Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cripes, what a mess!

Do you see any room for a horse here? Me neither. Last year, when I shut the construction down so I could go see my family for the holiday, a certain contractor either threw stuff in the barn or stuffed it into the basement of the cabin. When I came back to the cabin and started construction back up again, I had to empty the cabin out so we could work in there. It was either put it in the barn or have it blow all over 40 acres. Here's a bit of advice from the trenches: If you are doing construction and they tell you they clean up, don't believe them. Don't worry about standing back and letting other people do their jobs. Go ahead and clean up as things go along, otherwise this is what you will have to contend with the week before your horse's arrival.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Of Snakes and Dragons

There has been not one, but two snake sightings today. I am not a fan of snakes. I really don't have anything against them other than they always surprise me and not in a good way. They should have come installed with bells on them or something. And that slithering thing that they do gives me the hebbie jebbies. The other thing snakes do is coil which reminded me that I never took a picture of the hot water coil (aka water jacket) in the Garden Level (basement) masonry heater in my last post. So, may I present, the hot water coil. It is now "blackened," not to be confused with cajun, after the fires I've had in the heater. The water temperature in the boiler is now up to 81 degrees. The water temperature in the loop (coming in and out of the boiler, flowing through the heater, is holding at 90 degrees. The fires are taking that temperature up to 110 degrees during firing. I am still bringing the masonry heater up to a full load of fire wood. Also, I am just now starting to shut the flue and dampers after the burn. After I do that a couple more times and I start to feel some heat when I put my hand on the masonry, I will probably take the heater up to two burns, 12 hours apart. Meanwhile, I have gone to just one fire every other evening in the heater upstairs. Remember, these systems are still new and I'm on a learning curve here. It was so hot in here the other day, I thought about throwing water on the rocks of the heater and taking a little sauna. After all, we've got a wall of cedar paneling and the ceiling is also cedar. Isn't that basically a sauna? It was actually 78 degrees in the cabin when it was 40 degrees outside with the doors and windows open. Oops. The big lesson learned: Next year, start the Garden Level heater in the fall and wait to start the Main Level heater until, probably, I'm guessing, November, when the temperatures are lower.

As for dragons, sometimes I refer to the tractor as The Green Dragon. Kind of like it's code name. The Green Dragon has left the UP. There's been a little bit of drama surrounding my green ride  for the past couple of weeks. I don't want to get into all the icky, little details because I feel like I need a shower after just thinking about someone treating my business equipment like it's a toy for them to play around with. So, the tractor is on it's way to a huge John Deere dealership in Wisconsin that takes Ag equipment, farms, and farm girls seriously. Here's hoping I can add this dealership to Team Bheki.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Boil, boil, toil, and ....

Hot water. I hope. Kind of looks like a beer still, doesn't it? Well, if it doesn't make hot water, maybe all will not be lost and we can get a nice amber top out of it. This is one of the things that I've been working with the past week. My buddy Roger, of Bob's Sheet Metal, Hancock, Michigan, is my licensed boiler maker. Personally, I think this is genius. Roger does beautiful work. My hesitation is my own lack of experience, but really all of The Secret Cabin systems are new to me. This system works just like one of those outdoor wood stove/boiler systems, only the masonry heaters are more efficient and cleaner burning. So, there is a water jacket in the Garden Level (basement) masonry heater. Firing the masonry heater, heats the water flowing through the water jacket. There's a loop that flows from the boiler, through the water jacket, and back to the boiler. The boiler's first priority is domestic hot water, then the radiant floor heating for the bathroom, then the radiant floor heat for the enclosed front porch, and finally there is an outdoor loop to cool things off if we get the water too hot.  Now, the Garden Level masonry heater has not been fired until recently. With the water jacket in there, the boiler had to be "on line" with the water flowing through the water jacket or the fire would damage the water jacket. The masonry heaters go through curing at the beginning of each season. And that is specifically what I've been doing. Curing the Garden Level masonry heater. We're up to one fire a day with my adding a fifth log to the firebox tonight. I increase the number of logs each burn. During this curing process all the flues stay open. Once cured, I can start closing the flues after the burns and the heater will really start radiating and putting out heat. The picture below shows a close up of the different gauges. 

The red and black "thing" is the pump. It shows the wattage and flow rate. It's a bit unnerving because it's auto adjusting or as The Husband told me, "it learns." Great, and so a computer takes over the world and it all started innocently enough in my basement. So, HAL, the hot water heater, started off using 20 watts of power, now it's using 9 or 10 watts. The flow rate was 4 gallons per minute. It adjusted itself to 2. Good morning, Bheki, this is HAL, would you like a hot shower?
These two gauges are the water temperatures of the water flowing in and out of the boiler. So far, during the curing of the masonry heater, we've hit 100 degrees. Here the gauges are reading in the 70's.
This is the temperature of the water in the tank. Not quite warm enough for a shower yet. The water temperature in the tank started off at 55 degrees.

As a little side note: We've got a lot of glazing (construction industry lingo for windows) on the south side of the cabin and we are getting some passive solar heating. I noticed the sun coming through the sliding glass door, shining on the water jacket, and the temperature in the boiler went up a degree.

Another little side note: Everything is on line which means we're pulling more juice from the P3 (Personal Power Plant). As a relatively inexperienced, off-grid home dweller, I do feel hesitant to run around the cabin and turn everything on, run the vacuum cleaner, stand there with the refrigerator door open all day, etc. That said, it is absolutely stunningly beautiful outside right now. Sunny, clear blue skies behind a colorful backdrop of  trees dressed in their Autumn finery. Time to do a load of laundry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Autumn Equinox!

Big, deep breath. Oooo, what's that. Ahhh, the smell of crunchy, colorful leaves. It's officially FALL starting today. The whole planet should feel balanced as we have equal amounts of daylight and darkness today. Hmmm. I really want to make some snide, unfavorable comments about a certain hateful political party not having any balance ever.... Moving right along. Waaay back in the day when we were an agrarian society and everyone had dirt under their nails and blisters on their hands, this day was referred to as Mabon and was the second harvest time of Fall. This was it. This was when you knew what/if you were going to be eating during the harsh and dead months of Winter. It was a time of gratitude. Once upon a time, I lived in an pre-Civil War house. My neighbor, John, then 70-some years old, was born in this house. John would tell me stories about how two brothers and their families used to own my old tin-roofed, brick house. But they got into a disagreement and split the 120 acre farm in half. One brother and his family got the house on half the land; the other brother moved his family and the chicken coop to the other half of the land. They all farmed with horses. Even when tractors came out. "Why, John, why would you farm with horses even though tractors were invented?" "Because none of us farmers could afford 'em, Bheki." Wow. I was thrilled to have John as my own personal tour guide through not only farming history but the history of the house I lived in. He told me, "All the men worked out in the fields all day long while the women worked in the kitchen. "That night when we came in from the fields, there was a table right over there." John pointed to the south wall of what I was using as my dining room. "It was mounded with food." He motioned his hands as if there were a two foot high mountain of food spanning the length of the ghost of the table in his mind. "Harvest dinners," he nodded, "we had Harvest dinners right here in this room." Wow. Also, once upon a time, did you know that Thanksgiving was originally celebrated October 3rd? Abraham Lincoln issued a "Thanksgiving Proclamation" in 1863, changing the date to the last Thursday in November. In 1939, Franklin Roosevelt changed it to the second-to-last Thursday to try to stimulate the post-Depression economy. In 1941, Congress' final answer: the fourth Thursday of November is Thanksgiving. Personally, I'm not a big holiday person. Everyday is a good day to find something to celebrate. Sure, somedays are easier to feel thankful than others. Today's one of those easy days with my seasonal memory of John and another beautiful day in the Keweenaw. I updated the blog banner picture to reflect the season.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cue the Barry White CD

I've got a man deer chasing around a lady deer in my yard. I managed to shoot him with my Canon (camera not the assault rifle). This courtship has been going on for about two weeks now. That's right about the time the weather cooled down and the hummingbirds left. He's done chasing the ladies and stuffing his face with grass as I type this.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tick, tick, tick

FIRST FROST! Siren WHOOP! WHOOP! FIRST FROST! WHOOP! WHOOP! Scramble, scramble! Get everything picked up and put away! Scramble, scramble! Get the tractor ready for Winter! WHOOP! WHOOP! Scramble, scramble! Mark the driveway! WHOOP! WHOOP!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Quick Update

Quick because I'm so exhausted that I can't think straight. I have been in denial for about four weeks that Fall is barreling down on us. This all started the last two weeks of August. Even though we were getting enough rain that the trees weren't going dormant, I noticed that they just didn't seem to be as green. No, it couldn't be, said the voice of my denial. The day I took a bath outside it was a Monday and 90 degrees. By the end of the week, it was in the 60's. Still in denial, I did not start firing the heaters yet. Just this past week, with night time temperatures in the 40's, I was glad I was starting to face reality and had the upstairs heater going. However, I'm still on a learning curve here and when we had sunshine and 60's outside, it was in the high 70's in the cabin---with the doors open. We're hoping this is a sign that when Winter is "showing off", we'll be comfortable. I don't know what's going on but we do have a terrible draft in the loft. Magnets were supposed to latch the knee wall storage doors shut. When the wind blows, it blows the doors open. I will have to do something else (besides block them with unpacked boxes) to latch these doors tighter. I'm not sure what I did or didn't do when I installed the soffits, vent, insulation, drywall, tongue and groove wood ceiling, and knee wall storage. Yep, it's my fault. Anything and everything that didn't go right or got damaged or forgotten or messed up in some way was ALL MY FAULT because apparently when you pay some "professional" to do something....  I've also come out of denial about being able to actually get everything completely done. I've gone through all the stuff in boxes in the cabin and in a previous post you could see the fruits of my labor in the pictures of the living room and kitchen. I've been painting the inside of the Garden Shed. The wood stove is just about installed out there. We're waiting on a part. The boiler is green and go. The water is running through the heat coil in the downstairs heater and flowing through the in-floor radiant heat tubes for the bathroom and enclosed porch. I did the maiden burn in the Garden Level (downstairs) heater Friday night. The downstairs heater has to go through the curing process so it's probably going to be at least ten days before I see any hot water. I will keep you posted on that. Bringing the boiler "on line" is pulling another load off the power system. The pump on the boiler is very efficient. I continue to do laundry on sunny days and hang it out to dry. The tractor went in for a CV joint repair so the scary clown bus is filling in as the other end of my clothes line. My outdoor clean up efforts are on hold until the tractor comes back. I have started cooking at The Secret Cabin too. I got a little 900 Watt microwave. I also have a Breville Toaster Oven and I've been using that too. Using the toaster oven takes me back to my Easy Bake Oven days. While this is the grown up, it really does work, stainless steel version, I can't help but crave a still raw in the middle cupcake. I'm not real sure how much I'm running the power system down. The Husband did do some more research and other solar dwellers found that the only way to really know how much power there is is to put a battery monitor on the batteries. The monitor got here the end of last week. That's The Husband's department so I'll have to report back on that once it's installed. And, last but not least, I had yet another one of those moments that take your breath away. The deer come right up to the cabin all the time. I see fresh hoof prints every morning. Well, tonight, I was on one side of the Garden Level window and a fawn was on the other side. I could have reached out and pet her. Yeah, wow.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One of My Favorite FAQs

Q: What do you do (the not out loud part - all day because I can tell you don't have a "real" job)?

A #1: Sit on my tush and eat truffles but don't worry I only eat the overpriced ones that come in fancy boxes.

A #2: Cruise around in my grass green ride listening to the radio.

A #3: Cruise around in my grass green ride, listening to the radio while I eat overpriced truffles that come in fancy boxes.

A #4: Nothing (because you're really just picking on me and I'm just going to fast forward to the answer that's going to make you feel better about yourself so I can get back to my work which you obviously find worthless).

I used to try to justify and defend my existence when asked this question until it came from a former neighbor who worked very part time on a substitute basis and stared down her nose at me while emphasizing the WHAT, ALL, DAY? I used to feel really terrible about myself because I no longer dart around with my head cut off in the morning, run my pantyhose, get my skirt muddy as I jump in my vehicle, and wage the war on making someone who's paid a lot more money than me look like a brilliant, well-organized businessman only to arrive partially triumphant every other Friday by waving a tiny piece of paper around at the nearest financial institution. Personally, I don't understand how anyone with a properly functioning visual cortex and/or olfactory system can't tell that I'm obviously doing something. My hair is a mess, I'm covered in sweat and dirt, and I smell like eau de farmette. For Pete's sake, my work gloves are even dirty. The real answer is that I tried to make a small farm in Northern Ohio profitable while Agri-Corp sprayed me and my organic hay and killed my hay. Hopefully, there will be no long term health issues from getting hit with some weird chemical cocktail that had me sick for the four days following the "off-target incident".  I take care of animals that no one else wants. I don't get a paycheck but what I do get is priceless. Sadly, this isn't understood by what feels like anyone but The Beasts and The Husband. Before the construction adventure, I took care of everything in our lives so that The Husband could go do his job keeping others safe without any distractions. My "job" changed during construction. Though it's never been acknowledged, I played Architect and redesigned The Secret Cabin's floor plan. I played Engineer when I requested engineered headers there, support there, doubled joists there, demanded a rotted sill plate replaced, and had a real engineer come in and make sure everything was okay. I tried to play Project Manager to deaf ears with my charts of order of work, schedules, and deadlines. I was the job site hostess/cheerleader, plumber, clean up crew, the painter, heavy equipment operator, the estimator, expeditor, etc. While it was all unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unappreciated, I feel like I've lived all my life's career ambitions in one fell swoop. As the construction adventure winds down and I feel thankful for the adventure, maybe not so much the aggravation, I'm looking forward to trying to make a small farm in the Northwest Upper Peninsula of Michigan profitable, take care of my animal family, help The Husband so he, once again, can work completely undistracted, and tend to the myriad of little things that go with living at The Secret Cabin. You know---nothing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Have you ever become so annoyed with people sometimes that you just want to smack them.  Really hard. No, I mean really, really hard. We're talking I can see my rare double loop thumbprint on the side of their faces hard. (In light of what this country is becoming, I am not threatening anyone or group and am not planning a five state smacking spree.) We're on month F'ING FIFTEEN of all this construction BS. I would need to borrow that little take a number machine and line forms here sign from the BMV for all the people I'm thinking about. (Geez, that sounds like premeditation and not the yoga kind either.) The offenses I refer to earning my rare double loop thumbprint seal of disapproval are things like asking me when I'm going to do fill-in-the-blank. Doesn't matter what the fill-in-the-blank is. I'm standing there sweaty, dirty, panting like a dog chasing a rabbit that can't stop wagging his tail on an August afternoon,  and some dumb sh*t who's not sweaty and dirty, asks me when I'm going to do fill-in-the-blank....Here's a few more FAQs not to be missed. No, really, I'm not going to miss them.

Q: When are you going to fill-in-the-blank with a task I have not gotten to yet because I only have two hands and other things have a higher priority?

A: Heavy sigh, it's on the list.

Q: When are you going to fill-in-the-blank with yet another task?

A: It's on the list followed with a glare that stops further when are you going to fill-in-the-blank with task questions.

Q: We're just going to put that blue insulation board there...

A: NO. 

Q: You'll only see it when....


Q: How can your husband stand you?

A: Under my breath as I turn my back and walk away: Because he's not an idiotic, teeny, tiny, limp male member like you.

Q: Is such and such building material here yet?

A: Considering you asked for it 15 minutes before you needed it 15 minutes ago, NO.

Q: Do you want a dormer?

A: No

Q: Do you want a dormer?

A: No

Q: Do you want a dormer?

A: No

Q: Do you want a dormer?

A: No

Q: Do you want a dormer?

A: No

Q: Have you decided on the dormer yet?

A: Yeah, I don't want a GD dormer, put the f'ing stairs in anyway they'll fit and I'll deal with zoning.

Q: You know what you should do?

A: Take a spa vacation after I whoop your butt.

Q: Solar? Why solar? What about the snow? Why not wind? What are you going to do when the sun doesn't shine for days and days on end? Can you read my mind that I think you and your husband are stupid? Rat-tat-tat-tat.

A #1: SHRIEK, like I think like I'm going to faint. Excuse me while I go like call The Husband and let him know that like, oh my ga-hod, sometimes the sun doesn't shine. 

A #2: I'm going to come over to your house with all my cats, sit on your favorite chairs, put my feet on your coffee table in the one tiny spot that there isn't one of my cats, and eat all the food in your refrigerator after I stand there with the door open all day after I run around and turn every light on in your house. And if you really piss me off, I'm going to break open cans of tuna and throw catnip all over your carpet like it was one of those vacuum up room fresheners (she smiled sweetly). 

A #3 (for those that genuinely want to know how this whole solar thing works): The Husband took a 40 hour workshop and learned how to examine our usage, determine our needs, consider our goals, study the weather information and size the system. (I'm not sure how many install hours he has/needs to go to be a certified installer.) The big thing when you're not tied into the grid and you've got some overcast periods is battery storage. There's where the budget and space available come into the equation. Depending on what I'm doing, I have anywhere from three to six days of "juice" stored in the batteries. Even on overcast days, the panels are producing power. It's the sun's radiation. That's why you can get a sunburn on a cloudy day. And finally, there's a generator for that. As for snow, the PV array is just like a car windshield - wipe it off if the sun doesn't come out enough to melt it off. As for wind, recently in the world of wind, there is a turbine that has caught The Husband's attention. Other than that, there's one out there that is a real workhorse that is just waaaay out of our league financially speaking. Up to this latest turbine that he's watching, the rest are down a lot and require maintenance that won't work for our situation right now. And thank you for your genuine interest when we've been working so hard on our dream 25 years in the making.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Okay, here's a little spin around the Cranium of Bheki for you: Zoom in on top of tall pole with red flashing light, hear the WHOOP! WHOOP! siren in the background, feel the panic as you see the gate at the end of the driveway and the only way in or out shut. You begin to perspire yet you feel cold.The hair on your arm rises as all door latches within your heightened auditory ability lock with a heavy CLANG! TSH! CLANG! All of a sudden you shrink to the size of a mouse, like Alice in Wonderland, before the mess you see pictured below when you hear from The Husband, who heard from an email from your sister, who talked to your Mother that she may be coming up to see The Secret Cabin for the first time ever. OMG, THE QUEEN IS COMING! THE QUEEN IS COMING! PREPARE THE CASTLE!  

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Drum roll....

Okay, now be quiet. Behold.....Living Room, Kitchen, Kitchen, and Garden Shed - in that order.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sorry, Men of the World....

....I'm already taken.

First, this has to be just plain wrong on so many levels as I had trouble choosing a title for this entry. It was a toss up among: Oooo, panties! or 101 Uses of a Solar Pole and a John Deere Tractor or There's a Tractor for That (as in There's an App for That).

Back to the Men of the World. I realize it's probably not fair to other women for me to display such incredible feats of ingenuity. I'm sure it's the things like this that I do that makes me completely irresistible to The Husband. Yes, let's use the word irresistible. All sarcasm aside, this is the way this Off-grid farm girl dries our clothes. It's kind of like the saying, "Make hay in the light of day." Only it applies to everything, not just hay. One load of laundry a day, every day that weather permits. Drying outdoors in Summer; indoors, by the heater, in Winter. Whether or not a proper clothes line is available.