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6/24/12

Pirates Return To The In-Town Ramshackle

Returned to Deltaville, we again become Pirates.

In the In-Town Ramshackle as the off grid prefab home enters another phase of finishing, I am living in a bachelor's house.

It sounds very unseemly: Handsome Husband away in D.C....
While I chase six chickens three dogs two Pipsqueaks and a feral cat and... and now have two Handsome Bachelors in residence as they work on The In-Town Ramshackle... I am loving every second of it.

I have not laughed this hard in awhile: Poor Handsome Bachelors, now living MY life, trying to get stuff done on the In-Town Ramshackle in the midst of MY chaos... children and dogs and chickens, everywhere! While they are trying to work!

From Dustin carrying the kids upstairs in his socks because the stain hadn't dried yet on the stairs, to Tony trying to paint floors to then have eager dogs tread across it, curious as to what he's doing...

Many moments of laughter: Tony physically picking me up and trying to get me to do chin ups in my dining room rafters... ("Nooooooo!") They organized daily relay races for the Pipsqueaks to tire them out, yet, as they clear out brush and discover neat things, also leave special rocks and shells for the children to find... I feel truly blessed.

The situation sounds outrageous, but the house is full of laughter and love and I will always treasure this time together.

And when the children spend the night out at their cousins????? IT GETS WILD.
On Tuesday? We watched Marie Antoinette.

And last night? Mansfield Park.

Full of bohemia, we are.

Actually, we did do something wild after our dose of Jane Austin last night:
The evening ended after they literally kidnapped me, protesting, stuffed me into a car, and unwillingly transported me to Stingray Point, where Captain John Smith was stung, then ate, the offending sting ray - we lay back on the sand, listening to the waves lapping, watching shooting stars, and talked history...

Reading Club:
Speaking of history, I am in the midst of reading "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong." Read it.
Lies My Teacher Told Me
by James W. Loewen
Just in time, as I read the chapters on "settlement" and "colonization" of America, we headed over to Deltaville Maritime Museum where...
Pirates took mah Pipsqueaks.


I *thought* I would have Tony's post on the renovation of the INefficient old In-Town Ramshackle ready for y'all this week but... we're still unpacking, and pirating. Stay tuned.

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6/17/12

Passive Solar Prefab Gives Way To The Passive Solar INefficient In-Town Ramshackle


FINALLY: The solar system adjustment to the passive solar prefab home worked! Systems are humming!

The solar heat tubes were also installed...

I love that it was an entirely cloudy day yet the battery bank was actively charging! That adjustment last weekend made all the difference.
Now you know our modern prefab home is off grid; we don't have water to waste. So when the cat got mad at the puppy and sprayed?  I dragged out the rug, laid it on the picnic table, shook my hand at the sky and shouted: "Bring on the rain."

The day was overcast... the rain came.
A downpour. For a day.

Pipsqueaks unplugged the rainwater filtration so they could watch, mesmerized, as the rainwater swirled down, filtering, from the gutter pipes to below.
"Oooooooooooooooooooooooooo..."
I know, it's fun. I myself do not tire of it...
Here's a video of the Pipsqueak explaining the rainwater filtration from last year:

A Child Describes The WISY Rainwater Filtration

And then a day later?
Another storm!
Hooooly lamole. I could see that huge storm coming so went out to encourage the hens into their coop; looked up an saw, beyond the field, black clouds reaching down, like a finger... I watched: ROTATION.

Thankfully it dispersed quickly into a heavy rainstorm....  I watched the CRAZY weather and clouds thinking, "I **LOVE** this place."
It's like Montana, except in Virginia: Big Sky, dramatically, gracefully.

In the morning? Wow. Behind the prefab where I had planted rows of potatoes? Underwater. Apparently we live in a rice paddy. Good thing we graded well around the prefab home... And, as always, we have lots o' food, so who cares, the car can sit for days until it dries instead of getting stuck in the field.
Heck. I'm just gonna swim out to the Aults if I need anything, lol! (Like everyone here, we're well prepared...)

The sun came out. I packed up. And then? 
We drove to the In-Town Ramshackle.
Where Tony & Dustin have been busy.

Yes: THREE hours with SIX chickens THREE dogs TWO children and a yowling, yowling, YOWLING feral cat.
But we're here now, and it's alllllllllllllllllllllllll good.

Tony & Dustin greeted us at the In-Town Ramshackle.
Last time I was here it was filled with boxes, covered with mold, and infested with brown recluse.

Thanks to them, it's not, any more. 
Tony details the restoration progress and all of their hard work in the next blog post.
"Tony. Write down your challenges and then how you solved them!"
Tony smiles, serenely.
"There were only opportunities, not problems..." #MisterGlassIsHalfFull

We're still unpacking, hanging pictures, organizing, and fixing things in the In-Town Ramshackle, but here's a sneak peek:

What the In-Town Ramshackle shares with the modern prefab home is that it, as well, is passive solar.
In the 1800s there was no air conditioning, either, so architects had to know what to do to help keep things cool in summer's heat!
Passive solar 1800s farm house...
There is ALWAYS a cross breeze.

On Day 2 we took the Pipsqueaks to Stingray Point, where they jumped in the waves, chilly, and talked about how Captain John Smith ate the sting ray that almost killed him here, all those years ago...

I fed the boyz dinner.

Tony's Summer Squash
I know it looks gross. Try it. I promise.

Our good friends in Pamplin gifted us with the first summer squash... but I'm going to name this after Tony because...
Sautee in olive oil 1" long sliced onions until soft.
Add in squash, sliced.
If it is getting brown, add enough water to make sure the entire mess is sauteed but then softly cooked until all are well happily simmeredly cooked and done. There should be more done pieces of onion and soft and more firm pieces - it's a mess! That's what makes it tasty! Add butter, mix, cooking off any water you had to add to make everything cooked.

Sprinkle with good salt and pepper. Add: Against your better judgement, TONY MADE ME and then we were all happy for it: Add softly, lightly, a sprinkle all over but not much AT ALL of: cinnamon. Gracious, it's good.

Tony: "Forget your dainty silver. GIVE ME A SHOVEL AND A BUCKET."
Certainly, boyz.

And then Handsome Husband was home. And we laughed and ate and talked late over everything. 

Saturday eve starter song:
Dancing in the kitchen, drinking wine, & cooking up a storm, this is what I played:


While I unpacked and unpacked and unpacked...
...with Old Crow Medicine Show keeping me company while I worked...

The boyz took the children out on the vintage boat, Moby.
And darned if Pipsqueak 1 didn't show his true pirate sailor self by...

"Papi! I see an abandoned boat! I claim it on the high sea for myself and that is the rule of the sea!"
"I'm sure it's one of these people's boats on the shore..."
So they tossed a line, towed it behind them and paraded the boat around and people waved and said "No, we've never seen it..."

And that's how Pipsqueak 1 used the law of the sea, commandeered, hence acquiring his first boat, a two seater kayak, at the age of nine. 
Welcome: The Minnow.


And sailing camp hasn't even started.

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6/10/12

Prefab Home Off Grid Construction Continues; Passive Solar Keeps Us Comfortable And... Joy, Grief.

Prefab home with coop and...
who put a TARGET on that coop?!?

Electrical and plumbing work for the solar hot water system in the prefab home progresses! Thank goodness, because I'm heading into Week 4 of no hot water as we "camp" in the off grid passive solar prefab home.



The solar loop has been charged with a glycol/water mix. The evacuated tubes are ready to be installed as soon as the solar differential controller installation has been completed.

The septic people informed us they would be here...
in July.  And everyone else??? Still trying to track down and herd them over to the passive solar prefab.
Welcome to rural USA.

However, each day's construction frustrations still outweigh any of the "best" times we ever had in our old place...
We are so, SO grateful to be here.

THANKFULLY, we have The In-Town Ramshackle to flee to (which we will now do, now that school and  camps are over) so that no one gets mad at us for camping near the Almost Finished Prefab Home.  You see, The In-Town Ramshackle has a certificate of occupancy.

Here are some recent pictures of The In-Town Ramshackle.
With a certificate of occupancy:

So while "construction" is finished at the passive solar, energy efficient, comfortable, clean, modern prefab home, I will officially reside at The In-Town Ramshackle, because why have this:
Energy efficient passive solar prefab home
*without* a C.O.
Boy does it look comfy!
Wish I could live here... in the meantime... we camp!

Yep, why endure THOSE DIRE CONDITIONS in the off grid prefab home when you can live in THIS has-a-certificate-of-occupancy-yet-is-totally-run-down-unEnergyEfficient-disaster:
Purty.
THIS has a C.O.

Yep.


Anyhoo, each day here, despite no hot water or whatnot, brings another Best Day Ever.
: ) Today? Another unplanned invitation: Lunch? Sure! Riding? Absolutely!

I made homemade guacamole, and my Very Special Cucumber Sandwiches to contribute to our al fresco lunch.

Aren't they pretty?

We arrived, I unloaded the tote bag with platters, chips, guacamole, extra cucumber spread and bread, got settled, then, absentmindedly,
"Where are the cucumber sandwiches?!?"

Suddenly, with shocking clarity, I envisioned:
The beautiful platter of tasty, summery, cucumber sandwiches... left behind on the dining table!
ShopPuppy.
Fired, again.

A platter of cucumber sandwiches + Big. Dorky. Puppy.

I peeled out of the driveway and RACED into the prefab house just in time to...
...catch the puppy, gawky huge paws on my pristine white modern dining table, jaws open, scooping and slurping and slobbering up the last two cucumber sandwiches.

No, I did not take pictures of my next moments, shrieking, big puppy flailing / trying to make off with the last two sandwiches....

What can you do. I patted my hair back into place, cleared my throat, and calmly, very calmly, returned to our neighbors, asked quietly for a cutting board, a sharp knife, and out of the bag pulled out the *extra* bread, *extra* spread, and *extra* cucumbers, and began assembling sandwiches, again.

We ate, and then... we rode.

In case you are wondering, YES we will be careening to and fro this summer with the whole household: Six chickens, three dogs, two children, and one yowling, yowling feral cat.

Forget The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants;
We're The Family Of The Traveling Hens, Jumbled Dogs, Childrenz and Feral Cats.


A Personal Note: Grief.
We lost a dear little friend this weekend. He began bravely fighting cancer at the age of nine; four times in these four years he fought... and from the playground, where we saw each other every day in the German School, we families and children fought with him. All our prayers and love to a family now returned to Germany, and for all dear friends in the German School, through this terrible loss. We grieve. He is free.

When a child fights cancer, you steel yourself to only think of the fight. It's like if you allow yourself to think of the other side, it will cast fate to turn from his favor.  But by the end, all that fighting, fighting... he is now quiet.

A. called to tell us. After the call, the crying, the... everything, I just stood at the kitchen counter, staring at a cabbage our friend S. had just picked from her garden... for hours. I had planned to make sauerkraut but could not stop thinking of Paul, all the moments of Paul on the playground, how Paul was so great at soccer... How when he lost, through the cutting surgeries, much mobility of his arm, his leg... yet the smiles and emotional struggle to come to terms with he was no longer an athlete, then ok, then the regrowth of that red hair... all the ups and downs... all of us running together in a race to honor him, and how he smiled...so many sweet, sweet moments with the bitter.

Paul's Coleslaw
Just picked head of tender cabbage, shredded
1-2 carrots, as sweet & fresh as possible, shredded
Dashes of sugar
Dashes of rice vinegar
2-3 tsp. pureed ginger (to your taste)
Smaller dashes of kosher salt, tamari... pumpkin or sesame oil if you like, I always think of S., his mom, when using pumpkin.
Mix very well, let sit a day. Add just enough of sugar/vinegar/etc. to give it a sweet, gentle flavor, with just enough rice vinegar for tears and the pang of every moment.
Please bring it to serve at a soccer game...

Solar Cooked Beets
Cook beets, whole, in the solar cooker until tender. Slip off skins, dice small.
Sprinkle with fresh dill and a few dashes of vinegar- just enough so you can still taste the earthy beets, not be overwhelmed by vinegar.

P.s. You *can* overcook things in the solar cooker.
Check out my "These Will Be Delicious Beet Greens To Serve With Steak Tonight":
After weeks of clouds, heat returns to Virginia. 
Our battery bank / solar system is humming again after minor adjustments, and, with final construction resuming on the passive solar prefab home, we remove ourselves from camping to respectfully inhabiting the very rough, in-efficient In-Town Ramshackle. 


Stay tuned...


[R.I.P Paul. We love you and your family very, very much.]

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6/4/12

Off Grid Systems For The Prefab Home Continue, Soil Testing, And Potlucks

We are still tweaking and adjusting the solar system for the off grid passive solar prefab home.

The battery bank has not recharged as quickly as expected, so we are measuring and reviewing the electrical specs to see what might be an issue we can correct. Backwoods Solar has helped immensely with troubleshooting; we highly recommend them.

Of course, all this rain didn't help... but at least our rainwater cistern is full!
Even with the roiling clouds as the rain began to hit... check out how brightly lit inside it remained (without turning on the lights!) within our prefab modern home.

The soil engineer came out, again... with nothing new to report.
We just wanted to make sure we explored responsibly everywhere- because if we can avoid a pump for septic, that would be one less drain on our energy usage.
The Pipsqueaks "helped."

We Emptied The Composting Toilet Instead Of Heading To The Blues & Brew Fest in Appomattox.
*Drat.*
This was by far the worst episode of emptying. Often I have claimed, "Well, it looks like soil, and aside from the black water in the pan, doesn't smell!"
 Not this time.
We will be wracking our brains as to why it was different. Adding the bacteria that comes with the toilet, again. Adding more sawdust. And if YOU are considering a composting toilet, you must ask yourself:
"Is there someone in the family that is 1. willing and 2. STRONG ENOUGH to carry out that pan repeatedly when emptying?" It is not an easy task. When we did it every few months and it didn't smell it wasn't so horrible (although carrying that black water in the pan through the house was always a tense, breath-intaken (and held) moment.

I Also Gave FedEx A Tour Of The Off Grid Prefab House
I had an unexpected package.
It is so startling to be at your laptop, typing quietly in the middle of nowhere, to then hear gravel crunching, look up, and see a shiny FedEx truck!

"Is this a solar house?!?" The driver asked, excitedly.
"It is! Do you want a tour? It's still under construction..." but they had already jumped out of the truck.
"Well that just means I get to see the updates each time I deliver!"
We walked through, I showed the day lighting, the structural insulated panels, the passive solar design, the clerestory windows, the cook stove... I'm looking forward to their next visit when I can show progress!
Someone send me a package!!!!
I want to show progress.

It T'ain't All Work, Here
Thanks to our Amish neighbor's greenhouses, I am enjoying thick messy ripe tomato sandwiches... for breakfast. Pure hedonism, they're so good.
And we had our first blueberries...

We've Had Plenty O' Fun This Week, Visiting Friends


So we worked and we worked and we worked, still surrounded by boxes because no closets are built, but there was always time for laughter and friends. Although weekends are filled with lots of projects, they are also filled with lots of unplanned potlucks.


We Began The Chicken Pen
So that when we leave for a weekend, chickens can range, but be safe in smaller confines.

To be continued...

I even tried my hand at golf.
Oh no, I would never stroll a sterile golf course laden with pesticides! But here, surrounded by horses, a beautiful wild landscape and a huge, rising new moon... what fun.

"Redneck golf!" P joked.
I: "How could you *ever* enjoy a boring golf course after growing up driving balls like this."
(He must have been doing something right because now he's on the PGA Tour, whatever that is.)

We Began Homeschooling
Once finished with school, we launched Summer Homeschool, which means just 45 minutes - 2 hours a day.  Aside from the initial whining, it works very well. While following the general SOL curriculum, it allows us to explore in depth so much more... and I was rewarded: Lunch conversations with my children included Leif The Lucky and whether he met Native Americans, King James's anti-smoking sentiments, Amelia Earhart, and how to build a missile. And that night?
Well, that's a first: never had to break up kids fighting over who would read MATH BOOKS in bed... #LifeOfFred
I can see how Life Of Fred could never be taught in a classroom... It has been a great segue into related science, history and practical applications... Don't dismiss it as hokey! It fostered many teaching moments. 

The weather ranged from hot and clear to roiling skies and rain.
Accordingly, it affected our recipes.
I love it when I can use the solar cooker...
Solar Cooker Meatball Pasta
Meatballs
Mince 1/2 an onion, and mix with 1-2 slices of diced old bread, some milk... blend with a fork until mush. Add a packet of local ground beef, kosher salt (I am on an organic tamari kick. I add dashes and dashes of tamari. And dashes of hot sauce.) and some cumin. Ok fine I add a lot of cumin...

Roll into balls and place in the solar pots, cook until done. Then I add a tomato sauce (your choice, spicy or not) to the pasta, and drain in the meat juice from the solar pots to blend flavors and mix with all that yummy juice before topping with meatballs,  and more sauce. Yum.

Tamari Coleslaw
Still on my tamari kick, I finely shredded most of a small head of cabbage, mixed with the other half of the onion (diced), and tossed with tamari, celery seed, some sugar, and good olive oil. This would be delicious with shredded carrots and fresh ginger, I just did not have any, on hand. Think: that great side salad you get with sushi and miso soup, except coleslaw-ized.

We ended the weekend watching a beautiful, HUGE new moon rising while, over a friend's pond, the sun set, while children skipped stones, bats skimmed low, and the whippoorwill sang.
Tomorrow the electrician for the off grid prefab home's systems returns, in the nick of time.

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