Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Streak of Heightened Appreciation

Such an epic time!
My grand plan is finally beginning to work! MUAHAHA!

What grand plan, you say? The plan to live in such a way that we find ourselves reveling and rejoicing in the smallest of things. I believe life is about finding happiness and finding connection. So far, the tiny house living has brought us both in excess! We have become a part of a bigger community of people with the same dreams and goals, we have gained a lot of new friends and support, and we have seen the subtle shift in our perspectives bringing us small joys on a daily basis.

Saco River!

Dan's birthday was on the 19th, and we went on a camping weekend in New Hampshire. The main activity of the weekend was canoe-ing the Saco river along with a big group of friends. We certainly had more than one hiccup that weekend, thanks to the poor planning/communication skills of excited young men. HA! BUT, those bumps in the road aside, it was a pretty good time. The river was a blast and absolutely beautiful. I have to admit I had a hard time adjusting to seeing flocks of people every two minutes on the river, and then camping in tiny little lots -practically on top of the next set of campers. I grew up in rural areas where you seldom saw a car driving down the road let alone people milling about. So when we camped, we went even deeper into the woods. If you heard a noise, it wasn't human. Needless to say, I will be involved in the planning of the next camping trip- and we won't be returning to the place we went.

We joked all weekend about how the way we live daily didn't seem much different than camping. In fact, at this place we had electrical hook up AND running water at our disposal! What happened to roughin' it?! The lack of sleeping bags or proper padding is what sealed the deal for me. Yep, this was still a step down from the Pod. And when we got home- OH GLORIOUS DAY! The Pod seemed brighter and more lovely than usual, our bed twice as wonderful and soft and cozy.

After returning home from New Hampshire on Sunday, I headed right back out the door Monday to spend the week in Atlanta for work. I'm usually not a big fan of traveling that long -being away from home. After three years of traveling like this, the excitement has mostly worn off, and I find myself going a little nutty with my free time on the road. All I can think about is “if I were home I could be working on this right now, or I could start that...” but, unless I can fit it in a suitcase and take it with me, most projects get placed on hold. This week however, I made a conscious decision to practice some deliberate appreciation. Rather than whine internally about what I couldn't be working on- I decided to look around me and enjoy. It worked quite well! The week flew by, and the evenings in my hotel went quickly too. Air conditioning! A huge bed with room to run all around it! Plumbing! Showers in my own space, at any time! Unlimited running water! Unlimited electricity! Unlimited internet and data! AMAZINGNESS!

While I was gone, Dan kept the work coming on the house. He processed a bunch more pallets for siding and then put up that batch. The third wall is almost complete! And he started work on the last wall! I don't even know what I will do when this siding is finally complete. Laugh, cry, jump around. Probably all three! 

When I returned home this weekend, we decided to dive into the solar power system once again. On Sunday, we hunkered down and brought every last box and bag of pieces inside. We were determined to figure this out. Long story short, we learned A LOT, from reading through the different manuals as well as checking out video after video on youtube. We have primarily MidNite Solar products and they have some videos up. There are also a whole lot of DIY solar power people out there using MidNite solar products- so we were able to glean quite a bit from various sources.

We turned the computer on and started reading, reviewing, and watching. We discussed our thoughts and how we interpreted directions. We put small pieces together here and there. We grouped other pieces according to how they would be used. We compiled a list of questions. Haha. By the time we looked at the clock, we were shocked to realize that 4.5 hours had gone by! We both felt like we had put in maybe an hour!

What we concluded that afternoon is that we had too many unknowns, and we weren't sure, but we thought some components were missing. We decided to wait and call up our rep, Greg, at the AltE Store, to get definite answers. We weren't about to guess with $6000 on the line.

Come to find out, we were missing a few different pieces and needed to get some more wiring. In discussions with our rep, we also discovered one of our breakers was not the right size! So I am feeling pretty damn glad we waited and made the call. We will be ordering the additional parts needed this week and hopefully will have this system up and running before the end of August!

I know there are plenty of you who are curious about solar power and I promise you I will be putting together a big juicy post of how ours goes together and works. I have also been compiling the most helpful videos we have found. I just might make a set of my own videos, because the one thing that frustrated me, was all the folks putting up videos and calling it “how to” when really they just flashed a couple photos of their set up and gave some extremely vague descriptions. I don't know about you, but I like videos that talk to me like I'm a first grader and break every little bit down into comprehend-able pieces. That's what you can expect from me. The other challenging aspect is that there is no cookie cutter set up for solar power systems. The size of your system, the voltage, the distance between parts, etc all lead to very unique set ups. Not to mention, you can purchase one piece from one company, and then another piece from a different company, and so on, and of course, all these pieces look slightly different too. We watched a very comprehensive video on putting together a combiner box, only to open ours up and see that it looks nothing like the one in the video. The general concepts are the same, but a standardization in the actual pieces would be nice.

Oh! And something to look forward to! We had a really cool videographer named Danny come do a shoot of the Pod and interview us. This video and blog post are for a super awesome company called Custom Made. Check them out! It's kind of like a step up from Etsy. There are thousands of top notch artists and craftsmen who make use of this site. You have an idea or project you want to see created? You post what you want on Custom Made and then various artists or craftsmen will contact you if they are willing to create it for you!

We feel a little silly with our simple house being showcased on a site with such incredible work being displayed- but as Danny said- it's not just about fine craftsmanship, it's about creating. No matter what level you are at. They support and commend those who want to dig in and do it themselves too. We can't wait to see the finished video and blog post! Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tiny Victories! Hooray For Kitchen Drawers!

We now have a fridge!
The work accomplished over the last week was definitely not planned, and the satisfaction that came from it was just as unexpected. 

So, for those eagerly following along for solar purposes, we didn't get to that this past week. I was traveling locally for work last week, and came home with a few things I wanted to put in the cooler. Maybe it was just the long day, or the heat that set me off, or the ice purchasing/juggling we have been doing over the last couple weeks since the move- but when I got home and opened our little iceless cooler to find everything in there at least 10 degrees warmer (even hot, I would say) than the already 85 degree house.... let's just say I had a little moment. 

In it's defense, the little Coleman Iceless cooler put in a good run. The thing is clearly meant for weekend excursions or temporary outings- not to be run constantly and at max capacity, I might add. It was a small space, and we tried to embrace the change. It certainly forced us to eat fresh, but we also lost quite a bit of food over the last 9 months or so, as we tried to adjust our shopping habits, get better at meal prep, and whatnot. When it was colder out, we could make use of the coolers outside. When it got into the spring, we were still okay, but the cooler can only bring temperatures down to "up to 40 degrees below the surrounding temperature". Keep in mind that is probably in immaculate conditions, fully vented space, and no one opening the damn door for three days- sure maybe then it would bring it down 40. Based on our experience, once the door is open for 0.2 seconds, all the cool air is gone. 

I digress. So the fridge was full of hot gross things like moldy hummus and warm cucumbers. I had already been driving 2 hours, but was simply hell bent of getting a damn unit that would keep our food- THAT NIGHT. I unpacked, changed, looked around on Craigslist (with little luck), then immediately headed out to purchase said unit. I got the small dorm size fridge, the smallest available, and even then it seemed huge compared to what we were used to. 

I was a bit worried about the affect it would have on our power load, but after looking it up and doing the math, I found that this little fridge uses just 20 watts more per hour than the iceless cooler. Not a big change- so I think we will be just fine. 

The next problem was where to put the thing. The cabinet storage was designed specifically around the iceless cooler, so the fridge wouldn't fit any which way I tried. No matter! I rolled up my sleeves and began pulling apart the cabinets. Had to happen some time, and I was on a roll so I kept at it. 

I wish I could have captured the look of pure boyish joy on Dan's face when he came home and saw the little fridge. One thing we have both really missed are cold beverages...and when it's consistently high 80s in your house, those cold beverages suddenly take on a much higher value. 

It's funny the things in life you can learn to over look or deal with, and even funnier still, how a small change to one of those over-looked things can provide such a huge impact. I hadn't really taken much time to consider how much of a pain it could be without a dependable source for cooling and keeping food. We had been making it work since October, and with SO MUCH else going on, who is going to sit around and obsess about keeping food cold? Not us! But since we got the new little fridge, it has been truly awesome. I can now put veggies, eggs, and meats in the fridge and KNOW that they will be good for use for several days. It was always a gamble before. 

We still have grand plans for using passive cooling techniques outside, but that's down the road. We have a lot to do first, just to consider our selves settled and fully set up here on the farm. 

Since I started tearing things apart on Thursday night, the weekend was given to putting things back together- among several other appointments and social engagements. We considered the dimensions we had to work with and built a new skeleton for the stair storage. We really like the new set up. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly makes us like it so much. It has a more open feel to it, and despite the fact that this fridge is bigger, I think the way the shelving is set up now- we get more use of the space. 

We popped the big door off and re-sized it to go in it's new location. We used several pieces of scrap wood, miscellaneous hardware, and more for the project. We didn't have to buy a single thing! We were both very pumped about that specific detail-- we made changes, but we used what we had on hand. No cost! 

With this new found zest for re-arranging the kitchen, we decided to push and get the drawers done too. Those stinking things have been on the to do list for months now. Dan had started to make a couple, but didn't get to finish. For the last 3-4 months we've simply been putting things on the shelves where the drawers would go. 

While I built drawers, Dan continued to rip up pallets for our siding. He thinks we have enough pallets to process- at the moment- to finish the back short wall. Then just the back long wall is left. After the drawers were done, it was time to apply color! My favorite! And while I was at it, I decided to do a bunch of touch ups inside, including painting and poly-coating specific high traffic areas in the house. The cubby seats were an area that bugged me. As people sit on the seats, their feet naturally hit against the bright pine faces leaving marks and scuffs. So I gave it some dark brown trim to match our counters, and slapped some poly on there to make it scrubbable. 

By the end of the weekend, we had our fridge installed in it's new custom built home, we had kitchen drawers (which I gleefully geeked out about as I finally was able to put silverware, towels, etc in their final homes. I love organization!! Maybe too much.) And we touched up our beat up counter and gave it another coat too. Things are looking pretty good inside! The last 5% of the interior is down to 2%! Now the only things left inside are some small paint jobs and putting the cabinet door in it's new location. 

This week we plan to get cranking on siding once again, and hopefully I can get more solar power reading done so we can get off the grid for good! 

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The kitchen colors are finally tying all together!
A peaceful bun-bun enjoying candlelight. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Panels Are Up!

When you get something done that you didn't have planned? Always a great feeling.

Over the holiday weekend, Dan and I very much enjoyed the rainy 4th. Why, you ask? Well, when it rains one has less guilt about the long list of projects staring one in the face. One can say, "Oh gee, well would you look at that, I can't work in this rain! Guess I will just sit back, relax, and catch a movie or something equally passive." haha

And that we did! --At home. Apparently we weren't the only ones who thought it would be a good day for a movie. We went, saw the the massive line, and after waiting just 3 minutes we heard a staff member call out, "Maleficent is sold out!" So, we headed off to do some other errands that had been adding up, then enjoyed a movie at home. 

We didn't set our sights too high for the weekend. We have both been feeling the burn out set in. It's been over a solid year of working almost every last weekend and several, several weekdays of putting in the full 8.5 then coming home and putting in another 3-4. It's beginning to catch up with us! I'll admit, I've had more than one semi-melt down day in the last month or two. A break is much needed. But the end is in sight!

Neither of us expected we would get the panels up over the weekend. There was a lot to be discussed and figured still. Or at least we seemed to think so. But on Saturday, as we puttered around, unpacking this, tidying up that, we kept staring at that stack of panels. Finally, we made our way over and started to discuss the strategy we had for mounting them. We leaped from one alternative to another, only to end up back at the same idea. The truth is, you can talk in circles all day long or you can just DO IT. Then learn from the doing. 

"Let's just try putting up one and see how it goes," I said nonchalantly, and thus the panel mounting began. We opted to use flat brackets, about 3 inches long with four different holes. There are only 4 holes to choose from on either side of the panel itself, so we had made our racking according to those lengths. 

First we secured the brackets to the back of the panel racking with the bolt and nut facing up into the gap created by the frame of the panel- that way, when placed onto the racking, that bolt head was flush with the panel's frame. Once we had the panel in place, we used large wood screws to secure the bracket to the racking. The first one went up rather easily, as did the second, so we just kept going!

Due to our method of securing the panel, we had to have about 3-4 inches of space between each panel, so there was space to screw down the brackets. We alternated the height of the panels as well so the brackets of two adjacent panels could set under or above one another- otherwise the gap would have been larger if we kept them all at the same height and had brackets butting together.

Our two rows of racking are not symmetrical by any means either. We had to dig our post holes where we could manage to make holes period. So, we opted to leave a larger gap in the center of the back row, so as to sort of center the panels on the rack and also provide a nice opening for wind to come through- thereby reducing it's impact on the panels. The front row of racking is shorter, so we kept the same spacing all the way across.

We had all but two of the panels up by the end of Saturday. We needed more hardware to finish the job, so we called it a day. We stood back and admired our work. No, they aren't the picture perfect solar arrays you see in magazines where every last panel is immaculately lined up, centered, and even every which way. They are a little off here and there, like their owners. :) Last I checked, the sun still shines just as well on panels that aren't perfectly pretty in a row- as long as they are pointing at the sun!

One thing I would mention to anyone who is yet to set up solar panels. We learned about z-feet, which are, as it turns out, a very specific piece of mounting hardware that can make life easier when mounting. We searched high and low locally, but could not find what we needed. We could only order online from a solar or RV store. We weren't about to wait another couple weeks to do this, so we went with the brackets. 

On Sunday, we finished putting up the panels and also started spreading wood chips. Deb had a connection with the local electric company, so we got a great big heaping pile of wood chips made from trees that had to be removed for power lines and such. Thanks, Deb!! :)

We spread them around the solar array to help prevent plants from growing and interfering with the panels, and we spread a bunch leading up to the Pod and around the front side. Dan plans to finish spreading around the back as well. 

Now, we just need to starting hooking up our entire system. Eeep! I am certain we can do this, and it's all just a step by step process like anything else, but now I don't have the excuse of, "Oh, well we still have to get the panels up"- dang our productive natures!

I plan to dive into the manual tonight and start slowly over the course of this week and the coming weekend. 

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Our house stuffs piled out in the yard. Didn't take long!
Short of a few scuffs and a small tear in the rubber roof- we are safe and sound at the farm!!

What a day!! Dan and I have been working overtime to get as much done on the siding as possible before the move. We broke from that frenzy on Saturday to prep the location some more and begin packing up and lowering the trailer. Come Sunday morning we were both full of excitement and apprehension. 

The original guy who was supposed to help us couldn't do it after all. He only had one size hitch welded on to his truck and it wasn't the right size. So Dan's Dad arranged for Interstate Towing to make the move for us. Sure it wasn't a free favor anymore, but we relaxed a little more know these were professionals with top of the line vehicles, years of experience, and insurance. 

We had examined several routes before the move to determine which would be best. We opted for the route that had the least hills, bumps, and sharp turns. Granted it took a little longer to get there- but it turned out to be a pretty smooth transfer. 

Waiting for the tow guys..

We had done our math and knew that the weight of the Pod was within the limits of the trailer, but there is always that little bit of doubt that lingers when you think about the scope of the project and how terrible it would be if we were wrong somehow. We filled our tires to 75 PSI after reading a couple articles on optimum tire pressure for trailers. They looked a little smooshed sitting there in the back yard, which I couldn't seem to ignore.

Pearl, you look gi-normous!

For the two days it sat on the ground before moving, I had one daymare after another about some freak accident happening, blowing out a tire, tipping over, causing a pile up, etc. As soon as the Pod began to move the first few feet, all my worries lifted.

It's Mater!! The little girls loved this!

It was just sunk into the dirt a bit! The tires popped up out of the little ruts looking fully inflated and ready to do the job. Maybe it was the truck, maybe it was just seeing how it moved, but I began to REALLY see how small our home is. Wow. Seeing that little box on wheels easily roll away with out a single protest made me feel relief and a little foolish for how much worrying I had done.

Moral Support Crew :)

We are on the move!
We had a nice crew there for support and entertainment as well! Dan's Dad was a HUGE help in coordinating and facilitating the move that day. His Mom and sister, Beth, plus her two daughters, were there for the big event too! We have plenty of pictures thanks to all the extra hands! 

There were only a few stretches in the road where low hanging wires were a concern, but we were below the 13'6" DMV requirement so TECHNICALLY if anything had happened, we were in the right, but thanks to the pros it never became an issue. There were a few times where they had to drive on the complete opposite side of the road in order to go under the highest parts of a wire, but thanks to our full parade of vehicles (Dan and his Dad lead the way, then the tow truck with the Pod, then the second tow truck, then me, then my Dad and Jake haha) we made certain that no one could be "surprised" by the tiny mobile house. 

I honestly thought there would be more rubber-neckers as we passed people in their yards or walking down the street- even people driving by. I am amazed at how many people just don't even look up! Their loss! 

After a 30 or so minute ride, we were turning the bend and rolling down the final stretch! I was so excited and felt SO welcome after seeing all the little celebratory welcome signs our new landlords put out for the big day.

I must say- Deb and Mike are comparable to angels to us. We know that what we are doing isn't typical or even widely accepted, so to find a pair of people willing to invite us onto their beautiful slice of heaven- and with genuine excitement and support- has been beyond amazing. 

We can't thank you enough!!!

It turned out to be a long and eventful day, but by the end of Sunday we were leveled and back up on jacks, we have moved just about all of our things back in, and just a couple boxes remained unpacked.  We still need to do more work before the solar panels are up and running, so for now Deb and Mike have graciously let us borrow power. Hopefully by mid-next week we will be running on sun power!

I still have quite a bit of video footage to go through and put together, so stay tuned for a video of the move!

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Our new landlords! :)