Thursday, August 18, 2011

Original Builder Passes

The Secret Cabin in 2006 as it was originally built in the mid to late 1990's.
We received the sad news this morning that the former owner and original builder of The Secret Cabin passed away yesterday evening. When I reworked the floor plan and designed the additions to the cabin, Mike and I were anxious to do anything to the cabin for fear we would ruin it. Neil was last out to visit early this Spring. He gave me THE biggest compliment of any of my creative endeavors. He said that the cabin still looked like the cabin. I know he will be sorely missed by his family but Neil will always hold a special place in our hearts for building the special little cabin that swept Mike and I off our feet so much so that we pursued our wild, never-thought-we-could-actually-do-it dream of living in a cabin in the woods. Gratitude and sadness are walking hand in hand today.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Now this is NOT a pinkie swear but I will make a gallant effort to wrap this blog up into a pdf download and one that will not short out the whole magical internet at that. Emphasis on try. I believe the blog will be allowed to "park" here in cyber space for a year. Again, thank you.

Closing another chapter

This Summer has been such a nice break from, well, the previous two years. The Husband has been moving our worldly possessions from the other house to the cabin one car load at a time. The cabin being smaller and the necessities already having been moved in, most of these worldly possessions were moved one more time and are now at Goodwill. As I get my sacred Creative Spa set up down in the Garden Level, I still feel the need to clear out more. I need lots of empty space, both physically and mentally, to play with my paints, markers, and pencils. My desk is ready for writing. My easel is set up and I'm working on a painting for myself. The more I work on my creative projects, the more space I need. So....

After much thought, I will no longer be blogging. I feel that we've kind of completed a cycle here on this blog. I hope you've gleaned some real-life information here to help you with your off-grid endeavors. Everyone's system is going to be different because we're all different with different lives and needs and wants. Just jump in. Yeah, the water is a little cold until you get the details hammered out but you'll be okay. Can you believe we used to run through sprinklers as kids? Making your own power is like growing your own food; it is challenging and satisfying to provide for yourself. Thank you for walking along with me on this part of my journey; I think I'll head that a way now....

Friday, August 5, 2011




Oh, I'm going to hell anyway; I covet; I covet! Look at that tower: 120 feet! Look at that bird: Xzeres 110 (formerly ARE110 prior to corporate take/changeover).

Wind Turbine Haiku:

Fly, baby, fly!
O, how do I love thee!
Come live with me!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I can feel it in the air tonight....

....hold on. Stealing lyrics from Phil (Collins) there. Sigh. The sun is starting to slip below the tree line a little earlier each night. Summer has given me a chance to get a little rest but now I'm feeling a little anxious. It's time to find hay, put up hay, get firewood, put up firewood, stock the livestock and feLION rations, maybe even a few human provisions for Winter. On the upside, maybe I'll loose another twenty pounds this winter too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Weird Wind Follow Up

In a previous post, there was a weird wind that left some of our Loewen windows whipped and hanging not in a good way. Well, a few days later, our paper reported this as a storm. It was apparently a pretty bad one and left a lot of damage in it's wake. We finally were able to get a warranty claim processed for the original purchase of our windows and doors. They came out about a week after the storm. They were very professional and thorough. When they were working on the slider in the Garden Level, they noticed and did not like how the handle and lock were working and they fixed it. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone but I can't tell you how many times a certain other person, who also works for the place we bought these from, went through that door. Also, on two windows there was some pieces that they were able to just lightly pull and the pieces came right out. The pins that were used to nail the pieces in were too short. These guys fixed all that up too. Again, fixing the work of the aforementioned certain other person. This crew answered a bunch of questions for us. The Husband was here as I feel I can no longer control the urge to kick the crap out of anyone that looks like they hold a hammer for a living. I absolutely REFUSE for the sake of my freedom to deal with contractors without The (six foot tall) Husband standing next to me. Exceptions: Bob's Sheet Metal, LR Contracting, Hanson Electric. I also REFUSE to EVER go to the Building Department for anything EVER again. That, of course, is a lively discussion The Husband and I occasionally have when we talk about the wind turbine installation. Anyway, so The Husband was able to ask his maintenance questions. These guys addressed our concerns, answered our questions, and fine tuned the windows and doors. They were an interesting crew. They have worked on multi-million dollar homes. They do custom cabinetry. They've seen worse than The Secret Cabin. While it is somewhat comforting to hear that I'm just as stupid as someone that can afford a multi-million dollar home.... Cripes! I know human beings can't be perfect but for crying out loud, hideous framing on a mulit-million dollar home?! You've got to be kidding me. One of the purposes of this blog and the bitching in the blog is to hopefully help protect at least one person from the criminal building industry. It is unfortunate because there are honest guys out there that take pride in their work but finding them is like trying to find a rare, almost instinct animal. My brother is a carpenter. A good one. He said the guys that were in residential building that were really good, closed up shop, and went and got jobs elsewhere due to the economy/housing industry or lack of housing industry rather. He no longer works in the residential sector. He's now working for a huge industrial construction company building roads and bridges. Anyway, I'd been better off just doing my best with macaroni and glitter glue so I don't know what to tell you. My resume includes work for architects, engineers, and industrial contractors. I dreamed of becoming an architect as I typed away on proposals, scopes of work, and specifications. I was secretary to the Vice President of the industrial electrical contractor that performed the electrical work on The State Office Tower II in Columbus, OH. I worked on site during a BP turnaround. There was a trailer that was just for the job schedule. The schedule would constantly change and I'd take down pages of Gaant charts and replace with them with the updated schedule. I read everything I could get my hands on - for twenty years. I designed one home from scratch. The economy was cranking and no one builds a truly custom home. They can't make money or rather a killing on a home they've never built before. I thought I proceeded with caution but.... Back to the windows, I am now in receipt of an estimate to repair the wind damaged windows. It's bad. I feel queasy. Eighty-five dollars an hour for labor and to sit in a truck while it rolls down the road to get here and it's an eight and a half hour drive - each way. I have no idea what our insurance company is going to say. You really can't have just any body work on these. The hardware system is unique to the brand. We'll see. I'm going to close the Loewen window chapter on this blog with this closing statement: While the windows and doors are beautiful, we don't recommend them. They are too fussy requiring an immaculate installation and pricey, certified technicians to maintain and repair them. Some general tips for specing windows and doors: NO push-out casements for a windy site. (They blow closed all the time.) Doors should be out-swing so that when the wind blows it blows the door slab against the jamb thereby making a tighter seal against drafts. Especially, important on a windy site. It is best to let your new construction/remodel settle (probably at least a year, maybe two depending on item and warranty) and just before the warranty is up, in this case on windows and doors, make all your calls for a claim/adjustments. Most importantly, NO ONE cares about you, your home, or your money as much as you do; unfortunately, YOU MUST educate yourself enough to pass an architectural, engineering, and builders licensing exam and even then your odds may be better in Vegas, baby. For your construction budget, the ten percent for overruns is just the beginning. Unfortunately, you're going to have to pay for some work at least twice. Once for someone to run off with your money without coming back and/or possibly twice to pay for it to be done right and/or, if you're like us, you'll just gut things out until you can afford the parts and do the work yourself. Yeah, Vegas, baby. This concludes the window chapter.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thinking required

So, we have our quote from Roger of Bob's Sheet Metal for a different hot water set up. We're still thinking. Some new information has come to light regarding wind turbines which affects the hot water system design. I'm sure The Husband probably told me at least fifty-three times that the turbine has to have a "dump zone." We'll be making power hand over fist in the summer. The excess power from the turbine has to go somewhere. So, we're at the design drawing board on this. First, we need to make a call to our local $200 a month electric bill Electric Company and see if they, at their expense, want to run a line back to the cabin. We had a quote of $8,000 to start to bring a line back here. That $8k bought a lot of equipment here. But, I vaguely remember that Electric Companies, by the year 2012, need to have a certain percentage of their power from renewable resources. Or something like that. If they want to buy power from us, that's fine and the utility company will be our dump zone and we will continue to run off our own system and not purchase any electricity from them; if they don't, that's fine too and we'll plan accordingly. While I'm dreaming of, oh, I don't know, maybe an electric powered infrared sauna as a dump zone; we need to make sure whatever we do, we'll meet our hot water goals of hot showers and hot dish washing water without fires in the Summer; hot showers, hot dish washing water, hot water in the radiant floor heating for the bathroom and front porch in the Winter. Once we know if we have to come up with our own dump zone, we need to lock in our final answer on the turbine. Then we'll start looking at balancing all those numbers (watts) with our needs. My brain hurts.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Like one of those vacuum robots

Only it mows the field. And it's all terrain. Doesn't use any of the cabin's power. With it super hot this is one of Diesel's favorite spots in the "yard." It's kind of low and I think it's cooler. I wasn't real sure how we were going to handle the pasture situation here at The Secret Cabin when we first moved the animals in. I've got a decent size round pen for him. We used it last fall when he first got here. This winter was so  cold, he didn't want out of the barn. Plus, I was worried about frost bite. In the spring, we started using the round pen again. At first, I would lead him from the round pen to the barn in the evening. Then, I started letting him just make his own way to the barn. When I was confident that he was settled in and that it looked like he felt the barn was his home, I started just opening the gate to his pen in the barn and let him roam the property. Apparently, his jobs are mowing, chasing deer, chasing coyote, supervising my every move and following me around as if he were a dog, standing in the UPS man's way, and greeting everyone that comes up the drive. Be forewarned, it's a little Jurassic Park. All that's missing is the screaming and roaring. 

Monday, July 11, 2011


Well, I've not put a fire in the Garden Level heater for about three weeks now which means NO HOT WATER. Yep, COLD showers. One actually gets used to it. The cold water doesn't dry out your skin and my skin feels softer - after the goosebumps go away. And one's face has NO pores after a cold shower. And it is absolutely amazing how little water and how quick a shower one can take when there's no hot water - quick wet down, woohoo, shut the water off, suds up, turn the water back on, woohoo, rinse. Done! Cool, crisp, and refreshed just like a York Peppermint Patty. So, The Husband took his first cold shower last week. He stopped on his way down state for work at Bob's Sheet Metal to get a couple of quotes on adding electric hot water. Why, yes, I am giggling at my Husband. I will get the particular details to you on element wattage and how it affects our electric production and usage. Of consideration, is our inverter. Husband is sleeping and snoring (too bad snoring doesn't produce power) but I believe that our inverter can handle 3500 or 4500 watts. I'll confirm or deny that when I can layout all the details for you. In the meantime, you are cordially invited to practice living off-grid by taking a cold shower. Woohoo!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Weird Wind

It was hot and super humid in the Keweenaw yesterday. I did chores late hoping things would cool down. I had just finished my outside chores by LED flashlight and sat down for a moment before starting my before bed chores in the cabin. It was 11 pm. All the Garden Shed windows were open and all the windows on the main level of the cabin were open. There was no breeze to speak of. Then I heard what I thought was either rain coming or the wind in the trees, however, something was different. At 11 pm, I'm slower than usual. Hmmm? What is that? Something feels weird. That's kind of loud for rain. Is it getting louder? Then it was eerily still and quiet. Then for just a moment, I felt something. I don't know what it was. It wasn't really air. The Secret Cabin kind of exhaled. I know that sounds super wack-o but there's a lot of wood in the cabin and it contracts and expands with the temperature and humidity. But never like this. That wasn't it. It was like the roof was being pressed down. Then, all of a sudden, the wind came from out of no where and ROARED and whipped around the cabin. The windows slammed shut and blew back open repeatedly as a herd of spooked felis catus stampeded from the front porch in all directions. By the time I hurdled the cats in my oncoming traffic, the wind was blowing rain through windows hanging half-ripped away from their frames. Shit. I quick-looked the porch and confirmed no cats on the porch and shut the door going from the porch to the kitchen. I ran around the rest of the cabin and got the windows shut and locked while mentally noting all cats present and accounted for. I went back out to the front porch. I was able to get some of the windows pulled in but not enough to latch them. One of the windows was sticking out more than the others and I felt my old cowgirl injuries flame up as I tried to lift the triple pane window into the frame enough to prevent further damage. Now, it was cold. I called The Husband to tell him what happened. He's used to me saying weird things so that didn't concern him as much as if the Garden Shed and Barn were okay. So, out into the down pour. The Garden Shed was fine. No broken, cheap Pella windows. The temperature had dropped ten degrees since I was last out there about 20 minutes previously. Next, the Barn. By the time I got to the Barn, my shirt and shorts were completely soaked down to my skin and I couldn't see through my lenses. Diesel was pretty concerned, doing the horse talk whinny-knicker thing, but everything was fine. The chickens and ducks always sound like what I imagine our US Congress sounds like in session. I went back into the cabin and called The Husband to let him know that yes, the Barn was still standing (for now); no, no damage to the Garden Shed; yes, everyone is okay; yes, solar panels still where we last left them but I couldn't get the windows lifted back into their frames. When I went upstairs to the loft to finally turn in after my exciting evening, I discovered the knee wall storage doors had blown open. Quick check for feLIONs, closed the doors and put the items we had stacked in front of them to keep the doors from blowing open back in front of said doors. Sigh. Now, for the day after.

Plant blown off front porch. It took me a while but I did find the planter it was in.

Stupid, over priced Loewen window trying to leave the building. Good riddance, piece of crap.
This screen frame cracked when it blew open. Now it won't close.

Tsk, Oh. Darn, my wind chime got broken. It was hanging on the above screen. 

You have got to be f*ing kidding me. Really? Well, now I'm pissed. This WAS the Swarovski crystal top to the Swarovski Saturn Candlestick Holder. Now retired. It WAS in mint condition. I still have all the original packaging, box, and certificates. It was a gift from The Husband. OOOOOO, I really don't like - a lot - Loewen right now. 
In conclusion, if we were made of money, I'd yank these lame ass windows and doors, load them up in a garbage truck, and ship them back to Loewen Corporate where you cannot reach anyone by phone. They might take some interest if there was a bunch of their windows dumped in one of the executive's parking spot. With the performance of these windows and doors thus far, we do not expect that we will even get ten years out of them. Of course, I don't know how long the poor Secret Cabin is going to be able to keep it together. We've still got leaks we're looking for. I'm concerned about rotting and mold. Then there's the drafts. It's a darn good thing we paid for permits so the Building Inspector was out here and kept the contractors honest, eh? I so badly want to move forward, heal, and get on with my life but I keep getting yanked back down in the mire of construction past. It's hard to move forward when you're still dealing with it all. Shaking head. I just don't know what to do about this mess.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to offset your carbon footprint while mowing

OMG, aaah ha ha ha....snort, ha, ha, ha....OMG, Green Humor, baaah, ha, ha.... 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Let's Party!

Photo credit xedos4
photo source

Heavy sigh. (Sorry. Bear with me here for a little please.) Living off-grid, I keep an eye on the weather. It's really no big deal as I've lived out in the country for decades and have watched the weather and planned accordingly for the purpose of making hay and keeping my horse dry, cool or warm, fly-free, safe, and happy. So, I saw we had rain coming. You may recall from a previous post, The Secret Cabin was taking on water during our last rain. Now, I am as tired of cleaning up after everyone else's messes as you probably are hearing about it. I think The Husband should take my Lady Smith away for awhile. Probably my tow strap and Jeep too. And the fireplace toolset. Shit, anything held in an anger induced, white-knuckle grip can be used as a weapon. At least the stripes are vertical and slimming. Anyway, The Husband must own the heaviest ladder on the planet. I drug it out and around the cabin caulking the living daylights out of the over priced windows and doors that Dudenas Contracting butchered. They *ucked up the opening sizes in the concrete block foundation walls for the Garden Level windows and doors and had to hack the douglas fir trim off of them to get them to fit the openings. Then they put some crap 2x4's up around them. Then they did a half-butt (I'm really trying to watch my potty mouth here) job caulking. Yes, I realize caulking is a maintenance item that a homeowner should schedule once a year, however, I could tell there were spots that were never caulked. Another heavy sigh. Additionally, the crap 2x4's shrunk and twisted making new gaps. Like I said, I caulked the daylights out of every thing. It's not a big deal but The Husband was down state for his work week and I feared caulking myself to the cabin and being stuck there for two days until he got home from work. It was touch and go for a while there, but I'm proud to report that I neither got stuck to the cabin nor have a bright red caulk gun attached to my hand that I have to carry around wherever I go. Life is good. Then it rained the next day and The Secret Cabin began taking on water again. Time to move on to the next suspicious spot. There's a door on the Main Level above the leaking Garden Level door. The Husband is here and he's going to drag his heavy ladder out and caulk the daylights out of that door. In conclusion, I'm super bummed. We killed our piggy bank on this place and we've got this big FUBAR'd mess. The Husband keeps reassuring me that we can fix it. Um, shouldn't have to, beep-beep-beep over uncomplimentary pronoun referring to guilty contractor. Another heavy sigh. Did I mention I'm really, really bummed. (Now, the good part.) So, I've decided we should have a PARTY! Nothing like a BIG PARTY! to lift the spirits. Your's truly, back in the day, was a SUPER Secretary with a big, bright, blazing S on her blouse with a shiny cape fluttering in her wake as she dashed around at super human speeds in skirt, heels, and constantly running tights producing wheelbarrows full of proposals, scopes of work, specifications, and legal documents. In addition to working for architects, engineers, industrial contractors, and lawyers; I also worked for a meeting and convention planning company. While I don't think I'm planning an event for 2500 or calling Hollywood to hire a star (sorry), it is time to fall back on all those planning skills once again. The BIG PARTY! plans are to be part of SOLAR TOUR 2012! And the crowd goes WILD! I know. Exciting. I'm shooting for the moon here. I'll need to start the paperwork for the Wind Turbine project. In light of the starved piggy bank laying on it's back with it's little split hooved feet in the air, I will gratefully, humbly accept and appreciate (and advertise the heck out of) any wind turbine manufacturer that would like to help out with providing a turbine. (Come on, let's show everyone it works. You know you want to. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) I want to raise the tower and turbine and bring the turbine on line during the tour. Squeal of OMG delight, how exciting is that?! Can't you just picture a crowd of people, all with hotdogs in hand, following the turbine going up and twirling as if they're watching a tennis match. Happy gasp! I plan on making a HUGE event out of it with select contractors and suppliers on site with local radio and news coverage. (No pushing, no shoving, just email me if you want in.) Additionally, this town is all about tourism. Beginning 2013, we will be part of that tourism opening our home for tours and talks on off-grid living and green building. I will also be available for speaking engagements at other locations. (We SO would have loved to talk to others living off-grid in prep for our off-grid adventure.) Stay tuned for details, your invite, and to save the date! La, la, la, let's get this party started.... (ooo, singing is NOT part of my skill set)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reflections on Off-grid Living So Far

O, great Sun. 'Tis a beautiful thing to behold and recharge one's batteries. 
So, Bheki, how'd that whole off-grid thing go this past Winter? I see you're still alive.

Well, I'm glad you asked. Once the weather broke and I stopped building up to six fires a day (four - six on the really bitter, windy days - in the cabin and one or two in the Garden Shed), I realized just how exhausted I was and I took a nap every day for two weeks. Overall, because of our lovely contractors and the building inspector, we are no where near meeting code for energy efficiency. We have major drafts to tend to. Even with the wind blowing through the cabin, the heaters did a VERY good job heating the cabin. I estimate that I can cut the fires down to one a day on each level when the draft issues have been taken care of. Seeing how we were ripped off by contractors and codes weren't enforced, I'm not sure when funds will be available for that. Heating the cabin and hot water with wood was work but it felt like worthy work. With heaters on two levels, I believe I am up to any Stair Master challenge. In medieval times, I'd get a piece of armor thrown down at my feet. I'm not liking the image of spandex being thrown at me. I lost over twenty pounds and my arms are starting to look like they did before middle age spread set in. For these reasons, I have deduced that wood heat is healthy heat. That being said I would have liked more hot water. We were not producing enough hot water to run both the in-floor heat on the front porch and bathroom AND for hot showers and dish washing. We had enough hot water for showers. That's it. Now that the weather is warm enough, I'd rather not put a fire in the Garden (Lower) Level heater to make hot water for showers. We knew that we'd have to think of something else for making hot water in the Summer but there was too much going on for me to even think about it. I also would like more hot water for dish washing. I wear gloves so I can wash dishes in cold water. There's a balancing act when putting together an off-grid system. You have to balance needs and budget. You also have to start somewhere and build from there. There will be tweaking. The Husband sometimes gets a little down on himself because everything isn't PERFECT. The Husband, being the luckiest man there is, fortunately is married to someone who understands Rome was not built in a day. Besides, Rome eventually fell. Or at least crumbled over time. In looking at the hot water issue, we also need to keep in mind that we're looking for a source of hot water for a short period of time - from approximately June to September. Can we really justify the cost of a solar hot water system for those few months? I do not think so. Sometimes, I think The Husband has visions of PV Arrays lined up like little soldiers across our entire 30 acre clearing. Sigh. Now, we are reaching float around 10:30 in the morning. Could we power a small, electric hot water heater? We wouldn't have to run it all the time. We're looking into it. If we had a wind turbine, could we then run the electric hot water heater for showers and dish washing in the Winter too, thereby enabling us to use the hot water from the wood heat to heat the front porch and bathroom in-floor heating? Right about now an outdoor, wood fired hot tub is sounding real good. When you're putting together your system, keep in mind that you are using more power than you think. We underestimated our usage and forgot to figure in what the inverter uses. If you glean nothing from my ramblings, heed this: PAD YOUR USAGE NUMBERS. THEN, PAD THEM AGAIN. Granted, you are going to have to balance those numbers with your piggy bank. That concludes my heat and hot water report.

On to electricity. The generator is heavy. And, boo, it's gas powered. I think by now I probably would be wasting my time trying to hide the fact that at times I have quite an imagination. There seemed to be far too many days I was running around the cabin like Scottie in the Engine Room of the SS Enterprise, poking at the Hyper Drives. Wind turbine. Engage. Powie. Zoom. In reality, remember we unplugged the watt sucking frig, so yes, we need more power. We always planned to add a turbine. However, there's nothing left in our piggy bank but construction dust and bills. Solar power is really fascinating though. If it didn't waste power, I'd probably still be standing by the light switch marveling that solar power works with each flick on and off of said light switch. Cool. Look at that. Very cool. Again, the array and the batteries all need to be balanced with budget and space. You've got to have a place for your battery bank. Also, there are theories on batteries. We're reading that batteries like to be stirred vigorously. By that I mean, running a bunch of juice into the batteries hard and fast to stir all those little things that were in those drawings in our science books in school. Otherwise, again theory, the batteries will not hold their charge as well and shortened battery life is eminent. Which could mean, that you don't necessarily want all the batteries in the world in your basement even if you had the money and the space.   Bottom line on the electricity, definitely glad we did it and looking forward to adding on to the system. On to the Laundry Department. Things went well in the Laundry Department. I always had clean clothes. I love my wash machine and my drying rack. The Culinary Department Report. This is something that I feel needs a lot of work. Like I've already said, the watt sucking frig needs to be able to stay plugged in all Winter. I don't like chicken in the crock pot. To me, the texture is icky. No one wants to eat anything described as icky. Not even the feLIONs. The fattier cuts of meat in the crock pot - definitely worth the power it takes to cook it. I am hoping to have this down to a science by the time Winter rolls around again. My goal is to have the kitchen completely organized for culinary success and to know exactly the best way to cook something so it tastes good and uses the power available efficiently.

The other thing I want to address is this: All you can do is try. Go ahead and dream big. Plan YOUR ideal system for YOUR NEEDS and GOALS. Then jump in and get started. Live with what you start with. You're going to learn a lot. I know you thought you were going to die during High School Science class but this is far more interesting.  You're also going to have to protect yourself a little from negativity and nay-sayers by reserving any real discussions about off-grid living to those that are supportive of this life style. I'm beginning to suspect the large quantities of pesticides in our food causes eye rolling and quite possibly stupidity. We live in a society where individuals tend to be petty, judgmental, jealous, gossipy, and do NOT like any body or any thing different than what they themselves and/or the rest of the "collective" (society) are doing. I do NOT know how doing my own thing is so offensive. I'm just trying to get my usage to match up with what I make. I don't know why others feel offended because I don't do what they're doing. As long as no one is committing acts of cruelty and/or destruction, I really don't give a hoot what anyone else does. GO FOR IT! If you really feel you can't do anything right now because of your life situation, there are things you can do. PRACTICE. EDUCATE. DREAM AND PLAN. TRACK YOUR USAGE. PRACTICE SOME MORE. Whatever size system you want, figure that out, then spend a day living within that wattage budget. Then try it again for another day. And again. Yeah, fake it til you make it and bank what you'll save on your utility bill. There's no reason you can't look around right now and shut things off that are running that aren't being used. Mike nearly broke out in a sweat when he was recently at his brother's house and there was a row of desk top computers all lined up and running and no one was even in the room. Yet, he ridiculed our off-grid decision because he felt the bottom line cost of the system taking 15 years for payback was not a wise financial decision. I get confused real easy because I've written lots of checks to the utility company and there was NEVER a payback or break even point with them - period. The guy down the road told me his electric bill is $200 a month for a household of two and he has a TV running in every room basically 24/7. Meanwhile, he's rolling his eyes and foofing at us because of the off-grid thing. Just be aware that if you talk to other people about what you're doing or they see what you're doing, you could run into some attitude on a day you don't need their negativity or gossipy pettiness. There are others who are genuinely interested. One suggestion is to know who is in your corner and spend your time there. Meanwhile, go for it and let the eyeballs roll. And I say that even after I've actually lived off-grid.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kicking back for the Summer

About two weeks ago, we kicked back the angle of the PV array (refer to blog header photo for former angle) to catch more sun both earlier and later in the day. We're usually floating by 10:30 in the morning. Summertime and the living is easy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Photo credit Paul
 Paul's portfolio on
It's the first of the month and time to turn another page over on the calendar. Also, the first is a great time to start something new. I'm announcing a new (additional) blog. Becoming a Writer in a Cabin in the Woods. The new blog will be about my journey in becoming a "real" writer. I will be sharing all the dark, mysterious, juicy, behind the scenes goings-on in the thrilling adventure of becoming a writer and discovering what that entails. I mean, do I need a new outfit for this? At least shoes, probably. I hope I don't have to start drinking coffee to be a writer. I love the smell of coffee but I don't care for the taste and I can not handle caffeine. I can feel my pupils dilating after I have caffeine. Never fear, I will be keeping the focus of The Secret Cabin blog on off-grid living. I do want to "remodel" The Secret Cabin blog into more of a website so it is easier for someone that's interested in off-grid living to find certain information. First things first, today I am setting up my Writer's Spa. Today, I take my first step in becoming a "real" writer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mother Nature Assaulted

Creepy, icky people visit The Secret Cabin under the cover of
darkness and make yet another mess for Bheki to clean up.

Memorial Day evening, after spending some time in the lower level sopping up the water that was pouring in all along the entire back wall of the cabin above our overpriced sliding glass doors and muttering under my breath, okay, cursing Dudenas Contracting and stringing several colorful metaphors together in creative ways out loud, I headed out to the grocery store only to discover that sometime between Sunday evening around 6pm and Monday evening around 5pm, someone(s) drove halfway back down our tree-lined driveway, stopped at the ravine and dumped his/their trash on both sides of the driveway. Sickening. It feels like our whole neighbor was defiled by this random act of I don't even know what to call it because I can NOT understand things like this or worse (child abuse, animals abuse, etc.).  I appreciate the State  Troopers' taking their time for something somewhat insignificant in the big scheme of atrocities that their jobs face. Their professional opinion of the situation is helpful. They suggested that, unfortunately, we should close and lock our gate to keep people from coming back. They also mentioned that when they saw our driveway, they really weren't sure there would be anyone back here. Their last comment was of particular interest to me. When I think about it, our driveway is the only one on the road with a house not within sight from the road that doesn't have a mailbox. We had to put our mailbox with the neighbors. So, in addition to adding locking the gate every night and unlocking it in the morning, I am trying to come up with some inexpensive ideas to spruce the entrance up so it looks like a residence and not a dumping ground. I did get all the trash picked up and hauled out of the ravine. The wild animals had already sifted through everything adding to the chore. I filled our burn barrel with assorted papers except for the few papers that the Troopers took as there were some names and addresses on them. We ended up hauling four (4) kitchen bags, one (1) box with a lamp shade, broken glass, and shelf brackets; one small stereo with two speakers, and a bathroom pedestal sink to the transfer station (dump) about a 20 minute drive away. When you drop trash at the transfer station, you are supposed to stop at the office and tell them what you have, pay, and then deposit your trash in an area inside a building for I'm going to call further processing. I'm not really sure what happens after that. Anyway, we mentioned that we got dumped on when we rattled off our list of offending trash and she only charged us $3. I definitely appreciated the kindness. Another bright spot of note is that I got a close up experience of the ravine. It's a little steep and there's actually a kind of rock wall going up to the driveway. I am not the most athletic person in the world. My sport was horseback riding and that's all I've ever done so I'm completely uncoordinated when it comes to anything other than horseback riding. When I first started riding, I was so young and small that I had to scale up the side of the horse in order to get into the saddle. Now, I have this uncanny ability to scale up the side of things. The first time I scaled a hay wagon in front of The Husband, he lost the color in his face and was completely confused as to who he married. Anyway, I once again turn into some kind of Spiderwoman and was able to boogie right up the ravine wall a couple of times and haul a few of the items up and out of the ravine. There's also a lot of these interesting and beautiful mosses along the waterway and on the rocks and trees. A big, yellow butterfly flitted about easing my agitation and disgust as I picked up scatted trash.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Numbers, please!

Your's truly in the middle.

Running my pattern. Notice everyone else standing in line waiting her turn also.

Nailing the pattern. Note number on my back.
Bonus pic. Okay, I'm indulging myself. This horse was AWESOME and I just wanted to include another picture of him. His stable name was Jag as in the expensive sports car. Oh, and no, I'm not telling you how long ago. Was I any good?
I look back on my life and think I was lucky to have rode such good horses.

Back in the day, your's truly, showed horses. I don't show anymore, I just feel every single second that I did. Every single second in the ring that I stood at attention, which for the larger shows could mean 45 minutes, dressed from head to toe in hat, long sleeves, pants, and boots in the summer at the other end of the lead from an 1100 pound, hooved beast that would rather be grazing. At the end of the showmanship class, the ring stewart or announcer would ask, "NUMBERS, PLEASE!" That was the exhibitors' directive to turn your back to the judge so he/she could see the number on your back for the purpose of placing the class. Time has changed the way they run the classes. There's no more standing in the ring while each person runs his/her pattern. An exhibitor enters the ring one at a time, runs the pattern, and then exits the ring. Schew, you can go relax. After everyone is done running his/her pattern, all the horses are brought back into the ring and lined up for a brief inspection so you don't have to stand there at attention forever. Time has changed the meaning of "Numbers, please" for me too. Instead of the exhibitor number on my back, it's watts and amps and volts, oh my! Keeping in mind that our items have not been plugged into a watt meter for accuracy, the inverter uses 24 watts, the circulation pump for hot water through the Garden Level masonry heater is using 18 watts, the Telular (our phone thingie) is about 12 watts, the Apple router (wireless network hub) is about 12 watts, and the Wilson amplifier (to boost our signal for the phone thingie) is about 12 watts. It'll be interesting to see how these numbers compare when we get a watt meter and measure them. When we unplug any of the three electronics (Telular, Apple, Wilson), the inverter shows .1Kw less, which could be from 10-19 watts. If we idle at 80 watts, then we are using 1920 watts/day just idling.  The watt sucking frig is rated at 1296 watts/day. If you do some really rough calculations, we need (roughly) 3 hours of sun per day to take care of our idling loads with the watt sucking frig plugged in. Or, if we have 3 days worth of backup power (battery supplied power), we need 9 hours to recharge the batteries if we go 3 days without sun. Uh, after all that I'm not sure which "Numbers, please" is easier. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just 'cuz

Photo by previous owner of cabin in ad on internet in 2006.

In posts past, I’ve stated that living off-grid is something that The Husband and I have always wanted to do. Well that’s about as telling as “just ‘cuz.” So, as things have been shifting, unfolding, revealing, I’m finding myself again, after, in hindsight, what feels like a decade of bumping around in the dark. Like the dark moon, I was non existent to outside eyes but I was still there. On the inside I felt lost in an endless damp forest shrouded in pockets of thick, heavy air. Introspection. A seed growing that was planted long ago. Waaaay back to my Senior year in high school, I was asked for the Senior Edition of the school newspaper where I saw myself in the future. I quipped off-handedly,“living on a deserted island.” Little did I know I’d actually end up there - kind of. The Keweenaw is a sparsely populated peninsula. Close enough. I have arrived! And then there’s THE BIG DREAM. THE DREAM of all dreams that everyone wants. Okay, not EVERY one, just this some ONE. To be a writer. Well, if it’s THE REALLY BIG DREAM, then it’s a writer in an off-grid cabin in the woods. All tucked away in secret, mystery, and unconnected from the rest of the world. Surrounded by calm, quiet, serenity. Fingers, smeared with purple ink from a favorite yet cheap Pilot Pentel, gripping a steaming cup of rich, hot chocolate. The kind made with real whole milk and chocolate shavings, not the powder. With towering, weightless clouds of whipped cream spilling over the cup’s rim. And sprinkles. Don’t forget the artificial weird green colored, mint flavored sprinkles. Spending the day with hair that looks more like a bird's nest than hair. Donning star and moon printed flannel pajamas and robe seated at a desk in front of a roaring fire. Surrounded by crumpled wads of paper strewn on the floor. A stack of notebook paper on the desk top denoting successful writing attempts. It’s just what I dreamed of. Since as far back as I can remember. My romanticized, made for TV version of the life I wanted. Just ‘cuz. In reality, off-grid living requires a little more work than what hanging around in pajamas allows. But reality has revealed the unexpected rewards and effects of that work. There’s the sense of accomplishment. The realizing that I CAN do it. If I can make my own power, I can grow my own food. (Which is next.) If I can grow my own food, I can being a writer. Just chasing my dreams, just ‘cuz.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another episode of

Adventures in Cooking, cooking, cooking, cooking, cooking (read as echo trailing off).

In previous episodes, we've darned near drained our batteries running the crock pot all night, on another occasion, successfully hard boiled eggs in said crock pot, learned NOT to turn the microwave on at the precise moment the water pump kicks on while the refrigerator is running when The Husband just happens to turn the key on the generator. In today's exciting episode, we make like an arsonist and douse the front porch in denatured alcohol in an effort to experiment in the kitchen with basically a glorified Bunsen burner.

The perfect opportunity to test drive a new kitchen gadget presented itself when we had a Winter storm over the weekend. The batteries were running a little low so I did not want to use any electricity to cook.

First, let's talk about the denatured alcohol part. Do the words terrific mess mean anything to anyone. Well, at least the alcohol pretty much evaporates after you sop up the majority of the puddles with paper towels. In hindsight, of course. Rule #1 Do NOT purchase the gallon size container of denatured alcohol UNLESS you have a turkey baster to syphon the alcohol out of the giant, too big for girl-y hands, container. That's it. Just that one rule, but VERY important. I'd say critical even.

Next, here it is. The big reveal of the glorified Bunsen burner. Commercial time. Just kidding. I present to you....

The CookMate Safe-Flame Alcohol Stove, Model 1600, sporting All-Clad's stainless steel petite braiser. Oooo, shiny, shiny. We got this stove from Jamestown Distributors  They are a "wholesale marine and building supplies" outfit. The Husband also got a gizmo for the jumble of stuff that is our phone.


Ta da, it worked. Nothing fancy. Just some browned ground turkey with garlic, oregano, and organic spinach with a side of raw organic baby carrots and organic apple blackberry sauce.

I like this little cooking gadget. You will need to decide the economics for yourself. The denatured alcohol is really a little expensive especially for dousing the front porch. I will definitely pick up a turkey baster and more denatured alcohol the next time I'm out and about so I can use my little Bunsen burner stove thingie again especially on a day with low batteries. Oh, and you will also want to get the long, giant matches. Watch when you strike it though. A spark flew and landed on my counter top and made a tiny burn mark. Which leads me to one last caution. Do be mindful of the flammables. Note that I slopped the alcohol around on the porch away from the kitchen and where I was going to be striking the match and using the stove. Bon appetite even if the sun isn't shinning.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A brief moment of identity theft

Moving to a little cabin in the woods and cutting our strings from the utility grid has had a domino effect on other parts of our lives. The past two years has been like little grains of sand rolling and shifting as each footstep sinks into a sun warmed beach during a stroll along the lake. Shifting. Adjusting. Changing. I believe that we’re here on this Earth to learn from each other. I’m not saying I’m right but this is what gives my life a little bit of meaning. Maybe one person will grow a row to share with the community food bank. Maybe someone else will raise a family. Someone else, create beauty through words, art, architecture. I’ve tried to share our journey. Maybe in some small way one person will benefit. The other day I discovered a place on the internet where someone posted the recanting of our experience with our first general contractor, which we all remember was not a moment of strolling along a beach. This “identity thief” went as far as impersonating my writing and speech style, however, they went too far and crossed a line and shed The Husband and I in a bad light. The alleged “identity thief” divulged a medical condition of one person involved and referred to the workmen as drug addicts. First, I would never divulge someone else’s medical condition. NOT cool. That is something very, very personal and no one else’s business. I have my own issues and I feel VERY strongly about this. Secondly, I did NOT look down my nose at the workmen and EVER even think they were drug addicts. Yes, I wanted more quality work faster from these guys. The fact I had high expectations from the crew should say something. However, we needed the owner of the company out here to help all of us and we never got that help and we - me and the workmen - were all frustrated with the job. The owner of the company was NOT listening to me and I get very frustrated when I can't get through to someone. We’re all human beings and human beings make mistakes. Yes, this includes me too, unfortunately. Overall, we think the cabin looks beautiful and we’re happy with the way it looks. There are parts of the cabin/project that we can look at and say, “you know, Ben did a really good job on that wall”; or, “Bez really has a lot of patience to be able to do what he did on that gable end”, or, "It's a miracle that's plumb, there's some kind of optical illusion thing going on with the elevation - I saw Murph check, check, and recheck that - he did got it spot on", or, “Man, Eric and Jake, rocked that South wall, looks like something in a magazine of fancy schmancy homes.”  I relish those memories. There are other parts, a lot of them, that after all that time and effort, we still have work to do to get it right. A lot of work to do. It’s disappointing. But our biggest disappointment has been what comes after we’re all human. That’s standing up and making things right. At least try. It’s harder for me to accept that I have been failed in that human area by another human. My feelings actually get hurt and this “identity theft” moment was no different. In addition to this person signing this post Mike and Becky (which is not how I spell my name by the way), they used gordongecko as the screen name. Gordon Gekko was a character in a movie that is (in)famous for his, “Greed is good” declaration. I am hurt and offended that someone would think that The Husband and I are greedy. Are we greedy because we’ve gone for our dreams? Or do you think it’s greedy because YOU doN’T have the COURAGE to go for your dreams? It’s fairly easy to deduce that one who would take this unwelcomed and unappreciated liberty to impersonate us and sign our names to something we didn’t write, sadly, lacks courage in general. Life takes courage. Your knees can be knocking; you try anyway; that's courage. We feel violated, betrayed, misrepresented, and misunderstood. I posted a “Hey gordongecko, your experience sounds freakishly like ours....” message. This was enough to get the post of gordongecko, the “identity thief,” removed along with the one I posted and some other posting that went too far.  Now, I am reconsidering the future of this blog, my facebook page, my tweeting, and even my face to face communications. While I still think we’re all here to learn from each other, I don’t like what I’ve been learning lately. Perhaps WHY? I’m here is shifting too. We make our own electricity, heat, and hot water. Yes, it’s hard work and it’s challenging for me. Heck, it’s even knocked over twenty pounds off my carcass and I’m well on my way to having arms like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 (I think that’s the right one). But when I turn on a light switch, watch the feLIONs nap in front of the heater, or wash the dishes in hot soapy water, I feel like I’m five years old again proudly showing off my macaroni and glitter masterpiece, “Look what I did!” There is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Now, I just need to decide whether or not I’m going to take my sand bucket and shovel and stomp off and go play by myself and not in cyber space. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Swindled? Emphasis on Question Mark

As Paul Harvey said, "Now, the rest of the story...." As much as I want to just put the construction/remodeling debacle/adventure behind me so I can heal, it's not over. We've been having some trouble with our Loewen windows and doors.
Water stain on one of the Garden Level Sliding Glass Door - taking on wind and water

Loft Level door, taking in air at the top.

Taking on water at the bottom.

First, I had a loft door that operated. Last Winter/Spring while Eric and Jake (Christopher Arden Homes, Perrysburg, Ohio) were working on the cabin, they opened the door and closed it. When I looked at the door, I saw that the visquene covering over the insulation on the walls had wrapped around the jamb. I went to open the door to remove the offending visquene and the door wouldn't open. I told Eric that the door was stuck. He wanted to know if I had the keys. I did not  know where they were at the moment. I still don't know why he needed the key when I would have had to open the door to put the key in it and the door wouldn't open. They ended up removing the door via the hinges. So things got marred up a little but the door was open. Well, then I found the keys and stuck them in the door. And there they still hang a year later stuck in the door. I can open the door but I dare not operate the locking mechanisms (lift the handle and throw the thumb latch to lock.) Last Summer, I kept reminding Eric that the door needed fixing. On Eric's last trip here to COMPLETE the cabin, he asked for more money and he wanted it up front. The Husband and I were a little confused by the request for money up front. We had always paid him without his prompting and he had been paid everything as originally agreed but some of the work apparently was more than originally planned. Our only question for Eric was, does this money FINISH the cabin. He told me yes. We were waiting for our equity loan to be deposited so we couldn't pay him BEFORE he was here as he requested. He did drive up without being paid first. When he got here, he reminded us that he wanted payment and could Mike (who was down in Ohio at the time) drop a check off to his wife (remember they are from Ohio). Mike did. That Friday, at the end of the day, Eric declared the cabin finished. I was shocked and completely thrown off balance. Eric had always treated us decent. Or so we thought. The cabin was not finished. The door was not fixed. The trim was hanging from the ceiling. The doorway and windows jambs in the mechanical room were not built out and trimmed. They were supposed to build a door for that doorway. I have a punch list with a bunch of little things. Even though I was distracted by nausea in the pit of my stomach, I managed to get out, "What about the ceiling? The trim in the living room is not as we discussed?" I was really shocked and confused. Eric said, "We'll be back." I mentioned, "You can fix the loft door then? You're going to talk to Scott about getting whatever parts you need?" I got a "yes." Then I went back to Ohio to see my family and spend my birthday and our anniversary with The Husband. The Husband dashed up to see the cabin while I took care of the animals in Ohio. He was flabbergasted. The Husband never saw the mess everyone made as I had usually cleaned up after everyone before I went back to Ohio to take care of the animals while Mike dashed to the cabin to see how it was coming along. This time, I left the morning after Eric and Jake left and did not stay and clean. Eric and Jake had came up later than they said they would originally and I had already missed the opportunity to meet up with some friends from high school because of it. I wasn't going to spend my birthday alone too. So The Husband was flabbergasted and on the other end of the phone I got to hear, "How is this finished? What the hell is the deal with the ceiling?! First, Dudenas' crew left drywall hanging from ceiling and now these guys leave the wood trim hanging?! They couldn't help you pick up some of this mess when it was their last trip. You're going to have to call Roger and see if he can come out and help you with this heavy stuff. I don't want you to hurt your back. That's all we need." (Quick side note: When I say The Husband dashed up to see the cabin, I do mean dash. For us, all the time spent apart was really rough for us because we do actually like each other. Yeah, kind of strange for a married couple. Anyway, the dash included driving, seeing the cabin, and dashing back so we could have a little time to together. That dash took the entirety of one of his weekends off work which was one of our weekends together when we already had been apart so much. He wasn't aware of the mess and therefore did not make plans to stay at the cabin to pick up a big mess. Hence, the need for us to hire someone to help me when I got back to the cabin after my birthday and our anniversary rather than him doing the picking up. He truly did not have the time.)

I put in a call to Eric asking him if he would come back in October rather than November. I tried to entice him with "Bow Season." I don't remember if he was on a roof when I called but it was something like that and he said he'd call me back.

After hanging out with The Husband and our animal family for three weeks, I went back to the cabin and got to work. I was completely exhausted and felt like an idiot. All I saw was all the stuff not done that we paid for. I started cleaning up all the mess I could. For the heavy stuff, Roger came in and helped me. Roger's brother, John, also came in and helped me. Disclaimer: Don't do this at home. OSHA, look over there. Okay, everyone else can take a quick peek and and then act natural.

Yikes! And no, John was hitting his brother with the broom while he hammered the trim in. John held the trim flush against the ceiling for Roger while Roger wielded the finish nailer like Sylvester Stallone wields a machine gun. 

LR Contracting was building the Garden Shed. Thankfully, they were handling 99 percent of the job. I had ordered the materials and only had to call 41 Lumber to let them know when were ready for more materials. My tractor skills pitched in to lift a pallet of shingles off the supply truck up to the roof of the Garden Shed. Other than that I was left to my cleaning. While I was cleaning the mechanical room walls, I couldn't get the dirt to come off some sections of the wall surface. Upon closer inspection, Eric had installed 3 sheets backwards. Dammit, dammit, dammit. We had waited to install the water tank so this stuff could be put up without the water tank in the way. Now, I had the wall wrong side facing me behind the water tank, another piece I get to look at when I'm at the sink, and another piece I get to see when I walk out of the room. I was finding all kinds of little things. I've got drywall screws exposed, etc. etc. I called Eric and left a message regarding the backwards installation and that we needed to have a difficult discussion.

I was up against our deadline for The Husband's year in advance scheduled vacation, our move the animals date. I slowly realized that I was NOT going to be able to get the cabin completely done before we moved the animals in. I really did not and still do not want construction going on in the house with the animals and our furniture and belongings moved in. It's dusty, disruptive, and terrifying for the animals. In my attempt to get things wrapped up as much as possible, I called Scott regarding the broken loft door. Scott was our  Loewen window and door salesperson at Toledo Overhead Door, Toledo, Ohio. When I told my version of what was wrong with the door and how it happened, I was told that was not what Eric told Scott. It was because I didn't have the key to the door. I keep forgetting how everything is my fault. Again, the door was stuck shut and the key would have had to been used from the outside. This door leads to a balcony and there was no ladder around tall enough to access the balcony. It was such a cock-n-bull, weasel-y excuse, I couldn't believe my ears. It sounded like we were all trapped inside the cabin because we locked the doors and couldn't figure out how to get out. Kind of like locking yourself INSIDE your car. Even though Eric is an installer for Toledo Overhead Door, he was on our time clock when he broke the door so Toledo Overhead isn't responsible for the repair. Fine, assholes that have our $50,000, I need a Loewen tech out here to fix this $1700 door.

Then we got busy moving the animals in. We really weren't ready for Winter like we would have liked to have been but we were in. We were in the cabin along with a lot of outside air. As you already know, I've got the wind blowing in through the loft knee wall storage. I've also had wind coming in through our very expensive Loewen windows and doors. You can also see in the pictures where I've got water coming in and sitting in the sills and eventually will rot out said expensive doors. The kitchen window whistles. Both The Husband and I are very disappointed in our Loewen windows and doors.

Now, Spring is in the air and as I don't need to spend so much time doing my Winter chores, I'm ramping up to work on the cabin. Again. Still. I called Scott. I told him that I didn't know what the warranty was on the windows and doors but they are leaking. He said he'd check into it. I reiterated twice, if not three times, that I did not know what the warranty was and still all I got was that he'd check into it. I should have directly asked what's the warranty. I got a call yesterday from one of the guys, Ron, at Toledo Overhead Door. Ron was the Loewen Rep for 16 years. He did NOT ask me what problems I was having. He cut this customer that spent $50,000 at his store off and TOLD me what to look for on the windows and doors to see what the problem is. He asked if I could get him some pictures. You want to see what the problem is, fine, I can understand that. I emailed him the pictures. Then, I called The Husband. He was on his way home from work. I updated him on the status of the continuing "spend $50,000 on windows and doors and get no service saga." He remembered he had seen that there was a Loewen dealer in Marquette in his previous efforts to get help with the loft door. He said he'd try to swing in there when he got to Marquette. He met with Tim Lammi of The Window Store and Home Improvement Center, Marquette, Michigan. We very much appreciate the time Tim took to explain Loewen's and its dealers' warranties and how the warranties claim process is supposed to work. You may want to get out a barf bag. Imagine if you will that you buy a car. You get home and the next day the car doesn't run. You take a bus to go talk to the people where you bought your car. When you get there, they are gone. No sign that any business was ever there. The wind blows a candy bar wrapper by as you feel your stomach wrench and you reach for a barf bag. You spent your money on a car, the cars got problems and you've got no recourse. You've been swindled. This is how The Husband and I are feeling after Tim explained that 1) You should have a copy of your warranty with a warranty number and order number. We, of course, never received any warranty paperwork. We have to call yet because as Tim further explained that sometimes the dealer does this for you but you should still have a copy; 2) Loewen warranties the parts; and 3) the dealer has their own guarantees for the labor and they vary. WHAT?! We were NEVER told this. SHIT, SHIT, SHIT! Because of logistics, we had Dudenas' crew install the windows. Had this warranty information been explained to us we definitely would have made different decisions. Which is probably why it wasn't AND STILL HASN'T been explained to us by Scott of Toledo Overhead Door. We feel Scott was not forthright with us by not disclosing this warranty information at any time during our sales meetings. Because, in subsequent discussions with Scott, there has been no mention of warranty claim procedures, other than he'll check into it, and, in light of this new information and what it means, Mike and I have that gut wrenching feeling in the pit of our stomachs that we've been swindled. Both Scott, Toledo Overhead Door and Eric, Christopher Arden Homes, have our money and we're waiting for calls for them to correct their respective situations. The question remains, have we been swindled? The ball will remain in their courts for awhile longer. Then I will pick up the ball and start writing letters to the BBB. I'll be calling Loewen at the corp level. Links will be activated on this blog so the search engines can find the bad press. I'm TRYING not to get my knickers in a bunch. I have seen that any company that rips us off, will rip off others. A company can only do that for so long before they reap what the sow and they end up going under. I try to remind myself of the companies that ripped us off and that are now no longer in business. It works itself out. Meanwhile, we're trying to give our fellow human beings a chance to make good and emphasize the question mark.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring 2011 Notes to Self

Time to change the blog header. Here's the usual angle. I'm bored and the sun is not in the best spot for a picture from said usual, boring angle. Spring Note to Self: Snow and large, sweeping spots of bare, beautiful bare, ground.

Yes, a different angle but not knocking my socks off. Yawn. Note lots of bare ground around cabin.

And the winner is this photo. Solar panels looking sexy with that sun drenched pouty make love to the camera look, southern exposure and lots of bare naked, brown ground, getting ready to green up. 

More Spring 2011 Notes to Self: Plugged frig back in on March 11th. Last ran generator March 20th in the late evening for a couple of hours and again for a few hours the morning of the 21st to top off system. Snow/rain mix the first day of Spring. Slower, more gradual snow melt this year compared to last year. Driveway voted hands down, second year running, The Messiest, Funnest by The 4 Wheel Drive Rodeo Association. When daytime temps are 40 with sun, no fire in AM necessary on main level. In fact, doN'T do it or roasting will be inevitable. If evening temps are in 30's, again, no fire on main level. Fires, both AM and PM, on lower Garden Level, when 40 daytime/30 nighttime maintains hot water and comfortable temps throughout the entire cabin. Overall, this was a cold Winter but not much snow. We bought the cabin and closed on it on March 29, 2006 and then we went snowshoeing on the property to celebrate. There was A LOT more snow that year. No bare spots and good snowshoeing. Spring 2010 was early and melted off in a matter of days. Lots of running water and property drained quickly. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Coyote sighting

Right after pouncing and eating a rodent.

Bad dog, go home (into the woods).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunshine and Sundays are for ....

napping in the back yard.

Let's get in closer.

I think the one on the left is snoring.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Carbon Footprint Step in the...

lighter and righter direction.

Photo credit Toyota's website

Back in the dark, dusty, musty corners of our brains was this niggling, unrestful feeling regarding our hideous gasoline consumption with our "fleet." Both The Husband and I had Jeep Wranglers. We love everything about our Jeeps except for the gas mileage. Here at The Secret Cabin, we're not far from town and I can get down the driveway (basically, a two-track or logging road, picture an old, wagon wheel rutted trail of tears) when it's at its ugliest. However, The Man, aka Cheap Geek in a Jeep, our version of Geek Squad/Nerd Herd seeing how he fixes the computers of all those he works with and knows for cookies, iTunes cards, pizza, etc., darned near depleted this country's fossil fuel reserves. So, he rented a Toyota Prius from Labadie Auto Company, Bay City, near Saginaw, Michigan on his most recent trip home from work. (The Man still has roughly 312 working days until retirement. Not that we're counting.) This is terrible so brace yourself. No, it's too embarrassing. Okay. It was cheaper to rent the Prius and put a tank of gas in it and drive it all the way through lower Michigan, over the lake and through the woods, than it would have been for The Man to drive the Jeep home. Pause for shock and gasps horror. A Prius payment plus gas on the Prius is actually a vast improvement in our monthly budget. And it meets our other environmental/life style goals. That's the bottom $ line. Now, for the super duper interesting part. The car is really fascinating. I'm still trying to compute all the stuff this automobile does. Let's start with getting into the car. No key. Correct. The car detects the little electric box thingie on a key ring while it's still in your pocket and when you grab the door handle and pull, it let's you in. There is a button to push to start the car. There's a display in the dash and if you want to access some other information it looks like a freaking hologram over the display in the background. I can't drive The Space Ship Prius yet because I'm too busy watching the little display that shows me that I'm, get this, NOT USING GASOLINE, to motor on down the road. What?! Eventually, I'll get used to the idea and I'll be able to drive The SS Prius but for now I'm awestruck while watching the little arrows in the display showing me that now that we're speeding along, the gas engine is charging the electronics. IT'S FREAKING MAKING IT'S OWN POWER. OMG, duct tape my solar power generating loving butt down to my seat! So, The Cheap Geek in a Jeep, traded in his Jeep with my assuring him that he can borrow mine (for short trips and if he bribes me with flowers and/or candy). Everyone at Labadie was super nice so don't be afraid to stop in if your looking for your own SS Prius. Or, Mike's Jeep is still there for at least week if you're just looking for a weekend "swamper". It's stock, has a nice stereo and ready to hang out in someone's shop to rock it out with some after market "jewelry" and go play. Super solid and clean body. Still running like there's no tomorrow. If you've always wanted a weekend 4x4 but perhaps your better half always says "NO!", this may be your chance as it has high miles on the odometer but the price will probably be right. Check with our salesperson, Brach Marker 866.597.0416. In the meantime, don't hate us because we're getting 50 mpg!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our windy hesitation

In the Spring/Summer of 2009, while The Husband and I were knee deep in construction/remodeling BS, we looked at each other and said, "I hope all this stuff really works." I get queasy just reminiscing that conversation. Luckily, the systems all work. So far. However, it's the recanting of others' experiences with turbines that has us hesitant on laying down our hard earned money for wind power. I wasn't able to "borrow" the pictures off ebay and I don't know how long they'll let this stay up but there's some pictures worthy of clicking on the link.

Broken Bergey on

The text on ebay reads:

For Sale,

Bergey XL1 ‘wind turbine’. Over 16000 hours downtime. Free spare blades (2sets) - all cracked at root like the originals. Both sliprings  in an advanced state of corrosion. 100% effective overload protection has been provided by brushes fusing. Latest value-engineering design utilises rainwater to cool alternator. Tail mechanism offers additional protection against reliable operation and increased rainwater ingress by prolonged furling, even on sites with little turbulence. Only 3000 run hours in 3 years.

Great windpower project. Only requires new nose-cone, new sliprings, new brushes, new blades, weatherproof nacelle, new hub design and build, welding work on tail-pivot, balancing, reassembly and test. Nice tailfin included. What could possibly go wrong?

Can provide our own in-house test certificates on any envelope and in a crayon colour of your choice.

Buy it now at 3 quid a kilo, plus delivery or cash on collection.

Free old radiator and broken gutter, too.

Collection only from Newcastle or North Pennines area. Time it right and maybe have time for a cuppa and a chat about real renewable energy projects in the area...

Return policy: Cut the stator windings with a chisel and punch them out. Ward Bros are offering a decent price on copper, and they'll take the ferrous stuff off your hands at the same time. You'll have enough for a pint and a butty at the Cumberland Arms up the road.

Seller added:

 If you want me to ship this item, then:
1) You are definately getting the radiator, like it or not, and,
2) 'delivery' will include the botheration of waiting in for your courier and the unnecessary work of packing this awkward lot up as though it might actually suffer from damage in transit, and,
3) We'll be painfully slow, as two sets of  'blades' are at Ninebanks and the others are at the university farm.
You have been warned.

Later, seller added:

Sorry, only 2 sets of 'blades' left. They have tidied up at the farm and skipped the third set.
I'll pick up the others this week, so it is all together here in Newcastle soon after the end of the Auction.

Back to Bheki. Whoa. So, my question is, why is this gentleman stuck with this piece of crap that he paid a lot of money for when Bergey has a 5 year warranty? Is Bergey not standing behind their small, residential turbines? Homeowners are, afterall, a one shot sale. It's not like a homeowner is a municipality and going to buy more. Is the technology just not there? Is it cost prohibitive (company can't make a killing) to produce an end user turbine that truly functions? Then what about the old farm windmills that keep going after decades? I would really like to have wind power. I need some wind power but I also need it to work and do the job it's marketed to allegedly do. Our estimates are running $10-15,000 for the entire wind installation project. The Husband's mind starts to spin with technical details: Bergey handles the wind via furling; Kestrel pitches; Jacobs are decades old, rebuilt, and still out in the field performing; if we can find one, they're still out of our price range; how do we tie in a Jacobs with the controllers and inverters....Yeah, our brains are spinning but what we need is a turbine that spins and does it's job. When you hear about experiences like this, and there are plenty of them, makes you wonder if there is such a thing and definitely makes you hesitate to plunk down $10-15,000.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


YAHOOOO! IT'S SPRING! SPRING! SPRING! I made it! I completed my first full Winter in the Keweenaw and earned my Winter in the Keweenaw merit badge!

Some awesome sunsets of late.

Bare spots on the ground! The deer have been grazing every where. We've got about ten "regulars". 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Crock pot incident near miss

Pork loin roast with potatoes and artichokes

Obviously, oh so painfully, embarrassingly, obviously, I'm learning as we go along here. After narrowly escaping a crock pot induced need to get the generator out incident, I will NOT be running the crock pot all night. Ever again. Here's the deal. We've got animals. Animals do great when kept on a schedule. By great I mean lower stress, excellent health, lower vet bills, less clawing, and less tearing the barn down when the service is slow. Sometimes, it feels like there's so much to do NOW, before someone tears the barn down or rips my legs into bloody ribbons of flesh, that I just do the chores and take care of the animals and the cranium leaves the body to fend for itself. Craniums do that. They go off on little daydream vacations. Usually, about that time something goes, "WHAM!" Or in our case, whirls in slow motion to a stop and then an alarm goes off. By the time I finished chores and got around to pretending (humming, opening and closing the cupboards and watt sucking refrigerator a lot, using every measure spoon ever manufactured, and using a quantity of herbs that at the very least required an entire acre of ground to grow) I can cook, it was late afternoon. That meant the crock pot got started cooking late and was plugged in when darkness fell. In fact, it ran over night, all night. Luckily, we had just enough sun the following two days to eek by. I went into my normal "def con shut as much down as I could" mode. Today, it's super sunny and we're floating and I've got everything back on full blast. In conclusion, throw the cranium in gear, any gear is better than none, check the weather, weather permitting, pretend to know how to cook and do all the prep work in the afternoon while the sun is shining. Then, get up the next morning about 15 minutes earlier than usual and throw the bowl of food prepared the day before into the crock pot, plug it in and it should be done by the time the sun slips back below the tree tops. Also, now I know that I need to menu plan for the week not only with the coupons and store specials fliers but with the weather in mind. Yes, still learning as we go. Obviously.