Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How much wood would a wood chuck chuck...

Earlier this week I mentioned the wood... Ahhh the wood... my nemesis . You see the wood is basically what is left over from when we cleared space for shmoopywood. The area where we built was already partially cleared, in fact, the wood that was taken when they created the driveway (pre-us) was milled and used to build the neighbor's floor. We kept as much hard wood as we could standing, which in the end is probably going to be a problem for us because with the house winding up being bigger (due to builder error) the trees are quite close to the house. Ah but I digress... we had them drop the trees with every intention of cutting and splitting what was dropped to keep us warm in the winter. The whole truth is we got out there right away and limbed the trees and took the brush away and we even cut the trees into manageable sized logs but that is where it ended. Good intentions my friends.... good intentions.

It is amazing how much work that is involved with building your own home, especially when its just us two, so the winter snuck up on us and then came the spring and when the 5 feet of snow that dropped in our lot melted, there were the logs... still.

I mentioned that I got a very romantic gift of a wood splitter, that too was covered with snow. Now that they are both unveiled and Dave is busy with building the railing, I finally got around to some splitting. Not having the forethought to take the picture BEFORE i split the wood, you cannot really tell that i made it about 75% of the way through before I took this picture. Here is my very sexy and very reddish splitter. Thats right girls, captain romance is all mine as well ;)

This gives you a better idea of how much wood I have split... Ahh the wood...

edited to add: I was just reminded by captain romance himself that the log splitter was MUCH more romantic than the ax and maul I got the year before. The boy has a point.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dave's Solar Update:

Some quick additions to the earlier solar post.
In the following pics, you can see our temporary charge controller. This was a fun experiment when we first started learning about solar power and the components that go along with it. The setup we have has been providing steady light from a 13w CFL and a small fan with power during the night.

7amp charge controller that is rated for 7 15W panels, purchased from northern tool. Currently we only run 2 panels for a total of 30W. Convenient that it was small enough to bolt into a standard electrical box.

Here is one of the batteries. We had two dead car batteries laying around in the garage waiting to be recycled when I found out that Tractor Supply would take the cores and refund some $$$ of new batteries. Purchased two Stowaway 12V deep cycles. Each is 105 amp hours

Monday, July 28, 2008

Update fun fun fun

It gets harder and harder to come back to work on Monday after I have spent all that time being happy and free... but alas, here I am updating you on how things went!

We got up to Shmoopywood on Friday evening and really when you get to camp on Friday's, the only thing there is to do is unpack and have yourself a Coors light (or 5). That is precisely what we did. The sky was completely LIT UP with stars Friday evening and we spent a great deal of time gazing at shooting stars and watching satellites go by. We are only about 80 miles from our other house and the difference in the sky is amazing, without light pollution you can even see the milky way. We had great weather all weekend with only one thunderstorm on Saturday late night so we had plenty of time to get stuff done.

Dave spent most of Saturday notching beams for the railing and carrying them up and down stairs to make sure the fit was right. This is a picture of the morning on on Saturday. By the end of the day, we were able to set the 10 foot beam at the top of the stairs. Side note: carrying a 16 foot beam up the side of the mountain is not easy but its much easier than carrying a cast iron bathtub.

We ended Saturday much in the same way we ended Friday, with some beers only not without the star gazing due to lack of sky ;0)

This is the way it looked by the end of day on Sunday. You can see the 10 foot beam kind of hides underneath that plywood we have resting against it. I should be a better photographer and move stuff but it was hot and I was tired ;). The handrails are fitted nicely into the notches that Dave worked so hard at. The bottom beam is still not cut but you can imagine what that will look like with a foot lobbed off the top.

Here is a picture of one of the corners where the handrail's are snugly fitted into the notches that Dave created, the second rail isn't in this picture but you can clearly see the notch that it is intended to fit into

We spend alot of time working when we are up there but we have also started to know people in our community. It has been an amazing experience but I will reserve the details for another post ;)

Sunday, July 27, 2008


We came back *sigh*. I swear I could stay there forever... well, I can once we have indoor plumbing anyway. So here we are and I am exhausted. I DO have updates and I WILL post them tomorrow but for now, I wanted to post my favorite picture EVER ;)
it demonstrates how I feel right now ;)Our baby Django havin a nap. He works so hard when he is at camp.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

this and that

First I wanted to thank everyone on the compliments regarding the new format for the blog, I was playing around with it on Monday instead of working and this is what I got out of the deal ;) I did however, manage to delete my entire blogroll and wanted to state that if you were linked, or link to us, I want to reciprocate. Please let me know if you have been left out, its not personal. Lets face it, my memory is not what it used to be so I may have forgotten one or two. Thanks for the heads up!

So this weekend we are leaving on Friday night. We have the kids and the dogs but have great intentions of working on the rest of the railing for the loft. So many things to do and so little time is starting to wear a bit I think on my brain function.

On top of having to complete the gorgeous railing, we have some basic living items to take care of. Last year, Dave and I used the trees that were cut for the placement of the house and pretty much cut them all into more manageable pieces. The intention there was to split it all and stack it for use in the wood stove. *it was mainly pine* For my birthday my loving husband got me a log splitter (captain romance!) and off I went splitting wood. Well unfortunately the seasons changed and the snow arrived unfortunately burying a pile of wood at the base of the driveway that was already split, and the log splitter that is up behind the house. So this weekend, my kids and I are going to haul the wood from the driveway, stack it and finish splitting the rest of the already seasoned wood from last year. I dont have any fascinating pictures of them, they are after all, just piles of wood to most people, but to me... they mean using the cabin all winter long... once again... PRICELESS!

Dave has a post he is working on as well to show the modifications of our little solar battery charging set up. Its neat! Otherwise, I fear this is a boring update. So I will tell you a little story...

Back story: Our first summer at Shmoopywood was spent in a 10 x 20 hunting cabin while we planned our future home. Once the snow fell, we discovered that not only did we have 2 adults, 2 children, and a great dane (only one at the time), but we had been housing mice. I am an animal lover so at first it was humane removal. I researched have a heart traps and these cute little sachet's that contained herbs that were pleasant enough smelling to me, but apparently repulsive to mice. As time went on it became evident that these little guys were not going to be stopped with conventional weapons. They became bolder, running across our pillows at night while we slept, chewing into our mouse-proof storage containers and even eating my toothbrush holder, the bristles and pooping on the rest. suddenly it was an all out war. I would leave the cabin on sundays and set 10 traps and come back on friday to find all tripped and no mice but mouse crap right there next to the trap. The little *(&#@( would eat the cheese and crap and run away.

I will leave you now, with a picture of our most recent discovery. I apologize for the poor quality of the picture but I am proud of it anyway because it was taken from VERY far away. This "little" guy is I believe a "Coopers Hawk" and I also think his recent arrival has helped abate our mouse problem. I am happy to say that Shmoopywood is mouse free in 2008 ;)
I love nature.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend Update

We are back after a very rainy weekend. We weren't able to get up there on Friday because Tarynn and I had a concert to go to on Friday night but we were up bright and early Saturday and on our way!
Exciting news, well for me anyway, we finally began the railing project. It is not in any way shape or form done, but having what we have thus far has taken some of the stress off of me. You see, we just were not getting any sleep because Django wanders around at night. Neither dave nor I could keep him downstairs. We would build these barricades to keep him from attempting the dangerous ascent to the loft but somehow every night, about 3am-4am he still managed to get around them, push them out of the way or leap over them and come on up. Its about 10 feet or so up off the ground with NO RAILINGS and no barriers to tell big gangly great danes "hey you are too close to the edge dumbass" so we basically have been sleeping with one eye open on the weekends that the kids are not with us.

Great pains (not great danes) have gone into the actual design of the style of the railing. You see, at first, we wanted to build a rustic cabin. We wanted it to be alot like the Little House on the Prairie houses we all loved so much as kids but since the actual plans for the house quadrupled in size and took shape into a fairly large CAPE, It just didn't fit. Then we started to acquire many furnishings from our D-store and Craig's list, so it morphed more into an early 1900's style. With the addition of the brown couch (that nobody will ever see because its covered with sheets to keep down the Drool from Monsters - shown on the left) it kind of just morphed back into eclectic styling. Finally one day, I just surfed the net and pulled out a bunch of pictures of different style railings ranging from stick rustic to regular bannister type that you see in every house and by golly, we found something that was rustic but sturdy. Dave has set off to building it.

We are aware that at this time it looks a bit like a corral fence to keep in cattle (isn't that what it basically is?) but its not close to being done at this point. Once we do the finish work - little spindly posty things between the beams - and stain it, it will be far more elegant than Bessie's gate... Ok maybe not FAR more elegant but we really like it and 200 pounds of dog can bump and lean on it and they will remain on the second floor and that really is priceless.

Here we see the right side railing.

And here is the left side. You might be asking why it doesnt go to the wall, I have an answer for that (some may argue I have an answer for everything)

The answer is: Knee wall ;)

I needed to add in this picture because it really shows the very fine, tight fit of the beams that Dave painstakingly chiseled out by hand. The beams are rough saw Hemlock to match the beams that we installed under the loft which are shown in the next shot.

There were some modifications done to the tiny little solar set up too, but once again, I will let Dave post about that because I do not posses the knowledge to post about it in any way. ;) I am really happy with the progress this summer and I think Dave is too. We have the top 4 items on the list and still have a good 3 months to complete them. 1. Porch 2. railing 3. dog fence 4. Indoor plumbing. We realize we need walls and the solar stuff as well but we actually work full time and had to prioritize the big things and work on the other things in the mean time. Since we have spent 2 solid years up there without ALL of it, we are OKAY as far as I am concerned. Thank you for hanging out with us.

On the Green front: our composter is on its way! WOO HOOO

ok thats it have a great night!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dave's Solar Posty :)

Here is the small scale solar test setup. These are each 15W panels that run to a 7amp charge controller and take care of our VERY small lighting needs at this time. We alternate between two 105amp hour 12V deep cycles. Each has a small inverter attached (one is 175W and the other 350W). In the last year, these have worked out very well for us and can easily run either a CFL or small fan during our weekend trips. If I recall correctly the panels were about 79 bucks when we got them last year and they were to be used as our small scale test however they have the power to keep two small batteries charged.

Using aluminum stock that was laying around in the garage, I fabricated a perimeter frame to hold two panels. Its upside down in this picture but there is a pin through joint that I made so that the angle can be changed as the seasons change. The aluminum is light and weather resistant as well as being very easy to work with on the drill press. I don't work with metal very often but some jobs do require it...this was one of those jobs I just couldn't get away with making out of wood ;-)

Here you can see their temporary location. Not exactly sure how efficient a solar panel will be with a Great Dane blocking the sun ;-) Future pictures will likely include these on a fence pole mount.
Can't wait to go from a 30W array with two small panels to a 800-1000 array and 1000 amp hour battery bank ;-) however this system seems ideal if you have a remote shed or outbuilding, bobhouse and can afford a few days of charging in the sun. Our average usage on the weekends is maybe 20 amp hours on these, which gets replaced during the week.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Weekend Re-cap

Towards the end of last week we FINALLY decided on the loft railing design so this weekend our goals were simple, put some finishing touches on the screen porch (springs for the screen doors, put the knob on, put up my new solar christmas lights, find a LOCAL lumber yard to order the wood for the railing, and complete the screen that would be on hinges.) Dave and I are both avid target shooters and one of our first projects after purchasing what would someday become S-wood, was create a shooting lane. We wanted to be able to open a screen and shoot. I am happy to say we accomplished all of our missions AND had some time to hang out with our dogs - side note - thoroughly enjoyed watching me try to get a picture of the attack hummingbird which i failed miserably at.

What you are looking at on the left here is Dave's version of the best place on earth. A local lumber yard. Yes folks not only were the prices reasonable and the staff accommodating, but the words "beautiful" must have come out of Dave's mouth at least 15times. Now before you say HEY WAIT! Thats not recycled. Part of our "green" outlook is yes, using recycled materials but our other hopes is when we have to purchase wood, or materials, we stay local. This is 8 miles from our door!

This is just probably something only I will enjoy, but to me, this is the epitome of "kid in a candy store". We got our wood ordered for our railing and we hope to start building it next weekend. Not only is it one of the things that we just need to do (aside from walls) but it will give us piece of mind. With the dogs at night wanting to be near us, and us being on the second floor, there have been several sleepless nights.

Please ignore the great dane, he was not cooperating, focus instead on the hinged screen window above the dog :)

I am sure dave will update in a later post but one of our coolest accomplishments besides all of the above, was we hooked up 2 small Solar Panels to charge our deep-cycle batteries that we run our lamps off of. I have some pictures too.

We did have one not-so-pleasant experience which I am surprised we have not encountered before. Now that the porch is done, we are happy to be able to extend the living area in this hot weather. We are in the middle of nowhere, no electricity so no outdoor lights. Our dog Frankenstein alerted to something outside. Normally this could mean anything from a neighbor stopping by to him thinking a neighbor stopped by so we removed him from the situation and I went to the front to see if there was anyone in the drive, there wasn't. I went to the back to see if there was a deer or something in the rear. When I stepped out onto the porch, I could clearly hear what sounded like a small dog barking about 150 feet from the back door. We could hear it but not see it. I asked Dave what it was (only there may have been some colorful wording in there) and he said Coyote. JUST as he said it, more "barking" and suddenly howling as well. We figure there were about 6 or 7 of them. What was scary about it was that our dogs were going nuts, i mean with all that howling, our dogs were making alot of noise.Our dogs are big, about 350 pounds together, yet the coyote started to advance TOWARDS us and our house. We are staring towards blackness and listening to the howling and yapping of many coyote. The hair was raised on my neck. It sure was scary that they were NOT afraid of us, or our dogs.

So thats my "critter encounter" story for the weekend, not one that I want to experience again. I like the woodchucks, turkey and moose stories WAY better.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Energy Consumption - From Dave

A thought from the editor in chief of SW... we have really tried to stop being such energy hogs and although not all of our appliances are energy star, some of them are relatively new (3 -4 years old) and financially we cannot replace them at this time. We are leaving this afternoon so I hope to have new photos and an update for you by Monday!

OK, back to your regularly scheduled program...

Some quick thoughts about the Renewable power system and where we would like to be.

One of the items I neglected to mention in the previous post was a very helpful tool in gathering the necessary numbers (in order to size the system). I'm sure they are available on the web, but we got our Kill-a-watt EZ P3 from Northern tool. Its a small device that plugs in-line with the 120V AC electronics that you want to monitor. Sure, many of the books or calculators tell you to check the back panel of an appliance which is fine for say a radio or light, however if you want to check the power consumption of an appliance that goes on/off throughout the day, the kill-a-watt is a must and will stay running for as long as you want and continually update itself for current and total consumption. Our 7 cu ft chest freezer is a great example. Over the course of a 24 hour period the freezer (which BTW is in our basement which stays pretty close to 75 all the time) will consume 1 KWH. Multiply that out by 30 days and you've got 30 KWH per month required ;-)
Instead of spending 5X the money on a DC freezer, our intention is to use all 120V AC Energy-star appliances at camp. Current plan is to move our existing freezer to camp and attempt to make it even more efficient 1) by putting it in the stable/lower temps of the basement and 2) building a box around it made of high density insulated foam panels from lowes or home depot. Course we'll keep the vents open so all heat from the compressor is removed but in theory this should help at least a little.
Honestly we haven't done very much in the way of comparison with what the average American household uses for electricity for a family of 4. There is so much info on the web its difficult to know, so we are looking at our own numbers and using our previous usage with our current (more mindful) lifestyle as a baseline. We live in what I would consider a well insulated 1900 sq ft house, 100% CFL's, Oil Heat/Hot water, Well pump, Full Time Telecommuter and some appliances are Energy Star as all the normal things that you would find in any US household (TV's,Video Games, Computers, AC etc). Prior to making any attempts to conserve our normal monthly usage was in the 800-900 KWH per month range. Now that we have replaced all the lights with CFL's, Turned of Phantom loads, and are paying attention to lights and waste, our numbers have dropped to between 600-700 KWH per month. This was NOT difficult at all and we are not sacrificing comfort, we are just not wasting.
Our goal at the camp... 100 KWH per month and 100% renewable. Of course this is going to be somewhat skewed as we're not running big screen TV's, Oil Furnace, Oven, Dishwasher, Video Games, Telecommuting, however that is exactly why we are that we can escape from those things ;-)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Potty Wood

We really have been focused in the last year on making things more comfortable at shmoopywood cabin. Trust me, we have come a LONG way from the air mattress in a 10 x 20 uninsulated hunting cabin with 2 great danes and a wood stove at -6 temperatures. I wasnt even going to mention the thawing out of the pottywood with a portable coleman hand warmer heater and luke warm water ;). We still have a ways to go though because we are still using the pottywood facilities as we have yet to plumb the "big house".

Here is our current facilities in the form of potty wood, which i mentioned before is just a toilet in a shed on top of our already in place septic system. We use the facilities, and we fill the tank of the toilet with water that we have hauled from the stream and stored in an empty trash barrel. It functions like a real live toilet and is comfortable unless you are dealing with bees, spiders, mice, frozen toilet or opposite: the sun beating down on the outhouse and heating it up to about a buck fifty.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Who Are You People?

I thought I would create a post that would help you get to know us a little bit, see who we are, what we are doing and why. When all the work is through for the day, we usually cut loose with some of our hobbies, a hike with Django in the woods, collecting blackberries for jam, a ride on the ATV, watching the gorgeous sunset, sitting out there in the dark listening to the critters running around on the property, shooting (paper, not animals) or just a general goof off.

Here is Django on "look out" for big mean attack hummingbirds.

Saskwatch hike

Dave killing the attack pumpkin with my 12ga emergency shotgun. He is actually standing in the area that has become our house.

Me and my friend Sterling hiking with our Great Danes (django is the freakishly large one)

We are headed back to S-wood this weekend and hope to get a few things done. We still have yet to dig the posts for the dog fence off the back of the house for our "smaller" dog Frankenstein who has a bad habit of running away, a railing in the loft for those mornings when DJango decides the thunder is too scary and runs up the stairs at light speed, and yes... plumbing.

A little about me: I am 37 year old mom of 2, Tarynn 15 and Andrew 12. I used to be a property manager for condominiums until I burned out, got tired of the city and the demanding schedule and left that to become software support for a property management software company. In my vast free time, I am the vice president of a great dane rescue based in Maine and New Hampshire ( ). Django and I also do Meet and greets and recently we were given a high honor of making a wish come true for a nursing home patient in MA who wished to the Twilight Wish Foundation that he could spend time with danes. Dave works for a large communications type company from our house while he takes care of our boys Frank(enstein) and Django ages 2 and 4 Great Dane doggies. Dave also volunteers occasionally at Liberty House which is transitional housing for homeless vets as well as support me with the Rescue work. He and I have been married for almost 2 years and we are both previously divorced. I am so lucky to have him in my life. There is nobody else on this planet that I could possibly work this closely and this hard with. Its good honest work and we both enjoy it, even splitting wood! We hope to someday, maybe, move to S-wood on a more permanent basis, so when we do things there, we are constantly thinking along those lines so we wont have to do it twice. We are both VERY environmentally aware and have made a ton of changes in our daily life such as hanging our laundry, using cloth bags for shopping, having a no-napkin rule (we use cloth), using friendly cleaners, detergents etc, CFL's, composting and now we want to take what we have learned and put it into our off-grid green as possible, recycled cabin. We hope to also have animals, grow our own food and live a sustainable lifestyle, but these things take time. My kids think we are nuts, because we are so aware of "enviro crimes" and I think they are rather tired of it but we hope that they will continue to live this way or better in their future lives.

Anyway, thats us.
Thank you for joining us on our ride thus far, i hope that you stick around to see where we end up. Its going to be very exciting :)

Django helping daddy measure for railings to keep him safe.

Our puppy (Great Dane)Frankenstein and my 15 year old daughter on the deck relaxing.

Tarynn being silly

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Post by Dave

Well. I got hubbster to put together some solar information about what we are looking for, what we have discovered etc. Here goes:

The solar wish list and moving to the Big Leagues:
Up until this point, we have made do with candles, the occasional oil lamp, propane lamps (common to camping) and a small scale battery/inverter combo. The Battery combo that we had been using (seen under the table on the left) for a single CFL or a very small table fan has served us quite well and had reduced our need for the propane/oil lamps. We have two 12V deep cycles that we purchased (with trade in of old cores) at Tractor Supply. Each is 105 amp hours, tied to a small 150W DC to AC inverter. This allows either a CFL to be run or tiny tabletop fan that we have used at night. System is to be charged off two 15W PV panels and a 7amp charge controller which we got from Northern Tool. Pictures to come shortly. This was a great way to reduce the need for other light sources as well as start the sometimes daunting task of learning about everything solar.
Depending on how things go in the next week, this is the gear that we hope to purchase.

Heart of the system will be a Xantrex XW6048 which is a 6000 Watt DC to AC inverter that will tie everything together. Next up is the Battery bank. So far the plan is 4 concord 12V 255amp hour AGM's, to be wired together producing a bank of 1020 amp hours and 48 volts.
The inverter will be tied into our generator as well as a PV array, at this time 4 x 200W panels should do it.

More detailed info and pics to come!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Our temporary power source

Since we are gearing up to start our solar panel, inverter, whosimiwhatsis purchase, I thought it would be good to visit what we use for our source of power currently during the build.

It all started about 30 days after we purchased the land. We had intended on running power up the driveway, in fact, we chose the lot carefully with many things in mind and one of them was the closeness of power at the street level. Right at the corner of our lot, is a pole, so hey it should be easy to bring power up the driveway right? WRONG! We soon learned that there was much more to it and after a $10,000 estimate to put 3 poles on our driveway or 13,000 to trench the wires, we were in a real pickle. They wanted us to pay $10,000 to put poles along the TREE line on the side of a mountain in a very wooded area which means if we lose a pole due to limbs or trees, which is a likely scenario, we had to pay them to come back up and do it again PLUS a monthly bill. Since we had already started trucking up there with coolers, water jugs and candles and really were not uncomfortable, we considered not including power in our plans. One afternoon at the cabin, Dave got the gleam in his eye and I knew something interesting was going to come out of it.

So began the research of the solar installation... To be honest, the solar install would actually be right around the same price but we had the added bonus of no monthly bill. Neither of us knew anything about solar power at the time, and i am not overly interested in kilowatts and ampage, Dave got the tap and began his research process. Two years later, Dave has come up with what we think is a viable plan and we are both eager to get it underway! In the interim however, we needed to come up with a solution for the building process. Lets face it, building a house without any power tools would take MUCH longer no? We wanted something that we could use in an emergency for back-up power (we live in New England and there are great stretches that do not include sun, and wind power wouldnt work for us where we are located). We needed something that would run the well pump that we would EVENTUALLY install (we are so far off from that its not even worth talking about) plus all the household needs. We got our generator and dave set off to house it.

Captain over-engineer made the coolest little shed for it, where all the walls lift up to allow proper airflow on hot days, plus it locks up tight and conceals it. I believe (and I could be wrong) that it is 8,000 watts and although it does consume gas (we are really trying to stop destroying natural resources) it is used so infrequently that it has not been significant. My friend's husband (licensed electrician) came up for a week or two and wired the entire house to a panel that is run off the generator with some gadgety things so that switching to our solar plan would be simple as 1-2-3. (famous last words).

As you can see from the pictures however, our careful planning did not allow for major erosion and now we are faced with the eventuality of some sort of stone walk or moving the generator entirely ;) Ahhh well, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Two weeks on the grid - whiney update

Normally we spend every weekend available at the cabin. When we are up there we work hard and I know I have said this before, but we (or at least I) really enjoy splitting wood, lighting candles, washing dishes in a bucket, hauling water, doing construction, planning the progress, searching for recycled items etc. At the end of the day, we are tired but we wake up in the morning ready to do it all again. This weekend, husband is on call for his job and this means he has to be within arms reach of his computer and the internet. Since we haven't worked all that out, we have to stay here.

I am whining now so I apologize... but...

In the mornings at the cabin, I wake up and immediately go sit on our front porch with my camera. I have been accosted by humming birds, watched giant woodpeckers, turkeys etc. One of these days I want to see a moose and that is my goal. (we have seen moose scat on our property and we have witnessed a moose with a full rack having lunch in the river across the street so we know he is there). So on the eve of "independence day" and the long weekend, I find it ironic that we are stuck here lol.

and not here: