceremony. It was really sweet and simple, in a scenic, tranquil setting. An obviously happy and well-suited couple, and we're so glad we were able to witness their vows to each other.

SANY6549 Then came the reception. Again, everything looked great. Everything about the wedding was what would be called low budget, in that they did all the catering and decoration themselves. To be honest though, it was the most beautiful and stylish wedding I've been to.

Leo was awesome. He barely cried or whined at all, despite being super tired. He seemed to make friends everywhere he looked, especially on the dance floor. I eventually took him back to Shelly's house early and he crashed.

Everyone had a great time. Just like my family, these are people who really enjoy each other's company and make the most of each time they get together. There were smiles and good times all around. I think it's generally accepted though that Zane is not allowed to mix the shots again!

Congratulations Shelly and Donna.

For more photos and videos, click here.

Florida Trip

SANY6430 Emily dropped us off at the airport on Wednesday morning, and we arrived that afternoon in Florida. Not a bad journey – two 2 ½ hour flights, with an hour's drive at the end. Leo liked watching the planes, and being in them for a little while, but then he wanted out. Still, it wasn't too bad, especially once he fell asleep.

We stayed at my mom and Bob's house. My grandparents and dad flew in from Europe and stayed in a house nearby, and my sister and her family live an hour away from my mom and came up to visit a couple of times.

SANY6434 It was really great to see everyone. My family is so strewn out that we rarely get to see each other, so when we do, it is very special. With that in mind, we did not do a great deal while we were there, preferring to spend most of the time hanging out with each other.

My sister's youngest boy, Timmy, is 8 months younger than Leo, and I was really looking forward to seeing the two of them together. I was not disappointed. Timmy is pretty much the same size as Leo, and is 3 lbs heavier, so they were evenly matched when disputes did arise. There were definitely moments when they wanted each other's toys, whined, cried, etc. - they are both two year olds. But for the most part, they were very sweet together. They had great fun splashing in the bath, having “blah” shouting competitions, and generally keeping the adults entertained (and run off their feet).

SANY6349 We did go to Disney's Animal Kingdom one day, as my mom and Bob get free tickets. It was a very long day, but fun. The highlight for the babies was when they found water jets coming out of the ground and wall. They played for over an hour in the water, until they were blue and shivering and we had to drag their soaking bodies out.

Thank you everyone for coming and for a wonderful time.

There's a bunch of photos and videos here.


I haven't blogged in a long time as we have been away on a trip to visit both sides of the family. We got back home Monday night and have been fairly useless since. Leo repeatedly empties his toy boxes and touches every single one of his things before putting them all back. We're not quite that bad, but it is nice to sleep in our own bed.

The trip was pretty full, so I'll break it down into two more blogs: Florida and Shelly's wedding. But before I even start in on those, our departure from here was an adventure in itself.

We left Monday 27th October and it had been raining solidly for a week. This year has been a strange year for rain. Overall, we got 10 inches more than either 2008 or 2009, but the majority of that fell during one week in July and then the week before we left, with it being fairly dry in between.

At 9 am we were all packed and ready to go, house tidy, fridge empty, baby excited. The ground was so slick and saturated that your footprint would fill with water. We knew it would be a ride up our hill, but we've made it before without issue. In fact, we made it out the afternoon before, without an issue. Today however, our Isuzu decided it would be an appropriate time to give the four-wheel drive a vacation. Abe tried and tried, but the front wheels would not engage. We slipped and slid, but only succeeded in going backwards, and then it started drizzling.

Well, Leo and I went back inside, while Abe tried to come-along (hand winch) the truck out of its hole. He was moving it about a foot and a half an hour. So while he was out there in the cold drizzle, covered in mud, he was figuring out how long it would take to move the truck the rest of the 100 feet. He was getting despondent.

I had tried calling friends, but with the weather people's cellphones weren't getting a signal (there are no landlines around here). I finally got through to someone who turned up a little while later. It wasn't easy, but he managed to pull us up the drive.

We stopped by the river and washed our feet, legs and floor mats, and then continued on our way. We left at 2pm.

Because the wedding was near Tucson, Arizona, we had booked flights from there to Florida. Combining the two trips saved time and money, but it meant an 11 hour drive from us to Tucson. Luckily, we had given ourselves two days to get there, so it all worked out. We drove until 9 pm the first night and slept in a motel. The next day was pretty easy and we arrived at Emily's (Abe's sister) house with plenty of time to relax.

It was a pretty exhausting and stressful start to a vacation, but it did mean that our new rain catchment tank filled up and overflowed. We now have 9000 gallons on the house system.

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