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11/25/12

Passive Solar Prefab Home Is Thankful Through Thanksgiving

Workin' hard at the passive solar prefab home...
What a thankful week!

At the off grid passive solar prefab home, now that it is winter, I had been disappointed with our solar hot water temperatures in the shower...

So Handsome Husband looked for anything on the exterior of the prefab building envelope we could insulate more, and did. He looked for pipes within the prefab home to insulate, and did. It worked wonders. We saw the solar hot water temperature rise, fast, and stay hot! The tank only lost 3 degrees overnight!

Helloooooooo hot showers in winter, thanks to the sun and a tad more insulation! We haven't had water this hot *ever.* 

Recent final construction stages completed in the off grid passive solar prefab includes:
Septic done, and graded over. Outdoor lights installed. The electrician is out this week to wire in the fire alarm.

We spent the long holiday weekend with many good people.

The B, J, W families... I looked forward to the holidays for the first time in a long while, surrounded with love, laughter, great cooking, and lots of relaxed fun. After last Christmas, we get the Forever Get Out Of Family Jail Card!

Quoting a friend Preston Duncan:
"The bar is packed with people trying to preemptively drink off their families. Drink deep and long, my friends. The holidays are upon us and the only cure comes in two varieties: fermented, and distilled."
I began Thanksgiving not packed into a bar, but, with a friend, appreciatively watching a frosty field take shape while light slowly rose from dark, to dawn, to daylight.

M & I saw turkeys calling to each other (but just too far away), two does, and a buck (too young to take)...

We had been out about two hours when suddenly we heard: one shot.
Moments later, in came the text that her brother S was now done for the day.  It was an older buck and will feed their family, versus coyotes. The rule around here is don't shoot unless you see three points on the side rack. An older buck is quickly culled. Younger bucks are taken according to undesirable genetic traits.
Are your meat suppliers so careful?
We are grateful to live where we need not depend upon factory farm meat.
The day progressed with friends feasting and children playing...

I brought I Say Good Thai To Love Butternut Squash Soup.
I've always made a butternut squash soup recipe from the Silver Palate, but now I can't find the book. It's somewhere between here, Deltaville, and DC.  So here's what I did instead:
I Say Good Thai To Love Butternut Squash Soup
  • Roast a butternut squash, cut in half, face down. Sprinkle the seeds all around the squash, sprinkled with salt, and open the oven door and munch on them occasionally, wondering why your squash isn't cooking quickly.
  • In a food processor, puree onions and three apples (place in separate bowls)
  • In a heated pot, add some good butter, then the onions until browned. Then add the apples and squash (pureed first if you don't have a hand mixer), and a bunch of chicken broth.
  • Simmer, then stir in salt, pepper and curry. 
  • This soup is really good if it sits a day before serving. It's also really good with a dollop of creme fraische on top or even some sour cream, but we're spending Thanksgiving with someone lactose intolerant. 
  • Oh, wait: Glad I typed out this recipe before I finished making it!
    ->Removes butter from pan and instead adds coconut oil...
    You know what? The coconut oil idea would ROCK this recipe! I even went so far to add a can of coconut milk!
  • Thinking it might be tasty, I also added a glug of lime juice. IT WAS. ALL. SOOOOO. TASTY.
I'm also noting the recipe J.B. made for Carrot Souffle. I know. You don't even want to imagine it. Make it. I had thirds.

Plenty of room at this table for local food and friends!
Black Friday came and went. I avoid Black Friday like the Black Plague.
Here's why Black Friday is meaningless hype, here in one chart.
But if you must, think local.

I was just thinking how my dollars really do stay within a 15 mile radius where I live... I buy meat from my friends up the road, milk down the road, greens and bread from my Amish neighbor... the rest of the groceries are bought in the nearest town, historic Appomattox...

Leftover grocery money is then spent on riding lessons for my children, across the street.  My money really does go into this community...

PIT STOP! Fill 'er up...

On Saturday, at dawn: my moratorium broke:
THE CHRISTMAS SEASON BEGAN.
The vintage silver tree came out of the shed, ornaments and lights were hung.
At 7 a.m. stuffed teddybears relentlessly banged out Christmas carols on the xylophone.

As I settled into my first cup of coffee through the chaos, I realized:
OH NO: We are about to enter Christmas WITH A HUNDRED POUND PUPPY on the loose.
Wish us luck.

Regardless, it's nice to start new traditions... It's a nice day to start again.
Reading Club:
  • "Maybe it is because we are becoming...a nation of historical illiterates."
    Virginia's Lost History: http://nyti.ms/Tk1Fer 
    >Seriously, I have not met one person in DC that knows where Appomattox is, much less Northern Neck...
    ...On second thought, maybe that's not a bad thing for Everyone to know these tiny town treasures... #Development  

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11/18/12

Passive Solar Prefab Home Canters Into Rifle Season

Passive Solar Prefab Home, meet Rifle Season.
Rifle Season, meet Passive Solar Prefab Home.
The Passive Solar Prefab Home Cantered Into Rifle Season!
First, a baby walks.
Next thing you know, THEY'RE CANTERING.
#AllSheWantsToDoIsCanter

Yep, The Passive Solar Prefab House Faces Rifle Season Again, With Pumpkin Pie, Bantams, and The Thanksgiving Fairy!

Off grid notes: The passive solar prefab home in winter is warm and toasty. But we all already knew that, from past winter adventures.
What changes, now living here full time, off grid? 

My showers... are not so hot. I knew we had undersized the solar power system and solar hot water (purposely, thinking we'd be weekenders for another 5ish years so wanted to wait for the latest technology when we moved vs. suddenly permanently here, now), but... I am taking 80 degree showers.

NO it's not fun and if you think that 80 degrees isn't bad I want YOU to take an 80 degree shower on the next winter morning. No, really, try it. I want you to be as irritable and cantankerous as I. No, I courteously insist: DO IT. Then imagine doing that every day in winter and get steamed. Except that your black mood won't help heat the water, no? So y'all cheer up and just know, happily, that you are not I this winter during shower time. Or at least until we order more solar hot water tubes.
One collector two collector three collector four...
#Solar
When we finally looked into why the water wasn't heating as expected (because we have copious amounts of free time these days so yes, it took a few weeks... : ) )  it seems the solar hot water array heats 60 gallon tanks and we have an 80 gallon tank. Plus I'm not convinced there's not something not-quite-right between the solar collector and the tank. SO. My message to you is: if you are considering going off grid, is DO NOT SKIMP on the solar hot water potential. #GlancesAtHandsomeHusbandMadderThanAWetHen
I will be calling Pat Root of Root Electric tomorrow to get the hot water booster installed, asap.

On a happy note, finishing the septic yielded extra GOOD! LOAMY! DIRT!
To place WHEREVER I WANT!
Why helloooooooo there.

Remember the terrace o' Virginia clay on the north side of the prefab house (yet with full south exposure)? Oh yes, I am decidedly turning that into a lush garden. Or... working on it. Continuously. Now with a nice pile o' dirt at the top, to then rake down and re-terrace.
Dirt, you will be terraced.

And we *did* get the Bantams from our Amish neighbor.

A pumpkin gave me attitude, so I made pie.
"Oh YEAH, Lady? Oh YEAH?!?"
Yeah.

All dolled up and nowhere to go.
IT'S RIFLE SEASON!

On Saturday, rifle season began. What that means for us in the off grid passive solar prefab home is that blaze orange is mandatory at all hours, everywhere, not just dawn and dusk in the woods like in muzzleloader season. Maybe rifle season will mean we focus once again on the interior of the off grid prefab home - Saturdays spent painting and wallpapering versus bush hogging and cutting trails, perhaps?

Again, I am grateful for the contentious Sunday hunting ban. It was not intended to, but this ban allows families around here one day a week to at least do something somewhat safely outside. We local hunters support the ban.

"'We killed that 7-0.' Edmunds, an avid hunter, has nonetheless stated his opposition to Sunday hunting 'People in rural Virginia especially recognize [Sunday] as a day of peace, and hunters who hunt in that area didn’t want it,' Edmunds said. 'It’s been up before us the past 15-16 years, and it’s died every year.'"

Guard chicken.

Avid local hunters insist upon the ban not because it's Sunday but because we know all too well what it means for the Drive For Hours Hunters to come and recklessly endanger our communities and lifestyle. Against the ban? Come here and walk my property on any Saturday and ask yourself if that sounds like safe hunting.  These are not your Upright Hunters. As I type, I am listening to an assault rifle tat-tat-tat. So yeah, come out and walk my field, but don't hold me responsible. And make sure your will is current.

We may be on our own property, but we are surrounded with Come Here deer hunters with rifles on fleets of ATVs who just don't care. They've traveled hours from Virginia Beach to leased land to shoot something, anything. It sounds like a war zone.

Those hunters are all out on the back ridge, facing OUR FAMILY.  They have no idea about the herd, no idea what animals should be culled... They have no idea the S's dogs took out all the fawns this spring. They don't care: They just want A BIG BUCK. And they are desperate to get SOMETHING, so if they want to shoot into your field or, trigger happy, mistake a child playing at the edge of our own field, their heads bobbing up and down as they play in the dirt... I don't even want to think about it but my hackles are up and I am ready.
Ferocious Guard Chicken.
Bring it.


Oh, and by the way, Virginia Beach "Hunters"? If you have to shoot six times in a row like you do? Then, uh, you probably should be working on your aim, honeychile, and not hunting.
Their fun and dogs or my kids... no comparison, no choice.

So. While the Not From Here Hunters rode ATVs and shot at anything that moved in the woods surrounding Higher Ground, we helped the Thanksgiving Fairy.  You know the Thanksgiving Fairy, don't you?

The Thankgiving Fairy comes along and sprinkles stardust and suddenly you have pretty, trussed, grocery store turkeys! 
Look! It's magic!
Thank you, Thanksgiving Fairy!

Speaking of Thanskgiving, here's the easy pie I made this week:
Pamplin Pumpkin Pie
Pie Dough
Depending on the size of your pie pan...  In a bowl: mix: 1 1/2 - 2 cups of flour, a few shakes of salt, 2ish tsp. baking powder. Then get the cup you have in the refridgerator of leftover grease. It is flavorful, delicious, and if you plop 4-5 tbs. and work that into the flour you will have a yummy totally different crispy crust than if you added butter. Now at this point it should be tiny balls of flour. Finish the dough by working in a little ice cold water - just enough to turn it into dough! Off grid, I just get two ice cubes in a cup, add some water, swill it around in the cup until that water is ice cold, then add it, a little by a little, kneading it in until there's dough.

This is the point where normal cooks would roll it out nicely and smoothly to then line the pan. I don't. I stick that dough in and smush it around and push it out and stretch it up to the rim, tap it around the edges and call it a day. #CountryCookin'

Filling
Cut pumpkin into wedges. I only used about 1/2 of the pumpkin - so expect to make several recipes out of every pumpkin... (remember the savory buttery sage pumpkin last week?). Carefully peel the rind and immediate hairy inside layer off... simmer the pumpkin until done. Drain the water, then mash in sugar (I like brown), two beaten eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, a little raw milk (or cream). Pour into the pie dough, even out with a spoon, bake.

I would have taken a "Taaaaa Daaaaa! Cooked and finished!" picture but the Pipsqueaks dove into the pie like coyotes on a dog.

Anyhoo... this week, I had a strange dream.
I dreamt it was Christmas, and.... I went onto Facebook... and suddenly all these Richmond women started changing their profile pictures to: each of them sitting proud, carefully posed in upholstered Queen Anne's chairs, in their varying living room or dining room, to showcase behind them:
Long windows just clad with heavy tasseled, draped curtains.

As I relayed the dream to Handsome Husband over steaming coffee the next morning, I chuckled as I looked around at my aluminum clad, sleek modern house where one wouldn't ever dream of adding curtains to the angular expanses of glass: "Man, boy did *I* grow up in the wrong home town!"
Sad Notes
Frog Bottom Farm friends.
A lot of our organic farm friends are really struggling. It seems medium sized cities aren't as willing to pay for better quality yet smaller farm products. Friends and neighbors L&A dropped the bombshell this week that they were leaving their beloved Frog Bottom Farm for New York. Bigger cities like NYC, DC... they support and understand why organic food from small farms costs more...

These next years are watershed moments in farming.  Why are so many smaller, natural, upstart farms not surviving? Will Big Ag Used-To-Feedlots-Of-Grain finally break under the out of control grain prices and turn back to pasture raised animals?  Much less what about the data emerging on GMO?!? These are topics we discuss around dinner tables here, and if you are in the city think about how it impacts your own food supply.

My own thoughts are that now more than ever is a great time to grow your own vegetables, summer *and* winter, and have backyard hens, whether you are in the city or country. 

Tomorrow, I'll be watching Ken Burn's The Dust Bowl.

Watch The Dust Bowl Preview on PBS. See more from The Dust Bowl.

Homeschool:
Music ties into history. You can reinforce what you learn about a period historically by listening to and learning music. Here's what we enjoyed:
  • http://www.yacubaddy.com/wynton.html  Wynton Marsalis & Yacub Addy
    "Congo Square was the only place in America where African slaves were allowed to perform their own music and dance in the 1700s-1800s, establishing the roots of American music."
  • Please send any history-ties-into-music videos if you know of any good ones, I am searching for them!
Thanksgiving nears, and we are thankful.
Thanksgiving is a good time to re-evaluate assumptions, using it as an opportunity to turn negative experiences, into postive.
Like... for example: security cameras, set up to catch all the bad stuff that happens.
Sometimes, they catch the good.

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11/11/12

Passive Solar Prefab Home Digs It

At the passive solar prefab home, septic and a conventional drainfield were finally dug.

As I have previously mentioned, a traditional septic / drainfield was the most inexpensive solution to meet code for an off grid passive solar home... whose family-of-four's 1,800 gallon cistern is always almost full due to our water conservation. I find it kinda silly that apparently typical families of four waste SO much water that you need a drain field THIS HUMONGOUS to meet code.
This area is just HUGE.

...I also find it crazy that, if our drain field needs to be this vast, that means a "typical family" would run through our water cistern in about two weeks.

Pictures do not do justice to how huge this septic / drain field is.
Do note we still plumbed for separate gray / black water (see picture) for future accessibility.

I am still shaking my head over the average person's water consumption.

We Also Filled The Radiant Heat Tubes In The Passive Solar Prefab's Slab! We were so excited. Handsome Husband had children stationed throughout, monitoring the progress as the floor gurgled and replaced air with liquid...  The suspense as to when we'd start overflowing was overwhelming. We didn't overflow. Yay. The air gurgled out, the tank pressurized, and held. BRING ON THE RADIANT HEAT.

Water is not the only thing we conserve or reuse around here...


An Amish neighbor offered us some extra bantams, as they had multiplied. I have never wanted bantam chickens- sheesh, they're SO TINY! I'm all about purpose. But their cuteness factor as we stood in her yard admiring their cuuuuuute teeny chicken-ness softened me... and suddenly, I fell hard for bantams. But our current coop is full...

I called Handsome Husband.
"We need to build the stable, asap."
"Um, we don't even have horses. What's your hurry?"
"We're getting two bantams!"
"YOU WANT ME TO BUILD A BARN FOR TWO BANTAMS?!?"

Ooooo-kay, on to Plan B.
Building a coop is cheep if you're creative... We reused a moving bin to make a bantam coop for the bantams we are getting from our Amish neighbor. A free, easy, windproof solution! 
NOTE: NOT for standard sized hens, and the coop is *within* a predator proof run.
Nesting box, roost, door on side.
Lid can pop off for easy removal of eggs / cleaning coop.

Honor.
A lot of our farm friends who vend vegetables, meat or milk also allow customers to conveniently access the stash of food on an honor system.  Almost a lost privilege, eh? Today, we stopped by our friends The Aults of Ault's Family Farm to pick up sausage.
Because... 
At The Passive Solar Prefab Home, It Is Officially Cookstove Season. So Honeychiles, WE COOK.
Thanks to our Amish neighbor Mrs. E, we had lots of green peppers on hand this week.

Here's some of what we cooked:
Copeland's Cookstove Chili

  • In a cast iron pan: Dice onions and peppers, sautee, then as they soften add some minced garlic and olive oil.
  • In a large pot: Simmer a package of washed red beans. I have a rice and beans rule with water: for rice, add enough water over the rice to be the height of your pinky's width. For beans, add about an inch of water, adding more if it gets too thick throughout the day.  Add salt/ hot sauces now because it really makes a difference in taste for the beans to cook in salted/ hot pepper water.
  • I was too lazy to dig through the freezer for ground beef or venison. As I mentioned, I instead ran over to our friends The Aults, of Aults Family Farm, and grabbed some zesty italian pork sausage from their freezer.
  • Empty the pan of nicely soft and getting crisp onions & peppers pan into the bean pot, and fold it all in.
  • Add a large can of hand crushed tomatoes and the juice to the pot.
  • Shake that big can o' chile powder you have in yer pantry over the pot. Shake shake, that's it, keep going... Ah. There you go...
  • Into that pan now sautee sliced sausage, then, when done, add to the pot and stir.
  • Add sriracha, salt, pepper to taste. 
  • Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmer simmer simmer, stirring occasionally. 
Top with grated cheese if you like, serve with grilled cheese and a nice dilled vinaigrette salad!

Savory Pumpkin With Sage Butter
  • Murder the Halloween pumpkin you forgot to carve and just discovered hiding in the corner of the living room. 
  • Bake the seeds, with salt, and munch on them while you're doing everything else.
  • Slice up the pumpkin like a cantaloupe, slice off the rind and the strand-y inside, then dice into 1/2" pieces. (Note to chicken keepers: cut the strands into 1/2 inches if you are feeding them to hens- we had a hen die last year from gorging herself on Halloween pumpkin innards!)
  • Add butter to the cast iron pan, then the pumpkin. Sautee until the pieces are nice and crusty on the outside, add more butter, run outside and grab some sage, mince & add it and some salt to the mix and stir.
  • As you stir the mixture is becoming mashed-mixed-together and soft, with bits of seared moments, kind of like a pumpkin equivalent of a great hash.
  • Stir again before serving to make sure everything is nice & drizzled with sage butter.
Beef Brisket
  • When you order a quarter of a cow for your freezer, some of the pieces can be huge. This beef brisket is an example of a huge ole slab o' beef that you can do multiple thangs with without getting intimated. 
  • Thaw, then marinate beef in a vinegar, brown sugar, good mustard, and tomato mango salsa sauce (or anything with a base of pureed or finely chopped tomatoes with a bit o' heat and a bit o' sweet). Think: Sweet and tangy, sweet and tangy, with bite. I am really trying not to add sriracha for my protesting children's current heat index. I really want to add sriracha. Must... resist...
  • Ok fine, drizzle the sauce with srachia, smear it over the meat, and stick that mess in the cook stove. I can't talk temperatures, use your judgement, just think: not on scorching heat, cook evenly, adjusting the time with the temp, and make sure it's fall-off-the-bone tender.
  • Pull beef out of the oven and admire it as you let it sit.
    Regret eating all the pumpkin seeds because now dinner looks fantastic and you've filled yourself up.
  • Slice up half, then use the rest to shred & turn into barbeque. My work here is done.
Handsome Husband's Neighbor Pasta
This is neighbor pasta because it uses sausage from The Aults, peppers from our Amish neighbor Mrs. E, and raw milk from an unnamed source.
  • Sautee green peppers, onion. 
  • In a separate pan, saute sliced zesty sausage from the Aults
  • Add a bunch of raw milk at the end to the sausage, stir in some flour to thicken it, swiftly stir in the peppers and onions... then, off the heat, grated cheese
  • Sprinkle and stir in nutmeg, paprika
  • Before tossing it into just cooked pasta.
And Of Course, There Was, As Always, Handsome Husband's Fresh Baked Bread and Pancakes.
Reading Club:
  • Video: Spend An Hour In 1920s NYC  >So cool...
  • What happened with California's GMO labeling and the Colorado fracking ban?
    A moderate, I am not thrilled with either political party, and in general avoid talking politics, as I can't please anyone fervent for either side.  But. I will say this, considering we just held our Presidential election: I want to hear both parties talking green.

    In MY MIND, green is neither Democratic nor Republican, although from year to year one party or the other may have it more in discussion. It should be a universal concern, and at the forefront of politics, for how can we move our country forward, sustainably, without protecting our resources for which future generations must rely? It is not limited to a party line, although I could never vote for  anyone who does not share my concern on this issue.  My parents, staunch Republicans, stated, "Well, now 3.5% more of your inheritance will be taken away." I don't think anything should be taxed multiple times, it doesn't seem right. But I can't help but weigh 3.5% vs. the infinite costs for generations if a President who doesn't believe in climate change or is supportive of alternative energy were elected... 

    AND, while I'm on mah soapbox: Shouldn't consumers have the right to know if their food contains GMO? Why can't renewable energy be a good thing for our children, and their children? Can't it be possible to build dams that help humans but also wildlife?
    This just makes sense to me.
  • What is unschooling? I empathize with this article but prefer to adhere to a more classical foundation- I want my children to know what other children are studying this semester. However, I allow the "unschooling" *after* they master the SOL foundation to follow their thoughts. For example, this semester we study the USA explorers and founders. Pipsqueak 2 wondered what their European counterparts were doing and what was important to them during that time. So he read books with a more world view, and European view, covering The Crusades through The Enlightenment, which, at that point, tied it back into his USA history studies.  Reflecting, I believe we do a LOT of unschooling, just after class hours, lol! I have no fear of raising my children as entrepreneurs, than Sheep Who Just Follow Directions. That is the *least* of our worries...!
This week, I realize: The Holidays near.
I'd like to say how grateful I am to have moved to Paris in my 20s, into the O's home. I think I might tell some of their stories, and how, thanks to them, I saw how *I* would want to be, as a family, one day.  I remember sitting at the kitchen table each morning, windows open to Paris, laughing and loving... and laughing... (usually Mr. O, laughing at us, most often, at what we were planning on wearing to go out to clubs that night...)  The Os had that "thing"... that bind... something you can't really define except that anyone near them is drawn in and welcomed... the Os had "that."

So. I would like to dedicate this upcoming holiday season to Mr. and Mrs. O., and to all those who spread love to others.

Now, with things ever changing during The Very Interesting Year living between the off grid prefab home and DC, this song is so relevant. I dedicate it to My Beloved, my everything, who traverses from DC to home, weekly. He is "that."

I have been very fortunate to know other families with... "that." 
Our neighbors, the W's, have it.
On weekends, their teens and their friends gather at the W's, just as we gathered at the O's, children and parents and friends of all ages... Whether sitting around a farm bonfire or a Parisian atelier... laughing and loving, together. We're struggling, but hope that one day we'll be sitting around with OUR 20-somethings and their friends at the dining table laughing and talking and... that.
Speaking of "that"...
I would like to quote an Appomattox friend regarding Veterans Day (with an end quote by Edmund Burke):
"I know a ton of people with thank the veterans today, and they certainly deserve our thanks! But take a minute and truly think about what that means...what those who fought and are fighting gave up and still give up every day...and their families too. And though it's hard to say it, we need to look around and see what they are fighting for. It's the greatest country in the world, but we're tearing ourselves apart from the inside out. More citizens should stand up and claim that freedom that our veterans have fought so hard to attain.
I know it's said many times over, but the quote is so true:
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
♥   "

We have experienced When Good Men Do Nothing in our prior neighborhood, in our own families.  Handsome Husband and I discussed often how, having had these experiences, how easily we now could understand how Nazi Germany, how Somalia, how so many other horrible moments in history happened...
We are grateful EACH DAY for those that DO.
Thank you to the DOers. We are grateful to be surrounded by them.

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