Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Alan and I used to be avid golfers, a few summers ago we played at least 36 holes per week. Mini-golf that is. One of my few claims to 'fame' was that I was once asked to join the United State's International Mini-Golf Team to compete in Italy. Unfortunately, no companies feel they would benefit from sponsoring a mini-golf  all-star, so I declined the invitation as I would have to finance the trip myself.

If you are not a golfer, you may be wondering what this has to do with my post today. In golf, there is a term for a shot that you want to 'do-over', it is called a Mulligan. We have been living off-grid for over a year now and I had been floundering about what my next blog post topic would be. Usually, within a couple weeks of posting a new blog entry, several events have taken place that seem to tie together nicely to create the next post, but the past few weeks have been a mish-mash of activities that seemed to have no cohesiveness. And then I was was reminded of the word 'mulligan', and that gave me the idea that it was time for a 'do-over'. I decided to page back through some of my posts over the past year and, based on their titles, see if they could be expanded upon to reflect our more recent off-grid activities. So here goes....

From July 3, 2012: We are in 2G Territory
This original post focused on various upgrades we had made from our initial few days of surviving on the property to all the comforts of home we had been adding during our first stay. Here is a list of some of our further upgrades we have made this summer:

Alan's Home Built Combiner Box
(He will be posting a detailed article soon)
1. Combiner box for the solar system. Alan built a new gadget to go between our solar panels and the charge controller. As the trees leafed out this spring, we felt we were loosing some power when all the panels were not in full sun. In the morning, as the sun rises over the mountain, the trees in our yard block the sun from the eastern most panels on the deck and these panels do not get full sun until about noon. And then, as the sun crosses the sky and starts to dip to the western mountain, the trees on that side cast shade on the western panels. When panels were in the shade they were draining power from the sun soaked panels, so some of the power was not making it to our batteries.The combiner box contains diodes that isolate each panels so the shaded panels can not become parasites stealing our power. We have seen our peak power production climb from 13.1 amps up to 15.2 amps, a nice improvement! Alan plans on posting an article on his project soon.

Our Newest Water Tank
 Bungee cords from the cage frame to the
downspout align the gutter. The elevated
bathroom tank can bee seen behind it. 
2. Rain water collection. We moved our second IBC tank, the one that had collapsed when we placed it on concrete blocks next to the shed. We now have it behind the house, just outside the utility room. We put up 20 feet of rain gutter on this side of the roof to feed into the tank. This catches water from twice as much roof area as the 10 foot gutter we have feeding our bathroom tank. We had one torrential rain storm soon after setting up this new tank and the water just gushed in from the 20 foot expanse and the 250 gallon tanked filled in just that one storm.

3. Automatic watering system. When we were last up north, Alan went to one of our favorite stores, American Science Surplus,  while I helped our daughter with the grandbabies. He went there just to browse for any sciency stuff  that might be useful on the property. American Science Surplus has lots of science  related items, electronics, etc. One of the treasures he picked up was a timer he could connect into our water system. That, plus a drip hose created an automatic waterer for our pallet and container gardens while we were in Kentucky for about a week.We were able to set the timer so that the drip system watered the plants for 15 minutes twice a day while we were gone.
The Drip Line  Along the Pallet Bed, Through the Containers and Across the Barrel Planters
(Carrots &Pepper  ---- Tomatoes ----Sweet Potatoes & Potatoes)

Alan Tests the Spring Water
We also had to make sure the water tank was full before we left, we did not want to run the tank dry watering, because then the pump would burn out as it kept trying to pump water but sucked air instead. So, we made a trip to the spring to fill our third IBC tank which we keep in Hoss, our larger pick up truck. We then use a 12v transfer pump to move water from the truck to the house tank. Whether we are adding rain water or spring water, we always treat the water we store in the tanks and then further filter all the water used for consumption.

From July 31, 2012No Internet for Over 4 Days
Last summer we left the property for an extended period to partake in several events that all occurred within the same time frame: our grandson's first birthday, helping our daughter with an annual event in Kentucky that she could not attend due to being 9 months pregnant, and then the birth of said grandaughter. The four days without internet was due to the fact that Alan and I were so busy with our daughter's booth at the event in Kentucky I was exhausted each night and never turned my computer on. It is sort of ironic, that whenever we have a need to travel and be back on the grid is when I slack off on my internet usage.

Hanna Helps Stock the Booth
This year, the events were similar, but a little more spread out. We traveled to Wisconsin in May for the birth of our third grandchild, but then we came back south before heading out to Kentucky once more for the annual sales event. This year was even more fun than usual helping out our older daughter with this event because she was able to attend it with us this year, along with her husband and their daughter. So, while we had four people working the booth this year instead of two, and thus I was not exhausted each night, I still did not use the internet much because I was too busy playing with our granddaughter.

From September 11, 2012Never Ending Projects and Distractions
First Fruits...
Some projects around the house seem to take forever to get completed for a variety of reasons. For example some are tiring and time intensive, like cleaning and painting floors. Others we slowly collect what we are looking for before actually beginning the project, like my kitchen cabinet hardware. And others, frankly, are things we don't really want to get started on and usually do not get moving on them until we have a need, like when we were assembling various pieces of furniture, some of which did not get built until January and that was only because guests were arriving and we needed it for the guest room.

... And Veggies
Do we still have never ending projects and distractions? Always. Right now, my garden is a never ending project. Not so much this year's garden as we are starting to see the fruits (and vegetables) of our labors, but my plans for next year's garden. As I am seeing the results of our various garden experiments, I am already getting excited about what I want to accomplish in next year's garden. In fact, last night I was up late checking out seed company web sites and have already bookmarked various tomatoes and squash I want to grow next year. I also purchased large pots yesterday that were on clearance ($7.99 marked down to $1.99) to expand my container garden next year. In fact, with the longer growing season down here, I am hoping to plant some fall garden items this week.

I Opened Up Another Puzzle...
That's OK, Just This One
It's Only 350 Pieces
One of my distractions I wrote about last year, was a jigsaw puzzle I had started that kept me up late at night. I can easily become obsessed with completing a puzzle, so I have not started another since that one. That is, until four nights ago. Alan has been having some shoulder pain the last few weeks and last Friday he woke to excruciating pain. Bad enough that he decided it was time for to get it looked at. Turns out, according to the doctor, you should never sleep with a fan blowing directly on you and Alan had been doing just that. We had been having a bit of a heat wave and every night it was still over 80 degrees when we went to bed. Alan set up a fan in the bedroom window that is right at our headboard, which is decorative wrought iron style and thus open to let the fan blow through, right onto his shoulder. Since (1) the fan which is about 8 inches in diameter, is positioned at the center of the headboard and (2) I did not suffer any ill-effects of a night breeze hitting me and (3) it is his right shoulder that is in pain and he supposedly sleeps on the right side of the bed; I take that as proof that Alan sleeps in the center of the bed.

OK, Just One More...
And Then I'll Stop
Wow, was that a digression from the topic, I had simply meant to explain that Alan has been on pain meds and going to sleep early, so I have once again opened the beckoning jigsaw puzzles. I started with an simple 350 pieces puzzle, to get them out of my system once again. But their deceptive pull was too strong, I finished that one in two nights and quickly escalated to a 500 piece puzzle which I again blew through in just  two nights. So, while my husband is on pain pills, I am struggling with my addiction. There is a 2000 piece puzzle sitting on the shelf, and worse yet, the picture is composed of dozens and dozens of vegetable seed packets. If I start this puzzle, would that mean I was feeding two addictions at once?

From September 28, 2012It's Just a Phase
This post that I made last year was one of my favorites. In it, I listed the various phases we were seeing transpire on the property, most of which involved insects. Katydids, walking sticks, harvestmen (a.k.a.daddy-long-legs), and praying mantis to name a few. This year, were are seeing the same phases to varying degrees. This summer is much wetter than the summer drought we went through last year, so some insects are more prolific this year and others not-so-much.

We also had a new phase that we did not have last year - dragonflies. The main variety we saw throughout the spring and early summer were a smaller sized dragonfly with vivid blue wings. There were other species as well, but we had literally dozens of the beautiful blue little dragonflies flitting about the yard. They particularly liked to hang out around Hoss's truck bed. Maybe the black truck emanated some heat during the day that became their spa. They also liked to land on the tips of my tomato stakes in the container garden on our deck.

Unfortunately, one of least favorite phases has been greatly extended this year - the tick phase. Fortunately, the tick control we used this year in the yard is working very well, but stray outside that zone and you are virtually guaranteed to find the little buggers on you soon after. Alan walked about 50 feet into the woods south of our deck to place a shooting target and that evening we discovered four ticks had become attached to him in that short trip out of the tick free zone.

While the tick phase is lasting much longer this year, end of July and still going strong, one of our favorite phases was much shorter this year. The skink phase. You may recall last year we discovered these cute little lizards with bright blue tails liked to sun bathe on our deck.With our wetter spring, I thought we may even see more skinks than last year, however I forgot to take into consideration one of the additions we made to the household this winter - our cats.We did see one of the cats walking along the deck with a bright blue tail sticking out of it's mouth.

From October 8, 2012Wait, That's Not Quite Right
This summer, I once again found myself thinking this at one point. In fact, it was the first title from last year that popped into my head for this post. As summer was approaching, the sun was higher in the sky and the power being generated by our solar panels decreased. I did not expect that. As you may recall, last fall as the sun was dipping lower and lower in the western sky, we took down a few trees to open up our southern vista to accommodate our solar array. With spring, the days became longer, and our batteries were being well fed, and then as summer approached, we noticed the incoming power levels were slowly dropping off. The problem was, while the sun was higher in the sky, the trees were leafing out and causing shadows on parts the solar array both in the morning and late afternoon. The amount of time each day where we had full sun on all the panels was actually decreasing as we approached the summer months.

The combiner box I talked about earlier helped us retrieve a greater percentage of the power being generated, but we now know that, overall, we generate less power in the summer than in the winter. Go figure!

From October 20, 2012The Goldilock Zone
This entry last fall discussed the balancing act we find in regards to many aspects of our off grid life - our wood burning stove, propane water heater, etc.. This summer I have added experiments with another appliance that involves adjustments to get the temperature just right. I have finally started working with my Sun Oven, which is a solar powered oven. Basically a black box, with a tightly gasketed glass door surrounded by highly reflective panels. The sunlight is reflected from the panels into the oven to provide the heat. This may not sound impressive, but I can easily heat this up to 325 degrees just by sitting it in are yard.

My first experiment was brownies, and I admit it was not the best choice to start with. There is a big difference between baking, such as breads, cookies and brownies and roasting. Baking is much more scientific and much less forgiving to any fluctuations.You just can't throw some ingredients together without a recipe, toss it in the oven at an unspecific temperature and expect it to come out as perfect cookies. Well, you can if you are my older daughter, but that is a different story... On the other hand, it is fun to throw together some ingredients for dinner, toss them in an oven and see what you end with.

Yummy Baked Beans
That said, my brownies turned out OK, but would have been better if I had baked them in the regular oven. So, until I get more proficient with the Sun Oven, I am focusing on creating slow-cooked meals in it as opposed to baked goods. I have made a great pot of baked beans that I took to a pot-luck and yesterday I threw a pot roast in a pan with new potatoes and carrots from our garden. I put in the Sun Oven for several hours while I worked around the house and ran some errands and last night we had a great pot roast meal with homemade sourdough bread. Note: I baked the sourdough bread in the regular stove the day before.

From December 5, 2012This is Only a Test
The test referred to in that post was our jumping back on the grid and into a more luxurious setting for our annual Turkey Palooza celebration with our family. We have just made reservations for this annual event this week, but I am actually switching up the meaning of this do-over title to let you know some projects/testing we have coming down the pike as funds are available. Topping our list of things we want to work on are:

1. Grape Solar Panels. This is a new brand of solar panel that has recently hit the market. They will provide more power than those we currently have. So, rather than kicking a long established member out of our solar system (no Plutos here), we will be adding to our solar system. This will involve some testing as we will now be mixing two brands of solar panels and will be working to make sure they play well together. We are not in need of additional power right now, but that leads us to the next two items on the drawing board...

2. A High Efficiency Ceiling Fan. We have found a company that manufactures highly efficient 12v ceiling fans that use brushless motors. According to the specifications, this should be able to be integrated into our off-grid power grid without being a power hog. This will help with climate control both in the summer and winter.

3. A 12v Solar Powered Refrigerator. There are now 12v refrigerators that also use efficient brushless motors, and thus, can be powered using a solar electric system such as the one we have set up. While we are very please with how our propane fridge is working out, we would like to expand our self sufficiency in this area by eliminating the need to periodically purchase propane for refrigeration.

Well, this blog post has certainly re-visted a lot of topics from the past year, but I do have one more Mulligan. You may recall a sad post last year when we had to put our very old dog to sleep because she was becoming too ill to have any quality of life. At that time, Alan and I made the decision to not get another dog. Well, meet Mulligan, she came walking up our driveway one day and apparently had not received the memo in regards to this decision. The fact that I fed her because she was skin and bones probably did not help persuade her to continue on her way.

The dog that is not our dog, as I insist on calling her, had a collar with a broken link of chain attached to it. We posted we found her on Craig's List and also hung a sign at the end of our driveway, but based on her neglected condition, it seems she had been surviving on her own for quite some time. As we did not know her name, Alan started calling her Spot. At this point I still adamantly called her The Dog That's Not Our Dog. Our youngest daughter told Alan that Spot was a lame name, especially since the dog (that's not out dog) has no spots. She said Alan needed a do-over on her name, a mulligan. So, the dog that is not our dog  is now called Mully (short for Mulligan). She sleeps behind our house, runs down the drive to greet us, and enjoys the food and dog biscuits we buy for her. She is also getting a do-over in life.