13 April 2007

Casa Nueva, Vida Nueva

Our house hunting is finally over. Here's our snug little new place. Today we cleaned top to bottom. Tomorrow we'll give the oppressively dark bedrooms and kitchen a coat of white paint and tear out some unwanted plywood which is preventing airflow in the kitchen. We have great plans for the place, including a solar water heater over the kitchen, a rocket stove, and maybe even a small wood burning oven if I can scrounge up the firebrick (wish me luck).

Rear. The kitchen is to the right. Living room 2nd floor left, bedroom right.

Front steps and door.

Looking out the front door, you can see the balcony and hallway.

Shot from the back of the living room.

Shot through the balcony door.

J mopping the second bedroom.

A kitchen of sorts.


12 April 2007


We made a visa run to Lao this week. Again. The process was much smoother this time since we actually had the paperwork we needed, and we knew how to get places. We also lucked out at the morning market in Vientiane and found a 14 inch piece of agarwood. It's not top quality, but it is streaked with resin throughout. The gal who sold it to us even lit it so we could see how it smelled before we bought it. Delicious. Just around the corner, however, my favorite little bronze elephant had gone up in price from 100 to 150 dollars. At least I got a picture.

On our way back, at about 4 am, somewhere in the mountains east of Chiang Mai our bus rear ended another bus. Jami saw it happening, but I was asleep, and bruised my kneecaps on the seat in front of me. As usual our bus driver was following too close. For some reason bus drivers seem to imagine that they only need four feet of clearance if the vehicle in front of them is another bus, as thought there were some psychic connection that would prevent one bus driver from actually hitting another. Our bus was fine, aside from the broken windshield, but the other one had metal and plastic pushed into the belts, so we had to hold their hands while they waited for another bus to pick up the passengers. We were worried about getting home in time to pick Tien up from the kennel at the small animal hospital.

He'd had surgery the previous Thursday to remove three dog-bite related abscesses. One went into his spine, and the surgeon told us how difficult it was to remove when we picked him up. It took him about twelve hours to get back on his feet. Literally. Every time he tried to stand up he would flip over, so instead of walking he would roll across the floor, howling, until he hit something and had to stop, or roll back the other way. I put him in a box and gave him water and half a raw egg with a syringe. The next morning his bandages had loosened enough that he could walk, and we found him out of the box, sitting on the bathroom rug when we woke up. This morning they took his stitches out, and he looks like a regular Frankenstein's Monster in his shaved, scarred, and iodine-speckled glory. Poor T.

Finally, we have a house to move into, and just in the nick of time since we have to be out of this place on Tuesday. It's south of downtown, a concrete and wooden combo, with a workspace underneath, and plenty of room for visitors if we ever get any. We're going over tomorrow to sign the contract and give it a top to bottom scrubbing. I'll post some pictures before we're sans internet.

05 April 2007

The Humanure Handbook

Last month's seminar at the at the Long Now Foundation was by archeologist Brian Fagan, author of The Little Ice Age. He discussed how climate change has effected human civilization at different times in the past--spurring the rise of agriculture when the oak forests retreated in in the middle east, forcing the Norse out of North America and Greenland, or causing the collapse of the Moche and the Maya. One of the key problems in the coming years will be access to water, as the climate becomes more unpredictable and population pressures increase, especially on marginal land. Lately my somewhat haphazard reading on the web has been synchronizing in strange ways with the podcasts I listen to (try listening to Plato's Republic while reading The Botany of Desire and Oryx and Crake), and sure enough Joseph Jenkins, writer of The Humanure Handbook has the answer to eliminating 37-45% of our household water use. Stop crapping in drinking water. His suggestion, or rather, his admonition is that people stop flushing those valuable nutrients down the toilet, but compost them instead. His book, aside from repeating the same twenty or so nuggets of information ten times each, simplifies composting nicely, and gives a few simple rules for an efficient and sanitary collection and composting system, resulting in agriculturally safe humus. Some places, like Austin, Texas, already compost sludge, but waste a huge amount of water and money getting the sludge to the composting site. Think of how much water we could save and infrastructure we could forgo by processing poop on site, or picking it up with a weekly or biweekly poop truck? For the fecophobic Jenkins explains, and presents studies from real scientists (!), that urine and feces composted by thermophilic bacteria at temperatures exceeding 55˚ C for a couple of hours will kill any human pathogens. They either get burnt to a crisp, or out-competed, or eaten up by the earthworms and fungi that move in during the one year curing period once the compost has cooled down. And if you're healthy to begin with, there's not much chance of anything nasty getting in the pile. The toilets and compost don't smell either, since you cover each deposit with sawdust, rice hulls, peat, or leaf mold in the toilet, and straw, weeds, or leaves in the pile. If they do smell, then it's an indication that you're doing something wrong. The book is no great work of literature, but it's good for skimming, full of good information for anyone interested in dismantling one of the defining characteristics of western civilization, centralized plumbing.