Friday, August 17, 2012


The weather has been glorious here. Windy and warm, highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s. It is like the best of summer in the NW and I have been bombarded with mini flashbacks to sailing, bike riding, baseball, picnics, lawn mowing, house painting... I actually was painting my ugly ugly house last weekend.
With the warmer weather people seem to be opening up a bit, myself included and I'd like to think that I'm finally making some real connections here in Natalio. One of the ways I've occupied myself this lonesome winter has been with various projects around the house.

Relative poverty means that in Paraguay people are often not able to replace something as soon as it breaks. Products are also often cheaply made, and so they break more easily than what I am used to. Folks push things just up to the breaking point, and then use their wits to hopefully keep disaster at bay. If folks are unable to buy what they need they often show an impressive but also depressing ability to simply ignore inconvenience or discomfort. More hearteningly, many people are also adept at jury-rigging all manner of things, or building machines and gadgets and gizmos from whatever they have available. I generally take pleasure in seeing the ingenuity with which people are able to solve their problems without the superfluous consumption we are accustomed to in (the US of) America. That the jury-rigs are often cringe-inducingly unsafe does make the American way more attractive, from a statistical stand-point at least.

I have learned a lot just by observing these various inventions and improvisations in daily life (I'd like to have more pictures but really, there are so many things it stops being remarkable), but most of all I have learned to ask myself anytime something breaks or I want something new if I couldn't just fix it or make it myself. I love this hands-on quality to daily life which is mostly missing in America after we leave elementary school.

Here are a few of the projects I've been working on around the house:

Rope + 2 pulleys + watering can = shower:
 For when I don't have enough water pressure to take a proper shower. As a result of reading large ammounts of historical naval fiction in my youth, I've always wanted to use pulleys for some practical purpose and I think this is the first time that I've built something with them in which they are really essential. I wouldn't be able to hoist the water up easily without the 2x1 pulley action.

table + drain pipe + wash basin with a hole in it = sink:
The outdoor sink I'd been using for the first few months was taken away by its owner a 3 weeks ago. It had been loaned to Lizzie when she lived in this house, but for me it just felt like part of the house. So I rode by bike to the lumberyard (which I really do need to get some pictures of, it is straight out of the 1800's) put some long 2x5s on my rack, rode back to my house and built my own sink using an old palangana (a plastic wash basin) which I cut a hole in for the sink itself. I still haven't figured out a good way to seal it, I may have to buy another palangana to cut a more perfectly circular hole in.

woodstove v2.0:
don't need to go into this again. I'm about 60% happy with this design, but I was a little disappointed by this winter. We only have one properly cold week and of that there was only frost on the ground three times.

library maps:
I already completed and posted about my South America map I made for the library. I've also been working on a "corzaon de sudamerica" map which just shows the area around Paraguay from La Paz to Santiago to Buenos Aires and southern Brazil. The initial energy I had for the first map has lessened, and I've made more than a couple labelling mistakes. The other night I labeled the Pacific Ocean as the Atlantic! blah

Shelves: though it seems simple, I am rather proud of the way I figured out to attach shelves to a regular brick and stucco interior wall. This is a good example of something that neverwould have occurred to me if I hadn't gotten going thinking about creative solutions to furniture problems. I put in four long nails, making the corners of a wide rectangle. The top two nails are angled upwards as much as possible. The bottom two nails stick out straight. I string metal wire very loosely from each bottom nail to the nail above it. Then I insert the shelf into the two loops formed by the wire. The inside of the shelf is suspended by the lower nails and the outside of the shelf it suspended by the wire hanging from the top nail. I just need to get more boards...

vintage paraguayan science textbooks >> home decorations:
some of the initial donations for the library which were stored in my house were too damaged or outdated to keep as part of the library collection. Two of these were classic old elementary school science books. The illustrations are all hand drawn and are block printed, black and white and then just one color depending on the page. This style of printing has an attractive simplicity too it and the drawings are endearing. This style of printing has made something of a comeback in the indie/portlandia/vegan-lesbian circles I was familiar with back home. I've made several posters out of some of the most interesting pages.

wine botle lanterns: a cool way to reuse glass bottles (mostly from wine or liquor because beer bottles have a deposit) that we learned during training is to cut them and make drinking glasses out of them. This is a pretty cool skill, though it is difficult and it is tiring doing more than a couple of bottles. What you do is wrap a length of fine metal wire around to handles (sticks), wrap the wire around the bottle, then run it quickly back and forth around the bottle. You put masking tape around the bottle above and below where you want the wire to run. The movement of the wire heats of the glass in this small area. Running the wire quickly and forcefully enough takes a lot of strength both for the person holding the bottle (leather gloves are nice for this) and for the person with the wire. Once the glass is judged to be hot enough (lots of times you can see a little smoke rise off where the heated area) you dunk the whole bottle quickly in a bucket of ice water. If you did it right the top of the bottle will easily separate from the bottom. You then need to sand the edges where the glass broke, and then you have a homemade water glass!

The top half of the bottle is an interesting shape and I am always trying to think of good uses for it, though few are practical. It could be a funnel, or if you just get the neck you could have a guitar slide. I've been making hanging lanterns out of them. I put the cork back in the top, invert the bottle, and insert a candle into the neck. Then I rig it up with a cord to hang from the beams of my back porch awning. The bottle protects the flame from the wind and gives the light a cool green color. As long as the candle is the same girth as the neck of the bottle it won't break the glass because the flame won't touch any part of it. The glass only breaks if one part is significantly hotter than any other part.

And I've got a bitchin' two tier compost. We'll see if I get much to grow in my shady garden though...

1 comment:

  1. Loved this, Ian. For sealing the sink you might want to try some silicone goop, usually comes in a tube from the auto parts store or the ferretería, but everything must be scrupulously dry or it wont cure properly. It's relatively inert once it dries. - Dad