Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Plan - Initial Building Design

We don't exactly have formal building plans, because most of this is sketched out in my notebook and floating around in my head. Considering that we will be building from timber we harvest on the property, drawing up detailed blueprints is a bit difficult since sizes are largely estimated. So, I'll try to explain what we'll be doing instead (keep in mind that we are building on permafrost) and that we will be building a round house with round (unhewn) timbers.

Basic concept: timber-frame/post & beam skeleton consisting of two concentric rings of posts (a.k.a "henges") supporting a conical, reciprocating green roof. The interior skeleton will then be wrapped with straw bales, earthen plastered (clay mud cob), lime plastered and then limewashed inside and out. The house will be 1.5 stories (main & loft) and approximately 20' in radius (1200 sq ft) with an open floorplan. The outer ring will have kitchen, bath, office, bedroom & utility room; the inner ring will be the living room with woodburning heat stove almost directly in the center of the building. The loft will only circle the outer ring, leaving the inner ring open to the ceiling, which will have a large central skylight. There will be a full wrap-around porch with the southern hemisphere enclosed as an attached sunroom/greenhouse. Solar PV & thermal panels will be installed vertically on the southern loft walls due to the low Solar angle at 65 deg N.

Foundation & floor: Open pad & pier, approximately 2-4' above grade*. We will install floating concrete pads (on undisturbed soil) with concrete piers, on those we will install posts on permanent leveling jacks (just in case we get some frost heave). * We need to raise the house at least 2' above grade with an open crawlspace to make sure we don't melt the permafrost and sink our house; plus it keeps the house from flooding during spring thaw. We will be hanging the main floor from the posts, rather than building the house on top of the floor.

Plumbing: We'll be using PEX and having only one "wet wall" on the inside of the house for the shower, sink & kitchen sink. Water heating will be through solar thermal assist and a water jacket off the woodstove, stored in a electric water heater that serves as our power sink if our PV panels run hot during the summer (it won't be running continuously, just when we have surplus electricity). All the PEX will be through a manifold so we can shut off and drain the entire system from one location. Water will be pumped from the well, to a buried storage tank, then into a pressurization tank in the loft (our property is basically flat)... both pumps will be electric and hand-operated. We will be using a composting toilet (bucket & sawdust... dump on compost pile) so there will be no black water. All the other greywater drains in the house will empty out into a subsurface irrigation system in the garden.

Electrical: Gungnir is the electrical engineer, so he'll have to figure out the details, but... Combination of Solar PV, Wind Turbine & Gas Generator (converted to ethanol later... diesel gels at our temps, so not an option), the regulator, inverter and battery bank will be inside (in the utility room) to keep them from freezing. All wiring will be run behind baseboards and molding, or along beams/posts, so we don't break the building envelope or have to cut channels into the straw bales. We aren't planning for a lot of electrical gear, so we don't have to run a lot of cable. We'll have a 12v DC chest freezer (for the summer) and tiny refrigerator (for leftovers)... everything else goes in the root cellar, which will stay 35-40F year round (if we can keep it from freezing), everything in the freezer will stay frozen in the cache during the winter (no power needed).

Rootcellar: still trying to determine if we want this directly under the house or not. It would be convenient to open a trapdoor in the kitchen or utility room, but then we might run the risk of our house sinking if we melt the permafrost. Plus, having all your food inside the house can attract bears... so it might be better to store things away from the house. We'll have to decide when we get there and do more soil surveys. If things are super-stable gravel and we can find a large enough space that is permafrost-free, we may just install an ICF basement and foundation instead... which will be tough since we'll have to mix and pour all that concrete by hand (no pump truck can get to our place).

OK - so that's the basic plan and our thinking to this point. I'll try to scan some of my architectural drawings and post them to our blog when I get some time. We will definitely post pics as we're building. Meanwhile, you can check out The Roundhouse Project, Simon Dale's Low Impact Woodland Home, and Tony Wrench's That Roundhouse for more conceptual data.

Basically, our house will be an amalgamation of these three:

The Roundhouse Project

Simon Dale's Woodland Home

Tony Wrench's Roundhouse

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's all over

Well, rather than leave with a bang or a whimper, my retirement went silently.

It was all very surreal, was in work reimaged my machines, listened to some music, then off for my exit interview and explanation as to my ability to join the Microsoft Alumni network, and Cobra et. al. and done.

My stress hasn't dropped yet, I think because it hasn't yet sunk in. We went to blockbuster last night to get some DVD's to watch and I was thinking we'd need to see them before Sunday night so I could take them back before work on Monday, then caught myself and thought what work?

Anyway as mentioned up early still this morning (asymptomatic insomnia sucks), when will this ever end I wonder? Hopefully not too long in the future.

It's a very strange feeling...

I'll keep you guys posted.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Final day at the old slave oar

my name is Mark, and I am a slave...

Well, time has come around and tomorrow is my final day at the slave oar.

It's kind of weird, I'm excited and nervous all in one, I guess tonight is going to be the big scary one. Tomorrow it's done, and the chain of events are set. So stress should begin to fall off after that.

Hopefully I'll be able to begin to sleep more normally again, I've been bouncing out of bed on adrenaline at 5-5:30 for the past year, the Slavery Oar has a large amount of stress in the repeated pulling and pushing of it. Mainly because a lot of those in the Galley ranks couldn't find their ass with both hands a map and a flashlight. So rather than everyone doing their job more than half of the time you're dodging to avoid getting crushed.

On a more postive note I'm writing this on my nice new laptop, in Ice blue so I can lose it in an Alaskan winter.

I bumped into an old friend today too, while using up some of my limit of personal goods we can buy discounted from the slave galley. Had a good chat, he thinks its awesome, but asked how I was going to make beer in the cold.

Anyway short and bitter like espresso that's me.

Off again.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why do we keep this crap?!

OMG!!! We started clearing out our home offices today, and are overwhelmed with the amount of extraneous random crap that we found stashed in drawers, filing cabinets and bookcases. Seriously, we found stuff that we didn't even remember what it was or what it went to... but had obviously been packed up for at least one previous move.

We have adapters to upgrade seriously old computer accessories & ports to only vaguely old accessories & ports; and then about 20 various adapters for both to the last generation of the current stuff. Crazy!! About 2000 ft of random length Cat5 cables, RJ6 coaxial cable, and more RJ11 telephone wire than we can shake a stick at. Someone please explain to me why we have about a dozen more AV & component patch cords than we've ever had AV equipment? I swear, they breed in the closet when we're not watching! We paired all the electronics we're keeping with all the cables that go with them, and did the same for all the electronics we're recycling/donating/selling and we still have a milk crate full of random cables and connectors... but we're still missing a few we need. Maybe they fell prey to and were consumed by the AV component cables?!

We ended up with a paper recycle box bigger than the box of files to keep, and our shred box runneth over! I think I can actually take back one whole pack of the portable banker's boxes I bought to hold our files. Why on Earth did we feel it necessary to keep a McDonald's receipt from 2002? Even if we were going to be bold enough to use it as a tax-deductible business expense, why was it in with the equipment instruction booklets? Crazy!! Let's not even get started discussing all the random software booklets that don't have disks and vice versa.

Ugh!! So glad we're going through all this flotsam properly this time around. What crazy, paranoid hoarder gene was at work?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Food Processing Saga - Final Chapter?

OK - got the camera fixed, so I can now show you all the fun we had processing the bulk food into buckets. This was the order we got from Walton Feed, and everything came up to just over a ton and was delivered on two pallets by freight truck. The canned meats and dairy from Ready Depot didn't need to be processed since they were already in cans and cases. Too bad they were only a couple hundred pounds worth of food and were easily delivered by UPS. The mylar and the oxygen absorbers were also easily delivered by Fedex. The buckets came on a pallet by freight truck, but that was more because of the size that 84 empty pails and their lids takes up rather than because they're heavy... so the delivery driver had no problems taking the pallet into the carport for me.

See, we have these two pallets, weighing approximately 1000 lbs each. We live at the top of a hill, on a road that deadends at our property line with a steep driveway that slopes up perpendicular to the angle of the road. This does not make us particularly popular with delivery truck drivers! They can't turn around and back up easily, and they can't maneuver in line with the driveway, and they certainly can't back up the driveway without bottoming out. Even with the nifty hydraulic pallet-jack hand truck, the poor driver did not want to try to drag 1000 lbs up the driveway into the carport. I even offered to push from the bottom... no dice. So he just dropped them right there at the bottom of the driveway, in the sun, and left me to shift a ton of food uphill by myself. Joy!

Well, of course, delivery day had to be a rare sunny day in Seattle and actually fairly warm. I couldn't just leave all that food out in the sun and the heat; and I figured that if I could shift it up the hill into the carport, I might as well just take the last 30 feet into the house. Let me tell you, when almost everything on a pallet weighs at least 25 lbs and most of it weighs 50+, it's an endeavor of near-Herculean proportions for a 140 lb woman to lug it all uphill, in the heat, by herself! Have you ever tried opening a door when you're carrying a large 50-lb box of bouillon or bag of wheat? Yeah, not too easy. So I decided that I would carry as much as I could to the door, then carry it from the door into the living room before starting the whole process over again at the bottom of the driveway.

It took me 3 cycles to get everything up the hill and into the house. I had to take several breaks because I was sweating like a pig and I didn't want to bleed on the food from all the cuts and scrapes the boxes and bags were giving me. I figure I could have gotten it done faster without the breaks... but dehydration and blood loss sucks. Besides, shifting a ton of food in only 2-1/2 hours ain't too shabby (if I do say so myself). By the end, I could barely feel my arms and I had so many bruises that I looked like a junky. I couldn't even lift the last 4 boxes off the porch and resorted to flipping, kicking and sliding to get them into the living room. I admit it, I'm not too proud to cheat or beg or generally look pathetic... I let the UPS delivery guy who showed up with our clothing order help me move in the last 56 lb box.

(Note to self: buy a hand truck before doing this again!)

So here's what over a ton of food, 2/3 - 3/4 the recommended yearly supply for 2 adults, looks like when it's all stacked up in your living room. For reference, that window is 16 feet wide and 7 feet tall. The food actually took up more floor space than our queen-sized bed. You can see how tiny the meat and dairy is (on the right side of the picture) compared to all the bulk stuff. At this point, I was too pooped to pop and I was so dehydrated I looked like a salty raisin. Figured I'd done enough for the day and promptly passed out on the sofa until DH got home. At which point, I realized that I had dislocated both my elbows and my shoulder. Oh well, I'm double-jointed, they went back in easily enough with a little not-so-gentle persuasion.

I needed a day or two to recover from the initial hauling and needed help pouring all the bags into the buckets anyway, so we put off the processing until the weekend when DH was home. This was actually a tiny miscalculation on my part, which I'll explain later. We'd watched several YouTube videos on packaging food into buckets for storage with mylar liners. Gee, it didn't look that difficult. But, we soon discovered that there is a bit of a learning curve to the processing. First, how do you get a flat, square, stiff mylar sleeve into a round bucket without 1) cutting yourself, 2) poking your eye out on a corner, and 3) getting weird folds and crinkles in the mylar that reduces the storable volume in the bucket. And how do you do this when your arms (well, my arms) are about 1 inch shorter than the depth of the liner?

Next we discovered that pouring 25 lbs of beans into a bucket is easy and it fits; but pouring a 50 lb feed sack into a bucket is a whole other story. We learned that rye berries love to escape and refuse to go into the mylar liner, prefering the run free across the floor instead. We learned that big bags get floppy and it's really hard to control the flow... so we overfilled and spilled a few times before we used our brains and got scoops! We also learned that you don't really have a lot of time between chucking in the oxygen absorber and sealing the mylar, or else the O2 absorber losses it's uumfph. We were quickly reminded that haste makes waste when we'd sealed 10 bags before realizing that we'd forgotten to squish out as much air as possible first. Oooops! So we snipped off the corners, chucked in a new O2 absorber for peace of mind, squished out all the air and then resealed the corners. I only managed to burn DH's fingers with the iron 4 or 5 times, and get myself with melted mylar once (gotta keep that iron moving folks!).

Round about this time we realize that maybe we were doing this the wrong way. See, I didn't think about how we were really going to use this food. Unlike the survivalist folks who are stocking all their food away long term, we're actually intending to eat this food during the coming year while we're building our house. And, unlike the regular "home" food storage folks who can go to the store if they need something and can easily rotate smaller portions of canned goods or smaller buckets (and who have a refrigerator and a freezer), we're going to be roughing it out in the wood without (m)any conveniences and most of our food was dried and in large buckets.

Now, it didn't make sense to fill an entire bucket up with all one thing... as this would mean that we would have to keep unsealing the mylar liner, at least once a month, to scoop out usuable portions. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of sealing up the buckets in the first place. What we needed to be doing was prepacking the goods into sizes that we would use in a month, and then packing the mylar and buckets full of those bags in a monthly combo pack. So, off we went to Wally-World to buy their entire stock of vacuum seal food bags. We already had the vacuum sealer, we just knew we needed more bags than we had on hand. This was pretty expensive. In the future, since we know ahead of time, we'll order the generic industrial bags in bulk from a place like Goodman's at a substantial discount. The beans that we had already processed (twice!) would just have to suffer from our ignorance... at least they aren't particularly perishable. Of course, I could have ordered the vac-bags and started dividing and weighing while I was waiting for DH to help on the weekend. Doh! Hindsight is 20/20.

Some of the less perishable items, like salt, we just pre-packaged in convenient weights or volumes you'd find at a grocery store. Other more perishable items, or items we'd use less of, we packaged into pints/quarts or 1-2 lbs. This required some conversion calculation and hefty amounts of estimation because a lot of the food we have is dehydrated and/or powdered -- meaning their end weight/volume was much different than the amounts I was packaging. For instance, just a cup of tomato powder can make a quart of marinara sauce once it's reconstituted - same for powdered eggs, milk, shortening, peanut butter, etc. So it wouldn't make sense to pre-pack those in quart sizes if we couldn't use it all in a month. Also, powdered stuff is really hydrophilic, it loves to absorb water from the air and turn rock hard. This meant that we were either going to have a bunch of tiny vac-bags or we were going to have to pre-package our pre-packaging. So, yes, we have bouillon in cup-sized zipper bags inside a quart-sized vacuum-bag, inside a mylar bag, inside a bucket. Overkill?! Maybe. Better safe than sorry though.

But we did learn a few useful things. For sticky or clumpy things like brown sugar and powdered eggs an ice cream scoop with a flip-ejector-thingy works the best for scooping and bagging without dumping too much of it on yourself or being unable to get it out of the measuring cup. For fine powdered things like milk and instant potatoes, a large-mouth funnel (like you use in canning) is about the only way to fill the bags with minimal dust and minimal spillage. Inhaling tomato powder really sucks... "It burns us"! A lot of foods are really stinky when they are dehydrated and concentrated (don't stick your nose near the broccoli bag!). Cats find open bags of powdered dairy product infinitely fascinating. Never underestimate the usefulness of a proper food scale... we were using a baby scale that got to weigh the cats, definitely NOT the right tool for the job!

So, I spent about a week pre-packaging and repackaging; and finally, nine days after delivery, we had everything (except the cabbage, which mysteriously disappeared from the truck) all packaged up and ready to go. That's 66 six-gallon buckets worth of bulk foods, and several cases of #10 and #2.5 cans. Now we just have to get more fruit (nowhere near recommended amounts in that category), some nuts and snack/treat things that are quick to grab-and-go when the blood sugar tanks and you're too cold and hungry to cook a proper meal.

Now all we have to do is make sure that we're allowed to drive it all through Canada on the way up. Some sort of weight/volume restrictions on what's considered "personal use" and what's considered "distribution" blah blah blah. I hate customs and all their silly rules that seem to change every season. But, alas, that is a tale for another time....

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Food List

Having camera problems, so the entertaining post will have to wait. But I figured I would list out what we purchased for a year's worth of food for two adults. We used the LDS Food Storage Calculator as a baseline.

Real canned meat and dairy from ReadyDepot (my tummy doesn't like TVP or freeze-dried meat so much):
  • 1 - Yoders Chicken Chunks - case of 12 #2.5 cans (28oz each)
  • 1 - Yoders Turkey Chunks - case of 12 #2.5 cans (28oz each)
  • 1 - Yoders Beef Chunks - case of 12 #2.5 cans (28oz each)
  • 1 - Yoders Hamburger - case of 12 #2.5 cans (28oz each)
  • 1 - Yoders Pork Chunks - case of 12 #2.5 cans (28oz each)
  • 1 - Yoders Pork Sausage - case of 12 #2.5 cans (28oz each)
  • 1 - Yoders Bacon - case of 12/9oz cans
  • 1 - Red Feather Creamery Butter - case of 24/12oz cans
  • 1 - Bega Cheddar Cheese - case of 48/8oz cans

Dehydrated, dried, powdered and bulk was from Walton Feed

  • Dried Legumes (hard beans)
    • 1 - Beans-Black Turtle Beans 25# bag
    • 1 - Beans-Great Northern Beans 25# bag
    • 1 - Beans-Kidney Beans 25# bag
    • 1 - Beans-Lentils 25# bag
    • 1 - Beans-Pinto 25# bag
    • 1 - Beans-Small Red Beans 25# bag
    • 1 - Peas-Split Green 25# bag
    • 1 - Peas-Green Whole 25# bag (for soups and stews)
  • Grains (including breakfast cereal and pasta)
    • 1 - Barley-Pearl 25# bag
    • 1 - Buckwheat-Hulled 25# bag
    • 1 - Flax-Brown 25# bag
    • 1 - Millet-Hulled 50# bag
    • 1 - Rye-1 bushel 56# bag
    • 1 - Wheat-Hard Red Paper 50# bag
    • 1 - Corn-Whole Yellow dent 50# bag (for grinding)
    • 1 - Popcorn-Yellow 50# bag
    • 2 - Rice-White long 25# bag
    • 2 - Rice-Brown long 25# bag
    • 1 - Oats-Reg. Rolled 50# bag
    • 1 - Germade-Cream of Wheat 50# bag
    • 1 - Granola-Super Nutty 25# box
    • 1 - Pasta-Macaroni-Elbow 20# box
    • 1 - Pasta-Egg Noodle Med 10# box
    • 1 - Pasta-Spaghetti-10in long 20# box
  • Dehydrated Vegetables & Fruit
    • 1 - Celery slices-6 gal 8# bucket
    • 1 - Mushroom-Slices 6 #10 cans
    • 1 - Peppers-Mixed 6 #10 cans
    • 0 - Spinach-Flakes 6 #10 cans (they're sold out until Sept, so I'll have to re-order)
    • 1 - Beans-Green 35# box
    • 1 - Broccoli Florets-35# box
    • 1 - Corn-Super Sweet 50# box
    • 1 - Carrot-Dices 50# box
    • 1 - Cabbage, Flakes 35# box
    • 1 - Onion-Chopped 40# box
    • 1 - Peas-Garden Sweet 44# box
    • 1 - Potato-Dices 45# bag
    • 1 - Potato-Granules 50# bag
    • 1 - Tomato-Powder 55# box
    • 4 - Banana Slices 14# box
  • Dairy and Eggs
    • 1 - Eggs-Whole 50# box (about 1800 eggs)
    • 1 - Cheese-Blend Powder 50# bag
    • 1 - Sour Cream-Powder 6 #2.5 cans
    • 1 - Milk-Regular non fat 50# bag (makes about 63 gal)
    • 1 - Milk-Instant non fat 50# bag (makes about 65 gal)
  • Cooking Essentials & Misc
    • 1 - Peanut Butter-Powder 6 #10 cans
    • 1 - Shortening-Powder 6 #10 cans
    • 1 - Baking Powder-Rumford 80oz #10 can
    • 1 - Baking Soda 50# bag
    • 1 - Yeast-Saf instant 1 case 20 pkt
    • 1 - Salt-Iodized 25# bag (this is regular table salt)
    • 1 - Salt-Real Natural 25# bag (this is fully mineralized sea salt)
    • 2 - Sugar-White 25# bag
    • 1 - Sugar-Brown 50# bag
    • 1 - Honey-45# Grade A clover
    • 1 - Bouillon-Beef no MSG 50# bag
    • 1 - Bouillon-Chicken no MSG 50# bag
    • 1 - Imitation-Ham Flavored TVP 25# box (normally I hate TVP, but this works good in soups and baked beans)
    • 10 - Lids-Plastic for #10 cans
    • 10 - Lids-Plastic for #2.5 cans

We got our buckets from Container and Packaging Supply:

  • 72 - 6 gal white food-safe buckets
  • 24 - gamma seal lids (for things we'll open frequently)
  • 48 - regular gasketed lids (for things we don't have to open frequently)
  • 14 - 5 gal green buckets with lids (these are for our composting toilet)
  • 2 - lid lifter/bung nut openers (for opening buckets without damaging rims or fingers -- highly recommend!)

We got our mylar liners and oxygen absorbers from Sorbent Systems

  • 100 - 7.5 mil 20x30 foodgrade mylar liners for 5-6 gal buckets
  • 100 - 2000cc oxygen absorbers for 5-6 gal buckets

We're also ordering some bulk dried fruit, (edible) seeds, nuts and goodies from OhNuts; bulk spices from Penzey's; and will stock up on oils and condiments from Mega-Mart or Wally-World once we get to Fairbanks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Food That Never Ends!

I've been holding off posting our "Food Storage" entry until I was done processing all of it. Man, what an undertaking! Seems like all I've been doing for the past week is scooping, bagging, vacuum-sealing and bucketing food. We're on the home-stretch now, so I'll get a fully illustrated entry up soon and finally be able to get to work on the other pressing projects!

Eeeeek!! The clock is ticking down so quickly, and everything seems to be taking much longer than it should. Hopefully, that will turn around once the big projects are done, and all the little "wrap up" stuff will go much more quickly.

I think once the food is done and we can start loading boxes into the living room again, everything will go much faster. It is so easy to underestimate the extra hassles that will be created when you have boxes lined up in the hall and foyer, and you have to step around or over stuff everytime you need to do something. Seriously, I nearly burst my bladder the other day because I just didn't want to navigate the maze in the hallway.

I swear, I am soooo tired of stubbing my toes, skidding across the floor and tripping over stuff. Once the last lid gets snapped on those food buckets, it'll be time for a serious bout of cleaning and organizing. Then the real packing can commence!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Continuing tent adventures

After leaving the tent up for several days, wetting and drying, the shrinkage had finally stabilized. We were lucky, the frame didn't need to be cut down any more and the canvas fits snug enough not to flap much but not tight enough to put pressure on the seams. Yippee.

It was a lot easier to take her down than it was to put her up, and I managed to remove the canvas, dismantle the frame and fold her up (into a nice tidy bundle, thank you) all by my little lonesome. Of course, I needed DH to help me carry it back inside, but I made this simpler by rigging up a carry harness out of some spare hardware. I think it will be much simpler to put her back up next time now that we know what we're doing and have done it twice already! I think, other than actually picking it up and carrying it, one person could probably set her up with a little extra effort if they had to... good to know.

This weekend will be busy again... we got our "mega" food delivery and will need to process all that into vacuum bags and storage buckets. I'll share all the gorey details and pics once we're done!