Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Whirl Wind Weekend

We never thought we would be this happy to start the work week.

Dan and I both had a hell of a weekend thanks to separate, but equally stressful and extensive emergency situations at work. The short story is Dan didn't go 20 minutes from Friday night to Sunday night without answering or making a phone call- and more often than not to field one disaster after another. (He had the "emergency phone" for work for the first time and experienced the worst case scenario apparently.) My company had this listed as a 3 day weekend, but I worked Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We both felt quite robbed and definitely drained. So I'm keeping it short and sweet once again- focusing on the awesome things that happened this weekend.

#1 - The Cushion Cover Miracle
I cut the material the weekend before, knowing that we would have a photographer in our midst. That was the best move ever. I feel sewing is equal parts cutting and stitching. When all the pieces are cut, I feel halfway there. Friday night I got home and, with the deadline of 12pm the next day lighting a fire under my arse like nothing else, I started churning out the good stuff. I started by making the pillows and gauging my energy after that. The work week had been stressful, long days, and go go go from punch in to punch out. 

Well, let's just say the cushions were like fuel injections. I saw that first, $4 thrift store pillow come out looking like something brand new and on main display at the {insert specialty Home Decor store}. I was like, "Oh heck yes! I'm going till I drop now!"

I ran out of juice at about 1030pm. I had managed to complete both pillows, hem the overlap panels for each cushion, and stitch together the 4 side panels for each cushion.  That left pinning and stitching together the top and bottom panels to the side panels. 

I woke up at 630 Saturday morning and immediately got to work. I only stopped briefly to take a few photos with something handy- sorry it ended up being the cell phone- I was in turbo sewing mode. Forget my pictures! A pro was coming soon enough! I finished the covers just one hour before, Nat Rea, the photographer for RI Monthly Magazine, arrived. WHEEW.

I stood back and marveled at what I had just managed to accomplish. I hammered out about 9 solid hours of sewing work over the course of 19 hours. At my normal rate of sewing projects, it would have taken till Summer! Some of the cushions could use a little more stuffing and fluffing, but I'll get there and for now it still looks pretty dang fabulous. The colors look great, the patterns are so eye popping, and it completely transformed that wall of the house. Instead of a frumpy bland eye sore, we now have a captivating centerpiece for an entire wall! 

I would also like to add that my math was pretty dang close for this project. By the time I was done cutting what I needed, I could clutch inside my hands what was left over. I even had to make a last minute improvisation. I ran out of the coral/red material, but still needed the short side panels. I happened to "by out" the remaining material on the roll for the pillow material and decided to use that to make the ends. I feel like it gives a whole new layer of interest to the eye- and completely unplanned! 


Awesome Thing #2 - Photo Shoot.
We had a great time meeting and working with Nat. He brought a lot of equipment which I drooled over and probably took way too many pictures of--is that weird? taking pictures of camera equipment?
Ha! Oh well. Nat brought a great lense that no one else has used so far. He showed us a few of the shots and we were amazed at how wide an angle was caught and held in view.  Needless to say, we cannot wait to see the finished images and the spot in the March issue of RI Monthly Magazine! 

Awesome Thing #3 - Interview 
On Sunday, we had our interview with Jamie. It was a good thing that Nat came Saturday, as Sunday proved to be over cast and dreary. We both had a great conversation with Jamie and thought it was interesting to speak on the topics and the perspective she was going for with this piece. We spoke about space, money, and earth saving habits that everyone can apply to their lives- you don't have to live in a tiny house to make a difference! 

Awesome Thing #4 - I have skates once again!
I grew up on a lake, and some of my fondest memories of the winter are skating and listening to music until well after dark. The flicker of the porch light was my signal to come in for the night. More than once this past week, I've looked out at the frozen pond, right in front of The Pod, and wished I could get in some time on blades. I know it would do wonders to unwind me. We had a warm couple days, so I've got to wait for the surface to harden up again, but I'll be out there soon! Yahoo!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Turning To The Itty Bitty Details

We finally mounted the eco-heater
in a new location.
We had a great new years! And then January slapped me in the face.

I've been in and out of feeling under the weather the last few weeks, and to top it all off, things at work have all but exploded. I've come home with a headache and thoughts swimming almost every night. When work sucks up all my energy and initiative, things quickly slack in other areas. Two weeks without a post! 

Well you haven't missed much. As I mentioned, we had fun on New Years. We celebrated with some friends at a house one of them recently purchased. Conveniently for us, it's about 15 minutes away! It seems like we always end up driving at least 35 minutes to do something social- so it's nice to have friends in our neck of the woods!

There she be! We have heating sources
at both ends of the house now.
We will rarely need it though. And look at
cabinet doors..."before". 

The best part about New Years was when we headed home- and to my surprise- we stayed up and continued dancing to music  for hours and having a grand ol' time, just the two of us in The Pod. :) 

Aside from that, progress has come in a series of minute detail projects. What put foot to ass, you say? Well, a call from Rhode Island Monthly magazine! We are going to be interviewed for their March issue this upcoming weekend. 

We added some pieces of trim. Yes, we were the only
ones who noticed it, but hey! Feels great that
it's not bugging us anymore!

This being the second round of pro photos taken of our place, I wanted to make sure there were improvements. We listed out all the little detail things that have bugged us, but not enough to become a priority, and over the last two weekends (okay more so this past weekend) we set out to complete as much as we could. One of my major pet peeves are black items. Mostly because I love color. My uncle described me as a walking rainbow one day. There is something about the color black that seems to act like an anchor and suck everything into it's darkness. I'm all for being sucked in if it's my mid-section and we are talking about a little black dress...but I do NOT like furniture and the like to be black, giving the perception that an already small space is even smaller.  

And some trim behind the Berkey...

I'm running on fumes at this point, so here come lots of pictures with few words! Enjoy the photos and prepare for splashes of COLOR! 

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We cleaned up the hack job we did on our very first outlet. 
Annnd one of our rookie mistakes was to assume we would find shiplap that was 1/2 inch thick. Nope. So we didn't set the outlets out enough. The outlet plate was barely hanging  on by two of four needed screws, but two simply weren't long enough. Well- we remedied both this weekend!

Dan took apart our kitchen cabinet doors and gave them a face lift! Now they are bright and colorful and easy to clean!

Meanwhile, I was slicing and dicing the fabric for our new couch and cushion covers. The love seat will probably be the most dramatic!

It was an agonizing few hours as I roamed through
Joanne's and finally made a decision. It's going to rock!

And then there was the painting of the black things. We painted our folding table, and a little office unit we got at the thrift store. This is now our lovely cutting board holder! And, my favorite so far, we painted our fridge door. RED FRIDGE. It really pops and we love it!

Yay colors!

Look at that fridge! 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Between Holidays

Just a few days after Christmas, to my complete surprise, we actually got a bit more work done!

This past weekend we finished our deck. Last we left off, we were about 6-7 boards short. By the end of that day (we had processed 22 boards), we were feeling like, "Oh screw it, let's just buy the rest we need."  I'm glad we put a pin in that instead of acting on it immediately.

With some time, and a great Christmas with friends and family, we were back to singing a more chipper tune. On Saturday morning, Dan woke abounding with ambition. We were out the door by 745am, headed back to the pile of old deck wood behind Dan's Dad's store. Usually it's me pushing us out the door! I'm enjoying this new trend. :)

After one session of working to re-claim the boards, we had a better idea of what boards were rotted and awful and which ones just look that way on the surface. I've said it before, I'll say it again- planers amaze me. We sent some pretty beat up looking stuff through that thing and out comes a lovely board that says, "And I was going to be thrown away... beauty is on the inside, don't they know?? Tsk tsk".  

Within 15 minutes we had collected enough old boards for the rest of the job and cut them down to a rough size for transport. Back at my Dads, we pulled out our tools and made quick work of the task at hand. This time around we worked like a well oiled machine- knowing exactly which steps were next and what each of us should do to move it along. I love sessions like this one. Dan and I set up our little Bose speaker, play tunes, and then sing terribly and joke around with one another as we work in perfect rhythm. 

The remaining wood we needed for the deck was ready to go in less than two hours! We headed back to the house and slapped those babies on. It felt good to get a deck- it feels even better to have a completed one! After that, we gave ourselves the rest of the day off and headed out to visit some more with family before they left town. 
And we even have two extra boards! We plan to use those for the new steps we will make.

We are registered!!
Other than that- not much other progress to report. I do have some very exciting, not-so-related news though! It's official this morning! Dan and I will be attending a strawbale workshop in July! We are seriously considering this building method for our permanent home on the ground some day.

 Since we never took a honey moon, we decided we would allow ourselves a series of GUILT FREE small adventures throughout 2015. When so much of your world is about how to save, save, save...it's hard to justify spending on fun versus necessity...but in a way, I argue that fun IS necessary. It's just a matter of finding the right balance as we continue our journey toward a debt free life.

Dan and I would like to thank every last one of you that has taken the time to read about our adventures, send us little notes of encouragement and support, and made us feel we are a part of a community. We hope that 2015 will be a great year for each and every one of you! 


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Running On Solar Power: Minimal Life Adjustments

A perfect balance- we were using exactly
as much as we were producing.
It's been a few weeks now, living off grid, and we have learned a lot about our system's production abilities and our usage.

Last week, we went the longest yet without any sun. Five days of overcast skies still didn't stop us from lighting our home or powering up devices. We designed our system to work on a 1.5 day battery bank, meaning we could expect to continue general power use for 1.5 days without any sun, thanks to our battery bank.

We were a bit wary of that number in the beginning, but like most things we quickly found a way around it. If it's cloudy- use less power! I'm sure most everyone reading this has lived through a major storm which caused power outages. If you live in New England then you have probably had the pleasure of living through more than one snow/ice storm. When I lived in Southern Maine- two winters in a row we had ice storms and lost power for 5+ days. I ended up temporarily relocating to a family's house each time. Bottom line- I lived.

Arriving home..looking through my clean windshield
at 8 more "windshields" that need to be scraped. Fun.

With those memories floating by, I quickly adjusted my attitude. Dan and I now have a much keener eye to the skies. We follow weather reports closely, make note of our battery bank percentage on a daily basis, and keep a close eye on use of the items that pull the most power.

A sight for sore eyes! After 6 days of
no sun, this was a relief!
Here's what we have learned....
-On a beautiful day in November- we can gain about 15-20% of our bank back.
-On a semi cloudy or "light cloud" day- we can still gain about 5-8% of our bank back.
-On a dark cloud day - we get no juice.
-Solar panels will gather zero power when covered in snow and ice.
-Our house- sitting alone for the day uses about 2% of the power bank. (Only the fridge and an alarm clock remain plugged in all day.)
-In the evenings when we get home- we use roughly 6-8% of our power bank. That includes running both interior lights for 3-4 hours, the outdoor light for 1 hour, 1 laptop for 3-4 hours, and miscellaneous mobile device charging.
-We can go upwards of 7 days without any sun. We went about 6 days with no sun and our bank dropped to it's lowest so far- about 31%.

Overall, the switch to solar hasn't made much of an impact on our daily lives. We don't feel restricted by any means. We like to keep conservative to begin with. Once the bank was getting into the 50 percent range, we scaled back our use. We ran devices off battery power, shut off lights and turned to candles- which actually makes for a very cozy atmosphere!

We even had our first trouble shooting instance. We noticed that the amperage was not reading anything other than zero, and then also noticed that our battery level hadn't moved either. We checked all of our connections outside- everything looked fine. So we turned to the monitor itself. After moving it around a little, I noticed the numbers go all wonky. It was definitely the wiring in the battery monitor itself. Dan fixed it in less than a minute. Man, am I glad it was an easy issue to fix.
With all the heater troubleshooting, I was not ready to have solar go on the fritz too!

Other than that, we haven't had a lot of movement around here. Well not in the building sense. We have been running around getting gifts, finishing errands, decorating, wrapping, and so on. This will probably be my last post until after Christmas. 
We want to thank you all so much for taking the time to read our adventures, share your thoughts and encouragement, and make us feel we are part of a community. We hope you all have a lovely Christmas (or equally wonderful December holiday) full of family and friends, love, laughter, and happiness.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

More Square Footage...Sort Of

The wood with a pinkish hue is reclaimed.
Last weekend we started putting together our deck!

I had almost started to accept that we would be headed into another winter without some kind of deck. To exit a house directly onto steps can be quite precarious at times, and leaves no landing space to knock off boots or set down bags when opening the door. Needless to say, I was bummed when the snow started to cover up our lumber pile and harden up the ground. 

I doubted nice weather would land on a weekend for some time. I'm glad to be wrong! And I'm glad to have a husband that has somehow cultivated a stubbornly motivated streak. We had other plans for the weekend, which included a good time with some family and friends, but that was all thrown off by our heater going on the fritz.

Saturday evening, the heater started acting funky and then just wouldn't do anything beyond hold a pilot flame. The first half of Sunday was then handed over to learning about thermocouples and other possible reasons for failure. We were both kind of annoyed at the sudden change of plans and new challenge. We just finally got the thing installed a few weeks ago! 

After a few hours of fiddling and research and a trip to the big box store for a piece that didn't fit, we figured it out. Our thermocouple had slipped down slightly from its original position in the stove and was no longer being hit by the pilot flame. Without the pilot flame to heat up the end of the thermocouple- the mechanism that opens gas to the additional burners in the stove does not function. 

We put the original back in place and made certain it gets hit by the pilot flame. We were peeved about missing the outing, but glad to have the heater working again and learning a little more about our stove. Good thing it was a fairly warm couple of days too!

After the heater was all set, Dan figured we might as well work on the deck. It wasn't too cold out and the snow was beginning to melt. We had started to get framing done on Saturday and then hoped to get a good amount done when the weather was nice again. 

Saturday, we were able to put together the framing and begin digging out the areas for the post blocks. It was definitely a weekend of crabby patty moments. We started to get frustrated when we couldn't agree on how to approach setting up the blocks for the deck. It is quite tricky when you have a sloping piece of ground and no larger tools to help you stay even and square to the house. We would get one block level and in place only to find that other blocks needed to be moved to account for what we just changed. 

Finally, we found an approach that seemed to work best. We laid the actual framing over the tops of the blocks to know where each should go. We decided we would cut the four legs to equal length and then dig down to make sure the deck remained level. We chose to start with the two legs at the front of the deck and then base the rest off of those. Once we had half of the deck framing in place, I held the second half of framing on the lip that connects the two halves, while Dan went around with the level telling me to lift and lower as needed. Once I was holding the deck at a level position, he measured how long the last two legs would need to be. 

With the way the ground slants, we would have had to dig down a couple feet to put the blocks in and then add legs. This was smarter, easier, and quicker. As we started to put the boards across the top of the framing, my excitement rose. It had been a challenging weekend, but the fruit of our labors was coming around. Seeing a nice level, CLEAN, surface begin to grow in front of our door gave us the energy needed to push on and work well into the dark. We didn't have quite enough wood to do the whole deck. We ended up using some pieces of wood to create additional support. We mixed new and re-claimed wood in a pattern as we went. Dan and I like the idea of that wood so much that we are thinking of going back to the pile and seeing if anything else could be salvaged--we also like not having to pay for that wood! 

Monday morning, when I walked out the door for work, I couldn't help but give a little whoop of joy. It may be a small thing, but I rejoiced in the fact that I wasn't immediately stumbling down steps while still trying to close the door behind me. Half the time, I would end up closing my bag or coat in the door, or even dropping something as I bumble out into the world. Somehow, our place feels bigger too. Maybe it's the fact that I have a space to leave some muddy boots for a few minutes or set out a bin of recyclables before we take it to the main barrel. I can even put my groceries down and open the door with ease! And I cannot wait for the first time we sit out on our deck and share a drink or a meal as we look out over the beautiful farm. :)

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I don't care who you are, you need a hat with a LED lights!
We love them!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Moving The Electric Goat Fence

This past weekend we completed a handful of the many items still on the to do list. 

As many of you may have seen from photos, our location on the farm has become more snug over the months. A goat fence in front of the house gave us just about 4 feet of room to enter the front door. This worked just fine for me, but for larger, clumsier people like Dan- it was an electrifying experience more than once. A few months later, a second goat area was made for Wiley- since he can't hang out with all the ladies after a certain point in the year- wink wink. That area extends up to just about 3 feet away from the back wall of our tiny house. The goats have us surrounded!

On Saturday we set out to give ourselves a little more room to romp- snow build up was also a major motivator. We took the major corner post of the fencing and moved it inward about 15 feet. We set each string/wire to the recommended tension and secured them. WOW! What a difference it made!!

Our landlord farmers are having an issue with their electric fencing. It is solar powered, and right close to the power center, the fence readings are up around 7+ (amps or volts- I'm not sure) but then further along the fence it drops to below 2. They have looked along the entire fence and didn't notice anything that would ground or interrupt the current. Anyone have ideas?

The whole area seemed to open up! Our tiny house seemed bigger somehow! We have a front yard! We were so jazzed by this new perspective and space, that we forged on with outdoor work. We cleaned out an area of the old fallen barn. The cement slab had collected a few inches of soil over the years. When we first moved, we covered the space with a tarp. I find it to be the cheapest, easiest, earth-friendliest way to get rid of a bunch of plants and break down the roots and soil. After removing the tarp, all of the soil and plant matter left scraped away easily. 

While Dan scraped and shoveled dirt- I collected cinder blocks and made us a temporary fire place- with a great view I might add! We hope to make use of this cement slab area by putting in a pallet shed and storing things like our bikes and whatnot. We are also playing with the idea of it becoming a nice outdoor seating area.

By the end of Saturday we were already making plans for a small deck. We finally put in a shelf for our Berkey too- now we can easily pour water, and have a rinsing bowl just below for hand washing, etc.
Great view!

On Sunday, we went to Dan's Dad's store to check out old deck wood. His Dad recently put a new deck on their house, and put all the old wood behind his store. Dan and I looked through the pile and picked out the best looking pieces of wood. It was all pretty weathered, cracked, and worn, but some was still usable. 

We drew out a basic deck plan and got to work prepping the wood. After brushing, de-nailing and de-screwing, we chopped the ends square and clean, cut them to length, and sent them through the planer. Just about every piece looks brand new! (Just don't look at the other side, haha)

We still ended up needing more wood to complete our deck, but we were able to salvage about half of our needs- saving us around $150 in materials. Not too shabby for a few hours work!

Next weekend, we hope to install the deck! I can't wait!
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An old board compared to the cleaned up boards...

Looks brand new again!