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Prefab Home's Zero Energy Systems Update: A Chest Freezer Turns Into An Off Grid Fridge, HRV Progresses, A Farm Auction, 4-H, and Old Time Music!

An off grid green prefab home where chickens and goats and dogs and children
and parties and noise and even straying cows will always be welcome.

This is the last I will say about the feathers flyin' over urban chickens. #FamousLastWords
Prefab house kit updates after this brief, fine-feathered jump.

Ultimately, the urban chicken issue in Richmond / Henrico is an educational and cultural divide, as well as an unwillingness of zoning to look at what their professional colleagues are doing nationally today in regards to sustainability.

In summary:
[Prefab house kit updates coming up, after mah rant!]
  1. Urban chickens highlight an cultural and educational divide – neighbors that garden love them, those that have Pizza Hut deliver nightly and ChemLawn maintain their lawn don’t.
  2. Note the rise of preventative medicine as doctors are educated on - > educate patients on eating more healthy, better. With that education, eating lifestyles change / awareness of the benefits of local, non-factory farmed food. Neighbors adverse to chickens are most likely not connected to their food source.
  3. Backyard eggs are HEALTHIER:
  4. The real deal on USDA:
  5. Rise of people enjoying and relying on food gardening -> gives way to urban chickens as urban communities become more interested in sustainability.
  6. It's about the right to provide your family with healthy, humanely treated, local chickens & eggs.
  7. UN Human Rights Declaration, Article 25
It's Friday. There's nothin' left for us to do but head out to our friends' farm potluck and cry into mah drink.

As we high-tailed it out of Richmond, we left it all, them all, all of last week, happily behind.

We raced out to the prefab house kit, threw the dogs within the prefab, hastily dropped the kids off at 4-H for their first weekend camp experience, then hauled back over to our friends' farm, Frog Bottom Farm, just in time for dinner. *Phew.*

Welcome to 4-H!

We spent a lovely evening visiting our friends Lisa & Ali... To anyone gathered there that night (and it was a feast!) the issue of a few birds in a big, fenced in back yard was... silly. We left it behind, and instead focused on the delicious food and kind company (also in attendance were our dear friends Steve & Chris of Aults Family Farm, and new friends Eli of Eli Greens and Darby & Adam of Fertile Crescent Farm).

Freshly roasted (from their BACKYARD) chicken (ok fine I had to mention that...
; ) ), hearty lamb stew, a variety of delicious greens, cobbler, chocolate mousse... are you hungry yet? We eat WELL at farm potlucks. What fun! What good eating! Thanks, Lisa & Ali...

At one point someone was talking to Handsome Husband about our off grid prefab house.  Now, the prefab house kit itself, the SHELL / weather tightness might have gone up in a week but you may have noticed we are, um,  taking our own darned sweet time finishing it.  "Your prefab house looks fantastic..."
"Oh no." I assured. "I just clean up and make things look pretty each weekend and then pretend that it's a real, finished home. Plus I'm really good at cropping children's toys and beer cans out of photographs."
[I will now entitle this photo, "I Give UP!"]

We are UNDER CONSTRUCTION again with the plumbing, HRV, and solar heat installation to a point I can not delude myself otherwise.

Prefab Home - Off Grid Systems Update

Take a look:

However, refocused and well fed, I am happy to report that the HRV installation and ductwork is going nicely and should be finished next week. Also the VMI basket ball court on the hall ceiling looks rather awesome!

It was an extremely windy day, with *high* wind everywhere that blew the car back and forth across the road as we drove. It's always interesting to be in the prefab house kit on roaring days like this because inside? Inside, it's still. Not the whiff of a draft. You could watch a speck o' dust slowly, slowly descend. IF you wanted to. I did. Pretty neat. The only draft I ever get is if someone walks past me. It's like a human cutting a wake through the air - "Whoa, what's that? Oh, Handsome Husband just walked past."

When we arrived in late afternoon, within the passive solar off grid prefab home it was 63; when we returned later that evening after a fun night out and the nightly drop in temperatures (*with no wood stove yet lit*), it was 60.8. Now we're firing up the cook stove, but with a sweater on I am definitely not shivering, and remarkably cozy.
And, after this week, tired.

And for our next trick, we will
turn this freezer into a solar powered fridge!

Now I get to play with my Big Experiment, turning the Haier Chest Freezer into a off grid, energy efficient fridge. I *love* its dimensions. It actually matches the space I would use, if anything it's rather big, especially as I can more and more...
So everybody STEP BACK. And, er, someone hand me a wrench. Or that thingy. The screw driver thingy. Yeah, that one.
'Cause I am going to...
Oh wait. Handsome husband is already messing with my project.
"We will take off the top."
"You're doing WHAT?"
"The fridge will be in the kitchen island and will take up precious counter top space with its top lid.(The counter top will be more basket ball flooring stood upright and glued like a butcher block).You replace the top, with a section of counter top split in half so that we can open either side without having to shuffle bowls and cutting boards off of the surface. The other part of the counter top is occupied by a double sink (one with a removable cutting board lid for the same reason)."

Hmmmm... Um... To consider.
Meanwhile, I worked hard slowly waking up in the sunshine sipping coffee and watching Handsome Husband unscrew the grill, then turn the appropriate screw accordingly to adjust the freezer thermostat to be more like a fridge.  We turned it twelve full turns counter clockwise, and will see what the temperature reads as we experiment over the next weeks as we put it to use. The outer dial is set to 1.
[NOTE: Later: Wanted those interested in the chest freezer conversion to know that in the end we couldn't quite get the manual temperature to adjust so successfully converted it by attaching a power timer device - set it to turn on for 1/2 hour every 2 1/2 hours and that works *great*!]

Now... off to the Annual Madisonville Farm Auction!

Not a mile up the road, the annual Madisonville Consignment Auction was taking place.
EVERYONE was there. 
For many, it is a day long event- half the family is buying while half the family sells.
There's kids playing football, moms selling stew and bbq, the Amish had a huge tent selling sandwiches along with their usual fare of jams, breads, pies...
And in the corner of the field? Way far away? An enthusiastic game o' volleyball.
Let me tell you, there is NOTHING cuter than seeing a gang of Amish kids playing volleyball with a bunch of kids in camouflage.

Heading next to the recycling center to recycle the boxes in which the chest freezer & solar hot water tank came, we were pleased to learn about a new recycling program Charlotte County is implementing- "Take What You Want, Leave What You Don't"! Yep, Charlotte County is the ONLY local county that has EXCEEDED its state-wide requirements for recycling, and it taking it to the next level- freecycling! Nice.

Back To The Wood Cook Stove!
With the work on the HRV, the prefab house kit's efficiency is being affected again, but not nearly so as when we were installing the inverter.  Like then, we will take extra care to re-insulate any penetrations / thermal bridging.

An efficiency note, regarding our sealed up, fresh air piped in, retrofitted old cook stove: Once thing we've noticed about the chimney is that there is no smoke emissions, which means we've dialed up the cook stove in its efficiency to where it's... how do you explain this? It's almost like it's a flame-less fire? There is no wasted output that goes up in (literally) smoke? I'm so thrilled this special antique was able to be retrofitted to continue to work and function, today, and for many more decades...

More On Our Prefab House Lay Out With Off Grid Systems
A big, honkin' solar heat tank.

Because we chose slab on grade vs. a basement, and because we chose to be an off grid zero energy home, we have to adjust a bit to accommodate our off grid prefab's systems.

Where I would like to have an airy transition between the middle bedroom with a translucent, shelved wall that would allow light to filter through while allowing privacy, where I would have my kitchen farm cabinet with a work station and lots of open cabinets for my vintage pottery... we have SYSTEMS.
Big, honkin', awkward, but off grid STUFF.

Check out our solar tank, waiting in the corner to be installed. ->
We have one tank for domestic hot water, and a larger one for heat (pictured), because we have two systems- one is open loop, one is closed. So we might (hopefully never) run out of hot water but we won't run out of heat.

With the solar panels installed and the beginning of the solar hot water tubes rack, the prefab house kit is beginning to lose its airy open elegance and start to look like a machine. I embrace that. Like a daunting Clearly A Machine Not A Mini-Van sports car, it looks ready to elbow out the competition and race race race to the "I don't need ya, Big Oil!" finish line. And with "Inherit This, Childrenz, One Day, And You Can Be Sustainable Stylin' Too" durable, timeless style.

[The casa ti could be much 'softer' if one clad it in reclaimed wood, etc. I just like the hard, industrial, machinery style.]

And Community Gathered. Again!
ANY-HOO, dusk fell and we headed into the city, Pamplin City (which, by the way, being population 199, is like five times bigger than Madisonville), for an Old Time Dance with bluegrass and old time music featuring Deja Moo! Who were playing with some of their friends! And we even won a Deja Moo CD in the raffle, which now holds the honorary title of "This was the first cd ever played in our prefab house and it's from Deja Moo!"
We're thrilled!


An evening of bluegrass and old time music, lots of smiles, all ages dancing, everyone in a great mood raising money to help restore the Library / Train Depot.  I love how it is just yards away from the train track, and right in the middle of the Tennessee Waltz the train rumbled through!

Pamplin Depot Library Fundraiser

We're now back at the house kit, with the Deja Moo cd playing in a laptop, tapping our toes and reading and smiling that we are so fortunate to be here.

On our way back out to Richmond, we stopped by our oldest and beloved friends here, Steve & Chris Ault of Virginia's renowned Aults Family Farm, who then, knowing we were now urban hen-less, loaded us up with FOUR cartons of pullet eggs (my favorite) and homemade goat cheese... now THOSE are good neighbors, dear dear friends, OUR community.

Like many of our friends already here, we're taking month after month, year after year, to slowly get here.
Weeks like this remind me why.
Now we return "home," to a chicken-less yard and violet-obsessed neighbors.
Is that really home?
Maybe, even still under construction, home is already here.
Pamplin Depot Library Fundraiser

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Urban Chickens. Henrico and Richmond Are Off Roosting On This Sustainable Issue.

Guests always enjoyed feeding our urban chickens...
Do we look messy to you?

Now I know you prefab house kit green building folks don't want to hear me wallow on and on about mah chickunz. But yer just going to have to suffer through for another blog post, because it IS a green building issue.

Green building and living is not just about the energy efficiency of your home... a neighborhood has to be livable. Many cities now hire Sustainability Managers.  What we all need to realize is that your success as a city is not just in how many LEED platinum ratings you can rack up but how livable you are, and how much you can reduce waste and stress off of your municipal systems. Chickens aid that, folks. Plain and simple, they reduce waste and they add to community.

You know by now that cities across the United States are changing their zoning to ALLOW chickens.
Belgium is even ASKING their citizens to keep chickens and giving them away free!

Remember Richmond's Urban Chicken Coop Tour last year?
A *LOT* of people came to that!

I called Henrico zoning. 
I inquired about a special use permit. A nice person there was very sympathetic, even told me they supported urban chickens, and actually apologized that urban chickens are not allowed in Richmond / Henrico. But the code remains the code.
"You could request variance after variance but the code needs to change. That code has not been rewritten in years and unfortunately has not caught up with today's societal standards."
Neither have mah neighbors.

Any-hoo, Sally called.

Sally always has a knack for calling when I cry. No, really, seriously: At each new low, she calls.
So here I was, hands over my eyes, sobbing at my desk over the fact that our chickens were being taken from us, and, as ALWAYS, the phone rings, it's Manhattan.
At this point it's laughable.

(A video! With Sally! And she's singing!
And it's Not California here! 'Cause if this were California I could have chickens!)

I was crying so hard I was snot nosed, my face hot and puffy... I answered the phone in a stuffed up voice, launching into poor Sally about the stupidity of it all, of Richmond / Henrico zoning, and (what is now later cracking me up and I know she will not appreciate this) is that she, being fantastic, was urging me emotionally to freakin' Fight The Stupid People and to Battle For The Chickens but you have to understand folks: Sally's voice is famous.  And as she's there on the phone, being the best, supportive friend anyone could ever have, all I can hear in my head is this danged HEM VOICE (which is Sally) egging me on (ha) to fight, so, in my despair, I'm laughing:  I'm picturing The HEM Voice singing behind me as I run in slow motion across a field o' daisies to the Board of Supervisors Meeting where I dramatically (still with Sally singing) convince the Board Of Supervisors to rise up and tear those dusty books of code into tiny little pieces then run to their nearest Southern States to get their own danged chickens.

It could happen!

She is not amused when I tell her this. Which, of course, as a dear friend, I am now immortalizing, because, well, you know: What are Yer Real Sistahs for. : )

I also found a tribute I liked, that I'll call Sally tomorrow and share- See, Sally, you inspire people!!!!! Look: These people chose YOUR SONG as representative of passion, beauty, love... very beautiful. Hmmm. *Maybe* you *should* come down and sing to those grumpy zoning people...

Speaking of half-acres, I'm holding a half acre with no chickunz and honeychiles I am Put. Out. 

Which brings me back to my topic: Urban Chickens.
(And Sally, I *LOVE YOU*. But you know that already. I am still laughing at the silly jokes you had to tolerate as I cried, and you, a wonderful friend, urged me on and all I could see were music videos but you have to understand I had to somehow find the funny in SOMETHING and, well, I love you.)

Any-hoo, a very kind internet person, Lisa, sent me this:

"Search for the seed of good in every adversity. Master that principle and you will own a precious shield that will guard you well through all the darkest valleys you must traverse. Stars may be seen from the bottom of a deep well, when they cannot be discerned from the mountaintop. So will you learn things in adversity that you would never have discovered without trouble. There is always a seed of good. Find it and prosper. --Og Mandin"

Thank you.

The family that took in our flock is leaving Richmond because of its zoning laws.  They actually toured the Richmond Coop Tour and were frustrated by the lack of interest in sustainability by zoning / government officials here.  
So they're leaving, and taking our laying hens with 'em.
Yep, another creative, interesting family with INCOME leaving Richmond / Henrico, y'hear that, city council / Henrico B.O.S.?  Just an hour away, in Charlottesville, urban flocks are legal, even celebrated.

The family to whom I gave them sent me this yesterday:
"The flock is absolutely beautiful and so gracious. They are settling down very nicely. It seems that there are tasty treats in the deep bedding as they are pecking away happily. Thank you. "
We mourn.
The hens are not even gone two days and already I'm realizing, "Oh my gosh WHAT are we going to do with all this waste?"

See, every snack, every leftover sandwich crust brought home from school, every bowl of rice like tonight, that is sitting, half full, left by a now-sleeping daughter... the remaining breakfast cereal, the scraping of anything you wouldn't put into compost... well, it just went to the chickens.

Our household waste will dramatically increase.

Another thing I've noticed since this whole Neighbor Fiasco is that the dogs really sense it - suddenly the mastiff/pit's bark is much lower and fervent, on alert: they BOUND out into the back yard with hair raised rushing their borders, which they never did before... I really do think he senses that we feel violated and is acting much more protective. For once the mastiff/pit actually DOES look like a Hound From Hell instead of a Happy Nanny.

One thing I didn't mention in the original blog post about Glenn and Catherine Vanderspiegel getting rid of our chickens (which then led to a larger uproar from more neighbors protesting those chickens were wanted, but the Vanderspiegels have code on their side)- WE may have secured permission of our neighbors to have chickens before doing so, but last year Glenn Vanderspiegel came to us to discuss that "ugly" hedge (already existing when we bought the house) on our property between our yards, and that they would like to cut it down.

We told them it might be a tad scraggly (we had never even really noticed it) but that it maintained privacy, and laughing, declined: "We have young kids, you don't want to see our yard."  I suggested we think about how to replace the scraggly hedge (which was completely unobtrusive, in between trees) in a way that would make us all happy.

The following weekend, when they thought we were On The Land, we caught them on our property knowingly hacking down the already-discussed hedge that they know resides on OUR side of the property line. 

Since then, we have seen signs they are strewing pesticides on our lawn. (Those daggoned violets.) 
So, where we respected and asked their permission to have chickens, have always tried to maintain a nice transition from their rigid boxwood-filled ChemLawn to our attractive food gardening, have shoveled their snow-filled sidewalks when hard storms came... They have no qualms about violating our family's health and property boundaries.

Gloves off.

My daughter is six and my son is eight.

They remember feeling that having chickens is unusual, but they do not remember having to buy eggs.

This is when I had my 'Aha' moment.
See, we're community people which is why this especially stung.

All a sudden I had flashbacks to living on Union Square, with apartment buildings all around, I mean, HELLO, in the center of New York, and... we were so disinterested in those faceless buildings of faceless people facing us we never put down our blinds... we walked around nekkid and carried on with our lives with no regard, knowing full well anyone could telescope in to our windows... We didn't care because they couldn't invade our realm, they were insignificant. They all faded in along with the honking horns and steady traffic to recede, recede from our consciousness.

We don't care about these neighbors any more.
If we think of them at all, it's only because we miss our chickens and resent the waste our household now incurs because the chickens are not eating our scraps that can't go into the compost.

That's not to say that when we're bored we might not mess with those neighbors. I mean, I get bored A LOT, always working on the technical side o' green building and technology and whatnot. Don't you dare think you won't see me in a pretty dress, bouncing smile, and my broadcast seed spreader joyfully seeding that front lawn not just with food but invasive pretty things come spring. 
(Hellooooo violets!)

But do we actually think about any of these people? No. 
Except for, like in Manhattan, like everywhere, the wonderful community one can have even amidst this Lite Suburban Mirage. Even here in this festering Suburban Swampland, we have great friends.

But this gray-scale living we have introduced ourselves to, because we love this mid-century home and convenience to work... well, screw them. 
I'm embracing TechniColor Dreams.

I'm tired of playing "Waitin' For Richmond To Catch Up."
Catch up or be irrelevant. Your move, homeys.

Come run with the big dogs, honeychiles.
Or get the fruck off of my porch.

[Our normal green building prefab channel will return, after the publishing of this post.]

Note: What's wrong with this Richmond real estate / development article?
Not one mention of energy efficiency, smart growth / preservation / community or livability.
This is Richmond.

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We're Not Flying The Coop, We're Roosting Awhile Here, Richmond.


The day started great...
At the fabulous Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

I was honored to be invited for a sneak preview of Picasso : Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris. If you are ANYWHERE on the East Coast, do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the collection without having to fly to Paris.  I love how the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts divided the art into themes, tones... there are eleven rooms each signifying an emotion / genre that represents the art within.  On the walls, a quote in each room: from Picasso, a statement that embodies each period you are about to visit.


I had the great pleasure to meet Chiyo Ishikawa of the Seattle Art Museum! We spoke about how the Picasso exhibit had the same art but the changing setting - Paris, Sydney, Seattle, Richmond etc. - allowed it to dramatically be represented in many different ways.  I would love to see how each museum presented this exhibition within their own architecture.

Thanks to the architect, Eric Drivdahl, of our traditional line of prefab house kits, Green Cottage Kits, I have learned a lot about Seattle (where he and his family reside) and had a great time discussing with Chiyo all the neat environmentally-friendly, waste-reducing, lifestyle-enhancing zoning Councilman Conklin has enacted.

In Seattle, they don't hide their hens, they celebrate them.  Heck, they even have a parade for their resident mini-goats!

So it was ironic when I returned, glowing, from such a wonderful morning to a rap rap rap at the door.
And there was my airbrushed neighbor notifying me two hens had escaped and were mussing her pine needles. I rushed to scoop them back, apologizing. "The utility trucks coming through this week must have opened a hole, thank you so much for letting me know!"

She cocked her head and flatly asserted,
"Copeland. This is Richmond. Chickens should not be in the city. Get rid of them."

In shock, I sent Handsome Husband over to neighborly work things out. It was quickly clear this was not about our hens. Their yard is downhill from our fence line with a stand of trees between.  Last year they asked, "Do you still have chickens?" and this week she even had to ask how many we had when the two escaped!

Glenn Vanderspiegel, who ironically, at MSH Equipment in Richmond, VA deals in environmentally friendly construction and wastewater equipment and his wife Catherine Vanderspiegel immediately began shouting at Handsome Husband:

Our hideous, offensive yard.

"Your gutter looked like trash!" (After a snow storm, two years ago, our gutter bent. A few weeks later we fixed it. Sorry.)
"Your front yard looks horrible! We've never had violets and now we do!" (We don't do chemicals. We try to reseed with grass each year to make the transition from their ChemLawn less obtrusive. But it's mowed, and actually, rather quite nice. I dig out violets when I see them, but really, are they that bad?)
"Your hedge is ugly!" The hedge was here before we bought the house.

Why is it perfectly legal to spray your yard with pesticides which then float over into my food yard and wash into my watershed yet you can go after me for laying hens. 
Oh, wait: that would be because we live in Richmond.

A friend emailed,
"I am SO SORRY you had to give them away!!!! I am completely confused b/c they seemed so peaceful and contained. When I was growing up on Three Chopt (within city limits), the B's down the street kept a hen house full of hens (not as nice/interesting as yours), two types of goats, and rabbits in their back yard for YEARS. Another house kept a rooster and another house further down had llamas or alpacas. I loved that our busy street had all these animals.

I am truly sorry your neighbor(s?) did not appreciate the teaching opportunity and the environmental benefit those hens provided and that they were just fun to have around.

That just sux. I am sorry."
I'm sorry too. I am now forced to deprive my family of humanely-raised fresh eggs.  I will now have to contribute more waste to our community because I will not have the chickens to feed our food scraps. I will miss their crazy antics as they chased bugs and improved our garden. 

I have been crying.
What do you do at your lowest?
You throw a party.

And so they gathered. It was not a sad event. Lovely people came with food and humor and friendship and made more friends. Children ran wild. They even put on a magic show. Adults laughed and lingered... it was magic.

Thank you to all the friends and neighbors urging us to fight.  A former Henrico school board member wants to pass around a petition. I got phone calls from New York to L.A. And my Facebook wall went wild with support.  Thank you all. 

Once you have laying hens you never go back. How can we go from eating eggs gathered that moment to "Farm Fresh" grocery?  Factory farms are allowed to label their eggs "farm fresh" for almost A MONTH after laying! Gross. Who eats thirty day-old eggs? Oh. Wait. Our neighbors do.

Read more about how your grocery store eggs are handled before arriving to your table.

I looked at the top ten Best Cities To Live in the United States. Of the Top Ten, Chicago, Dallas, San Antonio, San Diego, Columbus, Austin, Charlotte, Boston and Portland all allow urban chickens. DC is the lone holdout, where the law on chickens is unknown. COINCIDENCE???? Henrico / Richmond won't even consider putting this on the docket. Where do you think people with desirable professions that have a choice of cities in which they can work will choose to live? They will gravitate to where it's most fun, honeychiles.

In this neighborhood we are a minority. We eat our own food, not Pizza Hut's. We don't drive mini-vans, and our kids play at home during the afternoons, not at After Care. 

It's lonely. We checked out long ago.
But we love our mid-century house, it's convenient to work.
The yard is fantastic.
We have great friends. And they come visit us. We throw parties.
We're not leaving any time soon. 

So, in the meantime, I will enjoy this spring-like day by gardening!
Always inspired to garden.
Often, in vintage Lily mumus.
I ordered a pound of evening primrose seed. Although banned in many states, in Virginia, it's still legal. I am sorry my neighbors don't like violets. I think they're now Very Beautiful. Why in the world would I ever remove them?!? 

Besides, once planted, the Oenothera speciosa will intermingle with the violets in such a lovely way come spring!

I'm also moved to paint. I will miss my chickens so. So much, in fact, that I'm inspired by Happy The Artist and Ed Trask and considering painting a big chicken on the side of our house that faces the neighbor's door. Sadly, no one else will be able to see it, not from the street, not from our home... But imagine the joy and delight my art might bring into this elderly sour couple's hearts! Go art! 

I'm just waiting for Henrico to call me back to confirm that my art will be legal, because I wouldn't want to do anything that wouldn't be able to be around for years, and years, to come.
(P.s. I have news for Glenn Vanderspiegel who ironically deals in wastewater equipment and Catherine Vanderspiegel: Happy homes are not always the neatest...)

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