I’m really in love with our rice cooker. Since last I blogged about it, it died a noble death – it managed to pop our last round of popcorn, then we had a conversation about how that was clearly misusing the appliance, and then it never turned on again. :'(
I ordered up a new one, this time with the steamer basket resting above the main cooking pot – this looks interesting, and it already has room for an extra egg when hard boiling!
Size wise, it’s nearly identical, so I saved the pot, steamer basket and lid from our original and they all can work with the new one – theoretically I can even have both steamer baskets installed at the same time! 13 hard boiled eggs at once – what a boon.
To help celebrate, I queued up a cake mix I had recently purchased. Kenny has received some cake mixes for his Birthday from Aunt V!, and we had enjoyed them so much that we wanted to rotate them into the official “pastry time” roster.
I was concerned that the cake mix would be way too much, so I thought about dividing it in half. Of course, it called for three eggs, so I got out the kitchen scale and divided it into thirds instead – which turned out to be just about perfect!
I mixed it right in the ungreased rice cooker bowl and then clicked on cook.
After ten or fifteen minutes, it clicked off. I waited about five minutes and clicked it again. I repeated this process about six or seven more times before I jammed a chopstick into the top of the cake and it slid out clean.
I let it cool briefly, then turned it upside down onto the cutting board – it slid out beautifully!
Kenny iced it, then I held the spatula in place and spun the board to smooth the sides.
We ate the whole (1/3?) cake in two consecutive evenings and it was fantastic! And out of one box, we still have two more coming!
So with the upcoming plan to turn our old sauna into more of a “guest cabin”, we’ve realised that there is much less calling for the spare room in the cabin to be defined as the “guest room”. We were discussing my back issues, and how perhaps hours at the kitchen table in a simple Ikea wooden chair isn’t the best.
We morphed from a discussion of rearranging the entire main floor and setting up some corner desks with a permanent switch from wooden chairs to office/ergonomic chairs. After much going over with tape measure and head scratching, it was obvious that it was going to be a challenging solution. That’s when we decided to explore formalising “Mama’s Office” – the guest room.
Excitement grew and I looked over some options for desks – it was really a great concept! I could also add a second screen, something I had been pining for (for years). We could move the large shelf/sideboard from the living space upstairs and use it to store my tools and parts, instead of having them in the bedroom. We could raise the television up higher on the wall and more out of the way. We could get the rarely used laser printer out of prime real estate space, and put it upstairs for the occasional print jobs we require. I could even decorate! Loads of positives. Even the fact that it was upstairs could be a good way to improve my work/life balance, and give me exercise going up and down stairs to replenish my tea mug, check the stove, and use the (ahem) facilities.
I ordered up a pair of desks, bookshelf and office chair from Amazon, as well as another chair and monitor from Staples. I filled things out with a few little things ordered from Walmart as well and on a Friday evening a week later (once everything had arrived), Kenny and I set to work.
So the past week or so the weather has warmed up quite a bit for us here north of Thunder Bay. Even on days where the mercury didn’t rise above -7, the sun shining on the steel roof was enough to set the snow to melting.
Over the course of two or three days, we were treated to tremendous, ground shaking crashes on all four sides of the cabin as the accumulated winter snow finally let go and came down with not a little violence!
The most dramatic was across the front of the cabin, which occurred when we went outside to investigate the noise from a different side, and simply slamming the door shut caused a tremendous avalanche only a meter away. Kenny ran around the corner of the porch, while I pressed myself up against the wall of the cabin. Whew!
The day after the snow came down on my new porch area, a crater/hole had opened up mysteriously – it sure looks like something dug its way in… Or out? No obvious tracks to solve the riddle so far…
What does this mean for you, dear reader? Hopefully not much... Just some slightly different formatting on the blog, along with what should be a much faster response time as you navigate it. Not that that's what you're asking for, but it's a nice spin-off effect. It should also be much nicer for me to work on it and not have to get hung up on the black box that Wordpress can seem to be at times. No more signing in and databases and stuff like that. I can keep a local backup of my files and get right into the HTML or CSS if there's something I really don't like.
So that's about it. In the coming days I am really leaning towards putting up the work I've already done, as it has started to seem usable. I'll maybe include a link to the wordpress version of the blog for now, as I copy over all the content by hand. One blog post at a time.
This is also an opportunity - I've noticed that during the past one or two transitions, some good photos have been lost or downgraded. I'm going back to originals when called for to make it look nicer. I'm also cleaning up the categories so they make more sense - it should be a bit fluid, but I'm also not currently interested in modifying the actual content. I don't think that would be "authentic" - even if I see stuff I wrote that I'd rather not remember.
Feel free to give feedback - of course, I haven't created a system for leaving comments yet. That's yet to come. Right now Kenny is writing up some software to create the mailers for when new blog posts go out. That will be exciting too I'm sure!
Hope everyone is also finding Covid a good time to either work on some self improvement, or just relax and reflect - there's no right answer for how we spend this time. Just make certain you get vaccinated as soon as you can, and be kind to one another.
Just wanted to touch base here and let you know that I'm working hard on the blog here and doing loads of behind the scenes work to bring it up to snuff.
It's a real eye-opener in some ways going through these old posts one by one. I've completed all the text going back to 2009, but will now go through each post by hand to make sure the pictures and links are restored as best as I can.
Over the years I've switched from Blogger via the browser, to Blogsy, to a long-forgotten iPad app, back to Blogger, then to Wordpress, and now I'm doing it in standard HTML/CSS/JS using a framing tool and lots of Googling and real manuals!
Obviously during these transitions, things have happened, and not always noticeably at the time - but going back I can see almost a year of photos went missing around 2011 or so. There are also loads of dead links that I'm either removing or updating if possible.
So at the moment, my first priority is to go through looking to fix links and pictures, and add in some updated and improved "categories" to the posts - even if I don't have a working categories page yet. I think that 90% of the way the blog gets viewed now is just my latest posts anyway.
It's much more streamlined and simple. I have included a link in the top menu for a static version of the blog as it existed when I exited Wordpress. This should have most of the pictures for posts I haven't gotten to yet.
I also want to encourage you to use the "subscribe" link if you haven't already to be updated when I *DO* post new content.
Also, using that as a segue - Kenny has written a programme to handle the subscriptions and emailing out the blog updates! It's fantastic and cool and I'm going to use it for other mailing lists soon too!
All you need to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "subscribe" to get on the list, or "unsubscribe" to get removed. Simple as that! I want to give a very special recognition to him for doing this for me. It was lots of work, but very fun to do, and he's still got loads of updates planned. It's so good, I plan on making it publicly available on our studio blog (www.gartekstudios.ca) soon too!
Here's another update as I get thoughts out of my head and onto the blog...
Comments! I didn't realise how many there were on past posts and that they generated a tiny bit of engagement. At first they were going to be later in my process, but seeing as they are used on a regular, even if not frequent basis, I decided it was important to get them back in.
At the moment I haven't enabled a captcha type of situation, I'll rely on my own judgement as to what is spam and what is real, and hopefully my little corner of the internet won't get swamped.
I'm also working my way through the back posts slowly, so I'll add the comment widget in as I edit each post. You may have to wait a bit if you want to comment on older content.
Who will get bragging rights to go "first!" on my new comments addition? Will it even work? Who knows...
Something that has caused me to lose a little sleep in the dead of winter is the notion that the well pump could ever go out, which would be a tremendous hardship to both endure and correct. With the recent decommissioning of the old sauna and conversion into the Guest Cabin, we no longer really needed the use of the old well and associated plumbing.
Knowing that, I decided to remove the old pump, and add it to our current well as a backup. I had visions of complicated plumbing and valves down below so that I could easily use either pump and still have the water show up indoors, but instead have opted to simply have the backup pump send water through the plastic section of the casing directly to a garden hose. This allows us to fairly easily have water available outdoors to water our garden, and Donna pointed out that it could perhaps be used to do a little fire suppression if a campfire required it.
I purchased a bunch of fittings from Maier Hardware, the same place where I purchased the pump, and then hooked it all up. You can imagine my surprise when it worked! And it worked well! (Pardon the pun - as a father my jokes are probably instantly apparent).
One other thing I decided to try, in the very ongoing attempt to deal with the iron content of our water, was to keep the new, outdoor pump as deep as possible, and then to raise up our main cabin pump a few inches to a foot off the base of the well - I may even consider cutting the pipe short and raising it a bit further in future if I think this is a possible solution.
Of course, we'll see how that goes. In the meantime Kenny can water the garden without having to dunk into the pond, and I can sleep better knowing that worst case, we would be filling buckets for cabin use until spring, something we've done in the yurts and cabin before already.
Having a gravity fed water system has always made me very conscious of doing nothing to impede the flow of water from the tank in the kitchen to any of our taps.
I accomplished this by purchasing taps that were no longer commonly available - ones that didn't rely on high pressure to deliver volumes of water quickly. I generally had to order these from Ali Express or DX.COM from China - and they worked well as they were designed for a single input, no mixer valve or even the concept of mixing two temperatures of water in the same plumbing.
The last one I ordered for the kitchen worked acceptably for us for the past number of years. It had a nice feature of a flexible nozzle for the final 30-40cm of the tap - so we could easily direct it into one sink or another, as well as fill tall pitchers or stock pots.
Unfortunately the cross section of the hose inside that section was always very narrow - and over the years the buildup of iron kept narrowing it more and more until lately it would take literally minutes to fill a simple pitcher. I would find that I could pretty much wash an entire sink of dishes before there really was enough water to rinse them in the rinsing sink. It was getting to be a real one of "Brady's Paper Cuts" for my day to day life.
I knew that ball valves existed and would solve the problem, but couldn't find a single input tap that really would fit the bill for what I wanted. Then it came to me - maybe I could design and build my own?
Having no experience with welding copper pipe, I hope that my readers are gentle.
I did already own a pipe cutter, courtesy of my father who had given it to me years before, and I knew how to use it, as I had employed it on other pipe projects.
I also owned a blowtorch, and amazingly there was still a workable tank of propane still in the garage! I had purchased and used it back on the Yanmar tractor when I needed to remove some rather stubborn bolts.
A trip to Maier Hardware and $100 worth of copper pipe and fittings later, and I decided to give it a go.
I took a few rough measurements, and began assembling the base.
I knew I wanted it to split off in two directions, one to one sink, and one to another. I wasn't ever contemplating a single output as we had been use to. The tap to the left is a bit lower than the one to the right, but I was pleased to note that even our tallest pitcher still fit beneath both.
I was careful to not interfere with the positioning of our Berkey water filter either. We needed room behind that tap to set the kettle and drinking water pitcher.
I purposely positioned the levers so that they moved up and down vertically, rather than horizontally. This ensured they wouldn't interfere with the operation of one another or the Berkey.
I managed to hook it all together, ensured the levers were closed, and then pumped a bit of water into the tank. I was honestly quite stunned that no leaks developed!
At first the pipes pointed directly horizontal out over the sinks. You can imagine my surprise when I engaged the first lever only a bit, and a jet of water shot out OVER the sink and onto the counter! This was easily 10X the pressure I had been hoping for, and probably 100X the previous tap, which struggled to get halfway across the sink.
I had the foresight to purchase two 90 degree copper fittings, and so I just pushed them onto the ends of the pipe so the flow is directed directly downwards (directed directly downwards - now that's some good alliteration!).
I am not planning on soldering them in place, but we'll see. I think that they'll be fine, and if not, perhaps a little teflon tape or sealant would hold them in place. They haven't moved yet.
The flow is still so delightful, I enjoy being the one to use the taps whenever I can. I even like how now the water can actually be used to pre rinse our dishes - it blasts off lots of stuff that the old trickle only moisturised.
So far, a successful experiment, even if it requires one to appreciate the industrial chic school of design.
Grandpa's boat at camp is awesome. It's always fun to take it up and down the lake and get an exclusive view of the camps (and homes) to be found there.
The lake is also home to many people with what I call "party boats" - probably more accurately described as pontoon boats. They're big, slow, and very stable. I don't think I've ever seen a party on one, usually retirees just puttering around the lake. But I have often thought of how perfect a platform they would be for an electric boat - a huge awning of solar panels above, loads of buoyancy to support some large, heavy batteries, and a couple of reliable electric motors.
My budget has steered me towards other, more subdued options though, and I have come away thinking that a simple paddle boat would be a good platform to experiment with.
I mentioned this to my neighbour B! the other day, and he immediately offered me a paddle boat that he had obtained that had some damage to the seats, but was still apparently sound.
Donna and Kenny and I returned shortly afterwards to load it into the back of the truck and bring it home for some fibreglass repairs.
An afternoon spent mixing epoxy and laying down fibreglass mats produced something that may have been a bit ugly, but not too bad for a trial run.
The next day we reloaded her into the truck and took her to the lake, where a good time was had by all paddling her back and forth along the shore. Proof of concept! Mummu Christened her "Yellow Mellow" and Kenny and I both love the name. Kenny added eyes but they don't show in these pictures - maybe next year.
She's laid up for the winter now, but I have a sale alert activated on Canadian Tire's website for one of their trolling motors, and next spring I plan on making the ultimate "me-party boat".
With the guest cabin now being officially ready for guests (any volunteers?), it made good sense to move the outhouse to a more convenient spot.
Donna and I scoped out the brush near the guesthouse and quickly came up with an ideal location nestled in some spruce boughs.
Of course, the prospect of moving the Tardis was not one I relished - It was heavy as sin as I had constructed it very sturdy. The floor was a solid two inches thick before reinforcements!
My awesome neighbour J! agreed to help - especially with the moral support.
I managed to manoeuvre the ATV and trailer through the brush and sort of close to the Tardis current spot and then texted J! to pop by.
J! and I lay down several poplar planks and slid the time machine around a corner, down a slope, and onto the back of the trailer.
After assembling an assortment of straps, we felt it was as stable as it was ever going to be.
With J! telling me to give her, and me working hard to overcome my timidity, we got her to the ramp up to the driveway. It was too much to climb even with four wheel drive, but with winch assist, we finally managed to do it.
An easy trip to the new location beside the "Guest Cabin", and then I repositioned the ATV in the bush and again used the winch and planks to slide it into position in its new home. I included some blocks to help level her and create a step up.
This new location should ensure that it gets use and love for many more years to come!
It took us two days to finally blaze the trail back to the mailbox on our snowshoes, but the views were well worth it. We earned our hot chocolates with this effort! So excited that the snow tires go on the last vehicle tomorrow!
We purchased one size down from the largest, and found that it had a good capacity for our family of three plus guests.
We've been using this awesome invention for the entire time we've been here, and I think I can safely claim that so far it has performed awesomely to prevent us from ingesting any nasty bugs.
Eventually though, I've found that it was sometimes inconvenient to have to monitor the water levels in the two sections very diligently to make sure you don't overfill it, or don't run out of water either. Now that I have come to understand the (very simple) mechanism by which it works, I've redesigned it for much less money, with the added bonus of much more water provided at a time.
It's basically a process of purchasing two food grade plastic buckets with lids and arranging them in a similar manner to the stainless steel Berkey we originally bought.
You drill a small hole in the bottom of one pail to accommodate the standard Berkefeld filter. Then drill a larger hole in a lid to align with the nozzle of the filter. As with the regular Berkey, you use the rubber washer that comes with the filter between it and the bucket to ensure a water-tight fit.
In the lower pail, you drill a hole in the side down low, so you can attach an easily purchased tap. I bought most of my supplies at a local brew-it-yourself establishment for this project.
That's about it. I've found that with the larger capacity of the upper chamber, one filter is usually enough to give us probably close to 100 litres of water before I clean the entire system and put in another clean filter.
I like to cover the upper pail with a lid too, just to keep out dust and whatever may fall in.
I've also purchased a third pail to set the filter system on - so it's raised off the floor and makes it easier to fill these 11.3 litre water bottles I purchased at our local grocery store as regular "reverse osmosis" water bottles.
You can see that I've swapped out the Berkey on our counter for a more traditional looking ceramic crock and stand. I like that we can see even more easily just how much water we have remaining before I have to swap out a jug.
I does take a bit longer to fill the upper chamber using a four litre bottle that I shuttle back and forth from the kitchen to the pantry from time to time. But I like that I can just make five trips like that every day or two, instead of multiple fills a day like we use to - it was a bit harder to monitor and fill that way.
I also like that I can clean the system on two different days, and with fewer parts to address each time. The old Berkey with a sight glass and fiddly tap was off-putting.
I am planning on moving the old Berkey to the camp at the lake and we can use it there to filter lake water in the summer. It should perform perfectly in that environment!
We were blessed to receive packages from Nana and Papa and Aunt V! and Uncle C! and Aunt S! too - we are so thankful that we live in a time where we could video chat as we opened them.
Getting back to my solar panels - one purchase I recently made that has outperformed my expectations was so simple, yet so effective, that I feel compelled to share it!
I use to climb a ladder on the uneven ground under our solar panels to clean them all winter. It wasn't the most pleasant chore - as I had to navigate snow drifts and a shakey ladder for the months between October and... May?