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7/31/11

Prefab's Passive Solar Goes Through Another Hot Performance, With Folk Art.


It was a quiet drive to the prefab home... We have a week without childrenz.
Did you hear me? WE HAVE A WEEK WITHOUT CHILDRENZ, folks.
We hightailed our party out to the passive solar zero energy off grid prefab house!

Without children, we were able to stop, meander and sight-see our way on the drive from Point A to Point B.
[And with no whining!]

We stopped at the Chula Junction Market, quickly glanced through the stalls... then stopped.
Now I know you know I lean towards modern design.
But like the diversity of our prefab house kits, some modern, some beautiful cottages that look like they were made 200 years ago but built passive solar and ready to snap on solar for the next 200 years...

The Sinda, from Green Cottage Kits...

I mean, beautiful design is beautiful design whether it is traditional or modern.

So there, in the middle of this huge flea market...
I... stopped.
I called Handsome Husband over, expecting him to shrug me off.
He stopped.

And we both fell in love with the folk art of William H. Clarke.


He is capturing architecture, culture, and moments that are sadly disappearing, yet a life we, and our community, still embrace.

When I see these children...

...I see my own children playing together, barefoot in the back yard, with just each other because there is no one else around, and nothing else to do.

When I see this procession...

...I feel my own experiences. I sense the snow. I appreciate the art while gently recalling sadness and times I've mourned.

When I see this...

I picture our friends and next-door neighbors The S's... Mr. S is going to butcher or cut some wood, maybe even with Handsome Husband like we've done in the past...

THIS one, I hope to save up money for:

"That's Old Hawkes Store, it's gone now... demolished..."

I see children walking along the highway to their favorite store, change jangling in their pockets with the hopes of something icy and sweet to cool their summer day, even if for a second before hitting the hot road again, home. I remember doing the same thing in Martinsville as a child...


From Blackstone, William H. Clarke worked in a lumber mill until carpal tunnel syndrome overcame him to the point his doctor said he couldn't continue to work at the mill. What else was he to do?
He always loved to paint.

"The choice was easy: Artist, HERE I COME!"
And he has painted ever since.

What a special, *special* person; he puts his spirit and heart into EVERYTHING. My heart is STILL singing. You feel love in the $25 paintings, you feel love in the $2,500 paintings. All worth every cent, still not sold for their true value. I'm very grateful to have met him, and to carry a bit of his heart into our home.


We arrived at the passive solar prefab house around 11.
As expected, the solar battery bank was fully charged... and we got busy with work!
Well, WE got busy... the dogs took a nap. (You know they're not allowed on the beds, right? Ergh!)


It's neat to see, in these extremely hot conditions (again, like last weekend, it will be 100ish), the passive solar design working- all the windows are in shade this time of year, yet natural light filters and fills the inside of the home, so you never think about light until nightfall.

We worked on painting bookcases, doing chores...

But I had lighting on my mind.
Back into Pipsqueak's bedroom I went, staplegun in hand.

I stapled up some LED Christmas lights in a random pattern to represent stars over the bed. Then we hung the moon. But we did not have the correct bulb handy, so stuffed it with more LED Christmas lights.
The result?

Not a moon.
A disco jellyfish.

We'll fix it later.

At 2pm, the temperature within the prefab home is 89. Now we didn't arrive until almost mid-day, so did not have an opportunity to let in the cool night air then close it up in the morning. Outside? 101. So, as usual, the comfort within the prefab is, without any heat or air conditioning, 20 degrees on the better side of what it is outdoors. Not bad. With ceiling fans? It feels 80, which is what I leave the thermostat in our Richmond house on.

So if these are the Dog Days O' Summer... we're totally cool. Just put on some opera, grab a book, and chill. Ahhhhhhh, summer. Yes I'm in a sundress. Yes I feel languid. 
Isn't that what summer is for?


Prefab house - passive solar design helps keep the off grid home cool.

Late afternoon we threw the prefab windows open and the breeze blew in, keeping the temperature hovering instead of heating, until dusk.

Then: A storm! Thunder! Lightening! (And most wonderfully:) RAIN!
I waited for the power to go out.
Oh.
Wait.
#OffGridSolarPoweredGoodness


Rain from Copeland Casati

It wasn't a gentle rain.
It was a huge, torrential, blow-the-oaks-wildly-back-and-forth good ole fashioned summer STORM.
And there filled the This-Is-Not-Supposed-To-Be-Frog-Pond
-But-A-Natural-Pool
-But-We-Didn't-Buy-The-Liner-Yet Natural Pool.
Again.
(I almost pumped it out today. I'm glad I didn't bother!)

The rain waned. Suddenly: A RAINBOW!

It was *so* vibrant, I must have had the camera on the wrong setting but...
I was so happy at that moment, it seemed like the rainbow was leading right into the heart of our home.



Early Sunday, another heavy storm approached, looking like it wanted to stay, settle in, and visit awhile. So, instead of the mud and mire, we hurriedly packed, taking the scenic, historic roads back to Richmond.


Goodbye, prefab house... I'm already counting days till I come home.

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7/25/11

Passive Solar Prefab Home : We Return!

The passive solar prefab faces the heat wave... and wins!
Just got off the phone with the family who visited our prefab home last week!
I was worried. I mean, how would their children react to 1. no tv 2. no video games 3. power conservation 4. water conservation 5. no air conditioning?!? Much less 6. THE COMPOSTING TOILET.
They had a blast. 
The mom: "We owe y'all some more bb gun pellets..." 

So, finally, we're back at the zero energy, passive solar prefab house!


Just like in winter, when the temperatures outside plummet into the teens and we camp in the prefab house, still without heat (at least this winter we had the wood cook stove) to see how far we could take our comfort level (we were comfortable!) in the passive solar, energy efficient prefab home, this weekend we headed out to the land with an extreme heat advisory:
"By 6 p.m., the city’s heat index was above 106.
The National Weather Service continued its heat advisory for the area today, warning of dangerously hot conditions, and urging residents to avoid outdoor exposure if possible.
The advisory lasts from noon to 8 p.m. today, cautioning that heat index values could reach 110."
From my friend Tricia G. in Deltaville,
via ImNotRightInTheHead.com
My mom: "Don't go out there, you will surely diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!"
[Well, that's translated from her Southern, Virginia Mother speak, which was truthfully: "Have yew re-con-SID-dered traaaaaans-port-ting the childrenz oot they-ah (waves hand, vaguely, in the direction of Farmville) in this heeeeeet?"]

We waited until the sun was setting to head out, so not to stress the dogs. It was hazy and over 100 degrees in Richmond.

I have noticed that the prefab home's placement on the land is not only great for passive solar functionality, but, because it sits atop a hill, there always seems to be a gentle, gentle breeze, even in  summer.

I opened the windows wide, and the night air entered.
We slept well.

At six, I rose and closed up all the windows tight, with the indoor temperature reading 79.  At 9:30, the temperature inside the prefab read 83. But our thermometer temperature thing-y is high, high up on a book case- it didn't feel that hot at all, especially with the ceiling fans...?

I came prepared for the heat with a few tricks I picked up from spending summers, without air conditioning, at Camp Moorehead in North Carolina: Thermoses and spray bottles are filled, then stored in the refridgerator so if (when?) you really DO get hot, you can mist icy spray towards yourself, through the air.  I can't tell you how many times after a long day of sailing we girls would sit, with our spray bottles, in the bunkers all crowded around one lone fan... misting... misting... talking... and that's how we spent our late afternoons before the heat finally began to wane in those hot, hot cabins.

I made sun tea, to then cool and store in the fridge, preparing for an afternoon of glasses routinely filled, sipping, sipping through the haze. The children got out board games and happily played.

Then we headed into Appomattox.


At 3p.m., we returned: it was a billion kazillion katrillion degrees in the field- those are the *official* figures! Inside the passive solar, zero energy prefab home with no air conditioning? 88.

YOU might think that's hot, but guys, the dogs weren't even panting. 
The children cooled off from the hot ride in from town by taking a 2" bath in cool, cool underground cistern water. We relaxed as the wind kicked up and hope of a rain storm arose.

Around 4:30 we broke out the Chilled Water Spritzer and *everyone* was amazed at how well just a few spritzes work, misted over heads and chests, cooling the body and air! We are in some of the hottest days, ever, and here we were giggling and refreshed and comfortable thanks to energy efficient passive solar design and a few tricks like ceiling fans, closing and opening windows when appropriate, and... water spritzers!

So, no, I don't feel the "need" for air conditioning, even on the hottest days of the year, if this is the worst we endure in the passive solar prefab. It was certainly hot, but unbearable? Not.

For a sleepy, historic Southern town under the duress of extreme heat, Appomattox was *rocking!*
What I especially appreciated was that each place we visited were all entrepreneurs doing great things to make this community so... vibrant, special, fun... 

As usual we started out at Baines Books & Coffee, and B & L Sales.
Here's Mr. & Mrs. Shupe of B & L Sales showing us some Halifax cantaloupes Mr. Shupe picked up in Forest!

Check out the Halifax Cantaloupe Festival!!!! We will have to visit this festival one year!

We also found some art we could NOT pass up at B & L Sales. 
I somehow managed to scrape together the finances to purchase this art for our mod art collection:
One for him, one for her. The farm house goes
in the "Woods" room, the other, well,
hopefully it will fall off the wall and break, soon.
She *loves* it.
Total investment? $6.

Then we took a risk and ventured farther for lunch to El Rodeo.
Now, I don't know about you, but my idea of good eating is not usually off an interstate, in a shopping center... But every time I saw the name El Rodeo an inside voice told me to consider trying lunch there.  I kept thinking, "This is either going to be really, really good or we will be extremely disappointed." 



We can't wait to go back!
The chips were warm, the guacamole homemade, the restaurant is run by family members who, like many of us again, are incorporating their children into their business...

Don't expect fancy; it was almost like you were visiting someone's Mexican Momma who could whip up refried beans and rice and real tortillas and was always feeding friends... (check out the rice- it had bits of peas, beans, peppers... it was the real deal, and delicious with a hint of lime)... The customers, when waiting to pay, spoke with and knew the children.  There was even a cute nephew visiting from Richmond (hey, *we* have a cute nephew who visits from Richmond! : ) ).

On the walls, handpainted murals. On your plate... ooof, we're still stuffed! Look up into the center of the room: They made it appear as if you are seated, at tables al fresco, right outside a home's roof line. Another marguerite and I will feel I'm really in Mexico!

Back into town, this time we strolled through, as we usually do, The Appomattox Gallery
Then on to Antiques & More, whom we also love to visit...
You know, they also have a shop on Church Street, and I have never gone, so Pipsqueak #2 and I resolved to go.  As we headed towards Atwood Street, however, we were waylaid!

To my daughter's delight, we happened upon the Grand Opening of Sweet Gallagirls, a dessert shop created by a mom, Lara Gallagher, who is due any moment with her fifth child. Pipsqueak #2 and the Gallagirls made  fast friends. Eating free samples of their delicious truffles certainly helped to break the ice!



Back at the passive solar prefab, around five the storm broke and we threw open the windows to the cooling rain.

Remember when, at the first sign of thunder or storm, we'd pack up hastily and flee because we had toddlers in a camper about to become mired?

Now we *love* the beautiful, breezy rains that slide over the fields, quenching the plants, cooling the land, awakening the frogs and plants to sing! And here we happily sit, cozy, comfortable, with the breeze channeled through the prefab house to cool every room... Beautiful, beautiful rain!

THIS is the sound of a cistern filling:


This house is so gorgeous & breezy in the rain...  The frogs are chirp, chirp, chirping in Frog Pond, aka The One Day This Will Be The Natural Pool... I love listening to the frogs, especially after the trouble they've had in recent years. So cool, so cute, so earthy!

Maybe we have Parisian frogs?


Dusk ebbed, the rain settled, then waned. Mist blanketed the ground.

Like high sparks rising off a camp site, the fireflies emerged and danced in the lower field.
Frogs sang from the pond, the trees, the woods...
and katydids whirred, whirred, whirred: surround sound in branches.

We turned our chairs around from the dining table, with windows wide open, to sit in the dark, facing the vibrant chorus and display downhill, and enjoyed the show.

At seven, it was 76 as we closed the windows for another hot day.

The rain, and ensuing heavy mist are perfect, perfect, perfect for nourishing the grass seed I had to plant in June! The mist remained, and, with it, a respite from the heat until the sun rose further.

So Handsome Husband bush hogged, and the children "mopped" the prefab, which sorely needs it after about two years with no water... but... when an eight year old mops, it was a bit of a mess.
So this is how we sopped up extra water from the prefab's concrete floor:

Starched white clothes do not exist in this household.

One thing I'd like to note in this extreme summer heat in regards to the passive solar prefab- see how the solar collectors have full access to the sun? Yet note how directly underneath is always in shade.
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiice.

The passive solar design allows daylight within the prefab home without heating the slab.

As the afternoon temperatures rose to Officially Sweltering, we chased each other indoors, ceiling fans whirring, spray bottles spraying, or quietly read books, resting.

Cool as cucumbers in the passive solar house, mom. Coooool as cucumbers.
Or, at least, comfortable as you get in this heat.



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7/19/11

Seeing Stars In The Passive Solar Prefab Home!

We were not at the zero energy prefab home.
We were on grid, not off, at my parent's, on the Chesapeake Bay.


The recovering hiatus after our crazy plumbing and cistern-fixing weekend in the zero energy passive solar prefab continues.  But we were not idle: In the meantime we picked our backyard peaches and made peach jam with the H's. And peach salsa. And peach yogurt. And peach ice cream... not at the off grid prefab home.



Then, with the H's, we headed down to the Bay.
I even brought my pressure canner and kept on canning. We all kept cooking. I took along some of the elderberry jam to serve with venison. It was divine. I will be planting many more elderberry bushes on the land this fall.



I started thinking about the prefab... Next Up? Finishing interior walls... lighting... and I started to see stars.

Two ideas: One, over the "reading area" where the cocktail table is grouped with the bookcase and chairs:
LED lights hanging sparsely, in a modern industrial way, from the ceiling at different levels, so that, during the day, they're clean and discreet; at night, create the illusion of stars.

The second, for the Woods Room (the third, east bedroom): Tack up the LED Christmas lights tight against the ceiling, add one large round, yet flat, LED light, then cover the ceiling with light fabric: to, at night, create the sky; during the day, a flat, discrete panel of color.

I was fortunate to bend the ear of New York City and Paris's renowned lighting designer, James Bedell about the reading area:
"So are you looking to create this star-field effect with singular LEDs on strands or with LED A-lamps hanging down?

You mentioned that you already found the bulbs...so if you can send me a photo of the box or a link to the spec that would help.

As for creating the star effect...it depends on how literal you're looking to be. On a few projects I've hung A-lamps (light bulbs) at varying heights using simple black zip cord connected to a junction box in the ceiling. That creates more of a classic 20's feel. For a realistic star field effect you might want to consider a smaller source. 
Often for specialized LED effects it's best to go right to the component manufacturer. For instance...check out... http://www.vs-optoelectronic.com/eng/ "
Thanks for the great suggestions, James Bedell!

While cooking like crazy at the bay, even in this heat, there was a moment where I set aside broth and bone for the freezer and thought, "Oh, this is going to be SO DELICIOUS in a pot of beans on the wood cook stove this fall!" I may wander Virginia, but my mind never leaves the cozy prefab...

Here's some pictures from our last passive solar prefab house visit when we were finishing up our plumbing deadline:


I had a great conversation with a potential prefab house kit purchaser, a native American, who is interested in taking one of our prefab house kits off grid on his American Indian land. We discussed at length the cultural shifts that need to occur with "the younger people" to be sustainable- and the idea of laying out a project on the same 100 acres instead of 1 house plus 1 acre, but to cluster the homes together, to have shared community spaces and buildings, to foster community while preserving wildlife...

And thinking "differently" - embracing behavior which has, before this century, been normal, and still is, over the world.

Passive solar prefab at work,
without utilizing air conditioning.

For example, think air conditioning:
With summer, everyone keeps asking us about the prefab home's air conditioning.
I explain the passive solar prefab's design, the clerestory windows, the ceiling fans, the breezy location of the windows...
"When it's 100 degrees in the field, if done properly, I find it to be 80 degrees in the passive solar home!"

They protest, "But that's hot!" To me, it's not. I am one of those believers that air conditioning is just not great for you. I do believe in cooling: I believe in sundresses, I believe in iced tea, I believe in swimming holes, and lazy, shady porches.

I know everyone is not going to embrace that, but why not at least get your home to work with the seasons, therefore needing less systems, like in our prefab passive solar house?

Lloyd Alter explains it better: On the Evils of Air Conditioning
"Andrew Cox, author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), is quoted in Planet Green:
Over about the past twenty years, when I would find myself in neighborhoods--in Florida, Georgia, Kansas--in summer, and would find the yards, sidewalks, and parks devoid of all human life. It was a sharp contrast to the scene when I was growing up in Georgia, and neighbors, especially kids, would spend all day outdoors, together, all summer long. At the same time that the isolating effect of air-conditioning was becoming apparent to me (and, I assume, to others), we were all becoming aware of the threat of global warming. Here, air-conditioning seemed to play a pivotal role, since with hotter weather, we would be relying even more on air-conditioning, which, through increased fossil fuel and refrigerant use, would accelerate warming, creating even greater demand for air conditioning."
And look how drastically air conditioning wrecked functional architecture and design.

Air conditioning changes our culture, climate, and, as it shocks your body from donning wool in August for the office to reemerge into the heavy heat of the parking lot to your car... that can't be healthy!

P.s. With the slowly cooked venison topped with elderberry jam, I also served Best Ever Coleslaw.

Best Ever Coleslaw
Shredded: 6-7/10ths cabbage (I like to mix red & green cabbage) 2-3/10ths mild, mild onion (hello, vidalia), 2-3ish/10ths shredded apple. (Oh. Like I can do percentages or division. Puh-leez.)
Dashes of salt & pepper.
MAD dashes of celery seed.
Dollops of Dukes-and-no-other-do-not-let-me-catch-you-not-using-Dukes-unless-it's-homemade Mayo.
But don't use *too* much mayo. You should not have a mayonnaise-y coleslaw. Be sparing, stir it up, keep adding more. Stir well. Let the flavors set awhile. Better the next day.



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7/14/11

Richmond Urban Chickens Fight Continues

Still recovering from last weekend's hectic plumbing and cistern-fixin', our hard work was rewarded when we got an email from our guests saying how much fun they were having in the prefab modern home.  And from now on?
We have potable water.
Showers.
No more lugging in water cubes, hiding from social engagements because there was no bath for days...
We'll be presentable now!
[Is that as much fun? Hmmmmm.]

The rest of our summer will continue to have prefab green home construction projects, but nothing of the deadline and magnitude we experienced to achieve potable water.
From now on? NO STRESS.



So. Now without their visiting cousin to enthrall them, how to keep the children busy?
They picked elderberries for jelly.



I also learned you can eat the elderberry blossoms, like you would fry up squash blossoms. But I kinda imagine that's as practical as popping amarynth. Which I also have done.... once. And when I handed that popped amaranth, giggling, to the then-5-year-old, she was mighty disappointed.

Here's what popping amaranth looks like:



The recipe for canning elderberries I used this time also has a touch of lemon (from Farm Journal's "Freezing And Canning Cookbook," 1963) and is described as "Something different and delicious to serve with game. Grandpa's delight." So, just like the onion jam I'll be making later, when you think of berry jams & jellies like elderberry, remember they're not only good with bread... but meat.

I also don't mind processing elderberries.
Think about it: NO ONE COMPLAINS when they spend a day in the hot sun dodging copperheads and chiggers for blackberries... yet elderberry is "difficult?" Honeychile, you've got it all wrong. Just snip the ends of the berry branches into a colander, stroll inside, and spend the same amount of time but in the cool prefab home sorting out your treasure.

My trick is that I have one hand hold the stems firmly, the other rolls the berries into my palm, which makes it easier to pick and sort before dropping perfect, sorted fruit into the bowl. It is much more difficult to try to sort and pick out stems once everything is in the bowl.

Copeland's Elderberry Jam, adapted from The Farm Journal:
Elderberries
Less than twice the amount of sugar as you have elderberries
(Why does every elderberry recipe have 2-6 times the sugar to berry? Can ya just enjoy tha' freakin' berry, folks?)
Dashes of lemon juice
1 pkg. fruit pectin (elderberries do need it to 'set')

Cook up the berries, sugar, juice, stirring constantly, as it boils then add the pectin. Skim off foam (I always forget to do that) and pour into hot jars, seal, can via water bath method 5ish minutes.

Inedible raw, elderberries cooked down are delicious and have more vitamin C and antioxidants than any other herb than rose hips and currants!
I'll be serving this elderberry jam with venison come fall.

Meanwhile, in Richmond....: 

Richmond urban chickens, and the fight nationally for this basic food right, continues, even as THE HAMPTONS legalized chickens this week.



At the Lightly On The Ground radio show, we got into data.

July's National Geographic discusses how our current food system has reduced our variety, biodiversity, and how backyard farming is helping reintroduce heritage breeds.
1.
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com
/2011/07/food-ark/siebert-text

2. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com
/2011/07/food-ark/food-variety-graphic

Here's more food for thought: (From Science Blogs)
"In ‘Reconsidering Cities,’ Sharon points out that it other parts of the world it's not so unusual for city dwellers to raise much of what they eat:

Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, both produce more than 20% of their meat and vegetables within the city limits. In 2002 with more than 6 million people, Hong Kong was producing 33% of their produce, 14% of the pigs, 36% of the chickens and 20% of the farmed fish eaten in the city limits, much the animals being raised on 160,000 tons annually of food waste that was recycled into meat and eggs."

(vs. Food waste going into the landfill!)

Shouldn’t this be part of our sustainable conversation and not just LEED certified buildings?
Give it time, folks... just consider it, turn it around in your heads, look at and seek data. That's all I ask of our officials. Give it [your] time.
 

Last week I emailed all animal control departments in Regional Richmond.

NO ONE responded.... except Henrico.
Here's what Henrico county's animal control has to say on the number of animal complaints vs. chickens in the entire county:
"Just to give you an idea, as a unit we respond to over 21,000 animal related calls each year. Of those 21,000, about 5,000 are wildlife related and the rest are domestic animals or livestock. 
I can safely say that we receive no more than maybe 150 or so calls in regards to chickens in a year’s time. "
If you live in a region that hasn't responded, ask yourself: Why it's ok that overwhelmingly there is no response from our officials when we ask them about this issue?

Ok, in case you didn't hear me the first time:
Hello, salaried employees that are supposed to be keeping up with your peers:
GIVE IT, CHICKUNZ, YOUR TIME.
Look at data. Sheesh. Who are you elected-officials-people that don't look at data?



Well... as I said, I'm still recovering. I'm so exhausted I wouldn't go on tv.
Amy Randolph did a great job as the "Provide The Data" chickunz gal on Channel 6 with ChiknEGG's Lisa Dearden talking about urban hens in HENrico and regional Richmond, and the upcoming Mad City Chickens movie coming to town.

I'm pushing through with deadlines (Shhhhh: did I tell you about the prefab cabin Dogtrot Mod yet in Pennsylvania? No, I have not. Announcements soon, once that project gets underway, and also... well, announcements very soon.)

In the meantime, I will survive.
[Someone cue the Peruvian drag queens... ok, thank yew!]
Slowly, I stomp back to the stage.

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