Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend and Trim

It is hard to show the progress these days. Back when we just had a shell of a house, it was easy to see when we finished something new. Now, for all intents and purposes, the house is complete we are just finishing up the trim. 

After our trip to South Africa, we stayed home for a quiet Thanksgiving with friends. On Friday we went out to see The Muppets. But that left us with a whole weekend free. We decided to go up to Asheville. There was some business that needed to be attended to. When we arrived we had a meeting with all the neighbors in our little mountain hollow to discuss road maintenance. Once that was done, we headed up to the tiny house to get some work done.

Saturday was beautiful in the mountains. The temperature was in the 60s all day (and didn't get below 50 overnight either).  So we set out to complete two primary tasks. Matt cut and installed much of the last remaining trim and I put up our Holiday Decorations. It seems silly to decorate a small house that we might only see one more time before the end of the year, but it really made us feel good to get the house in the holiday spirit. 

Here is Matt installing some of the trim around the kitchen archway.
 Here is the finished trim on the cabinets.

Here is the little lime green tree up in the loft with a collection of glass ornaments.

Also while we were working, I had the brilliant idea of putting some of the left over FLOR on the ladder rungs. It brings some of the color of the FLOR down to the main living area and is nice and soft on your feet if you're coming down the ladder in the morning with no socks on.

At night, I wanted to get a picture of the tree in the loft from outside. It was really cool to see it all lit up like that. Makes the place feel really homey.  

The next morning, we got up and took our time. We boiled some water and made coffee and hot cocoa.

One day soon we'll be able to move our real pots and pans and dishes into the house so we don't have to use the camping kettle.  

We sat and enjoyed the beautiful mountain morning.

We got to work mid-morning and did the trim around the door, the closets and front archway.

We finished up around lunch time, had some sandwiches and then spent a little bit of time reorganizing our tools and wood, since we are almost done with the house as a whole.  We took some things back down to the barn as we were leaving so they weren't in the way at the tiny house any more. It doesn't take much for the tiny house to get cluttered, it being tiny and all. Now that it is livable and nearly done, we don't need all the supplies inside any more. 

On the way home we finally figured out the easiest way to do the built in shelves. If we had figured that out before we left we might have installed them.  But otherwise, we only have a short list of things to be done. We have to install the kitchen shelves, finish the built ins, trim around Piglet's litterbox door, and finish the closets.   I don't think any of that will take a ton of time.  I am so excited to have this little place finished.  We do still have to do the bathroom, but we were leaving that until last inside. Then we have to do the exterior trim, but we don't have to hurry on that either - plus we'd rather do that in the spring. 

We'll probably be back up once more this year barring any major ice or snow storms preventing us from getting up to the house. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

South Africa Trip, Part Four

It is strange to me that the last two days in South Africa were more of a blur than the first five. 

On Thursday (I think it was Thursday) we went out to Mildred's in the morning to drop off some things and to pick her up. We stopped to pick up things to make dinner, which Matt and I were planning to do. We picked up Priscilla's daughter after her exams at school and drove up to the mountains.We stopped at a little shopping village and walked around.

Then we stopped at the house of Priscilla's daughter's birth mom.  That is a pretty incredible story, but really not mine to tell. But what I will say is that girl has so many women who love her and that is an incredible thing to see.

Eventually we ended up at the house of Margaret, a woman who had dedicated her life to helping children. She helps get them out of dangerous situations and brings them to live with her.  On top of that, she also breeds dachshunds.
Here is another photo that Priscilla took.

She use to breed Sphynx Cats, like Piglet, and if she were still doing that Matt and I may have never left. We would have sat there covered in kittens.  As it was, Matt and I started making dinner as soon as we got there. We made penne pasta, red sauce and home made meat balls.   We enjoyed spending the afternoon making dinner and we fed about 15 people, maybe more. I kind of lost count. 

I love this photo of Mildred and the cat.

Priscilla made the salad!

Our masterpiece in the making

Also, at some point that day, we were able to look at the soil test. We did the shake test that you'll see on page four of the PDF link. There were very interesting results.  We expected to see a mixture of sand, silt and clay, but that wasn't what we got.   
The black clay was really just entirely clay. The redder sand had no clay whatsoever, just silt and sand. What this means, though, is that the mixture of the two types of dirt should make pretty good filler for the earth bags.  

Our last full day in South Africa has been a little more difficult to process. I have been contemplating exactly what I wanted to say about it since I got home, and I don't know that I can really articulate everything that happened. I am also not certain that I should articulate it in detail.  

The morning started early. We left at 6am to drive out to a game park called Tala. Here are a couple of the cool things we saw driving around the park.

He was standing right next to the car, I didn't have to zoom in with the camera or anything.

While we were there, we got a couple of phone calls. The first was a pretty large NGO in the area that wanted to having a meeting with our group. The other was to set up a meeting with one of the Councilors from the Zulu community to get his blessing to build the shelter on the land next to Mildred's.  So, after we ate a lovely breakfast at the park restaurant, we headed back to the city to get ready for those meetings.  
The meeting with the Councilor went very well.  We met him at Durban city hall and Mildred explained to him why we were there and what we were planning to do. She is very well respected and he told us that we had his blessing to do anything we could to help her and to help the children. We showed him the plans for the earthbag structure as well as a sketch of the long term vision which would include a separate boys and girls dorm, a kitchen and a community space. 

After that meeting, we went to a bar on the pier over the harbor and had some snacks and drinks before heading back to the flats to get ready for the meeting with the other NGO.

Here is where things got a little crazy. I don't want to share a lot of information, but the meeting was pretty harrowing. All of us felt a little ambushed and caught up in the middle of a personal and political battle for which there appeared to be no solution. In the end, we were essentially told that our plans might not be able to happen as we expected.  The upsetting part about that is our project and the mission of the other organization are quite complimentary and we don't understand why we couldn't work together for the children. It isn't my battle, and I feel a little helpless that there isn't more that I can do, but in the long run we will figure out a way to make this building happen and to help these kids.

We left for the airport on Saturday feeling a little kicked in the gut, but we've had a lot to talk about and a lot to process since getting home.  As it stands now, the plan is to go back next year probably around August and get this project started one way or another.  

Keep checking back here.  If it weren't for us taking this step to build our own tiny house in the woods and live unconventionally, we would have never had the opportunity to help this community half a world away that has so much promise and potential.   

My next update will be back to the tiny house. We'll be up in Asheville this weekend working on some more of the finishing trim.  It is going to be a nice weekend to sleep in our cabin so I am looking forward to a rest.  

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Don't forget to be thankful for everything.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

South Africa Trip, Part Three

Day 5.
By this time I had completely lost track of the date and day of the week.  That day, we decided to go into Durban proper to walk along the waterfront, shop at the street vendors and eat at a restaurant out on the dock.  On the way, Matt decided to practice driving on the opposite side of the road (since Priscilla and Austin asked us to take the rental car back to the airport when we left.) He had some experience driving in Ireland, but that was 6 years ago. I decided to go in Austin's car to let Matt practice without me.  He did very well, though, following our car into the city.

The Durban waterfront is gorgeous. There are lots of parks and pools for the kids and the ocean was grand.  We walked along the street and shopped at some of the street vendors. I picked up a couple of holiday gifts, but don't tell anyone.

We ended up at a restaurant called Moyo's that was on the pier over the Indian Ocean. It was a crazy fusion of Indian and African Tapas. The food was absolutely amazing. And we really enjoyed the afternoon watching the ocean.

This is Matt and me showing off our prawns. Delicious. 

After lunch we went back to the flats. Priscilla and Tammy went out to visit someone else they knew who was taking care of a pregnant teenager.  Matt, Ellen and I decided to stay back since we thought it might be overwhelming for the girl to have all these visitors.  Ellen did some journaling and Matt played music for us.  When Tammy, Priscilla and Austin returned, Tammy made nachos which were quite delicious.  We also made sopapillas. 

After dinner, Matt showed us his completed water heater for Mildred's house. It was made using two 2-litre bottles, a Y adapter, a hose and some random attachments. The first step was figuring out how hoses worked in South Africa. Apparently, you just buy a piece of hose and add the connectors yourself. You get a set with the hose, but you can also buy any number of additional adapters.  Matt used marine silicone to attach the bottles permanently to pieces that are intended to be easily snapped on and off a hose or faucet. These then snap onto the Y adapter that is then connected to the hose itself. You can fill up each individual bottle by snapping them directly onto the water spigot or into the hose or Y. Then you put them up high in the sun so they get hot and you can snap them into the Y and onto the hose and use a spray adapter on the other end to wash the kids. Unfortunately we never got to use it because it rained quite a bit the rest of the week and was never sunny enough to give it a try. We left it with Austin to take to Mildred's.  
This design would have quite a few applications in tiny house living, possibly in conjunction to the garden sprayer shower design.We did see a garden sprayer in the hardware store in Amanzimtoti, but we decided to start with this contraption and work our way up to that shower design for the kids. 

I still have two more days to recap of the trip, but I have to go to work so stick around for updates.  Also, be sure to come back next week because Matt and I will be going up to the Tiny House this weekend to do some more finish work. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

South Africa Trip, Part Two

Well, now it is just after 5am and I am wide awake. I have to go to work today, so I know I'll be pretty exhausted by this evening, But I'll survive. It is only a three day work week anyway and I can fake anything for three days.  

Day three began with Ellen doing an Art Therapy workshop for about 30 people. Most of them were Zulu counselors who work with the children in the area, so there was a language barrier. Matt and I didn't go to the workshop, but I read Priscilla's recap and it sounded like it went very well. Ellen did a lot of hands on work and the experience superseded the communications challenges. 

Matt and I spent the morning being somewhat lazy. We slept in until 10am, which was really our body clocks trying to readjust.  We watched some TV shows we had loaded on our computer and went up onto the roof top deck at our flat to look at the ocean.
We also saw monkeys. There was even one on our patio, but I startled him at the same time he startled me and he ran off. I couldn't get a good photo of the troop, but if you squint you can see there are monkeys in this photo. They ranged in size from baby to really freaking huge. 
At about 1:30, Austin came back from some appointments he had in the morning and picked us up to go to the hardware store. We wanted to get an idea of how much some things cost but we also wanted to get some supplies to make a small water heater that Matt had designed. Also, out at Mildred's the day before we noticed that some of the windows had been broke (little boys accidentally break windows in many cultures). Matt had an idea to get plexiglass to replace them since that wouldn't get broken so easily. When we got to the hardware store we talked to a guy there who said the would have to order plexiglass and he would call us back with the price. It turned out to be expensive, but with the size of the panel and the size of Mildred's windows we could get six replacement windows out of one sheet.  We went ahead and ordered the plexi and Austin said he would install the windows when it came in.  

We got all the things we needed for the water heater and we went to Mildred's to drop off some food that was left over from lunch at the training.  Once we did that, we drove up to the hall where the training was finishing up to pick up our group.

It was still pretty early in the day, so when we got back to the flat we took another walk on the beach and enjoyed the sun. Then we went out to dinner where I enjoyed a fantastic braised lamb in a red wine sauce and some very delightful localish beers.  When we got back from dinner, we went up on to the roof top deck and talked for hours.  It was a gorgeous night as we watched the moon rise over the ocean.  

The next day, Day 4, began early as we got up to go out to Mildred's to dig soil samples. Most of the kids were in school so we weren't able to teach them how to play NFL football, which had been in our original plan (Tammy is a Cowboys fan, and of course I am a Detroit Lions fan). We walked out on to the land that is being transferred over to the Zulu Orphan Alliance so we could dig some soil samples.  The point of this exercise is to determine the make up of the soil in the area to see how well it would work in the earth bags. The best is a mix of soil and clay. We weren't expecting what we found. As we dug down in to the soil, we unearthed thick black solid clay. 
We put the black clay into one jar and then jogged over to a small patch of someone else's land to get a sample of the red soil that we had seen around as well.  Later you will see the results of these samples.

Mildred's house in in the townships, which are typically places that feel less safe than areas near the city. However, I felt very safe and secure at Mildred's house. I think this has everything to do with Mildred. She is very well respected in the community and I could instantly see why. She was so kind and so warm when she first met us and I learned throughout the week that she possesses a strength that I wish I could even carry a fraction of.  The site where we will eventually build this shelter may be one of the most beautiful places on earth and that will be integral in creating a safe and comfortable space for the children.  We will leave the tree and build the shelter nearby, eventually building several small buildings.  

While we were digging in the dirt and talking photos of the eventual building site, Ellen and Tammy were in the house doing art with the littlest kids who weren't in school.  There were also a couple of girls who didn't go to school and Ellen taught them to finger knit

Also, while we were there we spray painted the two bottles black that would be used for the water heater. Then we let them dry before leaving. 

It was still early in the day when we left Mildred's so we went back to the flat to get cleaned up (I was covered in black clay, after all) and then drove down the coast to a place called Croc World.  I took a lot of pictures and I'll share a few. However, the one photo I didn't have was a Green Mamba we saw that was not in an enclosure. We just looked up into the trees and saw him climbing overhead.  We quickly left that area.  

Here is a mamba in an enclosure.

Here is Ellen the Bunny Whisperer at the children's farm. She rescues bunnies at home. They seemed to know she was a friend.
The meerkats were my favorites. They were so playful.
This little guy kept going for an itch by his tail and would fall off the rocks. Repeatedly. It was hilarious to watch.

We had lunch at the restaurant at Croc World and sat out on the deck to eat. There we got to see two whales in the ocean, close enough that we really didn't need binoculars.  That was pretty awesome.  

On the way home, we stopped to get dinner. Austin was going to braai for us. We got some boerewors sausage and a type of rashers which is like bacon but more like what wold happen if bacon and spare ribs had a delicious baby.  These rashers had a sweet honey barbecue glaze on them and they were incredible.  They also made an incredible garlic bread to go with them. We sat out on Austin and Priscilla's deck and ate them. I was so full, but I really wanted more.

After dinner, it started to rain so we went inside and talked about what we needed to do to make this building happen.  And that really comes down to money. Money to help feed the kids and money to build this shelter. We need to generate a pretty large sum before we can even think about breaking ground. 

There is a lot more. But, I have to start getting ready for my first day back at work now.  Keep checking back for more installments. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

South Africa Trip, Part One

I am exhausted. It is just after 5pm as I write this but my body thinks it is 1am. Since I have to go to work in the morning, I need to push through as much as I can and stay up until at least 8 or 9.  So, I thought I would take a break from tiny house updates to share a little about our first couple days in Durban KwaZulu-Natal South Africa.

We left Atlanta sometime on the 11th.  After that, all dates and times were a bit of a blur. We arrived in Durban about 8pm on Saturday, the 12th so we lost a whole day due to traveling. When we arrived, our friends Priscilla and Austin picked us up and the airport and took us back to where they live in Amanzimtoti which is further down the coast of the Indian Ocean.  Unfortunately we weren't terribly tired yet due to the time difference so we hung out for a while getting to know everyone. Two other friends were there as well - Tammy from New Mexico and Ellen from New York State.  We sat up for a while on the patio over looking the ocean talking about the organization and challenges we would face. We finally turned in for the night.

We were most surprised to discover that the sun rises this time of year at about 4:45 in the morning. This was a bit of a shock to my system since I tend to wake up when the sun comes up on a regular day.  But I forced myself to sleep in as late as I could.  Tammy made breakfast burritos - because she has brought a suitcase full of Mexican food for Priscilla since no such thing exists in South Africa.  We decided to take a walk on the beach. I have been to the Pacific Ocean in Oregon and the Atlantic Ocean from the state side and from Europe, but I never really thought I would be walking along the shores of the Indian ocean. Unfortunately, it was a little overcast that day but it was a gorgeous day for a nice walk. 

We did get to see crabs on the beach.

We also had a chance to wade in the tide pools on the rocks and we found a starfish. Don't worry, we put him back where he came from just in case he had family there.  
After we got back from the beach, we went out to the local grocery store to pick up food to take to the kids currently living in a two bedroom house under the care of an incredible woman named Mildred.  This is the reason we're there. If we can build a place for these kids and more down the road to be able to live comfortably, we have done our job. When we arrived at Mildred's we learned that two brand new baby goats were born that morning. I didn't have my camera, but I pulled this photo of Priscilla's face book page - I hope she doesn't mind.

Then we played with the kids for a while. Tammy brought bubbles and the kids has a great time chasing and popping them. This is another of Priscilla's photos. This is a little girl named Busi who is going to be a force to be reckoned with one day.  
We also got to see the land a bit and determine the approximate acreage and maybe some ideas about how to place the house. There were some little things like remembering that building something south facing isn't really useful in the southern hemisphere - we just have to turn everything backwards in our heads. 

We eventually made is back to the flat and had dinner. Tammy made enchilada's.  And Priscilla's daughter, Angel, showed us a video of South African comedian Trevor Noah.  

Okay, I am drained just typing out what happened in day one. I will have to come back to the rest of the trip later. Stay tuned for more updates soon. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

After you build cabinet doors, you can no longer see what is behind them

This week's trip up to Mt. Matt involved the building of tiny doors for our tiny kitchen cabinets.  This, once again, fell into the category of "Things We Have Never Done Before" so we needed to do a little research before we began.  Luckily for us, there are a number of great people currently building tiny houses and blogging about it. Just like I would hope this blog would also provide great tips and ideas, other tiny house builders do the same.  We liked the way Evan and Gabby built their cabinet doors so we did something similar.
 Here are the finished doors as soon as we were done with the project.
And here is the finished kitchen after we added door pulls.
Here is a better view of them.  We picked these out because they matched the design of the light fixtures. 

Once we were done with the cabinet doors, we began to work on the remaining trim.  We got all the the floor trim done, which is awesome. There is very limited trim left to do on the whole house. Then we need to finish the bathroom, put shelves in he front closets, and build the built in shelves and the interior will be done.  Once it is warm again next spring, we will finish the exterior trim and the house will be 100% done.  

On Friday we leave for our trip to South Africa.  I will have limited internet access while there, but once I return I will be sure to share photos and updates on our building project.  I plan to keep a journal the old fashioned way while we're there - with a pen and notebook - so I don't forget a thing.  Thanks to everyone who has been following along with the building process and our upcoming trip. And thanks to everyone who has donated to the Zulu Orphan Alliance - ever dollar helps with the shelter or to feed the children.  I can't wait to go and will be excited to share the experience when we return.