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:

Saturday, December 24, 2011


0038 For a couple of months, at weekends, we have been building a new room north of the bedrooms.

Its primary purpose is as a thermal battery. When it gets real warm in the house (through the solar gain of our south windows), we open up the door to the new room. There is a lot of thermal mass in the walls of the room, so it stores the heat well. There is a large bench across the north wall, which serves as a giant thermal mass.

The North Room is also a barrier between the outside and the interior of the rest of the house. It has made a huge difference in the nocturnal temperature drop in the bedrooms, which stay about 60 degrees when it is 30 outside, with no fire.

Its secondary purpose is as a storage room. We built a table and shelf unit to house my sewing machine, fur operation, fabric, etc. Abe will be putting some of his mushroom and fodder stuff in there. Also tools, boxes, spare mattress will be moved in there shortly, now that it is finished.

0019 We used a system Abe developed for the walls. We call it Rapidobe (Rapid-Adobe). We put posts into the ground, every two feet, in two parallel lines (each side of the wall). To these we attached a mesh and tarp, in a U shape, from one set of posts to the other. We then filled the bag with dirt that we dug out of the hill, tamping it as we went - this took a day and a half for thirty feet of four feet tall wall. We then put a gypsum plaster on the interior of the wall, and will put a concrete stucco on the outside when the risk of freezing passes. The plastic mesh acts as reinforcement for these plasters.

The main advantages to Rapidobe are speed and low-cost. The tarp that forms the big bag is a recycled billboard vinyl (cheap or free). We cut many of the posts from our property, and the dirt was right under our feet. It is basically a big bag of compacted earth, which is extremely cost effective for a wall material.

0023 Instead of digging the hill down all the way to the level of the floor, we dug it down to a shelf height, 3 feet wide. Seeing as the room is for storage, the shelf seemed like a good idea, saved some digging time, and has added to the thermal mass of the room. The long, Rapidobe wall sits atop this shelf.

The east wall is styrophone insulation with lathing attached to both sides, stuccoed, like a SIP. It has a metal frame that is welded to the door and to the roof.

The west wall is a temporary plywood and frame wall. We will be adding to that area of the house one day when we do the "west wing", so it just has to block out most of the weather for now. It is tarped on the outside.

0034 The roof is metal. We had wanted to do a living roof, but with such a dry year. the desire to add to our catchment area was pretty strong. Metal was fast and easy. It has styrophone insulation underneath it.

All in all, it turned into a really nice room. It is now painted and ready to move into. Guess what we're doing for Christmas?!

For more photos, click here.

Christmas Wishes

SANY0395 Wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas, and New Year.

The time is passing so fast, I cannot believe we are about to enter 2012.

It's cold outside, so we are all settled in to a warm and cozy home, playing games and waiting for Santa to come. Nico is oblivious to the Christmas thing, but Leo is really excited.

Happy holidays.

For photos of this past month, click here.

Selling pigs

SANY0446 Well, we have now got rid of all our piglets, and even one of our sows, Wanda.

We put some pallets in the back of the Toyota, and drove the last of the piglets around to sell.

When we got into pigs, there weren't any others around. Now, there are three pig operations in our village alone. We believe in diversity as the key to a good local economy, so we have decided to sell up before the market becomes saturated. We will still raise a couple feeder pigs each year for ham, bacon, chops, etc. but we will no longer be in the breeding business.

It was very sad to see Wanda go, but not as bad as it will be when we sell our boar, Amigo, who sits on command and runs up to be petted whenever anyone goes over to the pen.

Oh well, such is life. At least we'll still have the rabbits, who are the easiest animal in the world to raise.

Fried Grasshoppers

SANY0440 A long time ago, Abe was reading online all about eating insects. They are plentiful and very high in protein for their weight, and are eaten and enjoyed by many cultures throughout the world. Many call them the food of the future, one to match the world's increasing population and more erratic weather conditions.

When he was first into the subject, I was three months pregnant and the thought literally turned my stomach. Now, I have no excuse. So, seeing that there are still some fat, slow grasshoppers around, we decided to give it a try.

We caught about 8 (or rather Leo did), fried them up and ate them. Contrary to what you might expect, they weren't that good! Nor were they bad, they just weren't very juicy. I think we'll try it again next year, when they are younger and more tender.

One thing that was kind of funny was that one of them bit Leo when he was putting it into the jar. Have you ever heard of a grasshopper biting someone? There was an indentation in his skin and everything. But Leo got his revenge - as he put it: "it bit me, but I ate him back"!

Miracle mushrooms

SANY0284 Look at these baby mushrooms - don't they look like they would cure cancer?

During the hot part of the year (and this year was hotter/dryer than usual), our mushroom production dwindled. However now that it's chillier we are back in full swing, getting about half a pound of oyster mushrooms every other day or so. And boy, are they good!

We will now be getting some warm weather spores, so we can have mushrooms year round.

Rabbit Fodder

SANY0298 Abe has started a little fodder system going for the rabbits.

We sprout seeds (oats, wheat) and then put them in a very small amount of worm castings in aluminum trays. Keep them moist. After a few days this beautiful grass has grown and all signs of soil has been swallowed by this super thick mat of roots.

SANY0310 The rabbits LOVE it. It is fresh grass, so much tastier, and it's considerably better for them, as the nutrition increases significantly from seed to grass. Plus it is a lot cheaper than buying a grain or concentrate.

After doing several test trays, Abe is now building a shelf system, so that we can start doing this for almost all the rabbits' food.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Furs now for sale

SANY9118 We are now selling the exclusive and incredibly soft fur items made from our sustainably raised bunnies. If you, or anyone you know, would like to buy one, please check out this page.

Weaning pigs

SANY0219 Gloria's second litter are now six weeks old and weaned. It was something else catching them all and putting them into the weaning pen, but we eventually got it done, after a few tries.

Abe made a trap for them in the shelter in which they were born. When they were all in there, Nico and I walked the big pigs down the hill and kept them out in pasture (so the sound of squealing wouldn't make them crazy). Leo had to make sure the little guys didn't jump out of the trap, by scaring them back in. Abe caught them and put them in the weaning pen.

We have also separated Amigo from the others for the time being. Gloria is now in heat and we don't want her bred until February. Poor Amigo can smell her and it's making him crazy. Oh well, he'll get his chance soon enough.

Wanda is due to have her 2nd litter in the next week.

For more photos, click here.

Advent to Christmas

SANY0274 When I was a kid, my sister made me an advent calendar just like this one - gifts in a box of styrophone pieces that you pull up by their number, from 1 to 24. Seeing as Leo is super into Christmas and counting at the moment, we thought we'd make him one, so he can count down to Christmas day.

We put the tree up, and then set the box near it. So far he has opened three days, and knows exactly where the next day's number is. He loves it.

SANY0276 Of course Nico, who is now 7 months old and getting into all kinds of trouble,WANTS the wrappers. He sat with me when I wrapped the gifts, and he was after everything - the gifts, tape, paper, scissors. He is getting far more mobile and dexterous, which makes him a lot harder to control these days. Everything he can do, he's doing better and more: roll both ways, scoot around some, pick things up (even starting to use his finger and thumb), eating (a BUNCH), chatting, laughing, playing. It won't be long before he's more of a little boy than a baby.

Photos of this month will go here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Attack of the tomato

SANY0119 We can barely keep up with the cherry tomatoes and herbs that grow in our grey water planters inside the house. We have had to cut them back a couple of times, but they are determined to take over the house. However, their aggressive behavior took on a whole new meaning when we noticed that they have broken through the silicon seal of the window to escape outside. It seems the house is no longer enough for them, they want the whole property. SANY0146

For more photos, click here.


This week has seen a couple of fairly large milestones for our boys.

Nico has been saying his first word: "Mama" (said a little like a bleating lamb). At first we thought it was just babbling, but he consistently uses it at the right time, ie when he wants me to pick him up. Leo's first word was "wawa" (water), which we found very appropriate for a son of ours. However, I have to say that I like Nico's first one more!!!!

As for Leo, he loves games, like Lotto, so we have started playing cards (Uno - where you have to follow with the same color or number) with him. He is very good at it. He's getting really good with numbers. He recognizes and says them all, plus he can count a number of objects up to ten. Along the same lines, he is also starting to tell the time (digital), although he hasn't really grasped the length of minutes and hours. For example, he'll ask if it's lunchtime. We say, "lunchtime is at 1, so what time is it now?" "12.07". "So, is it lunchtime?" "No." However, he'll then repeat this line of questioning each time the clock changes, which can make the hour until lunch very long.

The other day Leo had a crook in his neck, so was laid up for a day. He starting getting bored with movies, so we played him all the movies we have of when he was a baby. It is uncanny how similar the two of them are, although there are definite differences, both physical and in personalities. Here's a few photos, Leo on the left, Nico on the right.


For more photos of this month, click here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

6 months old

SANY0103 Well, 6 months old now. I won't do too long of a post, as it feels like I only just wrote the 5 month one.

He weighs in at 8.5kg (19 lbs) and measures 65cms (26").

He has 2 teeth now and continues to drool like crazy. In addition to the drool, he has his first cold at present, so gunk seems to be oozing out of every part of his face. Poor little guy. That time of year, I guess - Leo brought it home from school and then Nico caught it (Abe and I didn't seem to suffer that badly though).

SANY0109 He can now sit on his own, and can play for a pretty good length of time. He reaches for everything, is getting pretty dextrous, chatters away, giggles at all our jokes.

He is starting to eat chunkier food (rather than just puree) and more of it. The other day he had his first cookie type food, which he can pick up and eat on his own.

He loves to stand, and is starting to cruise a little - holding onto something and taking little steps. He stumbles a little with the steps, although he is very steady when standing still.

For photos of this coming month, click here.

Grubage bin

SANY0064 A while back an online friend sent us some Black Soldier Fly Larvae. We put them in a bucket that Abe rigged up to meet their needs. However, their population has been growing, and so Abe has just finished making them a bigger home, out of a half barrel.

Black Soldier Flies (BSF) are the homesteader's new best friend, as useful as earthworms. The larvae eat all kinds of "putrid" or stinky waste (like rotting meat and manure of any kind) and they eat it FAST, before it even starts to smell. Then, as the grub gets ready to transform into an adult fly, it will walk up a ramp and drop itself conveniently into a collection vessel, which makes a great, high protein treat for pigs or guineas (or other omnivorous livestock).

You want to allow some of the larvae to make it to adult stage, so that your population will continue to increase. However, do not assume that "fly" is synonymous with a household pest. These flies exist only long enough to reproduce. They do not eat, and so are not interested in coming into your house. What's more, they see other flies, like the house fly and fruit flies, as competition and so secrete a chemical that deters them from laying eggs anywhere near them. So, once your BSF population is established, you will see a marked decrease in other competing flies.

SANY0093 We have not yet started to feed our pigs these grubs. We are trying to get our population well established before we harvest them. Once they have settled into their new home, and have converted rabbit, pig and guinea poop into more BSF, we will begin that process. Pigs, of course, eat anything, but it is protein that makes them grow faster and that represents the biggest cost in feed. Fresh BSF larvae have a protein content similar to soy meal (45%). Once the BSF are in full swing, we will empty the contents of the self-harvesting bucket into a solar oven and pasteurize them (to make sure any bad bugs contained in the poop are killed) and give it to the pigs. Apparently, they love them!

For more photos of the Grubage bin, click here. We will shortly post a full how-to on the website too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


SANY9946 Gloria had her 2nd litter of piglets yesterday. We knew they would be arriving, as she had milk that morning, had made a beautiful nest and was panting.

The first one was born at 4.08, the last (which was breech) at 5.45. There were 13 in total. One was stillborn and the runt didn't make it through the night, so we are left with 11 healthy little piglets. And they are beautiful. You forget how small they are, and how cute.

SANY9925 There are 6 females, 5 males; 3 black spotted, 1 red, 7 white.

For more photos, click here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wild Honey

SANY9856 We continue to forage for food for us and the pigs. We have now stopped gathering grass for hay, as it is drying out, and have moved instead to river cane (which the pigs LOVE) and willow branches. We are also starting to collect some of the numerous wild plants that are edible for us, including a big bag of mint.

But, the score of the week has been delicious HONEY. A hive had made itself at home in a meter box type thing for the local water system. We were asked to remove them. Abe opened it up and removed all the brood comb and most of the honey, and placed it inside a bee box we had at the house. He then closed the lid of the manhole and set the box over the hole. He put dirt all around the two, so that the bees would have to go through our box to get out.

SANY9869 We went to check on them after a couple of days, and they seem quite happily moved into their new home. After a while, once they have had chance to clean up, we will move the box away from the manhole.

While Abe was in there though, he took out some of the honey comb for us. We have had such a bad year with water and flowers that we won't be robbing our bees. These guys however have plenty of flowers as they live down at the apple ranch (where we will now be moving all our bees). The honey is dark and wonderful. We removed it from the comb using the sun's heat, so it is still raw, and boy is it good.

for more photos click here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Three and a half Years.

SANY9826 Leo's just turned 3 1/2 years old. Crazy. I don't tend to write much on him on his own any more, mostly because the changes are less pronounced than in a baby. And yet he does change. Now, looking at him, there really isn't any baby left. He's suddenly this boy - willful, sharp as an arrow, inquisitive, loving, deaf (selectively), willful. And he seems so independent, wanting to do everything on his own, and generally succeeding, sometimes coming up with an ingenious way to accomplish some task or other unaided.

He's a skinny little kid with the energy of a firecracker. He eats pretty good (though not always without a little "no dessert" bribery), but none of it goes to him growing, as he burns it all off the second we let him down from the table!! He runs around outside, playing with the animals, rocks, plants, bugs, etc. We have to constantly yell at him to put his shoes on, as he's not that fond of shoes and much prefers to run barefoot.

He is curious about everything, and there's just a constant sound of "why" around our house. For the most part, we try and answer his questions, but we usually end up saying "Because we said so" in a somewhat frustrated tone!

He loves his brother very, very much. In fact, he is a very loving child. Cuddles and kisses anyone who asks for it, which everyone does as he is adored in the village, especially by the little girls at his school.

School is a definite success. He loves everything about it - the kids, the teacher, the work they do, even his homework. His Spanish is getting better ever day (both English and Spanish are used). English continues to be his stronger language for now. He still has trouble pronouncing "L", but his grammar is getting really good, differentiating between the tenses.

SANY9847 Unfortunately for him, he can't go to school right now. He has chicken pox! Poor little guy. He actually doesn't seem to have too bad of a case, and it looks like the spots are already fading without ever having gotten too itchy. I really hope I'm not speaking too soon!

Leo definitely exhibits a lot of characteristics that I will really enjoy in him when he gets older, but that right now can (have I mentioned that he is willful?). He is super tidy, very independent, questions authority - all qualities to be respected, but in a three year old? He spends a fair amount of time getting into trouble with us and us saying things like "why won't you listen?", but I guess it's just his age. The good thing is that we love him so very much that we are unlikely top kill him... yet!

For photos of this month, click here.


SANY9839 We just a made a new clothesline. Our old one was strung up between a tree and a water tank, and was kind of in the way. This one has more than three times the capacity (over 150 feet of line and room for a lot more) and doesn't take up near the space.

We actually made it a little too large for most people. The boards we bought were 8 feet long, so we just used them as is without cutting them down. Space is not an issue for us, so we figured "why not!". Besides, the design allows us to fold it up should we ever need to.

I especially like that it swivels, so I don't have to move when hanging out the laundry.

Parts and construction are very simple. We'll post a how-to soon.

Click here for more photos.

Five months old

SANY9791 The months just keep ticking by, with Nico now 5 months old (actually 5 1/2, seeing as it's taken me so long to post). I cuddle him and breathe in his babiness as often as I can, knowing that this stage will soon be over. With Leo, every age and event was new and exciting to us, and so we loved seeing him grow and change. With Nico, being our last child, we want it all to slow down a little and let us savor the moments, but he's not being cooperative and just keeps on growing at an alarming rate. In fact, the time seems to be going even faster than before. Oh well, it does have its upsides, getting to see what kind of boys my babies are turning into is a pleasure in of itself.

I guess the most important change this month is that his first tooth has come through. He has been a drooling mess for two months now, but it's paying off. The bottom right is through and the bottom left will appear over the next day or so. So, one down, nineteen baby teeth to go... sigh! I wish they didn't hurt him so much.

SANY9820 He eats a little real food at most mealtimes - applesauce, bananas, carrots, ceareal. He loves it all and eyes our food with genuine desire. He'll stare at your plate and follow the fork from the food to your mouth, with his mouth hanging open. I keep expecting him to use some Jedi mind trick to move the fork of his own volition, but so far we remain in control. His communication skills are improving because of his desire. He'll stare at his bowl or water cup and VIBRATE. When you ask him "water?" or "eat?" he'll break out in a huge grin and grunt until you give him the food.

We have now officially entered the "nothing is safe" part of babyhood. He grabs at EVERYTHING, and is coordinated enough to get it. Leo especially likes it when Nicky grabs him, his hair, his clothes (although not always so keen when he grabs his toys!). The two of them are really starting to play together, it's adorable, but potentially very annoying. For example, Leo likes to make him laugh, and does so at the table while Nico's eating, which results in food going everywhere. So, we have made a rule - no playing at the table, and Leo gets in trouble when he doesn't obey it. Leo finds it hard enough to resist, but Nico makes it a whole bunch worse by staring at him, waiting for his antics. When Leo is good and doesn't do anything, Nico squeals and flaps his arms up and down, which renders Leo helpless! We see years ahead of us of the two boys conspiring and ganging up against us.

SANY9824 His eyes are starting to change color. No longer the blue of his birth, but something in between that and brown. His hair, what little he has, is now turning blond. Everything just like his big brother. We've been looking at photos of Leo as a baby, and though not identical, you can tell without any doubt that they are brothers. I know lots of people say that Nico is fat, but actually Leo was just the same, surprisingly enough. He looks skinny now, but at Nico's age he was only 0.2kg lighter (and a little shorter). If anything, Leo's cheeks seemed fatter.

We've been leaving Nico without a diaper recently. He does most of his poops in the potty, but not his pees. With his diaper off we can learn his patterns and signs a lot better. We'll see how it goes.

Nico is very quick to laugh, just like Leo was. We notice that our family does a lot of laughing, and we hope that is the same for everyone.

For photos this month, click here.


SANY9760 Our home-made wind generator, Chispito, has been out of action for a little while. Its PVC blades broke last spring and we haven't had time to fix them. The wind we would get in Terlingua was stronger than here, but it was steady. Here we get tremendous gusts, and those sudden bolts of power broke our previous blades a couple of times.

So, this past week, Abe made a few adjustments. Instead of its previous design, which was a horizontal axis machine, he converted it to a vertical axis generator. The conversion was fairly simple and the new blades he designed have a strong metal framework, and then a metal skin and a PVC scoop attached to it.

It probably won't produce as much power in lighter winds, but it is much stronger. Besides, we don't really get much in the way of light winds. It's usually calm here or windy as hell.

Our wind season is fall and spring, and the fall winds have just started. After he'd put it up it didn't stop turning for two days straight. It's great to have Chispito back in action. It seemed sad and incomplete for our property to be without a wind generator.

We'll put more photos here, but for now there's just a little video.

Apple press

SANY9732 We've been processing a lot of apples, while they're in season, to make them last one way or another all year. Drying, freezing and juicing.

The apple juice is delicious, but won't last long. We've got three gallons in the freezer and the rest we made into cider. The downside however to juice is that it is a time consuming process when you don't have the right equipment, so Abe made us an apple press. The press is useful for all kinds of things, but apple juice was the motivation we needed to make it. It works a treat and allowed us to press the juice out of the ground apples very quickly.

Next piece of equipment we'll need is a grinder. For now, we used our meat grinder after cutting the apples into small pieces, but it was slow. We have plans for a machine that will grind a bushel of whole apples in five minutes, but we couldn't find the parts we needed in time to make it for this year. We aim to make it for next apple season.

For more photos, click here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our First Cider

SANY9586 We have made our first batch of cider, although it isn't ready yet.

We wanted to make a small batch this time, to try it all out and get our "mother" (starter for future batches of cider, containing the right kind of yeast).

We cored the apples, and then ran the chunks, with peels, through our meat grinder. Abe then put together a make-shift press out of stuff we had around the place.

We got a little under a gallon of apple juice. It is by far the best juice I have ever tasted, and I was ready to drink the whole thing right there and then. However, Abe got the rest bottled up, with a fermentation lock on each bottle before I could. We now have three bottles stored in the power house to ferment. In a week we'll taste all three and see which is the best - that will then become our "mother".

SANY9596 We are going to the city tomorrow to buy parts to make a grinder and press to do this faster and more efficiently. We are in love with juice, cider, apples in general, and totally understand how apples have got the reputation for being a cure for all that ails you.

By the way, did I ever mention that we get all our apples for free if we go and pick them ourselves?

For more photos and videos, click here.

New Pig Pasture

SANY9558 Abe put up a new pig pasture this week. We like to rotate the pigs fairly often, so as not to eat down any one pasture too much. And seeing as this year has been so dry, we decided to move them off their last pasture after a month.

This one is much larger and should keep them happy for a while longer.

They are now pros at the whole pasture thing. When we got our two sows (then gilts), they weren't sure what to make of pasture, having spent their lives in concrete pens. Now, Abe opens that gate and starts walking into the pasture and they snap to his heels, munching all the time we walk them round the new paddock. They are happy as pigs!

For more photos, click here.

Johnson Grass

SANY9531 On one of our foraging expeditions we decided to get a load of Johnson Grass. Abe had been reading online about it, and it turns out that it is farmed as a hay in Europe, from where it originates. We had always assumed that this was an unwanted (and impossible to get rid of) weed, but if you process it correctly it's pretty good, sitting at 13% protein. The issue with it is that it contains a lot of prussic acid, which can be bad for animals in high dosages. However, if you leave it to dry and make hay out of it, all the prussic acid disappears. What's great about it is that there's a a lot of it, no one else wants it, and you can collect a truckload in no time flat. We will definitely be getting more of it to store for winter, alternating it with loads of orchard grass. SANY9604

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More Gathering

SANY9527 This week, we have been doing a bunch of gathering, and will continue to do so over the next couple of weeks. We want to stock up on storable feed for the pigs and rabbits. This year has been so dry that we have no idea what the prices and availability of animal feed will be like over winter.

We drop Leo off at Kinder garden and then go to our friend's place (he has a beautiful property near ours, which has over 5000 apple trees and a bunch of water and thus weeds). We load the truck up with either grass and weeds or apples. We dry the weeds to make hay, but the apples are a little more complex.

This past week, we gathered about 500 lbs of apples. We have dried about 30lbs so far in our solar food dehydrator. We made another 30 or 40 lbs into apple sauce and chunks for apple pies, which we have frozen (we also pureed some of the sauce and froze it in ice cube trays for Nico - he loves them and the coldness seems to feel good on his aching gums). We are fermenting a bunch in a 30 gallon tub for the pigs, and they also get fresh apples, while they wait for their preferred vinegary ones.

SANY9524 Over the next day or so we will be making our first cider and then vinegar. Cider is a good way to preserve apples, plus it gives a leftover pulp that we can dry for the animals. We'll let you know how it goes. On the other hand, we don't really drink much (if at all), so the sudden arrival of delicious cider may impair our typing abilities for a while to come. Be patient.

Barn Tank

SANY9492 We've started on a new 7400 gallon tank that will eventually be filled from the barn roof and will be for the animals, which are our main consumer of water.

It is 16 ft x 16 ft and 4 ft tall. It is located uphill from the barn site, so that the animal waterers will all be gravity fed.

We leveled out the area that the machine cleared and then compacted it. We then added a layer of sifted sand. There are galvanized posts every few feet all the way around, with the corner posts staked out for added strength. To these posts is secured a galvanized welded mesh. And that's how we've left it for now.

We will be attaching a stucco mesh, then a tarp, then a pond liner to the inside of this structure. And then, when the tank is full of water, we will stucco the walls with concrete to make it a little more permanent. The roof will be a tarp at first, which we will later cover with acrylic concrete.

SANY9498 The reason we've left it at this unfinished stage is that it seems unlikely that we will get the rain needed to fill it, even a little, and we are worried that the wind and weather will blow it around before we get more rain (next June). In the meantime, it makes a pretty good cage for a toddler!

So far this year we have had 9 inches of rain, and only September remains of our rain season (with no promise of rain for the next week or two at least). Our normal rainfall is 30 inches or more. We fear that we won't even get the house tank filled this year. I guess we need to build more roofs for catchment in case of a drought - add it to the list of things to do!

For more photos, click here.

4 Months old

SANY9507 Nico turned four months last week. He now weighs 7.3 kg (16 lbs) and is 62cms (almost 25 inches) long. I guess his weight gain is slowing down a little, although you wouldn't guess it by the way he chugs on his boobies. If I am slow in getting it out for him, he will literally push my shirt out the way, grab the breast and pull it to him.

We have now started giving him little bits of other foods. He gets to suck the juices out of any fruits we eat, and again, he will let you know in no uncertain terms if you're being too slow in giving him his share. Poor Abe usually holds him while we have fruit salad, and Nico is outraged when Abe takes a bite for himself. We have also tried him with rice cereal, although it may be too soon for that. He got the hang of eating pretty quick, but he then got a lot of gas and slept very badly, so we're going to postpone further attempts for a couple of weeks.

So far we haven't had to deal with any illness of any kind, although he continues to be a teething, drooling mess. No sign of any teeth breaking through yet, but there are several protrusions under the gums. He seems to really appreciate ice and water. He now drinks a bunch of water, a fan, just like the rest of the family.

SANY9518 He gets stronger and more capable each day. When he stands, holding onto your hands for support, he will pick up each leg in turn as though he wants to walk already. He certainly watches with keen interest each vigorous movement that his brother makes. He'll sit on his own, but you still have to put something or someone behind him as he cannot stop himself from falling backwards. He's really good at grabbing things as his coordination improves daily.

He is also very vocal. He likes to chatter away to his toys and to us, making all kinds of sounds that just DELIGHT Leo.

He continues to be calm and happy in general, but he has a temper on him. Though he doesn't often get mad, when he does it lasts for a while and there's nothing you can do about it. He doesn't want consolation, he wants to complain.

More and more we see a personality forming within this baby. He has learned his power over people, and will be quite the charmer. It seems like everything he does is funny to Leo, and Nico equally laughs loud at Leo's antics. Their love for each other is clearly growing.

Sleeping is definitely not his forte. He was starting to go longer intervals between feeds at night, and I was feeling rested, but then teething hit and he awoke far more frequently. Now, he has become accustomed to waking more often and I'm making it worse - I am now so tired that I often pick him up and put him at the breast lying down. We'll both fall asleep that way, which means he can wake up every so often and his snack bar is right there. I need to wake up properly and keep him awake to eat both breasts, so that he can sleep longer in between, but I'm too tired. Oh well, I'll work at it and hopefully by his next month's blog I can report an improvement in this field.

For photos and videos of this coming month, click here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


SANY9399 We all had a pretty horrible day yesterday. We went to the dentist, and not for either Abe or I, but for Leo.

Some time ago his front tooth developed a soft spot that kind of fell out. It then formed a cavity on it. We talked to our dentist and she said it had to be taken care of. She said if you lose a baby tooth early, the adult tooth will have to push through the bone that grows over the space instead of pushing through the softer (and considerably less painful) baby tooth. So she referred us to a kiddy dentist and off we went.

The first appointment went great. The new dentist looked at it, used the tools in his mouth so he'd know what they were, chatted with Leo, gave him a balloon and asked if he wanted to come back. Yes he did - they had a great collection of Legos, cars, etc. and he got a cool balloon that twisted into different shapes.

The second appointment was yesterday. She had to numb the area, which meant injecting the gum. That was bad enough. But then it got worse. He started getting agitated at the noise the tools make, the light, his bib - everything. And he then decided he didn't want to do it any more. The dentist and Abe (only one of us was allowed in and it was Abe - I was outside with Nico listening to everything) tried for a LONG time to coax him into just letting her finish, but he wouldn't have it. She had gotten to a point that it really did have to be finished, so she gave us two options - strap him down or take him to the hospital for a general anesthetic. Neither option was appealing, but a general anesthetic is pretty horrific itself and she was so close to finishing that we went for the straight jacket.

SANY9404 Poor little Leo. He's not fond of being restrained anyway, and this was really going against his will. He fought and cried, begging Abe to let him out. Abe gritted his teeth, held his head still, and she finished pretty quick. Then it was over.

It was terrible for me listening to all this from outside, not being able to help. It was horrific for Leo. Even Nico got upset at the sound of his brother crying. But of all of us, it was most traumatic for Abe, being the one who held him down. Leo went straight to sleep and woke up cheerful and pleased that his tooth was fixed; Abe was upset all day.

The worst thing about it all is that it will not be the last time. Leo loves to brush his teeth and does it well; he has a great diet and had never even tasted sugar by the time the soft spot developed. So what caused this cavity and another that he has in a molar? One of two things probably - 1) he has inherited bad teeth and this will be the beginning of a long line of dentist visits OR 2) (hopefully) it was caused by some kind of deficiency either when I was pregnant or in his early months. One thing we've thought of, by way of example, is that being on rain water catchment, we don't have the fluoride that is put in public water. We'll do some research and see what we can do before his adult teeth come through.

In the meantime, we are going to look for another dentist. Although this one was super nice and very good, there has to be someone out there that still uses Nitrous, or has that totally gone now? Seems like happy gas has got to be better than a straight jacket, and if it's dangerous for kids, at least give it to the parents!!!

The plus side of it all is that while Leo was crashed out afterwards, we decided we would go and get him a present, something to make the whole experience a happier one. So now we have 7 beautiful baby Guineas. An online friend of Abe's (who sent us some Black Soldier Flies) suggested we try them instead of chickens - they are far better equipped to handle themselves against predators among other things. Abe has had them before and he kind of got hooked on the idea. Leo, of course, loves all animals, so we got the birds and they are his to look after. He has barely left their side since - he catches grasshoppers for them, goes and raids our worm bins, is constantly talking to them (I even saw him take out some of his letters to tell them what an 'S' and 'T', etc. were). In the evening we bring their cage inside, as they are still small and the rain (or should I say drizzle in our case) would kill them. Once inside, he is allowed to take them out of the cage. It's never been so easy getting him to come inside at night! Once they get a bit bigger we'll transfer them to the garden - they don't scratch and dig up plants like chickens, so will just eat our pests.

If we continue to use this tactic after ever serious or unpleasant injury, we will probably end up with a pretty good size zoo.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


SANY9357 The bulldozer we've been waiting on for months finally came. It left the other day.

The two operators arrived at dark on Monday night, ate and slept the night with us, then began work at 6am.

They leveled out a spot for the animal tank we're about to build, and for a barn (a future project). They then went down the hill to fix the pond. They did a great job. Fixed the hole, made the dam 6 feet taller, redid the spillway and generally compacted the whole thing, and all in a very short amount of time. We now have a lake - the photo doesn't do it justice, but it is HUGE. Of course, it is unlikely it will fill this year as we are already mostly through the rain season and it is an exceptionally dry one.

SANY9391 So we had some time left over on what we had paid. He leveled out a spot for a few more tanks, as we plan to add a tank each year to our system or a couple of years. He then made another, smaller pond which is located below the spillway of the big one. It's 6 feet deep in the center and about 30 feet diameter - not too shabby for a freebie!

Of course now that he's been, our list of things to do has quadrupled, and it's not like we ever lack for jobs around the place. Oh well, it's worth it.


For more photos of the pond, from the beginning, click here.

School Boy

SANY9198 I can barely believe it, but Leo is now in school. Not real school, just kindergarden, but still it seems like a big milestone.

There are three years of kindergarden. Even though this year is not obligatory, Leo really wanted to go. He is such a social child and he desperately wanted more interaction with kids. So far he is not disappointed. He loves going, and didn't want to come home yesterday. He colors, paints, plays with Legos and shapes, etc. Pretty much the stuff he does at home, but the presence of other kids makes it all so much more fun.

At the end of each day, he goes around all the children and the teacher and gives everyone a kiss. At first some of the older ones were a little surprised, but I have noticed that they are now starting to do the same!

When he gets home, he has a nap. He then wakes up and immediately says, "I have to do my homework" - I wonder how long that will last?!

There's a meeting next week with all the other mothers to organize the kitchen. Here, each mother is assigned a week (or however many weeks it takes to complete the quota) to cook in the kitchen for the kids. Three mothers work each week and cook for kindergarden and primary school. You can pay someone else to do it for you if you don't have time. It is a system I really like and approve of, but it does signify a very scary prospect... parental involvement in school. Next thing I know is there will be parent teacher meetings, school plays, etc. My babies are growing up.

And speaking of growing up, Leo's latest catchphrase is "All by myself", even with things he's been doing by himself for a while, like eating, he'll still say it. He is doing a lot by himself it seems. He dresses totally on his own, brushes his teeth, puts on his shoes, wipes his butt, goes pee in the night (sometimes needs help with that if he wakes up and needs to go fast), plays, and a million other things that he mentions (like feeding the caterpillars he finds and "befriends").

He is also getting the hang of money. He's started counting really well, so I now give him some coins each day to put in his pockets. If we go to a store (not that often), he can pick out and pay for a candy. He loves that and says "I bought the candy all by myself".

I'll get photos next week.

Trip to Grandparents

SANY9134 Well once again I have gotten behind on blogs. I mean to keep up with it, really I do, but then somehow the time disappears and... oh well. Needless to say, we have been very busy, although some of our projects I'll keep secret until we are further along with them.

A couple of weeks ago we went to visit Abe's parents. Emily, his sister, is off to Oxford University for a couple of years, so we converged at Jim and Vickie's to steal a quick visit.

The bulldozer was supposed to be arriving at our place around that time, so we didn't stay long. In hindsight, we should have gone for longer as it didn't come when it was supposed to, or even close. The quick turnaround was very hard on the kids (12 hour trip each way) and us.

SANY9153 Nevertheless we had a great time. Leo especially LOVED the extra attention. It's hard being the only one for three years and then having a little brother arrive on the scene to share (or steal) the limelight. He got to feed and ride a calf, ride a horse, ride a trike, ride a wagon, ride his Auntie Em. He really loves it there.

Nico also had a good time. I was a little worried that he might not be happy being passed around, as he has gone through a stage of not really wanting to be held by people other than us. But my concern was needless. He was charmed by them all and charmed them in turn.

SANY9190 We tried to go swimming, but the outing was cut very short by lightening on the horizon - the lifeguard at the swimming pool and river area kicked us out of the water, so we went to the park instead.

Leo was very sad leaving, but it had a little payoff in that we got to visit Uncle Augie on our way home. Again, an overly short visit, but better than nothing.

If you want to see more photos, they are in the folder August '11.

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