The AikiHomestead

Our Lifestyle Blog as We Create a Homestead in Northern Ontario

Wildlife Update: 26 November 2018 (Raven)

December 16, 2018

Donna and Kenny have occasionally baited the cameras by leaving stale bread
in front of them. So far this raven is the first to be captured while taking advantage of their generosity!

Things that go Thwap in the Night

December 4, 2018

The first year or two that we were on the homestead, I was using the tractor to do all the ploughing. Or shovels when the tractor was out of commission.

The steep banks alongside the driveway worried me. The tractor was very narrow and tall, and not nearly as stable as my up-til-then exposure to full sized farm tractors had led me to believe.

While I never actually tipped the tractor over, there were several times that I consider “close calls” where it was up on two or three wheels.

To help alleviate some of my concerns about this possibility during the winter season when I couldn’t see the banks, I purchased many reflective sticks, or posts with small reflectors at the top of them, which I lined the driveway with.

As I switched to the ATV and gained confidence in its entirely superior stability, I started to become less and less retentive about lining the driveway; in fact, last season I believe I skipped them entirely. (I remove them in the spring).

With our new neighbour J!, who is willing to give us the occasional plough with his truck to keep the banks back nice and far, I felt it may be important to mark out landmarks that I’m very aware of, but that he may not be. Several decorative (i.e. too heavy to move) boulders, the walkway to the sauna, a stump that I got as low as possible, but could still catch the bottom edge of a blade, etc, all received a marking. I even put them at the bottom of the stairs and on the other side of the sauna walk to help with us walking around the homestead.

A few days ago, we visited with Mummu and Grandpa to deliver to them a futon which they had purchased, anticipating that we may have need of “crashing” at their place due to weather or other circumstances. As a very much appreciated gesture, they sprang for some take away food, so we fellowshipped with them until it started to grow dark before heading back to the cabin.

Upon arriving back at the cabin, it was very dark and yet I knew that we also had very little power, so I wanted to run the generator for a little bit before retiring. Donna and Kenny headed inside while I meandered towards the sauna.

It was overcast, and had snowed, so there was no light, and really no packed trail to help me stay on the straight and narrow towards the sauna. As I approached the halfway mark between the cabin and the sauna, my right foot encountered a slight resistance, followed by a sharp release and “snap” that really capped off a lovely evening – a stinging pain that really only half of the population can appreciate.

My shriek was carried away on the wind, and I continued on bow-legged to the sauna, where I started the generator. I usually let it warm up by walking around the deck of the sauna once or twice before turning off the choke, and by the time I did this, the indignity thrust upon me was mostly forgotten. Besides, I did have a special beverage waiting for me inside.

The next morning I headed back outside to run the generator a little more, and the evidence from the night before was plain to see…

The footprints and groove in the snow tell the whole tale I’m sure.

The real path is just slightly to the left of the marker, as you can plainly see in the light.

I’ve since ordered some more solar lights to mount between the cabin and sauna.

Wildlife Update: 14 November 2018 (Deer)

November 24, 2018

This one is interesting – according to the time it was taken, it was just twenty minutes after we had gone for our nightly walk down the driveway! We just missed it!

I know the date says the 13th, but I had set it incorrectly, it should be fixed going forward.

Wood Piling Helpers

November 23, 2018

It’s always four times the fun piling wood when you have double the helpers!

A little dusting of the white stuff just makes it look nice

Love to see the smiles!

Oil, Chains, and a Trip to the Mechanic for the ATV

November 22, 2018

A couple of weeks ago my awesome neighbour J! offered to help me change out the oil in the ATV. I thought that sounded reasonable and much easier than me loading it onto the truck and running it down to KC Auto again as I’ve done every previous year. As well, I imagined that it would be a bit cheaper to do it yourself.

While there, the much more knowledgeable and wise J! suggested that my tires were looking a little worn, but not yet ready to replace. He said a big help with ploughing and skidding would be to invest in some chains. This resonated with me – Grandpa always had chains on his tractor and I had entertained the thought previously, but this latest advice was the precipitating factor for me to order them up.

Two more weeks passed before they arrived, and I rushed out to install them.

It took a bit of head scratching, and watching some Youtube videos, but I think I got them on correctly.

On Saturday I decided to try to bring in a large windfall I had noted on Thursday or Friday when I was last in the bush. I brought out the ATV and hooked up the log arch. Of course, it refused to start. I spent some time turning it over to no avail. Choke, no choke, gas, no gas. Sigh. Next I removed the spark plug and lightly sanded it and cleaned it off. No go. Then I added petrol (hmmm, this was much easier to do, perhaps I should have done that before the much more challenging spark plug removal?). Still no go.

As our car was down at KC Auto anyway and needed to be picked up, I decided to load up the ATV into the back of the truck and take it down to swap vehicles.

Everything lined up.

Ramps in place, and as always, safety first! Strap those ramps so they can’t slide off the gate – I’ve seen it happen in Youtube videos, as well as in real life! Very unnerving!
I ended up removing the chains before approaching the ramp, as I figured they wouldn’t be good on my aluminum ramps or the truck bed.

Cold work with bare hands!

Getting the front tires on the ramp. I’ve also removed the power saw boot. Note the cable hooked on the passenger side of the truck.

Decided to just guide it up, rather than ride it up. I know, I’m a nervous Nelly. (Apologies to the brave Nellys out there.)

Taking a load off the winch as it reaches the top of the ramp.

Pretty much done. Just to get up and over the wheel wells.
It was a bit of a challenge getting the ATV loaded into the truck without being able to drive it up the ramps. I first hooked up the winch and let the ATV pull itself up the ramp. It was not a little exciting when the wire rope snapped just as the ATV reached the wheel wells, and I had to quickly switch to the brake and steering to lower it down the ramp again.

Even a well worn wire rope can break now and again. Thankfully no one was injured!
I tied off a knot in the wire rope, and put two heavy duty straps across the bed of the truck. The first time I had just put the winch hook on one side, but this time I was able to hook onto the centre of the straps so that I was pulling the ATV straight up into the back of the truck.

Lots of creaking and a straining winch, but it worked!

Worked this time!

And an extra strap at the back to make extra sure all was well.
Of course, now I get to let KC Auto look at the ATV again – and in hindsight, the time and cost of the oil change kit ended up costing me more than letting the pros look at it anyway. That’s something I’ve definitely learned here on the homestead – while it does give one a great sense of accomplishment to be able to do everything for one’s self – it is often as not more expensive and inefficient, with results that can sometimes be better obtained from a professional.

Wildlife Update: 13 November 2018 (Fox)

November 21, 2018

Editor’s note: Too frequent (and blurry) fox photos? Should we post every photo with an animal, or only those that are new or particularly remarkable?

Wildlife Update: 10 November 2018 (Human)

November 20, 2018

Saw this magnificent female who seemed really pre-occupied with the lynx scat on the driveway. Looks like she even brought along her offspring and I think that’s her mate peeking in on the far right.

Wildlife Update: 10 November 2018 (Lynx??)

November 19, 2018

We found scat in the tracks, both of which we think belonged to a lynx.

Wildlife Update: 2 November 2018 (Fox)

November 18, 2018

Wildlife Update: 30 October 2018 (Fox)

November 17, 2018

Okay, now that we have the game cameras working on a regular basis, I’ll try to post the pictures of what comes up and just tag them by date and perhaps what animal they are. Not sure if this will be all that interesting or not?

Wildlife Update: 21 October 2018 (Lynx)

November 16, 2018

This lynx appeared about 25 minutes after the grouse, following the same route.

Wildlife Update: 21 October 2018 (Grouse)

November 15, 2018

Cold Morning in the Cabin!

November 14, 2018

I woke up early this morning, it felt later than it really was, but I decided it was a good time to start the woodstove.

Security / Game Cameras

November 11, 2018

A couple weeks ago at Canadian Tire, I picked up a few game cameras after we witnessed the lynx following some grouse along our driveway. This coincided with a recent uptick in traffic on the homestead while we are away.

I figured that the game cameras could double as security cameras as well.

Slightly annoyingly, we’re sure that they’ve missed some critters, as we’ve seen tracks in front of the their field of view, but no pictures have materialized!

Similarly, there have been times that we know we drove past, but the camera has either been extremely slow in tripping and thus only shows the driveway, or it hasn’t tripped at all.

On the plus side, there are multiple cameras, so we can assume that in most cases, if one camera misses something, another will catch it.

I had planned on owning one more SD card than cameras, so that I could swap out the cameras in succession each night when we go for our after supper walk. Unfortunately, after the first swap, I could no longer find the spare SD card. I searched through all the bins in the corner where I THOUGHT I would have left it.

I cleared off the countertop with our computers in the family room of the cabin. Not there either.

I figured it was a sunk (lost) cost, and purchased a new card. I opened up the new card and sat it beside the computer. After supper, while getting ready to go for the walk, I put the new card in my pocket, and then sat briefly on the chesterfield.

My hand slipped (for what felt like the first time ever) between the side of the chesterfield and the first cushion. It felt an edge of plastic. I slipped my fingertips around it and pulled out the missing SD card – NOT SIXTY SECONDS AFTER I HAD PICKED UP ITS REPLACEMENT FROM THE COUNTER.

I guess that’s another sunk cost, and at least I have a spare SD card, instead of just the memories of one. Sigh.

Here are the first pictures of wildlife we’ve gained from the investment.

Partially Enclosing the Porch with Poly

November 10, 2018

Last week we got treated to a cold, wet blow of snowy rain on our north and east sides here at the cabin. On the north side of the cabin is where we store firewood briefly before it comes into the cabin (so we don’t have to go all the way to the woodshed every time we run out of wood inside – we have a couple days’ supply built up in deep Rubbermaid tubs.) As long as the lids are on these tubs, it isn’t really a big issue if the weather hits them, but in this particular case, it meant that every lid had a deep pool of freezing cold slush on it that had to be removed before we could bring in that wood. I also don’t like how the snow blows up to the logs of the cabin and then melts there when the temperatures rise again.

Wood and sawdust bins close by. Note the soaking wet deck.
Even worse, on the east side of the cabin, we sometimes leave our boots outside when we come in. We came home during this weather event to find our boots soaked with cold snowy water. Ugh.

No protection for the front entrance either.
For $25, I picked up a roll of medium strength poly tarp and for a few dollars more, some squeeze type clamps.

Medium weight poly.

These type of clamps are surprisingly expensive!

I cut some one inch by two inch strapping to the same height as the outside opening of the porch roof (78 inches). I wrapped up some of the poly tarp around this strap, and then clamped it to one of the posts on the cabin.

I zig zagged through the posts to give the poly a bit more support, and then did the same thing at the opposite end of the porch.

The view from inside the porch now. Feels actually cozy.

And in front of the entrance. Hopefully it will offer a bit of protection.

It was hard to see through, but on the north side of the cabin, we only have a bathroom window that we sometimes look out of – so no worries there.

On the east or entrance side of the cabin, I didn’t enclose the whole porch, just in front of the door, so our view through the kitchen sink window is still unobstructed.

Fingers crossed!
I then wandered off to assemble our pop up garage, but returned shortly after to see this.

I retightened everything and made a note to purchase some more clamps for extra strength.

One new, extra clamp

And an alternate angle, showing the wood slat.
I’ll try to continue to report on how well it all works out.

A Pop Up Garage

November 7, 2018

So Donna is still making the daily trek into the city for work, and now that temperatures have dropped below zero, she’s starting to encounter frost and snow some mornings.

After a brief discussion about whether or not we could find a way to make the morning routine a bit easier, we green-lit the notion of a shelter for her to park in.

I consulted carefully with the Canadian Tire website, and opted for a rounded top ten by ten structure that seemed to fit the bill (ninja edit : it was on sale too, so the decision was swayed towards this particular size and model). I think that in the future if the fabric does ever break down, I can easily (?) cover it with sheet steel and create something really solid!

Kenny and I spent the better part of the day assembling it in a very cold drizzle, but managed to not only get it put together according to specs, I even used some of the leftover railway spikes from constructing the cabin to hammer it into the gravel where we located it!

All set up, ready to accept a vehicle into it’s loving embrace!
With great excitement, I lined up the Echo and backed carefully in.

Looks good!

Nice and tight against the back fabric.

Uh oh…
Yup, I should have bought the fifteen footer. Sigh. Maybe measuring the vehicles would have been prudent?

Enough room to get in and out on the side ;).
At least there was room to get in and out of the vehicle without having to slide along the side of it.

The even more glaring issue is that the Hyundai that Donna drives is even longer.

Well, for now we’ll try having her just pull the front in, so she doesn’t have to scrape her window. If it doesn’t work out, we do have need for a structure like this to park either the ATV or the bikes or things of that nature.

Bonus cold snek picture.

Reviewing Timber Tuff Skidding Tongs

October 29, 2018

Now with the sawmill no longer in the mix, I’m focused on trying to make my firewood production as simple as possible. With that in mind, I tried to take to heart the parts of the job that are messiest, as well as most frustrating. One of these annoyances occurs out in the bush, trying to thread a chain under the end of a log in the mud or brush before my log arch can pick it up. To that end, I decided to try out a skidding tong.

Hitting up Amazon proved to be the most economical option, so I waited patiently for it to arrive. Once it did, I at first tried to use a short chain between the tong’s hook, and the hook on my arch. The tong hangs down a fair distance though, so I realized that every change to shorten the chain would help in lifting the logs higher off the ground. To that end, I eventually removed the hook from the arch, and simply bolted the chain directly to the roller on the arch.

One can see how low the hooks hang here. In this photo I have already bolted the chain directly to the roller, and the tongs can be hooked on to the best position for the situation.
Since then, the tongs have worked in an acceptable manner. They aren’t quite as trouble free as I would have liked – small diameter logs don’t easily get picked up by them, and require some nursing before I can drive off with confidence.

Occasionally, a log does shake free of the points – of course, this could happen with the chain too.

This is a pretty decent sized log for our property, and it fits onto the tongs well.
A fairly significant shortcoming is that it really can only carry a single log at a time. I will perhaps try to experiment with ways of getting it to hold more, but for now, it seems a limitation. Not a huge one, as I’m currently trying to bring in larger logs anyway – but it could be frustrating. I may consider only using it for larger logs, and just chaining smaller ones together in my original manner.
I’m not sure if I would consider purchasing it in the future – perhaps once I see it pick up some nicer sized logs that I’d have had to muck about to retrieve, but for now, it’s not a whole lot better than a simple chain and slip hook have been.

Lots of brush under this log, it would have been a mixed bag to thread a chain around it in the bush.

Sealing the Outside Crawlspace Vents

October 28, 2018

As you may have read, I have changed up how I seal the crawlspace vents. Now it was time to take the final step and cut and fit some foam to them.

At least I didn’t need to put on the full kit it takes to go under the cabin.

From this for under the cabin…

…to this for under the porch.
This year I cheaped out and used some open cell polystyrene foam sheets that are really inexpensive. Once I know that my concept works, I can switch it up with something more pricey.

Easy to cut, but also a bit messy.

The sheets were only an inch thick, so I inserted multiple sheets to build it up thick.

And the generally finished seal.
So far, it went well, and looks really good. We’ll check in again in the spring and see how it holds up over the winter.

The End of an Era – Selling the Sawmill a.k.a. How to Dismantle a Woodmizer LT10 Sawmill a.k.a. New Beginnings

October 12, 2018

If I recall correctly, last year I only cut two or three beams on the sawmill. I didn’t have any big projects in mind, but did have some large logs on the skidway. One of the largest was a huge birch that had blown down previously, and Grandpa helped me to portion it off and bring it in. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew it had some good board feet in it. I cut it into two large eight by eight beams. Kenny offered to help move one of the beams, and immediately pinched the tip of his finger badly and that really killed my interest in doing any more unneeded cutting for the season.
This past summer Donna and I made loose plans to build a new sauna. With that in mind, I cut up a stack of true two by four beams in twelve and eight foot lengths. Once they were on my drying rack, I realized that I didn’t really have too many future projects in mind again. This coincided with good friends of our family talking about their own desire to own a mill to help them construct a barn in the near future (they have quite a menagerie already – and are open to expanding it).
A handshake arrangement was made (after consulting Donna), and Thanksgiving weekend was arranged as the best opportunity to get it dismantled and moved to its new home.
Several times during this process, the phrase “highest, best use” came to mind – not just for the mill, but also for things like my time and attention. It’s a principle I can only attest to know about and occasionally strive for, not something I claim to have mastered.

First part of any job – forming an overall plan of action.

Picking the low-hanging fruit to boost our confidence. Removing one bed section.

Down to just the very heavy mast – time to bring in the big guns (both mental AND physical!)

A little grunting and groaning to get started. Note the powerhouse framed by the mast!

It felt easier to move laying flat.

I asked for this picture NOT to be taken.

This slope seemed to get steeper once we were carrying the mast.

Ahh, sweet relief!

The beams are required to lay the track on.

Everything all banded up, and the family finally rounded up and buckled in!

Kenny found a tree – maybe Christmas material?

Bonus Blue Jay who had been visiting us.

Revising the Crawlspace Vents

September 24, 2018

Since we first built the cabin, I have made it a biannual tradition to suit up, crawl under the floor and either open or close the vents in each corner.

I curse, struggle, swear (quietly) and then return to the land of humans spent and crusty. Finally this year I decided to try to change that, even if only slightly.

Originally I hadn’t thought much of it – I had the screens mounted flush with the outside of the cinder blocks, and would crawl up to each one under the cabin and push foam into the space behind them. Or pull it out, depending on the season.

The original setup – screen flush with the outside of the blocks.
Finally last year I realized that if I had had the foresight to mount the screen flush with the INSIDE of the blocks, I could be pushing the foam in from the outside, where I only need to crawl under six feet of deck in the great outdoors, rather than six feet of dusty rock in the pitch black.

Assembling my tools.

Looks about right for going down below.
Once again I went under inside this year and caulked in new screens as flush as possible to the inside of the blocks. This was frustrating enough but hopefully it’s the last time I need to do it in this manner.

A few days later, I lay down a tarp in the corner of the cabin under the porch, and crawled up to the screen. It took a bit of work with a hammer and elbow grease, but I managed to break the outer screens off the blocks and clean them up. Then I measured some cedar board to line the entire cavity, and spray foamed around them to try to ensure a good seal.

Tearing out the old screen.

The new screen was too tight, I had to flex it into position. Hopefully unintended consequences of this don’t return to bite me.

Boxed in nicely, ready for the outside foam plugs.
In the next week or so, I’ll stuff the openings full of additional foam to seal up the crawlspace for this freezing season. Hopefully this process will be much less frustrating than having to go under the cabin itself.

If only I could figure out a way to drain the water lines without having to go under the cabin either. If only…

…And First Snowfall of the Season!

September 23, 2018

Yesterday we attended the NOHE to help us have a better background in the ins and outs of being a small landlord. Afterwards we dropped by on one of our tenants to put up some blinds for them and have a bbq (as well as to enjoy their shower!)

They mentioned once or twice that there was supposedly a chance of snow overnight. I saw the same thing on the local news broadcast just before pastry time as well, but it was really hard to imagine it.

At two a.m. this morning I woke up to a tingly bladder, and noted that the scene outside the patio doors was unusually bright – likely due to the nearly full moon (no, not mine – the real one – I do wear at least underpants at night!)

As you can imagine, without my glasses, I couldn’t see accurately, but upon sober second look, things weren’t the same… shape… outside. I put on my spectacles to be treated to, well, a spectacle! Everything was covered in a thick layer of snow.

I lay down, not sure if the proper reaction was excitement or dread – my body didn’t really care, it feels both of those emotions the same way. I decided that it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I still would like to have more wood put up for NEXT winter, but at least this winter should be covered for the most part.

An Aiki tradition – the annual marking of the first snow in Donna’s windscreen.

I didn’t realize how much we seem to have a used car lot here!
Now I have to go through my mental checklist of things to ensure I’m prepared for. Bring in things that shouldn’t be left out for the season… Find the ladder and set it up to sweep off the solar panels. Find the broom for the solar panels. Dig out the oldest pile of humanure to make sure there is lots of room for this season’s contributions. Maybe take a trip or two down the bush trail and bring in some logs that have fallen across the trail.

At least the pond didn’t freeze – today. I think it was frozen yesterday though.
It’s likely best for me to make this list elsewhere, as it is sure to grow throughout the day.

A close up. Is that a patio chair there?! Another thing to put away!
Where are my winter boots?

Sauna looks very wintery!

First Fire of the ’18-’19 Season!

September 19, 2018

Whelp, I was hoping it would never come, but here it is.

This morning it was 17.7 in the cabin, and I can see that at this moment it is 0.0 outside.

In an effort to promote and maintain familial happiness, I finally put a match to paper and wood and lit the first fire of our season. It has currently warmed the cabin to over 18, but it’s not roaring for some reason. I put in some large chunks of well seasoned birch, so at least it should go for awhile.

Not bad for a 5am picture! Note the electric heater which supplements in late afternoon when the sun is still strong and the batteries are almost floating.
The main woodshed is full, which is nice. The sauna woodshed is three quarter’s full, which is honestly, more full than it’s been at the start of any given season, so there’s that.

Slightly worryingly is that the wood pile for the ’19-’20 season has only just begun – hopefully in the remainder of the month and up to Christmas, I can take advantage of the Brrr Months to get some wood put up for next year.

At least I can warm up large quantities of water now without using butane or watching the power levels 😀!

A Brief Update on Aiki Finances

August 21, 2018

One of our guiding principles when we first took on this particular endeavour was to try to trim down our lifestyle such that it allowed us to spend more time together. For a family of introverts, we sincerely enjoy one another’s company!

The first three years we were able to bask in the ability to spend the entire time together most days. It didn’t mean we were attached to one another, but moreso that if one of us needed to work on a large project, the other was free to keep an eye on Kenny.

While Kenny has grown and doesn’t need constant (or really any) supervision, we still want to be sure that he is involved in the goings on in our household and connected to us.

Unfortunately, fiscal realities set in and my part time income(s) certainly weren’t enough to keep us afloat.

Donna’s skill set is much more employable and as such, she has gone back to work. First at three days a week, then moving up to four, and for nearly a year now at five. This is definitely the opposite direction from where we intended that particular needle to move.

Rather than get bogged down in how annoying this has been, I’m going to write only about the positive spin it has put on our finances for now. If it weren’t for that, I don’t believe it is something we would want to continue for any longer than required.

It has allowed us to pay off the roof of the cabin when we realized that was a project that couldn’t be tackled by one person.

It allowed us to purchase a more reliable vehicle to make the pilgrimage back to southern Ontario to visit family once (or twice?) a year.

It reduced a fair amount of stress from watching the bank balance that once seemed so high in the black, to keep tracking into the red.

We like the bank balance needle moving higher again, but we also are mindful that Kenny is at a great age to start having more adventures together. Whether here on the homestead, or perhaps showing him a bit more of the world. We also now believe that providing him with some of his own tangible assets may be a good plan for his future; something that seems increasingly hard to prepare for or predict using traditional means.

Almost two years ago we suffered from reduced access to one of our greatest resources out here on the homestead – one that I’ve often admitted was the difference between total failure and the successes we’ve had.

Mummu and Grandpa decided to move from the property adjacent to us back to the city. It’s nice that they are still more than close enough to visit often, but it’s nowhere near what it was like when we could walk back and forth between us.

One of their choices in moving to the city was that they no longer wanted to be home owners. They were happy to rent and have fewer worries about how to maintain a household. Not to mention no longer having to cut wood and blow out a huge driveway.

An idea floated while they began their search for an appropriate place to move to – for Donna and I to purchase a tidy little home of their choosing, and then turn around and rent it to them for enough to cover the expenses. This would give everyone the best of the situation. We still had a mid-sized HELOC [home equity line of credit] on our house in Kitchener, and the local RBC was willing to provide a mortgage for the remainder based on Donna’s income and our credit rating.

Together we found a cozy bungalow that seemed to check off all the required boxes.

This situation worked so well for the first year that it began to show us a way to perhaps get Donna home sooner.

With that in mind, we tapped even more of the equity in our Kitchener home to purchase a triplex in Thunder Bay, and placed three very lovely tenants there. It required more renovations than we expected (isn’t that always the case?), but we believe we have done most of the heavy lifting so that it shouldn’t require many more inputs going forward.

Mummu and Grandpa have been at their place a bit over a year now, and recently we began looking for something else for them as there were a few things that they would prefer to have differently. Luckily we found another home in the city that they like even more, and it sports a small suite in the basement which should help to off-set the increased price.

So here we are, about to close on that house, and lining up renters for the house they are now leaving, as well as this new basement suite.

Truth be told, this year we probably will make very little or even nothing from all of these “doors” – as renovations took a bit of a toll on the balance. We also had windstorms in southern Ontario that damaged the roof in Kitchener, which needed to be repaired to the tune of many thousands of dollars.

We’re optimistic that with these large capital expenses finished, rental properties may provide a less time-intensive stream of income for the family budget and may soon free up Donna significantly.

I’ll try to add in a bit more writing about how we are managing our time and money going forward, as I think that’s an important part of the picture. Things like financial independence and early retirement have played a large part of our thoughts of late, and so it’s only fair to include them on the blog.

Bonus picture of “hawky” – a hawk that has been hanging around the cabin quite a bit the past week, and appears nearly tame!

Using Sour Milk to Make Quick and Easy Cheese in our Rice Cooker

August 8, 2018

We were down to our last bag of milk. Luckily I had starred milk on our Wunderlist and made sure to purchase some more just as we started the bag.

Unfortunately, as I went to pour Kenny a glass from that final bag, he remarked something like “I don’t know if that’s a different kind of milk from usual, but I really don’t like it.” Immediately I sampled it and could taste the distinct acidity of milk starting to turn. I set the bag aside in the fridge and poured him a glass of new milk, and decided to take another spin at making cheese the next day.

I don’t know if I’m unique, but I still torment myself with embarrassment even over things that happened years and years and years ago. Often to such a degree that recalling those events causes me to cry out loud now, at my age. Fortunately Kenny has learned a bit about this quirk of his father’s, and when he hears me make these whimpers, if I reply that I’m just remembering something embarrassing to his queries, he soon lets the issue drop.

The title of this blog post is one of those embarrassing memories. Then again, as I start really embracing the dad joke, perhaps it isn’t so bad.

On the plus side, it was pretty much exactly the recipe I used for making cheese this time around. Cost of cheese – about $1.50, using milk that was going in the thunderbox anyway, so that’s not bad. It tasted like some sort of fancy gourmet cheese that would have been much more than $1.50 for 100gm, so I guess I came out ahead there. Thinking I should save some brine from feta, and put this in the brine to give it that same flavour. I may end up making my own cheese on a more regular basis?

Much easier to heat the milk in a rice cooker! Just set on cook and wait for the bubbles.

Maybe an ounce of vinegar.

Cheesecloth and colander assembled.

Right on queue, here’s the bubbles!

Things happen real fast when the vinegar goes in. Stir for a minute, switch to warm, and let this just curdle for maybe a quarter hour.

Pouring through the cheesecloth.

Still pouring.

Pouring complete. There’s the curd in the colander.

Wrapped up the cloth, set between two dinner plates, and put on a full jug of vinegar to press it for another half hour or so.

Looks cheesy. Very bland. Needs lots of kosher salt!

And packaged for salads or just eating straight up.

A Rack for Milled Lumber

August 7, 2018

As you probably remember from the post about me starting up the sawmill again, I’ve just been throwing the 2×4’s willy-nilly all over the ground in an effort to make a big dent in the skidway.

Ugh, what a mess.

Doesn’t really look any better from this angle.

Me thinking, “I’ll deal with you later!”
After the pile started to get really unruly looking though, I decided it was time to put that stuff on a rack neatly for aesthetic, quality, safety and space reasons.

I planned out a complicated rack that I could build using gas pipe and gas pipe fittings and headed in to Home Depot.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, they had only a fraction of the types of fittings I would have needed, and even less of the pipe in the sizes I wanted. On top of that, a mental calculation of cost made it less and less attractive.

I headed down to storage solutions and then figured that, while sub-optimal, a heavy duty storage rack should still be able to be pressed into service. As such, I purchased the largest, heaviest duty one they had and headed home.

While Donna and Kenny pursued their chores at the cabin, I assembled the racking on a level area really close to the mill, and began to load up the product I had already cut. I was able to fit five boards across, then a sticker, and then repeat this process for three layers. This times four shelves gave me space for theoretically 60 boards at a time. Realistically, I lost a number of slots where the diagonal braces spanned the ends, but I also made up a number of slots on the top shelf which I could pile higher. I also found that I could even pile a couple boards outside the shelving on the protruding ends of the stickers.

Nice, level area close to the mill.

Sliding them in from the end is just the way of things.

Looks nice and neat though!
All in all, it sure has cleaned up the mill area, and I trust that it will help keep the boards I cut straighter than they would be just piled on the ground. I’ll report back if there are any issues.

Kenny’s Garden Harvest

August 6, 2018

Be it ever so humble, there are no veggies quite like “grown on your own…”

Showing off the bounty from our raised beds. Made for amazing fresh salad!

Yet Another Clothes Line

July 25, 2018

When you live off-grid and don’t have easy access to gas or electric services, you start to really miss some things, and others, not so much.

One thing I’ve not really missed – especially since even when we had one, we didn’t use it terribly much, was our dryer.

Even back in the city, I had installed a clothes line in the rafters over our back porch, very similar to what I installed on the sauna here in the bush.

Now that we’ve moved washing operations into the main cabin though, it makes sense to keep the drying operations closer.

In addition to the very popular indoor drying rack, we also owned a pop up drying rack that I would set out on the deck as much as possible during the summer, and continue to use throughout the winter indoors just for extra space. Unfortunately that rack met its’ untimely end after being overloaded and then subjected to a large gust of wind last week. Go in peace our good friend.

So sad, those rods aren’t suppose to be on the ground!
I remembered that in the bush were the remains of a previous clothes line that had been abandoned when the line under the porch roof of the sauna was installed. Kenny and I grabbed my larger ladder and headed out to retrieve any useful parts. It didn’t take long to disassemble and bring it back to the main cabin.

I didn’t want anything that would in any way interfere with our ability to move around on the porch. It’s somewhat cluttered enough already. Also, the porch rafters on the cabin are at least a foot higher than the sauna, so I didn’t think anyone other than myself would be able to reach them comfortably.

With those points in mind, I decided to install a single line just along the outside edge of the rafters that Donna and I could access while not blocking any traffic.

Assembling my parts. Don’t freak out by the dismembered rack in the background.
First some open cup hooks were installed at each end of the beam.

Open ended hook.
Then at each support post, I also installed an eye hook to help keep the line from sagging.

Eye hook. Hopefully far enough under the edge that in light rain, clothes could still stay up?
I ran the remaining clothes line through the eye hooks and tied it off at each end.

I also installed a tension device to allow me to tighten the clothes line right away, and any time in the future that it may sag.

Easy adjustment down the line.
I loaded it up, and so far it’s worked great! It only gets afternoon sun, but anything is better than nothing in life! I wonder how long into the cold season we will be able to use it. Time will tell.

Enjoy my unmentionables!

Using the LT10 Sawmill Again

June 3, 2018

Well I’ll be jiggered! But let me explain – I only used the sawmill a handful of times last summer, culminating in the time Kenny dropped a 6×6 birch beam on his finger and I felt so bad that if someone had offered to just take my sawmill away I likely would have just let them.

Fast forward to a couple days ago when I realized it was a nice day, and I had time, but that I had done nothing to winterize the mill. I poured a couple of glugs (it’s a real unit of measurement – honest!) of seafoam into the tank, then topped it off with petrol. I was actually thinking I should be stingy with the petrol, on the assumption that I would have to remove the engine and have it serviced at KC Auto before I would be able to get it to start.

Stunningly, it started on the SECOND PULL! I almost fell off the catwalk! Kohler engines – I am sold!

In any case, I cut up a few logs into a small pile of true two by fours to likely put towards the new sauna. One really great side effect was the sawdust that was produced – We had actually paid a bit to the local firewood guy to purchase some of his excess sawdust and chips in the spring!

A few two by fours to get warmed up!

A nice big bucket of clean, dry, natural sawdust for the composting toilets!
Today is grey and drizzling, I’ll likely skip the mill and just go under the cabin to open up the vents instead. Then follow it up with a sauna.

A Woodpecker Visits

May 23, 2018

This morning I realized the tapping I was hearing was NOT just from my foot or the fan on the stove – a quick glance out the window revealed this guy looking for breakfast…

Storing Acrylic Storm Windows

May 17, 2018

So now that we are ALMOST to the point where nighttime temperatures are reliable around the freezing mark or above, and daytime temperatures can get up to low twenties, it’s been tempting to open up the windows.

As such though, it became crunch time to come up with a place to store the acrylic. I had a few different visions of nooks behind the chesterfield or under the beds, but felt that also finding a place that could accept the screens made sense too.

In the end, here’s the scheme I came up with. We’ll see how it plays out over the next year or two.

(N.B. One picture reveals the dedicated photographer! Ed.)

First, a 48″x96″ sheet of 1/2″ plywood.

And choosing a spot to locate it. Here, in front of the bedroom patio doors, up on that 2×6.

Four heavy duty hinges.

Set up some sawhorses to work comfortably at.

Another angle.

Measure out spots for the hinges at equal intervals.

Wanted to use 3/4″ screws, so I had to slide washers under the hinges to make sure the tips of the screws didn’t poke out on the far side and scratch my acrylic.

Nice perspective shot!

Now adding a 2×3 rail on the far edge for the sheets to butt up against.

Setting up a ladder to try to put this up by myself.

I mounted a single screw at one end, then carefully hoisted the other end into position.

Added a few more screws.

And a few more yet.

Getting ready to move the ladder.

I put the ladder underneath to prop out the shelf on an angle – to ensure the acrylic didn’t fall off!

Now laying a cotton sheet down so the acrylic wasn’t directly on the wood. Note the ratchet straps now employed to hold up the shelf.

Working my way from right to left.

Time to switch to the far end.

My photographer felt the composition here was of interest.

Now at the left edge, with the right edge falling off. Sigh.

Trying to lift the right edge of the sheet.

And the left edge of the sheet falls off.

Tucking in the top much more carefully as I work right to left again.


Laying the first sheet down.

Looks good, crumpling up some painters tape that I removed from the acrylic as I was storing it. Next year, I think I’ll try magnetic tape on the exterior.

Adding some of the larger sheets.

Now we’re getting there.

A good view of the ratchet straps. Opened the patio doors as I felt there were no bugs. Boy, was I wrong that evening as mosquitoes were EVERYWHERE in the cabin!

Got them all to fit! Yeah so far!

Ratcheted it up. It was good to have two straps so I could alternate them.

Lots of room underneath, and I can confirm that it doesn’t block any of the view from the bedroom. I can use it for screens over the winter as well – I hope!

Some Mallards Visit

May 16, 2018

They didn’t stick around long, but it sure was exciting to see a couple of ducks hanging around the pond a couple of days ago!

Solar Power’s Back Baby!

April 24, 2018

Yes indeed, this morning marks that momentous time of year when I can get up in the middle of the night and our batteries have enough charge to make me a litre of tea to drink, and then another half litre of boiling water for my ramen.

Life is good!

Mmmm, ramen!

Canning Pancakes

March 11, 2018

Whelp, here’s a crazy experiment that may be of interest to my reader as I descend down the rabbit hole into gastronomic madness…

Canned pancakes, and no, not that Batter Blaster type of canning either.

First, I mixed up the batter as normal.

Totally normal batter.
Then greased a baker’s dozen of 250mL canning jars with butter.

I poured a quarter cup of batter into each jar, set them on a baking sheet, and into the oven they went for maybe twenty or twenty-five minutes. I checked them at least once, didn’t see the harm in it.

That’s all of them full!

If it wasn’t for the flash, you’d see 350F here.
They don’t brown up the way they would if they were fried, they become more like a steamed pudding… Anyway, once they were set, I pulled them out, poured a tablespoon of chocolate chips on top, and then put on the canning lid and ring and tightened it down.

Adding the chocolate chips. They’ll melt a little in the jars as they cool down.
As they cooled, the lids suctioned down tight.

These are NOT preserved, but the presentation is fun. I’m sure they’d last at room temperature for a couple of days or so – at least as long as something baked would do.

I’ll serve them up tomorrow to the homeschoolers coming to visit and hopefully they’ll be decently received.

I didn’t have a lid for the last one, and figured Kenny or Donna would eat it right away anyway.

Surprise! I gave them some other pancakes I made at the same time, and they didn’t need the thirteenth, so when it cooled, I put on this plastic lid to store it for tomorrow.

Canning Potatoes the Lazy Way

March 9, 2018

We’ve been excessively blessed with sunlight the past couple of weeks. I haven’t had to run the generator for at least a week, and everyone just feels a bit more peppy.

After canning the chicken last week, I was enthused to replenish our pantry with meals in jars, so I set to work doing up our potatoes. I have mixed and matched a few techniques for doing potatoes that I think make mine easy, safe and still tasty and useful.

First off, it’s widely accepted that peeling them is important and they really aren’t safe otherwise. I happen to see some logic to this, and besides, I’m really retentive about ensuring only the best of the best stuff gets canned, so I like to peel them to see what’s going on under the skins.

Peeled, and ready to slice and dice for soaking.
I also do dice them into odd shaped chunks. I would like to slice them uniformly for scalloped potatoes, but I believe that you have to have good circulation of water around them to ensure proper processing, and if they were all stacked up, the interior of the stack may not get up to a good temperature.

These were soaked overnight, and now I’m dicing them a bit smaller before putting them into the jars.
It seems that many people briefly boil (parboil? blanch?) their potatoes before canning them. A year or two ago when I was having kidney problems, I was told to lay off potatoes due to potassium, or to soak them overnight to help reduce it a bit. This also has the function of removing much of the starch in the potatoes that caused them to go cloudy and slimy when canned. I find the overnight soak is just as effective as boiling them before canning them.

With non-sealing lids, ready to soak overnight in the jars themselves.
Normally I have been soaking them in some large bowls, but that is very disruptive in the fridge, so now I raw pack them in jars, top up the jars with clean water and let them sit in the fridge overnight like that. Then I drain off the water, pour in new water (cold, warm, hot – it doesn’t matter – it just affects how long the steamer takes to come up to pressure) and put on the lids and rings.

Ready to go into the canner. Fresh water up to the threads, just enough to cover the potatoes.
Nota bene I don’t bother sterilizing the jars or lids or rings. It’s clear that I’m basically autoclaving everything that goes in the canner, so that’s a silly extra step. As long as my jars are clean enough to eat and drink directly out of them (and we do), they will be totally fine for the canner. In case you don’t believe me, a brief google search will back up my opinion.

Otherwise, my canning process is nothing remarkable. I ensure that the chunks are completely covered in water – we’ve found that if they are exposed, they tend to turn grey.

Just prewarming the water and canner on the corner of the stove while preparing the jars. This saves a bit of time and energy.
I turn up the heat with the vent closed until the canner locks from the pressure. Then I open the vent and let steam hiss out for close to ten minutes.
I close the vent to fifteen pounds of pressure and if I have the energy, I crank the heat up to get it steaming again more quickly, but it’s not required if I’m patient.

As soon as it starts steaming again, I turn the temperature gauge down to 120 degrees (Celsius) and set the timer for whatever is required. In the case of half litre jars of potatoes, it would be 35 minutes.

Steaming away. I put paper towels between the cooker and the canner to catch the steamy drops of water that drip down while it’s coming up to pressure. You can’t do that on anything other than an induction cooker!
The timer shuts it off, I wait until I see the lock indicator on the canner click off, then I remove the lid and take out the jars and set them on a cutting board to cool off.

That’s it! Fun, and flavourful! And it means no more worrying about potatoes doing weird things in the back corner of the pantry. 🙂


March 8, 2018

Yesterday while waiting for the sun to rise enough to power the canner, I was treated to sunrise directly in line with the driveway! It was a beautiful view from the kitchen sink while I prepped the ingredients.

Almost there!


Hopes for Spring

March 1, 2018

Yesterday I was able to can four kilos of chicken in two batches. I’m still using the small pressure canner and really enjoy it – it works like a charm!

The sun was able to bring up the temperature outside to just above freezing. Kenny and I also found the time to walk the five kilometers up to the mailboxes (no mail for us though). It’s a nice walk; we get to talk quite a bit about physics and video games, our two favourite subjects it seems.

The other big event was that I was able to make my own version of nasi goreng exclusively in our rice cooker. First I did about two hundred grammes of salmon in the steamer portion, then I scrambled two eggs in the bottom. Next up I put in the rice, and drained the water from a can of mixed veggies, as well as the leftover water from the salmon poaching, into the rice, which was almost enough to cook it.

When the steamer clicked off, I added the fish, eggs, and veggies to the rice, and stirred it all up with some sesame oil, lime juice, lemon juice, sweet chili sauce, soy sauce and worcestershire sauce. It was awesome at supper on tortillas with a healthy smear of peanut butter.

Anyway, enough of my recipe; the key takeaway (in case you’re not looking up at the calendar) is that the cabin was so warm from the sun and the canning and the cooking, that I didn’t bother lighting the stove fire last night – and no one noticed!

Gives me some hope that my dwindling wood supply will last.

Youtube Channel

February 7, 2018

I pretty much laughed off the anonymous comment on my making money post about starting a Youtube channel for the blog, but then during the night last night as I lay awake thinking of ways to organize my life, it occurred to me that yes, maybe I SHOULD try to combine all my videos related to the homestead in one place, different from where I put my more personal content.

So this morning I created the Aikihomestead Youtube Channel. I’ll try to upload video content related to what we’re doing and experiencing here on as regular basis as I can.

I’ll try to upload some of the videos that I’ve already cross-referenced on this blog first, although if I come across anything of interest in the meantime, I’ll be sure to upload that too.

As always, rate, comment, and subscribe!

Making Money With a Homesteading Blog

January 22, 2018

It finally happened! My get rich at a moderate pace plan is beginning to come to fruition! After nearly nine years and over five hundred different posts, Google has emailed me to tell me that they have cut me a cheque for $100 (Canadian, in case it matters – or almost $77 US).

Not sure what to do with this newfound windfall – maybe invest in cryptocurrency?!

Stay tuned for when I can report on my $200 threshold… In 2027 if we can hold the course!

Water Running in the Bathroom!

January 21, 2018

After a couple of mild days, and warm fires, and wishful thinking, the water line in the bathroom suddenly burst to action just the other day!

A sight for sore eyes!
There was a bit of sediment that had collected, but surprisingly less than I feared. It’s so nice to wash up in there again! We just have to remember to try to send down warm water once in awhile, instead of a steady diet of toothpaste…

Flipped Snow Bangs

January 13, 2018

We received some warm temperatures the other day that let the snow start to slide off the porch roof. Here’s one unusual structure that developed.

Cool style!

And the view from beneath…

Thoughts on my Acrylic Storm Windows

January 11, 2018

When I first conceived of my storm windows, it was without question that they would be mounted on the inside of the existing windows.

The past two years that I’ve done this, I noted how the acrylic (or in some cases, thin poly plastic) was always billowing inwards. I assumed this was because the woodstove was pulling outside air in to heat and send up the stovepipe.

This problem pane constantly pulls away from the frame, luckily the clothes dryer rope holds it in place.
A handful of times so far this year, I’ve caught a whiff of woodsmoke and it really, really, REALLY upsets me to have that in the cabin.

I mostly feel it has been on cold days with a wind that must just hit things the right way while the fire is running low.

Twice though it’s been suggested that another possibility is that there is an alternate chimney effect in the cabin due to air leaking out upstairs and coming in on the main floor.

I was pretty sure not much was escaping through the attic, as it was spray foamed for the most part, and when I examine it from outside, I can see no places where snow is melting faster than any other locations.

I hadn’t (and don’t intend to) install an acrylic storm on Kenny’s bedroom window. In case of an emergency, I didn’t want him to have to try to quickly remove a hard, large sheet of plastic before opening his window and exiting out onto the porch roof. So far this winter, I hadn’t done anything with his window.

Finally I put on some thin poly that would be easily torn, and was immediately struck by how it was pushed OUT – against the window itself! Here was a clear chimney effect going on in the cabin. I wonder how much air has been escaping from his room all this year?

It’s hard to see, but the poly is being pressed against the glass here.
In any case, this put me in mind of our front door – due to design restrictions, I had had to put the acrylic on the outside. Sure enough, it was being sucked in towards the cabin too.

I remembered that I had an extra piece of acrylic sized to the pantry and bathroom, so I braved the extreme cold and taped it up outside the bathroom, which made an immediate difference to the amount of frost that was building up inside that window.

I think it doesn’t look half bad!

Still a bit of frost in the corners at thirty below.

A bit of staining from frosty condensation melting. 🙁
The worst spot for frost remains the pantry, but I’m tempted to remove the interior bathroom storm, move it to the OUTSIDE of the pantry and then see how things work.

The pantry gets frost between the storm and the glass – mustn’t be a very good seal.

And loads more frost on the mounting tape itself too!
One ongoing problem I’ve been having this year is the constant negative pressure on the main floor is causing the storm windows to pull away from the window frames and this dramatically reduces their effectiveness. I think putting the storms on the outside would help greatly with this issue, as the positive pressure there would actually serve to press the acrylic against the frames, instead of away from them. Next fall I think I will see how challenging it would be to mount them outdoors. Even if they did tend to haze or discolour over the course of a few years, I’d accept that issue to have a warmer, less frosty cabin. Aesthetically, it would also mean the lime green painters tape I use to mount the storms would be outside the cabin, and not visible to the occupants.

As for the large window constantly pulling away from the frame? After using them to help create the portable indoor shower, I realized that spring loaded shower curtain rods could have multiple uses around the home or homestead, and in this case, installing one in the frame to run vertically and hold the acrylic in place was just the ticket. Even leading Donna to the window and telling her I had “fixed” that problem failed to get her to immediately notice it – the two whites blended in so well.

My solution to the “problem” window? A spring loaded shower curtain rod in the middle of the window!

Portable Shower Revisited

January 10, 2018

The other night we reassembled the portable shower. This time I put Panasonic Alkaline batteries into the sump pump and it made a huge difference compared to Walmart “Great Value” brand batteries, and an even greater one compared to Dollarama Zinc Carbide batteries. We were actually able to pump water a couple feet higher than the reservoir.

Previously, we just poured water onto ourselves with pitchers because the pump couldn’t supply any water to the showerhead.

I put a pail on the stand beside the sink, and poured some nice warm water over the pump.

Needs more warm water!
I had to crouch, which was a bit uncomfortable, so I’d look into mounting the shower head higher. I also wish I was able to shut off the flow of water from inside – I think a pull chain type arrangement would be perfect.

This came out to be a little low, but serviceable.

Pushing Back the Snowbanks

January 9, 2018

Saturday was a clear, cold day, but they were predicting snow for overnight (which did come, although not too much).

I decided it would be better to try to get the ATV started sooner, rather than later, so I thought I’d do a quick pass on the driveway just for practise and to warm up/charge up the battery.

It took a long time to get it to finally start up, but it eventually did. I did my quick pass, and then noticed that the bank pushed back with much less resistance than I expected. I suppose that because our snow never went through any thaw/freeze cycles it was still fluffy all the way down.

Emboldened by this information, I spent the next hour or two going back and forth along both sides of the driveway pushing the banks back until I could feel the front of the ATV going off the driveway. For once, I didn’t get stuck!

Now with the banks back nice and far, I can relax a bit and feel like I have a buffer before I need to call in anyone with a plough truck to actually move something heavy.

I never expected to get this far, so I never took the obligatory “before” picture. It was about half this width.

Addendum to Warming the Batteries (Including Bonus Addendum)

January 8, 2018

While it’s been hard to quantify how much the heating pads on the solar batteries have helped, I can say that in spite of frigid temperatures, we haven’t lost power due to overvoltage, and the batteries have been ranging between 6 and 10 degrees in spread between their temperature and ambient.

Twice since the installation of the battery warmers, we’ve left the homestead and had to shut them off in spite of a surplus of power because we couldn’t or wouldn’t be sure to return home in time to turn the warmers off before the sun set.

Enter another brainwave – a timer! I’ve often wanted to have the sauna on a timer, as we regularly end up leaving the power on out there after we take steam, and while the draw is tiny, I am prone to obsess over tiny things. I couldn’t find one that had longer than an hour on the clock locally, so I did what everyone does nowadays – off to Amazon!

I found a lovely one that ranges between five minutes and four hours. Pretty much perfect for my use case!

Multi flavoured panel n’est-ce pas?
I installed it in about ten minutes, and it worked great right away! Another win?


Sunday morning was the morning where the cold snap finally broke.

Comparing the ambient temperature to the batteries (which we didn’t heat at all on Saturday), they were the same. This sure makes me feel that I’m on the right track trying to warm them. I’m running the generator (it’s very hazy – that’s why it’s warm), and will heat them again and see if I can get a good spread between them and the outdoors…

The Cold Snap Finally Ends!

January 7, 2018

Thanks goodness! The cabin felt positively cozy this morning when I woke up to 14 degrees inside, and only ten below outside!

Sorry for the potato quality, it was dark and I had to brighten the photo to show the numbers.

It’s Really Cold Out There

January 7, 2018

And this morning…

Photo courtesy: Mama

A “Portable” Shower for Inside the Cabin

January 6, 2018

We’ve had an extended cold spell here that has kept our temperatures close to thirty below for the past week and a half, and it isn’t suppose to let up until closer to Sunday.

It has gotten me looking online to see just when the lowest temperature in Thunder Bay is generally recorded. Frustratingly, it appears that historically, Thunder Bay is coldest during the days from Christmas until New Year’s Eve, and then warms a degree until the same week (third or fourth) in January. Then the slow climb to liquid water begins…

At twenty below, the sauna is very hard to warm up. Below that, it’s nearly impossible. As such, the last time my pong began to offend even myself, I suggested that we could all just go into our respective corners of the cabin and wash up using water that we keep heated on the stovetop. It worked, but wasn’t THAT fun.

That’s when I decided to try to create our own shower in the cabin. I was thinking of something private that could be assembled in the main room, but then realized that the bathroom, tiny though it may be, still offered an opportunity to experiment.

First up, after my dentist appointment (Dr. Blazino – who is FANTASTIC!), we hit up Dollarama for shower curtains, rings and rods. I was a bit miffed that the unpriced shower curtains turned out to be $4 each – I had somewhat expected that unpriced merchandise at Dollarama was a dollar by default. At least they were fabric, so they could be washed between uses.

My Dollarama purchases.
Then over to Walmart to buy a large tub that approximated the floorspace of the bathroom. I knew I had about 24″ by 32″.

I tried to pick one with as flat a base as possible to make it easy to stand in. High sides were a mixed blessing – hard to step into, but they kept the curtain contained.
Putting up the rods in the bathroom, I was a bit annoyed with how low they had to be from the ceiling to fit under my shelves. In the long term, I think I will do something different, but they were certainly sufficient as an experiment.

Had to put the rod beneath my shelf.

And over to the other shelf. Who didn’t install these shelves at the same height?!
It was a simple matter to put up some rings, and then curtains (overlapping) all the way around.

The view that greeted Donna when she came home.
Stepping into the enclosure was much, much nicer than I anticipated. It felt like a shower stall, offering privacy, and made me think I could finally splash water on myself in the cabin without having to worry about it going all over the floor.

Feels private and roomy right now!

And with the edges tucked into the tote.
I was very happy to put it to actual use later in the day. Kenny said it was fine but awkward. Donna said she needed to get use to it.

Feeling good!
I felt pretty optimistic.

Donna pointed out that she wasn’t thrilled with standing in the dirty wash water of previous occupants. I think I could help with that by putting some sort of “grid” or stand on the bottom so that there was a reservoir under foot. We use very little water in a shower, so it should be fine.

I will try to keep posting as I improve this system. So far I remain enthused.

The original sump pump shower. Hopefully it will get used in this contraption, but needs to thaw out first.

Oh Man, a New Flavour of Potato Chip!

January 5, 2018

Sorry, I’m just excited that I actually tried AND like these chips…

So much better than those disgusting Grilled Cheese Sandwich Lay’s Chips.

Using A Jump Starter/Power Box As A Power Supply

January 3, 2018

As I discussed a few days ago in my blog entry about heating my solar batteries to prevent power outages, I contemplated using a UPS to provide internet service while the inverter was off due to overvoltage.

A day or two later, I was at the store after having had to jumpstart the car using the truck, and it dawned on me that a jump starter box could do double duty for me. I noted one that included a 12 volt outlet, and I recalled that I had a small, 175 watt inverter that had been only used once or twice in the past decade.

I purchased and charged up the power box, and it was some sort of divine intervention that caused the power system to decide to do an equalization cycle just as the power box was indicating a full charge.

Matching the old with the new to create something useful!
In case I haven’t detailed it before, an equalization charge balances out a battery bank made up of multiple batteries. It is a much higher voltage than usual, and in this case, with the cold weather, even warming the batteries didn’t make much of a dent in the required voltage (in this case, it was bumping against 34.6 volts!)

As soon as the power went out, I leapt from my chair and assembled my makeshift UPS (well, in my particular case, it was an *INTERRUPTIBLE* Power Supply).

Everything plugged in and ready to hit the power button!
I plugged in everything, and amazingly, it worked immediately!

It continued to work for just under three hours. Ten minutes later the power came back on as the equalization cycle completed!

I know it looks messy, but it works!
I’m putting this one in the success column, in spite of it petering out prematurely, and requiring a bit of manual intervention.

Warming Solar Batteries With Heat Pads – The Next Morning Followup

January 2, 2018

As I said in my previous post about actually installing the heat pads, I would report back the next morning and let you know how different things were.

You can see that the ambient outside temperature is -19.2. It’s also chilly inside, the fire went out and as per our frozen water line, the crawlspace door is open…

Actually, as I am typing this, the temperature has dropped to -20.0. It’s always coldest just as the sun is rising.
And the batteries are at -13 degrees.

They actually dropped to -14 at the same time as the ambient dropped an extra degree.
So there are two interpretations I suppose. We managed to keep the “spread” between the two temperatures to about 6 degrees from last night’s eight. That’s pretty good I think!
Oh wait, it only got about 4 degrees colder ambient, but the batteries dropped 5 or 6 degrees… They got colder faster than the world outside!
Now how do I feel about things? Well, I guess rationally, knowing that they are still likely warmer than if I had done nothing at all is gratifying. I just have to see if it’s enough to allow them to:
Take and give off more charge.
Not go so high as to cut off all power for the cabin.
Stay tuned!

Warming Up The Solar Batteries With Heating Pads

January 1, 2018

Aside from this unresolved thread, I can find no further information about anyone trying to warm up their batteries using surplus generator (or solar) power in the winter time to allow them to hold more charge.

Living in Thunder Bay, we aren’t really remotely concerned with shortening our battery life due to overheating issues. It rarely seems to hit 30 degrees, let alone anything approaching a significant threat to battery health.

On the other hand, as we’ve experienced a few times lately, when it is -30 degrees, the batteries have a very narrow range of ability. They charge up extremely quickly, and discharge just as quickly. This is frustrating on multiple levels.

At lower temperatures, solar panels actually become more efficient. I can see voltages from my panels of over 120 volts DC at this time of year, still outputting up to 60 amps if the batteries would accept that.

Unfortunately, with battery capacity at much less than half of its summer capacity, most of this output goes completely to waste.

This is compounded by the fact that at these temperatures, my charger needs to go to voltages in excess of 33.6 volts on my normally 24 volt system. The unintended consequence of this is that my inverter shuts down at 33.6 volts – essentially feeling that there must be a problem with my system and trying to protect itself. So my power goes out because ironically, I am generating too much… power.

Two days ago, this gave me an afternoon without power while the batteries fully charged, and then an immediately following morning where the lights went out because the batteries were depleted – and that was with us only running our lightweight stuff – no pumping water or doing laundry or anything high demand.

Mulling over solutions, one that came to mind at first was a UPS type of battery backup, at least to keep our internet online while the batteries charged on cold, but sunny days. I may come back to this idea.

The other thing I noted was that they were quite close to the 33.6 volt mark, and once they warmed only a degree or two, the power would return. This did indeed happen at the end of the afternoon when the sun finally got to the west side of the cabin where the batteries are housed.

This started me thinking about just warming the batteries in general. Then they could accept and give out more charge. Again, I’m not concerned about overheating them. I’d be more than happy to just get them five or ten degrees above ambient temperature and at least have power in the morning until the sun is back up!

After some short thought about heating pads as I have seen for vehicles, I took the chance to use a sale in the city to purchase three of the smallest, 50w heating pads.

Just laying out the equipment. I managed to find an outdoor extension cord with three outlets and exactly the right length!

A closeup on the important details – 50w, 120VAC.
I folded them back on themselves (directly against the instructions) and tucked them in the spaces between my batteries.

Tucked in between each battery.
At these temperatures, outgassing is very minimal, and besides, I put the plugs outside the battery box and below the lip, so there is very little chance of a spark causing any issues. I won’t need to use them in the summer anyway.

When the sun came out and I had good power, I plugged them all in and observed that they each draw about 2 amps of 26 volt power. That makes perfect sense in terms of them being 50w apiece.

Later I powered up the generator to ensure a good charge, and kept them plugged in.

As you can see, at the start of the experiment, there was a 2 degree spread between battery temperature and outside temperature.

1pm, -16.5 degrees ambient.

1pm, -14 degrees in the battery box.
Currently there is an 8 degree spread. I can’t say for certain that some or all of this was due to internal heating due to them charging too, but it seems unlikely that it could cause that much of an improvement.

5pm, -15.3 degrees ambient.

Batteries at – 7 degrees C; so an 8 degree spread with the outside temperature.
I will see how that difference lasts through the night, and report back in the morning.

If this seems to work, I will incorporate it into the new and improved battery box I am planning for this summer – perhaps with a thermostat, and maybe trying to get the batteries tighter together and wrapping the heating pads all the way around all four.