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1/28/13

Passive Solar Prefab Home - Off Grid Living Enjoys The Snow

I thought it was funny that on the coldest day so far this year, I was hot. HOT HOT HOT. Everyone kept talking about how cold they were- I was opening windows in the passive solar off grid prefab house! I needed to get out to the fields & enjoy the air!

[And, by the way, that's just with the passive solar / thermal gain + one log at a time in the old cook stove. I WAS SWELTERING! We haven't even turned on the radiant heat in the slab yet!]

I was pleased to see how comfortable we are in the off grid prefab home that is the *standard* SIP package, not with thicker walls (which you can also order) in consistent, low temperatures.

We headed over to the W's to get out in the air.
Five minutes later we were all, "OH MY GOSH IT IS COLD OUTSIDE!!!!!"
It wasn't cold. It was FRIGID. Bone chilling. Finger freezing.

Here's how M. braved the day in the fields and barn:

That's pretty dire for a purty girl like she...
Even the baby was all bundled up:

And Friday? It Snowed At The Passive Solar Prefab Home!
We were in a snow globe!

I always dreamed about the day I could be cozy during snowfall in the passive solar prefab, snug as a bug in a rug for days.
That day was here.

"THE POND IS FROOOOZEN!!!!!!!!" exclaimed pink cheeked children. 
I calmly walked over to the closet to retrieve my fly rod and leaned it against the front door. 
#PreparingToFishOutChildrenz
The one-day-natural-pool pond froze! And is FULL!
I pulled out the vintage snowflake dishes I only use when it snows, and started cooking up a storm. And THAT'S how I warm up frozen childrenz 'round here.




Ruminating On Ruin At The Passive Solar Prefab
Now I'm always looking at and thinking about food. But have y'all started noticing peeled onions in the grocer's aisles? In my mind, this says something about civilization: WE'RE DOOMED WHEN SOCIETY CAN'T EVEN PEEL A FRICKIN' ONION!!!

What's next, instant mashed potatoes?!?! Downfall o' society, I say!

Friends chimed in:
CH: "Seriously! When you're too lazy to peel an onion, what's next? Hard boiled eggs in a bag at the grocery store? Oh yeah, they have those too."

DC: "The worst, IMO is the pre-packaged cereal and milk. If you are so busy you do not have time to pour cereal into a bowl and add milk then you really need to step back and assess the way you are living your life."

I: "We are doomed. Wall E is our destiny!"

JB: "The beginning of the end was the 'uncrustable.' Really? Frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Just thaw and eat? That's when I gave up."

PF: "...and peeled bananas wrapped in plastic wrap on styrofoam ...faceslap"

LD:
"Actually, peeled onions are a result of a little known market for onion skins. The markets are capitalizing on the average consumer's perceived thought of modernity and making a killing in the skin care industry. In fact, The Farmers Almanac concurs: http://www.almanac.com/blog/natural-health-home-tips/onion-skins-health-and-more
What's next? Personal Chewers?"

It made me think about how much more "difficult" our life at the off grid passive solar prefab home is now, off grid, with childrenz, chickens, horses and dogs...

And how steadily easy it is throughout the day, just more intentional...
And how much we love it.
Wet snow clothes drying on a rack in front
of the antique cook stove...

Snow? Sleet? Frozen tundra?
Awwww, relax. Grab a hot toddy and a good book
and cozy up for days.

I gather wood (already felled trees, by the way) from the wood pile and feed them, one log at a time to minimize energy waste, throughout the day. We feed and water the animals. We school.

Going through the winter, I wanted to consider, "Can I live off grid and this life when I'm eighty? Or is this not a sustainable lifestyle throughout all life stages?" I now know it IS. It sounds "hard" to lug wood when you are eighty- but if you ask any Foxfire elder, and I can attest, you just take your time, enjoy the easy exercise, carting smaller loads awhile, until there is a nice pile to get you through approaching weather as needed.

You just do small things throughout the day, that then easily accomplish feats others consider "hard" - muck stalls, move wood, get some fresh air, open pens... I enjoy these moments, even when it's freezing. And sleeting. Seriously. Because even in bad weather, it's my moment outdoors.

Who needs a gym?
We have off grid living to put color in our cheeks.



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1/21/13

The Off Grid Passive Solar Prefab Home - Felled By Flu!

The cloud cover rolled in over the off grid prefab home and stopped.
I was ok. I checked the battery bank and thought, "Well, we'll be conservative in energy, I hear it's supposed to be gray ALL WEEK!"

Off grid prefab home in the rain, rain, rain.

You may recall how, when purchasing the solar system for our off grid prefab home, we purposely bought a "cabin" sized solar system as we knew that when we moved permanently to the prefab home, a few years down the road, we would invest in the latest technology vs. what is available now.  Suddenly, this year? A job opportunity turned into a quick: "Let's move between the passive solar prefab and DC NOW and then we'll worry about it all later!"

So. As usual, I checked the forecast : Rain, rain, more rain, clouds, and snow.
"Better gather supplies and get set this weekend..."
But before I could...

NOROVIRUS STRUCK THE OFF GRID PASSIVE SOLAR HOME!
All I remember was we went to Lynchburg Saturday, then... well, you probably don't want to hear the details. It was awful as you imagine.
From Reuters:
"In Boston, flu cases are 10 times higher than they were last year, causing Mayor Thomas Menino to declare a public health emergency on Wednesday.

In Illinois, 24 hospitals struggling to cope with the flood of flu cases had to turn away people arriving in the emergency department, while in Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Hospital outside Allentown has set up a tent for people who arrive with less-severe flu.

A total of 20 children have now died from this season's flu, up two from the previous week, the CDC said. That compares to 34 during the full 2011-2012 flu season and 282 during the severe 2009-2010 season."
I couldn't travel. I couldn't get out of bed. Handsome Husband returned to DC alone.

Monday Pipsqueak 1 made breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From my room, I applauded his creative banana, cheese and wheat sandwich, with a side of Napa cabbage in dill vinegar. Um, basic food groups folks. Plus: I was delirious.

THEY actually took these pictures of their creations, I discovered later, on my camera!

The sky was dark. I saw the rain moving in on the ridge beyond. From my bed I asked the Pipsqueaks to gather a tad more wood, just in case. (Fortunately no wood heat was necessary as it was UNSEASONABLY warm those two days, apparently, not that I would know...)

The skies opened. It POURED. Higher Ground became a rice paddy.
I was now stuck in the passive solar prefab on a hill, surrounded by fields under water, in the middle of a rice paddy, with the flu.


THEN THE PIPSQUEAKS GOT IT.

The sick house. Ugh.

I was just recovered enough to care for them through the night. At four in the morning, as the storm raged outside, I was washing out the bowl of well, never mind, when suddenly the solar battery unit went CRAZY- a red light, numbers...

I called Handsome Husband... who was cozily sleeping peacefully and soundly in DC...
...and lectured his voice mail on the darned pump he needed to tweak that must have caused the flux in the readings...

The next day, it was cold. I went to start the cook stove. I discovered that NO ONE HAD PREPPED FOR THE WEEK'S WEATHER except the pile of wet wood the Pipsqueaks dragged in.

I shakily went to put on my galoshes to head out to gather wood in the freezing rain.
I couldn't find my galoshes.
Handsome Husband had cutely lined up all the galoshes near the front entrance.
Outside.

My galoshes were now an icy rain gauge. 
4" of icy rain in mah boot.
For a flu ridden princess to stylishly slip into.
*THANKS, PRINCE.*

I donned the soaked galoshes.
Wood pile, near prefab home.

I dragged myself to the woodpile and carefully chose wood as I would when I knew bad weather was coming. As any person who was practical and living off grid would. [Insert glare at Handsome Husband here] Except this time I was doing it in slushy rain. Sloooowly I dragged wood where it should have been.

I looked down in the basket for newspaper to start... there was none.

You have got to be kidding me.
Fortunately, I am a squirrel. I have an emergency stash of EVERYTHING.
So I pulled one of the four emergency fire logs out.
I nosed around and gathered dry paper from places unplanned.
I surveyed with satisfaction my full pantry.
We would not only make it through, we would be cozy on this undersized solar system in an odd month of gray weather. Bring on the rain! Bring on the snow! (Oh yes, snow was in the forecast too, for the end of the week...)

THE CISTERN WAS FULL!  The cook stove was cracklin'! Even the children were recovering!
I could just wash clothes, dry them by the cook stove, and enjoy the storm.

I went to refill the pitcher, and the crazy battery bank display lights happened again.
I sent Handsome Husband this picture:

That snapped him to attention, even from DC.
You may recall that in the past weeks he had been futzing with the battery bank display to calibrate it to our actual solar system.

"This means you can not use the pump. The bank has been drained too close to where we do not want to go."

I looked at the almost empty water pitcher.

I knew I could, still in Saturday's pajamas, run through the sleet to the shed, dig out the camping water cube, load it in the car, go to The W's and get water.
We could make it.
Sister called.
"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. YOU ARE ALL IN YER VOMIT STAINED PJ's.
GET. TO. RIIIIIICHMOND."

It began to rain harder, with sleet.
I achingly loaded up the car and abandoned ship.

I headed for Bienvenue.

What I do differently now, now that the children are older, now after last Christmas, when around family, is talk. Out loud. About things. To my children. As they happen. Who are old enough to now understand. In front of whomever is doing something Normal People would never do.

[My dear friend L: "Brilliant. You just diffused your anger, educate your children on how wrong these people are as it happens, and then make it funny."]

Bienvenue is convenient.
The dogs and children are in one place, and we're not on top of Sister or other generous friends who offer shelter.  They can't affect us. If it is unbearable, there's always Motel Eight and no return, ever again, and that our children would totally understand why. Before now, they didn't and wouldn't be able to understand. Now we can all make that decision together.

And then it snowed!
"The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?"
--JB Priestly
 

Sickness dissipated. Over 48hrs after quarantine of the last person afflicted, and after several long hot showers, it was wonderful to see dear friends.
Made a Snowman... and Snow Lady...
Feasts and friends...

Met the World's Cutest Kitteh...
"Hey sweetie, what's that?"
She, deliberately: "Continental Diviiiiiiide."

Friday we returned to Higher Ground, and the passive solar prefab house.
Finally, sun!

Pipsqueak 1 used the day to further dig out the trench about 15-20 feet away from the prefab house to better drain off the massive amount of water from the week.  

We already had a efficient trench, but with the recent septic work and lots of earth moving, we wanted to make sure that trench was continuing to be as effective as before.

He's a busy child, and relished the challenge.

Well done, Pipsqueak 1... : )



Handsome Husband finished the HRV piping through the SIP and sealed it well.
I've been using this sick week to really think about systems and have some thoughts on our immediate year ahead. It's probably not what you think. But this snow blowing and power outages amongst our neighbors during the storms really made me evaluate...
>>TO BE CONTINUED (AND NOT IN THE WAY YOU THINK)...

P.s. While I was really really ill, I paged through old Countryside Magazines gifted by the B's from the 1990s. Here were some excerpts I found interesting.





We also watched a great movie anyone in farming would identify with- Tulpan. It's like the Dust Bowl, all over again, except in Romania. It reminds me how we all, urban or rural, can work to preserve and improve soil so that nature, hence we, can survive. 


Reading Club:
  • Re-imagining the Rivanna River- with nearly 400 students from the University of Virginia’s School of #Architecture. http://bit.ly/W3ImIb 
Siiiiiiigh...
Homeschool was a mess, of course.
Last week we reviewed last semester's science; this week we were supposed to review history. During flu and snow and travel. Yeaaaaaaah, right. Well, we got pretty much everything covered, not as smoothly as I would have liked. But here were some resources I found useful:

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1/14/13

Runnin' Around The Passive Solar Prefab Home


Oh these wet muddy days at the off grid prefab passive solar home!!!!
It's not like January here.
As my neighbor dismissed his plans this week with dismay, "Too warm fer hog killin'!"
It's like March.
Red clay everywhere, the soil soaked...

Even with the clouds, it was BEAUTIFUL day to run errands in Charlotte County!



An Amish farm getting ready for spring...
We went to the Amish Store for cookies and sawdust for the composting toilet, then went and got milk at another place, then to another friend's for vegetables... There, we discussed the new Produce Auction going up behind her farm.

Beyond the garden, across the field, will be the Produce Auction...

Prior, the produce auction was held in a cramped building with little parking down the road.  So the Amish got together and created shares in the new auction. She explained, "So everyone can buy a share, then whenever the auction makes a profit, it goes to the shareholders." So that's how a large investment that benefits the entire community happens around here.

Then we headed into Lynchburg!

Lynchburg is interesting to me.  It has Virginia's oldest continuously running farmer's market...  Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest is right near the city, and The National D Day Memorial is in neighboring Bedford. The people of Lynchburg seem to appreciate craftsmen, local food, cultural events, history...

Only 30-40 minutes away, we are looking forward to visiting again soon!  Like the produce auction will be, Lynchburg's Community Market is also held in an enclosed space - on Saturday's there are aisles with farmer's set up, but inside further back are more permanent stalls.



As we begin to discuss the next steps in finishing the off grid prefab home interior, as well as Higher Ground Farm, we spoke about 2 year, 5 year, 10 year goals... what to grow, what to invest in...

Instead of mortgaging out for expensive equipment, we take the approach of use already paid-for equipment we have, improve slowly, but to never extend ourselves... focus on organic, small scale growing for our family. 
Let's take a look at what this banker has to say:
"Grantham, widely known in the investment community as a supercontrarian, came to my attention last month when I stumbled across an article he wrote in his firm’s quarterly newsletter entitled “Welcome to Dystopia! Entering a Long-Term and Politically Dangerous Food Crisis.” Next to this unexpected headline was a photo of (forgive the stereotype) an expectedly conventional-looking investment banker. Below it, however, were two quotes: one from Bob Marley (“Them belly full but we hungry . . .”) and one from Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” My attention was caught.
...
Another Amish orchard preparing for spring...
Grantham’s article succinctly puts economic teeth into the argument that all advocates of truly sustainable food make almost constantly: We are going to be eating sustainable, more-or-less organic and mostly regional food within a couple of generations, and the big question is whether we get to that place willingly (it might be too late for that, but one can hope) or whether we go through a dystopic convulsion first."
Similarly:
Sell your crap. Pay your debt. Do what you love.
"...we were collecting loans. we had one for everything except a mortgage, and guess what, we were house shopping..."

What does freedom mean to you?
"You wake up one day and realize you're living life just based on a script."


But... he doesn't give thoughts on the future. Where's the *saving* and *investment* into legacy? Like he, when we had children we had a mental meeting of what we wanted for our children. We chucked everything and invested in land, then the prefab... backpacking across Australia is nice but what of that can be passed on for generations?

In good stead with the muddy cloudy weather, I served comfort food: 
Around The World With A Venison Roast
  • Day 1: Dinner: Southern Venison Roast: The day before, wash & soak black eyed peas. At lunch, salt water in a pot and begin to simmer the black eyed peas with frozen previously saved meat bits on a bone or two all afternoon. Roast venison slowly surrounded with your favorite root veggies, potatoes.  A half hour-ish before: in a saucepot heat tomatoes, add brown sugar and some salt, simmer. Side 1: Remove potatoes & mash, make gravy out of pan juices. Second side, in separate bowls: Blackeyed peas & stewed tomatoes. Serve with a fresh dill salad. 
  • Cool, then pull the remaining venison apart with a fork and store. 
  • Day 2: Make Asian Coleslaw: shred cabbage + a few carrots, mix in rice vinegar, sesame oil, brown sugar to taste, store a day, mix well before serving.
  • Day 3: Lunch: Asian Venison BBQ: heat slowly 1/2 of the venison, add a little tomato sauce if you have any handy. Remember, this is venison yer servin' not some Walmart Manwich yer makin'. Use tomato sauce just to kinda bind it, not sauce-a-fy it. Serve on Amish rolls with Asian Coleslaw. Side: Fresh veggies & fruit.
  • Day 4: Lunch or Dinner: French Venison Tomato Soup: Dice celery and pretend its lovage, sautee until soft; add in a can of tomato/garlic/onion from the summer, simmer, extra frozen-earlier broth to make sure it remains a thin stew / nice broth soup, add in some minced rosemary and a dash of lemon, and finally, the remaining pulled venison. Stir it up and let it sit, but not too long. Serve with bread out of the oven, and clementines. Now warm and toasty and full, send the kids back outside in the frosty air to play.
Reading Club:
Homeschool Notes:
We are reviewing the last semester and doing random testing. They're doing amazing, and it's clear we'll finish the school year early, even when adding in library books and expounding on subjects. Confident now, I added Latin to this semester. I love YouTube for the basic overview-- especially for pronunciation!

Here's what we're doing this week:

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