Wednesday, August 31, 2011

House Foundation–a Continuation


After what was to me a  l o n g  hiatus of three weeks, Demetrio and Ruben were back Monday morning to do the next phase of the foundation. As an aside, I’d like to point out that not only are houses built to last generations here, they are fire proof. It would indeed be quite hard to set fire to cement walls built on this kind of foundation. We have a Fire Department here in Tequisquiapan. They are usually called upon to extinguish bush fires. Or at times, to provide First Aid. Although there are no known earthquakes in this area, if there were, I’m ready to bet that no damages would be reported, so solid are houses and buildings in general.

Back to foundation details. Over the mamposteo (see previous post) the cadena is erected. First a metal armature is anchored to the existing castillos with metal wire.

Here’s what it looks like-

Building cadena under walls 004

The castillo is the upright metal column, the cadena is the horizontal armature. Later on, the cadena will be first encased in concrete, then later, so will the castillos after the walls have been erected. It will not only connect them together, but will set them up for eons. 

On the next photo, Ruben is tying the lower armature to the castillos with a tool made especially for the purpose.

Building cadena under walls 019-1



This tool is made of a half-inch rebar fashioned as a handle on one end and a pointed end at the other, which is slipped in a wire loop to tighten one armature to the other.

Together with a large wire cutter to cut the armature to the desired size and shape so as to make it possible to insert within the castillo base, these are the relatively simple tools that are used to prepare the armature. Here are the tools of the trade-

Building cadena under walls 022-1

the cutter

and over it,

the tightener.




Next, some planks that have been covered with used motor oil to prevent the concrete from sticking to it are assembled to make the form. Here, Demetrio is covering a plank with the black stuff-

Building cadena under walls 018-1

To ensure that the form will be both level and properly aligned, twine is used to provide a visual aid as shown on the first photo. Click on it for a larger view.

Cadena and tools 001


Here Demetrio is checking that the 10 cm depth is respected once concrete has been poured.

It’s quite interesting how masons manufacture tools to make checks on their measurements as they go along.

Demetrio cut a piece of the metal used to make the armature seen on the left of the photo above to his specifications. One end measures 10 cm. from the transversal part cut short on each side, the other a bit longer to serve as a handle. Voilà !

Here’s the finished tool-

Cadena and tools 003

Short pieces of wood all cut to identical length serve to keep the desired distance between the planks, which are held tightly together with wire.

Cadena and tools 002

Building cadena under walls 009

The next photo illustrates how my error in forgetting to get the PVC tube installation that will serve to evacuate the waste water from the kitchen sink was not fatal, after all. The tubes that will serve from the toilet to the septic tank, and those from the bath and bathroom lavabo were correctly inserted in the mamposteo. The one for the kitchen was destined to be forgotten throughout by yours truly, it seems. A bit sheepish today, I asked Demetrio whether we (the royal ‘we’, I suppose…) would have a problem installing it later. No problem! he said. The concrete is still soft enough to figure out where the proper opening in the armature is and we’ll dig out the concrete, put the tube through, then seal it with mortar. It was done, to my blessed relief.

Tubo de la cocina 006-1





Here below is a bunch of pieces cut from wood that up North, we’d consider as of little to zero value, but here are put to serviceable use.

If ever one was exposed to the wastefulness of our ways in our world of plenty up North, it would be me. I’m experiencing a lesson in humility that I had not met since my childhood days of listening to tales of my ancestors braving the challenges of building a life in the woods and wilderness of the Great North, new to them, but not to the early inhabitants of this continent. But that’s a tale that will have to wait.

Building cadena under walls 007

Finally, here are my esteemed workers. Demetrio on the left is a very experienced albanil (mason), lower down to the right is Ruben, his ayudante (helper).

At last, I have found reliable workers who not only show up but remain on the job, even if only 2 weeks out of the month, without being swayed by outside influences. To my great relief.

I cannot here ignore the wonderful help from Yvonne. She’s having her house (muy grande) built and when my former workers defected, she generously offered two of her 8 or 9 workers for the time that I could afford per month (2 weeks). I can honestly state that without that providential assistance, my casita would require much longer to be built.

Demetrio would be the gentlest of souls I’ve ever encountered in my life, if it weren’t for Ruben who could serve as the embodiment of gentleness.

Building cadena under walls 023-1

Building cadena under walls 016-1

I am so blessed having such great friends far away from ‘home’ in what I now consider to be my final ‘home’.

May they reap twice in life’s richness what they all so generously and smilingly provide.

As usual, readers’ comment will be most welcome.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Language of the Heart


Because of my love for and training in language in general, plus a natural ability in learning new languages, I have recently been made aware of people being a bit hesitant to communicate with me. I suppose that the thought might be that I will judge their writing proficiency and immediately categorize them in a niche or another. NOT SO. IT IS NOT WHO I AM.

Right now, I am new to both Spanish and construction methods in Mexico. I hope that in the next few years, I will have learnt enough Spanish to be completely fluent. Being right in a Spanish-speaking country is total immersion and forces me to become more adept in the language. Construction? Hehhhh…. I don’t think so. As soon as my casita is up and can house me and my dogs, it’ll be a thing of the past. I have no intention of starting another such project, EVER. In the meantime, I’m ready to learn as much as I can about both the language and the methods. And I suppose that I may sound “funny” to Spanish speakers. No matter. I am fearless. I recall that when I was learning English as a teenager, I once went to a restaurant and when asked how I would like my potatoes, I replied “… smashed”. When a general silence, then snickers followed my answer, I realized that I’d put my foot in my mouth—(probably to keep company to the “smashed potatoes”….!!!). Back to now though, I’m more than willing to share my experiences and whatever I will have learnt, but you can believe me when I say that it is my LAST big project.

However, the purpose of this post is not a debate on language, but to insist that there can be only one true human language—that of the heart. In my last few weeks of questions and hesitancy about continuing on account of lack of funds, it has been so clear to me that when help comes from the heart, regardless of how erudite its source might be, it speaks volumes about the person’s REAL nature. Isn’t it more important than one’s schooling level? As Bryan Adams said it in song, it’s “Straight from the Heart”. And nothing counts above, beyond, or more than that.

So I’m really touched for the help so graciously offered. After years of caring for foster children and receiving little appreciation from Social Services except for questions and probing, I had become sceptical about human nature. What I’ve realized is that social workers have a job to do and it must be “by the book”. Quite often, they are just out of college and have very little life experience, particularly being single and without children. So “by the book” it must be. But one cannot raise children, particularly damaged children, “by the book”. It must come from careful listening to their needs and its response must be “from the heart”. More than anything, it’s the only language that, with time, they will get to understand and remember, I hope.

Regardless whether one is bilingual, a polyglot, or speaks only one’s mother tongue, the only language that counts is the language that comes straight from the heart, spoken in a zillion tongues as it may well be.

Worldwide, it will never fail to be understood.

The Magic and Power of Water


Back when I was in the Seniors apartment, I had access to a wonderful public library a stone’s throw away and I took advantage of it. I have always been interested in all kinds of topics and when I came across a new one, I read avidly about it. There is a public library in Tequisquiapan but my command of Spanish is not equal to either French or English. Topics that would interest me are therefore, for the moment, out of bounds of intelligent comprehension. So you can only imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered that interviews and documentaries existed on the internet on topics of interest.

One of these, which fascinated me then, and does now, is the study that Dr. Masaru Emoto made of water. To put it in a gist, he found that water had the ability to respond to thoughts, even written words, that were directed toward it. It would take too much time to write about it all. Besides, there are several representations of his findings, all compelling. If you have the tendency to think out of the box, you will appreciate Dr. Emoto’s work.

I would have liked to include the video but there are four parts, all equally remarkable.

My connection to the net is via Telcel wireless and is, even at the best of time, quite iffy, fluctuating so that I often have to wait 20 minutes to view a 2 minute video. There is also the fact that my source of electric power is via solar energy, best available during daylight hours.

I would welcome your comments after you have viewed the video(s).

I originally posted this to my other blog, but IMHO it is of interest to anyone who drinks and uses water.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Downward Slide of a Learning Curve–and Unexpected Help–It’s All Good!

After a downward slide during which EVERYTHING seemed to go wrong, I hit rock bottom and to push upwards towards lighter times was the only way to go. Not the first time. Probably not the last. That’s life.
First, let me say that I’m delighted with Demetrio and Ruben. Demetrio is very knowledgeable and has more than 25 years experience, which is a real boon for me, considering that I have between zero and none in building. I’ve tackled renovation jobs, with some success I might add, but never had to plan the job from foundation to roof. And then the in-between, which gives me pause at times.
Back to the slide. I had negotiated buying materials on a stretched payment plan from a local supplier. So I got cement bags and lime to complete the mamposteo or stone foundation. Because of the depth of the trenches, I needed more stones than what is ordinarily required, adding to ongoing costs. In my absolute ignorance, I trust that the more knowledgeable would enlighten me… but somehow, a step or two always seemed to be missing in the explanations, even with my relevant questions. One of those was the need for tepetate to fill empty spaces between foundation bases. That’ll be my next step, to my consternation and increasing costs. But I am determined to weather this. Like the roller-coaster of life, the only way after Down is Up.
Last month, a supplier had told me, '”Señora, don’t worry. I’ll give you the discount that you get at XXX and you can pay me as you go along”. Sounded too good to be true? It was. He showed up right at the end of the month requesting ALL his money for the supplies that he had charged me at 15% more than elsewhere. What choice did I have but to pay him the full amount? I did, but it left me seriously lacking in funds to feed me and my dogs. It’s not that I had envisaged more than I could afford. It’s just that in my learning process, I sometimes miss a thing or two from lack of experience. Also, without a financial backup system, unforeseen costs catch me short. But… I’m learning!
Now, this month, this is when the Universe came to the rescue. A gracious, generous Universe that came in the form of a reader who offered to make a donation but could I set it up and make it possible for him through PayPal. I’d never heard of this gentleman before. His donation? $100. that literally saved me and my pups from living on tortillas and beans for a month. I am so very grateful for that help. But how did he know? He did not appear to be one of my readers… Just another wonderful, if a bit mysterious, helping hand from out of nowhere. Then my son, realizing how dire things had become also offered help. My heart filled with gratitude and I finally managed the crisis with this kind of assistance.
A while back, I had joked with Yvonne that I must have done some good in a past life to get that kind of help in this one. She retorted that I had done so in THIS life, receiving many children (19) in my home, rescuing animals, etc. etc. It amazes me that it’s easier to recall instances when I could have been a better person than those in which I had been a fair one.
Just as an aside, I want to say that I am far from being improvident. I plan and do so within my financial limits. Also, I did realize that in my restricted circumstances, it might have been too bold to think that I could design my own casita and have it built. But was the lot not made readily and financially accessible for me? Undoubtedly. Were not people who could show me how to build my little house almost knocking at my door? More times than I can think of. In my worst moments of panic, did not help somehow materialize? Again, it never failed to.  It’s almost as if I had been led here… in fact I do believe that this is what happened. But why?
Perhaps to show that having faith can sometimes overcome circumstances in which a solid bank account is a prerequisite. Perhaps to show others to trust in a Universe that can be generous but only as a response to the desire, and to the asking with faith and trusting that it will be fulfilled.
This is not a Pollyanna-ish attitude. Too many “miraculous” events occurred in my life to prove to me that a negative attitude will create a vacuum around oneself. To expect bad things to happen is a prophecy that will seldom fail to materialize. To expect that there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed, (quoted from Gandhi) is also a prophecy that never fails to materialize.
So, up I go now. That’s the outcome of hitting rock bottom. Only one way to go. Up. If I failed to share all of this, I would fail in integrity and honesty.
I recall when I was in the Seniors apartment, miserable, depressed, longing so much for the great outdoors, freedom to go, and a dog or two, that I finally acknowledged that my “quality world” had to include all this. Therefore, I had to trust in Providence, or the Universe, call it what you will, to make the way possible for me, just as long as I was ready to take the first step. Drop any pretence at being a knitting grandma waiting for the kids and grandkids to come to fill my life and my days with meaning. That was not the picture that I had envisaged of me being at my age. I had the strength, the will, and the stamina to weather whatever would come my way. I believed Martin Luther King was right on when he said that it’s not necessary to see the whole staircase; take only the next step.
To live one’s life to the extent of one’s capabilities. Isn’t it what it’s all about? I hope that it is what I’m doing, dealing with the bad, at times the downright ugly, but at others the good, even the superb?
I believe so.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Conversion Pesos to Dollars

I have posted the actual costs in pesos rather than in dollars to better inform you of the cost per item. When I want to figure out quickly what anything would cost in dollars, I simply use 10% of the cost in pesos. It’s not accurate but the conversion rate changes constantly.  A while back it was over 12 pesos for 1 dollar. It is now closer to 11 to the dollar. So I just round it up for safety of calculations. For example, my cost for one bag of cement is $110 pesos, which would translate to roughly $10. per bag, a bit less on good days. For quick calculations, everyone does the 10% here to end up with a rough figure.

Another consideration is the IVA, the 16% Mexican tax. So even though the quote from merchants is BEFORE the tax, it does make a sizeable difference in the final price per item once the tax is added on. So I have added the tax on each item and rounded up to pesos, dropping the centavos.

In the end, if I’m left with more dollars, I’ll have a cappuccino.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Elaborating and Latest on Construction


In the post Glitches, I mentioned that I would elaborate further. So here it is. I was pretty happy with Marcelino and Jorge. I had booked them for two weeks a month until December end, the previous site owner who had employed them announcing vociferously that he’d employ other workers rather than give these two the small raise they wanted. In the circumstances, I fully expected that Marcelino and Jorge would respect our agreement as it did appear to me that they would no longer work for the previous employer. However, on the Monday of August 1st, after finishing one week only, they showed up saying that they were going to the other site. The previous owners whose house was already finished had insisted that they had priority as far as urgency was concerned. The workers, not wanting to displease them, agreed to drop the work at my place, thinking that I would welcome them back later. Not so. And I told them why.

I had already ordered the materials for the week’s work and felt pretty incensed at being treated in what I considered a very disrespectful, if not devious, way. Furthermore, if they could be swayed in not keeping to our agreement, I figured that they’d probably do it again. So, regretfully, I let them go and called it quits with them.

Thanks to Yvonne, I got two new workers on Wednesday, Demetrio and Ruben. In three days, they achieved what I had expected Marcelino and Jorge to do in one week. Not a bad decision, after all.

Back to construction.

Holes in the mamposteo were left strategically placed where castillos  (meaning castles or fortresses) would serve to arm the concrete to be poured into them. Here, I’m taking my time in explaining because it is all quite strange to me and I want to convey how different construction is to that of up North. The most obvious ones were the ones at each corner of each room. Others are where windows and doors are to be. Since the roof to come would be a boveda (brick dome ceiling) in each room but the bathroom, the weight of the bricks could upset the vertical integrity of the walls. This in turn may cause cracks in the walls. Not a happy outcome.

Here is a photo that gives an idea of the placement of castillos. You will also notice how the mamposteo is based on the floor plan and will support each and every wall, inside and out. The walls of bricks and cement blocks will be first erected vertically, then tied at both the top and bottom to the castillos, thus solidly anchored horizontally. Vertically then, a form will be built around the open parts of the castillos and concrete will be poured into the forms. I wouldn’t be surprised if my casita lasted as long as the pyramids… And we don’t even get earthquakes or other natural disasters here in the wonderful and safe state of Querétaro!

Castillos 005-1

The next photos show two different types of castillos : this one is prefabricated and referred to as Armex:

Castillos 004-1The next one is made of 4 re-bars (3/8 inch) cut to desired height and around which annillos or rings (which happen to be rectangular…one word fits all) are affixed by the mason with metal wire. Here’s what it looks like. They are sturdier than regular Armex. I’m told that the corners are crucial for integrity of both the walls and the ceiling.

Castillos 020-1








In the case of the holes in the mamposteo, they went pretty deep. The soil had to be excavated until the solid layer of tepetate (calcium carbonate many meters deep) could be encountered. So I had to ask the mason to elevate the bottom of the base to leave about 70 cm. height for anchoring the castillos. Solid planks or whatever could serve to complete a form in which concrete was poured with larger stones added to make a more solid base for the castillos. These forms are removed when the concrete is sufficiently matured. Afterwards, the trench in which the mason works will be filled with soil or tepetate or… whatever material is available and cheap. The photo on the right shows how deep the trench was made to arrive at the solid level of tepetate.

Castillos 014-1Castillos 018-1

Much earlier than I had thought, I ran out of materials. The mortar mix for the stone build-up is 4 parts lime to one part cement. The mix for concrete besides gravel is pure cement and sand. At that rate I ran out of cement pretty quickly.

Here were my costs:

20 bags of cement at $110 each               2200 pesos

25 bags of lime at $35 each                       875 “

1 load of sand                                          650 “

11 varillas (re-bars) at $87 each                 957 “

4 varillas at $89 each (price increase)          356 “

65 kg annillos at $15.96/kg                         958 “

5 kg metal wire at $112/kg                           80 “

9 Armex castillos at $112 each                   1008 “

Manpower 1 week                                    2600 “

Manpower week 2 less 2 days                    1530 “


                                            Total     $11,214 pesos

For ease of reading, I have rounded the amounts.

Since I will return to construction only at the end of August, this should leave me time to make a table that will make the reading of the costs easier to read. 

I also intend to work (I may have said this earlier?) on my other blog, which has been seriously neglected.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Glitches Galore


Far from me to complain, but doesn’t it seem that at times one glitch begins a domino effect? A bit like losing a clasp on a pearl necklace and seeing all the pearls follow down the way of the ill-fated clasp…

Well. First glitch. Let me start with 3 or 4 viruses on my computer. I had temporarily lowered my firewall and consumed as I was with all things construction, neglected to put it up after downloading what I wanted at the time. I can’t even remember what it was that had seemed so important! So mechanical Einstein here did prevent me from doing anything of import on the internet. It was all quite maddening. Nothing more to do than take it to the computer doctor to get proper medicine. It did take a few days.

Now that I had my computer up and running, I got ready to take some pictures. Marcelino and Jorge were here last week and I had been all gung-ho witnessing how they were advancing. But…more glitches put up their mean ugly faces. Rain (even hail in Tequis—a definite rarity here!) got in the way. Let me state that this year’s rainy season has been a minute-by-minute happening. One definite glitch in planning.

Then, I got in need of TLC. I’m grateful for my good health-even factoring in ageing-so I can’t really complain. But I have been accident-prone since my youth. Immoveable objects insist on getting in my way, especially in the dark. Such was a stone that my unsuspecting foot encountered. The result was my falling forward to forcibly kiss the ground. I couldn’t use my arms for 3 days on account of the pain.

Finally, I was ready to tackle my blog this past Sunday, only to find out that Telcel had cut off my internet service! Saturday and Sunday banks were closed and it was the only way that I could pay my bill. I figured that one day late if I paid on Monday wouldn’t matter that much. It did.  My cut-off date is the last day of the month and I usually work well around that deadline. This time though, I wrongly assumed that with banks closed on the weekend, Telcel would grant some leeway. Wrong! To re-instate my service, I had to go to San Juan del Rio. All of this robbed me of time and $$ that were already in short supply.

I will have to postpone going through the many obstacles that found their way to moi. Suffice it to say that after being forced to stay away from my computer while it was at the shop, followed with being cut off from the internet, and then being forced to immobility on account of the pain, some further events brought me to a complete halt until today. I had to resolve these issues and some brought me a measure of despair, I will humbly admit. But this will be the subject of another post for elaboration.

I recall that another full-timer got some financial help through PayPal by asking for it on his blog, as well as posting AdSense. I had asked him when he was in Tequis to help me with AdSense, but got a flat refusal. Oh, well…

As the saying goes, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’.

That’s what I’ve done and will keep on doing.

Please excuse me for not being my usual sunny self…

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