Tag Archives: winter

Life changes

Have you ever had the feeling that the universe was trying to tell you something? Maybe perhaps guide you in a certain direction? Well, things have certainly been interesting these first few months of 2019.

The weather has been up and down a lot here and I probably don’t need to mention all of the crazy weather that most of North America seems to have gone through this winter. Here is a small sample of one forecast we had back on Feb 23rd.

Yeah, +5C (40F) with rain and possible thunder storm quickly followed by a severe drop back down below -20C (-4F). Nothing like mother nature to keep us on our toes.

Not to worry. Kat and I still managed to go out and have a lovely dinner for Valentine’s Day. We even got all dressed up.

For several days at the end of February, beginning of March, we had this guy hanging around our yard.

If you look at the center of the picture you can see a bard owl. He is difficult to spot and even more difficult to take a picture of. We’re guessing he saw all of the squirrel tracks around our yard and figured this would be a great place to wait for dinner.

On a really mundane, but still nifty to us kinda theme, we discovered that the glass lid we have for one of our pots fits perfectly our thermal cooker pot.

Glass lids are great for being able to watch what is going on without lifting the lid.

In other news, our cats love to sit on laps, especially if it gets chilly.

That picture was taken by me holding my phone over my lap.

And just in case you thought I was hogging all of the cats, here is Kat taking her turn.

Having a sizeable property, we do enjoy snowshoeing through our forest. Now we know we’ve had a significant amount of snow, but you lose perspective a bit when you’re walking on top of it. You may recall from previous posts that we have a pond at the back of our property with a bench sitting beside it.

As a reminder, here is a spring picture of it with the pond over flowing.

Back at the beginning of March we were snow shoeing up in that area and I took this picture.

See the bench? It’s that tiny horizontal line across the snow. And then there is this one.

That is a picture of the area we cleared last year where the Earthship is going to be. Looks like Hoth, but with more trees.

In any event, the weather is finally starting to warm up, the days are longer and we are getting more sunshine. Spring also officially arrives on Wednesday. These are all good things.

Then there is what happened today. We were out and about with our truck running some errands and blew the transmission out of it. That isn’t 100% certain, but probably 98% it is the transmission. We’ve had lots of stuff go wrong with our 2004 GMC Sierra pickup over the last while and it’s likely this will be the last straw. So we are now looking for a new vehicle. To make matters more interesting I’m also unemployed right now.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that part. The company I worked for is/was in serious financial dire-straights and I received just under 50% of the pay I was supposed to for 2018. So I quit. No sense keeping a job that isn’t paying you. So not only are we looking for a new vehicle we are also looking for new ways to make an income. Can’t build an Earthship for free, unfortunately.

Don’t get the wrong impression. We aren’t depressed or worrying ourselves to death. In fact, in situations like this, there’s only one thing to do:

Make some frikin’ ginormous yorkshire puddings. Here is a side shot for perspective.

We then take said yorkshire puddings, split them an dump a creamy beef filling into their centers. I put cajun spice on mine for some extra fun.

I do realize that it kinda looks like chunky pablum with brown sugar on top spread over yorkshire pudding, but I assure you it is not. It is a whole bunch of tasty. Got this recipe from the Lard cook book.

Anyway, time to say, “tootilly-pippski”. Don’t let life run you down. Things have a way of working out better than you imagine.

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Winter Time Shokugeki

Yes, here we are in 2019 and you’re wondering what is up with us. Well, it’s cold and there is a lot of snow on the ground. Pretty typical winter weather. If you want to know just how cold, I took a screen shot of the forecast on Jan 20th.

For those who speak in Fahrenheit, 0C is 32F, -18C is 0F and -40C is -40F. With those conversions you should be able to get a rough estimate of what is going on here. Mostly cold, though tomorrow (Wed) it’s warming up to 0C. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs with the temperatures this winter.

Anyway, we aren’t working on any major projects right now so we need to find things to occupy ourselves. Kat and I didn’t really give each other gifts for Christmas so we decided to do a shokugeki instead. For those not familiar with Japanese, that means “food war”. The name actually comes from a popular Japanese animated show that Kat and I both love that is all about cooking.

Anyway, we chose dessert for this event. Each of us would make a one serving sized dessert for the other and we would compare the results. We didn’t bet anything, we just chose to enjoy the desserts.

I went first on the weekend of Jan 12/13 and while Kat was out tending to the horses I whipped this up.

Whipped may not be entirely accurate, as it took me 3.5 hours, but there was whipped cream involved so I guess that works. I bet you’re wondering what is on the inside.

There are several aspects to this cake that are not revealed by the pictures so I will give you a full description of the 10 layers.

First, I made some really thin cake rounds, approaching the thickness of a crepe, but not quite that thin. I got the recipe for those from another dessert I made last year.

Then there was stiffened chocolate ganache. If you aren’t familiar with this, you can make really stiff chocolate ganache by using water instead of creme.

I made some whipped cream and also some chocolate meringues.

When I put it all together, the layers went like this (from bottom to top):

  1. cake
  2. ganache
  3. whipped cream
  4. cake
  5. chocolate meringue
  6. cake
  7. ganache
  8. whipped cream
  9. cake
  10. chocolate meringue

Unfortunately, there was supposed to be an 11 layer right in the middle, which I did make, but I forgot to actually put it in the stack when I was putting it all together. I had made some candied pecans, which I then put through a chopper to make into small crumbs. I then used the crumbs to make some praline whipped cream. You can see this in the small glass dish in the back ground of the second picture.

After I put all the layers together I covered it all with real chocolate ganache (using cream) and sprinkled more of the praline crumbs all over it. As a garnish I put two of the candied pecans on the top.

Overall, it turned out well and it tasted really awesome, but it had some structural issues when trying to eat it mainly because the whipped cream layers don’t have any structural integrity. I have being doing some thinking and have a good idea on how to fix this which is good because Kat said, “I would DEFINITELY eat this again!”

This past weekend of Jan 19/20 Kat had her turn and I left for a while to visit some friends on Saturday and came home to this:

… and this…

… and even one of these!

So, yeah, I got to try multiple things. The first is a simple sugared donut hole. The second is a full Bavarian cream filled donut and the third (which was the main event) is a pumpkin cheesecake filled donut with caramel and praline whipped cream on top.

Yeah, they were all really tasty and Kat and I are always talking about donuts but rarely actually eat them so this was quite a treat.

Similar to my own dessert, Kat had some issues with the donuts. She had to make two batches of dough because for some reason it didn’t want to rise. Eventually she go it to work, but I don’t think it was quite as puffy as she would have liked.

The next question that always comes up is, “Who won?” I think that is still up in the air. We both really enjoyed the desserts, which is really what matters most. Maybe we’ll just have to do another one to figure out the winner.

Winter, already?

So here we are at December 3rd. Usually at this point we’re starting to get some snow that will actually stay and everyone starts thinking holiday thoughts. Well, we’re ahead of schedule on the snow part, that is for certain.

If you recall from my November Snow post we got dumped on several times in November. That didn’t stop. The week of my birthday it also got really cold. For those of you who aren’t familiar with “really cold” let me put some numbers on that. It dropped to -28C (-18F) one night and temperatures below -20C were common that week.

The following week (last week actually) it got really warm; back up to freezing and it hovered around there for quite a while. We’ve had the gamut of precipitation, but the vast majority of it has been wet heavy snow. I went out snow shoeing again and I have some lovely pictures for you after a particularly sticky snow fall.

Here we have a picture of the homestead.

Clearing those solar panels has become a daily chore. Probably nine days out of ten I get up in the morning and have to scrape the snow off so we can get a measly few percentages added back into the batteries. With it snowing so much, obviously it’s been cloudy, which means you don’t get much solar power on those days. We’ve been running the generator regularly to keep the batteries topped up.

As we head up the hill, you can see lots of trees bent over with all of the weight of the snow on them.

For a brief second we had a small patch of blue sky. If I didn’t have a picture, no one would believe it.

The ongoing snow tunnel.

Everyone loves the picture with the spruce trees covered in gobs of wet snow.

For contrast, here’s a really big one. It’s not suffering as much.

Big white pine.

More snow tunnels.

This picture will give you some idea of how much snow has fallen here, based on the depth of the pile on the bench.

Some of the snow has melted with the warmer week, but we just seem to get more so I think it’s pretty much equalized. These next two pictures are from the area at the top of the hill where I did all the tree cutting this summer. We were supposed to do a big bonfire in November to clean it up, but with the rain and snow and other obligations we didn’t get to it. Hopefully we can do it before the end of March because after that daytime fire restrictions will apply.

Pour trees. I got a lot of snow down my neck shaking snow off trees like this.

Looking up at the sky.

Finally, the sun was trying to peak through the clouds. It never quite made it, but it was making an effort.

In case you think we must be sad and depressed about this, here is a picture of a happy Kat (Fizgig included as well).

Solar Review 2017

Having been living with our solar power now for over a year (installed Sep 2016), I thought I might share a few of the things we’ve learned over the passed year living with it.

I guess one of the first questions people wonder about, for our area, would be “is it worth it?” This question does have several dependencies, but overall, I would say definitely YES! The more we hear about how the cost of grid electricity is going up and up, we are so glad we aren’t part of that. Especially up here where power outages are not uncommon. We never notice when this happens.

The other fun thing, especially during the summer, is that you can use as much power as you want during the day. In fact, this is recommended as this is when the sun is up and your batteries are being charged. Compare that to being on the grid (here in Ontario anyway) where they charge you extra for the power you use during “peak hours”. This always felt like being penalized for working from home.

Of course, whether it is worth it for you will depend heavily on how you expect to use it. Power used is based on energy and time (thus why your electric bill is charged by the kilowatt-hour). If you want to do a lot of work in a short amount of time, you will need a lot of energy. Anyone considering going off-grid should take some time to do some research. Figure out what things you are using right now, what appliances, kitchen gadgets, bathroom widgets, computers, TVs and so on. After you have that list, figure out how long you use each of those items everyday. Add all that up and you’ll get a rough idea of your daily use.

As a heads up, anything that uses electricity to generate heat will be a fairly big power draw. Hair dryers, hair curlers, hair straighteners, hair crimpers, space heaters, electric stoves, electric clothes dryers, toasters, electric waffle irons, clothes irons, soldering irons, electric welders… (you get the idea) will all draw a lot of energy. I put that in bold because how much power they draw will depend on how long they are used for. Unfortunately, most of all of those things I just listed have a long warm-up period before you actually start using it, so that will add to the time. Something like a microwave, which does draw a lot of energy, but it doesn’t have a warm-up time, can work to your benefit. Generally speaking, how long do you really run your microwave? Usually under 5 min. It may have a high energy draw, but it is a short amount of time. Compare that with something like a slow cooker, which draws less energy, but is used for long periods of time and you may find the slow cooker kills your off-grid system. If you can’t live without your slow cooker, we highly recommend a thermal cooker instead.

When we moved up here to the trailer, we knew we would be going off-grid so we did the tough thing and got rid of all of our electric based heating devices. This included a really nice toaster oven we had, which was difficult to give up at the time. Now we don’t even think about it. We only have three solar panels at 250W each so our system isn’t huge. That being said, the seasons affect it big time.

From March until October, everything is golden. We get enough power to handle all of our needs without having to resort to using a generator as back up. This includes things like power tools and vacuums that draw a lot of power. For that stuff, we usually just wait for a sunny period.

From November to February, in this part of the world, it is cloudy more often than it is sunny. Also, the days are a lot shorter, so even when the sun is out, you don’t get a lot of time to recharge the batteries. Additionally, if your batteries aren’t kept in a temperature stable environment (ours are out in the cold), this will impose further energy loss to you for usage as it will take more energy to charge the batteries when they get cold. This is where having a generator as backup is necessary.

We have a little control unit with an LCD display attached to our inverter that tells us various things.

In the above picture you can see that we are in Bulk Charging mode and we have an input voltage coming from the batteries at 58.0V. If the inverter is telling you it is charging that can only mean one thing: the generator is running. When the generator isn’t running, we just have a read-out of what the voltage is coming from the batteries. There are other things we can check, but I find the voltage is the most useful. We have a 48V system and having lived with it for over a year now, I have a pretty good idea of how full the batteries are based on the incoming voltage.

If that 58.0V I mentioned above seems high, it’s not. Think of your batteries like a car tire. If your tire is full at 30psi (around 207kPa) then you will need a compressor that can generate more than 30psi to fill that tire. That’s just the nature of the physics. In addition to that, as far as the batteries are concerned, the colder it is, the more voltage (electrical pressure) you will need to fill the batteries. During the summer, we can top out the batteries at 57V, but during the winter, we can push it up to 62V before they are filled. The charge controller we have handles this automatically using temperature compensation.

Incidentally, that increase in voltage when it is cold comes with one interesting factor: the resistance in the wires drops as it gets colder, so you gain some extra voltage in the winter. If you can keep your batteries somewhere more temperature stable (like a garage), that would help a lot. Lead acid batteries don’t like it when they are cold.

There are other battery options, some of them are quite new and I would be fascinated to try them (e.g. the Tesla Powerwall), but they can also be more expensive. Depending on the added advantages (e.g. no maintenance, higher power storage), the extra cost may be worth it.

The things we mainly use our power for are the lights in the trailer, our laptops and charging our phones. Sometimes we’ll use a blender or hand mixer, but it’s definitely not every day. We don’t run any of the big power tools during the winter, as the shop isn’t heated and it’s not fun trying to build stuff when your hands are freezing. During the warmer months we do run a miter saw, table saw, electric planer, skill saw, compressor and a few other things. All of those have a big draw when they start up. The miter saw draws between 1100-1200W while it is running, but how long does it take you to make a cut: 5 seconds or less for most things so the energy usage is fairly small per cut.

I can’t say I was an expert going into the whole solar power thing, but I had done some research and I did have some classes on it when I did the Earthship Academy. I knew enough so when I went to talk to the guy at Solar Depot, I wasn’t a complete noob. I’m not an electrician, and I didn’t wire the thing together, but I do have a pretty good grasp on how to monitor it and maintain it.

In the end, if you can figure out what your needs are, do a bit of math, you can figure out what size of system you are going to need. That being said, you could build a system so huge that you could run just about anything. However if the cost of your system is so high that you will never recoup the loss, when compared to being on-grid, then there isn’t much point. If you can cut back on your usage so the cost of your power system is reduced, it can definitely pay for itself within a year or so.