We got bit by solar bug (and the mosquitoes, and ticks, and chiggers, and…)

Perriee and I finally spent our first nights in the cabin.  It was wonderful, having the chance to fall asleep, shielded only by the plastic and Tyvek that were hanging on the front wall of the house.  I will admit that I felt some guilt using the tipi only for supplies that we needed during our stay. One thing i look forward to however, is having the chance to glampify it here and there now that we don’t need to sleep in it everytime we go.  We need to finish the floor under the stove, paint the hoosier cabinet, and rearrange a little to make it feel more open.  

Even with our building materials stashed inside, the cabin already feels so open inside.  The best part is being able to walk around freely without a wood stove in the center of the room.  

This trip out there, we were able to install our solar “attic fan” in the gable end where the sleeping loft is going to be.  We bought the Nature Power 24208 Powered 1350 CFM Attic Gable Vent Fan with 20W Solar Panel.  This involved fitting the last two pieces of plywood around the fan at the top of the cabin.  It was so incredibly hot that I thought we might melt out there, but we managed to get it measured and screwed into place.  From the inside of the cabin, we cut and mounted the 2×3 supports that we attached the fan to. We then Tyvekked the new area of plywood and attached the fan.  Lastly, screwed the solar panel to the roof. Perriee rocked out her valedictorian brain (yeah, I know, it’s awesome!) and suggested we test the fan BEFORE mounting it on the roof which was definitely the best way to go.  The instructions suggested wiring up while in place, which would have been a nightmare to do while on a ladder, in the heat. Overall, the entire project was pretty simple. The best part? It freaking works! 

The fan only runs when there is sun, but it started up Sunday morning around 8:30 and should consistently run through the worst parts of the day.  Matt suggested attaching a battery to the solar panel to hold extra energy for overnight, which I would say we will work towards, but for now, with as much time as we spend there, I think the current setup will work out great.  

So now we have the solar bug.  During breakfast on Sunday morning we sat watching the fan whir and decided we need more.  The fan installation was the perfect way to dip our toes in the water or, should I say, sunshine, to get the basic gist of how a system works.  If we can do it, anyone can!  

We revisited looking at the Goal Zero Yeti 1250 Solar Package and decided two of those might be all we need to power the entire cabin!  Hear me out, but we might even mount a tv in the sleeping loft, which I had never even considered being an option.  The Yeti has three 110 outlets, a place to plug in the solar fan, plus USB ports for phones. CLEARLY we are not ready for this, but it is a new goal (pun intended).  

Next steps?  

I think the next big step will be to install the back wall’s two windows.  We had ordered two, but realized after watching some installation videos that we bought replacement windows as opposed to “new construction” windows, which have the flange, or lip that you use to nail the window into place.  This worked out though because we ordered a slightly different style (the kind with the window pane look) which I had been having some regrets about not getting in the first place. I love happy accidents.

Homework

Be a deviant!  If we had followed the directions that were inside of the solar fan, we would’ve been so frustrated trying to wire it together after we had it mounted up in place. Trust yourself and the way that you work.  One of the biggest things we have learned since starting all of our projects as a couple of novices is that one source, be it person, video, or manual, does not necessarily have all of the right answers.  Gather your information, listen well, but in the end, make your own recipe. Often, the best answers lie within you.

Some sort of recovered nest.
We pulled this down off of the cat ladder that goes up under the gable of the a-frame. Whatever kind of nest this is (bird or mouse), we pulled it down and relocated it. Sorry kids, you have to move on.

We are not “Instaperfect”

Part of building the a frame now is so that it will hopefully contribute to making it easier to visit our spot in the future.  It is situated only an hour away, yet the preparation we take each week to go there for a night or two feels big. I thought I would take this week to share a bit of what we do to get there on the days that we plan on spending the night or the weekend.  

Every time we go, we tell ourselves, “This time, we will be packed and ready by Thursday night to leave right after work on Friday.  If I don’t vocalize it, I think it, but somehow, we are never ready when Friday afternoon rolls around. We might have some general food plans worked out and a pile of clothes half-packed, but it never fails that Friday looks like this:

Twelve hours after waking up…

5:00 am:  The alarm goes off as it does each weekday.  I always hit the snooze just in case, but we are typically vertical after about four minutes. Mittens is slow to stir, but Tux is first out of bed and ready for breakfast.   Perriee feeds the kitties and I wake up the ducks by letting them out into their run for the day with fresh water and food. Luckily, it is almost always dark so they don’t give me too much fuss about wanting out in the yard.  That equals less guilt for me too.

5:20 am: Perriee leaves for work to clock-in  by 5:30 (incredible, huh?). I finish getting myself together and am gone by about 6:00.  I am at work by 6:30, brewing my pot of coffee and getting the day going.

2:00 pm:  Perriee is done with work around 2:00 and is usually home by 2:15 or so.  She comes home and might jump in the shower and start changing out duck pools and fluffing their house bedding and enclosure for the weekend.  We have our neighbor look after them when we are gone, but we don’t expect him to spend too much time cleaning up after them so we leave them as fresh as possible when we leave.  They have two kiddie pools and a deep “indoor pool” which is just a big tote with a ramp. We also leave them with fresh drinking water for the rest of the night.

3:00 pm:  I leave work for the day and get home around 3:15 if i don’t have to stop for cash to pay the neighbor with.  We clean litter pans and vacuum all of the duck straw that collects at the back door. Suddenly, I start to feel like I could lay down and fall right asleep.  This is when my regrets of not planning more before Friday start to kick in. I will start by scooping the duck food into containers. That is mindless and it smells good.  I scoop their dry food into containers and then their duck salad with apple cider vinegar into other ones. We try to make it super easy, to the point that someone just needs to open the lid and dump it in.  

4:00 pm:  My anxiety will get the best of me and I will say at least once, “Are you sure you want to leave today?  I don’t know if I will be able to get it together in time to leave before dark.” Perriee will respond, “Whatever you want, Love,  just let me know.” I will keep looking at everything, maybe make a couple of rounds around the house, feeling lost, then I will eventually get some clothes and towels and wash cloths packed and hope I don’t forget anything essential.  I toss our hers and hers occlusal guards in my black farm bag, along with phone chargers and the Biolite camp light as well as my Lowes card, debit card, and drivers license.

I go into the kitchen and open the refrigerator and another wave of anxiety rushes over me.  I think, “What are we going to eat all weekend?” in a slight panic. Some weeks it is easier than others, but I always have to reign it in and get my mind right to pack the food.  Perriee will bring the cooler up and I pack a dry bag of goodies, then the cooler, then grab the Dutch oven.

We grab the batteries to the power tools, of which we do make sure to charge ahead of time,  and gather the extras: screws,brown paper for fire starters, that “thing” we no longer need in the city that might work out in the tip,and If Perriee got any good pallets from work, we will toss those into the car as well.  It really just depends on how much room we have. We make sure our work boots are by the back door or outside so they don’t get forgotten.

Twelve hours after waking up…

5:00 pm:When we are about packed, one of us sends a text to the neighbor that we are about to leave and Perriee brings the ducks’ overnight bag over.  Depending on whether or not they are home, we will leave the duckies out or put them in their run. When we put them up before bedtime, it often takes two people and some meal-worms to herd them inside.  They are quick and stubborn and will make you work for it. We make sure the cats are filled up with food and water. 

5:40 pm:  We get off of the exit and stop at Lowes and the grocery store.  I would say we go to both of them more often than not. It is always a pleasure to go to both of those places.  I will say this again, but they are some of the friendliest folks in the country. I am convinced.

6:40 pm: Back on the road.

7:10 pm: Finally, we pull up the driveway.  We go slowly since it is a choppy ascent. This driveway has never been right!  We have even had it repaired since we acquired the property.

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We park at the top of the driveway by the house and the barn and usually find Matt close by working on something.  We chat for a bit, then start hauling our stuff down to the tipi. We each take a load, always a bit too heavy to carry, and make our way back.  We walk past the house then to either the Tipi Trail or through the open pasture of grass, down the back trail. On our second trip up to the car, we grab the water containers and stop in the house to fill up for the next couple of days.  

8:00 pm: Once we get everything down there, we (might) start a fire in the tipi and set up the bed. We put out our rug on top of our pallets, uncover the mattress and pull out the bedding.  If we are lucky, we find a mouse nest to photograph for our upcoming coffee table book. We inevitably at least encounter one of the artists who will jump out of the stove, or down from the smoke flaps.  At this point we open the beer or wine and decide on cooking or snacking for dinner. This is the point that I start to come down. I can breathe again and let the peace overtake me in time for bed.

10:30 pm:  We brush our teeth and pull out the mouth-guards.  Then we crawl into the most comfortable bed and drift off to sleep.  The last time we were there, Perriee told me she wanted to come, if only for the sleep.  It is so comfortable in that bed. Even if the coyotes wake us up or if we hear a mouse nibbling on something in the middle of the night, we will wake up feeling rested in the morning.  

Homework

List the things that make your day worth living.  I keep hearing things about making a gratitude list everyday and how it makes your attitude better.  We found some little chalk boards at one of the Walmart’s we went to while we were shopping in Georgia, so we have been writing down four things every day when we are home to try to stay centered and optimistic.  I will not lie and claim it has changed my life, but it at least changes a couple of minutes. I need it. You might too.

Birthday Weekend 2018

Cabin Corner:

Four tons of gravel is scheduled to be delivered to the homestead this week.  The man I spoke with about the delivery really made me realize how much I need to learn the lingo in the area about where we live.  “You are over there on top of the hill, right?”, he said. “Uhhh…I think so?” “Are you close to the fire department?” , he asked.  “Ummm, I am not really sure”, I replied. “My mother lives over that way, I’ll find you.” There were a couple of more exchanges about where he thought we lived at, then we started talking about payment.  All cash or check. No problem, except for the fact that I did not know if Elaine and Matt would be able to give him money at the time of delivery.   He was not at all concerned and was completely comfortable just having us pay him over the weekend.  People over there are just so very kind. It is so refreshing.

In addition to the gravel order, I have loaded up a cart on Lowes.com and am hoping for an easy truck delivery to the farm.  Since we are getting a truck full of bags of concrete, we went ahead and threw in about 40 bags of mulch in order to touch up the Tipi Trail when we’re done trashing it with our equipment.  We also added 200 feet of garden hose that should reach us at the bottom of the trail in order to avoid the need for hauling water down to our spot.  This will also serve as a life-saver once we move in.  We will use the access to water for both the ducks and some gardening, not to mention for basic teeth brushing and dish washing.  I can’t wait.

All of the holes are dug and currently sitting at a two foot depth.  We decided to go ahead and continue digging down to three feet this weekend, before adding the gravel.  Three is definitely the magic number in this case.  That is the frost line level in our area and we might as well go with it.  The post hole diggers made a 9 inch diameter hole and we will top them off with a 12 inch sonotube pour for a bit of extra stability above ground.  From there, we will add a 6×6 post to the top of the footer and build up. Not sure how exactly yet, but one step at a time, right? We have some ideas of how we want to do it based on a combo of advice and YouTube videos.

Cast Iron Cooking Corner:

I made the best oatmeal for breakfast on Sunday morning.  It was full of apple, walnuts, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar.  Delicious. It took forever because we let the fire go out overnight on Saturday since it was actually pretty warm in the tipi. I did not even think about firing up the propane stove until it was almost done.  Next time!

Gadget Corner:

We left the Biolite Campstove with Matt for the week to see what he thinks about it.  In the absence of excitement, we may return it and put the money we spent towards a different solar package with a little more power.  

Homework:

Don’t be afraid to make your own recipe.

My homemade spaghetti sauce is a hybrid of the influence of many different sauce makers in my life.  I add the carrots from one person, the Worcestershire from another, and the meat from someone else.  Why can’t the cabin design be similar?  I am pretty sure our cabin is going to be a big combo of our advisors input as well as the internet research we have done  on the internet and other places. Ask your questions, get your answers, then make your own decisions.  It is ok to try out your ideas.  Make it your recipe.  

Nikki 

New Beginnings

I started a new job yesterday.  Yes, I am still going to the office, but I will soon have the option to work from home one day a week, which is definitely in line with our future plans.  One day a week, not needing to drive from Indiana, is going to be big. I dream about sitting in an office warmed by a fire with some farm family while working on my day job tasks.  I can say with certainty, that I could dedicate more of myself to my office job if I could do it alongside Perriee. She could be working on something entirely different, but I would be so excited to have her as my “cube mate”.  

As it stands, I have not shared any specific tasks with most people I work with for many years.  We all do different things at the office already, we just happen to share the same space. I think there is a lot to be said about the companionship to get you through the day, working in tandem with others.   The day is a lot more relevant when you can bounce an idea off of someone or just share a fun experience that you had from the night before. Saying that, I will surely miss the coworkers that I am leaving. There were some good ones there.    

Last Year this Week

A year ago this week we put up the tipi.  It was so special because it was the same weekend of Thanksgiving and it brought us joy to have the chance to celebrate the Native American aspect of the holiday a bit more by putting up our native shelter.  It made me feel like I was paying respects to our native ancestors (even if the Cherokee did not live in tipis. I think they would approve).

 

We are so grateful to have had the help that we did to get that last pole up.  The last pole is the lift pole. The one with the tarp wrapped around it. The videos on the website make it look so easy!   It took five adults three tries to get it up. We got it though and it was glorious once we were able to billow out the canvas around the structure of poles. Thank you all AGAIN!  

Homework

Go for it.  When I applied for the position I have just begun, I was totally taking a chance.  It was something I had my eye on for a year or so, but did not know if I would ever be chosen for it.  Around the time I applied for the job, I was realizing how comfortable I had become in my role. That thought alone made me second guess my decision to pursue the new avenue.  I was comfortable. Would it be worth giving that comfort up to start at the beginning again? My cost benefit analysis said, yes.

We do not need to wait until we are in crisis mode to take a chance in a new direction.  Throw your hat in the ring.

Share the Knowledge

Most of the projects that we have done as a couple have been “first time” kind of projects.  Our first big endeavor was tiling our kitchen floor. It was a mess of peel and stick tile which we pulled up ourselves.  Before we got the tile down the whole floor was like human fly-paper! Our friend Joe would stop by with a tool, give us a quick demo of what we needed to do, then, jet out to get back to his family.  He showed us how to install the backer board. Another day, he showed us how to cut the tile, etc. We had at least one other guy on deck to ask questions of, so we would not wear out any one person because we had a lot of questions!  

Since then, we have remodeled a bathroom, put up a tipi, and we have built a catio and a duck compound, basically using the same method.  We have developed an excellent group of advisers whom we consult on a regular basis, not to mention YouTube and the internet, in general. I think we just might be able to do this cabin thing.  I can guarantee we will need some physical labor along the way, but for the most part, Perriee and I will be able to kick this thing off with our virtual team.

Just this past week, we were rewarded with some amazing advice about how to both clear and get the foundation in place.  I am calling January 1, 2019, to finish this by, right here and now. I feel like if we can get the sill in place (trying out a new term there, how’d I do?) by January, we can get it framed and roofed in mid-winter.  Then we can work on the interior in early spring.

Here is what we learned:  

Exhibit A: Neighbor, Requested Text Message Consultationimg_2547

He recommended the size auger we will need (24 inches) and how deep to drill them with a Bobcat (at least 3 feet). Bam! That was exactly what we needed to get going!  Now we need to clear out a spot. Thanks man!

Exhibit B: Coworker and Her Husband, Over Drinks, at the Deep Roots Farm Festival

Talking about cutting up wood and clearing our spot, my coworker’s husband brought up the Ryobi 10” battery powered chainsaw.  We have Ryobi tools and two batteries already.  Because of, said neighbor, actually. He dropped the Ryobi drill off of our roof onto the sidewalk when he was fixing a gutter of ours, and it did not break.  I knew we needed one. We have been wanting a smaller chainsaw for safety reasons and know we likely won’t be cutting trees down. This was life changing! My coworker offered to loan it to us to try out before we buy it.  Had Perriee remembered exactly which one they were referring to, I think she would’ve bought it the very next day! In the meantime, we will also make sure to get the Ryobi reciprocating saw ready to go with the right blade.  Yes, this was another amazing tip from our friends.  

We have since roughly measured the area and began clearing it out.  The spot is about 10 feet away from the tipi. It will overlook the hollow behind us, which we currently do not get the pleasure of looking out on due to the fact that there are no windows in a tipi.  Don’t get me wrong, the natural lighting is amazing in there, which i hope might serve as an unheated hoop house in addition to our guest house. We have been growing mint in there all summer. Mint, may I mind you that was often only watered by the drips in the roof for weeks at a time during the height of summer.  I digress.

Check out the website we are currently consulting about our build:https://www.simplesolarhomesteading.com/ .  Lamar Alexander is the designer. We purchased the plans for the 14×14 A-Frame and determined it will be as large as our living room with a loft.  

Homework

f you have daughters, be sure to expose them to things traditionally thought of as “things that men do”.  Lets change this way of thinking to just, “things people do”. I understand that physically, women might not be able to lift as much as a guy or handle a large chainsaw like a guy can.  That is ok! I am notorious for my lack of upper body strength, but I bet I can fix a broken chainsaw, even if I should not necessarily cut down a tree with it. I can hammer nails while someone else sets a beam in the ceiling.  Come to think of it, I could bet that this is what the upswing of getting more girls in on the Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs is about.  I just gave myself homework, to look into this more!  I am tricky.

Materials at the Restore During an October Visit