Friday, December 30, 2011


Digger and I spend quite a bit of time in La Paz and I realized you haven't seen the town. It is a major metropolis in the corridor between Cuenca and Loja, probably 50 families in a 6 mile radius. A regular tourist trap with three pigs being worked on every day and a fruit and veggie sales day on Sunday.
This is the whole town, busses run through town day and night from Cuenca to Loja and points south.
On the south end of town is the block maker - he's not making blocks today, he just butchered a hog for his wife who has a space in the middle of town selling pork. She goes through 2 pigs a week.

Heading north through town the hardware store is on the left with a dental office on the second floor. The hardware guy speaks some English and I speak some Spanish so I can pretty much get anything I need here.
My favorite convience store with a place to eat right next door - the mother runs the store and the daughter runs the resturant.
Across the street they are adding a forth floor to an apartment building, some one is moving into town.

At the North end of town is the school.

And across the street is the church.

Just out of town heading north is the gas station and a resturant. Digger's friend Lu Lu the Saint Bernard lives here. Lu Lu would like to have Digger for lunch, literally but they have a good time barking at each other.

That's the nickel tour, it really is a great place to live. As far as I know I am the only gringo around.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

T'was the day before Christmas and all through the house, was the sound of stripping lumber, hand planning and sanding throughout.

The tradition in our house at Christmas time is to build Barbara a piece of furniture. I think I may have waited a little too long to start this project. This years piece is a hunt board.

It takes a little longer to make furniture in Ecuador because the lumber is all rough cut and you need to air dry it for a while before you can work it.

There are two different types of eucalyptus going into to this piece. The regular white and some that was grown in a high iron content soil, the more you wet it the redder it gets.

Ofcourse all the help is already on vacation, Digger is just hanging around to steal my sand paper when I am not looking.

I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.Remember, no fires in the fireplace on Christmas eve.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Not the brightest bulb in the box.

I think I owe some of you good folks an apology. I have been responding to comments on my blog using my e-mail account because the comments are fowarded there. I noticed today that my reply gets sent to a no reply address, so I guess I am e-mailing into a vacuum in cyber space. I operate in a partial vacuum anyway.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows I'm not too smart, never have been. I feel bad that you have taken the time to read an obscure blog and gone to the trouble of making a comment and don't get any response. For that I apologize. I will reply to comments in the comment section of the blog - it will say "Barbara said" because I don't know how to fix that either.

There are just some things in life that it is too late for me to learn, I don't think I have enough brain cells left to learn anyway. I've been hit in the head so many times it's a wonder I can remember to breath. What other explaination is there - I have been writing on this blog site since May and I just now figure this out.

Thank you for your patronage and patience, and thanks for your vote in 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Knew it.

Last week I was saying that Barb had discovered glass building blocks, this week she has a design she wants
incorporated into the guest house - if it's not to much trouble. Now what do you think that means ?
It means I better put it in - here's half of the design.

Four straight days of rain and the locals talking about how cold it is, of course I don't know the difference. Rain in the morning or afternoon for a couple hours is okay but all day and all night is getting to be a real pain. There is a good side to all the rain, Digger the dog really likes it.
What, you think you're going to melt ? Come out and play.

Last week's blog post brought some written comments and some in person. So I guess I will follow through with a new project. Let's see how good you are at reading between the lines. Good clean water is a fundamental requirement for life, so in addition to a slow sand filter for my water supply I will be building a water distiller ( a still ) to boil water and condense the vapor. On another front I have decided to plant an additional quarter acre of corn, some rye and a little more barley for chicken feed. In the garden I have decided to grow several varieties of potatoes. All the things you've heard or surmised about me are true.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Glass blocks.

Since Barb won't be teaching anymore after next semester she is becoming more interested in things outside of academia. She is learning about position trading on the stock market and has discovered glass blocks, the kind used in buildings. I am holding my breath.

I saw a program segment on TV the other day about the health benefits of red wine. The only thing I know about wine is that it is made from grapes - moonshine is a different matter, I've been distilling spirits since I was 12 years old. At any rate today I figured I'd give red wine a try. We are already at Coral, Barb is exploring the world of glass blocks - they have wine here. There is a bunch of different names I guess for a bunch of different types of both red and white wines, it's a little too complicated for me. For all I know if you take grape juice and mix it with grain alcohol in the proportion to get a 12% alcohol level won't that be close to wine ?  Barb says it's a good thing I'm not trying to fly a plane. She can't help me because she doesn't drink. Okay, so I am in the wine section of Coral and can't  figure it out so I head to the boxed wine and pick out a nice $2 box of red wine. Now I am not totally inept, I grew up in the Catholic Church but they make the wine taste bad so you won't drink a bunch of it at Communion, don't they ? I know the answer  to that question. This stuff isn't very good, who drinks this stuff, are you sure they use grapes to make it, is the church getting a share of the profits ??? I guess this is what I get for trying something from the milder, more civilized side of life.

Now I know there has to be some wine out there that is palatable and that there are a lot of nice folks who would gladly straighten me out about wine selection. I am not of the intellect to be a wine connoisseur, what I like is double distilled corn liquor that takes your breath away before it passes your lips.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A little more.

Over the years we all develope preferences, some folks like Fords, some like lima beans. I like hand tools and have preferences and reasons for what I like. Recently I have changed my preference for masonary trowels.

My normal taste is to use a London style trowel with a flexible blade ( on the right ) but recently I have switched to a Philadephia style trowel with a thicker blade. I can dress the blocks faster and get a longer draw with the mortar. I have a preference for trowel manufacturers too but that went out the window when we moved to Ecuador.

There has been some progress on the addition to the guest house. The first arched window is bricked in.

I am using used bricks for the arch - I just like the look and a cement key at the top.

I got the Direct TV dish pointed in the right direction - finally.

Yes, I smoke like a chimney and I like Ecuadorian cigarettes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More blocks and sand.

I have been hauling blocks and sand in the car for the last month because of the rain and the problems I had last time I had stuff delivered. It made progress even slower than this old man's slow pace. We had a break in the weather last week and after 3 days of no rain I decided to give it a shot and have 300 blocks and 2 yards of sand delivered. It rained all day on delivery day, so I had to dump the blocks and sand in the driveway about 50 feet from the front gate. We have plenty of space to have stuff delivered but our quarter mile frontage is right on the Panamerican Highway and it won't stay there long.

Digger likes to play in the rain but when night comes she gets a little cold.
I've got like 3 blankets on the bed, I don't know how she manages to just get under the top one.

I haven't been giving the cat her due lately, so I better give her credit for her efforts.
She keeps an eye on things.
Does the incoming materials inspections.
And she handles safety inspections of tools and equipment.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Another week - block work for a while.

Last week Barb had the camera to take pictures of the stuff going on in Cuenca, so I couldn't take any pictures of all the progress Digger and I have made in La Paz. This week we got the camera back and I have no pictures because we really aren't making much progress.

At this point all the footers are in along with the electrical conduit so it is all block work until we reach the roofline. 200 blocks in and 500 to go, pretty boring stuff.

There are some other issues that need to be addressed now to insure a smooth transition for Barb and her chickens this coming May. As far as I know Barb will be running about 60 birds through her brooder operation every 16 weeks, she hasn't commited to a feed ration yet but somebody needs to be planting some corn, wheat and barley pretty soon. She will need a good ton and a half of feed per year. I have an acre and a half of fescue established, which will make a good filler for her feed. I figure a half acre of corn and a quarter acre of wheat and barley or milo. I haven't told her yet but she is going to have to mill this stuff, I am sure she wants to anyway, adjusting feed rations has got to be part of her research.
Digger has a new blanket with pictures of big cats on it, she spends more time under it than on it. It does get a little cool in La Paz at night.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Same old stuff for a while.

Barb is moving ahead with her plans to be done teaching online this winter - summer in the U.S.. Even though it gives me a break on the guest house schedule, she wants the brooder house done by then too. She has been asking a lot of questions about feed conversion and different breeds of chickens, space requirements and incubation - she is up to no good. I have mentioned this before, that I thought she would be doing research with chickens, now it is certain. She may be a stuffy old  retired professor but she is a research scientist first and foremost. It wouldn't do me any good to ask her what she is up to, I wouldn't comprehend whatever she said, I just hope I get some eggs for breakfast and a couple of birds a month for dinner.

Digger and I came into town this weekend to see if I can't get Direct TV straightened out and try and make arrangements to pay the electric bill from La Paz, some where. The regional office of the electric company in Nabon says to pay in La Paz, La Paz says to pay in Cuenca and Cuenca says to pay in La Paz. Of course this is the same government that sent us a disconnect notice for water at our apartment in Cuenca when it is automatically taken out of our bank account here. Sounds like the U.S. government doesn't it ? It's actually better here, they eventually get it straightened out here, in the U.S. they just keep making the same mistakes and somehow expect a different result.

Digger has been awful busy this week protecting a stack of used bricks and making sure no one moves that green string line.
Of course she has to sign off on all the work.

Maybe next week we will get the remainder of the footer poured and the brooder house site cleared out.

Snide remark for this week.    According to Barbara and the Federal Government I don't officially retire until next year, so I am still able to work and I better get to it. Maybe I should leave the dog with her this week, to help around the house.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Elemental dilemma.

Barb has decided she wants a fireplace in the Guesthouse, which brings up a new set of problems in the construction process.
I've put in a 38" X 32" opening in the south wall for the firebox and gotten ahold of a load of bricks that the brick maker in Sussidel said are baked at high temperature, the picture shows a few of them.
Different angle of the same thing.

My dilemma comes from my hard headedness, I cause my own problems. I could just build the firebox the way they do here and everything would probably be fine but this is not a deorative fire place, it will be burnt every night. Here they use a standard mortar mix and throw in some raw sugar to try and keep the mortar joints from cracking, which is fine if you only burn a fire once in a while and aren't concerned with an air tight firebox. Fire places are the most ineffecient ways to heat a space, so I would like to have a venting system that will draw some heat from the firebox using natural convection - which will require an air tight firebox.

There is no high temperature mortar here, which is fine with me because that stuff cracks anyway, you have to use a mortar that is softer than the material you are trying to bond together. One advantage of being old is knowing a thing or two. A lime mortar will do the trick, softer than brick and self healing. Calcium carbonate is the only lime available here, agricultural lime, I use it in my mortar mix for laying blocks and making stucco becuase it makes the mortar stickier and retains moisture better but for use in a firebox it is not refined enough - too much carbon and oxygen. Carbonation of hydrated lime is what makes a lime mortar self healing.

Here is my assumption - if I use agricultural lime for a lime mortar, 1:3 with sand, the temperature of the fire will burn off the excess carbon and leave me with hydrated lime in the mortar. Since 80% of the population is smarter than I am, I will throw this out there and see if someone will straighten me out but be forewarned, by the time you tell me I am full of crap the fire box will have already been built. How is that for hard headedness ?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's been 10 days since the last post.

Forgive me followers for I have sinned, it's been 10 days since my last post. I hope that doesn't offend anyone, just a dig at my Catholic upbringing I couldn't resist.

It really has been a while with no progress and I don't really have an excuse other than being lazy. Barb has decided to teach online for one more semester after this one, so that has given me an extension on the timeline for having the guesthouse done.

There are some things, construction related in Ecuador that are just too expensive. Surface planners, mig welders and chain saws are a couple of them - the one I am dealing with now is ladders. A fairly good 6 foot step ladder is about $200 and the price goes up from there. There is no getting around working up off the ground, so here is my solution.
I've taken a couple of 1X8X9' boards and stripped them out to 4" planks, sistered two together and notched out 1/2" for the rungs.
What I ended up with is a easy to build, stong, light weight 9' ladder for $7.50. It isn't really a ladder but it can be used as one, it's half of a scaffolding system to give me a working platform up to 8' high. The whole thing, which is two of these, planking and cross braces cost $27 - $7 more than a carton of cigarettes not the price of a motorcycle.

Digger the dog is still growing and has started to protect what is important to her.

Nobody is moving this wheelbarrow without her knowing about it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Start of the rainy season.

Even though we have had quite a bit of rain in the dry season this year, the start of the rainy season has left no doubt about what season it is. This week we got 3 solid days and nights of rain in La Paz. By Thursday there had been enough rain that the bottom fell out of the driveway, it took 2 days and a broken jack to dig the car out of the mud. Kind of reminds me of mud season in New Hampshire.

Laying blocks in the rain is one thing but when the rain is so hard it washes out your mortar joints before you can get it covered, that's another thing - at least it's not freezing cold or burning hot. After trying to get some blocks in between hard rains for three days and playing in the mud another two days I had had enough for this week and came back to Cuenca late this afternoon. This morning the sun broke through and for the first time in a week the wheelbarrow was almost dry.
Well that ought to tell you something, the only dry spot on the place and look who owns it, the dog who plays in the creek and has mud all over the interior of the car.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Some Progress to Report

There has been a little progress this past week other than playing with the blocks. I am to the point where I need to decide where and how to install electrical outlets in the addition. I've decided to run the power horizonally through the blocks instead of vertically through the cells.
It will be a lot easier to pull wires through conduit than try to fish wire through open cells in the blocks.

It;s a little hard to see but the first recepticle box is in along the north wall.

Maybe this is a little better perspective. At any rate the box looks a little high but the floor isn't poured yet, the recepticles will be at 16" above the floor, about 2" higher than NEC code. The large opening on the right will be an archway to a small porch in the front of the addition.

The south wall footer is finally in so the block work can get started on that. There is still a lot of digging to do. Barb has ordered that the excavated material be moved to the area she wants as raised beds in the garden, just another distraction.
Digger the dog.

Digger is getting more aggressive every day, I guess it would really be called possessive, I have to hunt for my shoes everyday now and she has learned to jump the creek. I suppose the next trick will be putting my tools and shoes in the creek. She really has a lot of fun running all over the place, she has started the growl and deep bark at unfamiliar sounds.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another good week.

It's been another good week in La Paz, the weather is warming up at night, the pup is getting to know the lay of the land and I got a little work done between distractions.

I poured the first key and it's okay but I think I will need to adjust the cement mixture for a better overall appearance.

The local block maker started a new run of blocks last week.They are still too green to stack and truck, so he is letting me take 12 at a time when I come into town every morning. He is making the blocks himself this time so they are a much more uniform than the batch his helper made last time.

This is the last of the old blocks and as you can see there is a bit of slag on the bottom and the density of the block clearly goes from top to bottom. I have had to cull 10% of the blocks from this run and I have to dress every block before I use it. I use my good $2 trowel to chip the slag and it only takes a few seconds. The trowels here are of exceptional quality in materials and workmanship, I have several trowels in reserve because I just knew, as cheap as the trowels are, I would bend or break them at the frog within minutes. I am one of those guys who uses what I have in my hand for whatever task I confront and I can assure you I am not timid about using it either. I am still using the first trowel - a much higher success rate than other hand tools here - hammers are the worst.

Weekly Snide Remarks.
I don't get a lot of guff from my wife for leaving town for a week at a time, it's her quiet time when she is the most productive but I would swear she has a suppressed desire to get even. She has an uncanny ability to relate to animals - cats in particular. This ability is so pronounced that when I first met her years ago I thought she was some kind of witch with her familiar. I had never seen a cat act the way her cat did, as if they understood each other, not as master and pet but as equals. I mention this because she is doing the same thing with her Ecuadorian cat. When the dog and I left town last week the dog was clearly the master of the pet part of the family. When we returned today the cat was waiting for the dog and she laid her out, like she had been coached on how to take control of an unruly pup. I find it hard to believe the cat came up with this plan by herself but the dog now gives her free run, after half a dozen confrontations that the dog lost.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I've spent the whole week in Cuenca but I got a little prep work done for La Paz.

Since there will be 11 arches in the addition and it would be a real pain to have to install a lintel over every one of them, I will be making the arches load bearing. I've made a form for pouring the key for the arches (above) and it should work on all the arches.
I was lucky to find some real nice eucaliptos just down the street, the perfect wood for my arch jig. A few months ago I free-handed an arch while closing in a window, it was pretty much a disaster, that's why I am making a jig for the rest of the arches. The jig will be sized for the smallest arch, for the bigger arches I will just overlay the jig with the proper diameter lumber.

Ofcourse I needed a few new tools for these little projects.
A new jigsaw and a Jack plane, both cost the same, about $23 a piece. You can get a much nicer hand plane in the U.S. than this Stanley for $23 but it has the depth and angle adjustments on the iron and you can adjust the chip breaker, that's all I need.

 After Barb has had her way with Digger all week she is going to be a hand full back in La Paz. Barbara keeps food in my dish all the time, I have my own rug, a piece of sweater with a knot in it and a rawhide bone, plus my friend the cat and I can tear though the house chasing each other and dig all the dirt out of the indoor garden. Yeah buddy, Barb has done her work this week.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Advice from the better half.

Tying in the new with the old.
I mentioned in the last post that I would ask my wife to help prioritize my projects in La Paz, figuring she might allude to her preference. Here is what I got – "Quit playing around and get some work done." This is what I get for trying to bait a woman with two PhD's in Psychology.

I did get some work done last week, mostly digging out the inside of the perimeter walls for the floor slab. It is slow going and easy to get distracted away from. Now that I have a new helper it takes twice as long as it normally would.

She helps me dig – putting the stuff I just dug back in the hole, and she protects my tools by taking them to an undisclosed location so no one can find them. She came upon one of these little Ecuadorian deer the other day and they both took off running in opposite directions. She hasn't quite figured out the creek yet, it's deeper than she is tall, so by the time she finds a way out she is 25 yards from where she went in.

I did lay some blocks, building up the north and south corners and some course blocks in between.

 I just can't remember but I think the lap on rebar is 14 times the diameter, looks right anyway.
Tying in the new and the old.


The local block maker has just started a new run just in the nick of time, I am down to my last 30 blocks.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Retired ???

I have been pontificating lately about how nicely life has work out. I had way different plans for old age than Ecuador. Retirement was never part of it. Yet here I sit on a Friday night in a half completed guest house in the Andes Mountains with my faithful dog waiting for the morning sun. I may do some work tomorrow or not. The weather will be the same as yesterday and the day before, the same as tomorrow and the day after – pleasant. I don't have a potful of money or some gold lined pension plan but I have enough for Ecuador. I guess I am retired.
There is only one person responsible for this state of affairs, my wife. She is the one with the open mindedness to consider alternatives and do the research, the one to take an early retirement when she wasn't really ready to retire. She stays in Cuenca while I go out to play, still tethered to her computer and the internet, teaching online courses at Missouri State University. At least she doesn't have to go on campus and lecture every day and maybe this will be her last semester. You see she really had no retirement plans either, unless you consider teaching until you can't anymore a plan.
Ecuador has been good for both of us; we could have never retired in the U.S... We would have tried about 5 years from now but I don't think it is possible to survive on a fixed income in an environment of high inflation, rapidly increasing regulation and higher taxes; somebody is going to have to work until the day they die.

Well so much for that - I got back to Cuenca today (Monday) it's a rain day and without a shop I really don't have much to do when it rains. I really do need to get started on a shop space but I really need to get started on a lot of things. I think I will run this by my wife and see if she would like to priorities things for me.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gravity feed water from the mountain top.

What a mess. I have been planning to pipe the water coming across the driveway for quite some time now. On my recent trip to La Paz the trench across the driveway to carry the water coming out of the side of the mountain ( near the top ) has gotten deep enough to start making problems for the car. So I reckon it's time to get this project done.

It was quite a mess but pretty straight foward. I dug the sump on the south side of the driveway, nice and wet, easy digging. I had to cut the pipe in half to carry it from town, then weld it back together once I had it home. Dig the trench straighter and deeper, install the pipe and a precipitation tank ( 5 gallon bucket ), run 300 feet of 3/4" water line, all gravity feed, done and done.
That little trickle of water represents 720 gallons of water a day. So what is the big deal, I've got over 100 gallons a minute coming across the property already. The difference is this water is really clean and there is no one between the source and me. For right now I am running the water into my gravel pile so I don't rut the ground, it ends up in the same place it did before I re-routed it, with several loops before it gets there.

Ofcourse this brings another project onto the planning table - a slow sand filter to run the water through, because when it rains real hard the water gets a little turbid, and a pump and back wash plumbing for the filter.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A couple of people it wouldn't hurt to know.

There are some new laws in Ecuador, passed a few months ago, and just now going into effect. The one I know about is the pirating of videos and music. You know of course you can get just about any video in Ecuador for a buck or two - these are American videos. I went to my favorite video store today and the owner was telling me the story, it doesn't sound good for the 2800 video and CD vendors in Ecuador. The reason I am writing about this is because I am about to tell a story about the owner of this video store.

I have been here about 10 months now and my wife and I have been through all the things gringos go through when they move here. The most frustrating things are the things that should be easy but somehow get messed up by gringos, like us trying to circumvent the system or misunderstanding the culture or the translation. We spent a lot of money and wasted a lot of time using the wrong people. So in the interest of maybe keeping some folks from some of the problems we had, I'd like to mention a couple of folks. Lawyers are pretty much the same as the U.S., I wouldn't recommend any of them. For translation services there is none better than Cathy Vicente, born and raised bi-lingual, a member of the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ecuador and married to an Ecuadorian higher up. Whatever she charges you is well worth it. She doesn't know I am recommending her so I could be in trouble but if you can get on her customer list, you'll be in good hands. I can't tell you how many times she has saved our bacon ( She even brought me back jelly beans from the U.S., twice ). You can contact her via the internet at

There is one more fella you might want to know, Fabian Robles - he owns my favorite video store. He's the guy I talked about when I was having so much trouble getting the power hooked up in La Paz. I was using a lawyer to get this done and mentioned it to him one day. He went out to the road, flagged down a power company truck, gave them a bunch of stuff ( as in a hard time ) and the next day they were contacting my lawyer to install the power. He worked in the U.S. for 9 years and came back to Ecuador to start his video store and be close to his family. His English is good. I think he has a relative in every business in Cuenca. He has a pretty new SUV and will hire out if you don't have transportation. You can contact Fabian by phone at 099542887 or 074040172.

These are not some lame recommendations. I thought they might help. As with anything I do, I stand behind what I say so you can contact me directly on either of these people at

Sunday, September 4, 2011

More of the same.

For the last month I have been seeing lots of hikers and bikers headed south through La Paz from points north, headed to Loja on a pilgrimage to the Virgin of the Swan. They are mostly young adults walking in groups of three or more, stopping in town to change socks, adjust their gear and get something to eat. The main celebration is on September the 8th in Loja, then on the first of November the sculpture of the Virgin Mary will travel back to El Cisne. These folks are walking or biking pretty near 100 miles for this event, I have seen hundreds of these hikers just from my travels back and forth from Cuenca to La Paz. Pretty serious stuff.

The new pup and I went out to La Paz this past week for 4 days and got a little work done.

She is a digger dog.

With the vertical rebar set at 4 foot intervals, I can finally set the the first corner which will set up placement for the rest of the addition.

First corner in. A couple of notes - there are no end blocks here, it will all be stuccoed anyway. The vertical rebar should be placed in the footer or drilled in, minding where the open cells are in the block. Now the string lines can be replaced with those string blocks I made way back when I was putting in the front gate. No need for story poles, the corners will go in first then course blocks to fill in.
With the north corner in I have laid out the south corner and started the excavation, with the help of the digger dog. It's too small for a piece of equipment and almost too big for an old man with a pick and shovel. I sure remember the horses I have broken ( or should I say, that broke me ) after a day of digging.