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.