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.