Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BEING a Grandma slows you down

Puddle Jumping!
For the past 5 weeks I have been a hands-on grandma as our youngest daughter and her family had come  for an extended visit. I think Alan described the visit succinctly in an email to his sister, "Gray did great work for us, hanging the drywall, relaying the entire deck, and replacing soffits. We had a fantastic visit, and all of us were shocked to see how far Zeke grew and advanced while down here. Day one, he had great difficulty walking over the rough ground from the car to the steps. When he left he was racing down the drive, across the gravel road, and over rocks and logs, and climbing our mountain with Arn. Never wanted or accepting help, wanted to conquer it on his own. Also grew in understanding more complex concepts, how things work and go together. And, he really loved the bluegrass concerts we went to! He applauded for the instruments he favored, and especially for the tunes he favored. He was one of the hardiest clappers at the events we took him to! And Eryn graced us with some of her wonderful cooking, once she got the off-grid aspects under control. She said the hardest aspect of our lifestyle for herself was no running water; she uses a lot in her cooking. We also got in 99% of the things we wanted to expose them to here; from many many BBQs, other southern style restaurants, and the beautiful scenery. All in all a great visit!"

Feeding the birds was one of Zeke's favorite chores.
Of course that may be because it was an egress to a
couple hours of playing outside!
Yes, Zeke had me moving faster than usual at times, so that obviously is not what I mean by the title of this entry. Actually, it was Grandma's chores that were slowed down as Zeke was around to help me out with so many of them. For example, feeding the birds, which used to be about a 15 minute task to fill all the feeders and replace the suet in the holders became a 1 to 2 hour job depending on how many exciting things Zeke found to distract us. I could go on and on about all the fun we had and how amazing my grandson is, but alas, that is not the point of this blog. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle our off-grid life and all it entails. And, since I haven't personally posted an entry for over a month, a have a bit of catching up to do...

The addition of two adults and a toddler has prompted a few more upgrades around the property. Below is a list of some of our various resources and how they fared during the visit:

1. Electricity
Our solar system actually kept up with the increased usage quite well, better than we had expected actually. Our daughter was doing some free-lance work on her computer while she was here and we soon learned her computer had a voracious appetite compared to ours and we needed to have it plugged into the 120V inverter whenever she was working. Despite that, plus her husband's computer, two extra cell phones and extra lights on in the house, we only needed to start the generator once and that was after three rainy, overcast days in a row.

2. Water
Zeke and Grandpa working on
some of the water chores.
With a toddler in the house and our daughter being pregnant, we made the decision before they arrived that we would we purchasing more water than usually as we would only use the reverse-osmosis water we buy from the vending machine at the 'local' park for cooking, rinsing dishes and for Zeke's bath. We are quite confident of our filtration system, and hardly every use the park water ourselves anymore, but we wanted our guests to feel safe in the water they were using.

However, we did not realize how much water we would need. I was guessing we would use about 175% more water - 50% more for each of the two adults and a generous 75% on top of that for Zeke. We had three 5 gallon water cubes that we take down to the park for water, and even when Alan and I were using that water on a regular basis for cooking and drinking, we would only fill them up about once a week at most. When our guests arrived, we soon were making the water run almost every other day. Fortunately, on one of our sight-seeing outings we stopped at an interesting shopping center we wanted to show them and Alan found a great deal on new 5 gallon water cubes and we picked up 4 more. The additional volume and the fact that Eryn and Grayson were quickly becoming proficient in off-grid water conservation meant less frequent trips to buy water.

We also discovered our 100 gallon rain water trough used to fill the toilet was not quite adequate and there were times we had to carry buckets of water into the bathroom. So, time for another upgrade. A while back, I had sen an add on Craig's list for large food grade plastic containers that were selling for $50 to $60 depending on which size you chose. There were 275 gallon cylindrical tanks and 250 gallon square tanks. We had saved the contact information, so Alan called to see if they were still available and he and Gray went to pick up one of the square tanks. Now we were going to be true Ozark mountain people, with our 250 gallon water tank in the back of the pick-up truck that we would take and fill at the spring.

Our new platform and water tank for
our gravity feed toilet system. Also not
the new soffit at the top of the photo. 
Alan had taken our smaller truck to pick up the tank since we girls and Zeke stayed at home. On the way home, he and Gray were swinging by the spring to fill the tank and then we could use a 12V transfer pump we have to fill the toilet trough from our new water tank. Fortunately Alan took the time to do the math on the way to the spring to calculate the weight of 250 gallons of water. Because they were in the small truck, they could only fill the tank about half full, that however made the trip home over the curvy mountain roads interesting due to the water sloshing back and forth.

As we were filling the toilet trough, Gray commented that he could build a stand outside the bathroom where we could put a second tank to replace the trough. The tank would triple our capacity, we could still catch rain water from the roof in it like we did the trough, and with having it raised up on a platform, higher than the toilet, we could now flush and the tank would be gravity fed - no more hand pumping to refill the toilet tank. So, we made a trip to get another tank. This time it was one of the round ones and the interesting thing is that it had been used to store 275 gallons of honey. There was still a residue of dried honey along with a few dozen dead bees in the bottom of the tank so I dumped in a few gallons of hot water and used a lot of brute force to swish it around to melt the honey and loosen the bees. Note that our honey pot is on the clean water side of the toilet.

White hose to transfer water in.
Green hose to feed the toilet
Clear hose as a water level gauge
Another trip to Home Depot for a few plumbing fixtures and we now have an auto-filling toilet (version 3). The new version also includes a Y-valve so that a hose can be attached to feed water to the toilet and a second clear plastic hose is connected in and then runs up the outside of the tank and acts as a gauge displaying the level of water currently in the tank (similar to the clear tubes on commercial sized coffee pots.   We do have plans to pick up one more water tank as funds are available to place next to our shed. We will rig it up to catch rain from the shed roof as well as use it to transfer water from the container we take to fill at the spring. This will greatly increase our supply of non-potable water, not only for the toilet but also for laundry, gardening, etc.

3. Heat
When Eryn, Gray & Zeke arrived, we were in the middle of a cold spell. Our wood burning stove, while it appeared large at the store and in our pick-up trip on the the trip down from Wisconsin, turns put to be rated for less square footage than we were trying to heat with it. While the house was not cold during the coldest temperatures, it was closer to chilly than toasty warm and we had to work hard at stoking it to get the  temperature up into the yellow segment of the thermometer we have mounted on the stovepipe above the woodburner. This thermometer serves as a gauge to indicate when the woodburner is not hot enough to burn efficiently (below the yellow zone), is hot and still in the safe zone (yellow), and is overheated and in danger of a chimney fire (red zone).

We had some colder than normal temperatures back in December and that was when we realized we would probably be upgrading the woodburner before next winter. We were warm enough for now, but we would plan on an upgrade for some extra heat next year. We had seen a larger stove that we liked at the local Tractor Supply and decided we would by it in the spring if they put it on clearance. Well, about a week after the kids arrived, we went to Tractor Supply for more bird seed (Zeke was taking his job seriously!) and we saw they had already marked the stove down to its clearance price. So, we paid for it and the next day Alan and Gray picked it up and brought it home.

Eryn and I could not lift the stove pipe high enough for the
men to perform the switch, so a little ingenuity was needed.
We once again hoisted a woodburner from the truck bed up the stairs to the deck and wheeled it into the house. Then came the 'interesting' task of swapping out the smaller stove for the larger one/ With a little ingenuity and a lot of extra muscle (thanks, Gray!) the job was completed much more quickly than I expected and the house is now toasty warm, even when the nights got what they call 'extremely cold' down here. A note to our Wisconsin friends, that translates to temperatures in the 'teens', not what we would consider as extreme cold up north. The new stove easily stays up in the yellow zone and we can bank it at night and not have to get up every couple of hours to add wood to keep it going.

We could fit a lot more than we expected
in our little propane refrigerator.
4. Food Storage
With our very limited refrigerator space I was worried about how we would store all the extra food I thought we might need. Eryn writes a blog on healthy eating plus there was Zeke's milk, juice, cheese and other items that would all need refrigerated, not to mention fresh meats if they did not like our staples that include powder milk for cooking and canned meats for many of our meals. Well, we had to play Jenga a bit to get everything to fit in the fridge, and during the cold weather some items went out on the deck, but everyone seemed to enjoy the various meals made from our normal pantry items here on the property. In fact, Eryn even used a jar of my pressure canned chicken in one of her meals she prepared for us. In fact, here is link to a food blog entry she made while here: fromfaminetofoodie

What Else Is New?
Grayson, Zeke and Maja on our
new front deck.
Our son-in-law has a roofing business, and one of the reasons they chose to visit for the month of January is that the roofing business is very slow in Wisconsin in January. So, Gray asked us to come up with a list of projects we would like him to work on during the visit. The two main projects were dry wall and deck repairs. The damage that needed repaired in both these projects was quite extensive. Much of the dry wall in the living room had been ripped out or damaged, as well as portions of the walls in all the other rooms and a majority of the deck was rotted to the point of being unusable.

While working on these projects, Grayson came up with a list of other things he would be able to do if we wanted, so maybe there is another extended stay to be planned for next year.

Some of the more popular off-grid toys:
Canning jar rings, cardboard tubes and
short lengths of t-shirt yarn.
Zeke is probably too young to have memories stay with him of all his adventures down at Grandma & Grandpa's on this trip, but when he returns, some of the more 'creative' off-grid toys Grandma came up with will be here waiting for him along with lots of puddles for jumping in on rainy days and rocks and sticks to be thrown and collected. In fact, maybe those squishy packages he occasionally gets in the mail will include some special items to remind him of the great adventures he had and those that are still waiting for him.

What's Next
All of these recent projects have added more items to our to-do lists: painting lots of drywall, staining a HUGE deck and restocking my canned foods just to name a few. And spring is just around the corner down here. Although we are in the middle of a massive snow storm as I am writing this - they are predicting up to three inches- I had daffodils blooming in the yard yesterday and we heard frogs a few nights ago so I will also be starting more gardening projects soon.

One of the first items on the list is washing and dusting drywall dust off of everything in the house, but Alan pointed out one dirty spot in the office that I think will stick around for a while:
Zeke left a little handprint on the sliding glass door.

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