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.