Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stick Season

I had a long To Do list of all the ambitious projects I wanted to get done today. My reward for completing the list was treating myself to snowboarding tomorrow morning.  I started off bright and early, but unfortunately I only completed the first item.

It took me four hours (and almost an entire bottle of wood glue) to make this stick tree.  A task I thought would take about two.  It still needs a topper because it doesn't seem like I can finish anything lately. I need some focus. I had evergreen boughs and wreaths everywhere last year. I cannot seem to find the holiday spirit this year so I am going with sticks.

I made this wreath over the weekend by simply weaving freshly cut twigs around a wire ring. It took maybe a half hour. I added the red bow to bring some color up from the mantel and tie in with the lanterns.  

Blogging was not on my list and I still accomplished it, even if I used crappy iphone pics. That gives me bonus points and I can still snowboard tomorrow morning right? I am going anyway, just so you know.

Tomorrow's  To Do List

  • Snowboard
  • Cut posts for headboard
  • Sand and shape door handle
  • Sand and degloss bathroom shelf
  • Assemble lamp shade
  • Hang indoor and outdoor lights
  • Get a christmas tree
  • Finish living room side table
  • Fix the hole Casey hacked into our t & g wall
Yeah I might get two of those items done

Monday, December 10, 2012

How's the Water?

A commom question in our house is "How's the Water?". As I explained in the last post. We rely on our wood stove to heat our house and the solar hot water panels to heat our water. If we don't get enough solar hot water we turn on the boiler to bring it up to temperature. However we don't like to do this, so we frequently take less than hot and sometimes very cold showers. Our rating system goes something like this:

180- Glorious- Solar heated (it just feels better when it comes from the sun)  way too hot to touch your body- you actually have to turn it down.
140-120ish -Nice- normal shower temp
120-100- alright- not Lou Reed's alright which really mean excellent, but the alright as in acceptable
100-85- tolerable- you can get your business done but it isn't pleasant and don't even think about shaving your legs, and you most likely won't condition your hair, shampoo is good enough.
below 85- you might cry. I do sometimes.

It does not help that our master bathroom is only about 60 degrees. Since the bathroom downstairs is finally finished we have been showering down there, where it is a balmy 70-75.

By finished I mean that it still needs towel bars and hooks,  shelf, TP holder, art, different vanity knobs, more interesting rubbish can, dual flush conversion knob and an appropriate shower curtain (current one is way too short). It does have a mirror and bathmat- impressive right? (only cause we had guests coming).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Propane: A Journey

A little history. We closed on the house on the Thursday, November 19th 2009.  My parents came up the next day and we took down about 30 trees between friday and saturday night to make way for the excavator coming monday.  The house had obviously no electric, no heat and no plumbing.  My parents actually spent the night on a mattress in front of the wood stove insert before we ever slept in our own house. Sunday we worked from sunrise to well into the night to block up and move all the wood out of the way. It was an exhausting and cold weekend, but we got it done. Monday the excavtor arrived and we poured the footings on Wednesday  The next day was thanksgiving. We got a significant amount of snow and it was there to stay. We got those footings in the ground just in time. We didn't move into the house until December 15th, when the plumbing was repaired. We lived off a portable gas generator until early january when the propane generator was put in.  (Also about the time the mattress moved from the living room into a bedroom ) We then lived off that until the end or january when the battery bank was installed.  We were using the generator to recharge the batteries about every three days. It took until close to the end of February for the PV panels to get up and running.

There that was exhausting just typing the saga. It has officially been three years since we closed on the house. We have been monitoring our propane use closely. Currently we use propane for the generator,  range, dryer, boiler for hot water and heat to supplement the Solar Hot Water System.

 Year One- Winter- 974.5
                   Summer- 178.4
                   Total: 1152.9

As you can tell we were quite concerned that we made a huge mistake and that this off the grid thing in a house that was not specifically designed for it was not going to work.  Keep in mind that we were living on just the generator for almost two months of winter.  That winter was a sparse one for us. We spent a lot of time wrapped in sleeping bags, staring at each other by the soft glow of an oil lamp.

Year Two- March- 356.8
                  Dec. 272.7
                 Total: 629.5

That fall we installed a large wood stove in basement, and used that to heat instead of the radiant floors. It significantly reduced our reliance on propane, and actually keeps our house much warmer than we than when we were using the radiant and the wood stove insert to supplement. We only turn on the boiler when we do not get enough hot water from the solar panels. In addition we made some lifestyle changes, and in general learned how to use the system a little more efficiently, as well as embracing the luke warm shower. However we actually were able to start living a little more of a normal life (not so much oil lamp time, other than the shower issue).

For Some Reason I have no Pictures of the new Wood Stove, I do however have a large number of pictures of the stove pipe
Year Three- Filled in April- 219.3
                  Filled Dec 6th- 240.0
     total: 459.3
*Update I added the lasted fill up amount.

Basically the majority of winter we only used 219.3 gallons of propane. Even though it was a light winter, I am calling that a success. We made some tweaks to our septic system ( found out some pumps were not working correctly) and moved the control box inside eliminating a small heater, and switched the priority of our boiler from heating to hot water, allowing it to run more efficiently for our purposes.  We really were living quite lavishly as far as off grid-ing standards are concerned. (ie we watched some night time TV, baked more things in the oven )

I know there are a lot of off the grid folks who use much much less, but most are living in houses that were planned to be off the grid.  Our house was designed to be connected to the grid. I have a dream system that would virtually eliminate the need for propane that I will share later, but it just wasn't practical to retrofit this house.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


When we bought the house the basement floors were incomplete, severely water damaged from the frozen pipes bursting, and were buckled from improper installation. We would have had to replace the entire floor. Instead we ripped it out. Ground (grinded? neither sound right) off the glue and polished the float finished concrete smooth as a dolphin with a concrete grinder. I failed to get a picture of this step, but it involved a lot of sore knees and dust.

We then acid stained the polished concrete and finished with a wet look stain.  I purchased my stain from Direct Colors and used three different colors, Cola, Coffee Brown, and Mayan Buff. I used a plastic garden sprayer and sprayed the floor to suit my designer's eye, (very serious art was happening, don't try this at home) starting with the lightest color.

The variation hides the flaws in the concrete and the industrial quality and random marbly effect adds a touch of modernity to our rustic style house. It is also more energy efficient, as the radiant does not have to heat a layer of sub floor and floor before heating the space.

I reused some of the better pieces of flooring as the ceiling and floor in the straw bale coop.  It is quite luxurious.

Truthfully they hated the floor. It was too slippery. I had to rough it up with sandpaper. Those bitches clucky hens are demanding clients.

I was not paid or perked for this post. Direct colors has never heard of me nor has any knowledge of this post. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ski and Ride

Since it is snowing outside I thought it would be an appropriate day to talk about snow sports related furniture.  Casey's Grandma gave us this chair as a house warming gift. She had it made from old skis used Casey's grandparents, mother and uncle. The skis his grandparents used are actually engraved with their names.  It is a pretty comfy chair and you kinda feel like a king when sitting in it.

Inspired by the chair we have been talking about making a bench out of an old snowboard that has been retired from the quiver. I finally got around to it last week.

I used our picnic table benches as inspiration and actually just traced the angles and sizes I needed onto the 2x4s. The snowboard really is a beautiful piece of engineering and I love the way the bench accentuates the curves. My favorite part is that you cannot see the 2x6 running between the two legs under the board. It would have taken away the floating on pow feeling. I might paint the legs later on, but for now I like the way they match the trim.

Taking pictures down here has really made me realize I really cannot stand the wall color.  It must go. It was supposed to be a more rusty burnt pumpkin color. Currently all I see is processed cheese. That is what I get for using cheap paint. I always advise clients not to skimp, but I always do it myself and end up regretting it and spending twice as much to repaint the color or add more coats. Between the wall color and the dogs being especially curious today, these photos were a distaster. I took about 50 and almost every one has a piece of at least one dog in it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Easy Barn Doors

I tend to stay way from tutorials. I feel like everything you would ever need to know is already floating around out there on the Internet, narrated by someone with more knowledge and a better camera than myself. That said, googling around to get some style ideas for a sliding barn door I planned to build, I felt like all the tutorials I came upon were making it much harder than it needed to be.  Hence, here is a very easy barn door tutorial that takes at the most two days, including drying time, and minimal tools or skill.

Step One: I simply glued 1x6 tongue and groove pine, cut size to cover my opening.  I ripped the tongue or groove off the end pieces with a table saw for a smooth side, but if you don't have access to one you could just as easily leave it.  For added holding power you could also nail through the tongue and groove joints with finish nails. I didn't have finish nails short enough and this is an interior door so I wasn't too concerned.

Second Step: Nailed and glued a 1x6 pine board across the top and bottom, lining it up with the end and sides of my t & g.  Nailed and glued 1x4 pine side rails and a cross brace.  I let it dry over night.

Decorative sliding door hardware was ringing in at around $300 for this 5'-0"x 7'-0" door. That just wasn't in the stars. We found this seriously meaty sliding door hardware meant for real barn doors at our local farm store for $50.00.  We debated building a box to hide it on the exterior, but decided to just mount the door on the inside and hide the hardware in our unfinished utility room. 

Total Budget Breakdown: 
Tongue and Groove:  $65.00
Pine Trim Boards- $20.00
Sliding Rail: $25.00
Sliding Wheels: $25.00 for two

I also built a simpler surface hinged version, out of leftover wood for the odd shaped opening to our under stair closet. I left off the side rails and the door is still very sturdy. I made sure to nail the ends and cross brace into each piece of t & g. The two doors face each other in a little sitting/ circulation area in our newly finished basement.

I swear a dog photo-bombs at least one picture for every post. This is PETN. He is a Blue Tick Coon Hound / Black Lab Mix. He is named after an explosive with the personality to match.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Conclusion to the Straw Bale Coop

Now that we are down to one lonely old hen and thinking about more chickens and building a bigger coop in the spring,  I figured it was time I updated you on the straw bale coop.  I left off with it in need of some finish work and a proper framed roof.

Truth Time. It did get some finishes, but it never received a proper roof or all the cosmetic touches I planned on adding. The chickens never complained.

The triangle between the roof and straw get insulation and a piece of plywood to further insulate the structure for winter. The front is a piece of corrugated plastic that provides protection from the wind and lets light in to help encourage egg production. The plywood box at the back is just a quick and dirty storage box that holds bedding and other chicken related items.

We do let our chickens free range, there is a little passage in the gate that allows them to go in and out of the enclosure as they please. We can close the opening if we want to contain them.

I finished the straw with a Quickcrete Surface Bonding Cement (Note: this is not the product you would use for a permanent structure). I didn't trim the straw bales as I wanted a super textured and rustic look. I used a black Quickcrete dye to get the gray color and red dye on the interior. I was going for a deep red, but it ended up more Boca Raton.

Ironically the straw bale coop currently uses wood chips as bedding. There was a straw shortage earlier in the summer due to last year's Tropical Storm Irene Flood, so wood chips were substituted. I will be switching back to straw for winter, as I think it gives more warmth.

Monday, September 24, 2012

On the Business Front

In other news, or lack there of. I still have no clients, or money coming in and am starting to get nervous. I do have a logo that is getting a positive response. The Website needs serious work!!

Stacking and Shovel

Living Off the Grid requires a lot of stacking and shoveling. It is pretty much how I spent most of last week and the weekend. We have come to the conclusion that we will be doing road work every year. In the three years we have lived here we have replaced three culverts, re-crowned and re-graded the entire road, and every year we put down at least one dump truck load of Stay-Mat to fill in washouts. Other years we needed other excavation work done,  so we have just had it spread for us. This year due to the tightening of funds we did it ourselves. Also because we lack the foresight have it deposited in our truck we were handling it twice. We had a dump truck load delivered and then had to shovel it into our truck and then off again onto the road. 

Here is Casey with his broken finger about three quarters of the way through the pile (about five truck loads).

How did he break his finger you ask? Well that is where the stacking comes in.  He crushed it between two rocks fixing our culverts.

The Arrow Points to the Offending Rock     

This one didn't come out that good for obvious reasons. Also that rock is huge. The culverts are 2 foot culverts to give you a sense of scale. Lots of cursing and one emergency room trip later, we were back at it the next day. Albeit much less enthusiastic. We need a tractor.

Speaking of rocks and tractors. I was having a discussion with a girlfriend the other day about engagement rings.  I stated that at this point in my life I would much rather have a tractor than a ring that I will never be able to wear with all the shoveling and stacking. She wants to sell hers and use it as a down payment on a new truck.  I think that makes us official homesteaders now.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Endless Summer

I just finshed taking my third to last ARE and it feels like someone beat my brain with a stick. I am also drinking a beer at 3:00 PM on a Thursday.

Harpoon Summer Beer has been my choice alcoholic beverage this summer. This is most likely the last one I will have since the fall beers are in the stores already and this it the last one in my fridge. I only mention it because its so good once it hints your lips it ties in with this post. Fall is by far my favorite season, but I am always sad to see summer go.

Fall is just starting sneak into Vermont with the red leaves and 40 Degree mornings. I am not at the point where I am changing out decor based on the season (not counting christmas, We were decorated for christmas the second we moved in December 15th almost three years ago) but I do try to switch up the mantel.

The round zucchini help to hold onto the freshness of summer, while transitioning into the fall squash season. The poster  adds a little nostalgia for hot Julys and carefree youth. The sunflowers are kind of the traditional end of summer symbol. Wow that was a lot of over analyzation for a mantel with a frame-less off-centered poster.

Here's a dog, because he is cute and makes my brain not hurt so much.


The tomatoes are purely functional. We have blight, so they need to come off the vines a little early and this spot gets the best sun and is out of the reach of mischievous paws.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Broke Girls Guide to Canning

I lack a canner and the funds to purchase one, but I do have a large enamel stock pot and a very resourceful mother.  She let me in on a little homesteader trick to get around that whole big fat canner/ rack thing.  This little trick happens to include one of my favorite things: cord wood rounds. There is a special little place in my heart for these little wooden pancakes and I get excited whenever I find a purpose for them (other than firewood of course)
We end up with a lot of these because someone (not me) always cuts the logs longer than our splitter

I used roughly 3" diameter rounds, 1" thick (they have to be even so the jars sit level).  I washed and scrubbed the seasoned (dry) rounds to remove any loose bits.  I was able to fit 5 jars around the edge of my 10" diameter stock pot.  I washed and scrubbed the seasoned (dry) rounds to remove any loose bits before laying them in the pot.

It worked fairly well, but they floated to the surface when the pot was filled with water, which made inserting the jars into the boiling bath cumbersome. Had I followed my mother's directions of using a round slightly smaller than the diameter of my pot and about 2" thick the problem would have been avoided. You will need a jar lifter if using this method.

Garlic Dill Zucchini Pickles using this Food in Jars recipe. My go to source for all things food preservation.  The jar with the orange curved pieces is round zucchini that I believe cross pollinated with the pumpkins. I only made one jar and plan to eat them first to see if they are tasty.

Round Zucchini

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shade Crazy

I went a little shade crazy at Lowe's the other day. I went for one shade and somehow came home with five. Four of the same kind! umm? What can I say. I am crazy when it comes to a good deal. It also probably had something to do with the fact that I have not been able to buy anything do to budget cuts (see previous post) and I somehow justified it since it was for the house and not my money.  (Thanks Casey) Anyway they were $3.94!!! for an 11" shade. I am not sold on the tan canvas fabric but it will do for now (it has a bird on it). Here is one of my $4 shades on a crusty brass lamp that was left in the house when we bought it. I spray painted it an orangey red.

The second shade is tragically ugly but was only $6.00 and measures in at 14"around the bottom.  I really just wanted the hardware and will recover it somewhere down the line.  Here it is atop my last score of the day, an $8.00 base. The base is actually plastic but for $8.00 who cares. I got two of these babies.

In the process of spray painting the base I kind of fell in love with the primed version.  I finally understand why DIY bloggers spray paint everything white.

For a moment, I had a glimpse an alternate life where I came home at 3:00 AM to my stark white and empty minimalist apartment from my glamorous job as a big city architect, designing skyscrapers for 80 hours a week.  I quickly snapped back to reality, where I live off the grid in Vermont, barely scraping by on kitchen remodels and where nothing is white for very long. Yesterday, I spent two hours stacking rocks around our front door walkway. Then I spent another two hours shoveling gravel into the pickup truck and off again into the washouts in our driveway, while pining for a tractor.  And so you see why the white lamp had to go. 

It received the same treatment as the brass lamp.  You can see the eye-searing, high gloss, orangey red peaking out the of the closet. It is by far my favorite part of the room. Packed with our winter gear it doesn't hurt the eyes anymore but still provides enough whimsy to relax the very serious, grown up furniture gifted to us by my mother in law. 

Next up for this room: art and accessories, doing something with that ceiling and an area rug.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Month One of Self Employment

One month ago today I quit my dead end, depressing, not at all architecture related job and decided to explore the possibility of working for myself. So far I have spent most of it on our own basement build out project. Which is indeed work for myself, however not the kind that pays the bills.

Basement Bathroom Sneak Peak

With the project very close to completion, it is time to figure out how to make some money.  I have not felt that financial worry rock in the pit of my stomach yet, but the savings are dwindling fast and I need to start looking for design work and start to make some product before they are gone.

The last stint of unemployment, I spent most of the time moping around our newly purchased house worrying about bills and retirement. This time I feel so excited about the future, with the nervousness only creeping around the outskirts. The difference is this time is voluntary. After one year of unemployment and two years working a job I was embarrassed to tell my college friends about, I am finally free from the fear of failure that has dictated the decisions of most of my life. I realized that I did indeed fail.  Guess what? I am just fine, happy even. And If I fail at this too?  Well, I will still be just fine.  Broke, but just fine.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Oh Tannenbaum

Our tree was glorious this year.  Taking down the decorations, especially the tree, makes me a little sad.  The holidays always go by so quickly I never feel like I get to enjoy them. 

This pic was taken the Sunday after Thanksgiving as we were setting it up. I am actually keeping it from falling down, which it did twice. We had to cut about four feet off or the tree would have been in the center of our living room. I used the cut offs to make a huge wreath for above the wood stove insert and some garland type things for above the entry door and stairs. The garland is tied with some burlap cut into strips. I think it makes a great rustic ribbon.

 The lanterns where $1.00 yard sale finds that are too rusted to be functional.  I stuffed battery powered light strings in the globes.
The little trees are tomato cages wrapped in tin foil and burlap. 
Sadly this is the best picture I have of the tree decorated. The lights above the windows and doors are all solar powered with the panels hidden behind the snow and animals. The stuffed animals on the window ledges are all from my childhood.  Christmas is the perfect time to put them on display as a child-free adult and not have guests think you are crazy.