2017 reflections

When a New Year begins and you glance back on the year that’s passed, its easy to feel like not much has been achieved! Its simple to feel like you’re sanding still or, looking at the big picture, that you didn’t achieve what you set out to.

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I’ve been doing a little reflecting and actually 2017 was a good year for us!

So, in an effort to feel good about the past year and head into this New Year with positivity, here’s a chronicle of what we HAVE achieved this year!

A big portion of time last year was spent planning a wedding! Yes, we got married! I feel this is a pretty big achievement. 22885816_10155969227335087_1607766196530696372_nWe planned a whole wedding, pretty much via WhatsApp and it was the most fantastic day! Friends and family all made a huge effort to come to Spain and celebrate with us and we couldn’t have felt more blessed. We are both lucky to have such amazing friends and family surrounding us, not only on our wedding day, but to feel their support in everything that we are doing with our choice to move out here. Most people came to visit the land and our project, and whether or not they think we are crazy, they all showed us a huge amount of love and enthusiasm for what we are doing. We had the most amazing time celebrating with everyone and although we were absolutely shattered by the end of it all, it was definitely the highlight of 2017!

Our second biggest highlight was just after the wedding. Our first olive harvest! SONY DSCBeing part of the process, learning how to harvest and process the olives, as well as being part of the hub and buzz of ‘olive talk’ in town was super exciting. And at the end of it all, we have litres of liquid gold to see us through for a long while! The olive oil we produced is truly out of this world; and yes, we could possibly be slightly biased, knowing the days of hard graft that went into producing the stuff, but it really is the best olive oil I have ever tasted!

Another big achievement this year has been a feeling of really being part of our community. We have been quite insular as we have so much to do on the land it can be so easy to go days without seeing or speaking to anyone else. But I have since joined a singing group in town, were I have been embraced wholeheartedly by the girls I sing with that I feel truly honoured to be part of their chorus! We sing four part harmony barbershop and its loads of fun! I’ve also joined a band where I sing backing vocals.

wazifaWith both groups we’ve been practising and gigging and it not only gets me off the land twice a week but I also have performances to attend (usually at fun things, like, Christmas markets, or in a Tea garden or an Art gallery). Its introduced me to two groups of bloody lovely people, a mix of people from all over the place and I have made friends for life this year in our little town! We get out and about much more to see friends nowadays which is great. The husband has also joined a Capoeira class and so he’s also been introduced to some lovely people while doing something he loves!

Overall a truly positive 2017 in terms of making friends, being social, going to parties, singing, dancing and generally enjoying life. Never underestimate the value of community. Or friendship. Or even just saying hello to people on the street. Yes, it makes popping in to town a much bigger mission, because you bump into several people every time you go in, but it’s so worth it. We love that we need to allocate at least an hour-and-a- half when we head into town just because we are bound to stop for coffee with someone….twice!

This year was also cause for celebration when we finally got our water rights! Huzzah!

Full Alberca
Full Alberca

Not only did we get them, but we also got into a good rhythm for flood irrigating, and then, in turn, had bumper vegetable crops as well as harvests from the trees (olives, figs, pomegranates, and almonds). We flooded the land every three weeks for an hour and a half. The white water comes down the ascequia so quickly that it was hard to initially control the flow (cue hysterical laughter through the fence from our Spanish neighbours) but by mid summer we’d cracked it and we got the biggest prize of all…..a big smile and a thumbs up from Antonio through the fence! Winning!

Our garden this year has been pretty epic! We had some successes and some failures, but overall, a very successful year. We grew a mountain of veg, enough to keep us going from May until October and we were hoping to get a good winter garden going to continue with our success! But…..getting married and then the olive harvest all happened one after the other after the summer garden finished producing and so we haven’t had any time to get anything in the ground. We are OK with this. It’s not like we weren’t occupied at the time (flat out more like it!!!!) We are still hoping to get some garlic in soon for next year though. Last years garlic harvest was great!

Garlic bed
Garlic bed

We had never grown garlic before and we are still reaping the rewards of this gorgeous pungent bulb! We also tried growing sweet potatoes for the first time, which we forgot about, and remembered to dig them up yesterday and they look great. They are sun-drying right now. Can’t wait to try them. I also sun-dried our constant flow of tomatoes. They worked really well, I’ll definitely be doing this again this summer.

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Pumpkin
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Our avocado trees

 

We also harvested our almonds for the first time too! There is so much pleasure in growing your own food. Whether its annual vegetables or fruit and nut trees. Knowing everything is organic and grown with love is really something special. The almonds are harvested with a good whack of the tree (just like the olives) and we sun-dried them and then, in true cave-man style, bashed the almond between a big rock and a little rock! Bam! And out pops this little nugget of joy! Can’t beat it! Bryn has his own style of cracking almonds and even though he has huge paws, he manages to crack the almond with his teeth, then hold the nut in his paws while he nibbles the nut from its shell!

Bryn hiding his almonds
Bryn hiding his almonds

The almonds are really delicious, and Bryn is happy with the whole box of almonds that got scattered in the long grass due to a strong gust of wind! He doesnt have to walk as far to get his almond fix!

Another big deal this year has been us moving rapidly into the 21st century. It all happened so quickly. There I was, one week, hand washing our clothes in a bucket and then using that same bucket to heat water in our house on the hob and then lug it into the land and into the yurt to wash ourselves……to the the next week, standing under a glorious stream of (instant…ish) hot water coming out of a real shower that was coming out of a real wall! AND then sitting on the floor watching my new washing machine go round and round and round and loving the fact that my poor hands and back don’t need to hurt any more….well, not due to these tasks anyway! I am so over the moon with our hot water situation. It also means that the lugging involved with heating water and then bringing it into the land to wash dishes has suddenly become much easier too! It really doesn’t take long to get used to living very simply. In fact, I really enjoy it. But the genuine happiness I felt when we got the shower and the washing machine was pretty overwhelming. I guess that means that I’m happy living simply, to a point! It was never our plan to live extremely basic but only as a means to an end. But it has taught me to be grateful for the small things in life. Water, hot water, technology that enables you to get on with something else, electricity!!!!! We are not quite living in luxury yet! Not by a long shot, but the week we got hot water and a washing machine, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, living in the lap of extreme luxury!

25532260_10159890134150089_6147655570927118987_oAfter the hustle and bustle of 2017, we ended the year in total tranquillity. Christmas was the quietest, most stress free Christmas ever, and New Year came and went without a party or fuss. Just me, the husband and the dog! What more could I ask for?

And so here I am, after reflecting on our year, only to feel a sense of major self accomplishment. We achieved a lot this year and we should be pretty damn proud of ourselves! So here’s to moving into 2018 with positivity, energy, motivation and a smile. And I’ll look forward to seeing what we can achieve this year!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Hot water you say?

By the power of the sun….we have hot water!

Hot water that comes out with excellent pressure to wash ones manky, dusty self! Oh it is wonderful. It´s not posh.
It´s not stylish. But it sure is the best shower I have ever had.  IMG_20160528_150342594_HDR[1]

We bought 100M of black water tubing and coiled the tube on the roof of our outhouse. The water tube then drops down to our lower terrace and is connected to a tap and a shower head. There is an old shower tray at the bottom with green tarp around four posts for a little modesty.
The water heats up in the sun and gives you a great pressure, hot water shower for about 7 minutes.
While showering amongst the olive and almond trees (and adjacent rubble pile) you can see the hill opposite, the Sierra Nevada and the Sierra Lujar. I´d exchange our little solar shower over the poshest bathroom any day! Apart from maybe in winter when I won´t be so enthusiastic and the water, not so hot.
For now, this is a more than adequate way of keeping clean. It’s luxurious in fact. And the best part is that the water heats up again in about twenty minutes.
Winner!IMG_20160528_150410210[1]

Compost toilet

I’ve explained the mechanics behind the toilet in a previous post. But just wanted to show IMG_20160528_150418359[1]you our makeshift toilet. Its pretty sweet. In you pop. Do your business. Cover with sawdust. close the lid and off you go.

Bucket full? No problem. We have a four bucket system. One bucket is full. Place the lid and clips on. Place a new bucket with sawdust in the bottom. And away to go.
Once all four buckets are full, we follow the steps to compost our humanure. Click here for full post.

Yurt life

Finally: after three months, five house moves, an extra dog and lots and lots of hard work, we are living on our own land in Spain!!!! Huzzah!IMG_20160810_211658586_HDR[1]

We are loving yurt life!

Waking up to the views of the Sierra Lujar, constant blue skies  and the sound of the birds singing their morning chorus, is pretty special. We are mostly loving sleeping on our own king-size memory-foam mattress with a view of the stars through the ceiling dome of the yurt! Pure luxury!
It all sounds so idyllic, and in most parts, it is! We feel pretty smug most days to be honest. But it hasn’t been all fun
and games! Everything is hard work. Everything. Even the simplest of tasks takes us much longer here. Cooking food, having a shower, and going to the toilet are all quite the mission, but life is good folks! Its really good.

We constructed our yurt in parts. Firstly we had to decide on a base for the yurt. IMG_20160515_171302412[1]

We went back and forth for a long while between a wooden floor and an earthen floor, but in the end decided on a wooden floor.

We built a concrete block round base and filled with tons of sand. We laid a waterproof membrane before topping up with sand so that the whole circular base was level (ish). We then laid a framework for the floor which wasn’t as straight forward as we had hoped. Trying to lay the wooden floor which was bowing at a speed unknown to man, in the heat of the Spanish sun was pretty tough, or hilarious, depending on your point of view.

We had bought bare pine tongue-and-groove hoping for easy-peasiness. Oh how wrong we were. After three days (yes, three days) of floor laying, we had to stain the wood. Ah, but the paint was drying in the sun and turning to a tar-like substance so we decided early morning or evening would be best to paint.

We set an alarm. Got to the land just before 7am and got going. By the time the first layer of paint was done, the sun was too hot. Cue tarry stain. So we returned in the evening when it had cooled down a little to paint a second coat. Ah…so then the sun goes down, as it does! I will say that this is a complete novelty compared with back home. You’re waiting for it to stop raining, and it never stops raining!
After finishing the floor, which I will say, moves like a ship under foot (so much effort…so much time…so not worth it!) it was time to construct our yurt. IMG_20160520_145049894[1]

Easy right? Yeah! Me and Math had watched many many videos on youtube on
how to construct a yurt. It looked pretty straight forward. Door, walls, insulation, canvas, Done! Yes we had instructions. Yes we should have read them. But we didn´t.

So, full of the joys of spring and enough enthusiasm to sink a ship we get the yurt out. Lay it all out (well, not ALL of the yurt. That would have been sensible and had we known, is what the instructions were instructing us to do….silently…from inside the bag.) So we lay the wooden parts of the yurt out and attempt to get going. Ah. Problemo numero uno. The door has been damaged in transit. Like snapped. Bugger!
After searching the house for a tiny pot of glue, we glued the door (again, without reading the instructions….what is wrong wth us?) and eventually after two hours, its pretty solid again.
OK! Let´s build a yurt!!!!! By this time, its over 30 degrees and we are just getting started. The door sits in place.

IMG_20160520_152024212[1]Check. (After all it is just a door being held on a platform by our wonderful workaway volunteer Pip.) Next we need to attach the walls. Now. If we would have read the instructions, this would have taken us about an hour I reckon. But as we DIDN¨T read the instructions, this took us about four. Hmph! The walls aren’t just walls. There are different shaped walls that slot into place. I mean, we worked this out eventually but still, this didnt prompt us to get out the translator and translate those pesky instructions.

Next, we get the crown up (pretty straightforward) and then we need to insert the roof poles. Again, had we read the instructions, we would have known to tie ropes from the crown to the walls, giving them strength and holding them together until the outer ropes are attached later.  As we didnt read the instructions, we placed several poles in the roof and then ended up chasing them around the yurt as they were falling out faster than we could put them in. IMG_20160520_201719157[1]

After a few nasty konks to the head, we got them all in! Oh….the sun is setting. How pretty. Right. Best continue this tomorrow.

After I’d slept soundly in bed I woke up next to a frazzled man in bed with me. He´d been up all night worrying and…and…translating the instructions. What a man! This translation made clear to us several things we had done wrong or missed out completely. When we got to the land we checked that things were safe and explained to Lilah and Pip that we were pretty stupid and should’ve read the instructions. Surprislingly, the second day went swimmingly!!! With instructions in hand we were winners! It still took us all day but we were definitely winners! Just a couple of easy steps.

IMG_20160521_143156906_HDR[1]White muslin over the top as a base layer.

IMG_20160521_154801144_HDR[1]Sheeps´wool felt as insulation (trying to keep Bolo, the foster dog from peeing all over this was a job in itself), then the waterproof membrane, then the canvas, then the ropes.

IMG_20160521_161251447_HDR[1]Then the glass needed to be put in. Then the skirt and hat.IMG_20160521_172735557[1]

We were all ready to collapse! A good hearty meal out, a couple of cervezas and vinos were definitely called for. Hooray, we have a home!

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We have now been in the yurt for over a few months and it feels like home. We love it. And we really couldn’t have done it without all of the help we had. The dogs helped the most of course. Bryn using the yurt as a running track for being a mentalist, and Bolo peeing on anything that smelled of, well, anything!

We now have one less dog, a vegetable garden and an extremely comfortable home.IMG_20160627_201715188[1]

When all your plans change…

 

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….kind of!

So we have many many changes to our original plan which was; get the builders in, we would fly down in February once they had done their basic work, we put in a kitchen, bathroom and tile the whole house and then its pretty livable. Then we were going to get our stuff delivered, then bring the dog down!

This isnt quite how things have worked out!

Best laid plans and all that….!

We’ve decided to drive down, through France and Spain with the dog and take 5 days over it. We’ve bought a small van to drive down with; and use for building materials when we are working on the house and I can get back and forth from work in it. We are hoping to rent a yurt for a month or two until the house is habitable.
I’ve given up on chasing buiders, im OK with the relaxed spanish attitude but I think we just need to be there to get anything done…which in hidsight is a much more sensible idea!
burnt windowSo we have decided to start clearing the upstairs ourselves when we get there. This involves, clearing the upstairs of burnt rubbish! Taking the render off the walls, pulling up floor tiles, cleaning the ceiling and getting rid of the burnt polystyrene thats stuck to the whole ceiling after the fire. While we are battling this we want to get in touch with our builder to do the downstairs work while we experiment with insulating with Hempboard and attempting to render upstairs. We are also going to tile the floors ourselves using natural terracotta tiles. We have chosen these tiles for a few reasons; they are the traditional flooring used in the area, they are ‘easy’ (ahem!) to lay and are more forgiving of a first time tiler. We will also seal the floors and so will be easier to keep clean. We are going to use the same tile throughout the house (upstairs and down) except in the bathroom where we will use decorative tiles.

Something like this?
Something like this?

We are not really intimidated by attacking the work ourselves, but there are some elements that we need skilled people to do for us. Like laying sewerage pipes and plumbing after removing the concrete floor downstairs, and cutting a hole in the ceiling to accommodate the stairs. I say we aren’t intimidated by the work but we haven’t got there yet so I’m sure it will be a shock. I am sure we will get there though. It will be slow work but actually it means we have greater control and can experiment with environmentally friendly materials other than the cement which was the only option given by the builder.
We are happier doing it this way, plus we will save some money (which is always good!) and be imensly satisfied with ourselves when we complete the project!

So, these are our plans. We still have to pack up our house here in Wales (we are very nearly there!!!) and be out of our rental house soon. So, as much as we can dream about our Spanish plans, we have a lot of work to do before we get there. This moving country malarkey is like a full time job!

The ruins!

There are old animal shelters adjoining our house. They are about ten meters long and three meters wide. Currently single storey (ish). We want to renovate these into holiday accommodation and offer holidays for families with children with autism. As well as havingIMAG3377 a space where friends and family can come and stay.

As the space is small we were worried that they wouldn’t be big enough to house a family. But after looking on Pinterest (my favourite place for house porn) and playing around with design software, we have worked out that we just need to be canny when designing the inside space. There is so much inspiration online now about designing your ‘tiny home’ or ‘narrowboat renovations’ that its easy to see how we can make this work.

There will be a small kitchen and seating area with a sofa bed, a bathroom, a double bedroom as well as a single bedroom.

Realistically, this isn’t going to get done for quite a while. We need to renovate our house first aIMAG3379nd at least get some basic planting done in the garden, as well as our veggie garden before even looking at this project! But, we won’t be waiting too long; oh no, no rest for the wicked; as we will need to have some kind of income in order to live.

We will be entertaining work aways/volunteers to help with our project. We are unsure how the walls of the ruins will hold up against being meddled with, and as much as we would like to keep as much of the original building as possible, we do have a congiency plan. If the walls need rebuilding, we will rebuild using cob or sand filled bottles. We are learning as we go. We have no experience of building in this way (or building generally, to be honest) so any help from volunteers who have experience in cob or alternative building will be greatly welcomed.

For now, the ruins will make excellent storage sheds!

Fire!!!

So, we received news that no first time buyer wants to hear! “There’s been a bit of an accident” – Oh God!

The sorry tale goes like this…

We’d had an offer accepted on the house after completely falling in love with it in the summer. It had lots of work to be done, but we were OK with it. We figured we could take our time with it while living in the upstairs flat while doing downstairs; the house is split into two flats but had been left half done.

Inside; before fire
Inside; before fire

But then we get an e-mail from our agent saying there’s been a fire!

A what now? A FIRE!

I won’t go into the ins and outs of how it happened, just know, that it definitely happened! After much inner (and outer) turmoil over what the bloody hell is going on we decide to go back to the negotiation table. New price settled, we book our flights back to Spain to asses the damage.

upstairs burnt main room

Yep, there was definitely a fire, but do you know what? We still loved the place, so we decided to carry on with sale. We must be bloody mad. Matt asked if I thought he was actually going crazy, but we concluded that if he’s crazy, then I’m crazy, so let’s go and be crazies together in Spain!

The damage is actually cosmetic. There was bare polystyrene on the ceiling and fabric on the walls so when the fire started it literally just went up. It didnt burn for long so the damage is cosmetic; even though it looks horrific! There are four rooms upstairs, they all look like this. But downstairs was untouched (as the flats are still separate) so that’s still as it was. Phew!

upstairs burnt view from bedroom into main room

So this is our new home. Isn’t she a beauty? It’s a shame about the fire, and I have been a little bit concerned about bad juju, but we’re going to make such happy memories here that any bad juju won’t stand a chance!

Just need to start the MAJOR cleaning operation now! That should be a few days of epic fun times!

The project

So…we’ve bought a house! And its a do-er up-per! In fact its a bit of a mess. The kind of house your parents see and have huge question marks appear over their heads as their faces look on blankly! Yep, that’s the kind of house we’ve bought… and its lush!IMAG3381

The house isnt connected to mains elecricity and neither does it have any sewerage so that’s high up on our list of priorities. It does however have a delightful ‘black hole’ toilet outside which I have nightmares about just lifting the lid let alone sitting on. So a flushable toilet is a need of mine. We had many a discussion over whether we should have a humanure toilet or not, but I have managed to convince Matt that if we recycle our grey water a flushable toilet is definitely my preferred option. He agrees, as long as we can have a compost humanure toilet in the garden…deal!
We are opting for an uber solar system. It’s going to be a fairly large financial outlay initially but will mean no bills, which is definitely the way to go for us. We will have a battery storage system and it will run our lights, fridge, computer and washing machine! This, I am excited about. We visited the guys that will be building our solar panels and they run their warehouse completely off grid, build the panels themselves and its generally an awesome set up they have there! They are confident that they can build us an expandable system that will eventually be able to run the electricity in the ruins too (we are planning to renovate the adjoining ruins into holiday accommodation for children with Autism, but more of that another time).

We have opted for a septic tank to dispose of our waste. Again, we also discussed a reed bed to filter our waste water but logistics and the way the land is set out means this isnt really possible. We do want to minimise how often the tank needs emptying by not flushing toilet paper, and there is also some kind of eco-ball (I havent done very much research on this) that you put in every month or so to help break down the solid waste.

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Inside

The house at the moment is split into two flats, with no connecting stairway. The flat upstairs (where the fire was) needs to be completely ripped out; including the render on the walls and walls being knocked down. We need to cut a pretty big hole in the ceiling to accommodate the stairs, rip up the floor downstairs and level it.

Upstairs before the fire
Upstairs before the fire

Downstairs also needs the stairs to be built, and plumbing for the kitchen and bathroom. The whole place needs new windows and doors too. This is the work the builders will be doing for us and we will be finishing the rest; building a kitchen, putting in a bathroom, tiling, crafting internal doors, painting and finsihing off.
*As a side note. Anyone got any cost effective alternatives for levelling a floor apart from using concrete? Suggestions will be muchly appreciated (virtual hugs will be given!)

Once finshined, the house will have two bedrooms upstairs with a toilet, and downstairs will have one big room to include the kitchen and living areas and a seperate bathroom and storage area.

But these are all theoretical plans at the moment. I can see us turning up after the builders have left to sit in our empty shell in Spain and laugh…or cry and think ‘what have we got ourselves in to?’ but im also sure we will soon get over that and get stuck in to our dream project. Fingers crossed.

I’ll be updating this section as and when we do different projects on the house. Can’t bloody wait!