Saturday, December 31, 2011

26-31 December, 2011 Back home again!

The people I was house sitting for returned last night so I'm back home again. Yay!!!! Christmas is over and the New Year is only hours away.  It's been kind of a boring routine this week.  Scott keeps Susan busy caring for him and all that entails.  Anyone who's ever had small children knows exactly what I
mean!  Scott is going through a teething phase and needs lots of attention so when he's awake she can't really get much done except carry him around.  When he's down for a nap she has to rush through the things she didn't get finished while he was awake.  And of course there are the endless diapers to change and wash.

But it isn't all work.  Scott decided to give a little tutorial on choosing a horse.
The right horse is very important he says...

It needs to be a horse you can trust no matter how you sit on it  ...

Sometimes tired cowboys need a break and the best way is to sit in the saddle backwards and use the horse's neck for a back rest.  Any good horse will of course understand your fatigue and take you home while you catch a few z's.

Once you find the right horse, Scott says, it's a pleasure to own and ride and you can relax and enjoy the scenery while wowing the girls with your exemplary riding abilities.  That's how a good horse helps you get the best girls!!!
Christmas present time.  Scott has his new bear and is playing in a box the presents came in.

Christmas day someone left the wrapping paper crate by the counter so he decided to help me make coffee.

One of Scott's favorite toys.  With this he can help Grandma and Grandpa get more outdoor exercise.

They made me pose for this picture.  Everyone knows that Grandpa is the real Santa.

Ahh ... back to real life again.  We got several inches of rain during the week so we set a barrel under a downspout to collect the bounty of water. 

We boil it n the kettle we keep on the stove then pour it through a coffee filter and into a tank.  A twelve volt RV pump, pumps it up into an overhead tank above the kitchen sink where we use it for washing dishes, etc.  The filter needs to be repositioned to a new place after a few gallons.

I cleaned out the chicken house today.  It wasn't real bad yet but the weather was cooperative and I wanted to work outside awhile.

I threw some flakes inside and let the chickens scatter them.  They'll love kicking the hay apart looking for seeds and bugs.  We got two more eggs this week.  That's pretty good for not providing artificial light and feeding them the cheaper food like we do every winter.

Odie took up a position to see if I was going to do anything interesting.  We (Susan, me, Odie, and Scott in the backpack) went for a walk through the woods this morning.  Odie's manners have gotten a little rusty over the winter so we did some obedience training to get her back in shape.

The sun actually showed up a couple of days this past week so I took some pictures just in case I didn't see again for awhile.  This is Marl Lake below the cabin I was staying at.  We got some rain later in the week which turned the road and any paths into ice rinks.  The packed snow turned to ice making it difficult to get up our road even with four-wheel-drive and studded tires.

I was treated to a rare sight with this rainbow.  It touched the ground about 300 yards form the cabin's front door.  Pretty cool and made the rain worth putting up with.

The Internet has been very slow today so I left several photos that I'd planned to post, out.  We want to close hoping that everyone reading it has a great year ahead of them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

16-25 December, 2011 - Oops and "Merry Christmas!"

I didn't realize it had been so long since I made my last post.  I apologize for that.  Our normal routines are a little off due to the house sitting and Christmas.  My computer is at the place I'm house sitting and Susan has hers at home.  I keep forgetting to bring her camera card here to get pictures or download them when she's been here and even though I had my computer with me yesterday I forgot to download pictures from her camera.  So, I don't have near the selection of photos to draw from that I'm used to having.

The biggest problem people have in our experience when they try to live off-grid is understanding that energy conservation is as much an art as a science. You really have to get creative to do it!  There are some harsh realities about living off-grid.  This photo was taken at 10:39 AM and the sun is just now clearing the mountain tops to the South.  It will still be another 30 minutes before it's rays clear the trees and directly hit the first solar panel.

This is sunset at our cabin about a mile away.  It was taken at 5:16 PM.  The solar panels have been in the shade for at least 30 minutes.  That means we have less than six hours of direct sunlight on the solar panels.  During that time the solar panels have to produce all the electricity we'll need for a 24 hour time period.  This includes recharge the batteries that we were running on for the 18 hours we didn't have
  direct sunlight on the panels.  If it's a cloudy or overcast day (meaning there are no shadows) the solar panels will only produce about 10 percent of their maximum rate.  So ... if you can produce 1,000 watts per hour on a sunny day you're down to 100 watts per hour on an overcast day.  With six hours of sunlight you'll have 600 watts of power available in a 24 hour period.  But that's not exactly true either because it takes about 125 watts of generated power to store 100 watts in your battery (About 20-25 percent of the power generated is lost in recharging the batteries.)  So in reality you'll have about 480 watts available for use in a 24 hour period.  That means you could run a 100 watt light bulb almost five hours (remember it's dark from about 5:45 PM until about 9:00 AM - over 15 hours).    If you go to bed at 9:45 PM and get up at 7:00 AM you're going to need lights on for at least 6 hours. 

Anyone want to figure up what you'll be able to use without going over your 480 watts of available power in that 24 hour period of overcast weather?  

By the way, if you pay less that $2.50 per watt for your solar panels you got a good price so in order to generate 1,000 watts of power it will cost $2,500.00 just for the solar panels.  That doesn't include the price of the inverter ($1.00 per watt is a good price), the charge controller(s) - (figure a minimum of $200 for a system of that size) and batteries (another $500 minimum).  By spending this kind of money you'll be able to power a 100 watt light bulb for approximately 5 hours on a cloudy day.  Of course that's the worst case but you'll need to remember that your highest electricity use is during the winter when it's coldest and darkest.

This was taken from the front porch of the cabin where I'm staying.  The sun won't be over the ridge for another 40 minutes so the fog is hanging low in the meadow. The time was 10:00 AM

This was taken at 10:47 AM.  I had to tweak the contrast a little to make the moon show up better.  This is about ten minutes after the "sunrise" photo was taken and the sun still hasn't hit the solar panels yet.

One of the "working cats" on the place.  The cats are more than pets.  They're needed to keep the mice and other rodents in control.

This one is the brother to our cat.

There's a bird feeder on the front porch so I get some feathered entertainment while writing.

A couple of the kids were over and brought some pork chops for dinner.  I went to fire up the gas grill and the propane valve was leaking so I got out the old-standy and the charcoal.  The food tastes better on a charcoal grill anyway.  I've just gotten lazy and impatient since getting my gas grill.

It is possible to break a maul when using it to hammer.  To be fair though, I've seen the same thing happen to sledge hammers.

Odie has been feeling left out and wanted her picture taken and posted even though this wasn't her most flattering pose.

Ahhh .. spaghetti squash.  If you've never cooked these, the easiest way I know of is to cut them in half. lay the halves (open side down) on a cookie sheet and bake them at about 375 degrees for approximately 30 minutes (the time will vary according to the size of the squash).

Before you bake them, remove the innards.

Save the seeds.  They can be eaten raw or toasted and make good snacks.

Once they're cooked, scrape the insides out ...

...and top it with spaghetti sauce or butter and brown sugar.  I put this back in the oven for about ten minutes to heat everything back to the same temperature.

Susan took this while on the lawn swing with Scott and the cat.  The cat's been feeling neglected too.

This little guy loves being outdoors.  Here he's getting his first wheel barrow ride and thoroughly enjoyed it.  He likes the sled and backpack too.  We have to watch him though.  He's pretty good at shedding his shoes and socks.  Susan pins them on now so that when he gets them off we don't lose them!

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 7-15, 2011 Trapping, House Sitting, Christmas Decorating

I thought I'd post an animal track quiz to start this week's blog.  All three sets of tracks were taken this week but at three different locations.  Anyone want to make a guess as to what kind of animal made each one?  I didn't put the lighter (for size comparison) beside the first set of tracks but they're the same size as the second set of prints.
First set taken on 12/09/2011 in the afternoon.  These were on state land about a mile south of home.

Second set taken 12/12/2011 at 2:49 PM about a mile north of home.

Third set taken on 12/12/2011 at 3:35 PM about 1/4 mile south of second set of tracks shown above.

This is the way I carry my traps and gear when there's snow on the ground.  It's much easier than using a back pack.

We've had days of cold temperatures and overcast skies.  Highs have been around 18 with lows around 10.  Very bad conditions for solar power.

I'm writing this from a neighbor's home.  They're on a long vacation and needed someone to watch over the place.  They live off grid like we do but have a little more complicated set-up.  They have a well with a 12 volt, solar/battery powered well pump in addition to their regular pump which is run by their generator.  It pumps water into a tank under the cabin.  They have an automatic washer but due to the low flow rate of the 12 volt pump it can be used only once each day.  We've been using it though to catch up n some laundry!  They have solar power to keep the battery bank and inverter charged but it's having a difficult time in this overcast and cold weather.  Not much power going in due to short, cloudy days and extra power being used by the heating system because of the cold days and long cold nights.  I have to run the generator a couple of times a day to keep enough power in the battery banks to run the heating system.

This is the heat source for the heating system.  I feed it a wheel barrow load of wood twice a day.  I'm impressed with it's efficiency.  The wood is mostly poplar and doesn't put out a lot of heat.  Their cabin is twice the size of ours and we use one wheel barrow load a day.  We have to feed our stove every three hours or so to keep the place warm and we're using much better wood.

Part of the chores are feeding the livestock.  They have relatives caring for their larger critters but I'm feeding and watering their chickens, rabbits, cats and dogs.  If you look closely at right side you'll see the rabbits double stacked at the water bowl.  The other adult rabbits are in separate cages.

The battery in our Cherokee died this week.  Of course I didn't know it until Susan went to start it late in the evening.  We thought the key had been left on so I started the generator and ran the battery charger out and jump started it.  I made it about 100 feet down the road and it died again and wouldn't start.  I got the Dodge truck out and jump started the Cherokee again.  Susan drove it in the driveway where it promptly died once more.  We pushed it back and I drove the Dodge to where I was spending the night.  Of course it was about ten degrees when all of this happened and Susan had to get Scott all bundled up because she couldn't leave him alone in the cabin that long.  The next day when I drove home I put the battery on the fast charger then tested it after it was on long enough.  It failed miserably.  So ... I scrounged around for a battery to use since she needed to go to town that evening for a meeting at the fire department (she's on the board).  The closest fit was a little bit large so I cut some sections of inner tube out to put over the positive cable just in case it made contact with the hood of the car.  It shouldn't because there's still some clearance but I did it anyway, just in case!  We'll have to get a correctly sized battery next time we're in Kalispell.

This is one of Scott's favorite playmates.  He'll spend lots of time talking to himself in the mirror!

He wanted to play in the pressure canner pot so Susan set him on the stove (pot and all) and labeled this picture as "Scott Stew ... Let's see, carrots, onions, ... what else?"

Susan's been putting up Christmas decorations this week and Scott has been helping.  He really fell in love with this one of the Grinch.

He kind of claimed it as his.

Diaper washing time.  We use cloth diapers most of the time.  A friend at the thrift store found a bunch of diapers they had on hand and gave them to us.  (Seems there's not a lot of demand for cloth diapers anymore.)  The diapers they had are all old and are much better quality than those you buy now.  The edges on the old ones are thicker than the centers on the new cloth diapers.  Scott can now get through the entire night without soaking through his diapers and getting the bedding wet.  Disposable diapers don't work any better for night time use so the thicker diapers have saved her a bunch of extra work.  This is her diaper washing set-up in the shower.  All diapers are washed by hand.

The next few photos are of the Christmas decorations Susan has up in the cabin.

The tree is on the front porch (so Scott won't be tempted).  She also has one in the yard decorated.

Scott is wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!