Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adjusting our timeline

Over the past few frozen weeks of darkness I have been diligently working on house plans with a timber-framing pal (thx Rooster!), and trying to get the details nailed down and the house modeled in SketchUp. As the design process and 3D model developed it became painfully obvious that:
  1. our original "henge" home ideas were mutating rather uncontrollably into a timber-frame behemoth
  2. we don't have near enough joinery experience or enough of the right tools for all these complicated joints
  3. we need some serious heavy equipment and a good portable saw mill to make building timbers
  4. our trees are pitifully small when you start designing for heavy timber framing
  5. there is no flippin' way the two of us are going to be able to get this house built in our measly 3 month building window
  6. the SketchUp UI is totally frustrating when you're used to other graphic & 3D programs and you're working with a laptop touchpad instead of a cool multi-button scrolly mouse
Needless to say, we're going to have to adjust our plans slightly. First, and foremost, we're trying to pull the house design back towards where we originally started from since that design & weird hybrid building method is better suited for the size trees we have to work with and our skill level. Next is that we are going to have to cave in and build a small cabin/shack first thing after the Breakup because the house will not even be close to completion by next winter (we love the tent, but something more substantial is needed if we're going to take longer than this year to build the proper house). We're also going to need to get a tractor really soon, as there is no other feasible way for us to continue clearing trail and building site AND get logs toted around for building and firewood without one... unless we don't mind this project taking four or five years while we do everything by hand!

So, in addition to me fighting SketchUp working on the main house plans, I'm now designing our "shack" that we can throw together with bought lumber quickly (2 versions - 1 gable & 1 shed roof to see which is easier and gives us more loft space). All that on top of researching logging/farming equipment and portable saw mills (looks like Granberg Alaskan Mill wins out in the end afterall), and helping G-man with the firewood so we don't freeze to death! Oh yeah, and helping build Rooster's website in exchange for him helping me with the house plans, which means learning a new scripting language since we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto (i.e. the land of Microsoft IIS and ASP).

One thing I've learned from all of this -- don't second guess yourself in the middle of things! 99% of the designs and ideas and decisions we made in our initial planning phases were way more thought out and feasible than the ones we've been grasping at lately. Things spiral out of control for a bit when you're in the thick of things, and then we shake off the panic and come to the same logical conclusions -- which was why we decided to do it that way in the first place! You suddenly find yourself saying "OMG! We have these gizmos and need those widgets, and that means we have to do something entirely different because Plan A absolutely won't work". Which is wrong. The parameters haven't changed. The requirements haven't changed. The resources haven't changed. All that's changed is that we have some new information. We just need to evaluate the existing plans against the new data and make some small adjustments if necessary -- not discard the original plans and thought process altogether! Sometimes we just forget that we discovered and mitigated most of all this poop in our original planning phase, which was over a year of dedicated research and solid solution-building.

This whole ordeal - from house plans to website reprogramming (just the "must work on Apache with PHP" part!) is pretty much summed up by this cartoon by The Oatmeal.

Now, back to modeling! I'll try to post some renders here soon so you all can see the design progression and visualize our "dream home" with us;)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Squeak squeak squeak

Imagine you're driving down a bumpy road with a cheap styrofoam cooler in the car. Everytime you hit a bump or make a turn that cooler lets out a chirp. You know that really annoying styrofoam squeak... even more irritating than the cricket you can't find in the middle of the night.

Got it? Are you totally reliving and embracing the squeak?

Now, imagine that you aren't next to the cooler, but are actually inside the cooler.

Yeah... that's what it is like being inside a foamboard insulated tent when the wind is gusting 40 mph.

Squeak.........squeak.squeak...chirp..........squeeaaaaal...sqk............. squeeeeaaaaaaak......chirp

I may have to kill something soon ;)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays Folks

So 'tis the season and all. So we wish our readers a Happy Holidays. I thought I better deliver this since Plickety has been quite active lately and I've been kind of quiet.

All the Best.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice

Officially the shortest day of 2009, and the end of the old Solar year. Winter Solstice also marks the astronomical beginning ("official") or middle (cultural) of winter, depending on how you want to look at it.

The sun rose at 11:17 AM and set at 2:46 PM, for a total day length of 3h 28m.
Twilight began 9:48 AM and ended at 4:15 PM, for a total 6h 26 of visible light.
Tomorrow, the first day of the new Solar year, will be 15s longer.

It's unseasonably warm today, with highs in the upper 20's (normal average is single digits below zero); and it looks like we're in for a warm spell for the next few days if the Weather Guessers can be trusted. G-man and I plan to make a few forays to stock up on firewood for the historically worst part of winter (end of January/beginning of February). We also hope to scout out possible building sites, check on the area we thought we have a natural spring, and survey for trees that would make suitable house logs now that we have a better idea how many and what size we'll need (thanks Rooster!). Hiking in the forest should be interesting, even though it's warm now, there's 2-3 feet of snow on the ground and deeper drifts in some areas. We'll try to remember to take the camera and get ya'll some photos!! ;)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cold feet and other news

Sitting here before the crackling fire wondering why my feet are chilly and the stove isn't putting out as much heat as normal... maybe the fact that it's 37 degrees below zero might have something to do with it! Geez, first we lose track of time and date, now we're not even noticing when it's below -20. Guess we're adapting to bush life after all ;)

In other news, Bob Lee, the Manley Post Master and proprietor of the Manley Roadhouse and the Trading Post passed away earlier this week. He'd been suffering from cardio distress and pulmonary edema for several months, but his death has still taken everyone a bit by surprise since he still had a lot of get-up-n-go and kept working at the Trading Post right up to the end. His funeral will be held in Fairbanks, but there will be a memorial service for him in Manley which we will be attending regardless of the weather cooperating with us or not. Even though he could be a curmudgeony ol' fart at times, we always kinda liked Bob. He will be missed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Photo tour! Tent interior

Alrighty, all you fearless and faithful followers, you wanted pictures of our humble abode and I'm happy to finally oblige. I'll warn you ahead of time that I am not a domestic goddess, so don't be offended at any cluttery messes you happen to see :D This entry is l--o--n--g because I wanted to give some description and explanation for what you're seeing and why we did certain things. You might want to go get some coffee and a snack. It's ok, I'll wait for you...

Space layout in the tent and on the deck
Firstly, here's a quick view of our floorplan so you can see how we've got the space organized in the tent and on the deck. Just click the small image to view a larger version. Dividing the space into rooms with taller furniture helps provide some privacy and a sense of organization. We found that these "walls" made the place feel more homey -- more like a studio apartment than a tent. Keeping the traffic flow clear and the "work triangles" logical has been a bit of a challenge, but I think we've managed fairly well given the limited space.

Our insulated front door
Let's start our tour at the front door (facing west). This is the zipper end of the tent that doesn't have any vertical aluminum framing poles, so we built a quick 2x4 stud frame for the door and cut a sheet of 3" Insulfoam R-Tech foam board to be the door. The rest of this wall is lined with storage units, so the remaining foam panels are supported by them and just secured to the tent frame on the edges. If you look closely at the top corners of the door, you will see another common Alaska building material -- bungee cords. Bungees are frequently used as hinges and latches; and in our case, they create a latch to keep the door from falling inward when the wind blows. Putting this door directly over the tent zipper drastically reduced floor drafts caused by the small gap where the zipper meets the floor and the sod cloth at the bottom of the wall is split to allow the flaps to open. Since we had them left over from the Seattle house, we installed peel-n-stick vinyl tiles in the foyer to help protect the ground cloth and contain the slushy mess caused by snowy/muddy boots. To the left is our storage area, and to the right is our hall closet and electrical cabinet. Now that we're oriented, let's begin!

Sealed Lead Acid house batteries
Here you can see the batteries are stored at the bottom of the electrical cabinet. We have a 24v electrical system consisting of two rows of six 12 volt batteries wired in parallel and an inverter, which lets us use standard 120v AC household appliances. When I built the cabinet, I had to think about how I was going to place these suckers so that the weight (about 40 lbs each) would be evenly distributed and supported, and how all the wiring would run to the inverter with the shortest cables possible. For safety, the 3/4" plywood shelf holding the batteries is raised off the floor in case we get any rain/snow leaks, and is supported by an interlocking grid of 1x2 furring strips.

2000 watt inverter
Directly above the battery bank, on the right side of the cabinet, is our 2000 watt inverter which connects to the generator outside (via cable between the tent wall and ground cloth), the battery bank and our electrical panel. Our generator has a built-in inverter so you can plug cords in directly, but the inverter allows us to store power in the batteries and only run the generator for an hour or two ever day to keep the batteries topped off. The remainder of the day, the inverter draws power from the batteries to supply our electricity. In this photo, you can also see all the chargers for our various portable power tools and electronics... yes we have electricity, but it's always good to have battery back-ups. In particular, those two-way radios let us stay in contact with each other when we're out hiking around the property. When not in use, we also store the Honda eu2000 generator on the left side of this shelf (not in frame) so it will stay warm enough to start and run (outside of course!) on the cold days.

Electrical service panel
And yes, we have a safe electrical system. No hot-wiring here! We've run the power from the inverter to a proper grounded electrical service panel with breakers. In addition to the 20 amp circuit breaker that is between the positive terminal of the batteries and the inverter, this service panel has a two-pole 20 amp main breaker, and two 15 amp breakers serving the two electrical runs (lights and outlets) with 12g 3-wire sheathed Romex (which is rated for 20 amps). Installing the next higher gauge wiring than mandated for the amperage the circuit breaker is rated for helps reduce possible overheating that could lead to a short or fire (if we had any large appliances, we probably would have needed to run 10g on a 20 amp circuit). Since the maximum load the inverter can supply is 20 amps, the multiple breakers help ensure that we will never draw so much at once that we burn out the inverter. They also keep us from discharging the entire battery bank instantaneously and electrocuting ourselves. There is more than enough juice stored in those batteries to kill you instantly if you got it all at once. Don't play fast and loose with electricity, take the time to wire a proper electrical system with appropriate circuit breakers and secure your wires! Our tent's system goes above and beyond most building codes even though there are no regulations in this area... it pays to be safe!

Outlets and computer equipment
Above the inverter and generator shelf we have our computer and network center, as well as our two outlet boxes. Just because we're living in the boonies doesn't mean we have to suffer -- our network consists of the satellite modem, wireless network hub, a network share (just a big hard drive really), our color laser printer (which stays off most of the time because it's a big power hog), a scanner, and our two laptops. And no, we're not trying for a Griswold Family Christmas with all those power strips plugged into the outlets! The power strips provide additional circuit protection, as well as surge protection for our appliances in case we get power fluctuations. Our inverter is pretty good at providing even power, but off-grid systems are notorious for surging when the generator kicks on and off. Each strip is also zoned with common types of appliances so we can shut down a whole system with one switch when we're not using them. This comes in really handy with the battery chargers and the computer equipment since many of those have transformers in the power supply or status lights that draw a phantom load even when the appliance is off or not in use. On the shelf above this one, we store our DVD collection (in 3-ring binders) just in case we feel like watching a movie or TV series episode on our laptops. The truck and ATV batteries (and the trickle charger) also live on this shelf so they can stay warm, and be charged if needed, when we're not using the vehicle (essential when it's really cold!).

Light switches
And lastly on the electrical cabinet is our light switches, one for the center overhead in the tent, and one each for the outside back and front porch lights (BTW - CFL bilbs do NOT work worth a poop when it's cold out, use incandescent or LEDs!). All the wiring was run up the frame and along the ridge beam, secured with zip-ties, and then into junction boxes which are attached and grounded to the metal tent frame. This safely grounds all the wiring and the frame should we get struck by lightning or have some bizarre short in the system. Everything is then grounded out to the earth via a huge grounding wire and rod outside.

Let there be light
Ta-da! Let there be light, and there was light, and it was good! On the right side of the picture, you'll notice that we haven't yet installed the insulation in the SE corner around the stove. This is partly because we still need one more sheet of metal heat shield, but also because it gets pretty toasty inside the tent and we sometimes roast ourselves out even though this corner isn't yet insulated (the foam really does work that well!). We do plan to get this corner done before the really cold weather hits in Jan/Feb though! We also didn't insulate the ridge beam. This is partly because cutting thin strips of foam board is a PITA because our jig-saw's knife blade isn't long enough; but mostly it's because it improves ventilation and keeps the roof peak from freezing up. That makes clearing the snow off the roof with a pole or broom much easier (we thought it might create an ice dam instead, but have found that it doesn't). The aluminum frame poles and steel angle braces are rated to handle our snow load (min 50 psi), but why take chances?!

Our bedroom
And our bed. The lovely warm sanctuary at the end of a cold hard day. You may think we're terribly soft and spoiled to have a bed in a tent, but trust me you do not want to sleep on the floor when it's cold. Even though we have 6" of fiberglass batt insulation and 8-mil Visqueen vapor barrier in the floor of the platform, and low-nap industrial berber carpeting, the floor is definitely not warm and most certainly not warm enough to spend any length of time on. The bed is at the same height as the woodstove, so it stays a more comfortable temperature. We also have tons of underbed storage, so it's not a total waste of valuable space ;) The bed frame also provides a convenient space to zip-tie our reading lamps and secure our weapons for the night. If you look closely on the bookshelf to the right of the bed, you'll see the monitor for our weather station, with it's ever handy low temp alarm that wakes me up in the middle of the night to go feed the fire if it gets below 50 inside. Charlie's fleecey hut is stacked on top of her scratching post at the foot of the bed to keep it up in the warm zone (and away from Ripley!) This is convenient for Charlie, not a spring chicken anymore, because she can jump onto the bed easier than the top of the post. It also gives her the choice of hiding in her hut or sprawling on the bed depending on her mood and the temperature. We also feed her on the bed (yes, that is a cat dish) since it's the only way to keep Ripley out of her wet food... she does have dry kibble and water on the floor though, which Ripley has learned to leave alone (finally!). We may eventually move all Charlie's food and water to the top of the dresser since Ripley terrorizes her (erm, wants to play with her) whenever she's on the floor, but I'll have to build her a ramp up there from my nightstand first.

The composting loo and surrounding storage unit
And we now have an even further upgraded deluxe composting toilet. By putting the dresser between the bed and the toilet area and building out the indoor wood crib, we now have much more potty privacy. The additional shelving in the unit comes in handy for storing extra TP, toiletries, first-aid kit and medications, linens, and our laundry equipment (hamper, washboard and wringer). This area also serves to store our folding tables and clothes rack when not in use, and the back of the wood crib was handy to hang the mop, broom and dustpan up off the floor so they can't fall over all the time.

Let no space go unused
Rule #1 of Small Space Living: let no sturdy vertical surface go unused! Here, I've screwed some wire shelves, normally used in kitchens for spices and small cans, to the back of the dresser to act as a sort of vanity for everyday toiletries. Since this is the back of the dresser, it isn't pretty, so I wasn't worried about marring the finish screwing into it... I just had to be sure that I blocked behind the screws from the inside to make sure the screws wouldn't pull out and keep the screws and blocking short enough that they didn't interfere with the drawer movement.

Indoor wood crib and chain saw storage
See? I told you our chainsaws and chain oil live in the house! I figured there was no better place for the chainsaws to live than right above the firewood they'd just cut, so I built this shelf into the wood crib... besides, I don't like stacking wood above my head anyway. My Shindaiwa is in the back because she only starts and stays running when it's warmer than zero. The cold-friendlier Husqvarna gets the place of distinction up front, and the location is really handy as we can grab her on the way out the back door to go buck wood. This indoor wood crib holds about 1/4 cord of firewood, 3-5 days worth in the winter depending on temps, and helps the wood warm up so it'll catch better in the stove. We also keep a few waste bins here for kindling and firestarter... usually sticks and twigs, junk mail, and the occassional cardboard box; but today we actually have a huge box filled with newsprint (the best!) from a Lehman's order (love them!). I cannot stress enough how important it is to use packing materials that either compost or burn when you live out in the bush, there is nothing more irritating than having to drive 20 miles in to the dump just to get rid of styrofoam packing peanuts!

The living room & project space
And here's our living room/great room/project space right in front of the wood stove. Please notice our fine furnishings! This is really the only open space in the tent, so it was important that we be able to clear it easily if we needed a place to work on something indoors. That's where folding camp chairs and tray tables come to the rescue! The small bench serves as coffee table, desk and food rest... and sometimes additional counter space in the kitchen. We also have our running water... the 5 gallon orange Igloo water cooler with spout partially hidden by G-man (who was making dinner), and the hanging Platypus water bag with shower attachment; and our sinks, a galvanized tub and two poly wash basins on collapsible wire shelves. Next to the sinks is a hanging closet shoe/sweater organizer (which we wired to the tent frame) that we use to hold handsoap & toothbrushes, washclothes, towels, and some kitchen stuff like matches, storage bags and aluminum foil. Being able to make creative use of easy-to-find items in new and interesting ways to fit your needs is very important when living in a small space, especially a small space that doesn't have hard walls or studs to nail on!

crafty kitchen cabinet
Our kitchen "cabinet" is another example of creative repurposing. We started with one of those 5-drawer poly wheelie carts that you find at Wally-China-Mart on sale all the time. Then we took some double-stick hook-and-loop tape and attached a large cutting board to the top. Voila! Instant kitchen cabinet with countertop, and it's even on wheels so we can move it out of the way or right next to the stove when you need it. To make this unit even more useful and organized, I added a silverware insert in the top drawer to keep our spoons and forks from getting all jumbled up; and I lined the second drawer with that spongy/grippy shelf liner stuff to keep the kitchen knives from 1) punching through the plastic, and 2) moving around and dulling each other. I even managed to get all the pieces of our hand grinder (flour mill, food processor, & meat grinder/slicer) into one of the larger drawers on the bottom... took an hour of intense Tetris-ing, but it did eventually fit ;)

Our pantry
Besides the bed, our pantry area has the most dedicated space in our home. We stocked up on a year's worth of food, and while the extra dried stuff can live in the shed because it won't freeze, the canned stuff and the dried foods we're using currently have to stay inside. We also have our six 7-gallon Aqua-tainers (the blue square things in the foreground) in here so they don't freeze and their thermal mass helps retain more heat to keep the cans from freezing. We tried to organize this space in a logical fashion using folding bookcases and two jumbo quick-assemble poly garage storage units (which also form a wall separating this space from the rest of the tent). Condiments and spices, we use plenty since canned food can get boring, are on the smallest/narrowest bookshelf right at the front where they are easy to access while cooking. Baking and cooking items like vinegars, oil, flour and sugar are in a larger bookcase behind that. And snack and munchies are on another bookcase along the back wall where it's easy to grab them and go. The bottom shelf on the inside corner of both these units serves as our refrigerator as we left a small gap in insulation, which keeps this area around 35 degrees. The two large units have all our canned goods, jars and poly food storage containers of bulk foods as well as some additional kitchen items like cleansers and paper towels. We have a large office bookcase on the end for items like empty poly storage containers and jars, measuring cups and colanders because they're handy to the kitchen area. We also have all our board and car games on this bookcase since it's in back of the the living room.

IKEA CD shelves make good cubbie-hole storage units
And around the back side of the pantry storage units, returning back to the "hall", we put up our nifty IKEA CD/DVD shelves to make cubby storage for all the little bits and pieces of stuff we didn't have any other home for. This is where we put things like vitamins, (right on the corner so we remember to take them!), candles and flashlights, sewing kit, gloves/hats/scarves, and our keys where they are all handy as you enter and exit.

Zip-tied foam insulation
Here's a close-up of our foam board installation technique. We bored a hole in the panels with an awl, fed a zip-tie through the hole and around the aluminim tent frame poles, back through the opposing hole in the panel and tightened them up. This proved a bit of a challenge in some areas as you needed to get the zips through the foam and they didn't always cooperate, then you needed to feed them over the pole and under the canvas which was sometimes a really tight fit, back through the foam (same problem as before), and then the freakin' zip would break right when you got it tight enough because the plastic was too cold. Arg!! There were a few places where zips wouldn't work because it was either too cold or there was too much tension on the panel, so we used multi-purpose household wire instead and twisted the ends together. But we did manage to get the panels up and secured; and sealed all the seams with 2" construction barrier tape (in this case blue, but it also comes in red which we used for the vapor barrier in the floor).

I hope you've enjoyed our little tour. Please tune back in for the exterior tour coming soon. Remember folks - there is almost nothing you can't build with some 2x4s and 1) blue plastic tarps, 2) Visqueen/poly-sheeting, 3) tape (esp. silver Duct tape!), 4) bungees, 5) some wire, and 6) zip-ties. Be creative!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Getting used to it

I guess I must be getting used to the cold. Today, after cleaning the house, I ran outside to dump the sinks and swap stuff in the storage shed wearing nothing but my pajamas, muck boots and a polar fleece pullover. Was out maybe 20-30 minutes and didn't even notice.

Today's high: 9 degrees below zero

(and yes, I cleaned, which means tomorrow there will be pictures since I also found the camera -- the tent is still a bit of a shambles, but it'll just have to do)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Online Communities...

Ok so me and Plickety are members of a few online communities (Forums), and there are times when I'm left asking the question, why?

Now, I know that some of you who follow us are also members of those online communities, but there are times with these places when I find myself asking why, why am I a member of these places, since apparently there are those who are sucking my IQ points out like a big 455 cubic inch engine from the early 70's sucks gasoline.

Let's mention some topics, some idiot who said that people in financial institutions were paid their vastly inflated bonuses because they were worth more... Worth more than what? I mean come on is the guy that stupid that he can't see posting something that's so obviously confrontational in the current economic climate that he'll receive the rough side of many peoples tongues. Apparently he's working with some smart people, well if that's the case he must be the village idiot. What was he thinking? Maybe some of the 20 IQ points I lost went to help him understand how to operate his microwave oven, I hope so, since I'll never get them back.

Then there was a discussion about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being put on trial in NYC OMG how wrong is that..? Well hate to tell you this people but justice involves doing some stuff you don't like, laws need to be applied consitently and eliminating the 6th amendment is not consistently applying the law. Now as to why he'd being tried in criminal court, over being tried in a military court I don't know, but even then he has rights under the Geneva convention. Either way justice can only be served if the law is consistently applied, otherwise you might as well just summarily execute anyone you happen to feel has transgressed some local ordinance.

Heated discussions about Global Warming and whether it's man made or not (obviously Climategate hit the headlines). Well whether we're doing it or not isn't too relevant in the long term (mind you nothing is), the observable evidence points to it happening, and we're going to be effected by it somehow. It's like two people in a Prius arguing driving skills when they approach an oncoming 18 wheeler in their lane just before the crash.

Oh one other point I almost forgot... the "free press" and how it should be making people aware of issues in the economy, the government, etc. Well the free press isn't free, and it turns a profit and needs to. So no they're not going to come out and say "we're screwed, man the lifeboats" even if we are. They're going to send us back into the ballroom for another glass of champagne and the iceberg will miss us, because that sells newspapers, makes us tune in and watch the commercials, and so on, which all leads to profits for the company, unless the media is owned by a big survivalist company then they're never going to say "That's it man, game over man, game over! What the f*ck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?" (edited for profanity for our younger or more sensitive readers).

Ethanol is corrosive (this one I thought was totally hilarious). Do some research before spouting your propaganda, have some basic understanding of chemistry. No ethanol is not corrosive otherwise how would you buy your apparently daily 12 pack of King Cobra in a 24 ounce aluminum can? No you idiot, ethanol is not corrosive, but your chainsaw if it's old, or cheap will not like it because it has rubber fuel lines, seals and gaskets that are attacked by the ethanol, go buy some new ones and replace them and it'll run fine. It's a lot easier than getting the oil companies to sell you 100% gasoline again.

Actually I think that the last statement is accurate, the irritating thing about most forums is that everyone has their agenda, and their own propaganda. Whether it's taken from the media, from some action group, from some friend or acquaintance, or self derived. Frequently people don't think about the mechanics of what they are saying they don't stop and think about the physics, or the chemistry, the economic, biological, political or the sociological aspects (or many others that I haven't mentioned), they don't use their heads and think about what they're saying before they say it, or look at the bigger issue. Frequently some of these people don't even need to use any knowledge of any of the areas listed, they can simply apply a small amount of logic, to discover the holes in their argument, but they don't, it's lazy thinking, spout something out and expect other people to find the holes, or just not care that there are holes.

Anyway enough ranting, time to go cut more wood.

No hand-drafting (whew!)

Many thanks to QWeaver for setting me up with Designer orthographic program. And to Jim for pointing me to D-CAD-L. And to Rooster for his continuing willingness to go over my sketches and bat around ideas. And to John at for answering my chimney questions.

Between all these, Google SketchUp and Adobe Illustrator, I'm sure to get some decent plans drawn up for our Dream Home. No, it wasn't a one-application solution that did everything I wanted for me, but it works and it's free.

You can't always get what you want; but if you try, sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dont' make me draft this by hand!

Sure, I have a few (dozen) hand drawn sketches with the basic ideas of our home. They're nothing spectacular, and certainly not even detailed enough to be actual building plans. In a pinch, we might be able to build with them by eye-balling things and playing fast and loose. Nope, sorry, not playing fast and loose with the main cabin... we played that game already with our shaky tent platform!!!

I'm amazed at the plethora of truly wonderful and advanced consumer home design software on the market today. And I should know there are a plethora of them and what features they offer because I've researched a ton of them and taken a few for trial runs. They are absolutely great, allowing 3D renders for virtual walkthroughs and automatic elevation drawings, etc etc. Many even come with whole libraries of materials and furnishings so you can see your home well before you build it. Many of them are very reasonably priced.

So what's got me all cranky? Only the top-of-the-line professional suites or full-on CAD programs will truly handle round structures, building with round post and beam, building with straw bales or other monolithic walls, reciprocating roofs structures, and all the alternative electrical and plumbing we're doing since we're off grid. ARG!!! Seems the consumer suites are really only good for boxes with stick framing. I'm not taking out a mortgage just to buy the software to design my home and draft blueprints and elevations... I'm not a pro and don't want to be!

Sure, I can find a free program to MODEL my house in 3D, but it doesn't have any of the dimensioning tools and I'd have to custom model (or import) any materials or furnishings I wanted. Too much time and effort, and I still couldn't pull a materials and cut-list from it. I can find a couple of cheap 2D design programs to LAYOUT my circular floorplans, but they don't offer automated elevation drawings or any framing other than stick-built (even circular house uses "square" beam and stud layout instead of radial).

So, it looks like I'm going to have to dig out my drafting board and tools to do it all by hand, or Santa is going to have to bring me a $2k+ CAD program.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Only in Alaska

Ok this was too precious an opportunity to miss.

The title of todays main weather story in the Fairbanks News Miner

"Above-freezing temperatures threaten icy driving"

Ok so there are those of you thinking "huh!?" I did too for a moment, then realized what they meant which is

"Above freezing temperatures threaten treacherous driving"

So to quickly explain, driving on the roads in AK when it's 10 degrees or below is actually pretty safe, yes you're driving on ice but that's fine you get a lot more traction that you do at 20 degrees through 32 degrees. While this seems counter-intuitive it isn't slick roads and "slippy" driving conditions happen because you have a layer of water between your tires and the ice, when it's too cold for that water to remain liquid, then the slippiness ceases to be a problem. At 10 degrees and below you can drive at near posted speed limits and not have too many issues (I actually tend to hit bends, curves and turns at 10 mph below what I would in dry sunny conditions). Who'da thunk it?

[Plickety sez: Nothing irks me more than "professional" writers who make such blaring grammatical errors. And what useless editor let this one through?! Having worked in the biz, I understand the need for short, catchy headlines; but how about "Above-freezing temperatures -- threats of icy driving" or "Threats of icy driving as temperatures rise" ?! Sigh, it's a peeve.]

Monday, November 30, 2009

Living Small - Observations

Having just completed Month 3 in our 16x20 wall tent, thought I'd share some general observations about living in small spaces.

1. *Everything* you own must have a home. Don't purchase anything new until you know exactly where it will live when you get it home. Measure to make sure!

2. You should plan ahead to make sure it has a home somewhere close to where you'd be needing it, too.

3. Before you even think about decorative stuff, think about STORAGE! Trust me, a 2x4 shelving unit that holds 500 lbs of food is way more important than a beautifully crafted cabinet that only holds 100 (and that potted plant doesn't belong unless it provides you some food!). You can worry about decorating and aesthetic appeal after you get your storage plan taken care of.

4. Shelves are good, but cabinets and drawers are better. Why? Because it reduces the visual clutter if you can close a door or drawer, and it keeps things from falling over & out. Being able to close something also helps keep dirt, dust, soot, and ash from getting into and all over everything you own; otherwise, you end up sealing things like towels and linens in plastic bins/bags on the shelf and having to wipe down cans and jars constantly. (If you're a visual organizer and need to see your stuff... get glass/plexi fronts, it still helps with neatness even if not-so-much with the visual clutter)

5. Get some sort of secure/covered outside storage ASAP. This is for things that you need close by, but don't have to be immediately handy. The less stuff that is in your actual living space, the better! We got an 8x10 steel shed, and it's been a blessing for tools and any extra stuff we don't have to worry about freezing. Since you tend to stock up on bulk items out in the bush, having a place to put it all that's out of your way is very very important. Just don't start pack-ratting in your storage room... you have to be able to get to things in there or you simply defeat the purpose! If it's hard to get things from storage, you'll just start keeping it inside.

6. Never underestimate the need for appropriate clear walk ways. It's easy to fill your space wall-to-wall with stuff, but you'll get really tired of stepping over and around stuff all the time. Good space planning is essential. Vertical storage, also essential. Don't be tempted to make really narrow traffic flows... 18" is the MINIMUM, I'd recommend 24" if you can manage it. Folding furniture really helps in this regard... when you need more space to move, just fold up your chairs, etc.

7. Horizontal work surfaces are essential, but they don't need to be permanent! Tables and such have a huge footprint. Folding tables and nesting tables are a really handy solution. For really large work surfaces, consider a door over two stools (or similar). When you don't need it anymore, put the door outside or in the shed and the stools back in their homes.

8. Under-bed storage is a MUST! Beds have a HUGE footprint and you have to keep the top of it clear (or at least each night enough to sleep on). Raising your bed as high as comfortable/reasonable, and then adding storage underneath it can almost double your available interior storage space for awkward, heavy or larger items (like shotguns, ammo or folding tables). Depending on the height of your space, you may also be able to add bed posts and build over-bed canopy storage (probably nothing too heavy though!).

9. If you take it out, put it away immediately when you're done with it. There's just not enough room to leave anything out. This also means that you shouldn't start a project unless you can finish it (or at least one stage) in a single shot.

10. Multi-function is the key. If you're going to keep something inside your space, make sure it can serve more than one purpose... example: a small bench can be used as a seat, a foot rest/coffee table, a (albeit low) work surface for small projects, a desk or counter, and you can store boots and other stuff underneath it.

11. If you share the space, make sure your ogranizational and space plan works for your partner (or kids) as well... otherwise you'll just be working at cross purposes and end up wanting to kill each other.

12. Remember that pets have space needs, too. Is there room for dog beds, scratching posts, kitty huts, food and water dishes? Can your pet move around freely without knocking stuff over? Do you have room to store their food, grooming supplies, leashes, etc?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mountains of citrus!!

My folks are just awesome! We picked up our mail in Manley this afternoon and there were two boxes full of fresh citrus and other goodies from "down south" waiting for us. Nothing like getting a big ol' box of Texas sunshine when the snow clouds are coming in and it looks like we're in for another week of -40F.

Next year (hopefully) when we get the smokehouse built, I'm sure they'll be happy to send us up some mesquite chips for the red meats in exchange for some homemade alder-smoked salmon and moose steaks. Once we get some feeder hogs, I'm going to have to source some apple wood for the chops and hickory for the bacon. It pays to think ahead and find people who are willing to swap local resources with you when you're homesteading... equitable trading is always better than forking over tons of cash to a big box supplier!

MMMMM... all this talk of food, I must be hungry, better go dig into some of those yummy turkey leftovers :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weeeee're baaaaaack!

As you can tell by the plethora of back-dated posts, we're finally back online again!! Now you all won't have to wait so long between installments and then get inundated with a bunch all at once :)

Big, super, mega hugs to our neighbor, Dave, for getting us hooked up with the rest of the world again before he leaves for the season! And even greater hugs to him and his wife, Jordan, for inviting us over tomorrow for a hot shower and Thanksgiving dinner. We are truly blessed to enjoy such luxuries with two really great folks!

Long live the Eurekans!!

(Apparently, we live in Eureka not Manley. Of course, Eureka was just an old mining claim and is now a complete ghost town, and was/is 10 miles north of us... but if the Manleyites won't claim us, I'm more than proud to be a Eurekan!)

11-24-09: Don't bring dead things to bed

The joys of pet parenting are boundless, especially when you live in the bush.

This morning, after letting our darling little Ripley out for a run and a pee, she showed me her love and affection by bursting in the door and dropping some frozen bit of dead animal right in the center of the bed for me and Charlie. Thank goodness it was frozen!! I'm not exactly sure what it was, most likely a hare's leg, but could have been a coyote forepaw. I certainly wasn't going to spend a whole lot of time inspecting it. Of course, you have to praise your animal and thank it for bringing you food… even while you are cringing and trying to find something to get it off the bed with before it starts to thaw. I took it outside on the deck, faked that I had eaten it, and surreptitiously chucked it in the bin when she wasn't looking.

At least we know why Ripley hasn't been chowing down on her kibble with as much abandon as usual lately. Just past 4 months old and already hunting a bit for herself and the family. Aw, isn't that sweet?! It's enough to make a mother proud. Hopefully, she isn't out poaching some trapper's line, but she's pretty good about staying on our property and no one has asked our permission to trap our land this winter. Now if we can just convince her to enjoy her catch outside on the deck and not bring dead things inside (especially not to bed!), things would be so much better. We've got much larger animals in these parts than hares, and she'll soon be big enough to take down most of them… don't want to wake up with a mangled coyote or lynx offering in the middle of the living room one day!

11-21-09: Why Paul is one of my Favorite People

As you all know from G-man's post from John Feeley's earlier, we've been experiencing unseasonably low temps (between -30 and -50F) for almost a week. While he had Internet access, G-man sent a mail to Paul (who works for AK Dept of Transportation) in Manley letting him know that we were still OK, but asking if he had any recommendations for getting Sonja started. We had a full tank of gas in the truck and ATV, but were down to our last 5 gallon tank for the generator and maybe one last fill for the chainsaw from the 5 gallon tank of 2-stroke… not dire straits, but getting a little concerning since we didn't know how long this weather would hold out.

So today, with both of us dreading another 2 mile hike to Feeley's to check our email and the weather liars online, we were pleasantly surprised by a honk in the driveway. And we were surprised since Mark was out in the trees cutting wood, and I was doing some carpentry inside with the generator running… neither of us could hear diddly and Ripley is still too young to properly let us know that someone was coming. Anyway… Paul had sent Pete, one of his co-workers, out to us with a charcoal burner, some charcoal, and a propane weed torch with extension pipe so we could blast the truck out of her frozen cocoon and back to life.

Within 90 minutes we put the battery back in (it's been living inside) and Sonja kicked right over. It took another hour or so for all the ice to melt off enough for us to decide to drive anywhere. Problem was that it was already starting to get dark and it's Saturday. The Trading Post in Manley is normally closed on the weekends and there was no guarantee that they would have gas or that their gas pumps wouldn't be frozen.

Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, we loaded up the truck with extra clothes/food/water/blankets and both fur children, banked the firebox, and then struck off into town. If worse came to worse, we could stay at Gladys's cabin for a few days or attempt to make the drive into Fairbanks. We might lose some jars of food and a few water jugs when they froze, but that's better than the possible alternative, right?!?!?

Big snaps and thanks to Bob and Lisa for opening up the store for us. And also to Chuck, who came out and finally got the frozen pumps to start working again! Big hugs to Paul for being awesome and looking out for us, and also for his wife, Penny, who makes the most awesome chocolate cherries!

Now that we know the best way to get Sonja moving again (and we've got her parked right in the sun on the south side of the tent, not in the shade on the north side) we're planning to drive up the road tomorrow to visit with one of our neighbor's, Dave, who is a HughesNet rep, and hopefully get ourselves hooked up with Satellite Internet. Yeah, it's crazy, but we miss the Internet more than anything and it is the most reliable form of communication in this neck of the woods. As long as the sun can shine right on the generator for an hour or two to get the battery bank recharged, we've got plenty of power until after dinner (when the batteries get too cold and the inverter shuts off) to get online for a little bit and let everyone know how we're doing… and to mail order a crap load of stuff when we need it, since it doesn't look like we'll be going into Fairbanks anymore this season (unless we get a freak warm spell or something).

BTW - the weather liars said that it shoud be "really nice" next week… of course, these are the same weather liars who said it would be really nice this week until it dropped below -20F. The Bastahds!!!

11-17-09: Sounds of happy home

5:30 am -- hubby snoring beside me, puppy snoring at my feet, kitty purring in the crook of my arm, and the fire is crackling away.

Ahhhh… life is GOOD!

11-16-09: You know it's cold when...

• The batteries in your remote digital thermometer freeze (freeze, not just go dead)
• All the fluid in the cheap liquid thermometer is in the bulb (only goes down to -20F)
• The snow stops crunching and starts squeaking
• The dog's water dish freezes and her food frosts up even though it's inside but just too close to the door
• The exhaust on the chainsaw and the generator creates vapor which immediately turns to hoar frost
• The Shindaiwa chainsaw (Japanese) has completely packed it in and only runs inside
• The Husqvarna chainsaw (Swedish) blade frosts over if it isn't in constant motion
• The HotSnapz (sodium acetate chemical warmers) actually begin to freeze despite being activated
• The truck won't start even though you've got her plugged in (block heater, etc) AND are trying to jump her directly from the generator
• The snow you track in from outside lies on the floor for 10 minutes before melting
• The wood you bring in from outside is so cold that it robs all the heat from the stove and won't catch fire without assistance (i.e. copious amounts of junk mail)
• Even the snow-loving dog doesn't want to stay out for more than a few minutes and starts limping because there are ice balls stuck in her paws
• The cat will only come out of her kitty hut if the doors are closed and the fire is roaring
• The leather AND Gore-tex on your boots and gloves freezes even though it isn't wet -- there goes the last vestiges of grip and usefulness
• You look like Jack Frost within 5 minutes of being outside because your breath has frozen on your nose, eyelashes, eyebrows, mustache, beard, etc…
• The hood of your truck freezes over even though it's currently running (and was clear at one point)
• Small trees can be removed from your path simply by punting them… they're frozen and break right off
• You're wearing two LavaWool glove liners, your Gumby Gloves with HotSnapz in them, and your fingers still start to freeze within 20 minutes
• You're wearing LavaWool sock liners, two pairs of wool socks, boots with 600 grams of Thinsulate Ultra in them and your toes still start to freeze within 20 minutes
• Your socket wrench freezes to the battery terminal before you can loosen the connection
• The cat pee freezes before the litter can even clump
• Dog bombs in the yard freeze solid within 5 minutes of being dropped
• You have to use soft artists charcoal to write outside because even graphite pencils won't work (just forget about pens or crayons of any sort)
• It takes you longer to get dressed to take the dog out than she actually spends doing her business
• It's only 65F in the house and you think it's piggin' hot when you come back in
• You have to consume 250-500 calories for every hour you're outside, and you're still exhausted after only 3 hours

11-15-09: Wood Obsession

So… Living in the subarctic leads to some interesting obsessions, for example wood…

You see wood is both a construction and a heating material, which is kind of weird if you think about it, you wouldn't build your home out of gasoline assuming that you could somehow solidify it. However right now the current obsession is about burning wood, and the categorizations that you mentally develop for that wood.

We've categorized our wood into 3-4 general groups
• Morning Wood (Steady!)
• Day wood
• Cooking wood
• Night wood

Each of these is a name for the general use of the wood, for instance take Morning Wood, it has to be easy to get going, provide a quick burst of heat to warm things up (and get the coffee made), and then get the Day Wood going. So what is Morning Wood, it's a collection of stove lengths varying from 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter (mostly "sticks"), dry as a bone, everything that a quick hot burning fire needs to get that coffee percolator perking.

Day Wood and Night Wood are kind of similar with similar intents, provide constant low-level heat for an extended period without worrying too much about the thing going out, which is where the larger chunks of wood are used, generally between 4-7 inches in diameter, a little damp is ok, since this helps to keep the home fires burning longer.

Cooking Wood is similar to Morning Wood, but goes up to 4 inch diameter piece, so you can actually cook for a period with it, not just get the coffee made.

That was the easy part, now where it gets more extreme is when you add in the type of wood, we currently have these categories:

• Deadite (40 year old dead standing left from a wild fire in 1969)
• Green Spruce
• Green Poplar/Aspen
• Green Birch
• Year old Spruce
• Year old Poplar/Aspen
• Year old Birch
• Seasoned Spruce
• Seasoned Poplar/Aspen
• Seasoned Birch

This forms a 2 dimensional matrix of wood types, some are not effective at certain things for instance green aspen or poplar is not cooking, morning or night wood, it just can't do the job; whereas seasoned Birch is way too good for wasting on morning wood, or cooking. The reason for this is quite simple, depending on the wood type the length of burn and the heat produced by that wood varies, the more dense the wood the longer that wood burns and the more heat it generates during its burning time. Surprisingly 1 lb of balsa and 1 lb of oak actually contain roughly the same energy content, however 1lb of oak is significantly smaller than 1lb of balsa, so it burns longer without interference or refilling the finite capacity wood stove that you have.

Since we live in a sub-arctic region seasoning takes nearly 2 years, even for softwoods like spruce so hence the three time scales for the types, also Birch is not very common up here, the majority of large tree stands that you see are either white spruce or quaking aspens (we also have some tamarack, black spruce, balsam poplars, etc. etc.) with a few rare stands of paper birch this makes Birch a premium wood up here as you can likely tell.

Now on top of this there's also the obsession with wood collection, and how much we need for how many days. Fortunately a couple of good big trees can see you for a couple of days and can cover all of your major woods (unless it's green).

Anyway, maybe it's just my mind over analyzing something that others have been doing for centuries without the benefit of my categorization matrix… Or maybe I'm just obsessed with keeping warm, who knows.

[Plickety sez: I think G-man is more obsessed with getting his dinner cooked and coffee brewed than staying warm - ROFL)

11-15-09: Better than the Gym

I've had a bout of the Fairbanks Funk for the past couple of days, so haven't been able to keep much down or in. While I feel somewhat weak and awful, it has given me the opportunity to really notice and admire how totally buff I'm becoming out here in the woods. Seriously folks, I've always been fairly strong for a girl (heck, even compared to most guys for that matter). I remember back in the pre-move days when I was so proud of the fact that I shifted a ton of food in 50 lb feed sacks all by myself… sheesh, that's nothing compared to what I can do now!

Back in the day, those 50 lb food buckets seemed really heavy and I could barely lift the 60 lb water containers. Now I can heft those buckets without much incident, even carry two at a time. The water still gives me a bit of a problem, but only because it's all concentrated into a sloshing sq ft cube… as long as I don't have to lift it above my waist though, we're golden. I can carry four 2x4x8 studs on each shoulder without blinking an eye. I can haul 20 ft trees (albeit "skinny ones") out of the forest and tote armloads of firewood for hours.

I've got biceps and triceps… real ones, way big enough to see without flexing and really toned for the first time in my life. My lats, traps, delts and rhomboids are pretty huge; and my abs are FLAT and even developing a bit of a 4-pack (another first in my life). My legs, which have always been really muscular, are even more muscular and have real definition… total Mean Joe Green legs!

All this work... real physical labor… has gotten me in better shape than any $1k membership or "targeted workout" at any of the gyms I've belonged to in the past. Weight and body fat are still a bit of a problem… but this time it's keeping them UP enough, not trying to keep them off. I'm eating lots of protein and fat (cheese, butter and bacon… yum, lard!) and still having a hard time keeping my weight up. I have stabilized my weight, but I'm packing on muscle so fast that my body fat percentage is getting a little low instead (muscle weighs more than fat). So, the net result is while my weight is stable, I'm still getting a bit smaller… my size 6 jeans are loose at the waist, but if I get 4s then they don't fit my thighs; and my medium shirts are baggy at the bottom, but if I get smalls then they don't fit my shoulders/arms.

I still have to watch the carbs, mostly because I'm hypoglycemic and they jack my blood sugar up something chronic, but I'm even eating more of those than I used to as long as they are low gluten (coupled with some more yummy protein and fat to slow down the glycemic load of course). Yup, I unapologetically chow down a cheese and sausage omelet with a side of bacon, maybe even a muffin slathered with butter… and my body seems to like it just fine and all my blood work is A-OK (another first). **Yes, Doc Julie, I am still watching everything closely **

Trust me, out in the bush, if you aren't feeding your body what IT wants (as opposed to what the "experts" say you should eat) then it won't give you faithful or fully-optimized service. You learn real quick what's a real body craving and what's just "head hunger", and you learn that there really isn't a way to cheat or fake out your body… no swapping in tofu or TVP when your body wants meat (moral conscience and best intentions be damned!).

Back online...


We got a HughesNet installation today, so we have internet connectivity. Totally Ironic if you think about it, living in a tent with power and internet, maybe something is wrong with our priorities...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just a quick post

It's been -40F here for a few days and the truck has waved the white flag until it warms up. So this is a quick post saying that we're ok, and that we have plenty of food and water, and we're collecting firewood daily to cook and keep warm.

Anyway Short post just to say we're ok.

We'll post when we get the truck running or we walk back to our nearest neighbor with an internet connection.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

11-12-09: Updates

Howdy faithful readers! Sorry for the delay, but's it's been SNOWING like crazy so we've been sticking close to home. We've managed to get most of the insulation up in the tent and it's making a serious difference! We've about roasted ourselves out of the tent on a couple of occassions. Of course, Charlie loves it when it's 90F inside... sure beats 50F! Of course, the snow lightened up enough today for me to venture into Manley for mail and laundry, but now it's coming down hard again. Oh well, I can just drive even slower on the way back LOL!

As you see by Charlie's post (poor baby hasn't figured out that we aren't connected to the internet and I have to post her missives for her) we have a new puppy. Her name is Ripley and she's a little over 3 months old. She's an Akita-Malamute mix, which makes her an excellent choice for the winters up here. She absolutely loves running in the snow, loves digging in the snow, loves rolling in the snow, and especially loves eating the snow. She's also going to get to be about 120-150 lbs, which will make her a formidible guard dog out here in bear and wolf country. She loves people and is a good house dog, even though (being a puppy) she eats everything.

11-06-09: Kitteh needz ur help

This tym they goz too far. Long kar ryd, I deelz. Iz kold, I deelz. Iz much wind, I deelz. But now they bringz an Evil One to mah hows. They kalz it Ripley; but I noez it to be Evil. I steelz kamra so u can seez evil!

It eetz ma fuud. It eetz mah poop. It sleepz in mah bed wit mah peeplz. It tryz to lik me, but I slapz it wit mah klawz. I growlz when it lookz at me. Iz stoopid and klumbzee.

Pleez, send help for the kitteh. I iz guud kitteh, duz not dezerv this torchur. Iz ownlee puppee, will ownlee getz more big and evil. Big big, lyk Mommee. Evil evil, lyk Daddee.

Pleez, I praez to Ceiling Cat, this may bez last tym I kan steelz puter.

-- Charlie

11-05-09: Help me, Ralphie!

Just a few ruminations this morning while I wait for the tent to heat up enough to leave Charlie alone while I'm out foraging more firewood.

Don't, I repeat, don't ever put anything metal that has been outside for more than 15 minutes in your mouth when it's below freezing. Yes, this seems like common sense... We've all heard the horror stories about licking the flagpole. But when you're outside working, especially alone when it's getting dark, you sometimes forget that your lumber marking pen has a metal clip on it; or that the snaps on your coat are metal. It's just second nature to pull the pen cap off with your teeth or to nudge your jacket out of the way with your face. So, now I have two frost burns on my lip and a raw spot on my tongue where I had to yank the frozen pen cap from it.

The same goes for picking up anything metal that's been outside with your bare hands. I had taken a bunch of shelf brackets out of the shed and set them inside the front door. A couple minutes later, having taken off my gloves, I tried to grab them off the floor and they bit me! Luckily, no permanent damage was done to me or the brackets while I frantically waved my hand around to get them to let go. I remembered my lesson when I brought the chainsaws inside!

Yes, you heard right… I brought the chainsaws inside. You might be an Alaskan if you have a chainsaw in your living room and you have to start it inside before you go out (it's not that cold yet, but not far from it). I also brought the chain oil inside since it was about as viscous as blackstrap molasses which couldn't possibly be lubricating the chain all that effectively. Pretty soon we're going to have to start bringing the generator inside when it's not running.

I was supposed to do Deadite Patrol yesterday, but it was 6F with 20 mph winds and the tent would barely stay above 50F… so I made the executive decision that it might possibly be more beneficial to dip into our "insurance firewood" and continue putting up the insulation to keep in some of the heat we're making rather than near freeze to death to make more heat that the wind will just suck away.

Can I just say how incredibly difficult it is to manhandle 4x8 sheets of 3-inch thick foam board by yourself when it's seriously windy outside? This stuff only weighs about 2 lbs; but when the wind is pushing against it, you need the strength of Samson to keep it from flying away or pushing you over. And then there is the fun part of trying to maneuver the sheets around inside the tent with one person and a low ceiling. I made all sorts of creative use of spare lumber and household goods to make a deadman to hold sheets in place while I zip-tied them to the tent frame. Which, by the way, also sucked because the wind was blowing so hard that the tent kept jiggling and knocking things over and out of square… not so bad when I was working on a wall, but really not cool when I was doing the ceiling panels. I, unfortunately, did not get as much done while G-man was in Fairbanks as I'd hoped… but at least the bathroom is entirely done and I've gotten the western corners started. Hopefully, things will go a bit faster when he gets back and there's two people on the job.

OK - the tent is finally above 60F, time to bank the fire and go scavenge wood! At least the sun is out and the wind is only gusting around 12 mph (seriously, those NREL guys who said there wasn't enough wind here for turbine generators were smoking something!).


The Husqvarna wouldn't start (it's Gungnir's and doesn't like me) and the Shindaiwa doesn't work as well on big or frozen stuff… but I managed. I sawed and I hauled, and sawed and hauled until my arms were sore, and sawed and hauled some more… at least until I came upon fresh bear scat and then I decided that I had enough wood for today (and if not, I'd just have to make it last). It's hard to know how much firewood you really have when it's still in tree form in all different diameters and lengths. So much easier to tell once you've bucked it all and stacked it; but by then it's a bit late to tell whether you need more since it starts getting dark around 5 these days.

I accidentally left the pee-tainers on the deck (meant to empty them before I started), but they're frozen solid now… oops! And I was going to have a PB&J for lunch before I start bucking the firewood… but the jam is frozen too. Looks like we're going to have to start bringing in the "fridge" cooler now as well. I think I might be able to rustle up some Spam if I contort myself around the foam panels that still need to be installed in the pantry. Hmmmmm… it would sure be nice if G-man got home from Fairbanks soon.

10-31-09: Happy Halloween

Three guesses who carved which pumpkin :)

We tried to build snowmen bodies for our jack-o-lanterns, but the snow (while ample) is too dry and powdery here to stick together. In any case, we couldn't leave them outside unattended since they are, after all, edible and we don't want to invite critters. Just wanted to let you all know that we still take time out to do fun and silly things.

(Forgive the photo quality, my camera does not like to take pics in low light conditions)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pics coming soon (promise)

No, I haven't forgotten that I promised you all photos of the wall tent and such. Guess I'm a little house-proud on that front… really want to get all the "improvements" done so that everything is neat, tidy and put away before I show anyone (*blushing*). But have no fear, the insulation is the last major project precluding me from takings pics, and we'll be working on that next week ( although we might need a few more things from Fairbanks… grrrrrrr, you're always one short on something, aren't you?).

It would be nice if the tool shed was done, but I can cram most of that stuff in the food cache (the first steel shed) or under the deck until we get it put together (tiny metal nuts and freezing temps, not fun). Still don't have back stairs or our second wood crib built, but other things took priority (and all those trips to Fairbanks eat up your time!). Didn't get a chance to erect our pole woodshed because the ground froze on us and I'm not even going to try digging post holes in that… a tarp is good enough for next year's wood and this winter's wood can get stacked under the deck.

All-in-all, while things are going a bit slower than I'd hoped, everything is coming together nicely and soon we'll be able to dedicate most of our time to scoping out our home site and finding/collecting timber for the house framing. I'll make sure to bring the camera on our forays. I can't guarantee that the batteries will last long in the cold… but I'll try to take more photos of the property for ya'll :)

G-Man sez...
Here's a pic I took the other day just to keep you all happy for a moment, I call it Moonrise at 20 degrees

Sub-freezing Carpentry

So, I'm outside trying to cut down some lumber to make a few needed storage units and some framing to install the insulation. Normally, even when it's cold, working outside is not a major problem; but today it's hovering around 20F and it's windy as all hell (gusts up to 30 mph). There's also snow on the ground and all over my lumber because the wind blew the tarp half-way across the yard. Here are just a few of the problems I ran into:

• Being pelted in the eyes with wind-blown snow and saw dust that got trapped behind my safety glasses (G-man had the same problem when he was bucking firewood)
• Some of the lumber was actually frozen together
• Some of the lumber was actually frozen solid and refused to be cut
• Battery life on the cordless tools was about an hour (switched to corded tools on the generator and recharged the batteries)
• Cords on corded tools will NOT bend out of the way and the sockets are frozen
• Had to let everything warm up before I could drill or screw… which meant I had to assemble all these units INSIDE our space-limited tent (which also meant I had to move everything we owned a few times and be really mindful of where I was in relation the stove!)
• It was so windy that my tools kept blowing across the ice on the deck
• I went snow-sailing across the yard when the wind caught the sheet of plywood I was carrying
• Not being able to work the safety AND the trigger on the power tools with my stupid Gumby gloves on

Ahhhh JOY! Life is good.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bush Injuries...

Ok. So here's something that everyone experiences sooner or later in the Alaskan bush, or elsewhere. Working injuries…

So here's mine

This is two days after I did it (please note the healthy disrespect for shaving of the legs, and the huge missed spot on day two.

Here's 3 days

You'll see the legs better shaved.

So you're wondering how did I do this… Was it a bear… nope, was it a tree falling after felling… nope, was it a meteor that struck me from the heavens that would have struck down a lesser human… nope. I tripped over an old tree stump while carrying a smallish 50lb deadite, joy! This was my second tree of the day too, and while it hurt like hell, I just plodded along until later that evening when I was finished up and resting, then wondered what the hell I was doing. Ah well live and learn.

So you're now wondering how you can trip over a tree stump, well it's not too difficult when it's about 18-24" high, and you're plodding through smallish new growth spruce with a 8-10" dusting of snow. I kind of think that I might have made it worse for myself if I'd fallen over I'd likely be fine, but nope I had to be like a "weeble" and wobbled but didn't fall down. Thus leading me to scraping my shin down the sharp point of the stump from the broken tree. This happened on Tuesday 27th the bitter irony is that I should have been doing this on Monday, Tuesday I had planned to go up to Fairbanks for some stuff and to get the truck re-aligned after my little departure from normal control; but it snowed on Monday, Monday night and Tuesday morning and discretion is the better part of valor. Wednesday I did some more work around the place, like bucking the stuff we didn't get to on Tuesday, but I avoided going back into anything uncleared. Wednesday and Thursday were the same. Friday I ventured forth into the bush again and wouldn't you know it, a freakin' willow about 1/4" diameter and about 20" long jabbed me right in the middle of that gouge, but anyway we got enough firewood for the next couple of days; which was good since when I checked out my leg I had a swelling just below the tape on my dressing, so Saturday (Halloween) I rested up [Plickety says "And I rested up as well, other than bucking the last bit of yesterday's collection, because I managed to drop a log on my foot during the middle of the night fire-feeding and busted the knuckle of my big toe again."]. I think the bruising is the worst part now, which is taking a little while to come down.

To my credit barring aches, pains, muscle strains, and some bashed fingers and toes this is the first major injury I've had here. Anyway must get on.

Franken Feet & Gumby Hands

Just a little rant about boots and gloves. Really people, who in the hell's hands actually fit in gloves anyway?! Seriously, I think the model for the manufacturer's blanks must be a mutant with abnormally long fingers, or maybe they have blind seamstresses or something. I am so friggin' tired of not being able to do simple stuff, like work a zipper, because the tips of the glove fingers are, like, a half-inch too long. What the hell is that all about? Don't even try to do anything detailed, like tighten 3/8" nuts or anything. Heck, I can barely even get my finger into the chainsaw trigger guard with those stupid Gumby hands. Can't even manage to pull the other glove on sometimes or tuck in my cuffs. Why do we have to chose between warm, protected hands and actually being able to use them?!

Same goes for boots. Why on earth can't they make insulated boots with steel toes and shin guards that aren't bulbous and clunky? There's room for 14 pairs of socks at the toes, but anything more than a thin nylon liner and you can't get your foot through the ankle?! Not to mention that they force you walk like Frankenstein or an absolute spastic 'tard. Geez, these are winter work and hiking boots, you'd think that someone would have figured out that the people wearing them might actually be walking over uneven ground in the snow and might need some dexterity to handle hidden ditches and stumps.

And don't get me started on how you can't really find any good, solid work gloves for women. Sure, you can find all sorts of dainty, flimsy gardening gloves that almost fit a woman's hands; but real heavy duty gloves… forget it! Yeah, and a men's small is NOT a lady's medium, no matter what Captain Incompetent says at Home Labyrinth! What? I know there have to be some women out there somewhere who actually need proper work gloves… do they all have to have them custom-made, have them altered, or just suffer with ill-fit?

Arg!! Maybe it's me that's the mutant! I mean, I know that I'm a klutz with horrible balance, and I'm all bendy-freaky-double-jointed. Yep, and I'm doing MEN'S work out here in the bush… good little women won't be lumberjacking and doing construction, they'll be in the kitchen with oven mitts or tending their flowers where cutesy garden gloves are sufficient (ok, that's sarcasm folks).

Ahhh… rant over, I feel better now.

[G-Man says "No, you're not a mutant, I have the same problem. I can wear a medium, but can't wear any liners to keep in the heat. I can wear a large, and I have 1/2" too long fingers in the gloves. Even when a glove "fits" it doesn't really fit in all the right places, fingers are too long, short, tight or loose, same goes for the palm. And what's with the wrist cuffs? They're either super-short so they just get to your wrist, or like some old motorcycle gauntlet that comes half way up your arm."]

Charge of the light Brigade pt. 2

In preparation for his trip into Fairbanks, G-Man headed off into Manley to gas up Sonja. Just a short little trip because we had to do a massive deadite patrol so I'd have plenty of firewood while he was gone. Maybe an hour… 90 minutes, tops, since the weather was getting bad.

Well, I puttered about the 'Stead moving lumber, clearing out stumps that keep trying to kill us, and basically tidying up the bucking area so it would be safer for me to buck a wahootey-load of deadites while he was away. It's a bit brisk outside and it's snowing a little. An hour goes by and I'm not too concerned. Two hours go by and I'm starting to get a little worried (and running out of piddly chores to do). Three hours go by and I go inside to check on Charlie, feed the fire, and get some hot coffee to warm up before striking off into the woods to get trees by myself.

I no sooner throw some logs on the fire and pour my coffee and WHAM! I get a horrible sense of foreboding. It's snowing pretty hard by now and visibility is low. Gungnir has already wiped out on that road once and, with the weather being bad, not too many people are out driving. If he'd ditched it somewhere, it could be hours before anyone found him.

So I filled the stove to brimming and banked the fire down, then threw on a few extra layers of clothes and started Willow up. Now, keep in mind that I have not ever actually driven Willow before… hand-operated vehicles and I do not get along. Frankly, driving a 4-wheeler down a country road when it's 20-odd degrees out and blustery is not my idea of safe entertainment. I did have the presence of mind to wear my bright green coat and my flaming red head sock to hopefully improve anyone's ability to see me on the road. I also grabbed the goggles because, unlike Gungnir, I don't like the feel of my eyeballs freezing.

I trundle my way towards town, freezing my freakin' butt off (well, my hands more than my butt), scanning the road for any signs of an accident or someone wiping out into the trees. Nothing. Just tooling along at 20 mph was causing me mortal terror (really, I am petrified driving motorcycles and ATVs). Every mile I contemplated just turning around and going home. Maybe he was just visiting someone in town. But, no, he knew we had stuff to do before he left town... so I soldiered on. Maybe he was wrecked just around the next bend or just another mile away.

I make it into Manley without seeing him on the road or in anyone's driveway. I stop in at the Trading Post (cum Post Office, cum Gas Station) to regain some feeling in my hands and to check if anyone had even seen him come in earlier. Yes, he'd been there, a couple of hours ago. I couldn't think of who he'd be visiting that I hadn't passed on the way in; so once my hands thawed out, I struck off back home. Good news, the snow was letting up… bad news, it was letting up because it was getting too cold to snow anymore.

On the way back, risk of frostbite and hypothermia overruled any of my normal vehicular concerns. I was cranking along at 40mph (about the speed when I start to lift off the seat) and kept praying that I'd either see G-man just ahead or he'd catch up with me… anything, just let me get inside somewhere warm! But no dice… I made it all the way home, expecting him to be waiting for me, but the driveway was empty. My hands were so cold that I could barely get the keys out of the ignition or get the tent open. I fumbled with the damper and opened the firebox to let the fire blaze full blast… which only served to make my hands go from numb to screaming in agony. I swear to God, it felt like someone had smashed my hands with a sledgehammer. I knew I had to get my gloves off so my hands would warm up, but I couldn't make my fingers work and I was afraid to bite the fingertips of the gloves to yank them off since I couldn't tell if I had frost bite or not. I just curled them up to my chest and started crying.

And that's when G-man pulls up outside. Seems that he'd stopped in to ask Jimmy a quick question and got trapped in a long-winded conversation. He was surprised to find that I'd driven into town on Willow looking for him because I was worried… he just figured that I'd started cutting down trees and was crying because I'd mangled myself on something. I guess my concern touched him because he helped me get my gloves and cold clothes off and put on warm ones, then made me some coffee while I shivered for about an hour… yes, I was mildly hypothermic; but, no, I didn't have frostbite.

So, let it be known to all who might doubt it, that I do love my husband enough to risk life, limb and freezing temperatures just because I'm worried about his safety.

Note to self: wear the arctic mittens next time, or get some heated riding gloves! Definitely bring more HotSnapz.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I need a new camera!

Awesome northern lights going on right now. Super bright green swirls with pink, red, and purple streaks. Unfortunately, neither my Canon or my phone is capturing them at all :( Maybe Santa will get me an SLR for Christmas.

It's a truly beautiful sight... I can only imagine how gorgeous this must look at home since it's this pretty here in Fairbanks. Poor G-man is probably sleeping through it since it's way past his bedtime.

It's at times like this that I fully appreciate Alaska and remember why I put up with the cold and bad roads.

Here are a few that Kari managed to catch with her camera:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10-21-09: A Stroke of Genius

Our Oregon Scientific home weather station has these nifty little programmable alarms for certain weather situations. Gee, why wake up every 3 hours to feed the fire when you can just set an alarm to go off when the temp in the tent gets below 50F?!

Lat night, I got my first mostly full night of sleep since the weather turned cold... and it was still nice and toasty enough that I wasn't doing the chatter-dance waiting for the stove to heat up. Inspiration I tell ya!