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10/28/12

Passive Solar Prefab Home Readies Off Grid For The Approaching Hurricane

We're Living Off Grid On A Small Sized System.

So. By now you know we bought the "We're weekenders and plus technology is going to change SO MUCH in the next 5-10 years before we live here permanently so why bother investing a boatload of money in the solar system" folks whose plan then turned from The 5-10 Years 'Till Permanency Plan to The Now Plan, right?

Now, people are thinking I'm sitting here in my mud hut cooking solar 'cause I can't even rub two sticks together to make a fire, honeys.

Here's an example of a solar cooked dinner this week:
Solar cooked lamb with homemade blackberry jam + reduced juice sauce and Handsome Husband's bread.

Oh mah gersh.
And just wait until it cools down enough for Cookstove Season. (swoon)
My hybrid solar oven doin' its thang
seven years after purchase.
A good investment!

You just have to learn how to position the solar oven depending on when you're going away and returning, so that your meal is hot and ready...
You just have to learn what not to add water to, and to what to add water...
It's not complicated, it's creative.

How many moms do you know who put dinner in the oven, then leave?
I do, daily.

Our delicious repast, solar cookin', enabled me to cut trails on a beautiful day with our neighbors & dear friends, joining our properties together...

While we were working hard pruning briars, cutting saplings, moving logs, and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the rubs & scrapes of the deer, the bear claw marks we found, my solar cooker was finishing up a delicious meal to return to at dusk, far away, safely.
Cutting riding trails with friends while
dinner cooks back at the prefab.

Now I don't want to over-boost my solar cookin' ego.
I know my limits... Like today, working hard on those trails, when the Pipsqueaks asked, "So, can you make us a solar blueberry cobbler?" Oh, no, honeychiles, that's what we have S.W. as our neighbor for. SHE is the Queen O' Cobbler, and that's why we subtly, and consistently, angle and wheedle dinner invitations out of her...

At last weekend's Jamboree, butter again rose to my mind like cream on milk. I snagged a card from the butter gals there. Their butter had a dash of ambrosia in it.

Energized, I researched butter churns and quickly lost interest. Seriously. $80-$150 for a simple churn... somehow I don't imagine normal people back then who had normal backyard hens and a dairy cow in their yard in normal places sunk that chunk o' change into a churn just to make... butter.
So I came up with this:
But There's A Storm A-Brewin'.
In Fact, It's Hurricane Sandy.


Growing up sailing is SO much like living solar- you trim a sail here, unplug an appliance there... I am adjusting the house for upcoming weather...

With the approaching hurricane, we face our biggest challenge: NOT the winds, as the prefab SIP house is so solid, and the hurricane's path not direct to us; not the power going out for weeks as we're already off the grid... but our battery bank staying above 50% through this cloud cover.

We ready for the  4+ days of extreme cloud cover on a solar system that was, at the time, purposely undersized for weekend use that then became The Live Here Now Plan. Preemptively, I have turned off anything that draws power except the Sundanzer freezer.

So: Water pitcher is filled, then the rainwater treatment is turned off. The refrigerator which just holds some cheese & jam & beer? Well, that can stay off a few days- we drink lukewarm beer any-hoo, being married to a German!

With all of that off, my power draw is now .01-.02, and the battery bank, without draw, even on this intermittently-cloudy day, has recharged to 93%.

I can now face these days with more confidence, knowing the battery bank should not get to 50%, and, as Orphan Annie sez, soon...

But until Annie shows up singin' her heart out while the cloud cover tap dances away into sunshine, I will be telecommuting off my tractor battery for the next few days...

Friday: Cloud cover moved in. We awoke to the usual battery bank at 85ish %. Thanks to a little sun and everything except the freezer unplugged, we were able to rise to 93%. That heartened me.
Saturday: Pea soup, yet bright clouds. Awoke to 84% (not bad considering that is our normal range and that we only got to 93% yesterday thanks to clouds! The unplugging really makes a difference!) and still, the battery bank rose to 90%!!!! It is amazing that we can RISE on cloudy days just by scaling back consumption!
Sunday: Awoke to 84%, and mid-afternoon, now it is, even with *thick* cover, 88%.
The hurricane hits soon, it's path moves up the Chesapeake Bay... we should have 2ish days more of cloud cover.  The passive solar prefab readies to sail through this storm.

To everyone in Hurricane Sandy's path, along the coast, on the Chesapeake, DC, Philly, NYC... stay safe & sound.

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10/22/12

Passive Solar Prefab Shows Off Reuse, Then Heads Out For Rural Culture

What a beautiful autumn weekend in Virginia!!!!
The trees are *gorgeous* - all bright reds and yellows... 

At our off grid passive solar prefab home, we stayed busy.

This week I am celebrating reuse! [Again.]

Handsome Husband has been especially crafty, reusing wood scraps to make rudimentary shelving, and then he took two stainless steel sink counters we bought years ago and repurposed them as:

1. The traditional farmhouse kitchen work area I always secretly dreamed of in my modern house, and
Awesome farmhouse shelving, all reused.
Note stainless counter on which rests
the mortar & pestle.
Traditional farmhouse
hidden in a modern prefab home.

2. even more ingeniously, A FRONT ENTRANCE AWNING!
No, seriously!
That cool, sleek, modern entryway to the passive solar prefab home that now keeps downpours off of me while I sloooowly dig through my purse to find my always-elusive keys? 

We've reused about everything around here, even the kitchen sink. Literally. Check it out: sink counter, and some scrap chain found in the shed, sealed with silicone = modern cool entryway with function.
Ok this is not a kitchen SINK,
but a kitchen COUNTER
reused as a modern awning.

Even the My Dream Of A Farmhouse Work Area shelves were repurposed from pantry shelves removed from our old city house. There's room for everything. The stainless steel work area (one of two reused counters we got at Habitat For Humanity's Restore) is perfect. I'm SO grateful to have the shelves, to finally organize my spices and pans and pots, to have a sturdy work area close to the cook stove.

More shelves:

Passive Solar Dogtrot Mod Prefab Cabin Home In New Mexico Update: She. Is. Blogging!!!! Follow her updates here!

City friends keep asking me if I'm lonely, living in Population 199 and whatnot.

Honeychiles, Country Is Never Quiet, Or Lonely.
People always think being in the country is quiet. Instead, it is full of sound, and busy. Crickets criking, cicadas whirring, coyotes howling, dogs barking, cows mooing, bucks grunting, and you're trying to tell me that I am living the Quiet Life?!? ; ) [Don't get me started on my beloved whippoorwill!]

But this morning, unawares: Crazy! The acoustics of this property- with the house high on the hill, the valley below, the ridge, in the distance, beyond: I just walked outside to throw my coffee grounds on the garden and heard a "Clop clop clop clop clop clop clop..." As loud as if it were next to me, I could hear the lively clop clop clop of the hooves of an Amish buggy going down Rolling Hill Road (the road on the ridge waaaay far away)!

You Say Living In The Country Is Quiet?!? Shoot, let's just run through the weekend:
There was the Blessing Of The Hounds. 

[Otherwise known as, "Oops, Kim got peed on, again..."
Kim: "Heck, robes are just robes, I would be disappointed if the hounds didn't want to be near me." : ) ]


There was Autumnfest.
 



There was bluegrass, butter churning, and apple pie judging at Uncle Glover's Big Time Jamboree.


So the story of Uncle Glover's Store is that this cool girl Scott, who is a chef, is restoring and revitalizing her great uncle's old country store in Concord. The restoration and revitalization is all about great food, wine, people, and live music. With a dash of punk and PBR thrown into the bluegrass every now and then. 

We became fast friends.

'Round here, it's not a party 'till someone shows up with pet goats. So they did. I'd say cue the bluegrass but they're already playing!


Evenings ended with the grande finale: The Meteor Shower. Pinch yourself more awake, walk outside again, and see the meteors around 11ish. Enjoy the crisp night air, grab a blanket, and look upward.
Well, it's been so busy here in the country, I might have to head into the city for a little quiet!

Speaking of the city, this weekend Chicago sustainable urban ag headed to New York:
Honeychile, Sister's old roommate certainly turned Maaaar-tha's head: Yes, Erika. And Martha Stewart. Awesome. Congratulations ERIKA!!!
"In 2002, building upon her father's work at Growing Power, a nonprofit he founded in Milwaukee to provide low-income communities access to healthy food, Allen opened a branch in Chicago. Today, she runs eight farm sites around the city and works as the national projects director. Allen and her team teach adults and at-risk youth how to grow food and create a sustainable food economy, selling the fruits of their labor at farmers' markets around the city while composting refuse and providing resources and job training. Allen is sowing the seeds of a new life for thousands. "
This is a picture of Erika in
Grand Central Station, NYC,
that Erika took, herself, of herself.
I love that!

This is an exuberant post, befitting an exuberant Virginia weekend. 
I hope your week was as nice.

Reading Club:

P.s. Ran across this nice rendition of the Jackson 5's
Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww Baby Gimme One Moah Chance...

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10/14/12

Passive Solar Prefab Living, With A Hiatus In DC.

Off grid passive solar prefab house
*with solar walkway candy canes?*
Forget it, kid.
My child is trying to talk me into ordering solar powered walkway candy canes. 
"MOM, COME ON, isn't this EVERYTHING you work for?!? SOLAR!"
Um... For those of you that wonder: No, we have no walkway. We have fields. Fields apparently perfect to be lined with solar powered candy canes. 
Ohhhhh, my missed opportunity.
"Solar candy canes?!? Nooooooo!"
New Mexico Prefab House Project
I will have an update and hopefully a blog link for people to follow this project by next week.
Colorado Prefab House Project
The Boulder distributor is currently pricing out the two story modern prefab home, The R1 Residential, with the optional extra bath, for this family. So we are in the very beginning stages of a possible prefab home in this area.
Now Nomads, We Go Hither And Thither, At Will. D.C. is great. When there, we school in the morning, then see some incredible exhibits that are tied in to what they are currently learning in school. We wait until right after lunch, to avoid the school buses. It all blows our mind.

This week? The Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History (Homeschool topics covered: adaptation, different scientific eras, I mean, sheesh, too many topics to list...) and the National Geographic Headquarters and its exhibit, "Discover the Golden Age Of Muslim Civilization: 1001 Inventions." (Homeschool covered: early explorers not in the Americas, early inventions, map making, time, the list, again, is endless...)

National History Museum:

National Geographic Headquarters:

But when it comes to meeting local kids, I'm flummoxed. Believe me, I accost any parent accompanying their child in the morning as I walk- and they are friendly, gracious, trying to be helpful. They all pointed me to the public elementary school just a few blocks away. Great! Like anywhere, schools are where the local community gathers.

How we play:
I don't think this would go
over well in DC...
#BarefootKids
#PotatoGun

So we traipsed on down at 4ish, expecting some local stragglers where we might break into conversation.
We didn't get past the gate.
"This area is private."
Uh, I thought it was the public school playground...
"Aftercare is in session."
Ok, I get it... wow, aftercare is publicly provided here? Huh. We'll come back later.

A few days later we tried a REALLY late hour, 5:30, hoping there might be still *someone* on the playground. I mean, we had already fed our children dinner.
Nope. The playground was filled with kids and no entry for us.
"No random neighborhood children allowed inside to play on the public playground until six thirty."
WHO GOES TO PLAY ON A PLAYGROUND AT SIX THIRTY?!?
I was... just... shocked. In all the cities and not cities I know, playgrounds are open for a fun free-for-all after 2ish...  all these children here, past the dinner hour...
Pipsqueak 2 looked up at me, as we stood, again barred from entering:
"Ma, we don't need to meet kids here.
I think we were meant to be farm kids..."

We walked away, with I, repeating, "SIX THIRTY?!?" in disbelief...

This is not a city critique. New York rocks the urban childhood vibe. 
As I often say: Go to any New York playground. It is full of parents drinking coffee and kids screaming.  DC has a lot to learn.
In the meantime, when we're here, we ARE having a blast.
And the neighborhood, near DuPont Circle but away from tourists, is GREAT. We love it, and you can tell that everyone who lives here loves this neighborhood, too.
The streets are gorgeous! The metro is fun! The museums, endless!
Just... no unchained kids, much less kids who might be slightly feral like my own...

So, in this bustling metropolis, we import kids to us.
This week, Germany came to visit! We love it when this German family comes, their child is the same age, and it is fun to see and discuss our culture, listening to their outside take and observations.


Wouldn't you think it ironic L.A. is courting us for a tv show, a reality show, and I have no tv?
I consulted friends. "We're friendly, but it would be a real pain to have cameras all around. BUT: It would be good for Pamplin, and Appomattox, and help our community. It would give a platform to the lifestyles and skills we are passionate about: off grid living, natural farming, canning... And heck, I think MY friends are fabulous...!"

My friend J.B.: "A reality show? I'm not eating crickets."
I: "I don't want you to eat crickets. Plus it's not like you'll find some Snookie here, honeychile; we're not The Housewives O' Pamplin Cit-tay or anything. But I'd be ok if we were The Country-fied Seinfield... and people might learn some history! I mean, DC doesn't even know where **APPOMATTOX** is!"

Reading Club:
Homeschool: 
We did school every morning until lunch as usual, then headed out to museums. But did you know the U.S. Department of Energy also has an online area called, "Ask A Scientist?" This came in handy when, studying weather, the 4th grader *insisted* fog is precipitation, no matter how many arguments to the contrary I provided. "Hey! Look what I found! It's Ask A Scientist!" He ran up, interested. And there was this.

Returned Home To The Passive Solar Prefab Home...
We walked into the off grid solar prefab house after being in DC- in the dark, temperatures plummeting, yet indoors, it was 70 degrees, and 1. there's no heat on plus 2. there was frost last night. Indoors, it's 70 degrees. 
Yay.
It's so good to be home... 
...Just in time for the Appomattox Railroad Fest.  
I hope y'all enjoy the pictures and video, below.




If you missed it, next year, y'all come out. Don't miss the food, music, vintage cars, firemen, and, of course, the Brunswick stew.




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10/8/12

D.C., Back To The Passive Solar Prefab Home, Prefab Project Updates.

We are exploring a new world: Life in DC.

For the first time since "Also Moving to D.C." this spring, 
We Went To Washington.
Handsome Husband was thrilled.
Arriving late at night, the Pipsqueaks awoke just in time to see us pass the Washington Monument.
Pipsqueak 2: "LOOK! It's The Big White PENCIL!!!!!!!!!!!"

A Potential Client Requested Pictures of our own off grid passive solar home interior progress, so here you go:


The plywood is 80% up; the ceiling in the great room remains uncovered until electric work is finished. After having silver, jewelry, and all of our son's cash stolen, we will not be asking the perpetrators back to finish the plywood job, so finishing the plywood will be resumed later, when we have nothing else to do.

I'm actually enjoying just the bare plywood look.

And next year, when I have less on my plate and feel like I want a new look, I can paint it.
Here are some of our interior design ideas over the years for our own casa ti prefab, in case it helps someone...

New Mexico Prefab Home Update
We are moving along nicely with the client, contractor's team, and ourselves. I am so excited this client (Finally! Another blogger!!!!!) is willing to share her journey with the world. And I know you are too, because you are well tired of my continual digressions from green building / prefab house kits!  I am expecting to be able to post a link to her blog next week.

My notes: As I mentioned, this client intends to customize her own Dogtrot Mod from our prefab cabin line, Green Cabin Kits in the following manner: The Dogtrot Mod is made of two parts: A main area, and a separate bedroom/studio area.
The major differences between the standard Dogtrot Mod and this project is that they are adding more secondary areas. They both have parents aging, and expect the possibilities of their moving in. Along with this multi-generational issue, they want to enclose the areas between the buildings to protect elders from the elements.  We address that by adding square windows on the north side, providing daylighting yet enclosed for protection.

The contractors want to discuss HVAC and I think it's a good time to remind everyone of my old post where I explore HRV / ERV decisions for energy efficient homes.

The contractors have some great past experiences with SIP, whereas often our biggest hurtle is explaining the benefits to contractors who insist stick frame is easier & better.  
I foresee a super energy efficient team in the making...

Our Zoo Enters The Concrete Jungle
During the overcast week of rain, it was a good time to be in Washington: If we had stayed at our own passive solar prefab home, newly leveled in the drive and field to prepare for septic, the freshly exposed dirt would have created the perfect mud bog.

Imagine all those dog paws and childrenz feet glopping in from outdoors, stomping Virginia clay through my beee-yoo-tee-us prefab house. [Albeit still not unpacked and interior properly finished. But Imagine the clay...]

Instead, I was in De City, aka DC, with not a speck o' mud in sight, imagining pleasantly how filled my rainwater cistern must now be.   

In the country, rain stops things. Rain, or lack of rain, affects *everything.*

In the city, everyone bustles as usual, ducking about, with just an occasional,
"Ah, now the sidewalks are washed!"

Most city folk don't even bother with umbrellas, much less the muck boots we all rely on at home.

Our Da City, aka DC, neighborhood.

Cities, as much as I love them, hit my senses, with a constant underlying scent of garbage, with strong notes of Eau de Chien Avec Pleins Des Crottes, even in the nicest environs. And I know, being an ex-NYC & Paris gal myself, that no one residing here smells it.

All is forgiven when, on warm autumn nights, the air is filled with the saucy smell of marinara.
I love to walk the dogs during dinner hours...

The dogs, on the other hand, are appalled they are being asked to do their business on all this nice orderly pavement.  And they are especially horrified I am picking it up after they are done.
They might be country dogs, but they were raised well:
"Excuuuuuse me? You want me to SOIL these perfectly nice, historic cobblestones?!? WHERE IS THE FIELD?!!??"
We've got fields a-plenty here, honeychile.

The White House Goes To The Dawgs
Apparently disheveled dogs and childrenz are uncommon near the White House on a week day morning. As they walked by, suit-clad staffers kept exclaiming towards The Puppy,
"A dog! Awww, A DOG!!!! ...A biiiiiiig dog."
We: "He's a PUPPY!"

Y'all come visit. We've got lots o' history.
It was interesting being in Washington during the first Presidential debate. 
What struck me more than anything was how not a person we met knew where Appomattox is
If they don't know where Appomattox is, how will they ever find Pamplin Cit-tay?!? 
Shouldn't that be grounds for revoking their DC Political Citizen card if they don't know where our NATION reunited?!? [DC: Y'all come see us. You'll love it.]

An Entrepreneur Grows
The Just-Turned-10yr-Old is *excited* about our near-DuPont Circle location.
"Do you SEE all the PEOPLE that walk by OUR FRONT YARD every day?!? I can sell lemonade, hot cocoa, art, eggs... RIGHT FROM THIS YARD. *Imagine* the dollars I will make!"
That lasted a few days, then:
"Y'know, lemonade stands are great, but for my stand I think I want to make lasers and resell them."
We shall see.

We Return To The Barn, In The City
We spent a lovely afternoon at the National Zoo.

I appreciated so much that so much we experienced there was right on target with what the 3rd grader has been studying: seed dispersal, habitats, instinct, adaptation, ecology, leaves... it was PERFECT timing to review her science studies this past semester.

Two hours in, we entered the Children's Petting Zoo. In a barn. I'm thinking, "Why do my children even want to go in here. If they catch all the chickens and jump on something's back & take off into the sunset with staff chasing behind them, it is sooooo not my fault."

The first thing I heard as we walked into a beautiful, well cared-for barn, was:
"Ewwwwwwwww. Peeeeeee-Yew!" from the city folk.
I smiled, and recalled my senses as I walk these streets that they can't smell.
A barn, for me, is alive, warm, comforting. See, we all have our different perspectives, yet it all meshes together beautifully, creating a vibrant fabric.  Maybe the Presidential debates should embrace all our senses of our nation's rich fabric, and smile a little more.

Back To The Land
Returned to the off grid passive solar prefab house, we threw a birthday party ("I'm ten! TEN! At first I woke up and thought I was nine, BUT I'M TEN!!!")...

The next day, we awoke to a downpour.

What I want you to see in these messy pictures is that (again, excuse the mess) it is *pouring* outside yet look at all the daylighting! Even on gray days you don't think about turning on a light.

With all this rain, at first I thought I was living in the middle of a rice paddy
(Handsome Husband: "Aren't you glad I moved the cars up to the field?").

But now I think this cozy prefab home can become an ark!

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