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Off Grid Prefab House Tilts, Solar Cooks, And Rides.

Off grid living is almost too easy this time of year. Sure it gets cold at night, but as long as it warms up mid-afternoon, the off grid prefab SIP house is warm, almost overly so. I leave a few windows open, even through the crisp night. It feels goooooooooood to have that fresh air cutting through the house, while *real* down comforters, the kind that actually work, keep you toasty. At night, in my bed, I look up and out the north windows: with autumn.... THE STARS... oh, the stars...

People keep asking about the "flat roof" on the casa ti prefab house, so I thought it might be good to show them better the illusion, via photos: The exterior SIP (structural insulated panels), yes, are level, but within: THE ROOF SLANTS.

The north roof's pitch then allows water to drain via the exterior scuppers, pictured here:
Scuppers on the north side of the prefab house...
 Here are some interior bedroom shots where you can see the pitch:
From the west bedroom, looking west...
(north is on the right)

From the east bedroom, looking east...
(so north is on the right now)

At the off grid prefab house, it is still solar cooking season.

Unfortunately, that does not herald Dinner Party Season. Solar cooking is more haphazard, with smaller portions.  But soon? The cookstove beckons, and with it stews, casseroles, and roasts for a crowd.  
Embrace The Prefab Architecture But Ditch The Prefab Diet
To be fair, we eat healthy. Very healthy. BUT: Recently, I have been thinking we eat too much wheat. We embrace pasta, bread, pasta, bread... we love it! It is hard to turn down HOMEMADE BREAD.  But I am trying to replace our heavily milled starches with more whole grains, like barley,  millet, etc.  I am enjoying millet so much I think I will sow a crop this spring!

From Plant Management Network

"The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains, widely grown around the world for food and fodder. They do not form a taxonomic group, but rather a functional or agronomic one. Their essential similarities are that they are small-seeded grasses grown in difficult production environments such as those at risk of drought. They have been in cultivation in East Asia for the last 10,000 years.
Pearl millet is higher yielding than foxtail millet and regrows after harvest if sufficient stubble is left. Dwarf varieties, which are leafier and more suited for grazing, are also available."

I love the cookbook Jerusalem. Go get it. Deliciousness, and I think it's because of the heavy emphasis on fresh herbs, root vegetables, and different ways of grains we're all, now, ready for.  But in a Southern town, population 40? Some of the ingredients are... trying... to find. Family members have deathly allergies to cashews and pistachios. Why not replace any mentions of couscous with millet? And while we're ruining the good recipes of Jerusalem, why not...

Parsley and Millet Salad
Cook millet like you would rice- about a pinkie width of water over the quantity you are cooking, simmer without opening the lid until you feel it's al dente. Check quickly- if the water is gone, yer done! Turn off the heat, fluff with a fork.

Stir in the millet well with:
- lots of fresh chopped parsley
- salt & pepper & liberal dashes of lemon juice
- coriander sprinkled all over
- glugs of good olive oil
- minced garlic & onions
- toss in lots of Parmesan or any feta/goat/earthy tangy cheese
-you could embrace the tabbouleh route and add cukes, tomatoes, olives, or just leave it "plain"- because that is already full of taste!

I mentioned riding in the title but I took no pictures this week. So... Picture children from 4-12, toddlers to tweens, all hanging out at The B's. One moment, a pony is led around for the 4 year olds; then: the others climb onto her back to canter, miniature style, grinning. She crow-hops a few times, the kids laugh, because she is their size- on her, bucking is fun! Next, we tack up R., and she trots, or, bridle off and on a lead rope, takes them around the round pen, working on balance, on getting used to her horse size.   
A sunny day, with children, horses, and a pony:
Here, we've got our own Saddle Club.

Reading Club:

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Modern Prefab House Gets Amish Critique And Welcomes Autumn

At the off grid prefab house, mostly, we tend to stay close. But once a week we run about doing errands- we first work the horses, then continue down 47 to Mrs. E's Amish Store, and make a few more stops on the way home- sometimes at the Corner Grocery, the farm store for feed, or to the Amish Produce Auction, known as CPA.

Often, all of the aforementioned.

This week, we spent time chasing okra and cantaloupe at The CPA- Central Virginia Produce Auction, run by the Amish.  With Mr. B, our dear friend and now-retired contractor, I was finally introduced to Mrs. E's son, Daniel!  Daniel and other Amish friends had been the crew with Mr. B as our prefab house was trucked in and built.

Having an Amish crew building your house meant you never got any photo action shots, lol.
[Here's Daniel and all the rest of the guys, in fast action, building the prefab!
You can see 'em, no? No?
Oh. That's because the Amish don't want to be in photographs, up close.
So yeah. Here's a picture of the crew!]
The Amish crew assembled in front of the half-assembled SIP house.

I had always wondered what Daniel thought about our modern prefab house, so I was really happy to finally meet him. We talked and talked and talked, and here are some excerpts of what he said:

"That house really works! It was interesting to see how it all came together and how, even in the beginning, it worked. One day we arrived on the job site, and it was cold back then, 20 or 25 degrees when we were working on it! The windows weren't even closed, and yet inside the house a cup of water wasn't even frozen that morning!"

Yep. So the Amish did notice how insulated and warm and energy efficient the prefab was, even when it was just a shell!

He asked if the house was finished.
"Welllllllllllll, we've been finishing it, it's 90% there, because after y'all finished making it weather tight in a week, we were not living here yet so would just save up some money, then say, 'Oh, now we can have the electrician in next week!', then, a few months later: 'Ok now let's save up for some plumbing!' Which is how a fast prefab became so slow- we were responsibly frugal, saving up and paying as you go.  But now we're here so yes, it's time to finish all those last details!"

I told him how we've been working on putting the plywood up, and why not drywall (he was surprised, then thoughtful, and agreed that yes if you do the labor yourself the plywood does come out competitive to drywall in the end). "If I had known that I would have cut you some NICE pine panels, that would have looked GREAT..." "You know, I was just telling your mom that soon I can have her over once this house is finally done, why don't I come get you as well? Your sister wants to see it too...! Especially as you worked on it!"

We laughed about modern design. You know, the Amish and most people in the country aren't really used to, or like, modern.  [And that's ok!]

I told Daniel: "Oh, great, you're making fun of mah modern. Heck, you're not the only one: Mr. B. called me one day and said, 'YOUR PLANS ARE WRONG.'"


"Yeah, this plan has windows in the corner, windows are supposed to be CENTERED!"
"MISTER B. THAT IS MODERN DESIGN. You will appreciate those corner windows when you sit down at my dinner table and look at the sweeping view."

Daniel laughed.
"Well. Mr. B. was not the only one confused by modern design. Did you know that for years I carried, in my wallet, a picture of your house?"
I glowed, and I admit, my pride rose mightily.
"Yeah! I'd show it around to people and say, 'THIS IS THE UGLIEST HOUSE I EVER BUILT.' "
We both burst out loud with laughter, and I am still giggling as I type.
Ugh. Non modern people... ; ) Grumble grumble... : )

Corner windows!!!! Modern!!!
We went over every feature of the prefab house. I was really happy he was so interested in it, as I had always wondered what he and his friends thought, working on that prefab modern house...

So in the end?
FINALLY, the Amish officially weigh in on the prefab house: Modern design, meh. Prefab passive solar function? YEAH!

HERE'S THE DEAL: *YOU* can clad yer prefab house kit in *anything* you like! Reused cedar, Hardyplank, even Amish cross stitch...! 
Ok. I take that back.

This might be a good time to go over the modern coolio galvalume cladding, if you choose to do so, for this prefab house kit:
Framing, Trim and Metal Cladding Pointers For Casa Ti
Filing this under, "Things your contractor needs to know":
Obviously, make sure your contractor carefully READS THE SIP MANUFACTURER'S MANUAL... Because there is a *lot* of useful, critical information in there that is imperative to the success of your project.

Even if they follow successfully the SIP instructions perfectly, even if they're the *best* contractor, ever, don't forget they might have aesthetic differences than your love of modern design, so here are just some easy things you can point out/gently remind them...
  1. Modern Design vs. Traditional Trim: The trim around the windows should be narrow- It should be “receiver trim” that catches the end of the cut siding.

    It's a very minimalist / modern look, not a traditional way of trim- not 3” wide but more ½ inch, flat, for corners and openings- see this as an example:
  2. MAKE SURE before you order cladding that everything is measured out on site, despite what the plans say. Why? Because there are materials and decisions your engineer /contractor will make on site that might slightly change the dimensions- like adjusting the pitch of the roof or framing an overhang out more to accommodate the sun in your area.
  3. Make sure you understand the parapet and scupper concept, and with rubber membrane if you choose to do so. There's lots of good information on the internet.

Back at the produce auction, chasing vegetables, Daniel and I talked about the rainwater collection filter for the prefab. He liked my explanation on how it works- how, when the rain first starts, the rain swooshes down then out the overflow, thus first washing the roof without going into the cistern- with no momentum, it goes straight out the overflow. Slowly it builds momentum, and then starts spinning. At that point any leaves are filtered out via the filter, and the now-circulating water goes into the cistern.

He: "You know, we always said 'Don't eat the first snow' because that is the sky's filter, that makes sense!"
"And it's all done by gravity, not using any electricity!" 

I am going to visit Daniel next week because he has a cool idea for powering the off grid well. I appreciate all of our Amish community's friendship and interest in this project. Even if they think my daggoned modern house is ugly. : )

In the meantime, at Higher Ground and the prefab home, we welcomed fall.
I really did not think I was going to miss, want, and desire the start to the "hard season."
Until, after getting summer out of my system, and more properly set up, I know now "the hard season" is not that hard. You just, like everything in life, should be prepared.

"A *what?* Energy diet?
Won't that ruin our figure?"
As if to remind me, we had a spate o' overcast days, and so, went on an Energy Diet. Homeschool went from the internet curricula and YouTube, to texts, workbooks, and writing in cursive. I briefly checked and responded to emails, but otherwise stayed offline.

When we have one of those Energy Diet weeks, it is frustrating, then refreshing- cozy, actually good to not be so tied to the ether... although I do dislike turning off the solar hot water!
It is not quite cook stove season yet, so when the solar hot water goes off... it is off. *Sob*
[Good news: We do have a solar hot water booster. That is not turned on yet. I aim to hound the electrician before it gets cloudy & cold. Again.]

Saturday it rained so hard the Pipsqueaks ran outside and bathed in the rain. May everyone have that pleasure at least once in their life.
I was ready, with comfort food.
Welcome Fall Soup, To Warm Us Up!
I got a bunch of crookneck squash at the Amish auction. I love winter squash, as you can store them without refrigeration for quite awhile, thus always having fresh vegetables on hand. Here is one way to use them:
-Solar cook equal measurements of potatoes, and squash. I solar cook the potatoes whole, THEN dice/mince them. I slice the squash, then dice once done.
-Sautee minced onion in olive oil, as much as you like, and I like it to be 1/3 potatoes 1/3 squash 1/3ish or a little less onion.
(If not solar cooking, boil potatoes and bake the squash until almost done.)
-Add minced potatoes, because they're usually still firm-ish
-Add in ground lamb to be another equivalent fraction and let cook awhile, stirring
-When things start sticking add in enough water to simmer it all.
-Add in diced solar squash
-Add minced fresh sage & rosemary but *do not overwhelm* it- just a teaspoon or two! You don't really want to taste and go, "Oh, sage!" No, taste the soup, not the herb.
Stir, keep stirring... then once it's all nice and done add in *more* salt and fresh pepper than you expect (keep tasting throughout!). Turn off the heat, so it is no longer simmering...
-Finally, sadly, add in a can of coconut milk, and with that coconut tropical shores dream fading, sigh heavily that summer is really, truly gone. Taste for salt and pepper adjustments, as you re-adjust yer depressed, summer-is-gone attitude.
-BUT! Recharged for fall, stir it all up, ladle into bowls halfway, sprinkle liberally with good Parmesan, then top off with more soup, stir and get excited: LET FALL BEGIN!

Reading Club:
His stick.

  •  Is global warming on a hiatus? Note Jurgen's question.
  • 'I Don't Want My Children to Go to College'
    "The president of Buzzfeed recently questioned the value of a traditional college education when so much information is available online. But for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, learning in person, alongside peers, remains essential. "

    >>I agree but also disagree. I strongly believe in the value of apprenticeships / trade. I believe homeschooling / teaching children to use internet education / self-discipline teaches employability. Our 10yr old has found peers online via MIT's scratch programming. Programming = By the age of 10, he is already not limited to fast food jobs as a career!

    That's not to say I don't want my children to go to college. I think it's valuable. But regardless, you need to learn how to be employable, and if you want to learn a trade, you should do so and not just throw away money in college because people expect you to go.

    I'm a big believer in bring back apprenticeships, regardless.
  • If you ARE in college, though, or self-studying, here's a tip on how to get cheap textbooks!
  • The case against high school sports: I love sports. But she brings up great points.
  • How the NFL fleeces taxpayers: A must read for RVA... 

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Modern Prefab House Cleans Up After Off Grid Well Drilling, Continues Interior Plywood, Celebrates Pamplin.

It was a beautiful week in the off grid prefab home. Morning fog cleared to blue skies, the air was cool, a gentle breeze drifted... As I often say, we were busy but it wasn't all chores, we did have fun.

Cousin It, a.k.a. The Hideous Well Cover from our off grid pneumatic well drilled last week, did not stay long. We are fabricating our own solution to better blend in with the modern off grid prefab house.
I am also rethinking the generator with the air pump for the pneumatic well.
It just seemed silly that the generator must draw power from our off grid house during the running of the pump. Discussing it with an Amish neighbor, he said he uses a diesel engine.
That made me think...
And, discussing it with our now retired contractor and dear friend Mr. B, he took it further:
Generator -> Compressor -> STORAGE -> Well Pump

The generator was running the air compressor, which was then running the pneumatic pump.
What we need is a storage tank, to fill up with compressed air, to then use throughout the week. For our purposes, as they are small, we could repurpose an old propane tank (ensuring it is air tight).

He also wanted to make sure we knew to sanitize our well. 
I double checked and ours was sanitized, but you should know this is important and not all well drillers do so. Interesting. (THANKS, Mr. B!)

We Continued On With Lining The Off Grid Prefab House's Ceiling With Plywood
Why Plywood?
Slow weekend progress via scaffolds,
covering up the green of the SIP...

  • More environmentally friendly
  • Easy to remove / easy access behind walls
  • I don't like drywall- it serves no purpose, is a dust magnet, and can leech toxins
    "... when drywall reaches landfills--and it does so in vast quantities, as it constitutes about 15% of all construction and demolition debris--it can leach these toxic chemicals into groundwater. And in the anaerobic conditions of landfills, bacteria convert gypsum into hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas.

    Unfortunately, post-consumer gypsum board is commonly diverted from landfills to be used as a soil amendment in agricultural settings. If we have restrictions to prevent these toxic chemicals and heavy metals from being spewed into the air by power plants, is it really a good idea to add them straight into our soil?"

    See more at:
when drywall reaches landfills--and it does so in vast quantities, as it constitutes about 15% of all construction and demolition debris--it can leach these toxic chemicals into groundwater. And in the anaerobic conditions of landfills, bacteria convert gypsum into hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas.
Unfortunately, post-consumer gypsum board is commonly diverted from landfills to be used as a soil amendment in agricultural settings. If we have restrictions to prevent these toxic chemicals and heavy metals from being spewed into the air by power plants, is it really a good idea to add them straight into our soil?
- See more at:
How did drywall even come about?!? Lloyd Alter explains, here.
In it, he quotes Steve Mouzon:
"They call that boring white stuff we put on our walls "drywall" because so long as you keep it dry, you have a wall. But just as soon as it gets wet, it turns to messy mush. And even if it doesn't fall apart, it loves to host mold and mildew and make your family sick.... . We need to learn how to build durable and resilient buildings like our great-grandparents did so that the summer shower is no reason to call the insurance adjustor; you simply wipe down the walls that got wet and never give it a second thought."

Although the initial cost of material is more than drywall is less, plywood is easier to install yourself, so if you do the labor, you come out even or ahead, and looking good!

Of course we never do anything the way it's supposed to be, it seems...  we are installing our plywood *backwards*, with the "groomed" side hidden, and the backs, exposed. We thought the natural pattern of the wood was more attractive.
On the left is the "front side." Huh.
We like the "back side," on the right!

The Great Room In The Prefab House, now slowly turning monochrome as we cover the SIP with plywood, appears to shrink the room, slightly...
Before, with the maple reused basketball court on the north wall, and the west, east, and south walls covered with plywood, and the darker colored green of the SIP still revealed on the roof, the room appeared HUGE.

So, if you like that enormous look, you can just choose paint colors slightly darker on the ceiling to open it back up.

Here are the colors that were picked out for our own prefab house great room:
These actually don't show up well-
two grays, variations of the concrete color, and blue on the ceiling.
But we'll leave the plywood "as is," awhile...

Handsome Husband also spent an afternoon moving gunk from the well drilling to fill in an area in the field where there is a depression / hole area.  Can you believe the amount of unsightly gunk these "simple" improvement tasks, like drilling a well or excavating to grade or for septic leave behind?

He also reused that granite mud gunk as infill around the prefab house.

But it wasn't all chores:
We had a wonderful time at Celebrate Pamplin Day!
Did you know Pamplin is included in the coolest book, Lost Communities Of Virginia? It is a dubious honor, indicating Pamplin City's life had ebbed. But that's not to say revitalization won't bring Pamplin back!

It is great Preservation Virginia, and Virginia Tech's Community Design Assistance Center, are also aware how great it would be to preserve these storefronts, usually deserted, but this weekend, filled with people:

[Click to see, larger]
Check out CDAC's design suggestions for an entryway into Pamplin:
To view the updated master plan and supporting sketches, click the links below:

What a great opportunity for revitalization- anchored by the old train depot turned into a library, imagine a farmers market, open air bluegrass welcoming hikers and bikers coming off the High Bridge Trail... Seeing the success of this year's Celebrate Pamplin Day, it is possible!

Regardless of the state of architecture, Pamplin City is full o' life!
Here's videos (gathered from YouTube) of some of the music, so you can see the local talent:
Here is Farm Use String Band. I just love 'em:

Here's ShakyGrass. Her voice is so haunting. I wish they'd put out some videos... good gracious that woman can SING.

I also met this nice gentleman who was firing live ammunition in the midst of the unblinking crowd, giving away shell casings as souvenirs, so I had to inquire after his story, of course.
He began telling me about his train robberies.
"But aren't you the Marshall?" "Sometimes, in the middle, I switch sides."
[If train robberies and saloon girls and scenic train rides through Virginia interest you, you can meet up with these folks on the James River Rambler!]

With such beautiful blue skies, it was easy to solar cook while runnin' about having fun.

Solar Cookin'
"Ok. Y'all clean the table, sweep the house, and tidy up while I work on dinner."
What I didn't say was I had lamb chops, rosemary potatoes, and stewed tomatoes simmering in the solar cooker since mid-afternoon...
I am off to pour myself a glass of wine & relax until they're done and it's time for dinner...!
More recipes from the week:
Solar Stewed Toe-mah-toes (If you're gonna make it you might as well say it right!)
The stewed tomatoes took the longest to prepare.
  1. Open can & plunk tomatoes into pot 
  2. Stir in some leftover bread, torn up, sugar, & salt 
  3. Put in solar cooker and go read a trashy magazine after telling the children sternly to do their schoolwork
Smoky Solar Eggplant
  1. Dice a large eggplant and put into the solar and then go ride a horse or bushhogg or go over to a friend's house and sip wine while you talk about me
  2. Come back
  3. Mince onion and garlic and ginger
  4. Dice 2 SUN RIPENED juicy tomatoes, put into a nonreactive casserole pot or large something. Toss with salt, fresh basil, and some fresh pepper.
  5. In a large pan start frying up the onion/garlic/ginger in good olive oil
  6. Get the eggplant from the solar cooker.
  7. Drain off any eggplant liquid, stir it in with the tomato mixture.
  8. Liberally sprinkle it all with KimKim Sauce which gives it the smoky spicy taste. Let it sit awhile.. (If you don't live in the south and can't somehow get KimKim sauce then you can try to make a smoky korean sweet tangy spicy sauce yerself... Oh, just get the KimKim...)
  9. It would also be delicious if you also glugged in some dark, delicious sesame oil...
This is not solar cooking, but the children loved okra like this:
Saturday Movie Okra "Popcorn"
Wash and *dry* okra. Drying it is key. Cut into slices. Get a skillet nice and hot. Coat with olive oil, add in the okra, and let sit on one side awhile before stirring and turning, to then let sit awhile, so it gets nice and crispy.  Sprinkle with salt, serve while watching a movie. Better than popcorn!

And then, so happy in the off grid prefab house, we went to bed.

In the great green SIPs room...
...And goodnight to the old pink-haired lady
whispering "hush"
Goodnight stars
Goodnight HRV air
Goodnight off grid noises everywhere

Hush, coyotes, hush...

Reading Club:

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