Friday, March 15, 2013

Going to Collections....

Wow, I can't believe it has been a month since my last post. One of the reasons for the hiatus has been because I have had a lot of work-work projects keeping me busy, and I am sure people do not want to read about the intricacies of PHP programming and all the excitement that it entails. Well, it has caused me to stay up to the wee hours of the morning at times if that can be considered exciting.

Despite being tied down to the job the last few weeks, there has been some progress on the property and with spring making it's presence known, there are more and more projects on the planning board and in the works. I thought it might be interesting to write a post about some of our 'collections'. In the past, I have had a variety of collections over the years - ceramic pigs, miniature hats & hat boxes, and hedgehogs to name a few. As you may recall, one of the goals in my off-grid life is to not have a bunch of 'stuff' that serves no purpose other than to collect dust and cause clutter in the house. I am more lenient went it comes to outdoor collections, like the birdhouses I quickly filled the front yard with to make the property look like it was no longer abandoned.

First, I am going to share a digital collection. I have been feeding the wild birds all winter and Alan and I have been having fun trying to identify all the various types of birds that come to visit us now. Here are pictures of the various ones we have identified (I downloaded pictures from the internet rather than trying to get our birds to pose):

Caroline Chickadees
Carolina Wren

Dark-Eyed Junco
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Bluebird
Blue-winged Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker
Tan-striped Sparrow
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
(also called a Butter Butt)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

On a more off-grid note, we now have a collection of water tanks. In a past blog, I included a picture of the second water tank we installed - a cylindrical 275 gallon tank we mounted outside of our bathroom as an upgrade to our first tank, a 100 gallon stock tank. It catches rain water from the roof and acts as a reservoir for filling our toilet tank. The last rainfall we had was a drencher that lasted throughout the night and we woke up to a full and over-flowing tank! We now have plans to also pipe this tank over to the shower system. I am a little hesitant to add this convenience to our shower for fear of using too much water. We currently limit our showers to a 2 1/2 gallon bottle of water that we carry into the bathroom each time we want a shower. If we pipe the bathroom storage tank to the shower we will no longer have that 2 1/2 gallon limitation lurking in the back of our heads as we rush to rinse off all signs of soap before the water runs out in the bottle as we do now. We may get so extravagant as to go through 5 gallons of water for a single shower.

Water Tank #2, we will be adding
a rain gutter to the shed soon.
The water in it is what we pumped
from our tarp/totes collection system.
Our second water tanks is a 250 gallon cube. Alan has built a stand for it and it is located next to our shed. We are going to mount a rain gutter on the shed and catch the rain water in this tank to be used for all our other water usage. During that last rain storm that filled our bathroom water tank, we also deployed our tarp and rubber totes collection system on the deck. When our 'shed' tank was in place, we pumped all the water from the totes into the tank and there was almost 100 gallons in the tank when we were done. Not bad for a tarp and a few totes!

We treat the rain water (and well water) in two ways, depending on how we use it. First, we strain the water. We have a funnel with a fine screen mesh on the small opening at the bottom. Originally, we just dumped the water we wanted to strain into this funnel to fill our water storage bottles. However, depending on the volume of stuff being caught in the small screen at the bottom of the funnel, we were constantly stopping to clean out the funnel as we strained water. First we added a kitchen strainer to the top of the funnel to catch the larger debris before it went into the funnel. This helped, but we still needed to eliminate some of the smaller particles from reaching the tiny screened orifice at the end of the funnel. This led to our third layer of straining which is a wash cloth placed between the kitchen strainer and the funnel.

This strained water is used for anything that does not require potable water - laundry, cleaning, showers, initial rinsing of dirty dishes, etc. For any water that we will possibly be consuming such as the final rinsing of dishes, cooking and drinking we run the strained water though our Sawyer water filter which I have written about in past blog posts.

This week we added one more water tank to our collection. We bought this one at a Little Debbie outlet store and it is a deluxe model which is housed in an aluminum frame. This will be our mobile water tank. Although we currently have plenty of water between rain storms and our well, if the summer is as dry as last year, we will need to be making trips to the spring a few miles from our house. Now we can fill this large tank and transfer it to our storage tanks rather than going to the spring with our little 2 1/2 gallon water storage bottles we use in the house.

Tank #3
for transporting water from the spring
As we were driving home from the Little Debbie store, we decided to stop at the car wash and wash out the tank. As you may recall, our cylindrical tank had been used to store honey. When we got it, there was a residue of dried honey and dead bees in the bottom of the tank. Since it was already at our house when we discovered this, I came up with the solution of dumping a few pans of hot water into the tank and then I manually titled the tank back ind forth to slosh the water and melt the solidified honey. After about 45 minutes and some sore arms, the honey any bees gushed out of the nozzle at the bottom of the tank when I opened it. We thought the car wash would be a better/easier solution this time. We were so WRONG!

This is soy lecithin,
think greasy-clumpy-jello.
According to the label, this tank contained soy lecithin and it was solidified on the bottom of the tank, much like the honey. However, when we hit the sludge with the high pressure spray gun at the car wash, all that sludge dispersed all over the interior of the tank and we could not reach all the spots it was now adhering to with the wand of the sprayer. We cleaned it as best we could, then drove the tank home with the nozzle still open hoping more crud would drop from the elusive strongholds on the interior tank walls and be jostled out of the tank through the spigot. This was a partial success, except that 'Truck' now has globs of yellow goo in his truck bed and there is still residue in the water tank as well. At this point I google 'What is soy lecithin' and find this: Lecithin is a generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues. Yep, that describes our yellow sludge.

Yep, the last off the yellow goo
seems to be draining out.
We have set the tank on a slope with the spigot on the low side and opened, hoping that the sun will heat up the tank enough to melt the soy lecithin and cause it to slide down to the bottom of the tank once more. I guess I should google the melting point of the soy lecithin to see if even the summer sun will be hot enough to do this. This is yet another proof that off grid solutions are better! If I had just waited until we got home and used the same process as I had with the dried honey, we would not have this mess which was caused by the hi-powered washer that we now have to contend with.

The deck wood becomes heating fuel.
We have also expanded our collection of firewood. You may recall the assortment of free lumber odds & ends we got last fall, along with our various loads of firewood we purchased and the compressed-sawdust eco-bricks we picked up at a Tractor Supply store when they were on sale. Our firewood supply was starting to run low, but since our son-in-law replaced our rotting deck last month, we have lots of scrap lumber in varying stages of decay stacked up under our new deck. Grayson sawed the rotting planks between the supporting joists so we had dozens and dozens of  of planks that were between three and four feet in length. We clamped our sliding circular saw to the truck bed, hauled the generator out of the shed and started sawing all the old deck lumber down to dimensions that would fit in our woodburner. We added at least another month's worth of fuel to our supply by burning the old deck. When we told our daughter that the old deck was now being used to heat the house, she was worried it was dangerous to burn that wood, but (1) the wood stove is air tight, so no fumes escape it while burning, and (2) the deck was rotted because the previous owners had not used treated lumber on the deck.

While working down here, Grayson also found reasons to take our chainsaw out into the woods near our yard and felled a few trees, most of which he cut up into lengths that will fit into the woodstove. I have also added these 'yule logs' to my collection when I go out and bring in wood for the day. These large and mainly fresh-cut logs burn slowly so we put them in the stove before going to bed so we do not have to get up as often to keep the fire going throughout the night.

Up north I had a collection of recipe books, but I only used two or three out of the entire stack. Since these unused books were against my policy of everything in the house having a purpose, I did not bring them down to the property. However, I have started a limited collection of cookbooks pertinent to our new life. I have included a photo of a few I collected over the winter: one of Ozark recipes, one of recipes mothers have handed down over multiple generations and one on cooking with storage type ingredients (great for our limited refrigeration and no freezer).

I also received a very special cookbook this winter. There is a cookbook I remember from my childhood kitchen that I have always said it is the only thing I ever wanted to inherit from my mom. Well, like the prodigal son, I received my inheritance early! When my parents came from Pennsylvania to spend Thanksgiving with our family, I remember I mentioned that old green cookbook. Well, the hint must have worked because I received what I consider a treasured family heirloom in the mail after they returned home. (I really wasn't hinting, it just came up in conversation because we cook so much during Turkey Palooza.) As I experiment with recipes in my various cookbooks, I plan to share them on this blog. My daughter, Eryn, called soon after she returned home to ask for my dumpling recipe which was a favorite of her family while they were here. I may have to start with that one.

Zeke likes Grandma's crocheted rug.
I am ending this post with one final, rather strange collection I have ended up with. One of my winter projects was crocheting a rug using t-shirt yarn. You start by making yarn from old t-shirts. I made quite a few weekly trips to Goodwill to purchase t-shirts. I went each week because Goodwill color-codes their clothing and each week they rotate which color is half-price. I would only buy half-price t-shirts each week.

When making the yarn for the rug, I would start by cutting the bottom off the t-shirt at the arm pits. Only the bottom half of the shirt, the 'tube' below the arm pits is used to make the lengths of yarn. So, I now have a collection of dozens of t-shirts that have been cropped to arm pit length. Alan has suggested they should be my summer wardrobe, as they would be nice and cool, but I have relegated them to the rag box. I am sure there will be some upcoming spring and summer projects that require rags to be used in some manner.
Maybe I should offer a prize to anyone that comes up with
a crafty use for all these top-halves of t-shirts.