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: http://flickr.com/photos/35090117@N05/collections/

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dentist

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

Bulldozer

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.

LET IT RAIN!!!

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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

3 and 40 months

SANY8957 Nico just turned 3 months old and Leo will be 3 years 4 months soon. Both are growing like weeds.

Nico weighs 15 lbs. It seems like he'll overtake his skinny big brother before we know it! He is super strong. He can pull himself up from lying down to standing up using your fingers for support, and does so as often as you'll let him. He can hold his head super steady, can push his head and chest off the ground when on his belly and has even started to roll over. I got the jumper out of the shed the other day, and he seems very interested in it. He hasn't done much jumping yet, but he loves to look at the toys and stand on his own.

SANY8983 He is a very sweet baby. He'll cuddle into you when you hold him, smile when you look at him, laugh when you play with him. He is also very happy playing on his own. He loves to lie on his play mat, grabs at all kinds of things within his reach (and some that are not), is fascinated by all kinds of objects (especially likes to watch Leo's cars go around the track).

At the beginning it was easy - he cried when he was hungry, wanted to be picked up or had a wet diaper, in other words when he needed something. Now things are starting to get more complicated. He cries to tell you he wants something, and it is sometimes difficult to discern what. Yesterday he was crying a little and I tried all the obvious things to no avail. It turned out that he wanted me to put the cereal box in front of him so he could look at it.

He seems very vocal. He makes all kinds of sounds and is not shy about letting you know what he wants. He is also squealing and laughing more and more, though not as much as Leo did at this age.

One crazy thing is that he's teething. Just turned three months and he's teething! White, swollen gums, slight temperature, a drool machine, gnawing at his hands, your fingers and anything else he can grab onto. Poor little guy, it seems so young. I hope they come through quicker than Leo did, as his took forever and he suffered terribly.

SANY9032 Leo continues to adore his little brother, though he is now starting to become a little jealous and will often ask me to put Nico down so I can hold him. He is still going through a difficult stage, and he seems to strive to push our buttons. I know it is normal, but it is also very difficult. It sometimes seems as though we have to tell him off every other second. The upside is that he's starting kindergarden in a couple of weeks and I think that will really help him. He is an incredibly social child and he will thrive on a more regular interaction with other kids, not to mention all the activities.

When he's not being naughty, he is a wonderful child. He loves people, loves to help and to give, loves to play and color and read stories with you. He is very observant and fascinated by the world outside and all its critters. He is very agile, a great thrower, climbs on everything. He runs all over our place barefoot, although we try and discourage this during snake season.

He is also a perfectionist. This is ultimately a good thing, as he is tidy, meticulous and takes great pride in all he does. The downside is learning not to let this perfectionism control him. Things have to go a certain way, and when they don't he gets very upset. He has to do everything himself and doesn't want any kind of help, even when needed (about the only thing he'll let you help him with is when he needs to pee in the night - he can't reach the light to see where the potty is, so he'll call me for help). Little by little he is learning that some things are not worth getting upset over, but "don't sweat the small stuff" is hard for some adults, let alone a three year old.

SANY8976 I am looking forward to Nico being a little older, for Leo's sake. He is now starting to smile and laugh at Leo, which delights the latter. Coming up though are the more interactive months and I think both boys will really love to have the other's company. But I won't start wishing this time away - it passes fast enough as it is.

Click for photos of July or August.

Furry Stuff

SANY9048 Of any animal we’ve had, rabbits are by far the easiest to raise. They are quiet, cute and very efficient on food.

We keep them for meat, for ours and other families, and nothing goes to waste. The dogs and pigs share everything that gets shed during the butchering process and I get the furs.

I've been tanning the hides since the beginning and am now starting to do stuff with them. I've made some as gifts into handbags, purses, cushions, and even Kindle covers. And I am now getting ready to sell them.

SANY9050 To that end, I just bought myself an awesome sewing machine. It's a 1950s Dressmaker heavy duty machine and I got it for a steal. Everything in it is metal, which makes it heavy, but it beats the new, plastic crap on the market.

No more chickens

Some sad news. For the first time almost since we’ve been here, we have no chickens on our property.

We had a pen and coop that we closed them into at night, but they free-ranged during the day. And something took advantage of that. The first time three disappeared, then one by one the rest. We’re not too sure what took them (hopefully not the pigs!), but something that evaded the dogs’ scrutiny, which is actually pretty good.

We will be getting more at some point, but we will probably stop free-ranging them. We have lost too many over the years here. In Terlingua we never lost chickens to predators, but here there is a lot of cover for the predators, just looking for a snack. It's really a shame, as free range chickens seem healthier, get a wider diet and help keep flies down. But if we want to keep chickens, we’ll have to find an alternative.
SANY9055 We have been eating out of the garden for a little while now, both the inside garden (photos) and the wicking beds (photos) outside, which are both very efficient on space and water.

However, now that the rains have started, we have planted the big outside garden. Corn, greens, beans, sunflowers, squash, potatoes and a few other bits and pieces.

We have had some of our young trees produce fruit this year, not a lot but enough to give us a taster of what's to come.

SANY9052 We will also be making hay from our property. We cut the old grass on our top pasture, so that we can collect the new green grass that grows. It is a fruitful time of year.

For more photos, click here.

Pig Update

SANY9071 Well, we sold all the piglets we wanted to, and now we are left with Wanda and Gloria (the two sows), Macho and Amigo (the two boars), and two piglets that we’ll be fattening up. They’re all growing like weeds, but the three adults are especially huge. Luckily they are all very tame, otherwise they would be scary (as is, we keep the baby away from them until they’ve been fed!).

Sad to say that we will be getting rid of Macho soon. It looks like the girls are definitely bred, so we no longer need to keep him. We will be using Amigo as our main boar and he will be old enough by the next time they need to be bred. In the meantime Macho is just eating food. It’s a shame in a way, as he is such an intelligent and calm pig. Hopefully we’ll find him a good home - good boars are in short supply around here.

SANY9087 Abe and a couple of lads from the village have spent the past couple of days making a new pasture for them all. Abe cut a bunch of limbs off the Juniper trees, so that the pigs can get under their shade without being cut by low branches. The boys then trimmed them up, so that we can use them as posts in some upcoming projects. We now have a BUNCH of beautiful posts (which the rabbits are cleaning off for us, as they like to chew the bark off) and the pasture looks awesome. Now that the rains have come and the grass is growing, the pasture should provide a little more of their food.

For more photos, click here.

Gathering

SANY8950 We have spent several days over the last month gathering food for the animals. We collected a couple of truckloads of Mesquite, which is high in protein and both the pigs and the rabbits love it (we ferment it for the pigs). We will also be grinding some of it up into flour for our own use.

SANY8963 Plus we cut and dried a truckload of alfalfa. A friend of ours has a patch that we can cut in exchange for some rabbit meat. Abe uses the scythe to cut it, I pile it up and load it into the truck, Leo chases frogs, and Nico sleeps (that little one of ours is very lazy!). At home we lay it out in our old driveway to dry and then make little bales by compressing it in our ice chest and tying it up. We will be going and cutting another load this week. We hope to store enough over the summer to last us through winter and dry season.

We give the rabbits and pigs a bucketload of grass and weeds each day from the garden. Even though the pigs can get it for themselves, they still like us to give them some - I guess it makes them feel special.

Rain Season

SANY9090 We have now entered rain season for real. This past month we received 6 inches, which is the lowest rainfall for July since we’ve been here, but is still better than the big nothing we had in the nine previous months. Everything is now greening up. I love the transformation we can see at this time of the year. Our view is so beautiful and every day we see it getting greener.

And more important than our view is the fact that our tanks have some water in them. We came close to running out (mainly due to the quantity that the pigs consume, especially when it was so hot), but now we have more than 3000 gallons (about half). We will be increasing our storage capacity this year to accommodate our increasing livestock.

We are still waiting for a bulldozer to come and fix our pond, which blew out last year. It is due next week. Maybe that’s the reason that it has held off on raining hard - it’s waiting for our pond to be fixed!