The AikiHomestead

Our Lifestyle Blog as We Create a Homestead in Northern Ontario

A Chilly December Afternoon

A Chilly December Afternoon

I had to meet an inspector in the city at Mummu and Grandpa’s future home, so Kenny went to their place.

After that I went straight to an IT call out towards Hawkeye Lake with a really nice new client.

By the time I got back to the cabin, this is what Kenny and I had to deal with: 10.5 degrees Celsius indoors!

My friend JC! particularly likes the sad emoji.
It’s now almost three hours later and up to 21.3 degrees inside. I’ll let my editor say if we need to keep stoking the fire.

[Editor: Sorry I missed posting this at the time it was written. I think we did keep stoking the fire, because the night got progressively colder. Some nights since then have gone down to -28 and -30 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, even with the fire going out at night, the morning temperature indoors was never colder than this.
Now the temperatures are mild again; it’s only -7.8 degrees outside today before dawn.
As you can tell, temperature becomes really important when living simply on a homestead!)

A Quick Transition Repair to the Sauna Floor

November 30, 2016

The parging in the sauna floor has performed very well over the past few years since the C! family helped us to update it from the craptacular finish I had originally attempted to use.

But as was its wont, it cracked and crumbled at the edge where it ran thin as it transitioned into the change room.

Finally I bought some grey caulking, and goobered up the area. Using my finger as a trowel, I tried to get it to resemble the original parging as much as possible.

I think I did a pretty good job for such a situation. The next day though, it still hadn’t dried while we took sauna. I kept the sauna curtain open to try to warm up the whole building and give it more time to dry correctly. Hopefully by tomorrow’s sauna it will be able to withstand someone treading on it.

You can see where the parging has broken away.

Lots spread in to cover the gap.

And made to look more like the original!

More Sauna Adjustments to Prevent Scorched Wall

November 29, 2016

So, as faithful readers know, I have been engaged in an ongoing campaign to ensure that the sauna stove doesn’t end up burning down the sauna itself.

Once again, even after trying to insulate the wood from the heat of the stove by putting tiles between the metal plate and the wood, I found a creeping darkness working its way up from the top of the stove.

I don’t like the look of the shadows here.
I loosened off the plate at the top of the stove, and then used a screwdriver to peel off the centre three tiles.

Sorry for potato quality. Lots of ash on the back of the tiles.

Looks a bit rotten down there behind the steel.
Then I used my reciprocating saw to cut the cedar v-joint up about eight inches higher.

Haven’t used this baby for awhile!
You can see that the v-joint was getting pretty scorched. Rats.

Toasted. Nicely toasted.

More bad news here.

I lifted the foil and the logs in behind didn’t show any new scorching.
I packed the space with some Roxul, and then replaced the two small tiles with two large ones from my spare pile for around the woodstove.

A split batt of Roxul insulation.

And fit in where the v-joint previously rested.

Some caulking to hold the tiles in place.

Looks okay, but they tilt away from the wall.
A couple of washers on screws to hold the tiles in place, and I was back in business!

A few washers and screws to hold them in place. Maybe to be upgraded with something more aesthetic someday.

Looking okay again now – but for how long?
Of course, this past sauna, I still found the wood above these tiles, and the tiles themselves, too hot to touch. Rats! I’ll see how long it takes before the wood starts to go off, and then move onto an every more drastic plan. 🙁

Bonus picture of a cold morning inside the cabin.

Total Replacement of my Well Aeration System

November 28, 2016

Whelp, me not so smart.

For starters, the Chinese bubbler was awesomely cheap and worked well for such low power. It also was stunningly poorly constructed.

On top of the shoddy quality, I foolishly installed the pump INSIDE the well. So after only a few days, it rusted completely out and died a premature death.

I ordered a second one (for the fish pond), so when it arrived, I decided to try to use it for the well (our priority) but with a better setup to protect it.

First off, I checked over the connections. I thought the first ones were bad, these left me gobsmacked. The wires were stripped back all the way to the main sheath, and then twisted together. I mean… I can’t even…

Assembling my equipment.
I untwisted them, wrapped them in electrical tape, and then used a glue gun to cover the entire shebang.

Trying to insulate with electrical tape.

Hopefully the wires are well separated now.

Hot glue for the win?
Then I took a small container, and drilled holes in each end of it to accommodate the USB cable and the air hose. This container was a plastic Lock N Lock style item, which should hopefully protect the pump a bit better.

A quick test fit.

This looks to be the right bit.

So far so good.

A perfect fit!

A larger hole down here for the USB plug.

Everything still fitting well.

Doubled up the length of the hose, and added the pump mounts to make it firmer in the box.

Everything assembled at the well.
I then purchased a cork that better fit the hole and air hose.

So now I put the pump just outside the rim of the well, and ran the air hose through the casing and into the well. I also connected the two hoses together to allow it to sink even further into the well.

Hose is in the well now.

Looking good!
Finally I hooked it up to a solar panel, which under full sun powers it just fine.

We have bubbles!
At the moment, the whole works is on hold, as it is covered in snow. I have ordered a mount for the solar panel that I believe will hold the panel up out of the snow. We’ll see. But in the meantime, my concept has been proven (although the jury is still very much out on whether or not it actually helps with the iron content in the water, which I haven’t seen a real reduction in…)

Meanwhile, the pond was frozen over!

Faulty Lithium Batteries

November 27, 2016

So I was cleaning out our bedroom the other day, and happened to find underneath some components, a cheap Android tablet I purchased a year or two ago for Donna to try out (and maybe for Kenny to favour over the iPad or netbook). It had gradually been getting flakier and flakier, and I knew the last time I used it, it appeared that someone had sat on it or something, as the back cover had popped partially off and took a bit of effort to snap back on.

When I picked it up this time, it was completely apart in layers. Screen, front cover, circuit board and back cover were all simply stacked on one another. This was really odd. I couldn’t figure out how it had happened spontaneously.

I brought it out into the kitchen and lay out the components on the table. That’s when I noticed the batteries…

One of these batteries is not like the other.

Pretty poofy!
No wonder the tablet no longer took a charge! Straight to e-waste recycling it went!

Here are a couple of bonus super-moon pictures.

Popping Corn on a Woodstove (or Induction Cooker)

November 25, 2016

We’ve been enjoying popcorn quite a bit lately. I have been experimenting with some of those “Kernels” flavours you can purchase at the store, and have actually found my favourite to be just something called “butter salt” or “popcorn salt” from the local bulk store. It makes my popcorn taste just like theatre popcorn… A guilty treat.

I flirted briefly with popping the corn in our microwave this summer, just using a paper bag, but didn’t really feel any love for the results.

So we’ve been making lots of popcorn on the butane stove, or lately, the woodstove, just in a saucepan with a lid and some oil, and lots of shaking.

Unfortunately, on the butane I always feel precarious – I don’t want to knock the stove itself onto the floor with all the vigorous shaking required. I also noticed that now that the colder weather has begun and we are making it on the woodstove, my shaking has put loads of scratches into our stainless steel stovetop. Another detraction.

I noticed that there are several companies that sell popcorn poppers with an agitator on a crank mechanism that stirs it while on the stovetop. Again, they are mostly aluminium, but I realized that there are a few that are stainless steel and include some sort of magnetic plate to allow them to be used on an induction stove. This would let us continue making our treat throughout the summer too. I didn’t for a second consider making anything on our glasstop induction cooker that required much shaking!

I did some checking of Amazon reviews, and finally decided on the “Home N Cook 6.5Quart” popcorn maker (this is an affiliate link, FYI), and in a moment of weakness and commitment to substitute popcorn for my normal potato chips, I ordered one up.

After a couple days, it duly arrived in the city, and Kenny and I picked it up after one of our coding sessions at the Waverley Library Auditorium (Thursdays from 1 to 3pm – all are welcome to come out and play or make computer games and apps!).

I unboxed it, washed it up, and gave it a try.

Ready for the grand unveiling!

Hmmm, a big hole in the side of the box, luckily no damage to be seen inside.

Nice clean bowl!

And the agitator.

A kernel in the oil waiting for it all to heat up.

And the unit assembled and ready to crank.

Some of the hulls look a little too toasty here.
I was less than impressed. Many unpopped kernals, and the ones that did pop were getting close to being overdone. The husks were a dark, dark brown. Of course, the popcorn salt covered up any dodgy flavours, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

After sinking in the $50 though, I wasn’t prepared to give up.

Since then, I’ve learned a few things to improve the experience. First off – a good amount of oil helps greatly. Don’t be stingy.

Also, for the first batch, put in the oil with maybe three or four kernels. Once they pop, THEN it is warm enough to put in about a quarter cup more. I make small batches – I think that if you put in too many, you lower the temperature of the oil too much, and in bringing it back up to popping temperature, that’s when you can scorch things.

I turn the crank a few times to coat the kernels, and then when it is popping, I turn it one rotation, wait to hear pops, and if I hear some within about four or five seconds, I crank another rotation, until I no longer hear pops… That usually does a good job of ensuring that they all get popped, without burning anything.

So for the three of us, I usually do three batches in a row, seasoning each batch as I go. That’s a quarter cup per batch. We usually eat about two thirds of it, with another container to snack on the next day.

I’m happy with it, but if it weren’t for the scratches in my stovetop, I think I’d probably stick with a saucepan and shaking it. It is challenging to clean. Lately I have been putting an inch of water in it when we finish using it and putting it back on the stove so that the oil more readily comes out. It still takes a bit of nibbling with the dishrag to get into all the nooks and crannies presented by the paddle and gears.

Still, we’re getting good popcorn production, and I like to believe that even with the salt and oil, it’s better than commercial potato chips.

Subsequent batches are getting better!

Whoops! ATV Almost Squished by a Falling Tree!

November 18, 2016

With the woodshed full of this year’s wood, I’ve been trying to get way ahead of the curve and have most of next year’s wood already put up. One of the things I’ve been striving to do has been to get more birch into the mix, to see if it really burns so much better than the spruce and pine that I have been burning the past three or four years.

As such, as soon as I see a birch that has died, I try to cut it down and process it as soon as possible. I found one close to the trail a week or two ago, and then tried to get it in one free morning.

Unfortunately it leaned away from the trail. I thought I’d be clever and use the winch on the ATV to try to cause it to fall “uphill” and into an easier to access position. I didn’t expect a) that the tree could reach the ATV, and b) that it would really fall very much towards the ATV.

Obviously I was incorrect on both counts. As I saw it start to come over, I exclaimed “crumbs!” and rushed off perpendicular to the motion of the tree. Luckily it only brushed up against the ATV as it came to rest. I had to cut it up to be able to get back on the trail, but it was a valuable lesson.

Just brushing up against it.

I guess it COULD reach the ATV.

Rats, the trail is blocked this direction. Time to cut it up!

Returning with my spoils after all.

Installing Privacy Film on our Sauna Windows

November 17, 2016

So we’ve had the sauna for a number of years now and have become quite comfortable using it “in the buff” so to speak. Of course, Mummu and Grandpa are really the only neighbours we would ever expect to drop in from behind the sauna (one of the paths to their place runs alongside and behind the building).

While neither of us are particularly enthused by the thought of bumping into one another while we are using the sauna, it works well because Mummu and Grandpa don’t usually visit via that path after midafternoon – and we always take sauna around the supper hour.

Even with that arrangement, we were cognizant of how guests may feel, or future situations, or simply wanting to feel a bit more private. As such, I ordered some window film from ProMark a year or two ago, and finally got around to installing it the other day with Kenny’s assistance.

First we washed the windows on the patio doors as well as we possibly could. I razored the entire surface with a small, 1″ razor blade, although if I was doing a larger area, I’d probably opt for a 4″ wallpaper scraper, or even a 6″ blade if I could find one.

Then I cut the film approximately to size, and had Kenny peel off the liner sheet while I held the film up in midair. He then spritzed it with water containing a little bit of dish soap. He did the same with the patio doors.

Peeling off the liner.

Spraying the exposed adhesive.

A firm squeegee to really adhere the film.
I applied the film to the doors, adjusted it up and down until both sides exposed exactly 12″ of glass at the bottom, and then squeegeed the back of it to start to stick it to the glass. A quick pass with a sharp utility knife and guide down each side, and then a further hard squeegee and we were set! I repeated it on the second pane, and then checked the nipple/knee coverage. With the film being 36″ wide, I installed it “sideways” and had a nice straight edge already available on the top and bottom. So now it was obscured from 12″ up, to 48″ up. That should give good privacy to the majority of the population.

Getting Kenny’s approval.

Getting ready to install the second piece.
No pictures of it being put to use unfortunately. Use your imagination!

Posing with the fruits of our labour.

Improving the Sight “Glass” on our Water Tank

November 4, 2016

I replaced the sight hose on our water tank system this spring, as the old one had gradually become very cloudy and was nearly impossible to see through after six months of use.

Notice my use of the word gradually.

After only a week or two in service, the new hose turned quickly and dramatically cloudy. It wasn’t due to the iron in the water this time I don’t believe. Perhaps me bleaching the well had done it? I’m not sure if chlorine will degrade nylon hose or not, I guess that’s a question for Google.

In any case, it went cloudy, and so for the summer Donna has been resorting to shining a flashlight at the hose any time she wishes to determine whether or not she has enough water for her purposes.

Channeling Donna.
I’m much more lazy. When the water stops running, I pump for five minutes, which I already know to be about 3/4 or 7/8 of the tank.

Not my usual technique.
But I also am a caring husband, and even if I don’t always demonstrate it, I’m constantly thinking about ways to make Donna happier and more comfortable.

Today I think I came up with a possible solution.

I ordered from my distributor a short (approximately metre long) LED string of lights that plugs into a USB port. I also ordered an extension cord/power bar that has some USB ports built in. The final component arrived today and I combined them and plugged them in.

Imagine my excitement when they lit up like Christmas lights. Flashing blue, green, red in ever more dramatic patterns. This was not on.

Kenny and I fumbled with the buttons, eventually deciding that solid blue/green would probably be the least disruptive combination.

I set up the ladder, and mounted the lights in behind the sight hose.

This is more like it! A high tech solution to a simple problem!
Now you can much more clearly see the water line, but to finish things off properly, I am going to purchase a fresh hose. Perhaps from Home Depot again like the first one (the second one was from Canadian Tire) – and hopefully have better luck.

With great pride. Thanks to Kenny for taking all the photos in this post!

Selecting the Best Kettle For a Woodstove

November 3, 2016

So the woodburning season is returning to us here on the homestead. As such, we are becoming more dependent upon the woodstove to heat our water, especially with the lack of sunlight to give us the electric option for boiling.

It also is much easier to get going in the morning if we can have a warm drink quickly. That’s why we are big on really good quality thermoses. It lets us carry over the hot water from a previous fire into the time it takes us to build the next one.

Even so, we quickly become in tune with the quirks of our fire related implements, and one of them that stood out for us this fall was how much less quickly our “potable water” kettle was boiling on the stove, compared to our “dishes” kettle was.

This was a bit off-putting, especially after all the brainpower that we had put into selecting these kettles previously.

It was quickly evident what the difference was. Although the potable kettle had a base that wasn’t lifted off of the stove by the rim, it DID sport a raised inner surface that obviously reduced the surface area in contact with the stove considerably. Bleargh.

Wait! This isn’t’ a good design for maximum contact!
Another complaint with the kettle was that it had obviously developed a leak around the spout that was discolouring it significantly. Sigh.

You can see the drip line from a leak.
Yesterday Kenny and I decided to unbox several kettles and carefully examine their base. We were quite pleased to find the enameled Kitchen Aid brand had a completely smooth base. It went into the cart. Then I noticed they had the same kettle in stainless steel. I thought that this may be a better fit for our other stainless kettle, but examining the base of it revealed the cursed dimple! Very surprising that identical kettles should sport subtle differences. I resumed purchase of the enameled kettle. It was more than twice the price of previous kettles I had been purchasing (always the house “no name” brand types…), but fast, hot water is worth paying for sometimes, and hopefully this one would last three or more times what we have been experiencing.

Nice looking. I can assure you it feels sturdier!
Last night it boiled up the water quite quickly, and at the very least matched the stainless steel model we still are using for “washing up” water. I think Donna was happy with it – she liked that it was enameled inside and out. No seams to collect any sort of detritus.

Now THAT’S a great looking bottom!
This morning she did point out that the lid was tight – I may be able to bend the tabs that hold it in place, or maybe it’s just a well fitting lid. At least the kettle feels more substantial than the others we have had that seem to twist and wear when we remove a tight lid.

Also, this morning I believe I noticed that it is silent until it begins to whistle. This is very different from the other kettles we have owned, and a revelation if it continues. It may tip me towards replacing the other kettle too! Normally the entire time that a fire is going, we hear the kettles creaking and a sort of “white noise” – only not relaxing – more annoying!

In any case, hopefully we soon will have figured out all the proper things to watch for in cookware for a woodstove.

Quiet but powerful.
Aren’t you glad I wore pants while taking these pictures?

A Tale of Two Vacuum Bottles: Stanley vs. Panesor

October 26, 2016

Now that we have officially transitioned from the season of plentiful electricity to the season of wood fires and supplemental butane burning, it has become very, very helpful to be able to carry hot water from one of our burn times through to a time when it is required.

Usually now we are having a fire in the morning, and then another one to prepare supper and carry us into the evening. While these are also good times for doing dishes, sometimes it is nice to do the dishes while we await the fire to warm up. It’s at these times that we really want a good vacuum bottle (or “thermos”) to carry us through.
From Kitchener we brought a generic bottle that I believe we purchased at Canadian Tire. It actually worked very well. Two quirks – it had a “snap” cap that allowed you to pour through the cap by snapping up a spring loaded ring in the centre. I don’t understand this idea – when we used it with anything other than water, it was nearly impossible to clean all the mechanism inside! It was a real horror with hot chocolate!

The original, it has served us well. Note the lid with integrated ring pourer.
Kenny will also attest to the annoyance at how, when full of hot water, it will soon begin to squeal and hiss as the steam tries to escape through the spring closed lid.
Some time after we moved here, I opted to purchase an official “Stanley” one litre thermos that has been a rock solid performer. We save it for our hot potable water, and I find that it is still more than hot enough to use to make steaming tea over twelve hours after being filled (usually first thing in the morning before the stove has had time to warm up). I will allow my editor to remark here on whether or not her morning coffee is acceptably warm from the thermos water in the morning. [Ed.: It’s warm enough if I drink it very soon after pouring.]

This is our current tea/coffee water thermos. Performs like a champ.
This summer, in an effort to move past the old spring loaded hisser, I researched on Amazon and came across this item:

Our first Carafe.
Which is available for purchase here.

Unfortunately, for the past month it has totally failed to keep water warm overnight. I believe the lid, which is only a cap on a hinge that pivots into position, is insufficient to keep the steam in.
Enter the Stanley Growler:

Now we’re talking! Check out the latching lid!
Which is available here.
After only one night, it seems to be an obviously better suited product for our needs. Part of me pines for the fact that it is designed instead to carry beer and keep it cold and drinkable for an extended time. Instead, the levered, LOCKING lid is being pressed into service to keep the heat in.
It worked very well last night – I still had to temper it with cold water when I went to use it to wash dishes this morning, something that never occurred even with the previous carafe in a brand new state.
I have to say that if it keeps up, we are going to be a committed Stanley family very soon.
Bonus picture of my own travel mug:

Didn’t even think about it until after I finished typing up the post – another Stanley!

Trying to Reduce Iron in our Well Water With Aeration

October 20, 2016

Whelp, another day, another scheme to try to reduce the amount of iron in our well water. This time through aeration.

I’ve read a bit of information that says that iron (and manganese) can be oxidized and I suppose form larger particles that can actually be removed by a physical filtration system. That sounds a bit positive. I was contemplating setting up a pump similar to the one I installed at the pond earlier this summer to see if falling water within the well would be sufficient to oxidize some of the iron content.

Then about a month ago, I came across a small, USB powered aquarium pump and had my Gru moment. I ordered one up, along with a solar panel that advertised as having a USB connector. What could go wrong?

The pump arrived but there is no sign of the solar panel just yet. Oh well, I’ll try not to get too impatient.

Yesterday my assistant Kenny and I decided that the weather was too nice to be indoors. We split and piled the last of some birch that I had cut up over the weekend, and then I decided to try setting up the pump.

Preparing our tools.
First I drilled out a spot on the side of the plastic top of the well casing to pass the USB connector through.

The pump, pre-placement.

Perfectly placed punchout for my purposes!
Then I screwed the pump to the inside of the well. I was careful to attach the screws to an extrusion on the plastic where there was no danger I would drill right through to the outside. One hole was enough for me to be concerned about contamination.

Hard to see, but the wires are VERY fine – I’m surprised it works at all!

Note the loose knot in the USB cable – taking no chances that the pump may have fallen in before I could fasten it to the side.
Kenny lowered the hose down into the water (there was an aerating “rock” on the end of it, I guess to create more bubbles?)

I used some silicone to seal the hole, and then Kenny ran an extension cord from the cabin down to the well – without the solar panel, I would have to power the pump from the house.

And all sealed up!
He ran back to the house for a USB power block – this took some describing, but he got the right thing on his second try.

We plugged it all in and… Nothing!

I checked the connections on the extension cord all the way back to the cabin, and was getting very annoyed. This seemed to be an ongoing puzzler – I’ve had the outdoor power seem to go on and off at random from day to day for no discernible reason in the past.

This time, I had a notion – I flicked the power to the sauna, and low and behold, Kenny reported it was bubbling! I guess I had wired the outdoor outlet up to the sauna power – which isn’t a bad thought. Now I can remotely control that outdoor power from inside the cabin.

I hope I remember this trick for future.

I trotted to the well and was surprised at just how many bubbles were coming up.

Looks like a giant can of club soda!

My worry at the moment is that we are only aerating the top 25-30% of the water. I guess I have to hope that when we pump to the house, that helps to mix everything up. If I don’t notice any improvement, I can always try to purchase a longer hose and see if we can get bubbles right to the bottom of the well.

I’m so pleased with the performance so far though, I’ve ordered another bubbler to try installing in the pond to keep the fish happy.

In fact, I wonder if this system would be a cheap way of keeping the water in my well thawed throughout the winter? I believe it would be cheaper than any sort of heat-based solution!

Tweaking and Living With a Berkey / Berkefeld Water Filter

October 18, 2016

I probably haven’t spoken of it in detail, but we’ve been living with a Berkey water filter now for the past three or more years. It’s been the exclusive source of our water for cooking and drinking. Since the new well went in last year, we’ve had a fairly large problem with iron, and as such, haven’t really pursued testing the water for contamination, as we’re not prepared to drink it with the mineral content as is.

We purchased the Berkey (a clone of the British Berkefeld) water filter from a company in Canada, where it was available more cheaply than could be ordered from overseas. Although there are American filters available for it, there are reports that they are really made in China, and of dubious quality. Besides, they seem to be more marketed towards people concerned about fluoride and chlorine in their municipal water supplies, rather than the more immediate hazard of bacteria or viruses. With that in mind, we have been ordering genuine Berkefeld filters from the United Kingdom at rather a high price. Fortunately, they seem to last a long time.

Interestingly, this past summer Lowes hardware has opened in Thunder Bay, giving us a second option after Home Depot. While I have always been happy with Home Depot, I don’t believe it is anything but beneficial for everyone to have multiple options for home improvement stores.

So I found myself wandering through their selection of items shortly after opening to see if they would have anything of interest to offer. In the plumbing aisle, while looking for whole house filter options that may improve my iron situation, I happened upon some “Rainfresh” ceramic filters that looked strangely familiar. Upon closer examination, I discovered that they had fittings nearly identical to the Berkey ones. The price was also about half what we and been paying, and they were advertised as being made in Canada!

I purchased two and shelved them until today – my cleaning routine put me in the kitchen today, which includes a complete teardown and cleaning of the Berkey.

I washed all the fittings and set aside the current Berkefeld filters. They were heavily caked in orange goo.

Pretty covered. Still finding it interesting how one candle gets coated higher up than the other.
I then unpacked both a new Berkefeld filter from our supply, as well as one of the Rainfresh filters to do some side by side comparisons.

Packaging doesn’t look too special.

The Rainfresh has a white washer and nut at the base, and comes with this cleaning mesh, as well as the plastic “caliper” for checking wear.

The Berkefeld has a black washer, black nut, no cleaning or measuring devices, and is only 7″ tall.
The Rainfresh filter is much taller than the Berkefeld. We have been ordering 7″ filters, this one must be slightly more than 9″ I would think, although I haven’t taken a tape measure to it.

The Rainfresh filter also has a cap on top, rather than the Berkefeld which is simply domed ceramic.

The Rainfresh filters come with their own scrubby pad – almost like a drywall sanding mesh. Conveniently, they also come with a plastic gauge for determining if too much ceramic has been sanded off, and the filter needs to be replaced. I never really knew how far down I could sand the Berkefeld filters, and coincidentally enough, had purchased a cheap caliper for just such a measurement. Now it’s probably not going to get much use.

The wear indicator seems sized just fine for the Berkefeld.

And of course the indicator looks normal on the Rainfresh filter.

Surprisingly, the old filters still seem to have enough ceramic to go around at least one more time.
I installed both Rainfresh filters, and that’s when I noticed that they actually extend beyond the top of the Berkey unit about a quarter inch. Sigh.

Looks nice from here.

And underneath it looks fine. Note the white nuts?

Oh wait, they are out past the top of the reservoir! A problem? Only if I decide it is…

The lid is going on whether they like it or not.

To quote Jacques Parizeau – Like Québécois lobsters, trapped in the pot!
The lid rests lightly on them though, and still completely seals the top reservoir, so I’m not thinking that is a big issue. If someone had a smaller sized Berkey though, these filters would likely be unsuitable.

One other substitution I have had to make with the Berkey is in regards to the plugs in the base of the upper reservoir. There are four holes in the upper reservoir, so that you can install four filters for maximum flow. We have really only ever used two filters at a time, which seems sufficient for our needs. The Berkey came with threaded plugs for sealing the holes one doesn’t use – but they become brittle over time, and I recently broke my last ones. Ordering new ones was a tremendous hardship fiscally – and for some reason I couldn’t think of a good substitute. That is until opening a bottle of wine and realizing that a simple cork would work!

At K-W surplus while on vacation, I purchased a small handful of ones I felt would fit, and they work divinely. This is a MUST use trick for owners of these filters! They are so much easier to install and clean than the multi-part threaded plugs that were originally supplied.

A cheap solution to a nagging problem.

Looks good from inside. Perspective sure makes these candles look HUGE!

And a view from below, ready to go…
With everything put together, I’m excited to fill it with water, once it all dries out later today.

Bonus shot of the hunters moon at night – photo credit to Donna.

Loading and Unloading the ATV from my Ford Ranger

October 17, 2016

Whelp, it was time to get new tires on the Ranger… The old ones I purchased used about five years ago already, and I don’t swap them out seasonally the way we do with the Echo.

As such, I thought it made sense to get the ATV readied for winter at the same time. I leave this operation to KC Automotive, as they are better equipped and more experienced to get right into the nuts and bolts on a machine with which I’m not mechanically familiar.

The actual tire fitting and winterizing took place on separate days, so I ended up returning a day or two later to pick up the ATV (as well as deliver a computer I had repaired earlier in the day).

It was very nice to return home and find Donna and Kenny exploring the end of the driveway. Donna managed to catch a shot of me on the highway coming in.

The prodigal father returns!

Heading up the driveway.

And I disappeared as I turned around.
Donna decided to chronicle my unloading of the ATV photographically and perhaps it would be of interest?

Awesome to have such a nice helper!
Previously, I would borrow the ramps from KC and load at home, then return the ATV and ramps, only to repeat the process once it was completed. KC’s original ramps were very narrow and I was always very timid about driving the ATV up and down them off the back of the truck. When I saw that Canadian Tire had a sale on a set of combination snowmobile/ATV ramps that were far wider and linked together, I was sold.

Linking all three together to create a wide platform.
I always link all three pieces together, and then use some ratchet straps to anchor them to the truck itself. I once witnessed someone attempt to drive an ATV up onto the back of a truck, and as they reached the top, the ramps fell off the tailgate and a calamity would likely have ensued if myself and a third fellow hadn’t jumped in to grab the back of the ATV and hold it until it was driven fully onto the truck.

And fastened to the truck so nothing can go wrong.
The front tires of the ATV always are wedged by the wheel wells of the truck – it’s a bit of a jump to drive it over those wheel wells in either direction – especially concerning when you were driving on as they clunk down and the winch comes perilously close to the rear window. I always wedge a piece of plywood in that space before loading the ATV. I call it the “Eric” board since the… incident.

Got all the tires over the hump and starting down the ramp. Time to dismount!
Anyway, today I was unloading – the last two times I have loaded and unloaded the ATV, I haven’t actually rode it beyond the first and last moments. Instead, I’ve tried to dismount and use the winch to do the important work of getting the ATV up and down the most precarious part of the ramp. It strikes me as being a bit safer – I can better see the tires on the ATV as they move up and down the ramp to make sure they aren’t in danger of heading off the side. It is also twelve or more stone less weight for the ramps to support.

Letting the winch do the hard part.
I got the ATV unloaded without incident, and much more enjoyably with my help, and then used the opportunity to bring in two more logs that Grandpa had cut and winched into a good position.

Cut high up the ravine and winched down to the trail by Grandpa.

Nice dry pine, ready for the sauna!

Easier to turn the arch separate from the ATV in this spot.

Abandoning the next birch log at a tight turn. I’ll cut it up here and just carry it to the splitting zone.
Life with Kenny and Donna around sure is good.

The First Snowfall of the Season

October 16, 2016

I guess we’ve had a long summer season here this year. In fact, it seems to have shattered previous records. More worrying evidence of climate change – even if the immediate effects seem more beneficial to us here in Thunder Bay, I don’t want to think it comes at the expense of others in the world, or into the future.

But, winter did come – on Wednesday the snow began to fall (loudly!) here, although Donna reported that it didn’t happen in the city.

Mana from heaven.

Kenny rushed out to investigate.

And yet, the sun is shining brightly.

A Visit From a Spruce Grouse

October 15, 2016

Ha! The other day this fellow acting like a cock of the walk came strutting up around the sauna.

Sheesh, it’s like he owns the place!

A Cold Morning in October

October 13, 2016

Yikes! We woke up to this the other day!

At least it was predicting sun!
Yup, 16 inside, and almost 7 below outside! The pond hadn’t frozen, but small puddles elsewhere certainly had!

Thankfully we got a cheery fire going eventually.

Adding a Heat Shield to the Sauna

October 3, 2016

With the new tile work around the inside and outside of the sauna stove complete, and much of the trim, it was time to add the heat shield on the inside. This should also protect the walls a bit from thrown water, which can tend to stain the walls with drops or water spots.

Leftover from the installation of the heat shield behind our kitchen stove were two sheets of the same black industrial profile. They were well sized for the operation, although I learned I did have to cut down the smaller one in order to fit it above the stove opening.

Once cut to size (no pictures of me doing this – it makes a terrible noise and Kenny made himself scarce while it was going on) I drilled some pilot holes where it would line up with some aluminum square stock I had set aside just for this project.

Drilling out holes to line up with my aluminum channel.
It was a bit of an effort to keep everything aligned as I screwed it to the wall. I managed to get the larger sheet on more easily as there was plenty of space between the stove and the wall for it.

The smaller sheet over the area where the stove passes through the wall to the outside of the sauna was a fair bit larger challenge. I refrained from cursing excessively as I tried to keep the aluminum channel on the screws, while fitting the sheet of steel between the front of the stove and the wall. It was a very tight fit. The steel touches the top front edge of the stove, but I don’t think it should be an issue.

Let me assure you this was a challenging fit.

Getting closer. Still tight at the front!

And nearly there.
With it in place, I proceeded to replace the water tank on the back of the stove.

Replacing the water tank. Trying to get it tight to the stove so the water heats up more quickly.

There, looking better now.
Then I got the sauna in a condition so that we could use it tonight – always a highlight! Interestingly today Kenny filled out his question and answer journal, describing the sauna as something he use to dislike, but now is coming around to liking. That’s a breakthrough! Perhaps because I indulge him in extended Minecraft conversations while we are taking steam there.

Filling up a bucket with some water. The sauna well is still flowing fine.

And pouring it into the tank.

Now to top up the bucket for throwing steam.

Laying out a towel so we don’t have to sit directly on the wooden bench.
As we were leaving, I asked Kenny to snap a few pictures of the floor in the change room. I’ve put down some vinyl planks there that I am rather proud of. Donna is less impressed with them, philosophically preferring a more natural material. I am trying to be pragmatic, and seeing that they will likely do a better job of shedding any water they encounter, as well as wearing better in the long run. They also can be installed without the tremendous disruption that would accompany sanding, staining and varnishing a traditional floor.

I think it looks okay from here.

You can see where the parging has chipped away a bit here. I plan on goobering this area up with some grey silicone.

A better view of the edge of the parging.
Finally, they are easy to repair or replace if the need ever arose. We’ll have to have ongoing discussion about whether or not they would be an appropriate material in our main cabin.

Simple Cedar Shelves

October 2, 2016

Back in Kitchener, I found having extra pegs in the bedroom for hanging clothes was invaluable. Donna and I both like to wear clothes more than once before tossing them in the laundry if they are still clean, and having a place to hang them to ensure they are aired and dried is a real bonus.

As such, in the bedrooms I built some really long shelves that had pegs spaced out underneath them, so that we had the ability to display some mementos as well as hang up clothes and other items.

The design that I used seemed to work for me right away, and so here at the homestead years later, I copied it nearly identically.

I purchased a few cedar “fence boards” that were about 5/8″ by 6″ x 6′. I dusted off my router, which I hadn’t used since trying to groove the beams of the cabin, and put a groove one inch in from the edge of a board. Then I tapped the next board into it at a right angle, along with a bit of glue. I predrilled some holes from the back into the edge of the “shelf” board, and screwed it to ensure a tight fit.

Then I cut some small triangles to act as braces, and installed them about two or three inches in from each end, underneath the shelf, but against the first backer board. Now the shelf was a stable, single unit.

Every six inches along the backer board, under the shelf, I drilled a 3/8″ hole at a bit of an eyeballed angle (angled down towards the back). Then I cut up a 3/8″ dowel at 1 3/4″ lengths. I lightly sanded one end of each dowel, applied a little glue to the other end, and tapped them into the holes so they angled up away from the backer board.

With Donna and Kenny eyeballing the level, I installed one in the kitchen above the electrical conduit. Yesterday I drilled two holes through the shelf itself from below, and installed our LED puck lights with all the wiring up above resting on the shelf. I added some pictures and hung a few kitchen items, and I think it looks really nice and functional.

Screwing it in through the top of the backer board. No screws visible from down below.

Fits perfectly between the support for the landing and the sight hose on the water tank.

Now with hidden wires, mounted lights, pictures and bananas.
In the bedroom I put up another shelf, but this time I simply left the puck lights on top, facing up, so all the light is reflected. LED lights are VERY bright and glare-y to look at directly, so I felt that in the bedroom it would be best to have a more subdued lighting.

Things were almost up and hanging before the shelf was screwed in!
Again, I placed some pictures and items up on this shelf, helping to relieve the overloaded top rack of our shelving at the end of the bed.

All in all, they turned out very well. I am planning on making two or three more now – some smaller ones for the upstairs bedrooms, and perhaps a very tiny one for in the bathroom to allow Mama to hang some clothes while she’s doing her routine in there.

Gosh, now that puts me in a mind to make even one more for in sauna…

Mucking out the Humanure Pile

October 1, 2016

As the weather gets colder, I have been increasingly aware of the humanure pile freezing up for another season.

This past summer I had been emptying our buckets into a smaller trailer I had purchased LAST year for just this purpose. I was unimpressed with having to muck out the entire half of the hacienda in one go.

Donna wasn’t a fan of the small trailer experiment. She felt that we were emptying out perfectly good “pre” compost down into the ravine – I can’t say I entirely disagreed, although because it was my idea, I was willing to try to nurture it a bit more.

In the end though, I think I agree. It has never been easy to empty the trailer.

Yesterday I decided to empty it once again in the ravine. It wasn’t all that fun. Then I returned to the hacienda to begin mucking out the pile that was left from two years ago (I alternate between the two halves each year). This was not bad at all really. It just took about 6 or 7 trips, that’s all, but I put on a podcast and my headphones, and found an easier and easier system each trip.

Eventually I came down to filling the trailer, taking it out into the wilds beyond our garden, and simply opening the back of the trailer and dumping it. Then I would drive around in a loop back to the beginning of my trail, where I would replace the back of the trailer and lock it horizontal for another trip to the humanure hacienda.

Hard to tell this isn’t normal soil – just dumped in the low areas around the garden.

Another view of the trench I was filling.
This was not an unpleasant job at all, and didn’t take overly long in the grand scheme of things. As such, I think that going forward, this will be my choice for how to deal with things. Now I have a smaller trailer that can be dedicated for this task, plus perhaps smaller loads that I want to dump.

Emptying out the left hand (2 year old) side.

Emptied – plus one fresh “dump” from the cabin.

A year old – and tonnes of volunteer tomatoes!

Pressure Canning Soapnuts

September 30, 2016

A fair while ago Donna had purchased a large bag of soapnuts. They are advertised as being a natural alternative to many soaps in the household. So far we have been using them mostly for laundry, but I did fill a small bottle for Kenny to try using in the sauna (I wondered if maybe they would be “no more tears” sort of gentle, as well as something more natural than most commercially prepared soaps).

Unfortunately, after a bit Kenny decided that he didn’t like the smell (seems mild enough to me) or the texture. Admittedly, they don’t quite get as lathery as commercial soaps, but a bit of research seems to indicate that the lather is purely psychological anyway.

So back to laundry for the soap nuts. I started cooking up a litre of the mixture at a time, using the rice cooker during off-times of appliance use. Donna noticed occasional black deposits inside the container I was storing it in, and pointed out that she had read that you really shouldn’t keep the prepared mixture of soap nuts around for more than two or three weeks, as it had the potential to go off, or grow mold, or explode, or something that I wasn’t paying much attention to.

Last week, when I helped her set up to can some ground beef that had been on sale at a decent price, she suggested that she had also heard that you can pressure can the soapnuts (or was it the mixture only?) and then they will keep for much longer (of course!)

When Kenny and I arrived home from our rather extensive back-to-back dental appointments, the sun was shining reasonably well, and we had a couple hours left before sundown, so I thought I would take a crack at it. Especially since the processing time at pressure was a laughable fifteen minutes.

In the kitchen processing system, soapnuts processing is considered an especially simple operation. In the Aikihomestead kitchen, a dedicated husband and father is an asset known as “Daddy”. This is one of his stories…

Start out with my head assistant at Burger Barn.

Return home and begin assembling jars and setting up canning station.

Place four or five pieces of soapnut in each jar.

Half fill with room temperature water.

Add a splash of vinegar to the canning vessel to prevent any possible scale buildup.

Top up jars with boiling water to facilitate reaching proper temperature in the canning vessel.

Add Tattler lids, rings, and place in canning vessel, along with another half litre of boiling water.

Note the staggered position of the jars to help ensure more uniform steam exposure.

Crank up to 1000 watts to try to encourage boiling.

Add a jar of crystalized honey to take advantage of the warmth.

Grow impatient as the button doesn’t pop up quickly enough. But still make sure you get 10 minutes of steam escaping.

Crank up to 1800 watts until the button pops up. Then dial back to 700 watts sheepishly.

Set timer for 15 minutes once steam starts.

Wait for button to drop again after power shuts off. N.B. liquid honey again!

Enjoy the cans of soap!

Looks good. I’ll have to run it through a sieve before I can use it though.

Wood Piling Disaster!

September 29, 2016

Well, I spent my bread labour yesterday cutting, splitting, and piling the pile of logs I had accumulated by the woodshed over the past week. Grandpa had earlier made a beautiful pile that I continued.

My sloppy piling on the left side, not a good use of space. Grandpa’s neat and stable piling on the right (Actually the top half is mine, trying to bring it back in line with the shed.)

A view from the corner, showing the wood creeping up the outsides.
But alas, later in the afternoon, Donna went out to capture this disappointing picture. Note the collapse on the right and pile on the lower right side of the picture.

I suspect my work undermined Grandpa’s superior piling skills. 🙁

Live and Learn.

A Bit More Winter Wood

September 28, 2016

A few days ago, Grandpa declared that he was going to put in a new, short side trail to some jack pines that had been killed by a porcupine.

Yesterday he finished the trail and cut up some smaller deadwood that he deemed suitable for firewood. As such, today I took the ATV and trailer up his new trail and loaded up.

On the way back, I took a corner too sharply on a slope, and dumped the trailer :(. But it wasn’t a big deal to set it right and reload it.

I got the wood back to the shed without incident, and Grandpa began splitting it.

Grandpa gets right to it!
I had a number of other miscellaneous logs in the area that I had skidded last week, so I took advantage of the nice weather to cut them up into stove length and create another pile of wood “to be split”.

Note the safety chaps!

Putting my best face forward.

Longer ones I’d buck up well off the ground, as long as I could still lift them.
At lunch, Grandpa ended his workday here, and I went inside to start writing some blog posts, as well as check up on Kenny’s self-directed studies. You can find his blog here:

Hopefully he’ll find something worth posting again soon. He’s been so busy!

At least the woodshed is even more full than before! Capacity – here we come!

The outer pile grows nicely!

Halfway up the door frame!

A Small Upgrade to the Sauna Stove

September 26, 2016

Over the course of the summer, while enjoying the steam of the sauna, I became increasingly agitated as I noticed that the wood paneling on the wall directly over the stove was getting steadily darker.

I examined it in the daylight with a flashlight and could see that it was clearly darker than the rest. I began to imagine the wood suddenly spontaneously combusting and burning down the sauna – often my imaginings place me in it while it happened!

As such, I began to plan out how to “safen up” things. I finally decided upon a solution:

Sorry for not taking any “in progress” pictures – but my official photographer was away at work, and I get too wrapped up in my projects some days to remember to record them.

At first I dismantled the steel that I originally had used to replace the concrete board.

Underneath, on the inside, I noted extensive charring of the edge of the paneling and beams of the sauna. I packed this area with Roxul and am confident that they should now be quite a bit more insulated than previously when they were in physical contact with the scorching hot steel of the inner cover.

I carefully used regular silicon to “cement” a number of 4×8 inch tiles around the inner and outer perimeter of the outside cover. Inside, I just did a perimeter around the outer perimeter. The inner one was covered by the original steel.

Then, with Kenny and Grandpa’s help, we replaced the steel covers, and inserted new through bolts (to accommodate the thickness of the tiles) and bolted everything together.

I shimmed some tiles here and there with nuts or washers if the steel plate didn’t sandwich down on them completely. I purchased the cheapest tiles I could find, and through dumb luck, I feel that they match the shade of the wood very well!

The inside view. Perhaps I should cut off the bolts?

And outside – a really close match in colour, don’t you agree?
Here are a few pictures of the finished product – I’m much more confident that I have diminished the damage the hot stove is doing to the cabin now. Next up will be getting back to doing the trim work.

An Update on our Northern Ontario Koi Pond

September 25, 2016

My solar pump is still going (strong? Well, perhaps not strong…) and keeping the pond aerated enough for the goldfish to have flourished, after a fashion.

I’m going to call them koi. I think they are not officially koi, but this is an unorganized township, and I can call them whatever I want (except for chom choms, that’s been taken…)

Enough chit-chat though, today while I was down at the pond, I realized that they were no longer scattering in fear at my approach, and that gave me a good chance to examine them a bit more closely.

I paid $3.00 in the spring for the extra deluxe pack of 15 goldfish. For the past few months, we have never seen more than five. I suspect some untoward things happening to the missing ten, but I never saw any bodies…

Grandpa did point out that he saw a very large, very happy garter snake skulking around the pond midsummer, so perhaps it was enjoying my sushi buffet?

In any case, $3.00 for five rather large fish seems like not such a bad deal now. Kenny and Donna and myself often enjoy the excuse to get outside the cabin when we are feeling a bit stir crazy. Keeping tabs on them has become a regular part of our routine.

We will see if I can get them to overwinter though… I feel it’s unlikely, but I’ll make the effort.

You can see them congregating at the shore.

The four most social I guess.

Still hanging together.

A bit more close up. They look much larger in person! I like the reflection of the nearby pines.

Grouse Encounters of the Close Kind

September 24, 2016

Last week Donna and Kenny managed to get an up close and personal encounter with one of the many Spruce Grouse that seem to think of our property as home. It’s always cute to see them with the little ones, but that’s not nearly as common as almost stepping on them before we notice them hanging out.

What’s that over there?

Close enough to touch!

Removing the Ashes from my Baker’s Choice Stove

September 15, 2016

After previously updating the stovepipe with a cleanout T, and then using the SootEater to clean out the stovepipe, I decided to literally (a proper use of the word) allow the dust to settle.

Today after doing the dishes and starting the laundry (and making the bed and cleaning the spare room), I didn’t feel I had time to do a “project” around the homestead before Kenny and I left to do some paid work.

Instead, I felt that it shouldn’t take hours to remove the ashes that were awaiting me in the bottom of the stove.

I found the tub that I had washed my hands in while cleaning the stovepipe, and brought that inside. With the help of the cleaning “hoe” supplied with the Baker’s Choice, I opened the front port under the oven door, and began dragging the ashes through it and into the tub.

I filled the tub quickly, with not too much ash flying up into the cabin, that was nice, as I didn’t have an assistant holding the vacuum for me.

First tub full.
With the first tub full, I took it outside and dumped it onto a bare spot of ground a bit away from the cabin. I returned, and half filled a second tub, which got the same treatment.

And then the second one maybe half full.
With most of the ash pulled out, I decided to stick the ash vacuum right into the access port and give everything a final going over.

Spooky landscape under the oven!

And a better picture right to the back of the stove. Looks clean enough for me.
It was quick work to replace the cover, put away the vacuum, and now I’m ready for the burning season. Probably very soon we’ll be putting on our fires again – this morning when I got up it was down to about 18.6 in the cabin – it’s warmed up about a degree since then, but I don’t think we’re going to get any more warm enough days to offset the nights that are dropping below 10.

Hopefully I can get to some of my other small chores before the snow flies!

Bonus picture of a 24′ log I brought in for future projects. I’ll have to cut it down to 18′ just to get it on the sawmill!

And I guess we still have iron in the water it seems.

Cleaning the Woodstove From the Bottom Up – A SootEater Review?

September 14, 2016

With the new T added to the stovepipe, and drop cloths still in place, it made sense to jump right in and clean out the stovepipe.

Laying out the SootEater and hooking up the first section.
I found a thick plastic shopping bag and fit it over the side junction of the T connector. I strapped that with a couple of rubber bands and cut a small hole in the bottom of it to accommodate the SootEater.

Everything is in position!
With one rod in the chimney, I hooked up the drill, Donna held the vacuum nearby and we both switched on. I slowly inserted the rod fully through the bag, and up the chimney.

Almost got the first rod in.
The first rod didn’t go too badly. Not really any ash came out of the bag, and the rod went up the stovepipe easily. I was pumped!

A second rod connected, and still going strong. Why are those gloves just laying there?
Each rod after that seemed to dislodge more and more fine black powder. The vacuum took care of by far most of it, but my hands did turn black by the time I felt I hit the cap. Kenny rushed outside to take some pictures and confirm that I was at the end. Luckily it happened when it did, as I had hooked up the last of my eight rods!

You can just make out the whips in this zoom picture.
I kept the drill running and I brought the SootEater back down, removing the rods one at a time, and carrying them directly outside and depositing them on the driveway.

Yuck, a bit dirty. Straight outside with you!
When I got down to the final rod, I folded everything over and pushed it down into the back of the stove while running it, to help dislodge anything that may have been back there.

At last, I brought it up, and took off the plastic bag, wrapping it around the whip head of the SootEater and taking it too out to the driveway.

Donna vacuumed out the dust that had settled on the lip of the T. I examined the length of stovepipe that I had removed to install the T and measured the amount of ash inside it. The peak thickness was about 5mm – it was grey and easily removed. Not sure if this was a tremendous danger or not? Any chimney sweeps who can give me guidance?

Lots of dust settled in the lip of the T.

Maybe 5mm or a quarter inch of ash inside – should I be worried?
Just spinning it with my hands, I ran the SootEater up and down the length of this pipe and cleaned it back to bare metal quite easily. I felt reasonably sure it had done a good job inside my cabin. For interests sake though, I stuck the camera into the pipe and tried to take a couple of photos.

I then wiped down the rods and put them away. I scrubbed my hands in a tub on the porch, and then installed the cover on the end of the T.

Scrubbing up, not for the last time today.
A quick cleanup, and we’re ready for the next burning season – and I didn’t have to go up on the roof!

Before picture.

After picture.

Another view just inside the T.

Nice and tight cap installed.

Adding a Clean T Adapter to a Woodstove For Easier Indoor Cleaning

September 13, 2016

I’m not afraid to admit to my fear of heights. It all goes back to my early years on Henry Street where I started out oblivious to the dangers present.

Apparently one day my dad came home to see me lounging in the open, unscreened second floor window. I greeted him cheerily enough, but he ran upstairs, asked me kindly to step down from the window, and then had a long father and son chat about how important it was I not do that again.

To this day, when I even think of stepping on a chair, I get the shivers just imagining another father and son chat.

Actually, I don’t know why I don’t like heights, I don’t think I’m alone in this unintuitively primal fear. In any case, the notion of having to climb to the peak of the cabin to do the stovepipe cleaning was one I didn’t relish.

That’s why last fall I purchased the SootEater. This is a rotary brush that you attach to a drill and push UP your chimney from below, running the drill while you go to ensure the whips on the brush knock off the bad stuff.

As luck would have it, I ended up getting a new flashing put on the chimney to bring it into WETT compliance (even though I haven’t pulled the trigger to get the actual WETT certification yet), and had the fellows run the brush up and down while they were finishing up their work. This got me off the hook last year, but now it was crunch time.

So, last week I got together the SootEater and laid out some cloths and tried to snake the whip end through the woodstove and into the chimney.

No dice! The whip end has a large plastic ball that wouldn’t fit through the holes between the stove and the stovepipe. Sigh.

I then came up with the notion of installing a T behind the stove to allow me to use the SootEater directly in the stovepipe.

I called Dan Vanlenthe, my chimney guy who had arranged the new flashing for me, and ran it by him. After some back and forth with pictures, texts and emails, we finished up with him telling me to purchase the T myself and then get back to him.

I’m feeling a bit guilty, but after purchasing the T and examining the scope of the project, I decided that it was within the realm of my own abilities, especially aided by Grandpa and Donna. With that notion in my head, I asked Grandpa to come by to assist, and informed Donna of my plans. After a bracing cup of tea, I began clearing off the stove, and emptying the warming closet. Just before I could finish, Donna suggested it was time to get out of my pyjamas and into work clothes.

Before picture for reference.
With it emptied out, I then removed the four bolts holding the backsplash and warming closet in place. It was a team effort, with Donna taking out the water reservoir as I lifted up the rest.

I’ll take the high part, you take the low part.
Kenny opened the patio door, and we took our respective items out onto the deck and deposited them there.

Right to the porch with you!
Ugh, there was a fair bit of rust deposited on the top of the stove under the water reservoir and the end of the backsplash – probably dating back to the “macaroni” incident, which we won’t speak of.

The bottom of the reservoir. A bit funky!

And the hidden crimes on top of the stove.
I tried to clean up the rust as best as I could using steel wool and baking soda and water, and it wasn’t too bad by the time I finished – besides, it will still be hidden theoretically.

I hate taking steel wool to my stainless, but hopefully it won’t show much.
We lay drop sheets around everywhere, and just for full preparedness, I demonstrated to Donna how to connect the stovepipe – it’s rather simple, just make sure the proper end is facing down, and slide one end into the other.

Nice, got everything covered up proper like!

Practicing the fit.
When I was purchasing the T, I wasn’t sure if I had much room to telescope my existing pipe up into the section above, so I also purchased a twenty-four inch section of straight pipe. This would give me the option to completely remove a section of pipe and replace it with the T and this new section. At first when I got home, I decided to just install the T – there was still lots of room to slide the telescoping pipe together. Once I removed the upper section of the stove though, I realized that where I had strapped the stovepipe to the warming closet, the pipe has been scratch and dented noticeably. If I slid it up a foot to accommodate the T, these imperfections would be highly visible above the stove. As such, I then decided that it was worth the price tag of the short pipe length for the better cosmetic appearance.

Grandpa arrived soon after, and we both agreed that he needn’t lift the pipe from the ladder, it was probably safer and easier for him to do so from off the top of the stove. We prepared ourselves, undid the remaining screws, and he lifted.

Grandpa arrives!
I set in place the T, and immediately realized that with the original pipe I must have shaped the bottom coupling slightly to account for the angle at which it had to come off of the back of the stove.

What? This isn’t perfectly flat?

I’ll just leave this here for a moment.
I replaced the piece of stovepipe we had removed and let Grandpa lower the upper sections back onto it. Then I headed outside to find some tin snips. Fortunately, I was able to find them in good time in the workshop, and return to cut out a thin strip from the forward edge of the T. This would allow for a much tighter fit of the pipe.

Grandpa lifted again, and I fussed a bit but got the T in place. I quickly added the twenty-four inch section, and we reconnected, with a minimum of ash falling down.

Make sure the T is facing the door.

And add the upper portion.
I thanked Grandpa for his help, and he headed outside to continue splitting winter wood for our sauna. Myself, on the other hand, had a glass of water and finished my tea, and screwed together the new pieces.

Just have to lean into it!

Nice and shiny inside!

And capped and in place. Perfecto!
Then I began setting up for phase two – cleaning the pipe with my SootEater!

Continuing to Fill the New Woodshed. Moving and Refurbishing the Old Woodshed

September 10, 2016

Things haven’t been terrifically exciting here on the homestead the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t felt like I had much to post that either of my readers may be interested in.

One thing that was really uplifting news was that one of my readers, CW! from our church underwent successful, life changing surgery! That’s really great to hear, and we were all happy to get that news. Hopefully when we are back down that way at Christmas, we can get together at the Homestyle and he can take full advantage of our turn to pay – without his leash!

Otherwise, Grandpa is still plugging away nearly every day to cut and split more dry wood to go directly into the woodshed.

Very nearly full!
Yesterday though, I was able to pitch in briefly to help Grandpa dismantle and move the old lean-to style shed that was recently emptied, and stood beside the new shed.

It was a good shed while it lasted. Now only memories (and some steel roofing) remain.
We removed the roof, then the main structure, and carried them over close to the sauna, where we re-connected them, and then Grandpa leveled it. He then went on to add a front wall to close it in even more, with just enough room for a person to enter and exit with some wood.

The new sauna supply shed.
Now we’re just down to one more shed that’s already been partially cannibalized to be removed – then we’re fully committed to the new arrangement!

Soon to be dismantled.

Filling the Woodshed AKA Revisiting the Norwood Log Arch

August 15, 2016

Now that the shed is finished and Grandpa has been ploughing through my loose pile of dry wood, I felt I could try to get out to the bush on a not so rainy day and skid in a few logs that had been out there for a year or more.

Last year Grandpa cut down a huge birch tree that must have suffered a lightening strike early on in its lifetime. He cut off the upper branches, which were large in their own right, leaving a seven foot log of imposing weight and size.

I brought the arch back to it, but together we realized that it was still too large. Grandpa volunteered to try to use my electric chainsaw to split it into two smaller logs. In the meantime, I used the winch on the ATV to pull up the upper branches into a better position for me to skid out with the arch.

Starting out small.
I was able to get some of the less desirable logs hauled to the new woodshed, and then the remainder I took up to the mill.

Got a few ready for cutting up, and still able to make my getaway around the shed! No need to back up!

Kenny channeling his inner log driver.
After I left with the last of the birch logs, Grandpa felled another large, dead but standing jack pine. Today I returned to haul it out too. First off I took two eight foot logs from the top, where they were too punky to be of use for lumber.

That’s right, I can do TWO AT ONCE!

Still some good wood in the centre.
Then I managed to use the arch to pull out the remaining twenty four foot log. It had some good solid wood still in the core that I’m confident can produce a few two by fours for me. It was quite a job to thread it through the narrow trails in the bush, and even more of a nail biter to try to drag it between the car and the truck to the mill! Again, the Norwood arch performed really, really well. I would never have been able to get the trees out as easily, or as cleanly, or on my own schedule without it. I’m quite pleased with the purchase thus far.

A tight fit!
Finally I began cutting and splitting the birch from earlier. I was very surprised to find that it was still soaking wet in the centre! It had been cut over a year ago, and wasn’t resting in a swamp or anything like that… Oh well, I guess I just have to start piling it around the outside of the woodshed to burn NEXT winter.

Mixing golf with blueberry picking.

The fruits of Kenny and Donna’s labour!

My Custom Designed Woodshed is Finished

August 11, 2016

It’s done – and it looks good!

After returning from vacation, I kept trying to squeeze in a bit of work on the woodshed between doing household chores and educating/entertaining Kenny. This usually meant that I could only put up two or three sheets of steel on the roof.

Slow progress during the week. Kenny started piling, but Grandpa sure added to it!
The whole time, Grandpa was visiting daily to split wood for an few hours and pile it inside, now that the bare minimum roof was on.

This past Friday though, Mama was home so I didn’t feel too many qualms about heading out in the morning with a real intent to TCB.

An early start. Already have the gable end closed in with my own planks.

A view from a bit further back.
Not much to say, I just kept plugging away non-stop and was able, with very judicious cutting and measuring, to finish the project without having to purchase any extra sheets of steel (something I was nearly certain I would have to do when I started), or using up any strange colours on the back side (something that Grandpa thought would occur, while Donna merely granted assent if required).

A view of the roof from inside. This should keep most of the rain and snow out.

Grandpa just keeps piling it on!

Checking my aspirations.

Kenny set up this shot all on his own. He thought it would look neat.

All finished, and now time to really fill her up!
Of course, I did use up some spare pieces I had from previous projects (and the sheds that I’m dismantling due to obsolescence). Oh, and a few of the protective cover sheets that come with steel shipments.

Grandpa has been continuing to split and pile my dry wood inside the shed this week. I am hoping that this weekend I can get another large chunk of time where I can bring in more wood to ensure that the shed is full, as well as to begin the drying process for next year too. I’d like to stay far ahead of the curve so that I can endure even a Westerosi winter.

Taking a break by spending the night at camp. Donna wanted to capture Ken and the waxing moon out over the lake. Looks fantastic!

A Windows Tip – SendTo Recursively

August 6, 2016

Not sure how many people will actually find this useful, but I just realized it myself, and it’s pretty helpful.

I find the “right-click – send to:” option immensely helpful, but also like that it can be customized. I am often organizing and reorganizing files and folders, and find myself cutting and pasting to the same directories 80% of the time, and then a new directory for a month or two… Today, as I hit up the run box (Windows – R), and then entering the sendto directory (shell:sendto), I tried something new. I went up a directory, then right-clicked and selected “create shortcut”. Then I cut and pasted the sendto shortcut BACK into the sendto directory.

Light bulb! Now I could right click on any shortcut, and “send to – send to!”. This lets me quickly and easily add to the right click options. Awesome!

Nota Bene: One must only use this feature on shortcuts. If you use it on the original directory, you will copy the whole directory into the sendto directory – certainly not what you would really want.

Enjoy it for what it’s worth!

Continuing Work on the Woodshed

August 5, 2016

At this point in construction, we took a break to travel down south to visit my family in the Kitchener Waterloo area.

The road trip down went smoothly, as we took the route we traditionally followed, and stopped mostly in places we’ve visited before, with the exception of one gas station that appears to have closed down recently, and so Kenny was forced to pee on a secluded part of their driveway ;).

We met up with Nana and Papa, with a bonus encounter with Aunt V!. That was a nice surprise, it’s always great to see more of my family.

Soon we headed out to Laurel Creek Conservation Area for some rest and relaxation in the outdoors. Kenny quickly acquired skills in ladder ball, and my brother C! and friend B! came to help us enjoy our time here.

How can you enjoy camping without a campfire?

Papa’s game building efforts paid off!
I purchased a new laptop to help facilitate my growing interest in coding again. I’m trying hard to learn Java, but it seems to be taking longer with this old brain of mine. At least Kenny is showing a keen interest too, so perhaps we can be study buddies going into the future.

It was very rewarding seeing Donna able to connect with a number of her friends on this trip.

We also got to be treated to lunch with our friends C! and J! from church – it was really nice to see them again. They are about to embark on the adventure that comes with moving to Toronto for a few months – it’s always a challenge to live in interesting times. I’m looking forward to keeping the Homestyle tradition going with them this Christmas.

Papa let me work on my cardio by asking me to dig a hole for him. That made me realize that yes, they have very nice soil there, but no, it isn’t soft loam all the way down. After the first few inches, it was hard packed clay, soon to be mixed with broken bricks left over from the construction of their home.

Too deep for me to reach the bottom now.
Of course, we also headed down to Dundas to visit with my Grandma. In February she turns 100 years old! It was really rewarding to hear her talk about her boat trip to Canada and early adventures here.

Looking great for 99!
For the first time in a few years, our trip down coincided with the summer BBQ at Aunt S! and Uncle J!’s. It was really, really nice to enjoy their hospitality and see Aunt P! and Uncle J! too, who always host Christmas. Uncle J!’s wine and Aunt P!’s beans were a real standout.

Ladderball makes another appearance! Go Nana!
We got to fellowship with my brother C! and his wife A!. He and I (and B! and Papa and Kenny) went out for our usual He-man club and had two tables divided between the sexes. Donna reported that it was a good chance for her and Aunt A! to make an even better connection.

Sadly, we had to return home, but not before having a wheel bearing replaced at the last minute by Humphries in Waterloo – I can’t sing their praises highly enough.

The trip back was also equally normal – albeit warm, what with our air conditioning in the car not working this year. We stayed at a new place this time around – the Chicken Shack Motel. It was the best positioned place for our driving itinerary, but I must admit that I was also sold on the name.

Upon returning, it was time to continue on the woodshed, wherever possible. The steel for the roof had arrived, and I picked it up the day after we got home.

Grandpa and I raised the rafters into position, and held them there with some temporary braces, followed up by 1 by 4 strapping.

Rafters up!
Then I built and installed more “rafters” for the overhang. These I screwed directly to the walls of the shed, and as described previously, they won’t be supported on their outside edge.

And the overhang…
On these rafters I added more rows of strapping,

Now with strapping.
Then, with Grandpa’s help, I put up the steel on the roof of the main structure. I did this first, rather than the more normal approach of working from the overhand up to the peak. I didn’t want to stand on the overhang when it didn’t have support on that outside edge. I’m *pretty* sure it would support my weight, but I also didn’t feel a need to test it that much.

I impressed myself by screwing the ridge cap down. At first I was pressuring Grandpa to do it, as he has a stomach for heights that I can only envy. But I said I’d give it a try, and toughed it out to the end.

Overcoming my fear of heights!
The day after that, I started on the overhang steel. I was able to install one side on my own, proving that it is possible for me to finish it, given enough time.

Grandpa helped out on his own by levelling the ground around the woodshed – that will make it nicer to walk around and stack next year’s wood supply there. He also began splitting wood and piling it inside – after Kenny and I had added some more pallets for a floor.

It’s really coming together. I’m actually feeling a little confident about my wood supply this coming winter! We’ll see how close it comes to filling up once I can really focus on that aspect of things.


Starting Construction on my Woodshed

July 9, 2016

After three or four winters here now, I’ve been really trying to come to grips with accurately predicting and preparing for my firewood needs. Of course, a guiding principle is to try to reduce the amount wood I need to cut each year first – but after that, I also want to ensure that I’ve put up enough dry wood to account for unforeseen challenges.

Each year we have managed to improve our comfort levels. We burned far more than I expected in the yurts – I predicted that with such a small space, it would be easy to heat. I far underestimated how poor our stove was, and how a thin layer of insulation didn’t hold heat for long once the stove went out.

Last year was the first year that I didn’t have to go out seeking extra wood in the spring after burning through all of our stores. It was also a warmer winter than usual – in that respect we were pretty blessed.

The past three winters we have concentrated on filling the four wood “shelters” that I constructed before our second winter here. They were based on a rather simple design that I liked quite a bit at the time – but since then I have decided that they were too scattered, and too short. I can’t tell how many times I have banged my head on the “ceiling” in them – they are about 6′ in front, but taper down to under 5′ by the back.

They also are in a number of different locations around the cabin, so as the winter goes on, when one empties, we have to blaze an entirely new trail through the snow to begin raiding the next shelter. Not a huge deal, but an annoyance nonetheless.

So with that in mind, I began plotting out a new, centralized woodshed. Previously at one of my clients I had noted an open sided shelter as their wood storage. It was basically a wide roof on posts packed solid with birch underneath. I was crazy jealous – that was what I wanted to have for myself. As far as locating it, I wanted it to be behind the cabin where it wouldn’t be a visual distraction to people arriving at the homestead.

Another consideration I had was that I wanted it to fit in with the styling of the homestead – the garage was a bit more of a traditional departure, but I acknowledge that it was an experiment and was designed to be fast to build, and built farther from the main living space of the homestead. This time I wanted to return to the steep pitched roof, with a wraparound porch.

Transporting my lumber to the work site.

Donna dismantled the sides of the old shelter to make way for the new.

All great constructions had to start with the first cut.
Here is where I am adding my own twist on things in a few new “innovations” (at least to me). So far I have constructed normal stick walls. They are eight feet tall, but nine feet wide.

Using my first wall as a template for all the remaining ones.
I placed the studs at approximately eighteen inch centres. Then I used fence wire in three foot wide rolls to cover them. With the nine foot width, I was able to cover the walls in exactly three strips of fence stapled vertically. I purchased one hundred feet of fence. Three eight foot strips per side gives me twenty-four feet of fence per side. Times four comes out to be ninety-six feet needed in total – so my hundred foot roll worked out with very little excess.

Kenny and Mama pitched right in and helped unload the remaining lumber!
On one wall I left out the third stud from a corner to open up a three foot door. I did drop a “header” down a foot from the top edge of this wall, just to make it not feel quite so high. I cut and fastened the fencing around this opening as well.

A good opportunity to clear some brush.

A nice stack of walls, note the door opening.

Stop to enjoy the sunrise.
Grandpa dropped by and helped me heave the walls up into place and fasten them together. We leveled the corners, but I still want to place more supports in the centres of each wall to prevent them from sagging too much over time.

An extra large pallet will make a lovely floor!

Grandpa pitches in to unload the “floor”.

Nestled behind some alder bushes.
I added some “rafters” to hold the walls together. At first I was going to put the gable end of the woodshed towards the door, as this felt natural. I have since changed my mind on this – we opted to fasten the “side” walls to the outside of the “front” and “back” walls, so the woodshed is eight inches wider than it is deep. While measuring my choice lumber for rafters, I realized that it would be a few inches too short to span the width, but just fine for the length. And that’s the story of how the roof rotated ninety degrees. It has the downside of probably causing more snow to be shed in front of the door – I can maybe mitigate that with some snow break or some sort of prow to direct snow away from that side… Or maybe we’ll just grin and bear it, and climb over, or shovel any snow that falls on the path. It does have the upside of exposing the gable end towards the cabin. This has put me in mind of the option to run a normal clothes line from the cabin to the peak of the woodshed someday if we decide it would be of use.

Rafters beveled and fastened in place. Note the bevels face the entrance.

Using a ratchet strap to ensure the tops of the walls are tight.
I built four trusses. I feel that three foot spans between trusses is acceptable for this particular construction. I will be strapping it before installing the steel, so there seems to me to be plenty of support for such a light load. On my lean-to type wood shelters, I actually only fastened the steel at the edges and it supported full snow loads all winter without any signs of buckling or permanent distortion.

Two rafters at this end.
In the next day or two hopefully with help I can flip the trusses up and screw them to the top of the walls. Then with a few straps they should be nice and stable.

And two more at this end.
This will create the enclosed space for my dry “to-burn” wood – is encloses pretty much 512 cubic feet, or six cords of wood. Grandpa estimates that this should be more than enough for our 630 square foot cabin.

Now the part that I’m really thinking is cool is that I still plan on adding a “wraparound porch” or sheltered area around the entire perimeter of this building. This time though I don’t plan on adding support posts on the outside edge of this porch. Instead of it being between five and six feet out from the walls of the main building, it will only be about four feet. As such, I’ll probably just fasten rafters directly to my inner walls.

With this “lean-to” or porch all the way around my inner building, I will be able to pile one or two rows of wood outside the inner building as well. I am planning on piling my greener wood there, on the outside, where it is more exposed to the sun and wind (and even rain and snow). My thinking is that it will protect the inner woodshed from moisture, while still allowing it to breathe. The fencing will help to support the inside and outside piles when they are not of equal heights, as well as to clearly mark off the wood we are currently burning vs the wood that is still drying.

Each wall on the outside should be able to shelter an additional three cords of wood (piled eight feet high – I’m not sure that that is very realistic) for a total of 12 more cords of wood (minus some for the door opening) in the “bullpen” ready to move inside.

So my overall plan then is that in the spring or summer or whenever we finally empty the inner woodshed, we will simply move a bunch of wood from the outside zone to the inside zone. It shouldn’t be difficult. I am even looking forward to the first time when this happens – it will be a bit like being in a cordwood building – the outside walls will all be piled wood beyond the fence – cool!

Oh, I also want to point out that this project will be built without any commercial lumber. Everything here should be milled from my own trees. I also am making this with true two inch by four inch boards. They are quite a bit more substantial than what is normally sold in stores.

I’ll try to keep you posted as it progresses.

Skidding Logs With an ATV Log Arch – First Impressions of a Norwood SkidMate MK2

June 24, 2016

In the spring Grandpa and I hiked far into his bush and then cut across the property line to our property to examine a rather large tree that had come down. It was definitely one of the larger ones we had ever taken into our heads to skid out to the sawmill. Grandpa wasn’t exactly sure how we would get it, but he figured if he cut it up into eight foot lengths, I could likely get most or all of the lumber I would need to the woodshed from that single tree.

I headed home and decided that a log arch was finally in the cards to help improve my ability to move trees around our property.

At first I stopped at the local metal fabricator and explained what I had in mind, hoping to give them the opportunity to craft something if they were interested. They weren’t, and told me that if there was an “off the shelf” option, I should take that.

I investigated a number of possible options online before settling on the Norwood SkidLite. I called the Canadian distributor and was told that they had one left in stock and it would ship out the next day.

A week later I followed up with them as I was in town anyway, and thought perhaps it was waiting at the depot. Instead, I learned that they were incorrect, and that it was a model being discontinued, and that they would still make one up for me shortly and send it out.

A few days later I called back, but they hadn’t begun making it yet. I suggested that maybe if they had a SkidMate in stock, I would be willing to upgrade to get it sooner. This seemed to meet with some acceptance, although it still took another week or two of calls before it finally shipped. This was a bit of a sour experience initially.

As an aside, the SkidLite is a slightly different setup for skidding logs, involving a smaller wheel base and not really an arch, more of a post with a winch mounted on the top that lifts logs off the ground where you lock them in place.

The SkidMate, on the other hand, is a true arch with beefier construction that can handle heavier, wider, longer logs. It has a neat setup whereby the forward motion of the ATV is what causes the shackled end of the log to ride up the arch until it is lifted off of the ground.

Finally, one Friday morning, a Canpar van pulled up the driveway, which was interesting in itself, as no other courier is willing to drive as far up the road as we are located. I helped him unload the two boxes that made up the arch, and braved the blackflies to begin assembling it.

Kenny helped out while Mama volunteered to take the occasional picture.

Kenny was a super eager helper!

It came with a 2″ hitch, I’ve been okay with how it fits on my 1 7/8″ ball.

Thankfully, no butt shot here!

You can see the roller and hook here that travel up this bar as you pull forward.
I managed to put it together in about an hour or so, with almost no missteps. I did put the bolts on the wheels on in such a manner that the nuts are on the outside of the arch. In hindsight I would probably have done it the other way around, as it would narrow the outside of the arch by an inch on each side, something that could actually be useful on narrow paths in the bush. So far I haven’t been compelled to switch them around, but I may consider it if required.

Nuts! On the outside!
Grandpa popped by and saw that I had it ready to go. I cut my teeth on a few very small logs that I had cut down near the driveway.

Seems to make Grandpa grin.
Then I moved on to some large ones that I had abandoned in the ravine in the fall when the ATV could no longer climb the slope while dragging them.

Coming back from the ravine with a long one!
After that, I was enthused enough to head deep into Grandpa’s bush and begin bringing out the monster tree there.

Even willing to try two at once!
It went very smoothly. Having two people is a bit of a help as backing up with the arch, it sometimes is easier to just manually lift and place it in position instead of fritzing around with back and forth manoeuvres.

Picture perfect!
By early afternoon I had my whole backlog of logs removed from the bush! Amazing!

This is pretty big by my standards.
So far, I have to give the arch two fairly enthused thumbs up. Hopefully it will be robust enough to continue to provide assistance in the future, and hopefully it was just a fluke that it took me so long to finally have it arrive.

Installing a Solar Power Fountain in our Pond

June 20, 2016

Soon after we first had the pond dug out, I purchased a tiny, floating solar panel and pump that were all in one unit, and did an interesting job of spritzing water into the air while the sun shone.

I can’t fault this little gadget, we have left it in the pond every winter where it has frozen solid for a few months, and each spring, it has come back to perform its duties. I have lifted it out from time to time to clean the filter, but by and large, it has been a reliable friend.

Unfortunately, the tiny spritzing that it does has failed to do much in the way of aerating the pond. I was hoping that with a little circulation, the pond could become a bit clearer and less of a haven for mosquitoes.

In that light, I recently ordered a larger pump with separate solar panel. It arrived about a week or so ago, and on the first sunny day, Kenny and I installed it.

I placed the pump underneath the dock Grandpa had made, so that it was well submerged, but not resting on the murky bottom.

Then I installed the solar panel at the base of one of our spruce trees overlooking the pond. Finally I went in search of some sort of pipe to let the water run out of and fall into the pond. I felt that falling water would do a better job of aeration.

Instead, I found a rusty piece of angle iron and had a “lightbulb” moment. It looked much more in tune with nature than any sort of plastic or even metal pipe could have done. I carried it down to the pond and pushed it into the softish soil around the tree roots. Then I piled rocks around the base of it, using them to hold the outlet pipe in position above the groove of the angle iron.

Stepping out from the sun, I could see the water working its way up through the nylon hose until it reached the iron trough and ran into the pond.

Looks perfect!
It was music to my ears! So much so that since then I have added a few goldfish, with plans to add a few more for visual interest as well as auditory.

My official Goldfish assistant

After letting them acclimatize, time to set them free.
Definitely enjoying the whole thing now!

Comparing a Charcoal Water Filter to a Paper Water Filter

June 3, 2016

After we have been using the paper water filter for about six weeks, I can’t say that it is doing a very noticeable job at reducing the iron in the water. This isn’t exactly shocking, I would have been really surprised if it had.

Okay, everything looks normal down here. Certainly easier to access!

Can’t believe I got it this far without spilling any water!

Hard to deny that there is iron in the water.
And so, with some trepidation, I invested in a charcoal filter (which was interchangeable in the housing I had installed – certainly a bonus!) but at twice the price of paper.

HDX, the Rolls Royce of house brand products :).

It’s a little sad that when Kenny saw me writing this, he pointed out that “Daddy, didn’t you say it’s ALWAYS lefty-loosey, righty-tight?” I even said it to myself out loud before getting it wrong.
I only installed it a few days ago, but I think it has made a difference. When I fill the sink, it no longer has a distinctive orange/brown hue to it after only a few inches.

Before picture for reference.

After photo looks pretty good!
The real proof will likely show up in the Berkey filter after about a months use. I will see how much iron accumulates there.

In the meantime, one immediate side effect is that the pump takes twice as long to fill the water tank. This gives me food for thought. It must indicate that some effort is being expended to get the water through the filter and up to the tank. That should be a good thing if I am thinking that the filter is working much harder at removing smaller particles.

Of course, I fear that it isn’t enough, or that it will actually become clogged over time and force us to change out the filter on a very rapid scale, which would be untenable at the current costs of the filters. If they can’t last over a month or two, the economic calculation may be too much.

I’ll continue to monitor, and try to check back.

Creating My Own Stone Circle

June 2, 2016

Recently Kenny has taken a bit of an interest in Stonehenge and other megalithic type structures from around the world. I have always shared that interest, and so it is fortuitous that we moved to a part of the province well known for growing rocks.

During initial phases of construction, Grandpa had done the time-honoured tradition of moving rocks out of the way and placing them as borders to mark off paths or zones. The installation of the new well last fall created a zone that I also wanted to be well defined – a few feet all around the well casing that I wanted to be exclusively planted in grass, somehow I have in my head that a nice layer of solid grass around the well would be a better medium for rainwater to fall through and into my well. I don’t think it would contribute as much decomposing organics as some of the more prevalent plants in that area.

To mark out my “grass only” zone, this spring I ringed the well with many of the stones that had been exposed during its installation. At the end closest to the cabin, it came quite close to a huge stone that had been split and laid out by the excavator. After a day or two of thought, I expanded the circle to include this split stone, and that created a natural “entrance”, accessed through the area we had been using as a fire pit.

Starting to clean up the “zen garden”.
This immediately put it in contact with another stone line that Grandpa had set out from one edge of the fire pit down to the pond. This increased the area encompassed a bit, and naturally led to me ringing the entire pond with a small line of rocks. It became quite infectious.

On my own, I encountered a really large rock with a flat top. I managed to lever it up out of the ground, but that was as far as I could do it by muscle power alone. I tried using the comealong, but in this area, there weren’t too many trees left between the cabin and the sauna, so I didn’t really have any places to anchor to, and I wasn’t about to use my porch posts!

A long reach with the comealong!

Lots of blocks underneath to make sure it doesn’t roll back.
I brought in the ATV with it’s new Warn winch and wire rope. I didn’t have any illusions that it could pull the rock in its default state, but I remembered that I had bought a large pulley the first winter we were here to allow me to perhaps winch logs around a corner out in the bush. I never had a chance to use it in that manner, so the pulley had been relegated to a bin in the garage. It did take me a good five or ten minutes to find, but I was excited when I did.

I wrapped a chain around the rock first, then attached the pulley to that, and then the wire rope around the pulley and back to the ATV, where I chained it to the front draw bar. Now I had theoretically doubled the pulling ability of the ATV. My “secure thought” was that if the rock was too heavy, the winch should have more than enough power to instead drag the ATV forward, long before it would break the rope or damage the winch. As long as the ATV was on sandy, level ground, there shouldn’t be any undue stresses put upon it.

In the right place, now to get the right position.

My pulley all hooked up, commence precision winching…

Nothing beats hands on adjustments though.
I was tickled pink at how smoothly the winch pulled in the rock. With a few back and forths, I was able to get it into position near the fire pit, and then I used the winch again to lever it up into position. Now I had the barest outline of a circle at the fire pit, with two huge boulders leading to the “zen garden” area around the well, and another flat topped rock that one could set a chair beside while at the fire pit.

Dusty, but looking really nice!

A frosty beverage would complete the picture – but careful, Doctor said I have to watch my potassium!
There was one large gap left to fill around the fire pit, but fortunately I could see a large rock nearby still exposed by the excavator.

This time I thought it would go easier if I were to lever it up and try to slide a scrap piece of plywood underneath. I wrapped a strap around the rock and fastened a 2×6 from my wood pile to it. This allowed me to lift it while Donna carefully jammed the plywood underneath.

Too bad you can’t see all the hard work my photographer put into this project too! Thanks Mama!
I repeated my same system with the ATV, and just as I got started, Grandpa and Mummu arrived to observe. Grandpa pitched right in, using his tamping rod to help guide the rock across the ground to the fire pit.

Just in time to help guide her to her new home.

10,000 years in the same spot, and then I come along and shake things up!
I pulled it a bit past where I wanted it, and then we dug a shallow hole for the rounded end of it to fit.

Then we reattached the strap and 2×6, and I levered it up into position in the hole.

Archimedes, eat your heart out!

Wishing I hadn’t put the strap on so well.
It was leaning quite a bit, and not very stable. I pushed as hard as I could to get it in the position I wanted, and Grandpa packed stones and soil under and around the base until it was satisfactory.

Ahhh, gravity, my old foe… We meet again!
We then backfilled it with clay, and a layer of sand.

I cleaned up the area, gave it a quick rake, and felt very pleased with the outcome.

I’m looking forward to another campfire, hopefully with guests, to really re-connect to my neolithic roots!

One can feel the reflective power of this space.

Adding Stone Wool / Roxul Insulation to the Attic

June 1, 2016

Now that the ceiling in the cabin is complete everywhere, I got to thinking about how most homes insulate the highest point in the house by adding insulation to the floor of the attic space. In our case, we had spray foam installed right to the peak of the cabin, and as such, I was reluctant to involve anything that could be construed as a second vapour barrier.

Of course, in our climate, it’s also hard to discount any opportunity to add insulation that one can find.

We had insulated the sauna and floor of the cabin using Roxul insulation, so it was a natural choice in my mind. It wasn’t as itchy as fibreglass insulations could be, it apparently was a pest deterrent, and most importantly to me, it could breathe. This would mean that humidity could pass between it and the attic.

I purchased a few batts and with some moaning and groaning, got them installed upstairs. Two bundles had managed to do just slightly more than half of the attic space.

I reluctantly purchased two more batts, and then had the bright idea to cut the access to the attic large enough to accommodate them.

Got a good helper on this one. He was careful to take a position where he could fall on soft Daddy and insulation in case of emergency.

Expanding the opening really pays dividends here!

Kenny wanted to check out the scope of the job.

Trying to take care of my lungs.

Halfway done! Looking good :).

All done! I wonder if this should be a private refuge…
It was a simple enough matter to finish off the remainder and the attic looks so nice and clean that I’m very reluctant to begin storing much stuff up there.

Wood Boring Beetle Larvae in a Log Cabin, or One Man’s Decent into Madness

May 31, 2016

A few weeks ago while sitting at the table, I heard a quiet tapping or scratching sound high up on the wall behind me. I discounted it at first, thinking that perhaps it was merely the wind blowing something up against the cabin. We do have some bamboo wind chimes hanging from the porch in that corner of the cabin, so it was certainly plausible.

Of course, after a day or two when the sound resumed, always in the same spot, I took more note of it with less disinterest. Eventually it became clear to me that it was a scratching/gnawing sound, and not merely the wind. Donna agreed.

I assumed a mouse had somehow gotten in behind the paneling that Papa and I had installed only a month ago. I baited a trap with peanut butter and placed it in the attic directly above the spot where we had heard the gnawing. There was NO WAY a mouse could ignore that delicious treat!

So, after a few more days of increasing agitation at the sounds, and no tampering with my mousetrap, I began to think more along the lines of an insect infestation. This wasn’t a happy thought.

Finally, one evening with the gnawing becoming so loud it could be heard throughout the cabin, clad in my long johns, I climbed out the second floor window onto the porch roof and trod over to the spot where I could hear things. I couldn’t hear anything from outside, and there was no sign at all of insect or animal entry. Back inside I moved the futon and set up our ladder so I could gain pinpoint accuracy as to the location of things. I narrowed it down to a spot between two boards. I banged hard on the wall, and the sounds stopped for just a few moments, then resumed with greater ferocity. Internally howling with anger, I came down the ladder and told Donna that if she didn’t buy insecticide the next day, I certainly would drive to town to do so on my own, and that I half intended to go into town that very moment (9pm ish) to purchase it myself.

Right above that knot was the spot where these emanations were coming from.
As a very unwanted side effect of this, I found myself being short with Kenny in my answers and demeanour. I didn’t like this AT ALL.

The next night when Donna returned with some Pyrethrin, I carefully drilled a hole between two panels, so as to be virtually unnoticed. Then I inserted a straw and blasted a good dose of the stuff between the panels. The chewing ceased, and I became more positive.

Of course, the next morning, the sounds were back. I blasted another good dose, and waited.

That evening, the sounds were back. I was getting frantic. I blasted again, and waited until morning.

No sounds! Yeah! Donna and Kenny headed off to attend a homeschooling event, and I sat at the table for my breakfast.

I was rather crestfallen to suddenly hear the gnawing resume behind me again. The world around me got wavy and took on a reddish hue.

A test run with scrap boards to see if it was possible to remove one “in situ”.

Carefully marking my area of operation.
I returned with my circular saw, and carefully cut a vertical line from one edge of the panel to the other, being careful not to nick the panels above and below. Then I cut a horizontal line along the panel, and finished up with a Japanese draw saw. The panel fell out from the wall and revealed… No sign of insect damage within the wall itself. Odd.

No signs of anything in here!
I examined the panel itself more carefully, and noted that it had considerable wain to it (bark left on a finished piece of wood). After really scrutinizing the piece, I saw there were some entry holes on it and sawdust accumulated within them.

Grandpa arrived about then, and I showed him my discoveries. He suggested submerging the boards in water to see if it would drive out the culprits. I loved that idea and did it right away.

I can see some entry holes and sawdust… No sign of the pests yet.
Sure enough, white larvae appeared within the hour. I let them soak a further hour, and I’m not ashamed to say I took a morbid glee in drowning them. The sounds had ceased.

There we are! Ugly critters, aren’t they?
I shook out the larvae on my outdoor work table, and decided to leave them for the birds. I was amazed to come back a few hours later and see them wriggling around. Tough little buggers!

How can you still be alive?!
I decided not to close up the wall right away, but instead blasted more of the insecticide in the cavity to deal with any potential problems. I used the dose recommended for an entire room inside each cavity.

The next day, more gnawing.

More gnawing = more board surgery :(.

Now I’m across two studs and into three cavities!
I marked the board further along the wall and removed yet another section. Sure enough, there was more bark on the back of this board. I decided to not replace the board just yet. Instead, more insecticide.

This stuff is making me feel woozy, why isn’t it killing my bugs?!
The next day, more gnawing.

The last piece of that board – surely they can’t be hiding here too?
I only had a short length of board left that ran into the corner of the cabin. This piece amazingly wasn’t nailed in in the corner (probably no strap there to hit), so I was able to slide it back and forth. I slide it to the middle of my gap, and was able to actually pry it out without having to cut the tongue off. That was cool.

Of course, there was a tiny bit of bark on there. But hardly enough to hide a larva! I took it outside and using a slot screwdriver, managed to pry off the bark, and sure enough, two more of the white monsters fell out onto the table.

Ha! There was one of you in there!

Another sneaky devil!

In for a penny, in for a pound… May as well scrape all the bark off!
They were quickly flicked onto the lawn, and I again sprayed down the whole cavity with insecticide. I question if that stuff works on bugs in their larval stages, but who am I to know for certain?

The next day, no more gnawing!

For over twenty four hours I kept the gap open and listened. I thought maybe I heard some more sounds from elsewhere in cabin, but by then my insanity had broken. These little buggers were probably only interested in the layer of wood just beneath the bark, and when they ran out of that, I didn’t think they would do any more damage.

Time to make it look nice again.
I replaced the short board that I could just wedge into the gap, then cut a new board to replace the ones I had sliced in half. The new board I did remove the tongue on, and tacked it with a single nail to a strap. It is barely noticeable, and I’m not losing sleep over it.

The biggest takeaway from this lesson is that perhaps it doesn’t pay to reduce your standards while choosing lumber. Seeing bark on the non exposed side of the panels didn’t cause my any alarm while installing it. I didn’t see how it could matter. Now I do. I suppose that one should rely on the fact that it was kiln dried to have taken care of these things, but maybe it doesn’t kill the eggs? Or I just got a particular tough batch? Anyway, it’s hopefully dealt with, and I can resume obsessing over other things.

Barely anything to show how much turmoil this board caused.

Trialing a New Water Filter for Removing Iron

May 30, 2016

When first thinking out and installing the well, I had really only considered the twin evils of particulates (ie: grit and gravel), and bacterial contamination. As such, we had decided to continue using our Berkefeld filter system for our drinking water, but I installed a fine mesh filter to keep grit out of the storage tank if possible.

After a season of use, both Donna and I had to agree that there was a noteable orange buildup in the washing machine and Berkey filter. When we filled the sink or water pitcher, the water definitely had a “hue” to it.

I had hoped that this would resolve itself, thinking that perhaps it was just a function of a new well, and the colour would eventually be flushed out. Alas, I then decided to resign myself to the idea that perhaps we had a fair bit of iron in our water.

Researching options, I soon realized that most solutions involve installations of large equipment that require extra power. I was and am willing to try to find more economical solutions, in triple terms of cost, space, and power requirements.

Obviously our particulate filter wasn’t really tackling this issue, nor should it have been expected to. Iron in water is probably a very tiny particle, or perhaps being carried within tiny bacteria that utilize this element.

Checking the particulate filter revealed on a number of occasions that it also wasn’t being exposed to any sand or grit anyway – it was always quite clear of obstructions, even if it too was stained orange.

Probably would work fine for grit, but never really saw any!

You can see the slight staining on the filter section here.
I purchased a whole house water filter designed for city water hookups, and thought I would at least give it a crack at helping with our problem.

Removing the teflon tape from the old threaded connectors.
Kenny helped me to remove the old filter, which went slightly better than I feared – I had mounted it quite tight to the upper back corner of the kitchen cabinet, and so I didn’t have much purchase on the pipe heading up to the water storage tank. Luckily I was able to pull the threaded fitting out of that pipe and replace it with a right angle fitting.

You can see there wasn’t much pipe to work with above this right angle connector.
The incoming pipe I bent in an arc over to the input side of the filter. Then another right angle, threaded fitting came out of the filter and an arced pipe up to the water storage tank.

Oh bother, I slightly kinked it trying to make this turn.

Okay, incoming water all hooked up.

And outgoing all hooked up.
This filter is much nicer in the sense that it is far more accessible to me for filter changes and checking. It also came with a wrench designed just for removal and installation of filters. The original filter had a small, smooth surface, far up in the back of the cabinet. I couldn’t see myself enjoying checking and cleaning it on any sort of regular basis.

Far more accessible here!
I installed a cheaper, paper only filter and hit the pump switch.

Water pumped through! Not many leaks! A success so far… Now to see if it reduces the water staining to any degree…

Revisiting Our Exterior Greywater System

May 27, 2016

As I referred to in an earlier post, the tail end of winter had me wondering about how well our greywater system was performing. The washing machine was causing tremendous gurgling in the sinks when it was draining, and our “rinsing” sink was beginning to drain out extremely slowly. My inclusion of “cheater” or air admittance valves hadn’t seemed to have had the desired effect.

Finally, as a precipitating circumstance, after doing laundry one morning a week or two ago, I noted that a puddle had appeared above the pit, in spite of it not having rained for some time.

The next time I saw Grandpa, I mentioned to him that an upcoming project for me was to dig out the greywater pit and try to see if there was an obvious reason for the water level being so high in that spot. He offered to begin digging at once, and I gave him more than my blessings. At that moment I was pre-occupied with creating a new extension on our driveway near the entrance to allow me to push a little more snow out of the way at that end of things.

Hmmm, mysterious soapy water this high in the water table?
He dug a trench just outside the wooden cover he had made, to probe the outline of the pit. At this point I was able to help out, and we extended our digging around the cover of the pit he had made, and I trenched up to the cabin to expose the drain line(s). It was very educational – almost archaeological! At first I exposed two poly pipes, which we determined were the very original drain lines from both the kitchen and the bathroom. They had been abandoned but unexcavated during the first winter in the cabin when they froze up very quickly.

Next I exposed a length of downspout and rubber sheet that we had rigged up as our secondary drain. For whatever reason, our drain water appeared to be backing up in it and flowing around the rubber sheet (which was hardly water tight). This caused the drain water to flow down the slope from the cabin until it pooled on top of the wooden cover over the greywater pit. This would not do.

We removed the old drains, and I cut the 1 1/2″ ABS pipe drain from the cabin back about a foot and a half. Then I glued on a new length of 2″ ABS that extended from the cabin drain under the boards of the greywater pit. While I did this, Grandpa dug a short trench out from the far side of the greywater pit, and lay a short length of drain tile in the new trench to act as an overflow from the greywater pit. Kenny had drilled many holes through this drain tile to make it perforated and it could drain overflow into the entire length of the new trench.

Water has finally drained away, but it took a day!

All the rocks in the pit have turned literally grey!

Why didn’t Daddy just buy perforated pipe in the first place?!
As an emergency option, I also drilled holes along the top of my 2″ ABS pipe and lay a smaller pipe that I had split lengthwise overtop of these holes to keep soil out.

Ahhh, not sure if this is my best side.

Grandpa decides to use the comealong to remove a large boulder from his trench.

I’m quite happy to watch.

A high level discussion of what to do next.

Installing Kenny’s drain tile.

Kenny’s already moved on to putting in a border around our Zen garden.
We then backfilled our excavations with pure sand – hopefully that will also be more porous than the claylike soil we normally encounter throughout our property.

Of course, the water and ground are thawed now. I will continue to build up the sand pile over the greywater pit in an effort to keep it insulated for this coming winter. I would not want to have to think of any alternatives at this point. It remains a mystery why the water table seems so high, hopefully just because it is spring, and that the pit will continue to serve us well into the future. I’m sure I’ll keep everyone posted.

Our First Campfire of the Year

May 26, 2016

The weather has been really nice and warm and sunny lately. We decided to take advantage of this and start up our campfire and have a few hot dogs.

We’ve got coals!

Turning into a pro!
I also made a nice potato salad using potatoes I had canned with our new induction stove, as well as some mayo and chives from our garden!

A good time was had by all.

The simple joys in life.

Updating a Small Culvert

May 24, 2016

Close to the cabin we have a large rise between our living areas and the front of the property. Skirting alongside this rise is our driveway. Where the driveway meets the rise, there is a very small ditch which has so far collected spring runoff and held it there for most of the summer. I suspect that this helps generate many of the mosquitoes which plague us during the hottest days of the year.

Near our garage/workshop Grandpa had previously installed a makeshift culvert out of a length of pipe, a length of downspout, and a joint made from a Ziploc baggie. It was very shallow, and over the course of this past winter, it finally worked its way to the surface of the driveway where we began passing directly over it. It worked okay, but clearly could use some upgrading.

I had previously brought home some 2″ ABS pipe from the dump for “future projects”, and the future was now… I only had to invest in a proper coupling for a few dollars and I would have a culvert of sufficient length to deal with our driveway.

Kenny and Donna were both eager to join in on this project, so we all headed down to the garage to plot our concept.

I definitely wanted to dig up the length of pipe that had heaved through the surface of the driveway. That went very quickly.

After that though, I wanted to adjust the direction of the spout, so that it wasn’t on such an angle. This would let me use a shorter length of culvert/pipe, but would also allow me to ignore the section of downspout that was buried deeper in the driveway. I decided to simply abandon this pipe rather than remove it.

We started digging a nice, straight path across the driveway, beginning at the garage, or lower side of the driveway and working our way over to the opposite and higher side.

Grandpa inspects our work.
Soon we had dug a trench that was clearly much lower than the original pipe, and was quite close to joining up with the standing water in the ditch beside our driveway.

The excitement builds!
With great excitement we finally broke through the wall, and a large gush of water began to flow through our trench. It was surprising just how much water can be stored over such a large area, even if it isn’t particularly deep.

Still lots of water flowing!
As the flow evened out, we glued the two lengths of pipe together and rolled it into our trench. I placed our largest excavated rock on the high end of the pipe, and we began to back fill around it.

Time to put in the new culvert!

Made to fit!

A large rock to hold it
in place.
Water ran through it at a good clip for the next twenty four hours, before it dropped to more of a small stream and eventually a trickle.

Meanwhile, downstream…
Two or three weeks later, and I brought up a small load of extra gravel from my pile to fill in the depression that seems to have developed over the new culvert. That was easily enough accomplished and a small price to pay.

On the plus side, the high side of the driveway is… high and dry!

Water is Flowing in the Sauna!

May 23, 2016

Sorry for the delay, but about three weeks ago I turned on the pump in the sauna on a lark, and lo and behold! Water!

No more carrying buckets from the cabin to the sauna! That’s awesome! I am planning to reroute the plumbing in the sauna and remove the storage tanks there eventually, and simply have the water pump into the sink whenever we turn on the switch. Now that we have a decent supply in the cabin, we really don’t need to store much water in the sauna.

My Little Dojo In A Yurt

May 13, 2016

With Kenny and I both deciding to take a break from Judo, I still wanted to continue our training. As such, we had cleaned out the larger yurt to allow for potential purchasers to view it, and I decided to use it as a good training space for us.

We have been trying to get out there a few times a week for both taijutsu training, as well as some buki waza (so far aiki ken practise).

After a few rounds on the plywood, we decided to wimp out and add some cheap puzzle mats. I think they actually look nice here.

Complete with a nice picture of O’Sensei. Now we just need a kamidana?
If anyone wants to join us for training – we’re game!

Still smiling even after hard keiko!

Tweaking and Improving an Ikea Norden Table

April 21, 2016

I really cannot complain about our Ikea purchases. The kitchen went together quickly and the corner sink was at a price that was difficult to beat! In the bathroom, the porcelain sink there was a revelation, and really fits the space well.

A few oddities with how the sink fit into the kitchen are easily overlooked and really only noticeable when you are working on the plumbing.

Our chairs are over a decade old, and while not going strong, are still serviceable on a day to day basis.

The Norden table we purchased though had a noticeable fit issue, and was very heavy to move. I decided to deal with both these issues yesterday. The centre drawer supports/runners were well fit at the base, but as they rose to the tabletop, they spread apart to such an extent that the top drawers were not in the runners, but were constantly falling off the rails on one side or the other.

First up, Kenny and I removed the tabletop carefully.

Clamp the sides together and lay the bar on top of the supports.

Drill the new holes just slightly to the outside of the original ones. Of course, after drilling the holes is the right time to test fit a drawer, right?

Replace the screws and we’re golden!

Now, to add casters onto one side of the table, carefully mark off the height of the wheels.

Cut, sand and mark for the casters. Predrilling is essential to prevent splitting the legs.

With the wheels in place, return the supports to the tabletop for mounting.

Knock, knock – who’s there? – the law! – the law who? – THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES! Rats, moving those metal bars out a quarter inch put them right on top of the hinges from the tabletop – time to redrill everything towards the inside of the table.

Marking the bit to ensure I don’t drill right through the tabletop!

Looks great! Works great!
With only two casters, one still has to lift the far side of the table to move it, but they are on swivels, so it’s easy to move in any direction at will.

We Have A Ceiling!

April 16, 2016

Oh happy day! A week ago my parents arrived from the (sunny?) south to help me complete the last major work in the cabin.

Nana and Kenny were able to connect through his lessons and a shared love of her iPad :). Papa and I were able to spend almost all of our time doing the remaining work on the cabin that required scaffolding.

Ranta Construction had agreed to let me rent their scaffolding for a week or so, and it was a real boon to our work.

We first set it up down at the kitchen/stove end of the cabin and worked our way in behind the stovepipe. Papa was on the scaffolding for the most part, and I was cutting the boards to fit. Kenny was our official photographer, and I think he did an awesome job. I’ll not post all of his 250+ photos, but try to pick a few choice ones.

Yes Papa, the stovepipe is probably a bit dirty.

Every project begins with the first board.

Fine tuning that all important first board.

Precision blueprints to ensure the best fit!

With random lengths, sooner or later you’re going to get a joint like this.

The collar around the chimney really finishes it off!

Once you have the technique down pat, you can really cover ground (ceiling?) quickly!

And coming at it from a different angle. Nana provides advice. Also, can you spot the third person in this picture?

Ripping with a circular saw.

Now we’re really close!

Remounting the clothes airing rack. I changed this up a bit by adding pulleys directly to the rack and tying off the rope up at the ceiling again. This made the load twice as easy to raise and lower.

Installing the collar retention devices to make the fan safer.

Installing some trim.

Haters gonna hate. Channeling my inner DiCaprio.
It was pretty disruptive having the scaffolding set up for five days, assembling it at one end of the cabin and then dismantling it to move it to the other end, then dismantling it again to return it to the first end, before finally taking it apart and returning it.

We did have the scaffolding on casters but if you may recall, there is a large, laminated beam in the centre of the cabin at about eight feet. So we had to remove the top section of the scaffolding to be able to roll it down to the far end of the cabin. Due to the nature of the v-joint panelling we were installing we couldn’t quite finish the paneling in one direction without full access to the area to be paneled in the other direction.

Kenny showing off that he can move the (very heavy) table all by himself!
Papa did a fantastic job adding some simple trim in the corners, as well as trimming in the upper windows. Everything up there looks just totally awesome! Now it inspires me to continue working on my other jobs.

The best part though – seeing Nana and Papa again. They are well loved here on the homestead!

Our Bathroom Tap Arrives!

April 14, 2016

Our bathroom tap finally arrived a little while ago and I have to admit that it was exciting to finally get that phase of things completed.

Once again I dismantled what had gone before, which wasn’t that big a deal as I hadn’t cut anything to size yet, and as you may recall, the old tap was just jammed on top of the pipe and hanging above the sink.

I removed this old tap, lifted the bowl entirely out and attached the new tap. It was interesting – this one was identical to the one which I had ordered for the kitchen – a single lever controlling the flow from one pipe. Unlike the kitchen one however, this one arrived with a small red button on the lever indicating (to me) hot water. The original kitchen one arrived with a blue button. It makes no difference to me, but I guess there are occasions where you may want one or the other. Ordering from China, and with no option to pick, you likely have to take what you can get. It’s still a perfect tap for our purposes.

Mounting the exciting, new tap!
I fitted the sink back into place, and siliconed along the edge where it met the vanity.

Clear silicone along this edge should suffice.
I tightened up the water pipe under the tap and turned it on for a first trial. Yuck, the water had clearly stirred up some of the iron with which we are profoundly blessed. Luckily it cleared quickly.

Not everyone can claim to have running cola in their pipes!

Looking good down here!

Then I taped off the sink, mirror and acrylic back (side?) splash. With some judicious use of white silicone and a talented index finger, I managed to make it look like it belonged!

Nice, straight lines!
Mounting the door closed in the sawdust/shavings/peat bucket and really gave everything a finished look.

The door will hide the bright orange duff bucket.
I then had the inspiration to cut down the good section of my original counter top, and mount that on top of the rack I had fitted in beside the vanity. Now we would have a good amount of storage space, as well as a place to set down our toothbrushes :).

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

The hand towel also doubles as a curtain to hide our unmentionables… (Which are actually just Donna’s hair care products and equipment, in case you’re wondering what’s actually there.)

A shelf for a glass of water, and a little space for a spare towel. Perfecto!

Batteries Reached Float!

March 22, 2016

So Satisfying!
As you can see by the chart above, we hit float for over three hours yesterday! That’s really exciting to me. We haven’t seen float since last fall. The minimum battery voltage throughout the winter was always so low that float was cancelled the following day. In spite of that causing some very extended absorption times, the Surrette batteries are still only sipping distilled water. I don’t have to add very much at all to keep them topped up.

You can also see that we equalized a few days ago – that’s another exciting aspect of the longer, sunnier, warmer days – we are starting to have the ability to equalize again. This should help with the long term health of the batteries. It also means that when it DOES equalize, the equalization voltage doesn’t go over the 33.6V that causes our inverter to shut off. It can be a little bit of an annoyance to lose internet access in midwinter for a few hours while the batteries top up.
This is just another in a long line of blessings I count. (Donna and Kenny being my daily number one choice!)

Too Much Information?

March 11, 2016

Donna was up first this morning. I usually feel guilty about this, and today was really no exception. As my medication is tapering down, my fatigue seems to be returning. So far it hasn’t manifested itself as dramatically as a year or two ago, when I regularly found myself exhausted in the afternoon and required rests and naps. Still, I’m sleeping more than my fair share.

Of course, none of this had anything to do with the fact that I came home late(ish) from Judo, ate/eight slices of garlic bread, polished off a bowl of cold chili con carne, and washed it down with two whiskey and sodas. In hindsight, I think I should have had some water to drink in between. When I go to Judo, I tend to stop drinking mid to late afternoon so I don’t have to go pee while training. By the time I return home, I’m likely already dehydrated, and mixing my water with alcohol probably does little to alleviate my symptoms.

In any case, my sleep was a bit disturbed for the first few hours. I woke with a bit of a head-head, and realized that I was on top of the sheets and still in my “comfy” clothes. Donna was dozing peacefully beside me.

I shucked my track pants and sweat shirt, crawled under the covers and fluffed my pillow. Next I put on a podcast of politicians talking about climate change initiatives, which ensured I fell back to sleep quickly.

As I said, even though I had fallen asleep before Donna, it was her who got up and set the fire this morning. I wandered out and tried to make myself useful, but to no avail, she was already on the case and had prepared herself for work in the city while I was still in my bathrobe.

I sat down with my puffer, pills and a glass of water as the sound of the car departing faded out, and the sounds of “The Diamond Minecart” and “Stampy Longnose” faded in from Kenny on the iPad.

A strong black tea soon got my plumbing churning right proper, and I dropped my trousers as I headed in to a relaxing session on the thunderbox. Of course, at that moment, Kenny hopped up and declared his intention to use the bathroom.

Graciously I pulled up my pants and gave him dibs. Kenny seems to have developed a habit of doing his main business in the late afternoon – generally right after I change out the bucket for a nice, fresh one.

He was out in under a minute, dutifully washing his hands, and adding sanitizer for good measure.

This time I slid the door shut, and settled down to check my progress in online Scrabble with my cellphone.

Awesome! My friend B! had failed to surpass yesterday’s play of “PORTEND” for 88 points! What… Foreshadowing.

I scanned my letters, leaning far forward, almost onto my knees. Of course, we all now know that this is better for your innards anyway – if you can’t set up a “squatty potty” – then don’t sit as if you were at a desk, try to get your knees to your chest, or as Mohammed would suggest as a viable alternative, get your chest to your knees.

Spoiling my own sweet smell of success, I found myself with a glut of vowels… STEEL… STEAL… SETTLE… UNSETTLE… Nothing was coming to me, until the scales fell from my eyes and the obviousness of the letters and situation came to me as if I was on the road to Damascus. “NAUSEATE” – 50 more points to crush B!’s spirit (hopefully…) I won’t go into how fitting that word was.

The joy of the play coincided with me finishing up, and I rose and completed the paperwork for the mission. As always, we cover up with a few refreshing scoops of sawdust. As I finished “leaving no trace”, I froze. Had this been PORTENDED?

There sitting proudly – a brown, misshapen oval rested in the space between the toilet seat, the wall, and the sawdust bucket.

My mind simply couldn’t process the vulgarity of the situation. I gaped. I was – wait for it – NAUSEATED.

I won’t suggest that I ruled out myself having produced it, based on its appearance. In fact, to my credit, I first tried to internally work out the physics involved. After all I *had* been leaning quite far forward in my excitement of the chance to render B! especially lugubrious, what with me clearing my rack (ahem) twice in quick succession.

I discounted Donna completely, but allowed myself to wonder if Kenny could have managed to create this situation. Regardless, without a “steaming gun” to point at anyone besides myself, I knew I was going to have to deal with it.

In spite of having a young son, having been out of diapers for over half a decade – as well as the fact that I dumped out a bucket containing many similar treasures nearly daily – I was stumped and a little grossed out about contemplating what my next action should be.

And so, I continued to stare.

Finally, after a number of deep, calming breaths, I unrolled a length of squares of toilet tissue and folded them back and forth neatly upon themselves until I had a package that was thick enough to protect my delicate fingers – and sensibilities.

I poked the offensive little thing gently and then finally, carefully, wrapped the tissue around it and lifted it from its cozy nook.

The heft of it was even more disturbing as it had a profoundly substantial consistency. If it was truly one of mine (and at this point, I felt it best to keep the whole incident on the down-low… Who wants to bring up a situation like this when it may involve admitting that they literally can’t hit the ground under them with such a seemingly easy to aim object). Whomever of us had produced this particular object really, really needed to get some roughage.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

In future, I was going to have to convince Donna that if she literally finds the odd rock mixed in with the sawdust, she shouldn’t just leave it on the seat for others to find.

Then again, maybe it was a coprolite and I had reason to be squeamish?

A Return to Canning – On An Induction Cooktop

March 6, 2016

Once upon a time I had done lots of canning back in Kitchener. We had a large canner, as well as a smaller pressure cooker that I occasionally experimented with using as a canner, something I cannot recommend in good faith.

We also had a gas stove which provided consistent, reasonably priced heat at the turn of a dial.

Here on the homestead, canning hasn’t been terrifically convenient, even if the fruits of the labour involved certainly were. Having access to pre-cooked meats or vegetables that don’t require refrigeration, and only need to be reheated and mixed, sure makes life easier here.

The problem we had was that the wood cookstove doesn’t lend itself to easy pressure canning. Even in winter, keeping the stove ticking along sufficiently to keep the water in the canner boiling non stop for 75 or 90 minutes just isn’t that easy. Not even counting the time it takes to bring a large canner full of cold meat or veggies to that boil, and holding it there an additional ten minutes while the canner is evacuated of non-steamy air.

It just required too much tending of the stove at too high a temperature for too long. By the end the cabin was hot, even in midwinter, and we weren’t that enthused about trying it again anytime soon.

In the summer, we had also experimented with canning outdoors on our propane stove. Donna had volunteered to monitor the stove outside by sitting and reading while listening to the jiggling weight, but still, this was limited by the weather and season, as well as burning propane. While I would also argue that it involved a consistent (albeit non-engaged) watchman, I’m sure that Donna would be more than happy to fulfill such a role.

The final option I also contemplated would be to simply accept the cost of butane, and cook indoors on our small butane burner. This little burner has been invaluable during the spring and fall when we may not have enough power at the times we want to heat up a pot of water for dishes or beverages, but it’s also too warm to justify stoking the woodstove for those same simple pleasures. At $3.00 a can, and the notion of probably having to use *at least* one can for every batch, I wasn’t too keen on this thought and so put thoughts of canning in the back of my mind. Donna also interjects at this point her reluctance to have the odour of butane combusting in the cabin for that length of time.

Bringing it back to the forefront of my thoughts happened while on another cleaning/organizing binge in our pantry. Staring at our collection of jars that had been mostly empty for the last couple of years while we’ve been here, I started to think again – either admit that they were no longer earning their place in our cabin and life, or find a way to use them. It didn’t take me long to come up with a bit of a plan.

As I have complained to most anyone who will listen, when you are off grid and solar, it can be a feast or famine lifestyle when it comes to electrical power. Once your batteries charge, the remaining sunlight just gets ignored by your system. You can see a huge opportunity – but finding ways of utilizing it is the key.

Enter my thoughts of using that power on sunny afternoons to do the canning for us.

At first I started contemplating a hot plate – even 1500 watts wouldn’t be unreasonable I figured – the solar panels should be able to pull down about 2000 watts for most of a sunny, summer day – and in the endgame of absorption, we often were using under 300 watts to keep the batteries in shape. Not to mention the trickle charge that will be all that’s needed once our batteries begin floating again.

Several poor reviews of cheap hot plates had me open to alternatives – and that’s when I started to see induction cookers beginning to appear on the periphery of my vision – that is to say – in the “other people looking at this have bought” column on my webpages.

Induction cookers kept touting their ability to efficiently heat only the pot and contents – delivering all of their energy to your cooking utensil, rather than heating up an element, which in turn heated up your pot. That sounded fine to me.

Then it was pointed out that induction cookers can only heat up cookware that is magnetic. That didn’t sound like an issue – our cast iron was very magnetic. Our saucepans – check!
Our pressure canner – that’s when the party ended. It’s clearly (and commonly) aluminum. Bummer. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

The only pressure *canner* we owned was a large, Mirro 22 quart workhorse. It was pretty awesome in its ability to do large quantities – but that actually wasn’t always a benefit. It’s a pretty big item to be putting on and off the stove full of jars of food. I was quite mentally prepared to purchase something a bit smaller. In fact, while still contemplating woodstove canning I had remarked a few times on the notion of downsizing the canner and simply doing it more regularly in smaller batches for convenience.

Just a bit more research revealed that certain stainless steel canners would work. By far, the best deal was the Fagor Duo 10 quart canning kit. It had many advantages over what we were use to.

It was half the size. It was stainless steel but rated for induction cooking. It used some sort of spring valve for controlling the pressure – this really appealed to me. I never liked the notion of a gauge that needed to be checked yearly. I had liked the weight, but after a few uses I noticed that the interior pin on it was pitted and a bit rusty – so I began to have a slight doubt about the accuracy of its abilities.

Stainless shouldn’t stain the way the aluminum did during canning. It wasn’t a big deal, as we never had food in contact with the canner, but it still hurt my delicate sensibilities.

I ordered it up from Amazon, even going so far as to sign on for a trial month of prime – it gave me two day shipping, which was pretty sweet. Of course, that’s to the city, but Donna was in town anyway and graciously picked it up for her husband. I have a note in my calendar to cancel the subscription before the month is up.

Sidebar – she must really be special to have been willing to marry me. How many husbands get all worked up about being able to start canning again? [No, this is one of the many reasons why I married you! – Donna]
I also purchased the Salton portable induction cooktop.
The next shopping trip I had noted to pick up some sort of meat for canning. I was mostly thinking chicken, but we didn’t see any we liked, and then Donna’s eyes set on some salmon fillets that were on for around half price. We grabbed six and headed home.
I did my best to remove the skins at home – I’m certainly not an expert, but it’s remarkably easy when you don’t care much how the finished product turns out. I knew that after canning, this salmon was either going to end up as pieces in a pasta, salad, or sandwich.

Doesn’t look pretty, but it sure will taste good!
I tucked them all into 500mL jars (pints for those of you who lean that way) and put them in the canner with three litres of water.

Excited to play with the boxes – I added a few potatoes to round out the cookspace.

Reorganized to get them all to fit.
By this time it was already midafternoon, but still quite sunny. I sealed the canner and started up the induction cooker.

Yup, only the pot gets hot. I can totally touch the cooktop – no probs!
I waited, and waited, and then I waited some more. Finally I got impatient, and cranked the cooker from the default 1000 watts to 1800 watts. Then things started to happen! I could hear the water rumbling inside the cooker, and I could see our volts dropping as I began to use up all the solar, plus a good chunk of our battery reserve.

As soon as the canner started boiling properly though, I was able to set it lower and the solar system returned to stasis.

Just as the sun set, and my voltage dropped to the point that the system was within a minute of shutting down, the 100 minutes of pressurized boil had passed and the induction cooker was shut off. Perfect timing!

By this time I’ve already gotten into my bathrobe.
We were back baby :)!

Since then, I returned to canning on another sunny day and was able to process a bag of potatoes and a bag of carrots in two batches back to back. This made me realize that I shouldn’t get rid of too many of my jar rings – I would need enough to not have to remove them between batches.

The fruits of our labour!
These three batches of canning on the induction cooktop have convinced me that not only is it a great application for us – but that ANYONE who wants to can should give it serious consideration. It has two killer features that I feel give it an edge over canning in any other system.

Firstly – the cooktop I purchased has a built in timer! I’m not sure if this is a common feature, but it sure is sweet. Once you reach pressurized boiling – you can dial in the time it needs to be kept there and then essentially forget it. It will run until the exact minute, and then shut itself off. No wasted power, no setting egg timers, no returning to turn the stove down.

Secondly – the cooktop I purchased ALSO has a built in thermostat! Once I reached the boiling point, I was able to dial it down to 120 degrees (250 degrees for those of you that swing that way), and the cooktop put in just enough power to hold it there, again, for exactly the correct amount of time.

It’s terrifically convenient for me on the homestead – as it would be for anyone.

It’s also about as efficient as one could get – so even if you are paying for your hydro, you’d be well served to do your canning with this system as it only uses exactly what you need to get the job done safely and accurately.

I’m really excited to be canning again! This will go far towards making our lives easier and perhaps even healthier as we can begin eating less commercially processed foods.

A Bathroom Remodel

February 28, 2016

Whelp, my cool bathroom sink idea didn’t really pan out as I had planned.

In spite of four coats of varnish on the wooden top, mildew soon appeared around the rim of the sink and tap, and slowly began to creep outwards.

I put up with it for as long as I could, but finally had to admit to myself that a wooden counter in a bathroom situation wasn’t going to cut it, at least in that particular configuration.

Not as easy a removal as I hoped – I ended up rotating the entire counter around the pipe to unscrew the tap!

Yep, looks like a clear case of mildew.
Luckily Donna and I had managed to discover a tiny porcelain sink and vanity in the interim, one which would fit our space very nicely.
I ordered it up and a week or so after arrival, I found the time to begin the installation. Of course, after I had already emptied our main water tank and cut off the drain to replumb it, I discovered that I had purchased a 2x2x 1 1/2″ sanitary T, rather than 1 1/2″ all around… I texted Donna and asked her if she could pick one up, and I decided to skip my Judo class that evening.

Ahhh, another Surecraft Plastics splash guard! Good thinking!

I’ll just cut this right here. May as well, not ready for plumbing yet!
Donna arrived home to a simple meal of various leftovers, while I set to work installing everything. Fortunately this phase of things went reasonably smoothly.

Now, gluing on my nemesis – the sanitary T!

And assembling the AAV.

Wrapping a hot towel around the poly pipe makes it much easier to remove and install fittings!
With it all hooked up, less the tap (which I had decided should be the same as the kitchen – and is still on order), we pumped just enough water to fill the water line. No leaks!

I then sent a bit of water down the drain. It was noisy, but again, no leaks!

Kenny is confirming the no leaks policy I’m trying to implement.
One change I made while redoing the drain in the bathroom – I added a P trap. The consequence of this (to my mind) would be that I would need to vent that drain. Thus I installed an air admittance valve, AAV, or cheater valve… I also plan on adding one in the kitchen, as we are getting a fair bit of gurgling and suction in the kitchen drain when the washing machine is pumping out its water.

Looks good from this angle.
I set up a small shelf for toiletries, and managed to wrangle things so that the sawdust bucket should be able to fit under the sink and behind a door – nice to get some stuff out of sight!

And stocked with toiletries already!
Now we wait for the new tap and see how well it performs as a bathroom fixture too.

Enjoying a Sunny Day

February 10, 2016

Just a quick post here reporting in another sunny day to lift my spirits.

Boiling up some water for my tea.

Pulling down 46 amps, but the voltage was still climbing! Fully in absorption as I type this.
I suppose if I need to put on a grey lining – our drain has been sounding funny lately, although we haven’t had any water back up yet. I’ve been trying to pour the leftover hot water from the sauna down there just to make sure it stays open. I’ll be sure to bemoan any issues that may develop.

An Idea For Hanging Art – Using up Some Plastic Lattice

February 5, 2016

I’m not sure if I’m just weird, or perhaps there are others out there like me, but I hate putting holes in my walls unless I really, really have to.

Maybe it goes back to my days as the proud and nervous owner of a sailboat, where “through-hulls” were to be avoided wherever possible, as they always presented a real danger of sinking your investment as quickly as any torpedo.

In any case, it’s held me back from wanting to hang much artwork in the cabin yet. I do appreciate that artwork is probably non-negotiable to many people, so in principle I didn’t have anything against putting in the required hardware, but I preferred to try to keep it somehow flexible so that we could change up the art once in awhile.

Probably feeding into this idea of rotating artwork is the fact that we have a child who can often become prodigious (or is it prolific? Or profligate?!) at generating master-works.

Enter some leftover lattice from my sauna floor experiment! It did take a bit of digging out from under the snow, and then I sat it in the sun to dry, but fortunately that was one of my sunny days, and it dried very quickly.

Nice and dry, with a hint of a wave that hopefully will smooth out over time.
I first put up a piece in Kenny’s room. Two cup hooks, some small binder clips, and he was set! Much nicer than when he (gasp) was using scotch tape to tape his pictures directly to his wall.

Perfect for a youngster to hang up his favourite artwork!
Then in the main cabin, I put up the other piece, this time with three cup hooks to ensure it could support more weight. This time I festooned it with a few small s-hooks, and then hung up our framed art and photographs.

Looks like a good spot!
I like how it turned out. Three hooks in the wall vs. many, and it lets us easily arrange the pictures to our hearts content!

Okay, okay, I know they aren’t all level – this was a quick test run to see how it would look up there!
Alright folks, will anyone link to this post via Pinterest? Or will I have to try to figure out how to do that myself?

Happiness is… A Solar Panel Array Cleared of Snow!

February 4, 2016

Is that my thumb in the picture?!
Gosh it is gratifying to have cleared solar panels… When I know that there is a few little chunks of snow or ice blocking one of my panels, I get all worked up about the (honestly significant) loss in efficiency! I sleep better knowing that these guys are all ready to go for me at the drop of any cloud cover.

When we returned from southern Ontario, the panels seemed to have partially melted and then re-froze. That was much more annoying and difficult to clear than just regular fluffy snow would have been.

I could sweep off most of it, but then had to rely on a sunny day to melt the remainder. It’s really surprising how even at twenty below, full sun can melt snow and ice on a black background!

Now, if only I could find a way to harness the power lost in that gap between Sweep Pmax and Output Power… Lithium batteries would go a long way in that department! Maybe by the time these old lead-acid ones are ready to be put out to pasture, the lithium technology will be evolved enough to make it palatable.

A Tale of Two Kettles

January 25, 2016

It was the best of boil times, it was the blurst of boil times…

But seriously, things you never really think about in life. A few weeks ago it was front entrance cleanup day. As Kenny can attest to, this also includes the woodstove, as it is adjacent to the entrance, and I figure that cleaning out the ashes and carrying them out the front door is a good time to just clean the entire area.

One other group of things I clean at the same time are the implements that we commonly use on the woodstove. Most obviously, our kettles.

In spite of having the water reservoir on the stove, we’ve found it to not be as usable as we first would have imagined. I suppose it is a bit challenging to fill, or remember to keep filled. Not to mention that it doesn’t have a lid, so it gets rapidly contaminated with dirt and debris. It’s just much easier to use kettles – and they tend to heat up faster anyway.

But I digress. I was cleaning out our oldest kettle (the one we generally use for non-potable water) and happened to scrub off a nodule of rust on the bottom rim. I thought this was a good thing, but as it turned out, that was some load bearing rust, and when I buffed up the kettle, refilled it, and placed it on the stove, lo and behold – water began to puddle under it on the stovetop. Rats.

Doubly annoying was the fact that only a week or two beforehand, I had sent off a kettle to the thrift store, deciding that it wasn’t needed any longer.

Off to the shops to purchase a spiffy replacement.

I found a suitable model at Walmart for $12.98. It seemed to fit the bill nicely. Stainless steel, whistling… Handle? What else do you look for in a kettle? Well, let me tell you…

Walmart Kettle. Looks normal, doesn’t it?
It almost never boiled. It got warm, it got hot, but to boil? You had to have it on the stove for hours, or get the stovetop surface in excess of 400 degrees.

So anyway, after discussion with Donna, and reminding myself about the psychological issues associated with sunk costs, I hit up Superstore for another kettle. I found what for all intents and purposes looked to be an identical model for $12.00. (Actually, they had a good one for $10.00 on clearance – but it was bright, bright red – I didn’t think that would go with our decor).

Superstore Kettle. Looks identical, doesn’t it?
He’s crazy! – Is what you might say, if you thought I bought an identical kettle hoping it would produce different results. But here’s where my tale becomes a bit more gripping (to those of you in the market for a kettle)…

I had examined the Walmart kettle to see if there was an explanation for its mediocre performance, and noted that the large, flat portion of the base of this kettle was actually inset compared to the crimped outer edge. This had the effect of lifting most of the kettle off of the flat surface of the stove – so virtually none of the kettle was in direct contact with the stovetop. There was a permanent, fraction of an inch spacing between the kettle and the stove.

What’s this?! The rim of the kettle is flush with the cutting board, meaning that the main base of the kettle inside the rim is not making contact with the heating surface of the stove!
The Superstore kettle, on the other hand, clearly had the flat portion of the base extending below the crimped bottom rim. It put almost the entire base against the stovetop for maximum heat transfer.

Ahhh, the rim is lifted off the cutting board – that must mean that the base of the kettle is actually in direct contact with the stovetop – much, much, much better boiling action!
On a gas stove, this difference would likely never be noticed – the flames lick the bottom of the vessels in virtually any circumstance.

Same with electric – either you put the kettle on a smaller element such that the rim doesn’t space it off; or else you just don’t notice the efficiency because your electricity is so amazingly cheap you can just turn it up to effect a boil.

Those of us trying to heat items with a flat woodstove top though – it pays big dividends to purchase cookware with wide, flat bases that make maximum contact.

As always dear readers, let my mistakes be your tuition in the sometimes pricey school of life.

Solar Production in January in Thunder Bay

January 24, 2016

Welp, here we are in January – the month I was always holding out for during the long, dark days of November and December (and even a little bit in October already).

This is the first year with nine panels feeding into our system. In spite of that, when there isn’t much sun, there isn’t much energy production here on the homestead. Nine times a very small number is still a very small number.

One offsetting feature of our November and December was the temperature – El Nino made things here unseasonably warm, even if no more sunlight appeared. This made running the generator much easier and less burdensome.

Another help is that Donna has recently begun a new job that pays well enough that the concept of buying a quality generator is no longer a fear – if our current 1kW Champion dies, we will simply purchase a good replacement. I’m very tired of cheap generators.

In any case, we made it through to New Year’s without too much trouble. I was a bit miffed that unlike in years past, the New Year didn’t represent a real change in the amount of sunlight we received. For a week or two afterwards it still was overcast six out of seven days.

At least our water continued to flow. We had a bit of a trouble getting it going when we returned from Southern Ontario after Christmas, but now that I understand what happened, I don’t anticipate that occurring again. Since then it did freeze up only one more time – when we didn’t have much solar production and before I had made my clothes airing rack, so we didn’t pump water for about two days. Since then, we try to “churn” the tanks a little bit every morning and night. Even if we don’t pump water, we just turn on the pump until we can hear water sloshing around – theoretically, that should break up or prevent ice in the pipe.

The past week and a half though – they’ve been excellent! Strangely, we’ve not been able to get to float – but that’s been offset in my mind by the fact that we’ve just been in extra long absorptions. I think this is because during absorption, things like the fridge or me doing laundry or pumping water drag the voltage down enough that the charge controller decides to cancel float the next day.

One other thing I should mention is that we have been shutting all the power off when we go to bed. This seems to help ensure that in the morning we don’t really have to worry about whether or not the sun will rise in time to carry us through the day.

In any case, I have already found that on the clear, sunny days, by midafternoon we have such an abundance of energy that I have already:

boiled water in the electric kettle
steamed hard boiled eggs in our rice cooker
made slow cooked scalloped potatoes for the afternoon

Oh yeah! Super cheesy scalloped potatoes a la Daddy!
This last one was especially rewarding – an entire meal! A slow cooker is something I would suggest anyone consider purchasing – doubly so if you have a decent amount of solar power. You are probably over generating power for your batteries at exactly the right time (afternoon) for cooking up your evening meals.

The person who invents a better battery for solar (I’m looking at you Elon!), will surely be my hero.

Criminey, Pmax = 1750W, but all I need is 360W to keep the batteries fully charged. I’m losing sleep imagining what I could do in life if I could find a way to save up those other 1400W for future needs!

My Own Indoor Clothes Airer / Dryer

January 14, 2016

You become pragmatic about things when you’re trying to simplify or live in a small footprint. Now that the weather is consistently twenty below or colder, drying clothes outside is no longer really an option.

I moved our standup rack inside and we have been making do with that, but it’s sitting in the middle of our tiny kitchen, and is constantly in the way, moving close to the stove, then away from the stove when we have to cook or work the fire. It’s not really been a “permanent” solution in the sense that we can accept it.

That really only left a few other options – a dryer of some sort? Well, that’s really not much of an option when you don’t have propane, and you’re off-grid and trying to conserve power.

Instead, hanging the laundry indoors in the cabin is the only real answer.

A side benefit of this is that it should hopefully add moisture to the air here, where we generally are below 45% humidity most of the winter.

Now – where to put up a line?

I contemplated putting two pulleys at each end of the cabin and then carrying the laundry up to the landing upstairs and hanging it there. It wouldn’t be a very long line (no more than 20 feet of useable line at the outside) – and it would be a hassle to navigate the stairs with a basket of laundry on a regular basis.

I had in my head a vision of drying racks that could be lifted up to the ceiling after loading. A quick internet search led me to many options for a “clothes airer” – something that really seems to have become an art form in the UK. Here in Canada though, there really wasn’t an option for someone within the country selling them. It’s a pity really.

There were one or two places in the US that were importing them and reshipping them to Canada, but the best price I could find was still $260US – and with exchange the way it is now, that would be quite an investment in a few pulleys, a length of rope, some wood slats and cast iron ends.

Instead, I decided at last to check out Home Depot and see if I couldn’t rig together something on my own.

I ended up purchasing a handful of 3/4″ screws with decorative washers, a pair of double pulleys, a single pulley, three hooks, 100 feet of solid cotton rope (3/16″), two 8″ angle iron brackets (the exact same ones I used to mount the water tank), and four 1×2″x6′ fir slats.

Total cost, GST in, was $75.00. Hopefully this experiment justifies the expense. At least it was a quarter of cost of the one I would have ordered in.

I assembled my materials on the dining table, and then headed up into the attic with the hooks, pulleys and rope.

Materials all gathered together.
Of course, my fear of heights kicked in, and with trembling hands I inched out onto the plywood up there over the main part of the cabin and screwed in the hooks under the collar ties by hand, without pilot holes. It was crampy, difficult, anxious work. Kenny remained downstairs begging me not to fall through the rafters. This didn’t help my mood.

Eventually though, I got all three hooks screwed in to their nearly full depth. Then I threaded the ends of the rope through both double pulleys, and then one end through the single pulley.

I found it easier on the nerves to try to stay on this piece of OSB so that I couldn’t see down very easily.
Again, inching my way along the rafters, I hung the pulleys from the hooks so that there was a double pulley against the wall, one spaced out a few feet from the wall, and the single pulley three rafters over yet again. I extended the ends of the rope downstairs until Kenny was able to grab them and I instructed him to not let go of them until I got down.

An awesome assistant! Even if a little prone to not helping my nerves.
I found him hanging on diligently, thanked him for his assistance, and tied them off to one of the dining chairs.

Next up was to assemble the airer itself.

I measured in a foot from the end of each slat and made a tiny pencil mark. From a six foot slat, this gave me an inner distance between marks of four feet. Coincidentally, three rafters spaced at sixteen inches also gives me forty eight inches, or exactly four feet. The ticks on my slats would line up perfectly between the two pulleys overhead.

I attached the slats of the corner brackets with my fancy screws, which at 3/4″ wouldn’t protrude completely through the fir.

First attach the slats on this side of the bracket.
In this version I fastened the slats on top of the brackets, with them forming an inverted V shape – I assumed this would lend the apparatus some stability.

Okay, all screwed together. Check to make sure they are tight (and retighten the loose ones) and then on to the next step.
I tied off the ends of the ropes through my brackets, and then carefully pulled on the loop of rope hanging down the wall to lift my airer up. It swung into position and sat quite nicely for me.

I just kind of made up a knot based on the one Grandpa created when we were hoisting the cabin beams into position.
With Kenny’s help holding the airer as high as he could, I tied a knot into it just above my window, and then lowered it to the floor.

I lined up and mounted a cleat to the wall just above the window – once I put trim around the window, I’ll likely mount the cleat on the trim in the same position – as long as this whole scheme passes Donna’s judgement.

One cleat, mounted with 3″ screws for extra grip.
Next I tied off another knot with the airer up as high as I liked. This knot had the double function of also being a fall arrest knot in case someone ever unhooked the rope and didn’t hold on – the airer wouldn’t quite reach the floor at this position. Of course, I hope something like that wouldn’t happen – I don’t want to imagine what would happen to anyone beneath it if they were caught unawares! Luckily I’m the one who spends most of their time directly under it – so I guess I’ll be forced to eat my own dog food.

Lines right up with the back of my head when I sit at the table!

And now up in her resting position.
I loaded her up with some laundry, and hoisted her into the air. I was quite pleased that it didn’t immediately collapse!

Nice and heavy mats to really test it out!
Now only time will tell if it provides enough area to do a good job at drying things for us. I’m hopeful though! Especially when we finally get the ceiling panelled such that the heat from the stove is trapped right around that level.

A Review of Our New Washing Machine – Sonya SYW-70S

January 13, 2016

I have been quite happy with our Panda washing machine. And after extended use, we still liked it. But, as we have become more comfortable in our surroundings and have expanded our power and plumbing systems, we began to entertain the thoughts of something a bit more convenient.

Time for a break Panda, you served us well!
Enter the Sonya SYW-70S. This machine is about the same width as the Panda, but much taller (at about 36 inches) and deeper (at about 24 inches).

It has three major advantages over the Panda unit.

It combines washing and spinning in the same drum. This means we don’t have to physically move the wet laundry from one side of the machine to the other. That wasn’t a huge hardship, but it was an interruption to our other workflow, and it did often result in water splashing on the floor as it is hard to move soaking wet laundry without having a few drops go astray.

It has a permanent, automated hookup to the water lines. The Panda DID have an option to hook up to the water lines as well, but it was a very small diameter connection, which made for a slow water flow. It also was not automated, so we would have to monitor the water going into the Panda and shut it off when it gets too high. Not something I would trust to happen uneventfully over the long term.

Finally, it is larger. The Panda really choked on floor mats or heavy sheets or even loading more than one or two shirts and pants at the same time. The Sonya can easily handle these items, with room to spare it seems!

Observations after using it for a day or two (and multiple loads).

It only takes slightly more power than the Panda did. It also take longer to do a load than the Panda. This is mostly because with the Panda, I only ever set it to wash for about 10 minutes – the Sonya generally is around 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the setting you choose.

The Panda was quick to fill (with buckets), while the Sonya and our low water pressure requires a long time to fill between wash and rinse cycles.

Clothes aren’t as dry coming out of the spin of the Sonya as they were in the Panda, but the Panda had the advantage of a small, dedicated spinner, so again it isn’t really a fair comparison.

Of course, the Sonya uses more water. With our 30 gallon water tank full, the Sonya uses about 7/8 of the tank to do a heavy wash at 50% water level, or a normal wash at 100% water level. When I did a heavy wash at 100% water level, the tank ran out partway through filling for the second rinse. I don’t think that’s a big problem, it shouldn’t be a challenge to return to the washer within the hour that a heavy wash takes, and repump the water tank. Otherwise, I think if we just size the programme selected to the amount of laundry we put it, all should be well.

Still out from the wall for the first run – don’t want any surprises to happen in behind!
One interesting water related thing that happened with me using the Sonya – when I first installed it, I jammed the drain hose as far into my drain as I could manage. The first time I used it, after the initial wash, it seemed to take forever to refill. In fact, it kept refilling and I pumped the water tank and eventually it errored out from taking too long to refill (yes, it will eventually give up if there is not enough water coming into the machine). This was at first discouraging, but then I noticed that I could hear water going down the drain while it was filling. I believe that once again I was the victim of an unintentional siphon. I pulled up the drain hose a few inches until I heard the suction break and could feel the hose drain empty. Since I have done this, the machine has worked just fine and even with our low and slow water flow, it doesn’t give up, even at 100% water level in the machine.

Finishing up the ABS in the Corner of the Kitchen

January 12, 2016

I screwed in the ABS panel in the corner of the kitchen that covers up the water pipes. It looks not bad, so I snapped a few pictures for your pleasure.

Nice colour match! I used fancy washers on the screwheads to make it look professional.

Just showing the nice corners that fit over the counter. I’ll likely try to silicone the seams.

Installation of a Clear, Acrylic Backsplash – Plus a Low-Pressure Tap

January 11, 2016

Returning from the south over the holiday break also presented a few other opportunities – items I had ordered before leaving were now ready for installation!

First up – protecting the wall behind the counter from inadvertent drips and splashes. I didn’t want to hide the look of our wood walls, but I didn’t feel confident in treating them with anything that I’ve had previous experience with. That’s why I once again looked up my good friend Larry at Surecraft Plastics. I took a crude diagramme that we both looked over together, and over Christmas he managed to get two pieces cut for me.

They consisted of a clear piece with holes pre-drilled to put along the wall under our hanging cabinet. To the surface of this piece I added a hanging bar from Ikea to support their hanging drying rack and cutlery cup. It looked just how I envisioned!

So pristine and shiny.

And with the drying rack!
I drilled a small hole in the corner of the drip tray under the Ikea drying rack – this allows much of the water to run out harmlessly, so I don’t have to try to unclip a tray full of water every few uses.

In the corner, he provided a piece of grey ABS that was shaped to fit the counter. This covered up the water pipes extending out of the bottom of the water tank. I still have to mount this piece, hopefully I can get to that today, as I have all the parts I need to proceed with that.
The other decision I had to make was between two taps that had arrived in the post. One, expensive, from the U.K, – it had both hot and cold running levers, and was advertised to be compatible with very low pressure systems. The other, cheap, I ordered on a lark from China. It only had a single lever and was very no-frills. Annoyingly, the Chinese one seemed a better option for our situation. With only a single lever for cold water, I wouldn’t have to cap the other side to prevent mishaps. As well, the U.K. tap still sent the water through a very narrow hose before it got up to the spout. The Chinese one allowed me to remove that hose, and screw my water line directly to the 1/2″ connection on the base. I then removed the aerator and replaced it with two small extensions, to ensure that it cleared the edge of the sink. You see, the corner sink placed the tap halfway back in the triangle created between the two sinks, and this mean that it was close to six inches away from either sink…

These hoses are just too narrow for my tastes.

Chinese tap for the win!
Luckily the water flows nicely into both. It does tend to drip a tiny bit back onto the splash area between the two basins, but of course, that’s all solid, molded stainless steel anyway, so no harm. I have a few absorbent cloths that I keep by the sink, and if it bothers me, I wipe the drops off right away.

Clears the edge pretty well, but I can always mop up any drips.

Looking good!
Things are coming together! Having a kitchen(ette?) gives us much greater range and ability in our choices. It was Kenny’s birthday recently, and for the first time since we’ve moved, we were able to make our own pizza dough for his special supper!

We can bake again!

Kenny’s Minecraft cake that he made!

AGM Batteries for Everyone!

January 10, 2016

One experience that we’ve had more than our fair share of has been jump starting various vehicles. Our first and second winters were a lesson in finding which vehicle was able to start, and then using it to jump start the other(s) until all were running.

Last year the Echo needed just one too many jumps for my patience. I headed down to KC Automotive and had Kyle put in an AGM battery for us.

In case you aren’t sure what that means, an AGM battery is an “absorbed glass mat”. Instead of free flowing sulphuric acid between the lead plates, the battery has a fibreglass type of mat with a gellied type of acid. This helps prevent the battery from freezing in winter, and gives it much better cold weather performance.

Since the installation of this, the Echo has been starting just fine for us.

After returning from the sunny south, I had to plough out access for the vehicles. The snow was deeper than I expected!

Still 500% better than doing it with the tractor!
I then decided to try to get the truck going as past experience has shown that it isn’t wise to let the vehicles sit for a week or two in winter without running.

Annoyingly, the ignition simply clicked while the dash lights dimmed. Dead – and this after the battery got a clean bill of health this fall! Anyway, I brought up the Echo, and used it to jumpstart the truck.

I left the truck idling for about twenty minutes, then pulled it forward, ploughed behind it, and then as I was backing it in again, I stalled it. Of course, it wouldn’t start. Rinse and repeat the Echo jumpstart. I went inside and left the truck idling another half hour.

I shut the truck off, and restarted it without issue. I crossed my fingers that it was okay, but alas, the next morning, again it was all clicks as I was leaving to go to the hospital for more x-rays.

I stopped at Canadian Tire and picked up one of their Optimum brand AGM batteries – normally I would have let KC Automotive handle this entire operation, but I needed the truck running, and they were closed over much of the holiday break.

Installation was a snap, and the truck has started up quite nicely ever since.

So far, if you can’t, or prefer not to have a plug in heater – I’d highly recommend the dependability of an AGM battery. Now if only they could get the price down to the point that I could use them for the cabin!

Returning to the Cabin

January 9, 2016

The day we left for the south was reasonably sunny. I was in a hopeful mood that with the power switched off completely, any sunlight at all would go towards charging the batteries, and we could return to a nice, fully charged system.

Kenny was still excited about the snow we were leaving behind.

Will this joy last into his teenage years when I ask him to shovel?
Returning home the cabin was very cold. Luckily we were home by afternoon, so I started a fire and checked on the batteries. I was a bit miffed to see that they were mediocre at best. Of course, the panels were completely covered by even the little bit of snow that we had received while we had been gone. I had instructed Grandpa not to bother sweeping them off, but he said he had, and even so, there we were.

I managed to fire up the generator and then crossed my fingers and pressed the button for pumping water from our well.

Unsurprisingly, nothing happened.

I was prepared for this though. I punched the heat cable on for 30 minutes, and then rechecked the fire.

As part of our preparations for our trip, we had taken food over to Mummu and Grandpa’s that wasn’t capable of being frozen – canned goods or things in bottles and such.

Items in the freezer I decided could just stay there. I guessed that with the power off, the cabin would drop below zero, and the freezer, already being there, would only reinforce that. You can imagine my annoyance to discover that the freezer, while still below zero, had somehow allowed the ice cream to melt and cause a sticky mess inside the freezer compartment.

This made me too nervous to keep the shrimp or a few chicken breasts that were there, so they wound up in the compost right away. Lesson learned – some things need to be REALLY cold to qualify as safely frozen, not just at zero!

After an hour of heat cable, I tried the pump switch again.

Slightly distressing – nothing.

Grandpa came over, and together, we managed to wrangle Kenny’s bed upstairs to his room. It was like one of those twisted wire puzzles – rotating and flipping the bed to get it around the obstacles and up to his room. But at least it worked!

Next time though, any furniture for upstairs will have to be able to be dismantled and … remantled(?).

I then started to think of possible worst case scenarios about our water system – and wondering if there was a horrible chance that the water could be frozen somewhere between the well and the water tank inside the cabin.

With a start, it came to me – the awful realization that I had forgotten something vitally important in our preparations for our trip south. I hadn’t removed the particulate filter under the sink!

Hollering out a type of chocolate* in spite of myself, I jumped across the cabin and whipped open the door under the sink.

Feeling gingerly around the filter, I was immensely relieved to not note any deformities or cracks. This was a double blessing. I hadn’t broken an important component of our water system, AND I gave myself a possible simple explanation for why we had no water – the filter was frozen and preventing water from coming in.

I left the cupboard door open, and shut the woodstove up airtight. I then headed back to Mummu and Grandpa’s house to enjoy a slightly belated Christmas Eve – giving Kenny a chance to open his gifts.

Where does he get his silly streak from?
We returned home to a still very chilly cabin, and sadly, the water still wouldn’t pump. I let the timer run out a final 30 minutes of heat on the cable to no effect, and then went to bed.

First night in the new bed!
It was a very poor sleep I had. Between the cabin still being just above ten degrees, and obsessing about the water problem, I tossed and turned and didn’t feel very chipper when I awoke.
I put on the fire again and tried to bring the cabin up to a better temperature. I didn’t bother closing the door under the sink, but wasn’t very optimistic about things.
Eventually Donna and Kenny awoke, and on a lark I pressed the pump button, in spite of the heat cable having been turned off for the past eight or nine hours.
I almost keeled over when immediately the sound of water gushing up the pipe to the tank met my ears. The blockage must have simply been the filter as I had barely hoped for – and it thawed overnight!
Nearly crying for joy, I invited Kenny and Donna to join hands with me while I did my happy dance around the kitchen!

The Holiday Break

January 7, 2016

Sorry to my regular readers for another hiatus, but it was the holiday season for many people, myself and my family included.

This year we headed back to Waterloo earlier in the month and returned just after Christmas. We managed to dodge some dicey weather at both ends – somewhat. Starting two days before we were scheduled to leave, and extending through the night to the next morning we got our first real snowfall here just north of Thunder Bay. In the city I don’t believe they received as much snow as we did here. I’m not too guilty of exaggeration when I say that it was close to 30cm.

I ploughed twice the day the snow began, and the next morning when I thought that it would be easy for Donna to leave for work, I was quite surprised to see all my work from the day before had been undone overnight, and I had to spend another couple of hours clearing the driveway again for her to be able to get out.

I then pressed into service our roof rake again and cleared the porches and yurts from the majority of snow that had built up. It was about at this point that Kenny came outside and wondered where everyone had gone and left him unsupervised!

We had a very nice breakfast with Mummu and Grandpa, and then Grandpa and I attempted (unsuccessfully) to get Kenny’s bed into his room. It was too large to fit up the stairs without some extended thought!

I suggested he could try to think of ideas for how to get it upstairs while we were gone, and we headed off to the aeroport.

In Waterloo, my parents took us in again for the next week and a half, and we had a wonderful time. Kenny was nearly relentless in trying to get Papa versed in the ins and outs of Minecraft. It remains to be seen just how much actually stuck.

It was a real pleasure to catch up with friends and family. Highlights include breakfast with C! and J! W! – as well as going out with my brother and friends BY! and JC! again. Of course, Christmas with family was awesome. Kenny got to spend extra time with Aunt A! and Uncle C!, as well as all of us over at Aunt V!’s to have a meal and play Nintendo and Pictionary with her friend R! We enjoyed that so much that we downloaded a Pictionary type app for it on Nana’s iPad and were able to have a blast ChromeCasting it to both her, and Uncle C!’s television. It was also really nice to see Great Grandma Garstin again, it’s too bad we missed the visit of my cousin H! and her new husband and baby. And who could forget Donna, Kenny and me going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Aunt V!, R! and B!

Alas, while we ended on a high note, seeing most of Nana’s side of the family at Aunt P!s, we had to be up early the next day to catch our flight back home. Here’s a shout out to Aunt S! for being a regular reader! I hope everything works out with the new hip and the old job…

Arriving home bright and early, we visited a few stores to purchase items we thought we would need as soon as we got back to the cabin, and in doing so, managed to pass enough of the morning to finally be able to enjoy the buffet at Mr. Stir Fry with Mummu and Grandpa Oiva.