Sunday, December 1, 2013

More From The Secret Cabin Dept. of Culinary Delights

Eat Your Veggies Pasta
photo credit: Mary Jane's Farm
Okay, so we've been discussing building up a food stash here at The Secret Cabin. So far we have six jars of almond butter in the pantry and one tiny jar of chocolate hazelnut spread hidden in an undisclosed location. Recently, I did a review of our positive experience with Outdoor Herbivore. I've mentioned Mary Jane's Farm as another  group of products in our stash. I made her Eat Your Veggies Pasta the other day. I had purchased the bulk bags for a more economical price. It was easy enough dealing with the bulk bag, however, I will have to adjust the amount of servings I prepare next time. One serving makes two servings. The Human Garbage Can that I live with, aka The Husband, oinked down two servings before I could even sit down and the chair is literally two steps from the kitchen. Because I have the DNA of an air plant, or whatever my problem is, I had dished out not quite one serving for myself. While my taste buds savored the cheesy pasta, The Human Garbage Can helped with dishes by cleaning out the remaining serving. Seriously, I want to beat this man. I don't know where he puts it and he's lost all kinds of weight since retirement. I have found it (the weight he's lost), hence, my wanting to call him a b*tch and beat him. If I ever end up missing, it's going to be because a herd of dark windowed, black SUV's loaded with guys in mirrored sunglasses and black trench coats came roaring up in a cloud of dust, nabbed me, and hid me in some under ground government research facility. I will never feel the warmth of the Sun on my face again as they run test after test trying to isolate whatever it is that makes my metabolism function like a combination of a three-toed sloth and aforementioned air plant. If able to isolate this phenomenon, it will end world hunger and they will be able to develop the most efficient source of power generation whether engine, battery, or fuel. Yes, my metabolism may be the key to the end of the US dependency on foreign oil and I will have had a role in world peace. That said, because The Human Garbage Can still needs to eat, I am still planning on adding soups and pasta and sauces. I'll decide our next steps after that. I still have to think about it some more. I have frozen veggies in the freezer BUT if something happens and we can't get to a gas station for fuel, The Human Garbage Can will eat through the frozen veggies quicker than a blink of an eye. This leaves us with the possibility of canned veggies which are loaded with, cue the scary music, SALT! There may also be some blow fish code in my DNA. I don't handle salt well at all. I will have to do some research into the freeze dried veggies. This kind of brings us to what I think is one of the main tenants of building up a food stash. You want food that you already usually eat. A 50 pound bag of wheat in the basement isn't going to do anyone a bit of good if you don't usually use wheat like that in your every day cooking/life. In case of emergency, everyone is going to be freaking out like someone has gotten wound up in barbed wire and is bleeding out. Bodies are going to be pumped with stress. Stress allows illness to step in. Things will just spiral down to ugly and uglier from there. BUT, if we are eating meals like it's business as usual, maybe with the exception of cooking over an open fire, that's going to provide some semblance of your "standard operating procedure" providing some comfort and calm. Additionally, you can just keep eating out of your pantry and replenishing as necessary. This rotates your stock and ensures freshness. Even Human Garbage Cans cannot eat spoiled food. And finally, for your further perusal, I give you Food Storage Made Easy. I found it user friendly as I think it could be easy to feel overwhelmed during your first steps in building up a pantry.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Oh, I don't know.

Sometimes. This off-grid thing. Just when one thinks she understands how the heck things work. That was the original question anyway, wasn't it? Does it work? Maybe that's why we'd always just got a, "Yes, it works…." that kind of just trailed off into the distance whenever we asked the question before we decided to go down this road. Thursday was mostly clear blue skies, sunshine, and solar thermal hot water. Emphasis on the solar hot water. Which was really magical because even though it was about 30 degrees (I think) outside, we had a temperature of 117 in the solar thermal loop. Couple of weird things. Well, not really weird. Maybe weird. Hell, I don't know. So, heat rises. I do know that. When the solar hot water loop heats the water, the loop comes into the bottom of the tank and it's heating from the bottom and both the bottom and the middle of the tank temperatures go up. That seems to make sense. What's NOT happening is when we are relying solely on the wood-fired loop that comes into the middle of the tank, the bottom of the tank is still cold---which can vary between just under 45 degrees to roughly 65 degrees. That wood-fired loop gets to be about 150 degrees and yet the middle of the tank will top out at 104 degrees with two stinky people that needed a shower a day ago running around. It appears that the way the tank is plumbed now isn't the best way for it to be plumbed. Mike was thinking we should have another tank where the wood-fired loop is plumbed to enter the bottom of the tank. I was thinking: 1) How much am I going to have to repeat myself this time; 2) Based on how hard I have to work to get to you to listen to me is going to directly correlate to how long it's going to be before I ever share with you another bite of any chocolate I may have on hand; and 3) We should plumb the tank so we can direct the wood-fired loop to borrow the solar loop entry point at the bottom of the tank on days that the solar loop isn't going to kick on AND make sure that when we re-direct the wood-fired loop to the aforementioned bottom of the tank through the solar loop's pipes that the solar loop is directed out to the dump zone so we don't have another near Secret Cabin melt down. It would be interesting to see what the temperatures in the various parts of the tank would be if we were pumping the 150 degrees wood-fired loop through the bottom of the tank. At the very least, it seems like we'd at least have more hot water because we'd be heating more water coming in at the bottom with the heat naturally rising through more water. Another note of interest: Those days that the solar thermal is making hot water. Wow. The recovery rate is really, really fast. In fact, when you use the hot water, the temperature in the middle of the tank actually goes UP. Yes, that's correct. Using the hot water makes the temperature go up. That does NOT happen when we're running on just the wood-fired loop. With just the wood-fired loop, after splashing around in the shower, the temperature in the middle of the tank will drop 10 degrees and it won't recover that heat loss for about twelve hours. Does the whole heat rising thing really make that big of a difference? I don't know.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

From The Secret Cabin Dept. of Culinary Delights

One of my favs, Basil Walnut Penne
Photo credit: Outdoor Herbivore

Here we go. As promised. But first, a disclaimer: Diet is a VERY personal choice. I am just reporting my findings based on our taste buds and all that. I would NEVER presume to know what's best for someone else and tell he/she how to eat. I'm not a doctor. I don't play one on TV. Enter at your own risk. I think that's enough legalese for one blog. Now, here we go.

Oh, one more thing. I eat some weird things. Not slugs or anything like that. But, we don't smoke and we don't take in any fake sugars or corn syrup or hydrogenated fats. I haven't owned a salt shaker my entire adult life. I no longer eat meat. Ya know, it would probably be quickest to tell you our bad habits. My name is Bheki and I'm a pizza addict. And I slam back a Sierra Mist to wash that pizza down. I also do some chocolate. Even the cheap stuff when I really need a fix. Mike eats some a tiny bit of fish (yeah, that does get interesting with the feLIONs), pepperoni on his pizza and he has a terrible ice-cream addiction.  Bryers ice cream in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry don't have weird, chemically, non-food ingredients so he usually sticks with that. While we are working on getting clean, we're also human and will probably still go on an occasional pizza, chocolate, and/or ice-cream bender. The point is that it has been my experience that my taste buds have changed as I've gotten cleaner. For example, I now think Kale tastes really good. I know. Weird. So, if you're all beer and burgers between drags on a cigarette (not judging; kind of jealous because I'd wake up in a ditch with a food hangover if I had a wild time like that), you may shock and bore your taste buds and your body giving what we eat a try. Just saying because I don't want any angry emails about "bunny food" calling me vicious names like "granola girl" and the like. I do invite you to be bold and wild and try a juice or smoothie with some spinach (mild for just getting started with greens) and/or ginger (spicy, hot kick in the taste buds).

On to the pantry stocking.

I just scored my favorite almond butter on sale at Live Super Foods. I'm pretty excited about this so I'm putting it out here first. I'm feeling a bit buzzard-like, circling overhead waiting to pounce on any food deal that makes its way along the invisible string to my computer. Live Super Foods is all the way across the map in Oregon so I order in bulk because I think that's most resource efficient and to take advantage of free shipping for orders over $99. They've got all kinds of raw, organic, and vegan/vegetarian products. I did indulge in a jar of Jem Chocolate Hazelnut Spread. I do NOT let The Husband have any of MY Jem stuff. He just oinks things like that down and doesn't really appreciate the sinfulness of the taste and I end up with a little bit of aroma from the empty jar. I know. I don't know why I put up with him either.

I used to buy a product called Vega from Live Super Foods. You've heard me fondly refer to it as Ogre Grogg. Vega has improved their taste and mix-ability and it is a protein/vitamin/mineral supplement product that works well for me. I check Vegan Essentials in Wisconsin before I order Vega. Even with Vegan Essentials charging for shipping, the Vega is still about $8 cheaper per large "tub" than Live Super Foods. I tend to have at least four large tubs stashed in the cabin at any time. It is usually my breakfast so I should really have a few more tubs stashed.

Our newest adventure in culinary delights is Outdoor Herbivore. This was our first order with this company. It wasn't a huge order with it being "on trial" but I thought their website was easy peasy to deal with and shipping was prompt. Happy with that. We got the Hungry Single size pouch which feeds 1 to 2 people. With the calories and carbs, half a pouch, one serving, is enough for me. Mike is working hard enough around the cabin that he can chow on a whole pouch himself and not get fat.  Cooking and clean up are easy peasy even in our tiny kitchen. We did experiment and found my hot plate does a better job boiling water faster than the microwave and overall consumed less energy. This food was made for camping and there are tons of cooking tips on their blog. The food itself. We tried the Blackend Quinoa, Chickpea Sesame Penne, and Quinoa "Cheddar" Mac. While good, we thought all these dishes tasted the same so the jury was still out for us on this company. Then we moved on to the Basil Walnut Penne and Switchback Soup & Stuffer. We made the Switchback Soup as a soup rather than a stuffer. It was very good. Mike was making all kinds of approving, piggy noises and basically, I was only able to get enough spoonfuls to know that it tasted really good. In all fairness, I joined in with my own approving, piggy noises with the Basil Walnut Penne. Mike liked that too. Again, these dishes had very different tastes than the previous dishes we tasted. I have problems with getting bored. When I get bored, I turn to my beloved pizza and that's just one of those unhealthy, destructive relationships I need to leave with the exception of the occasional pizza "tastebud booty call."  I will simply watch my menu planning to avoid the same taste, different day thing. No biggie. Moving on to the Lemongrass Thai Curry. I liked this. Mike does NOT, repeat, NOT, like coconut. He could taste the coconut in this. I could too but the point is, if you do NOT like coconut, this is NOT the dish for you. Purely speaking strategy, I like to keep a few dishes in the cabin that I don't have to worry about disappearing so there is always something for me. This will be one of those dishes. For my sweet tooth, we tried Outdoor Herbivore's Ginger Chia Gooey and ChocoCocoChia. I'm not very familiar with some of the healthier ingredients and their preparation techniques so I have been intimidated by the mere thought of trying to make any of those vegan, good for you "desserts." It doesn't get any easier than these and just adding cold water. Again, there is coconut for those of you with an aversion to coconut. I liked both of these enough to be entertaining the idea of keeping a stash around for whenever my sweet tooth needs a fix. We still have a few more dishes to try but I do see us ordering again and in larger quantities to stash in our pantry. I rate this food as tasty and enjoyable and "clean." "Clean" meaning I do not get any kind of food hangover after eating it. That's a big deal to me as I continue to tweak my diet. This kind of wraps us back around to my recent descent into the Underworld of Pain and Misery. I don't want to go on and on about my health like an old person. It's just unpleasant energy that I don't want to put out there and it's boring but this is the kind of food that I find works for nourishing and healing rather than making me feel like sh*t. In fact, Outdoor Herbivore has an excellent post on their blog regarding pain and inflammation and food. Part of what's going on now pain-wise is because I fell off the wagon when Mike retired and came home full time again. That man can eat anything and not get sick or fat. I totally want to call him a b*tch right now. Point is I'm trying to get clean again and this food fits the specifications for that for me so I'm really liking our experience with it. All that personal info there is for you to have a perspective on where I'm coming from and be able to decide for yourself what you need and like.

We will be talking more about food and pantries in the coming days. I have some more resources and links for you. There's a lot to consider when building a stash of food and it's going to be different for each person/family but there's some basics we need to get into.

A quick note from The Secret Cabin Division of Hot Water: Sunshine today! We are also supposed to have Sunshine again tomorrow. Two days in a row of Sunshine and we've got enough hot water to splash around a bit more. I know it's weird but washing dishes in hot water feels like an indulgence. It's a little embarrassing but I actually kind of moan an "ahhh" when my hands hit the hot, soapy water. I've never appreciated hot water at the kitchen sink more than I do now. I need a sticker or t-shirt or something that says, "It's an off-grid thing."

Monday, November 18, 2013

There goes the neighborhood

We still have a bit of catching up to do of this past Summer's events.

Remember how we moved up here to get away from farming and to have the whole cabin in the woods experience and peace and quiet and privacy. Yeah. So, since moving in, our neighbor across the road has purchased a John Deere tractor, a small herd of cattle, two horses, and a Jeep. He has also cleared a bunch of his land and started growing hay for said small herd of cattle. For cattle, fencing is just a suggestion. I don't think cows even notice when they've walked through fencing. All of a sudden, they're just lost and start bellowing. Or standing in front of or running alongside our truck while we try to enter or exit our place. One day, I was quite surprised by just how unpleasant my teen years memories of working for a veal farm were when they were stirred up when we turned out onto the road and came face-to-face with a dead, beheaded, and gutted cow hanging from chains from the front end loader on a tractor.

But wait there's more. It started with granting permission to the loggers to go through ONE spot in our driveway so the new neighbor to our North could log his ground. I told The Husband they were basically CONtractors and we didn't want to do that. He wanted to be a nice neighbor. Now, I tell him that I told him and that I don't want to hear it. They went through about FOUR different places and destroyed a tile we just had installed this past Spring. As if that weren't thrilling enough, because we gave permission to the loggers to access the property via our driveway, the new neighbor hired the neighbor across the road to further clear the ground and without asking, he is using the driveway to move his equipment in and out of the property for further clearing for eventual farming. Oh goody. Nothing says cabin in the woods like the droning of a tractor in a field. Over 100 acres to our North was cleared this Summer.

On the POSITIVE side, the new neighbor to the North wanted our back 40. SOLD! And when do you want the rest of the place? I told Mike before I sold the Ohio farm that I bet I could sell this place even easier than that one. Sure enough. At closing for the back 40, they said they were thinking about the rest of our place. AND, we were just asked by someone else to "please"(they said please which I think is important to note for level of sincerity) let them know if/when we ever decide to sell as they are interested.

We love our property. Despite all the stuff going on around us, which will settle back down, once we get down that first part of our driveway, we've got our privacy. Retirement gives you time to stop and look at your reflection in the mirror. Sometimes, it feels like we just got here under the wire. I feel lucky that we've had the experience living here and living off-grid.

Here's some pictures of what the neighborhood and our driveway looks like without the trees.

This shot is from the road.

Viewed from our once tree-lined drive way.

Again from our drive way.

And again, from our drive way.

From the East side of the barn, we can now see our neighbor's house.
 We will be planting trees on our property to screen this view.

Oh, and by the way, all those views above are lake view. It was really overcast and these photos aren't my best. (Sorry.) Which means that if we hacked down trees across from the cabin, we'd probably have a lake view too BUT our privacy is more important to us.

And, the road crew is already talking about the possible drifting situations we're going to have on our road now that the trees are gone. Mike and I were already thinking about our driveway being more work to maintain. Which leads us in to the subject of food storage for next time.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reporting Kinda Live From….

…. the Under World of Pain and Misery. How's that for drama? I even impressed myself with that one. Because I was bored with starting to feel less pain, I backed off the pain killers at the same time I started the ONE exercise I was assigned by my Physical Therapist. This angered every single one of the Deities of The Spine. Once again, I lay here staring at The Secret Cabin's kiln-dried, tongue and groove cedar ceiling welcoming Death. Alas. No reason for the "alas" other than I think it adds to the drama. On the bright side, I have a photo shoot coming up. I know they're just x-rays but I like calling it a photo shoot. I want to crack a joke about being radiant and radiation but I just caved in and took a pain pill which can kick in any time now. I hope. You know, I'm thinking the pain pill goes for the brain first because I got nothing on the radiant and radiation joke. Okay, please talk amongst yourselves again and have a good rest of the weekend.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Still alive ….

….and feeling better. I got some pills. Again, without having to push The Husband down in the parking lot. And one of the three different kind of pills even works. I don't like taking pills but I really couldn't gut it out it any longer. As a quick little pat my own back, the NP I saw last week was quite impressed with how I essentially don't take anything for pain. Everyone thinks herbs aren't really anything but that's where medicine came from before there were labs. Laboratories. If you say that in a scary, mad scientist kind of way, la-bor- a-tories, it's a really fun word. Anyway, I tried to switch back over to the herbs yesterday but the Evil Back Spasm Spirit appears to still be in there. We have to wait until it gets bored and leaves. I also was referred to physical therapy so I have a physical therapy appointment tomorrow. Hopefully, they have some special exorcism powers. Oh, do you think they'll saddle me up with some heat pads. That would be really nice. I like stretching exercises too. Oh, stretching exercises AFTER being saddled up with heat pads. We'll see. I did score a prescription for massage therapy too but upon further investigation, our insurance will not send in any financial assistance troops for massage therapy. What I need to do is get a massage therapy table and train the feLIONs to march on my back. We'll have to trim their nails first. If I need a deep tissue massage, The Husband could sprinkle some catnip on my back and the feLIONs will have me worked over in no time. That could get scary though, we've got a couple of mean drunks amongst us here at The Secret Cabin.

The Sun is out and I want to shut this down and go enjoy the day but first a little systems snap shot for you: The PV system is floating. The wash machine is running. The heaters are all closed up and "sweating" heat into the cabin. The wood heater water loop goes into the top of the tank. That loop is at about 130 degrees. The temp of the water at the top of the tank is 119. The solar thermal water loop is at middle of the tank. That loop is currently 90. The middle of our tank is 88 degrees. The bottom of the tank is 67. I am using a little bit of warm water for the wash machine. Even though I'm using hot water, the tank temps and loop temps are holding steady. The bottom of the tank has gotten 2 degrees cooler since starting the wash machine. We have noticed that with the solar thermal system running, when we use hot water, the tank temp maintains or even raises, if there's a lot of Sun, whereas when we use hot water with just the wood heater loop making hot water, the temp in the tank goes down. Prior to the solar thermal hot water system going live, I would go by the middle of the tank temp. I like to see that number in the mid-90's. In the past, the 90's has always been enough hot water for two hot showers. Not splashing around being a waste-a-roo but two decent, don't need to work up a sweat trying to get cleaned up showers. Okay, time to shake off all those crazy numbers and go enjoy the day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stubborn Evil Back Spasm Spirits

I'm still dealing with back spasms from Hell. We did go to our local Urgent Care. They have PA's and NP's now. You don't even have to see a doctor. I saw a PA. PA's must be trained to listen. Everyone was very nice and I secured a bottle of Flexiril without having to push The Husband down in the parking lot. Unfortunately, Flexeril and I don't mix. It actually made things worse. Instead of stopping the back spasms, it riled up my whole body and I ached all over clear down to my joints. The drowsy stupor was very unpleasant and made me wonder if that is what a bad trip was like. I felt as if my body was fighting the medication.

I'm in a lot of pain right now, really exhausted, and just not thinking very well so I'm going to take this week off from the blog. Please talk amongst yourselves and have a good week.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Quick end of week check-in

I am STILL possessed by evil back spasm spirits. I have not gone in for any kind of exorcism this week. I really should. I am reconsidering going to a medical doctor. As in I think I might go there first. My reasoning behind this strategy is because 1) the medical profession has been zero help in my three decade long war against chronic pain so this will not alarm the evil back spasm spirits causing an even more painful retaliation; 2) there is a slim chance that maybe the planets are lined up such that I may be able to secure ammunition against these evil spirits in the form of a prescription strength anti-spasm/inflammation/pain drug; and 3) there is also a slim chance for other forms of ammunition such as physical therapy, specifically massage therapy which if prescribed could bring into play the financial assistance health insurance calvary. As a back up plan, off-gridders always need a back up plan or two or three, I could push The Husband down in the parking lot skinning his knee and maybe even bumping his elbow so we can turn right around and go back into the doctor's office so they will promptly and with great sympathy give him a grocery bag with handles full of Pez dispensers containing every pain killer known to mankind for his boo-boo because everyone knows that men easily, quickly, and tragically succumb to boo-boos and the common cold. While I didn't push him down, this is how I scored my last bottle of prescription strength NSAID pain relief. That bottle lasted over a year, using it only for extreme pain possessions, and it included Mike using it too for what he even called a "fake injury" because it really was the equivalent of a bumped elbow.

Our video chat interview on Tuesday went well. I really enjoy sharing what we know about green technology and living off-grid. This is going to be a step-by-step process and nothing may ever come of it but as things unfold, I will let you know of any fun and exciting things gong on.

Our food from Outdoor Herbivore has arrived. We will be lunching on one of the meals today. Mary Jane's Farm food is scheduled to be here Monday. We've had quite a bit of rain lately and the driveway is getting a bit squishy. If the driveway seems a little too squishy for our liking on Monday, we'll send out the bat signal by leaving the truck down at the end of the drive for Kurt (UPS) to leave our package in our truck. 

Mike continues to build his equine pantry, aka putting up hay for the next year, as weather permits. He also wants to get a load of saw logs here so they are ready for making firewood in the Spring. This running around this late mucking around with firewood is BS which has backed up mucking around with putting up hay. That's why we asked for our firewood in the Summer when WE wanted it. But it may be too late already with the driveway getting squishy. Disgusted sigh.

In my department, I will be visiting my family down south for the holidays which are speeding up on us. I need to make sure there's enough food for Mike to quickly and easily feed himself while I'm gone. One person running the cabin and taking care of the beasts is tough. This is also the time of year where I reflect on the last year and mastermind the year ahead. I've got enough left undone on this year's list to provide plenty of "fun" for next year plus I'm thinking about trying to grow some greens this Winter. 

Preview for next week: We've still got a little bit of news to catch up on so that's what we'll be chatting about then. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nerves of (melting) steel

Just a quick status report today.

THE SUN IS SHINING! (cue the Angels on High)

Evil back spasm spirits have invited friends. We've got a lot going on today but I think I'm going to have to give in again and consult some sort of professional exorcist. I tried a massage last week to no avail. Will call another massage therapist. If that doesn't work, while I have more faith in a witch doctor, I don't know any around here so I guess I'll have to settle for a medical doctor. If the medical doctor suggests that I go home and take aspirin, this blog could be in for even more changes unless I'm allowed my computer and internet connection while incarcerated.   

We located and purchased our hay for the next year back in September. Last night, The Husband started hauling the hay here and put it up in our barn---the equine version of a pantry. His lordship, Diesel, is pleased.

As part of our shift from productive members of society to retirement, we have spent this entire year selling things, paying things off, etc. More on that to follow but today we have a closing appointment. We are re-doing our mortgage. Lower interest rate! Little happy jig. Ouch, dang back spasms.

And....another drum roll moment please....we have a video chat interview today for a possible opportunity to share our off-grid systems on a never before, unprecedented scale for The Secret Cabin. What this could mean to you is a professionally shot video tour of The Secret Cabin in action complete with solar pole dance if need be. I'm wanting this to all come together pretty badly so I've got a little case of nerves going on. Unless that's the back spasm spirits. Anyway, please think positive thoughts  for us on this. Thank you!

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to be productive whilst staring at the ceiling

I have lost track of the number of days I have been possessed by evil back spasm spirits. Pain sucks. Laying on one's back and staring at the ceiling day after day sucks. However, as unbelievable as it may seem, I have made great strides towards building up a food pantry all from the comfort of my memory foam mattress. I would not have been able to accomplish such a feat without the support of my memory foam mattress hogging feLION assistants. I'm sure my being contorted around furry bodies in what space is available to me after these tiny beasts get into bed and stretch out from one end of the king size mattress to the other is also speeding my recovery. How do they do that? If there were a dog and cat "Bed Pig" equivalency chart, I'd bet a cord of firewood that one seven pound feLION of any breed and hair length is equivalent to a 120 pound bull mastiff. We've also got another mystery afoot. How did a vegetarian (yours truly) get on the mailing list for a fish catalog? Not just any fish mind you, but canned, wild caught Alaskan salmon aka not cheap fish. Tiffany Anne has posted on facebook before and now my pain, aspirin, and valerian root induced state has me suspicious. Anyhow, I ordered food from Mary Jane's Farm and Outdoor Herbivore. This organic camping food translates into low energy requirements for turning dehydrated food into palette satisfying nourishment. We've tried Mary Jane's Farm food before. Knowing we like it, I ordered a stash. I ordered a few different items from Outdoor Herbivore to give them a try. If we like the taste, we'll order a stash from them too. I also plan on supplementing these with cans of soup, potatoes, almond butter and....that's as far as I am. I also started a spreadsheet. The Husband and I discussed what, specifically, are we looking to accomplish here. At this point, we are building a thirty day supply and planning on moving on to a ninety day supply. It feels good to have this project started and it feels good to do something besides stare at the ceiling.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

DEFCON status

photo from here

There have been moments during off-grid mayhem and mishaps where I imagine one of those caged, oblong red light bulbs flashing while an alarm whoops and the words "DEFCON ?" bellows repeatedly over a loud speaker. The "?" is because I never knew if 5 or 1 indicated "oh shit!" So, I googled. It's 1. DEFCON 1 is "oh shit." But wait, there's more. DEFCONs are Defense Conditions. There's also EMERGCONs, Emergency Conditions, but those are for "reactions" to "missiles in the air attacks." That would be "OH SHIT!" Hmmm? I'm thinking snow rather than missiles. Yes, missiles are really bad but snow is not to be toyed with either. Yes, I'm going to establish for the purpose of this blog that EMERGCON is for impending doom incidents which could be a snow storm, the government taking another expensive vacation on our dime, and/or a missile in the air among other such things, etc. EMERGCON 2 is when we have a couple of cans of fuel for the generator on standby; EMERGCON 1 will be when ALL appropriate storage cans for fuel are in fact full. Food and supplies for both (wo)man and beasts should also be stocked: enough for one incident would be level 2; stocking for a minimum of 3 months would be level 1. (Definitely, I cordially invite you to set whatever protocols are best for you here; we're all different with different situations.) The five DEFCON levels and the two EMERGCON levels make up what is called LERTCONs, Alert Conditions. I learned all this from FAS. While I cannot recommend enough how one that lives off-grid should really be at DEFCON 1 and EMERGCON 1, which I am guilty of not always doing, I have listed the other DEFCON levels for your day-to-day status and/or panicking convenience (taken directly from the aforementioned link). I'd say The Secret Cabin is at DEFCON 4 moving toward DEFCON 3 as November 1 rolls towards us. I expect to be at DEFCON 1 by December 1.

DEFCON 5 Normal peacetime readiness
DEFCON 4 Normal, increased intelligence and strengthened security measures 
DEFCON 3 Increase in force readiness above normal readiness 
DEFCON 2 Further Increase in force readiness, but less than maximum readiness 
DEFCON 1 Maximum force readiness.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dealing with a case of Crabs

Sincere apologies for the title. Yes, I'm giggling. I know it's gross but I just can't resist playing with words. In this case, when I say crabs, I'm referring to the mood commonly known as crabby. When one is crabby, one has a case of Crabs. And yes, if you are crabby around me, I'm going to tell anyone that asks me what your problem is that you have a case of Crabs. Your welcome. I like to help out in any way I can. An alternate title I was batting about was When the Honeymoon is over. I think a case of crabs sounds more scandalous and read worthy.

This picture has nothing to do with today's conversation but I just wanted the whole world to see why one should not burn paraffin candles. Yep, that is soot on the naked wood ceiling. Now imagine your lungs. Yep. Not doing that again. That is the last time I succumb to buying an awesome scent unless it's soy or beeswax and phthalates-free fragrance.  Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program.

I recently had an opportunity to share some of our off-grid experiences with someone. Let's call her Katie. Katie asked me a couple of questions and and it’s prompted some thinking. And remembering. Remembering why, on a deeper level, that we wanted to go on this off-grid adventure to begin with. I told Katie the whole "we watched too much Little House on the Prairie, romantic, writer/artist in the off-grid cabin in the woods" reason because that’s what I remembered off the top of my head. The question has hung in the air since Katie asked and it goes back farther and deeper than that. The only thing I had ever done was ride and show horses.  I also felt my small town school provided an inferior education experience. Yes, I put myself through some college but I’ve always felt completely useless and like I didn’t know how to do anything. I wanted to be self-sufficient. I wanted to be able to take care of myself and call my own shots. Make my own decisions. Live life on my own terms. Have my own life.  "I'm going to go out and see the world," I swore to myself. How could I forget something like that? I guess a case of Crabs will do that to a person. Katie asked what was next. Again off the surface of the grey matter, "Garden. If it were up to our garden, we'd have starved," I admitted. Upon further reflection, yes, garden. Successfully. Put food up. Can. Pantry. All of a sudden, I feel myself slowly, reluctantly, waking up again. Reluctant. Yes. I’m not sure I want to go down that road again. It's like as soon as Mike retired, I parked my behind on a large boulder along this off-grid journey. But now I remember and it’s about more than the cabin and living off-grid. I've been stuck between this anger/ disappointment/fear cloud and the present. I don’t know if I want to step into the present. When I was here by myself and Diesel was attacked by the hot water racks, vulnerability rose up like a giant monster roaring right in my face complete with stinky spittle spraying my skin and blowing my hair straight back behind me. We shifted from productive members of society to retirement and loosing half our retirement savings on the farm. I waited all those years. A slave to Mike's job and the feLIONs. "When I retire, when I retire," he kept saying. Enter mid-life crisis. Thoughts of roads not taken and opportunities passed. Mourning and grieving. And still feeling like I haven’t done anything. Definitely, nothing in society’s eyes I assume. I am thankful I have a roof over my head. It just that I had more dreams and I'm still drawing breath. Fear has me wondering if I get wrapped back up in the off-grid thing is it going to cost all my other dreams. And how in the heck did I forget my dreams of self-sufficiency and being useful. For someone that's allegedly bold enough to leap off the cliff and live off-grid, some days I just don't wake up and join the rest of the class. I’ve always said that I would love to share the real information we’ve learned about off-grid living. Now, there's been this shift. The honeymoon is over is what I’ve been saying but there’s more to it than that and it’s not as bad as it sounds. I'm finally understanding this shift. Just like when two people move forward from the honeymoon stage, they are moving into something deeper and more real. It’s the same with off-grid living. It’s not this new, all consuming toy any more, it’s a lifestyle that’s so engrained it’s part of who I am now. It's in the background. It can be a foundation for where I stand in the present and I can build from there. It's like everything is normal again. I just have to decide and/or remember what I want to build and it doesn't have to be either or. It can be and. It's waking up again and getting off one's parked butt and moving down the path again. I can deal with the monsters of vulnerability when they pop up. So what's next? I think knowing that at some point one is going to shift from being completely consumed by all things off-grid back into life again is useful. I am hoping for the opportunity to share our off-grid lifestyle and what I know with more people. I know I want to paint my bathtubs and put them in my garden. With the exception of deer staring at me, I do enjoy bathing al fresco. The word integrate floats around my brain. Art and writing do not need to be segregated and protected from off-grid living; they can be built on top of off-grid living or alongside. Integrated. Whole. The garden needs an artful overhaul. My garden skills need a lot of work. I've always wanted to learn to can. In my recovery from Crabs, I am currently taking steps to build up a food pantry. When I lived here by myself I could go three days without dragging the generator out and running it in the Winter so I've been thinking about energy conservation to cut down on generator usage. I could re-start my riveting cooking experiments in the heater. Baked potatoes sound good, don't they? As I reported yesterday, Mike is venturing into making our own firewood. Of course, Mike would still like to add a wind turbine. The system we have was originally designed to have one but....well, you've heard the horror stories....

One of my favorite things to do is come up with diabolical plans so I'll have to think some more about what's next. I do think we're witnessing a new chapter here in off-grid living at The Secret Cabin. Something deeper and more real.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

drum roll....and Here it bonus news

Ooooooh. Cool, but why is it fenced in? Remember, according to Diesel the racks attacked him. This is to keep the racks from attacking poor, innocent equine passersby.



Uh huh, Bheki, you're starting to bore me.

Oh. That is a big pipe.

Okay. I am on day seven of being possessed by some sort of evil back spasm spirit so my writing is a little dry today. So. The usual answer, "yes, it works." What we really want to know is how well. You know the song, "....Summertime and the living is easy." The hottest the boiler had ever been with the heater was 107 degrees. This Summer, we saw 130 on the tank. What little Summer was left, I had nice hot showers. Mike and I could each take a hot shower every day. We even took the aerators out of the shower head for a little more water pressure. We didn't really get more water pressure but we got more water coming out of the shower head. The Husband offered to crank up the pressure on the tank but I didn't want to push my luck and run out of hot water in the middle of being all soapy. I even stood there under the running hot water for a few minutes to fend off aforementioned evil back spasm spirits. Yes, I totally wasted hot water but it felt really good. We were able to do loads of laundry with warm water if we wanted to but I didn't really get a chance to use hot water for the dishes and household cleaning. Now, it's what I like to refer to as "turnaround time." This is the time of year where we start the heaters up about ten days before the weather gets cold. We usually end up running around in our underwear for a couple of days because there's a little overlap in warm weather and the heaters curing out and putting heat into the cabin. We also had an added bonus this year of overlapping and over heating the boiler. Yeah. It worked that well. Scared the hell out of us. But, you know The Husband's saying, "Better lucky than good." The Sun was making hot water and the heater was making hot water. Because yours truly has a bug up her butt about all things contractor and off-grid, I did not pay attention to the men (said like I have a mouthful of poo) and the job they were doing with the hot water system. Well, they plumbed the system so the solar hot water used the ground loop for cooling that was formerly plumbed for the masonry heater. Because the sun had been out on this eventful day, it was 71 and 73 on the front porch and bathroom, respectively, so those zones were satisfied so the switches for the in-floor heat for the rooms shut off the pump for the loop going through the masonry heater. Mike had gone downstairs and did the fire. Next thing I knew, I heard all this banging and I yelled at Mike figuring he was being pissy. He didn't say anything back and it sounded like Diesel was down there so I got up to yell at Mike again only to meet Mike coming into the cabin as I got to the stairs for the lower level. Shit. I asked Mike if he was making noise out on the porch and that's when I got my pissy response and I bitched back that we have a problem. We both ran downstairs to hear the pipes banging like a bad horse that wants out of his stall. Then we see the pump not pumping. At this point, I didn't know what had been done with the loops. We shut the air intakes on the heater but it did not snuff out the fire. We ended up throwing burning logs out the back of the cabin. Without the fire going, the hot water tank/boiler cooled down enough that the switches switched the heater loop pump back on. When the hot water started running through the pipes again, it melted the pipe insulation. Then Mike was like, "Oh, we actually made enough hot water that it was going to go to the in-floor heating in the porch and bathroom but that's warm enough because the sun was out today." I said, "why the hell didn't it use the ground loop?" "Because we have the solar loop going through there and that loop is only on if the solar is on which it isn't because it's dark now." No man is worth my freedom, no man is worth my freedom, no man is worth my freedom.... So, we have now disconnected the switch going to the front porch so it always stays open and are using that loop as the dump zone for the heater loop. Additional little note: We have also slowed the pump down just a little for the heater loop giving us hotter water. 

From the Department of Firewood: We asked for our firewood to be delivered this Summer. We got one and a half cords and then the rest about a week ago. This is not acceptable. We absolutely, positively HAVE to have wood that has been split and put up for at least six months. It's even better if it's nine months to a year. Mike is thinking of just getting saw logs in the future for the economy of it and cutting and splitting it himself. Taking down some of our own trees even. But only the ones that aren't doing well. As it is, we have been paying for split firewood only to have to split it down even further. After three years of splitting with axe and chisel, here we go. 

And last not but not least for today, a skeleton from my closet. Oh. My. Goddess. What. A. Shameful. Garden. To be continued....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Are you looking for a hot, steamy time?

Solar hot water system update coming very, very soon. Complete with pictures of BIG pipes. Okay, here's a little teaser. Just this evening from 68 to 72 degrees in the two hours before sundown.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Because I like it HOT and STEAMY and....'s The Husband's job to take care of those needs for (music of impending doom) THE WIFE (Psycho music). In all seriousness, the old bones have decided that they don't like cold showers this Summer. I have completely washed (ha, pun) my hands of this project. I'm sick of glorified camping aka off-grid living. I just as well light a match and not turn back but I promised project coverage and I know that after I get my hot, steamy soak, I'll be my usual sweet self. 

Project sprawling all over the back yard. I'm pretty sure that ALL these forms of horse power are not necessary for a hot water install so don't panic. Yet. The fence panels are to keep the tube racks from attacking Diesel again. (You may recall we had a bloody, screaming and cutting incident late last Summer.)

View from the South. The Husband in action.

A close up. Tractor holding the 4x in place while The Husband ties the 4x's in place. We did use 4 x 6's on the horizontal braces because of the size of the "feet" on the tube racks.

Even though I'm crabby as all get out, I'm proud of The Husband working on this. 

Next up: final squaring, leveling, and pouring some concrete down the holes; neighbor coming over with his backhoe to dig the trench for the lines. Anticipating Roger of Bob's Sheet Metal after that. And then, we should have the much coveted, sought after hot and steamy soak in the clawfoot tub and all will be right with the world.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Getting closer to

Spring and hot water.

I'm a little hesitant to say it's Spring with the way Winter hung on and really, we're closer to Summer now.

I even took a little break, if you want to call it that, from the Winter weather in the Keweenaw by going "down South" to our Northern Ohio farm. While mid-April in Northern Ohio is Spring, there was a lot of complaints from the natives about their weather. I listened politely while dressed in shorts and t-shirt. By the time it was time for me to return North, the lilacs were in full bloom and I had mowed the lawn twice at the farm.

While the break from the weather was nice, my time at the Ohio farm was definitely no vacation. I was there to prep the farm to go back on the market and find yet another real estate agent. The farm is a small 20 acre farm surrounded by a corporate farmer to the South and East. Needless to say, the corporate farm was a bit of a bully to us. It was one of the main reasons we wanted to sell and bought the place here. This corporate farmer constantly trespassed onto our property, sprayed and killed our hay. They also sprayed me - I was sick for four days. They even planted their crops on our ground. They kept cutting the growth back on our property after repeatedly telling them not to, to which they responded by nearly running me over with their brush hog. They threatened to cut my trees down. It had gone on for far too long and of course the sheriff refused to do anything about it because when you're that big, you know people. Mike finally told the guy to knock it off and leave me alone. It was also a deciding factor in my moving here ahead of Mike while he finished out his career. Mike joined us at the cabin in November 2012. All was well at the farm when he left. When I went to the farm in mid-April, it was evening and already dark when I arrived. I met daybreak missing a 660 foot line of trees. They made good on their threat, trespassed, destroyed some major timber trees, and completely destroyed the view out the back of the house. Now, lights and noise from the state route were evident with the trees gone. Additionally, they dug up the property creating a huge ditch and ripping out an official staked survey survey pin. Those pins were two - two and a half foot long rebar "pins" that were part of a $1000 survey. So, I made a phone call to the farmer. The son runs the farm. The father was the one we were having problems with. Turns out they were not aware that the father was harassing me. Seems to be a bit of a "rogue Grandpa" situation only with heavy equipment in lieu of a walker. Don't get me wrong, livid is an understatement but the job this man in his mid-80's did was quality one. I am so proud of how calm and polite I was. I just stated that something was going to have to be done about this. The farmer told me to let him know about the survey pin (cost). I did notice that the timber destruction was glossed over. I said that I could do one better and just sell the place to him. Turns out one of the employees of this farm was looking for a house and the farmer is always looking for more land so we made an appointment for the farmer and the employee to come over and look at the place. My parents came over and we scrubbed the daylights out of the house. Remember I hadn't been there for nearly three years while The Husband was "baching" it there. Mess was also an understatement. I won't get into that part of the story but the words "divorce" and "throw your body on the insurance agent's desk while I hold out my hand for a check" have been bantered about. Appointment time came and I gave a very good tour of the house, if I do say so myself. It wasn't hard to do because the house really is lovely. They left and said they'd let me know. They came back ten minutes later and said they'd take it. It took two real estate agents six months to produce NO offers. I was at the house for a week and a half and sold it. I continued to stay at the house and along with my parents, get as much cleaning and maintenance done as possible-all work that should have been done or would have to be done for financing. I'm going to spare us all the usual joyful experience working with contractors tends to be. I don't know which is harder: getting the work done or staying a free member of society while one tries to get the work done. I got home mid-May. Mike has made two trips down to Ohio to get the remainder of our belongings and move the piano. We couldn't bare to part with the piano so as of this past Monday, she is on loan to and now resides at the Calumet Art Center. We're very excited about her career in show biz. Did I mention that the piano used to belong to the ex-wife of the gentleman buying the house? Pause for shocked gasps. I know. Small world.

Closing is on the 29th. The hot water project should start up shortly thereafter. I will be covering the hot water install here in the blog. Hopefully, we will be able to end the hot water project coverage with a steamy bathtub scene.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Other Off-Grid-y News....

I know the header picture of the Studio doesn't really fit but I can't bring myself to take it down yet. Having the Studio space last year was really a big deal for me. Yea, the roof leaked and it was raining down ceiling tiles in there and there's probably a structural problem somewhere where the floor was falling in in the one spot, but, man, it was such an awesome experience. I did get all my art supplies out by the end of my little three month lease right before the tax notice of impending doom was put on the door. I feel a little helpless when we drive by my former Studio space now. It would take winning the lottery to rehab the building. And that's just the one section of the building. It used to be a restaurant before it became part of the bakery. Anyway, I miss my Studio. On to more off-grid-y news....

We have another off-gridder amongst us. Mike met him at our local Cafe. You can meet him here at his Bootjack Cabin.

Also amongst us, a dead wind turbine. I could see myself spooking and running for my life right along side Diesel when I said that. Yes, it's the neighbor's turbine that I coveted a while back. They suffered a lightening strike this past Summer and it damaged some of their solar equipment in addition to the turbine. Still not flying so, it's been down awhile. 

And, finally, the honeymoon is over. No, not my marriage. I never even had a wedding yet alone a honeymoon. Gosh, a vacation sounds divine. Some place warm where scantily clad men feed you grapes and fan you with palm fronds. Anyway, I'm talking about the living off-grid "honeymoon." When you first go off-grid things are all new and exciting. Not any more. Sure, I still go wild when the Sun shines but I find myself muttering under my breath when I have to stop and think about flipping something on or plugging something in or starting the generator when I want to cook. Some days, I'm just not in the mood for what can feel like glorified camping. Some days, when I've haven't slept well the night before and I'm all crabby and achey, I think about bringing a line back and tying in. Some days, when I'm REALLY crabby, I just want to get the feLIONs out of the cabin, throw my favorite things out on the lawn, and drop a match as I close the door behind us. But that's when I'm REALLY crabby and Mike will give me a little bit of chocolate or the sky will clear and I'm okay again. I'm okay but, like I said, the honeymoon is over. I realize that's all dark and shadowy but I've always been honest with you and that's where I'm at in this journey. And, this has been your off-grid-y news update.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Hot Times Ahead

Okay everyone, up on your feet. Hands in the air. Whoot! Whoot! Oh yea. Oh yea. Do a little happy dance. Oh yea. Oh yea. Thanks for celebrating with me. You heard it here first. We stopped by Bob's Sheet Metal and finishing paying for the HOT WATER SYSTEM! The Husband is here at the cabin 24/7 now and we've got some help lined up for his portion of the project - sinking posts into the ground and building all the stuff the racks are going to be bolted into. Let's all dance about a bit more. Oh yea. Whoot! Whoot! can sit back down again.

This photo is prior to one of the racks maliciously attacking Diesel. That's Diesel's story and he's sticking to it. It was very traumatic so we're really not talking about it. We will get new photos of all the damage as we get closer to the install - both the rack and Diesel's leg. You have been spared the worst. Diesel's leg is pretty well healed. On second thought, you will get the picture of Diesel's leg only if he decides it okay for me to take a picture of it. Like I said, he's pretty sensitive about it and we're not allowed to stare. Nobody likes to be stared at. It's not polite and in the animal kingdom it is REALLY not polite, it's predatory.

So, we're all waiting on the weather now. As soon as it's green (versus it being Winter) we are a go and, did I mention, in HOT WATER! Oh yea! Whoot! Whoot!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Still breathing, screaming, and kicking.

Today, out the front door, snow and a truck.
Quite literally all three of those things.

As you saw, I dropped off the blogosphere there again. We had a little incident that involved Diesel, the racks for the hot water system, a lot of woman screaming, a lot of horse kicking and screaming, and a lot of horse blood. It also involved a rude, not as talented as I needed veterinarian. Then we had a special needs feLIONs emergency. Also involving another inadequate veterinarian. I do NOT want to relive any of what happened by rehashing it here for you. Bottom line is that we now drive two hours one-way for serious veterinary care. We also really like Dr. Ladd and his staff near Baraga. The main thing is that other than a couple more grey hairs for your's truly and a few more hard miles on the ol' ticker, we're all okay. Mostly. Diesel will have a couple of scars and his confidence is rattled. Time will tell if he's going to stay sound. At most, he's on light duty anyway and should be fine. Tiffany Anne is back to her Princess-y self. Fancy was in good hands in Marquette and is fine. Though, I still feel strongly that a veterinarian should be allowed to legally administer a sedative for the animals' owners.

The Husband is home at the cabin all the time now, and again, there is still breathing, screaming, and kicking there too. I'm glad he's home but it's a little more work in one way than bachelorette-ing it. Easier in another way by having help with all the chores. I'm relieved and grateful that he had a 25 year career and nobody crashed and burned and died on his watch. He's got his little jacket that says "Retired" and his "Thanks for 25 years service to the US" plaque.

As I come out of this animal and retirement induced tail spin, I enter a new stage of life. All my life, I've done what I was told to do. I did what other people wanted/demanded that I do. I played the hand I was dealt and flowed with it the best I could. Finally, all of a sudden, it's still and quiet. The demands are gone. There's too many extra pounds, old fractures and bone spurs, I'm exhausted and there's this person that stares back at me from the mirror that is shockingly a lot older than I remember. Then there's all these little boxes of who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, and labeled "Your LIFE" that I've been stacking one on top of another since my years actually comprised of single digits and shoved in an hasty heap in a dark corner. I look at this heap of dusty hopes and dreams and what I wanted through angry tears cursing those I put before myself for fear of rejection - angriest at myself that I didn't tell them to go F off. People want you to live your life the way they want you to live it because they either didn't get to live it themselves or they're not brave enough to live it themselves. Lesson learned. So, I carefully try to unpack those hopes and dreams so old and brittle they disintegrate at my slightest touch and I feel the disappointment and heartache of what dreams and parts of myself are already gone but I still have yet to accept and release. As I look for what can be resuscitated, I realize the boxes are now empty while I feel the loud, echoing ticking of a clock not that far away anymore. Breathing, screaming, and kicking.... I just begin again.