Saturday, September 25, 2010

Back from Fairbanks

Extremely productive shopping excursion.

We ordered our new stove - the Harman Oakwood non-catalytic high-efficiency woodstove with grill (for the stovetop oven box) and two warming shelves. It had to be ordered from Anchorage, but should be here in a couple of weeks. It's rated for 2000 sq ft, which should be enough to keep us toasty in our sub-arctic 800 sq ft with over 3 cu. ft of firebox, and extended burn times of 12+ hours means we might even get some sleep this winter :)  Harman switched their vendors, so we got it through Northern Wholesale; but still picked up our Excel insulated stainless-steel chimney and through-roof kit from The Woodway, and will re-use the telescoping ULTRABlack double-wall flue pipe we got from them for the tent last winter.

We also ordered our windows and doors, shingles, gutters and Thermo-Kool blown cellulose insulation from Lowe's. They're even going to deliver it all for a reasonable flat fee. Even if we don't get things finished up enough to actually blow in the insulation before winter, we can at least stack the bales up along the walls, right?! And we still have all the 3" foam from the tent so we can put that on the ceiling/roof to keep from losing all our heat. It's not optimal, but will be a whole lot warmer than nothing or doing the tent again. Let's just pray that we get framed and sheathed before the heavy snow and deep cold! Everything else can wait if necessary since we bought the mother of all heavy-duty tarps to throw over the roof just in case :)  No shingling when it's so cold they'll crack when you nail them down.

We also got the ABS/Speedo sensor for the rear differential on the truck. Gene's was too busy to fit us in for an appointment with the service center, so we just got the part and will replace it ourselves. But it was a total thrill to drive in, all around the city, and back with the ABS/Brake warning on and a non-functional speedo & odometer! I'm just happy that they actually had the part in stock and it wasn't something that needed to be special ordered.

We also put in our winter pet food order at Alaska Feed and that should be ready to be picked up in a couple of weeks as well. Bulk orders are wickedly awesome, and Steve really helped work with us to get the best price to feed our critters for 6 months :)

Settled everything up with Northland Wood for the replacements order and all the damaged supplies that we ended up keeping instead of returning. Justin totally rocked and spent the time factoring in all the price changes between the purchase and now, so we barely owed them anything in the end :)  One day he'll actually get to make a delivery out here himself, probably when we get the lumber for the barn... he was so bummed that he couldn't bring this last order.

As usual, we stopped in to chat with Daniel at Six Robblees and picked up some heavy duty ratchet straps so maybe I won't get crushed by anymore lumber shifting on the trailer :)  And swung by The Prospector to find me a decent pair of real winter gloves since I sort of melted/torched mine last year fidgeting with the charcoal chimney under the oil pan trying to thaw the truck out.

We also stopped in to talk with Roger as ABS Alaskan to discuss replacing the batteries in our power system since the refurbs we bought last year are slowly ending their useful life (if I have to hear that inverter beep at me one more time I'm shooting it!!).  With any luck he'll put us together a decent set of new or refurbed batteries that will give us 900 amp hours just a little more consistently. May end up replacing the 12v sealed lead acids we have now with some 2V deep cycles. They cost a little more, but you get more power longer and they're more reliable. We'll see what Roger comes up with for us.

So we're back home, unloading our groceries and assorted goodies and then we'll head up to the road and grab some more of our firewood that Mike's delivered.  Ripley mostly minded her manners staying with Ken & Sarah, although she did teach their 3 boys how to escape the fenced yard. Since Diesel, Dozer and Tank are all older than the Ripster, I think they were really happy to have her go home... she just has more energy than they can handle for an extended stay. She's making us feel guilty about abandoning her, and refusing to eat at the moment, but otherwise no worse for the wear. Charlie seems to have forgiven us for the truck ride and the hotel stay, but probably not for bringing the dog home us when we got back LOL!

So, we should have everything we need and all our winter stock in by Halloween which is normally our "drop dead" date for winter conditions around here.  If we get a move on, we may even have a shell of a cabin ready to go... please please please!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Still Alive

The weather's been clear this week so we've been busy.  No additional building yet, but we have managed to get the majority of our building materials back to the cabin site with the help of one of our neighbors, Ken, and the use of his 18' trailer. You'd think we'd be farther ahead with all the good fortune, but I managed to get my hand crushed between two stacks of siding and lumber when the load on the trailer shift so I've been of limited assistance. Coupled with it being moose season and the few families up here having to go on patrol for some non-local (city) hunters doing some stuff they shouldn't have been like trespassing, shooting in a residential area and shooting from the road.

Anyway, we're headed up to Fairbanks to get stuff like doors, windows and our new stove (if it's in yet), and order some stuff for the big winter stock-up. Also want to get the truck looked at by the guys at Gene's Dodge because the ABS/Check Brakes light keeps coming on after we fixed the brake line and hauled all that lumber through the woods on the trailer (definitely got close to exceding tongue-weight on the tow hitch a few times!).  We think the sensor has just gone bye-bye because there's fluid, the brakes work fine, and none of the other things attached to that sensor are working either (woohoo - no speedo and no odometer!).

And, of course, it's time to do laundry again and wash up all the summer clothes and bedding to be stored for winter. It's been rather chilly at night lately, down below freezing with hard frost every morning. Winter is around the corner.  The Weather Liars say we'll get snow next week, and we already have Termination Dust on the higher hills. It's pretty though with all the Apsens turning gold and the Birches turning blood-red... of course, Ripley must bark at the falling leaves because they are totally a huge threat LOL!  But we have at least 3 cords of our firewood delivered, probably more by the time we get back... and we'll have to start hauling that down to the cabin site as well.  Mike was willing to come out from Manley to deliver it, but he sure wasn't coming down our trail to get it to the house... it's sitting up closer to the highway pretty much right where we had our lumber stored.  Bunch of big babies, I tell ya... the trail isn't that bad (especially not after we "widened" it with Ken's trailer LOL)

When we get back from Fairbanks we'll be able to get cracking on the cabin, so it should go pretty quickly. Especially if we hire Ken to come ply his carpentry skills and backhoe from time to time when we're stuck. At least we solved the problem of how to get the 24-foot 500 lb header beams 10 feet in the air on top of their posts. And, super bonus, Ken can also load all the heavy-ass drywall and rafters into the upstairs from the endwall with his tractor since there's no structural framing on that wall and we can leave it open until the very end if necessary.  I knew there was more than one reason why I electe to post frame this cabin rather than stick framing it :)  No way was I going to be able to haul 12' drywall up a ladder... heck I couldn't even carry more than a few feet on level ground!  I have no idea what I was thinking getting 12' drywall... idiot! I should know better.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mystery Meals

This is becoming quite the habit here in our household... we get some random bit of fresh food and have to piece together a meal from whatever is handy in our stored foods. It's not like we can just pop over to the
store and pick up one or two things that would make a certain recipe... you have to improvise.

Yesterday was a huge slab of salmon that one of our neighbors gave us. We snacked a bit on the thickest part shashimi-style with a little soy sauce and wasabi, but the main portion G pan-seared with some garlic, dill and ginger and then lightly poached. Served on top of a psuedo rice pilaf thrown together with brown rice boiled with some rehydrated bell pepper, onion and carrots.  Absolutely delicious!

Today we got a huge cabbage. Actually, half of a huge cabbage that our other neigbors split with us. Really, what else can you do with a cabbage that is twice the size of your head?!  So I'm digging around trying to think what the heck I can make with all this cabbage considering that we haven't been to the store in a while.  Well, we do have a few cans of corned beef, but corned beef and cabbage is better with a brisket. We have a bunch of potatoes, I could make colcannon, if only we had more onions (those dehydrated onions never really get soft enough to mash properly!). Hmmm, what to make, what to make??  G said he had a hankering for chinese...boy, that did not really narrow it down much :)  So I ended up making a sort of sweet-n-sour pork and cabbage with some canned pork chunks, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar (we're out of rice vinegar), a sprinkling of sugar, the last of our fresh garlic, a few pinches of red pepper flakes, a squirt of wasabi paste, and a few dashes of curry and ginger powder.

Not too shabby for a storage pantry meal at the last minute! It might not be served in a 5-star restaurant, but I think even Gordon Ramsey would appreciate it as Alaska Bush haute cuisine... or at least not gag and spit it out on the floor while swearing at me for being a complete gibbon! LOL

Cabin Building - Days 16 to 21

It's basically been pouring off and on since we got the first beam up. After zapping myself on the generator and the drill, we decided to wait out the wet instead of trying to work between showers. Finally got two days with almost no rain, so we finally have both sill beams up, with the first two joists installed, and everything is about as plumb, level and square as we can reasonably make it. I think we can live with a 1/2" tolerance over 24'  :)

As you can see, it's sturdy and stable :)

The truck brake line finally came in, but they neglected to send the flaring tool with the rest of bits in the box.  Arrrrgg.  We borrowed one from a neighbor, but it's not the right one for stainless steel line; will try another neighbor tomorrow... and if he doesn't have the right tool for it, I can always pay him to haul the truck into Fairbanks on a flat-bed behind his big-rig. What a PITA.  Still hoping to have the truck fixed this weekend before the last load of building supplies get delivered on Monday.

And for your viewing pleasure, here's a little taste of our day -- at least the end of every work day :)  You might need a barf bag, though -- hahahahaha

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cabin Building - Day 14 & 15

Spent two days attempting to drill out 8" deep holes in the concrete piers and 2" x 6" holes in the beam to set the leveling screw jacks and get the sill beam installed for the east wall.

Pardon the jumpy video, my poor narration, and utter lack of English language skills! It was raining, I was freezing and Ripley kept trying to play (i.e. knock mommy over and eat the camera).

Concrete sucks to drill through and it takes forever!!  I recommend anyone attempting a similar foundation should set your bolts into the concrete while it's curing... soooo much easier!  Boring large holes in beams also sucks when you're doing it with a spade bit and a chisel... if you can find and afford one, a large ship's auger would have been much easier.

A tip with the Ellis jacks: put the bored-out beam on top of the assembled jacks once they're attached to the pier and then wind up and attach the top plates to the beam from the underside. That beam is friggin' heavy and kept wanting to tip over sideways, which made it nearly impossible to thread the screw into the plate when it was already attached to the beam.  We'll do better on the second beam.

But at least we have our first sill beam completed and attached to the piers... and it's LEVEL!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Sh*t Don't Stink...

... or Surviving a Bucket Toilet

It's been a little over a year since we moved to our tent in the woods, and one thing lots of people asked us was whether we were going to put in septic or just have an outhouse.  Well, we opted for neither. Instead, we chose to build our own composting toilet from 6 gallon plastic buckets and some plywood.  This way, we weren't wasting perfectly good water we needed elsewhere on a flush toilet, nor did we have to expend significant amounts of labor excavating a pit for a tank or a latrine through permafrost.

Outhouses are the norm out here, but I was concerned about the higher pathogen levels occuring with anaeorbic digestion in pit latrines and those pathogens possibly leaching out of the pit and contaminating my water supply. Soil temps are fairly low here, too, so decomposition can take a very long time. How long before that pit filled up and I needed to dig another and skid the outhouse over there? How long would the ground over and around the old pit be "contaminated" and unusable? I also didn't relish the thought of donning 18 layers of clothes and finding a flashlight to go potty in the middle of an Alaskan winter night (been there, one that, burned the shirt!).

So, how was our first year with the poo bucket? What did we learn? What would we improve?
  1. Only wet poo stinks. If you avoid peeing in the poo bucket, a handful or two of cover material on top renders most odors null ** (see "If you're sick)"
  2. A "dry" poo bucket also mean there is less risk of sloshing muck down your leg when you're carrying it out to the dung heap. Think about it...
  3. A "dry" poo bucket might be a little harder to clean out, since stuff sorta sticks and smears on the sides... a good cover material helps, but a quick splash and scrub of rain or grey water with a little dish soap and a toilet brush does the trick. It's not like these buckets need to sterile or anything!
  4. Good cover material for us turned out to be a mixture of dried used coffee grounds, chainsaw dust, fine wood shavings, and shredded spruce slash (twigs with needles). The spruce slash in the mix acts as a natural "air freshener" and keeps the potty area smelling nice and woodsy.
  5. We never had a problem with flies in the bucket or in the tent... keeping deposits covered and the lid down really works.
  6. 6 gallons of poo is heavy, and having a "deposit" stick up and poke you in the hiney is not pleasant... empty the bucket before it gets over 3/4 full!
  7. Keep your poo bucket in the coolest area of your house. Odors aren't usually a problem, not even in summer, but having a slightly chilly tush is preferable to baking turds near the woodstove! I'm just saying...
  8. When you're sick, consider emptying the poo bucket every day or so since the high liquid content in diarrhea can get the bucket smelling really funky pretty fast. Also, frequent emptying helps reduce the risk of whatever crud you've got hanging around and spreading to the rest of the population... this is the only time I "disinfect" the buckets with a weak bleach or ammonia solution.
  9. If you have dogs, I strongly recommend putting a fence around your dung heap. Dogs are curious critters and known for eating things that aren't quite savory to us humans... avoid poopy feet and poopy breath with some polywire fencing (electrified if your dog is a touch on the slow side).
  10. Super-soft and super-strong toilet paper doesn't compost well at all (although it does create a mighty conflagaration in the woodstove!) I don't know what they do that stuff, but we quickly switched to plain old regular quilted 2-ply and that disappears much faster. Don't think we need to spend extra on the "green" biodegradable TP either.
  11. If you're an OCD "check your poo for health" type of person, be aware that this can be pretty difficult to do in the bucket, especially if you're not under electric lights. The poo isn't sitting pretty all by itself in its own private watery grave... you'll have to get used to it.
  12. If you're poo-shy and tend to hide that you're going or that you've been... well, you're going to have to learn to deal with the fact that whoever shares your bucket with you will, at some point, see your poo even if you compulsively put your cat to shame covering it up with your "flush" materials.
So, that's our experience with the bucket loo... cheap and cheerful. Definitely a Two Thumbs Up!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cabin Building - Day 13

eeek!!  It's a Friday and our 13th building day... does that count as a Friday the 13th? Should we be expecting Jason Voorhees and his machete any minute now?!?!

Anyway...  We now have both sill beams built. Yay!

True to form, it started raining right when we were nailing in the last lamination. And all those tubes of adhesive that wet during the last rain?? Yeah, a few tubes exploded during use and oozed glue everywhere... my gloves are now a modern sculpture; but hey, I sure had a good strong grip on the beam for awhile there!

Also, par for the course, we realized that, not only are the corner piers 2+ inches too far out N-S, but the entire side is too far out by 6 inches E-W resulting in 16'6" instead of 16' to the outer edges.  This happened because we poured the pads and piers centered on the strings, not inside the strings... oops. S'OK though, we know how to lever them now and should be able to get them moved, everything squared up and marked so we can install the jacks on the piers tomorrow.

If we still have any energy after that, we'll auger out the 2" travel path for the jack screw and mortise out the jack plate seats and actually get the beams permanently attached to the piers. With the outer two joists in place to firm everything up so we can double/triple/quadruple check that it's all square, level and plumb.... and all the correct distances and lengths :)

The replacement brake lines still didn't come in the mail today.  There's been some sort of no-fly advisory the past couple of days, so our mail plane can't get here.  We can probably take all the wall posts down on the ATV in two trips without  harming it any more, but no way can we risk getting the rest of the 16-foot joists back until it's fixed. Ideally, we'd want to wait until the truck is fixed because that would be a million times faster and safer.

Don't know if I want to attempt putting up the wall posts until more of the joists are installed. So we might just build the first of the header beams after we finish up setting the sill beams, or maybe spend the day replacing the boots on the ATV and pray that we get mail on Monday Tuesday (forgot about Labor Day) and the brake lines are in it!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cabin Building - Day Twelve

No progress...  game called on account of rain and injuries :(

Will run into the village tomorrow morning to check mail... hopefully the brake parts will be in so we can have the truck back in working condition this weekend. Especially since we're going to need to get into Fairbanks pretty soon for more supplies and to start our major winter stocking up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cabin Building - Day Eleven

We got the first sill beam built-up. Yay!!  Figured we'd do one to start, get a hang of what we're doing, then make the other sill beam and the two matching header beams. I've got pics, but left the camera at the build site... seriously need to put a beeper on that thing!!

Ok, so our beams are built up with three laminations of 2x12 lumber. The center lamination is three 8' boards butted end to end.  Since you don't want the joints in a built-up beam closer than 16 inches, we cut the third board in each of the outer laminations into a 3' section and a 5' section and then alternated them so none of the joints in any laminations are aligned.  1st: 3-8-8-5; 2nd: 8-8-8; 3rd: 5-8-8-3.  After dry fitting them to figure out the cupping and bowing, we ran a bead of construction adhesive between the layers, pre-drilled pilot holes, and spiked them together with two rows of 40d (5") spikes alternating front-back, top-bottom, so there's a nail every 16". 

We made sure that the top edges were straight and flush, but the bottom surfaces are totally haphazard since each board is a slightly different dimension. It's only important that the bottom be flush right where it rests on the plate for the leveling jack, so we'll have to chisel/plane/shave that section out when it comes time to mount them.  But the beam seems pretty solid and should get even less wiggly/bouncy once the adhesive cures and we actually bolt it to the jacks and piers.

We did find a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty little issue when we laid the beam on top of the piers to mark where the jack plates needed to be mortised...   After all our painstaking survey work, we forgot that we needed to inset the outside piers so that the edge was on the X, not the center... so the outer piers were 2.5 inches out which would have put the jack and beam resting on the edge of the pier rather than in center. This could have eventually resulted in catastrophic pier failure since the load on the concrete would have been uneven. The piers needed to be move in so the load would carry in a straight path all the way down the centers.

We had a huge argument about this... I won. This is were we got a small break from the universe because our pads and piers had to be on the surface because of the permafrost... if they'd been dug in, we wouldn't have been able to move them.  So we got out our steel diggy-bar, wedged it under the outer edge of the pad and levered the whole assembly in until it lined up. This took a couple tries. G got increasingly frustrated with the whole thing, and with me especially for insisting that we at least stay within 1" tolerances. During one fine-tuning, he hefted the beam by himself, which was unfortunate since it twisted and went crashing down his shin (the same one he messed up last winter on the evil hidden tree stump). More fighting ensued at this point, but we did move the second pier in as well. Luckily, the inner two piers are bang-on and can stay put :)

I have to give G snaps though, this beam is extremely heavy and there is no way I could even begin to move or lift it on my own without the help of jacks, pulleys and levers.  He just needs to remember to wait a second so I can grab the other end to stabilize it.  At least I'm not a total weakling and can actually lift and move my end to make adjustments, which is no small feat for my tiny 5'6" female self, considering the beam has to weigh at least a quarter ton!

Anyway, we got the piers realigned without further incident or injury, and G hobbled off to rest while I cleaned up. When we got home, I iced his leg, set him up with some Aleve and made dinner in penance ;)

Tomorrow we can *carefuly* move the beam to install the jacks, and then permanently attach it so it'll be safer. Then we can start on the second beam, which should go much faster since we know what we're doing now. Still have to move the other piers, but at least this time it's not a surprise that we end up doing at the end when we're already tired. We may still end up with a little fiddling to get the whole thing square once we put in the edge joists, but at least we'll be as close to square/plumb/level as you can get in the bush with an inexperienced two-person crew and only about half the proper tools and equipment needed ;)