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Solo Solar Cookin'

I've been blogging on solar cooking for almost two years. Why, with such a rise in lifestyle changes towards gentler, smaller footprints, are more people not harnessing the sun regularly to cook? It seems sometimes like I'm the only one blogging on this topic, yet it's so frickin' easy and simple to add to one's daily routine!

As I readied my solar cooker just now for dinner, it occurred to me exactly why more people are not utilizing this easy clean energy.

Maybe it's NOT so simple.

In order to regularly incorporate solar cooking into your lifestyle, one must be able to take odd moments out from your day to 1. load the food into and 2. check on / turn the oven according to the sun's position in the sky.

Although our company has been telecommuting for almost ten years, most businesses do not yet offer that in their culture. Picture the average, air-conditioned, cubicle-bound person trying to achieve solar cooking in the workplace.
It ain't gonna happen!

(Although images of
  • suit-clad employees hunching over cookers in bland parking lots - instead of a smoking break they venture to the sidewalk to turn their cooker regularly then
  • wearing oven mitts, carefully transport their aromatic dinner home on the subway
certainly made me smile and nod to surrealism, and my art history teacher, for providing me super cool mental images!)

Really, to adapt this into a lifestyle, it is imperative to have a flexible work environment (or not work at all, but who are we kidding? That is not a great option!). Delicate, multiple factors must converge to allow an environment where you can successfully solar cook -and- work in the course of a day.

So, now I get it. I understand. And I hope that you enjoy my silly solar posts when I don't feel like writing anything technical. : )

Maybe as more people begin to telecommute, as more companies see that giving their employees more life/culture during the workday and self-determination on how they are productive, we will see more people in this country able to solar cook.

And with that, I am off to make sure my cooker is correctly aligned to best capture the sun, ensuring tonight's dinner will be ready on time!

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Population Count

Sometimes I lean over the back fence and chat with my older neighbor. We share a love of gardening and I enjoy seeing him out there daily, always doing something... he gives me inspiration to really live well and fully, despite deadlines.

Today I was telling him more about the land we bought in central Virginia, the wonderful community, neat things to do, how the net zero house erection is going, the Amish there, and the town's small population.

"Population 299?
What's wrong with 'em they can't get one more?"




casa ti: The Kitchen, Dining Area, Heat.

I'm ruminating on the kitchen.
Maybe I'm just hungry.

For our kitchen, we decided to move it from David Day's west placement to the center. This really is how our family lives and I see that island being central to breakfast requests, snacks, and pipsqueaks and guests keeping me company while I cook.

We sit down for dinner each night, so it made sense to put the dining table in a nice area by itself where we could linger and recount the exciting adventures of the day. Romantically I envision the sun setting west as we pop open a nice bottle of wine and prepare to enjoy a seasonal meal with friends and family.

But let's get back to the kitchen.

We struggled over honestly asking ourselves how we really would use the stove/oven systems. I imagined balancing out a wood cook stove that would provide a secondary source of heat for the house (solar being primary) yet could be cooked upon in the cool months with the solar cooker in the warm months. But the reality was not so apt- as much as I adore solar cooking, I have yet to successfully make pasta in the solar cooker, and honeychile, we eat a LOT o' pasta. Despite the free wood fallen on the land, burning wood is not the most efficient, green solution.

Scott Kyle of Full Scale Architecture points out that really, "Using raw wood is not desired. Instead, consider propane and solar alternatives for heating. If you must burn, pelletized fuel is more efficient than raw wood. For cooking, I recommend propane for the range, and electric for the oven. Whole house heating off grid can be accomplished of course by solar hot water/radiant heat."

My nimble sailor side asked, "Well why not just reuse a marine stove?" Marine stoves are modernly minimalist, in my mind would be efficient *and* quite stylish in a casa ti. And, dur, being made for a boat, they run off grid.

But free, fallen wood is a hard option to bypass. Plus I was in LOVE, in love with the wood burning Amish-made Baker's Choice cook stoves. So practical, happy, homey, so efficient, so... me, I want it I want it I want it and I want it NOW! I would wear an apron for that stove!

But it seems not to be.

My always-too-sensible husband pointed out that with the efficiency of design and construction materials in our zero energy home, my kitchen dream would easily overheat the house. Kitchen dreams dashed by prefab efficiency! DAG!

So here's a compromise: See that area on the right for a modest but efficient wood stove? Let me tell ya about that stove. Growing up, it was in the rec room of our home, helping to heat but also dry our ice and snow drenched selves, coats, and mittens after a rosy-cheeked day of play. It will be recycled into the casa ti, reused for another generation in our family, and converted to burn pellets.

I guess I shouldn't complain- instead of a choice, I will have it all! The recycled, converted wood stove will be a secondary source of heat on which to simmer stews as I please, the solar oven used seasonally when it's appropriate, and the marine stove to fall back on for quick breakfasts or pasta.

Coming soon: The Kitchen Part 2: The Fridge, Freezer, Philosophy.

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Solar Cooking: Pork, Grapes & Garlic

It's been awhile since I've posted anything on solar cooking. I guess I just felt I hadn't made anything of note lately... when you solar cook, it IS convenient, but the novelty does wear off - I mean, how many people blog about what they make for dinner each day? (Suddenly a rush of web domains devoted to cooking overwhelms me! Never mind!)

For those of you on myspace, I have a whole album of solar cookin' successes (and failures), as well as posts in the green building group. But lately I've just been making... I don't know... normal stuff?

So today when I decided to "make something out of nothing" by looking through the icebox as I often do, I became a little more creative- and it occurred to me this dish could be photo-worthy. : )

In our family, we buy our meat from two families near us. That means we buy in bulk (I mean, when I buy lamb... I buy A lamb...) so our meat is usually frozen the day it's butchered. So I dug through the freezer and pulled out some beautiful pork chops from the Ault's, and defrosted them overnight. Then I found some grapes that the children were not devouring- they had been a little on the sour side. But if they were cooked? Dee-lish. So I threw in the chops, grapes, added cloves of garlic and a dash o' balsamic... and YUM! Tonight's dinner!

I also added a side o' potatoes. Solar cooked potatoes are frightfully easy and taste more earthy & delicious.

Feel free to try this at home! Cooking was never so easy- I'm off to play instead of hunkering over a hot oven: Let the sun do your work!

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Solar Air Conditioning

As they say here in the south: "Myyyyyyyyyy it's hot!"

For weeks I've been ruminating over how to really cool an off grid house on those hot, dog day stretches of heat we get in Virginia. Despite the fact that our house kits are super insulated, passive solar and utilize the cross breeze, well, heck. Until you've spent a summer in the south, well, until you've spent a stifling, still, searing summer languishing on the cool floor 'cause you were too hot to stand... listlessly spraying little bursts of misted water towards yourself out of an old hairspray bottle 'cause that was the closest you could get to cool, where even the fans blew hot... where the still farm fields were so heavy with heat it knocked the air outta you and even the grasshoppers wouldn't even leap, where the... oh, ahem. Did I digress? Ok, fine. It's frickin' hot here, 'K? : )

So you see why I aspire to a cooler solution.

Today, when I heard about Sun Utility Network's California Dream System- Solar Electric Cooling and Heating Sunstation, I was intrigued.

Reading through, it makes sense! For our off grid house it could still work despite the electric piece as really, we wouldn't be aggressively cooling at night/when the sun was low. I will post more information on this system as I get it/have an opportunity to speak with them; in the meantime enjoy their website-, and...
I hope you all stay cool!

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My Mom Can Tie A Bowline Faster Than Your Mom

While our contractor is on vacation, we headed down to the Chesapeake Bay.

There, I grew up sailing, fishing, crabbing, swimming, capsizing opponents boats, honing strategy in overtaking and turtling your enemy, hijacking, bribing, quick getaways, and out-navigating those that come after you... in other words, Pirating 101.

Last night, at dinner, my mom was showing some of the young'uns some skillz.

For you landlubbers, a bowline is a very valuable knot, and the more at ease and efficient you are at creating one, the better.

Here's my mom, showin' her bowline efficiency after a great day of teaching the next generation all manners of stealth and craftiness. ; )

(P.s. When she laughs at the end, what she's saying is, "Does anyone else want to see this?" and I replied, "Actually, more people than you would ever imagine are gonna see this..." ; ) )

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Recurve... Camp Manakin

Thanks to all of you that have called, emailed, or mentioned your shared love of Camp Manakin after I mentioned it in a previous post.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who thinks it's perfectly normal for a child to pursue in the course of a day: archery, riflery, survival swimming (Remember that? What a scream! We had to 1. tread water for 5 minutes and 2. blow up our jeans and shirts into floats, and no this was not some fundamentalist training camp!), riding, Hardyball (remember Hardy ball?), knife games and... oh yeah, crafts.

And the FOOD! Remember those long, long tables? They put Hogwarts to shame. Remember the butter and baloney fried sandwiches? I was always the kid everyone passed their pickled beets down to... and Evelyn scolding everyone? (She's in the picture above, I'm leaning against her... Gosh I loved that woman. Somehow I always ended up in the kitchen with her, where no one else was allowed to go, but she'd sit me on a stool and I'd "help" her and she called me "Little Kate" even that was not remotely close to my name.)

Long days spent fishing, walking through the woods to another activity, playing mumbly peg while we waited our turns... and we all had Indian names that indicated our tribe.

On rainy days we'd gather in the lodge to hear (very dramatic) TALL TALES... there was one Coach Hardy always told- Jack and the Beanstalk. Sure you've heard Jack and the Beanstalk. But NO ONE could tell a story like Coach Hardy. I don't think I ever heard that man NOT tell a tall tale. Then my uncle Fred would lean lazily on the porch & strum his guitar, playing Walbash Cannonball and '40s bluegrass on his banjo...

Those were days when summer was endless, days were long, and friendships were forever.

"Oh we like to ride the bus on the way to Manakin,
Oh we never make a fuss on the way to Manakin.
So we sing a merry song with a merry, merry tune-
On the waaaaaaay to Man-a-kin:
Hooray, hooray for Mr. Hardy!
Hooray, hooray we're never taaaaaaaaaaaardy.
Hooray, hooray for where we're goin' and we've been, and Hooray For Man-a-kin! Hooray!"

So, it won't surprise those that have contacted me regarding our shared enthusiasm for Camp Manakin that I have decided to take up archery again.

I got the itch last year, and, when stepping in to the big sports stores, was completely put off by the compound & cross bows.

No, I wanted the old longbows I recalled from my childhood. No matter what my cousins said, I was determined.

But I also wanted to have the option to use it hunting eventually, as there is quite an overpopulation of deer in our area.

So, after much thought... I've gone recurve.

I bought a gorgeous old Fred Bear "black bear" recurve... and it sits to my left, next to the computer in my office... inspiration for a mom, business owner, wife- chained to her desk, her children, her life... to break free soon.

Just for a little while, to do something on my own, by myself, aiming at leaves as they blow across the field, gaging the wind, the distance, the speed, to slowly sharpen my aim and strength, to then teach my children the quiet, the concentration, the beauty of archery.

P.s. If this interests you, then here's some summer reading:
The Witchery of Archery, by Maurice Thompson, 1879.

P.p.s: So many people have emailed or sent comments on Camp Manakin that I dug up a few more pictures and added them... hope you enjoy.

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The Amish and the Crazy Lady

How cool is it that our veddy modern house kit we’re building with cutting edge technology / SIPs / award-winning architects is being erected and built by... the Amish?

I’m going to be very interested to hear the feedback from them after this project, and look forward to getting to know and befriending more of our neighbors.

What I love is that in small communities (Our Town, population 299! Woo!), even if you’re a newcomer, when you build a house, it’s a community project.

You see why my heart is there...

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Green drywall alternatives: Part 2: Dragon Board

Still considering green alternatives to drywall...

So I decided to harass the fantastic eco furniture designer and green materials distributor, Anthony Brozna, to see what he thought. Now many of you may have seen Anthony's beautiful furniture in Dwell, HGTV, Town & Country, and more. But Anthony also has a green materials business, EcoSupply Center, which promotes green, energy efficient, sustainable building materials.

He immediately launched into DragonBoard. According to him, DragonBoard
"May even eventually replace drywall. I think it could even be the answer to Portland Cement / lime based cements. It's made out of magnesium oxide & chloride, and is cold pressed. It has a 4 hour fire rating, submersible in water, you can paint on it, clay it-- one side is smooth, the other rough, so it works well for either application. It's also anti-macrobial.

And they make tons of products- subfloor, exterior OR interior..."

The DragonBoard web site had even more great information:

Meet DRAGONBOARD the only UL-Approved construction panel that is:
  • Fire-Proof (UL 055 and ASTM-Tested and A-Rated)
  • Waterproof (Freeze/Thaw-Tested for 36 months)
  • Mold/Fungus/Bug Free (Non-nutrient to mold, fungus, insects ASTM G-21)
  • Impact-Resistant (ASTM D-5628)
  • NYC Approved (MEA # 359-02-M)
  • Silica/Asbestos Free
  • Florida Hurricane Tested
  • STC-Rated 53-54
  • Ready for all 2007 ICC criteria
  • Ideal for Flooring (3/4" = 21/2" poured concrete!)
  • Guaranteed to Offer Substantial Cost Savings*

Our Commitment to the Environment

DRAGONBOARD US is concerned about the environment. DRAGONBOARD is manufactured from mineral components and water. DRAGONBOARD contains:
  • No organic solvents
  • No oils
  • No toxic ingredients
  • No heavy metal salts
  • No asbestos
DRAGONBOARD sawdust may be safely buried in a landfill without contamination or environmental damage to land, streams or bodies of water.

No energy is consumed in manufacturing DRAGONBOARD. The entire patented process is conducted at room temperature and scraps or drop-offs are reground and used in the production of DRAGONBOARD.

EcoSupply is an east coast retailer of DragonBoard, so if you are interested in purchasing it, please feel free to contact them directly.

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Green drywall alternatives

EcoRock's not out yet, so it looks like it will be DensArmor Plus® Paperless Drywall by Georgia-Pacific for the prototype. You can pick it up easily in most Lowe's. Again, cost at Green Modern Kits is everything: we celebrate affordable great design!

To compare prices, I trundled over to Lowe's and see the following:
Georgia Pacific
11/32" 4' x 8' Ply-Bead Classic: $16.97

Ok, so that's a standard plywood solution.

Now for cheap-o traditional drywall:
1/2 4x8 $6.75

And the DensArmor Plus® Paperless Drywall?
1/2 4x8 $10.98

And oh yes, I checked, it is actually in stock in my local store.

I will also mention that the cute guy I spoke with paused and said,
"And just so you know, if you work with that stuff, be careful with it! Me and my buddies had to unload it and my arms were on fire!"
"Oh you poor dear! Yeah, that's probably because there's fiberglass in it."

So don't forget: It may be paperless, but (cue in Bryan Adams here) it Cuts Like A Knife!
(na na na naaaaah na nah, na na...)

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Crazy Interior Finish of SIPs Walls Idea: Recycled "Art"

This is what happens when my husband goes away... he really does keep me sane, you know.

Until recently, I could brag that our office only used *at the most* three reams of paper a year.

And then the children went on a drawing binge.

It's driving me bonkers- on one hand, I cringe, "Don't waste paper!!!" then cringe at myself: "How dare you call their artistic pursuits wasteful?" So I stack the drawings in a corner, guiltily...

Today I was pondering over how to finish our casa ti interior.
I've always envisioned it with sleek, organic, simple plywood, which I thought would look really good with the more industrial concrete floor.

But I like to consider all options, and even published a post on how to make SIPs stew.

And then I thought... "Why not recycle those drawings?"
They are mainly scribbly ink drawings on notebook paper left over from college days, or grabbed from our office shelf.
So the overall effect would be clean, white, but with scribbles and occasional bursts of color...
I could easily attach it directly to the SIPs walls, then maybe minwax / add beeswax over it once hung... just for... fun!

I still see the end result eventually being plywood... but to reuse the paper and childrens "art" for our house? Fantastic!

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Final Green Building Pre-Pour Meeting For Net Zero Casa Ti, Our Modern Prefab House Kit.

Final 9 a.m. meeting with the contractor before pouring the casa ti foundation!

We delayed the pouring of the house foundation a bit because we had to really review all of our systems decisions because, honeychile', once that concrete is poured... that's it! So we really wanted to audit our choices to make sure they would be appropriate for our family longterm.

The one thing I regret is that I know solar technology is going to rapidly change and become more affordable in the next 18 months. But what can ya do when you need to purchase your system now? I certainly can't let the casa ti concrete foundation sit and crack in the winter cold now, can I? So nope, gotta buy the net zero / off grid systems now, regardless of great technological advancements in the near future.

Pictures coming soon...

In the meantime here's a pic of our cute lil' tractor-- I feel very sorry for my husband, he has to bush hogg in 100 degree heat after the meeting... Happy Father's Day, sweetie! : (

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The Hitchhiker

As we sat in the muggy weather on the front porch in the Fan, behind an iron gate with roses climbing, a bunch o' loud people with glasses sitting on porch rails and children playing on the sidewalk, climbing trees, drawing with chalk... a weathered guy with a knapsack and dog walked past.

He stopped for a split second- I saw him ask the children to squirt his dog with water. They happily complied, and the dog drank.

Later that night, I drove home and saw on the edge of the sidewalk: that man and dog, looking purposeful but lost. In the dark, I pulled over, car idling...

"Well, you got the wrong one in the family for directions..." I introduced myself... We pondered maps and highway exits... the lightening flashed and threatened rain.

I moved aside the child seats, the dog jumped into the back, he climbed into the front, and like sailors navigating unknown waters, we steadied our course for Broad Street and 64 West.

"I remember when you walked by... I was at a party." I volunteered.
"I'm trying to get to Charlottesville for my birthday, because it seemed like a good place to go." he said.

We rode in silence...

I pulled over near the exit.

As he opened the door, the light came on: "Hey, are you the girl with pink hair?"
I smiled.
"You just keep your hair pink. It looks good on you."
And with that, they left, and I slowly navigated home.



in|ur magazine

Thought I'd share a brand new magazine by a dear friend Miz Leah:
BRAVO! What a beautiful publication!!!!

Intentionally Urban

Intentionally|Urban (in|ur) magazine, pronounced “in yer”, is the urban lifestyle publication that makes conscious, urban living more fun and approachable. Charismatic and clever, in|ur speaks to the rock star who sits in meditation each morning and the busy professional who wants a more balanced life. It’s an experience – not just a magazine.

Having it all

Our first issue is dedicated to “having it all” because this is what in|ur magazine is about. We focus on living sustainably and mindfully while enjoying everything that city life has to offer. Can you be spiritual and still enjoy great music and your favorite watering hole? We say, “yes!” Our “Having it All” Issue highlights stories about things like sustainable high fashion, eco-friendly commuting, farming in the city, and environmentally-responsible musicians. You can have it all, it just might look a little different than what you’re used to. Do you want to have it all? Read on to learn how…

Giving Back
We are donating 5% of all advertising revenue to a local non-profit organization committed to bettering urban life. In each issue of in|ur magazine, we adopt one small non-profit to profile from one of the “Top 10 Greenest Cities in the U.S.” and donate 5% of ad sales directly to the deserving organization.




Bo Diddley, RIP.

On my 17th birthday I kissed my parents goodnight, closed my bedroom door, pulled on my go go boots and miniskirt, pulled the chain link fire escape ladder from underneath my bed, opened the bathroom window, lowered it down quietly, swung my leg out and over the windowsill, crept down, slowly, through the woods and embankment to the quiet van waiting below, gave it a rolling start, then off to the smoky club to open up for Bo Diddley.

Bo Diddley, RIP.




Just in the nick of time! Automatically Preheat Water to Save Energy

Just in the nick of time!
Not only do we recycle our gray water, but now we can recycle the heat!

Just in time to evaluate and add to our modern prefab house kit prototype - we are pouring the foundation any day, just waiting on one thing from our systems analyst (tweaking systems that have nothing to do with the kit itself) before the pour.


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