Organic Design (blog)

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New loft ladder

Posted by Nad on 10 de maio de 2015 at 17h44min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Loft ladder breaking.jpg + Rolling pin.jpg = Aluminium loft ladder 3.jpg

Yep that's right, our nice looking loft ladder wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and a step broke on it almost leading to an accident :-(

Beth's been really scared going up and down it, especially when tired in the middle of the night and the mornings, and after a few weeks of procrastinating, the rolling pin finally came out! So I quickly got some aluminium tube (thanks Eduardo!), adjusted the size of the holes in the wood to fit it and replaced all the dowel.

Another problem that had begun and could have lead to trouble was that some of the screws holding the steps tight were getting loose and allowing them to spin when stepping on them. So I've accounted for that problem with the new aluminium steps as well:

Aluminium loft ladder 1.jpg
Aluminium loft ladder 2.jpg

To hold the hole thing together, there's a long threaded-rod through every third tube bolted on each side.

Exploring the red-light district

Posted by Nad on 22 de abril de 2015 at 12h34min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
At first our only red-light experiences would occur accidentally when we'd suddenly realise after some time that were were in the red light zone, upon noticing this we'd quickly make our way directly back to safe territory! But after this happened a few times we noticed a slight curiosity setting in and found ourselves spedning a little more time on the edge before leaving. Then today we took the plunge! We decided it was time to let go of fear and explore the red light district fully! And you know what? there's nothing to be scared of in there at all! In fact it turns out that's where all the potential is, and I'm even going to be working there a lot of the time!

Wait! come back! I can explain... I'm not talking about that red light! I mean this one, the red light on our charge-controller of course! The photo is a messed up one that I took when the flash was really needed, but it suits the post quite well :-) The red light means that the battery is very low and that the power will be cut off soon.

In the last few months we've noticed that the performance of the battery has decreased a lot, and we're getting into red-light territory more and more often. Then a few days ago, we had a full charge at the end of the day (flashing green light), and then after only an hour or so on the net in the evening, we were right back in the red light zone!

So we thought we really needed to explore this red light territory thoroughly! And that's when we discovered what I was trying to say above - that all the potential is there! It took an hour to go from fully charged (about 13.9 volts) to the red light at 12.1 volts, but over an hour to go from there down to 11.95! And we still don't know how far the red-light zone goes - we went all the way to 11.75 volts today, but we still haven't been cut off!

So we're going to be spending a lot more time in red-light territory from now on, and I'll even be doing a lot of my work down there, because we really need to know once and for all how far down it goes :-)

A feng shui emergency!

Posted by Nad on 13 de abril de 2015 at 20h01min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Living in a tiny house makes you think carefully about what things you really need, and helps you to lead a much more minimalist and organised lifestyle. In a tiny house it's much more apparent when things aren't organised well, and this gives you a strong incentive to fix problems and get things into an orderly state quickly. For example, a few days ago when Beth had just woken up and was coming down the loft ladder still half asleep, her foot accidentally violated procedure and moved from the lounge area into the bathroom area! The "bathroom" is a shower-shelf in the middle of the South wall and bowl of water on Beth's computer desk! Her foot knocked over the bowl and poured the water all over the desk and floor! Luckily none of it went onto her computer, but it was still a very clear wake-up call - literally!

So I did some thinking about how to optimise the space a little better, and came up with a long-term plan and an immediate plan. The long term idea is to extend the toilet room southward by about 30cm and then put another north wall in there 30cm more to the south - effectively moving the whole toilet room 30cm southward. Then within this extra 30cm of space between the house and the toilet I can put all the tool shelves - basically pushing them back 30cm into the wall. That can then become a closable cupboard which will save some space along that wall and also look a lot more open and tidy.

The immediate plan which has already been completed over the last couple of days, was to remove the "BB" (Beth-Box) containing the solar components and put the battery and inverter into a new outside box. The charge-controller is now on the wall so we can still see the battery and panel status easily.

New box for battery and inverter.jpg
Charge controller new location.jpg

This was also a good opportunity to tidy up some messy wire joins and put some of my new heat-shrink to good use :-) I also moved the network hum from its unsightly location on the bottom of the loft floor to a hidden location behind the wall panel, and I cut that panel and made it into a little door so it's easier to work on in future as that panel is the main location where all the power and network connections join up.

New hub location.jpg
House wire joins with heatshrink.jpg

And so back to the original point: the space saved by moving these things outside has meant we now have a very spacious and organised bathroom!

New "bathroom".jpg

A little can go a long way

Posted by Nad on 5 de abril de 2015 at 09h22min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
After we arrived at the land this time, we didn't bring much food, we planned to go shopping after a couple of weeks. But after two weeks we didn't want to interrupt our meditation practice by going for a complicated busy trip to Canela so we decided to put it off for another week even though it would mean we'd have to put up with a pretty bland diet.

But after another week we'd found that it wasn't so bad - there were always various little things available in the vege patch that made the food a little less boring. Now we've been here five weeks and we're still doing fine! We've found that the vege patch works both ways - not only does it have to slowly improve so that it can produce more, we have to learn more about what it has to offer! For example, Beth discovered that Kumara and pumpkin leaves are edible and high in vitamins and minerals. The pumpkin leaves are a bit too rough to eat raw, but are good when cooked and added to soup or stir fry. The Kumara leaves have a really nice flavour and can even be added raw to salads.

Healthy kumara.jpg

The vege patch is producing a lot of other things in very small quantities too such as courgettes, sweetcorn, capsicums, onions and garlic. Even though it's a very small amount, it goes a long way when you don't have a lot of variety, but you can add a small but of capsicum or a few cherry tomatoes to a meal - and although the quantity is small, there's always something there :-)

Our first sweetcorn.jpg

There are always many herbs in the garden for adding to meals or having in tea, and the lime tree leaves make a good tea even though it's not bearing any fruit yet. We even had watermelon last week and yesterday, and the forest has been providing some blackberries :-)

Our first watermelons.jpg

It looks like in a couple of years we'll have the opposite problem - we'll always have an overload of fresh fruit and vegetables, but will have to ration our rice and other dry goods since we'll probably only be going shopping two or three times per year!


Posted by Nad on 31 de março de 2015 at 16h00min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
About a week ago when I was working on the east extension a guy suddenly stumbled out of a thick part of the bushes. He was looking for his dog Xispita who'd gone missing a couple of days earlier, he carried on into the forest and we heard him calling her name for a while. The next evening we heard a dig crying in the forest somewhere and went for a walk calling out to her, but she didn't answer. Then about a week later when we were having breakfast a dog suddenly appeared out of the bushes at about the same place the guy had appeared before! We're not sure if it's his dog though because he said she was white, whereas this one has more brown on her than white, but we started calling her Xispita anyway :-)


She wasn't very well and seemed to have a bit of a fever, she ate a bit the first day, but then wouldn't eat at all the next day (although maybe its just that she didn't like polenta, lentils, beans or porridge!). She was very cold in the night and we had to put a towel on her so she'd stop shivering.

Xispita by the door.jpg

The next day after an hour or two in the sun she started looking a lot better, and then ate a bit of polenta. She started seeming like she was at home, exploring the garden and following us whenever we went of to do work at remote areas of the land :-)

But then later in the evening she left and hasn't been back for a couple of days now... perhaps she just needed somewhere to stay and recuperate for a couple of days on her travels.

Update: We went to Ziza's the other day to get some cheese, and who did we see tied with a rope in the garden? Xispita! It turns out it was the original Xispita that the guy was looking for, so even though we were sad that she's gone, it's good that she'll be back with her proper owner again :-) He takes her out to the country in the weekend to get some fresh air and to run around in the forest, but because she's a city dog, she sometimes gets lost for a few days.

The awesome power of gambiarra

Posted by Nad on 25 de março de 2015 at 17h28min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
Now that we're on a daily schedule we seem to getting a lot more done on the land even though we have so much meditation to do each day! Beth's been making excellent progress painting the inside of the house and cutting the grass and weeds around the vege patch and other areas on the land. And I finally completed the east extension which has been an outstanding job for at least a year!

East extension.jpg

Over the last few days I've been working on getting the upper segment of the PVC pipe containing the net cables raised overhead so we don't end up with the same, or similar, trouble as the lower segment (i.e. having it eaten by giant swamp rats!). This job turned out to be a lot more difficult than expected, because the weight of the hundred or so metres of PVC pipe made the force required to pull the wire straight into the equivalent of hundreds of kilograms! The standard fence wire-tightener was useless in this scenario because it's made of too thin a metal and also the force required to turn the bolt soon becomes too much.

So I had to let the cable back down and figure out a different approach. The next day when making a hole for Beth I suddenly realised that the hole-making tool I was using could work as an excellent high-force wire-tightener if it had a hole drilled in the middle! This new Gambiarra tool worked very well, and before long I was able to pull the wire tight with hundreds of kilograms of force no problem :-)

Gambiarra wire puller 1.jpg
Gambiarra wire puller 2.jpg

       Nek minute....

Net pole pulled out of ground.jpg

The force was so much that the whole pole was ripped right out of the ground!!!

Actually it was a bit of a design failure because since the force is pulling from above the pole, the forty-five brace was of little use in strengthening it, so yet again I had to go back to the drawing board :-(

The next day I added a new shorter pole about four metres behind the tall one and put it deeper in the ground and put it at an angle roughly perpendicular to the direction of the force. The original pole is now just lifting the cable so it only experiences a downward force and needs no braces, it's settled to an angle halfway between the directions of the short pole and the top of the hill. So far this solution seems to be holding up!

Net pole new solution.jpg
Net pole new solution (close).jpg

Sleeping in the loft again

Posted by Nad on 15 de março de 2015 at 09h35min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
We've been sleeping on the fold-out couch for the last week while Beth put a few coats of paint in the loft to try and resolve the toxic off-gassing problems with the OSB (oriented strand board). The paint's been dry for a couple of days now, so last night we decided to try out sleeping back up there again. It's actually more of a pleasant atmosphere up there with the lighter colour, and it seems to have worked - we didn't have any asthma!
Loft nice and cozy.jpg
Painted Loft.jpg

See Our house#The bedroom for more detail about the loft.

Back to the land after months away again!

Posted by Nad on 8 de março de 2015 at 18h46min
This post has the following tags: Our third year on the land
We've been back at the land for about a week now after being away since halfway through December last year! We were in Brasília at Beth's parents place for Christmas, new year's and then for Patrícia and Nelson's wedding and the Mahamudra retreat. It was really nice to stay there and spend some time with the family, and we had some fun times there, but we were also starting to miss the tranquillity of the land after a month or so :-)
Keep calm and screw the banks.jpg
Self service.jpg

As usual when we arrived back, everything was completely overgrown with six foot high bracken all around the house and the vege patch invisible under a forest of weeds - except for the Chia which is always bigger than everything else! But after a week of weed-whacking, it's nice and clear around the house and garden area, and the most important paths and roads are cleared. Beth chopped the main weeds in the vege patch, and we were happy to see that some things are really starting to get their roots down and it seems the soil is finally starting to improve - the lemon, peach and apple trees are doing really well, and the kumara, courgette and watermelon are looking really healthy and spreading all over the place!

Healthy kumara.jpg
Our first watermelons.jpg
Peach tree in vege patch.jpg

We're slowly getting our new daily schedule under way that we organised with Tilmann on the Mahamudra retreat. It's quite extreme though so we're working in to it slowly over a few weeks, especially since it's always quite overwhelming getting accustomed to the land after living in civilisation for a while! But it's going well, and we're doing all the yoga and meditation sessions each day now, the next step will be to reduce the unnecessary conversation and work on presence, "living deliberately" and less mental chatter between the mediation and yoga sessions.

Apart from that we've been doing a lot of work around the house and garden, Beth's painting the OSB (oriented strand board) in the loft and on the cupboards to try and reduce toxic off-gassing and mould issues which have been giving us asthma problems, we also installed a low power ventilation fan so we can change the air over regularly up there. And I finally got round to raising the trailer onto blocks to protect the tyres - a job which has been overdue for more than two years!

Trailor on blocks.jpg

Starting our third year on the land!

Posted by Nad on 3 de fevereiro de 2015 at 07h36min
This post has the following tags: Our second year on the land
Even though we're still in Brasília and will be here until the end of the month, I've started the blog for our third year on the land with the last article about the retreat in both the blogs for the second and third year.

Our third year on the land >>

2015 Mahamudra retreat

Posted by Nad on 2 de fevereiro de 2015 at 13h05min
Our third year on the land
Beth and I have just returned from an extraordinary meditation retreat. This retreat was the forth of a seven part transmission on Mahāmudrā (natural being) with each part being in the form of a two week intensive meditation retreat in Pirenópolis in February each year. The teachings are given by Tilmann Lhundrup and one of his students Gelek Dirk. Both of them are German, but the teachings are given in English with translation into Portuguese. Gelek lives here in Brazil and speaks fluent Portuguese, and Tilmann will probably start giving the teachings in Portuguese soon as he's getting pretty fluent now too.

The structure of the transmission is based on the 9th Karmapa's text on Mahāmudrā from the sixteenth century, entitled "The Ocean of Definitive Meaning" which has been the definitive text on the Buddha's original teachings used by many schools in the Tibetan tradition up to this day. The text has been made available to the public and translated into several languages in recent years, but for a proper understanding it requires a teacher who has received the transmission directly, which is very rare, so these retreats are really precious. Tilmann's first three year retreat during his own training was guided by the great master Gendun Rinpoche and one of his more experienced students, Henrik Havlat. Henrik wrote German and English translations of the original Tibetan Mahāmudrā text, and the English version, called Mahamudra - The Ocean Of True Meaning, is the version that Tilmann and Gelek use as the basis for their Mahāmudrā teachings.

Quote.pngThe Ocean of Definitive Meaning, the most extensive in length of the Karmapa's three texts on Mahamudra, is exceptional for providing not only the general view and practices of Mahamudra, but also the rich methods of the oral instructions for realising the nature of one's mind, enlightenment. By writing this profound text, the ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, preserved and passed on many of the oral instructions of the Mahamudra lineage, a living tradition that continues to this day.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

The land where the retreat is held is called Espaço Azul, and is a beautiful space with many small rivers and waterfalls. It has a really tranquil energy as it's only ever used for meditation retreats with no alcohol or meat consumption ever happening there. There are many animals and birds there such as horses, monkeys, wolves, tucans and Macaws, and lots of amazing rock formations and interesting paths to wander around. The meals are prepared for everyone and conversation is strongly discouraged so that everyone allow their minds to quieten down so they can focus completely on the practices. The teachings take place in a nice dwelling constructed just for meditation, yoga and similar practices shown on the below. There were about thirty people in the group. All the photos from are available in Gelek's Dropbox here.

Pirenópolis retreat meditation room.jpg Pirenópolis retreat Beth's refuge 4.jpg

Staying for two weeks at Espaço Azul is quite expensive (about R$1700) because it's not only the rental of a room, but also covers the food, cooking and cleaning for the period too. There's also a house on the adjacent land which Beth and I rented so that we could distribute the costs amongst all those who really wanted to go to the retreat but couldn't afford it. We had seven of us in the house which worked out to around R$400 each, some couldn't afford anything at all, but we were happy for them to stay as well since the cost was much lower than expected. The house is really nice as well and has a beautiful little waterfall and swimming hole only a couple of minutes walk away. Since the whole retreat is meant to be done without conversation, we who were staying in the house made a schedule on the first day so that everyone knew who was making and assisting with lunch and dinner each day and who was doing cleaning all without the need for any discussion.

Pirenópolis retreat house.jpg Pirenópolis retreat horses in garden.jpg Pirenópolis retreat waterfall.jpg

The house is such a good resource for the Buddhist group that we all decided to chip in and rent the place permanently so that it would be available every year, and also for those wanting to do retreats at other times throughout the year. Gelek lives in another property nearby and would be there to guide the retreats taken there.

Each day the morning meditation started at 7am followed by some teachings until 9am when there would be a one hour break for breakfast. Then there would be a more intensive session of teaching and meditation until midday with a half hour break for self practice in the middle. At midday is a three hour break for lunch, and then a final teaching and meditation session from 3pm to 6pm with a self practice break in the middle. At 7:30 pm is an optional half hour of chanting and prayer session.

On the last day was a long session where Tilmann posed some questions for everyone to meditate on about what we had learned, what we considered to be the most precious gift from the time there, and what we would be putting our energy into during the coming year. We then all sat in a circle and shared these thoughts with the group. For Beth and I it's really clarified the direction for our practice and has pointed out to us how precious our situation at the land is, where we have everything we need, a huge amount of free time available, and a perfect environment for concentrated meditation practice. This has always been our vision for our life at the land, but we've realised that we'd put it off into the future, when in reality we already have it now! So with Tilmann's help we've created a daily schedule for practice that we'll try and stick with for the whole year until the 2016 Mahāmudrā retreat.