Keeping Busy

Our last two days in Ecuador where awesome. Mila got to meet my Plaza family in a tea party, hang out with our friends in a help me watch the baby while we pack party and hug grandma lots of times before parting. (All of which photos have randomly disappeared from our camera!)

Since we got back we have been nonstop! Setting up the apartment, hosting awesome Willow who came to snuggle with Mila last weekend, organizing, consolidating and shrinking our current business and working hard to get our application in for TechStars, a seed accelerator for startups, within the next two weeks for our new project. Apart from playing with our tiny human being.

Below, some photos.

Mila – 6 months

Hola mi vida,

Next time you are in front of a mirror take a long stare at those front four teeth you have – they made their entrance into your beautiful smile this week. You have been six months for almost two weeks now! Daddy and mami had their 5 years and half anniversary just a week ago. We are back in Chicago now, after spending two weeks in Ecuador. There, you met about 200 people, all of them totally in love with you. You are now sitting up straight and starting to nibble some solids. You have your own room and actually use it, for it has been almost a month since you first slept in your crib.

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Fence up and ready to move!

We spent a good portion of this weekend getting the new house ready to move. Fortunately, we have our “vacation” rental for another 8 days, so we can take it relatively easy. Our first to-do in the house was to add fence to the only non-fenced sections of the backyard for dog-proofing! Saturday we bought all materials needed for the project and Sunday Jax started the construction, while I cleaned up stairs.

While we were busy getting the house ready, the pups were tied to our backyard stairs with a 50 ft. long rope each. Delighted with their newly obtained freedom, they explored every single inch of their parameter. They chased lizards, grasshoppers and showed incredible restraint by not getting into a barking marathon with the annoying Beagle that is staying “on the other side of the fence”. We are only missing a gate for the fence, which we worked on last night, but could not finish do to torrential downpours.

Yesterday, we bought an Ikea queen sofa-bed on Craigslist. Originally this three year-old couch would have cost us $900! But we were able to get it from a very cool couple for $200. We have new sheets, silverware, pillows and some food, today after work we hope to buy some dishes and pans move in by tomorrow!


Chop chop

Today was a tough day for the puppies. It started out fine, around 6 am, with a nice ride in the car – a favorite activity of theirs. They were a bit hungry because they had not been allowed to eat since lunch the day before, but handling it fine. Anyway, everything was going great for Yaku and Yana. We dropped Manuel and a friend off at their schools and headed over to the Veterinary clinic, where Yaku and Yana would get to see one of their top 5 people, the head Vet, Milton. Milton is a super great guy, who studied veterinary medicine in Cuba, drives a sweet old Jeep and is always ecstatic to explain ANYTHING about dog health. “Do my dogs have fleas?”, “No and here’s a 10 minute explanation of the life-cycle of a flea, complete with whiteboard drawings and explanations of which types of medicines work and which don’t”.

None of this mattered today though, because Milton betrayed Yaku and Yana. I personally think Yana knew something was up, as she got pretty nervous when we put her on the operating table. Then again that may just be because she has finally built up an association between that table and having thermometers inserted in her bum. Anywhoo… In less time than it took for Caye to ask, “How long before the anesthetic takes effect?”, Yana was flat on her face and out cold – or apparently just REALLY high according to Milton. That’s where we left the two – with two huge rawhide bones for when they woke up and an extremely nice vet.

4 hours later, we picked up the puppies, who were super happy to see us, Yana even pee’ed herself with joy, and looking surprisingly good and  considering they just had their reproductive capabilities removed. Unfortunately, the good humor was not too last. 1 hour after getting home and Yana was in a lot of pain. She looked totally miserable, could not sleep and just cried a bit every so often. Then, she got lost… seriously, just gone! We searched in every nearby building, field, pasture, hole, river, every corner of the house and all of her favorite places. Nowhere. After 30 minutes of searching and calling her name in vane, things were seeming pretty desperate, especially because there is a bit of history of dog theft here. Caye started tearing up and I was ready to hop in the car and start searching the village. Before that though, I decided to peek inside of an old collapsed out-house and their was Yana looking up at me, drugged and confused. Very “emotional” Caye came over, we extracted the pup and headed back to the house for some serious cuddling. And that’s what we are still doing.

A lot of the photos are from today’s two round-trips to Ibarra. The road there is gorgeous and I finally got over my stubbornness (again) and took Caye’s very kind and constant advice to take photos while she drives. Have I mentioned that I am terrible at sharing cameras…?


house # 3 – detecting a pattern

Finally! Finally, we had a day to just dedicate to making this house nicer, prettier, more comfortable, warmer, less mouse-filled and just generally homier.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about what seems to be a bit of a theme in our lives. Hardware stores. More specifically, visiting hardware stores every couple days for months, while making a home. If you’ve been following along here since last summer, you’ve probably picked up on this pattern a bit as well.

12 months ago, we were happily tucked away in our Beloit apartment. We were there for three years and made it into a great space. Nearly every single piece of furniture, we built ourselves, right there, with 40-90 year-old tools and salvaged lumber. We had so much fun making that space personal and filling it with plants, photos, art and a 1000 pounds of kitchen utensils and ingredients. Just a few months later, 36 hours after deciding to buy our boat, we packed up every last bit of that apartment into a u-haul trailer and moved our whole lives. The following 3 months were spent visiting hardware stores and making our small floating apartment into beautiful and comfortable home. We lived in Surkha for a total of 6 months, before hopping on a plane for a “short trip” to Ecuador. Then, surprise! we decided to stay for a year or two and guess what? We needed somewhere to stay.

Now, 3 months after beginning to rehab “the worst living space in the Hacienda” and dozens of trips to the hardware store later, here we are making more fun plant-holders, scrap-wood knife racks and shelves from salvaged crates. It’s all so so similar to the boat and Beloit.. – something that is both strange and very comforting.

So, long story short. We built a ton of stuff today. We created a huge “pantry” from flimsy wooden fruit crates and old flooring, a beautiful plant holder from hose-clamps, salsa jars and some wooden siding from a ancient shepard’s shack, a bar for hanging pots and pans made from a steel gate tubes and bent re-bar, a door-“plug” to keep the mice from entering under our front door, a scrap-wood knife rack for the three sets of knifes that family lent or gifted us and lastly a fantastic “bread station” with storage for my baskets, clothes, peel, razor, etc. (thanks beautiful!). We also cleaned every corner of the house, made another batch of yogurt and organized all our foodstuffs in the new pantry.

Now I am sitting in perfectly organized living room, listening to more French-cafe music, with incredible smells of a huge curry dish in from the kitchen where Caye is perfecting her art of phenomenal curry-making. We are both feeling great, accomplished and a bit more relaxed, with so much less left undone in our living space.

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weekend photodrop +

Countless times this weekend I wanted to sit down and write some words about everything we were doing, but our internet took most of the weekend off and we were stuck out of the cyber world – this is probably why we got so much done around the house. It would take me the whole morning to detail everything we did and due to our lack of internet the last few days, I have a page long to-do list of work stuff, so I’ll quickly mention some of the most fun bits and leave you with some visuals.

This weekend, the kitchen was used to make butter, yogurt, cream cheese and plenty of delicious snacks. The bread oven, birthed three wonderful loaves of bread on Sunday and four amazing pizzas on Saturday (the other oven at my dad’s house). The garden was worked on, more garbage was picked up, rescued mint and strawberries were planted and a compost container built. The house was organized, future featured photos to hang on the walls were chosen and edited and the couch was used to watch the BBC’s AMAZING Frozen Planet Special.


An afternoon with Don Lluki, Don Santos and a gallon of Chicha

It has now happened often that I run into people and they ask me “where’s Mr. Jaxon (or el gringo or Jaki) ” and I reply, “with the maestros in the mechanics’ (shop)”, people laugh and make some comment about how I lost him now he’ll become a maestro. Indeed, every afternoon for the last week Jax has been going to the shop to talk, drink Chicha and work with the maestros to finish some of the projects they have for La Casita. From our living room I hear laughs, lots of story sharing and Chicha drinking. Then around 5:30 pm Jax climbs into our house through the kitchen window which is his easy access to his new friends.

The truth is that both Don Santos, the welder and one of the hacienda’s tractor drivers, and Lluki, the carpenter and one of the maintenance guys from the farm, are both super nice people and they like Jax a lot. Plus, if Jax sits right there with them, they work in our projects, which is a huge plus in our life, because we need the masonry heater door Santos is welding and shelves Lluki is putting together for our kitchen and living room.


Real first night & day at la casita

I write these words from the comfort of one of our couch/benches. Beside me I have a working Jaxon, below, two sleeping puppies, to my right, barley in the process of being malted/dried, behind, a kind-of messy kitchen, yet usable, and to on the horizon a clean living room with two hanging hamacas (hammocks), our dog’s bed and their toys scattered around the floor. Yesterday, we came back to la Casita after a few days away. I had had three nights of good sleep and Jaxon got the internet to work, so there was nothing holding us back. We cleaned all day Sunday and organized the space, so that the situation would be more manageable. To my surprise, in only 6 hours we got our whole upstairs bedroom set up, the living room completely emptied of boxes, the kitchen to a usable state, our desk to contain only things that would belong to the general area and we left the bathroom flamante (glowing-ish). By the end of the day, we had managed to mostly clean the whole house, do some gardening, go for a short walk and even take a our first shower.

Today, we worked, worked and we are still working and will continue for another couple of hours. Our stomachs are singing/crying, but we have so much to do! French cafe music is playing in the background, a wine bottle sits on the table, green tea is visible and we each have a glass of water, so it seems liquids will nurture us for now.

Although we have yet to cook dinner, I’ll have you know that we made a wonderful pasta this afternoon for lunch, using our new (accidentally frozen) veggies and we had a delicious beet, broccoli and walnut stir-fry yesterday.

Life is pretty good, can’t complain! Lots of love from Ecuador.

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first night in La Casita

For the last three days we have been putting in long hours into getting La Casita to livable state. Yesterday, we spent our first night here and although there are still lots of things that need to fall into place, it felt like home. My night was not as restful as I had hoped due to this virus that is still occupying my body, nonetheless waking up in our bed with a beautiful view of the mountains made me feel so at peace with life. Right now we are both working a little before going to Ibarra to pick up my brothers from school and doing our first grocery shopping trip for La Casita. Our to-do list for today includes, doing taxes (yes, we are up to the deadline), buying tickets to visit Surkha and our USA family (hopefully), working, continue to fix and organize stuff in La Casita and cook our first dinner!


Cleaning and furniture day… tomorrow?

Today was a big, long, full day. We started out early by weighing a barley sample we ordered from a local farmer and submerging the grains in water for the first part of a 3-part steep that will prepare the barley for germination, kilning and eventually testing for viability as a beer “base malt”. Exciting stuff.

After breakfast and brewing science time, we drove circles around Zuleta picking up bits of furniture (mostly Fernando and Caro’s old stuff) from the countless storage sheds scattered around the farm. We made one trip after another up the muddy path to la Casita with boxes and benches in hand. Our last big job before lunchtime was to dissemble a futon frame in el Molino (the water mill) and pack it, the mattress and various other household things, all up into the car. This was a big undertaking, but went surprisingly smoothly and we even got the car back to the house before the daily 2pm downpour started.

After a great lunch of make-your-own sandwiches with freshly roasted veggies and oven-roasted tomatoes, we headed back to la Casita to begin a thorough cleaning. The biggest item on the to-clean list was the wooden floor on the ground-level. When we first saw la Casita 2 months ago, the floor was completely black with decades of built up grime, soot, mud, etc. After 2 months of construction in the house, lots of muddy boots and a 2-day battle with a sander, the floor was beginning to look like wood, but still had a residual grime that gave a “muddy feeling” to the whole place. Today’s attack involved sweeping, scouring (on hands and knees) with steel wool, vacuuming, scrubbing with water and a hand scrub-brush and mopping. This combination definitely helped the room out a lot and once dry tomorrow, we’ll see how the finished product looks and work from there.

A couple of items are still missing from the house before we feel like moving in. Namely, the bed frame is still in the car, the refrigerator and stove need to be moved and we need to add a gas tank to the water heater. That’s pretty much it. Everything else can get organized once we are living there. Tomorrow, we  will work hard to tie up loose ends and who knows…?


Moving to la casita tomorrow!

These last few days Jax and I have mostly spent them in bed working, not because the locality was so comfortable, but rather due to a virus that has left us sleepless for sometime now. Everyone we know in the farm has come down with some sort of virus. Other than just regular work, we have been working on our wedding planning. I have been designing invitations, a “save the date” and a colorful document filled with themes, photos and favorite ideas to share with our immediate families and start the planning ball rolling.

This morning, after the first goodnight sleep we had in a while, we took off to see “La Casita”. The list that Jaxon made, painstakingly detailing each and every final project, was almost entirely scratched out and the maestros informed us that we could MOVE IN tomorrow! Although we could barely breath from both nostrils and our energy levels were way down, the excitement made us smile and we are ready to start the process as soon as the maestros clear their tools from the floor. So yeah, tomorrow the moving in process begins and maybe we will even spend our first night there, who knows.


Moving to La Casita on Monday?

Caye and I just got back from a great two hour, night-time brainstorming session in la Casita. We imagined, planned and got excited about the space and how we are going to use it. The dogs played with the construction materials the whole time and we ended with a totally stunning walk back to the other house, under a picture-perfect Milky Way.

Rewinding though, we were up at 6:30am this morning and by 1pm, we had visited the construction site of la Casita 5 times. Delivering paint brushes, testing the wireless internet range, answering questions and just checking in kept us moving the whole morning. Lucky for us, it was a gorgeous sunny morning and the rain storms did not kick in until after lunch.

The up-to-date list of incomplete tasks is as follows:

  • Install the toilet
  • Finish tiling the shower (we ran out of tile and so did the tile store)
  • Move all the ugly wiring (source of much stress) above the ceiling. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Add some bricks to the inside of the masonry heater
  • Add bench beside the other masonry heater bench
  • Pour a thin concrete slab over the L benches
  • Fix up a couple loose bits in the upstairs ceiling
  • Fill a few holes in the wall with concrete
  • Build a small roof over the patio
  • Paint the whole house
  • Connect the water sewage tubes
  • After dried: Cover the masonry heater with Adobe and paint it white.

That’s it. Nothing else. The maestros are dead-set on being done by Monday. They’ve been wildly optimistic about the end-date since the beginning, so we’re trying to keep our hopes in check… Actually we’re not really… basically we’re extremely excited and planning on moving in on Monday, yes or yes. Maybe we won’t be sleeping there Monday night, but goshdarnnit, we’ll at least start moving furniture in.


Building barbecue, bread oven and 4×4

This morning, we were awaken by the smell of panela syrup, cinnamon, crepes and bacon. As we enjoyed the different smells, we discussed our life, different business and projects. Soon enough my brothers made their way into our room, making sure we knew breakfast was almost ready and that we should wake up. As we ate, Carolina my step-mom, my dad, Fernando, Jax and I discussed which would be our weekend project. After a series of options, building a barbecue/bread oven station was the most obvious.

Plates were cleared from the table and the planing + building began. (A tutorial will follow, once it’s done). After a morning of building, my dad and Caro left for an event in Ibarra, and the children and us stayed behind continuing our project. After lunch it was  time to restock the wood and soil supplies. The cord wood (cut up tree) collection went by without any trouble, the soil on the other hand ended up with two tired puppies, a pair of disappointed children and a couple walking home. The car will sleep, stuck in the mud in a field tonight. Tomorrow a tractor will come to its rescue.



Manu Chao and Calle 13 concert

The day before yesterday we went to a Manu Chao and Calle 13 concert. We left Zuleta at around 4:00pm with the whole family and got to Quito at around quarter to six. We raced to Carolina’s mother’s house, where we dropped off my brothers and drove to my aunt’s house. Jax and I got dropped off a bit later and walked to the stadium, where the concert took place.

As we were arriving to the concert, it started raining, soon after, pouring and within an hour long lines of people were wearing plastic ponchos. Throughout the whole experience, I kept regretting not taking the camera, which Jax made me leave behind – probably for the better. Anyway, at around 8:30pm Manu Chao appeared on stage and made the whole experience worthwhile – this feeling faded as he kept singing all his songs in a monotonous tone. After 2 hours of Manu Chao, Calle 13 came to the stage and people went crazy! Including us. The feeling lasted the whole concert and at around 1:00 am we were in bed.

The last days have been spent working, petting and spoiling our amazing dogs and talking with people at the construction site.

Calle 13: My favorite song they sing, it’s about Latin America and how much we rock.


Manu Chao: A song about prostitutes who he calls “calles”, which means street. Regardless of the meaning of the song, many in my group of friends and family think of me when they listen to it because “calle” is pronounced the same as “Caye”, depending on your accent, and post it on my wall.


A weekend – baking, building + photodrop

Hi everyone. Hope you all had a fantastic weekend. The local weather has been improving a ton recently and we had a really pleasant weekend working with our hands and making tasty foods. The quick version is this – we spent the last three days drying out our trial mud oven, hanging out and chatting with the Zuleteña wives of the maestros that are working on our apartment, moving flooring boards, playing with the dogs, cutting more wine bottles into glasses (still don’t quite have the technique down), making two batches of bread, a big batch of veggie burgers and experimenting with two more varieties of Chicha. I also chatted with my parents and extended family back home and loved hearing and seeing everyone and getting caught up on the early summer and other happenings in central Wisconsin, USA.

Enjoy the photos and we’ll be back with some more detailed stuff, like recipes and fun project ideas shortly. We have also been interviewing some new traveling friends and other interesting folks from Ecuador and will be publishing those interviews soon hopefully.


Building a small bread/pizza oven

Today, as we were working on the Masonary stove, Jax decided that while we were waiting for Fernando, the maestro, to lay the bricks we could build a temporary bread oven and make some bread for the work crew, their wives that often hang out embroidering and my brothers. My first thought was, no way! But he ignored my comments and proceeded to start his project. I went inside to keep helping the maestros, but they had lit a fire in the old kitchen “stove”/hole and unlike them, I could not breath inside the house. Side note: The first day the maestros were working in “La Casita”, they lit a fire and the house immediately filled with smoke, I asked them if they minded the smoke and they said that they grew up with a wood-burning stoves and that their houses were full of smoke most nights. – Note to self: research health consequences of breathing so much smoke, especially the effects on young children and newborns. Later on the day, Jax noticed them putting a variety of PLASTICS in the fire! – Second note to self: try to organize a campaign to stop the plastic burning practice.

Anyway, after the house was full of smoke my only option was helping Jax on his project, which turned out to be a great project, especially when my brothers arrived to help.

Instructions: For those of you who want to try it at home.

The first thing to know is that it is a mud oven and that it needs a roof or it might “melt” in the rain.

The first step is to gather clay-rich dirt and mix it with water. The ratio is probably 8 buckets of dirt to 1 1/2 of water – maybe. The goal is to obtain a dough-like consistency that you can form into a ball, drop it to the ground and its shape doesn’t “smush” more than half – aka no pancakes. After you have your mud, get some friends together and walk all over it for 5-10 minutes, let it sit, then maybe walk on it again for good measure.

The next step is to lay some sort of flat surface/foundation – it can be wood, concrete, whatever – it just needs to be sturdy and flat. Then lay floor of bricks on top of that. Next, form a steep-sided dome 16 inches tall with four more buckets of dirt (just dirt). After you have your dome, lay wet newspaper on top of it, until it is all covered.

Now you get to use the mud. Lay four-finger-wide clumps of mud in a circle around the dome. Keep adding layer after layer of these clumps, working your way up the dome sides. Here it is important to press down, rather than into the dome – as the supporting “form” can be easily misshapen. An easy way to do this is to put one hand on top of your clump of mud and the other as a “wall” to keep the mud from smushing out more than 4-fingers wide.

The next step – we have not done yet:

After letting your dome dry, for about 2-24 hours, you cut a door out (like a jack-o-lantern lid and start taking the inside dirt out from the inside. After the dome is clear of dirt and you’ve reached the newspaper, you light a small drying fire and voila! It may take a few small drying fires before you are ready for a real firing and a batch of bread.

Tomorrow, we will finish the oven and add the rest of the photos. In the next weeks, we will be building a permanent bread oven outside “La Casita”. Stay tuned.