Friday, July 21, 2017

Cleaning the Stovepipe again!

In an effort to overcome procrastination and prove to myself that I could still accomplish important chores around the homestead, I awoke a few days ago with the conviction that I would clean out our stovepipe before anything else.  It was a calm, warm, sunny day - no excuses!

As soon as Donna headed down the driveway I assembled my tools, and my son.

We removed everything from around the stove, then carefully removed the access cover from the side.

There was a layer of ash on the lip that I quickly vacuumed up and then moved on to taking before pictures up and down the chimney.

Jiggly camera, but you can still see the ash.
Looking down to the stove.
And looking up!
We put a thick plastic bag over the access, with the first pole of my cleaner sticking through and up.  I hooked up my drill and started my way up while Kenny held the vacuum as close to the hole as he could to catch dust and ash.

We worked our way up and down, and then I stuck the cleaner down the access to the back of the stove.

Finally I opened up the bottom of the stove and vacuumed all the ash that had fallen.  It filled the vacuum a little more than halfway.  Great!

The pile of ash in the stove.

Vacuuming up the mess.
It looks to me like it wasn't too bad - I don't see any tarry substance that could be called creosote in my pictures.

Much cleaner!
The local fire chief mentioned that it looks like there was air leaking into the stovepipe based on the lack of ash in the one area - not sure how I can better seal my access?  Thoughts?

Disposable gloves are SO nice for cleanup!

All back together!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Yurts are in a Better Place...

After sheltering us for 18 months, and then serving briefly as guest accommodations, workshop, storage space, and a dojo, the yurts have moved on to a new life - and an exciting one!

Early (nine am?) Friday morning, two weeks past now, the local Forest school and a great group of volunteers showed up to move both yurts, as well as their floors and supports five minutes down the road to a beautiful location close to Surprise Lake.

It was exciting, as well as a bit unnerving.  My primary concern was that no one would be injured.  I remembered how I felt when it was just Grandpa and myself putting up the ring and locking the whole system into place.  It was much nicer to have a crew of brave souls!

It took one day to remove the yurts, and a further (easy) day to remove the floors.

Starting to empty the yurts.

Pulling down the felt and canvas.

Feels so open!  Like a gazebo!
Puzzling over the chimney.

Looks really interesting this way.

Removing the canvas on the smaller yurt.
Everyone pitched in to clean and remove stuff!

Ready to remove the ring on the smaller yurt.
Felt on the larger yurt sliding off.

Down to just the skeleton of the large yurt now.
Many hands make light work!
Moving the floors through the forest to their new home was quite an adventure!  Unfortunately, I didn't have a photographer present for that excitement.

Hide and seek?  Shy?  No flash photography?  I can't explain this picture.
Covering up the floors for overnight.
Removing the OSB over the seams to let us cut them apart.

Loading up!
Lots of helpers make it go much more safely and smoothly.

Loading up the support beams as well.

And now - a new space!

As of this morning the floors have been leveled and installed in their new home, and I'm still on call to help the yurts to be put up in their new surroundings.

We are so glad they have gone to a good home and good purpose!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Super Easy, Portable Raised Garden Beds

One of the projects that we really wanted to do when we first took up the notion of homesteading was to produce a portion of our own food.  So far we've not really pursued this aspect of things, especially with so much to do to simply construct the homestead itself!

I have no illusions that food in the grocery store is generally any better or worse than what we ourselves could produce, contrary to what some back-to-the-landers may think, but there is a sense of accomplishment there - and perhaps even a penny to be saved?

Since the installation of the new well, the space between the cabin and the sauna has been pretty desolate.  So much so that last season I began to consider it more of a "rock garden" than even wild/natural terrain.  I also had a stack of pretty weathered two by fours that were not going to be used for anything, and realized that my old battery box would have been an ideal planter - light bulb moment!

Over the past week, Kenny and I have cut the two by fours down to four foot lengths.  Then I have notched them top and bottom to create a two inch wide notch, one inch deep.  This lets them connect together in exactly the same manner as the sauna and cabin.

You can see a bit of newspaper peeking out.
At four feet long, they are very manageable to take down and put up.  It also creates an interior dimension of exactly three by three - very easy to keep weeded and yet still plant a decent amount of stuff.

You can see multiple beds!  I can imagine them heading off into the distance.
After assembling three of the beds, as per Kenny's request that we all get one, we lay newspaper down to help discourage weeds, and then piled on two trailer loads from our old humanure pile - the compost in there has been percolating for close to two years now, and so should be free from pathogens.

Lots of space for the ATV.
I do plan on amending that by adding potting or topsoil on top of that.  I realize too that it's late in the season, but better late than never, and we still could probably get some lettuce or radishes to keep Kenny enthused.

So far today he has transplanted some of the weedy flowers in the area into his bed.  Hopefully tomorrow I can purchase some soil to add to my and Donna's beds.

I am hopeful for how they will work out.  I have kept them far enough apart to get the ATV in between with the trailer.  I also left the top board notched, so they can be added to vertically if we decide we don't wish to bend over quite so far in the future.

Hopefully future pictures are to come!

Bonus cute toad picture.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dark Skies (our video game)

I'm not sure if I've talked a whole lot about it in the past, but we have always been homeschooling/unschooling Kenny here on the homestead.  When we're focused on lessons, we probably consider ourselves homeschoolers.  When we get distracted and let things ride, then I consider us unschoolers.

As such, I do try to get him to regularly open up test books appropriate to his age (well, truth be told, I generally push him to participate in grade levels that would reflect where he'd be if he had been born five days earlier than he actually was.)

But after he completes a lesson, he is free to spend the rest of the day as he wishes with only a few rules.  One of which is that he is not to be on a screen unless he is producing, not consuming.  This means he can't play games or watch videos, but he could be coding his own stuff or producing music or art.

This has worked well for us.  He's self-limiting.  After awhile he usually asks me to go for a walk with him up and down our driveway, then we slip down to the pond to check on the fish, or just chat about outdoor stuff.

After 4 p.m., if he has a few simple chores completed, he can return to videos or games (usually both are Minecraft related, but not always).

In any case, I'm proud of how creative he has been with his time.  At the moment he is writing up a story about some sort of future project - he's already asked me how to spell "virus" and "causes" and "certain"...  My mind is really going now!

For the past number of years, one of his big interests has been stop-motion animation using various models.  If anyone is interested, they can find his channel here:

As always, please rate, comment and subscribe!  :)

The past year or two now, he's also been obsessed with making his own video games - Ever since Mr. Harbron from P1XL studios  ever so kindly taught a group of homeschoolers how to use Scratch.

The past year, I've been trying to help encourage him by dusting off my own coding experiences and bringing them up to date.  I've dabbled in Java, GML and a few others.

We really enjoyed the puzzle/mystery/adventure genre, and so we thought that would be a good place to start.

After doing some basic work establishing that we could create a workable inventory and switch between different scenes, we set to work - Kenny designing most of the puzzles, all of the artwork (hand-drawn and then scanned in), and composing the music either through stringing together clips on the computer and then running them through all sorts of effects, or playing it directly on our keyboard while I used a pair of earbuds as a microphone to record with as little background noise as possible.

So much artwork went into this project!  It was a real grind by the end.

We had to buy a couple of packs of markers to get this finished, but the sense of accomplishment was worth it.

And a few days ago, we were beside ourselves to finally release the game to the public!  You can try it out here:

Please give it a go if you like; it's browser-based so it should work for most anyone.  It does take a few minutes to load all the assets, even after the main screen appears, so wait until you hear music before spending too much time clicking on the buttons.

We'd love to hear feedback (gentle please).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Pizza Hash Brown Casserole

Kenny was having a bit of a tough few moments this afternoon, thinking about a stressful (to him) event coming up later this week.

As a fellow sufferer of panic attacks and extreme anxiety, I wanted to help him out using one of the go-to tools in my arsenal - distraction.

I asked him to come downstairs, cuddled with him and reassured him for a few moments, then hopped up and decided to continue doing dishes, while getting him to put together our supper for tonight.

First up I had him grease the slow cooker pot with some grapeseed oil, although I gave him the option to use peanut if he'd prefer, but he didn't think it made a difference.

Then he dumped in the hash browns.

Frozen hash browns as the base.
Next, some salsa.

Mama's favourite condiment - SALSA!
Followed by nacho cheese dip.  About half of the smaller jar.  The rest gets set aside for real dipping of nachos.

Nacho cheese.  A guilty pleasure for our whole household.
I suggested lots of mozarella cheese, as well as the last of some plain yogurt we had.  Then pepperoni and some spices (including nacho cheese popcorn spice).

Now we're getting somewhere!
Kenny mixed it all together and was ready to smile for the camera by this point.

Feeling better now that he's on a mission.  :)
Then he took the camera to take a picture of me checking the computer, as well as a picture of my butt.

At first I wondered about the physics of this position, then realized I had my other leg extended out behind me.
I asked him to cover up the casserole with more mozarella - I told him to pretend the dish was poo in the toilet, and the cheese was sawdust - I wanted a good blanket!

A good amount of cheese.  Has anyone EVER said "Oh, this dish has too much cheese"?!
He then set up the cooker, and put the pot into it on low.

Like lobsters in the pot!  Note the extra cheese on Aunt Vicki's placemat.  Daddy can clean that up.
Talk about some real-world applied knowledge!  We often bake together, but this was one of the first meals he's helped with that didn't use any measurements.

Cook faster you slow cooker!
So hungry now!

Minutes before the bowl was empty - it was FANTASTIC!!!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Starting to Trim Some Windows

My excitement to post this is tempered with the fact that I didn't tell Donna I had done the work, and she took an extended sauna last night, and didn't even notice the change!

In any case, after working on the aeration of the pond and well, I really wanted to at least make a start on trim work around the homestead, something I've left on the back burner.

I decided to begin in the sauna, and test out some thoughts there.

First up I put some sill gasket all the way around - I thought that this may seal up any slight leaks.  Sober second thought makes me think that caulking the seams under the trim may be a better use of my time though.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
And some more.
Then I put on the outer trim all around.  I used simple butt joints here - I don't mind the look of them.  I only tacked this up with a few brad nails - I have something more substantial in mind as the project progresses.
The first board.
Then I used a slightly thinner, narrower and more finished fence board to put in a sill.

I continued to use the fence boards to trim around - instead of having the outer trim cover the edge of the casing, I instead had the casing extend out from the trim slightly (by measuring around the window depth all the way around and basing my width on the deepest spot).  I'm hoping that this will hide the fact that my log walls are quite wavy in places.

Of course, I didn't think completely ahead and ended up one board short for my first experiment.

And one board short.  Note the dark area on the wall where I always end up leaning when taking steam.
Due to this, I went outside and removed one of the original outer trim boards to begin thinking about the outside trim as well.  That's when I really decided that caulking was the best tool for the job, and I couldn't find my caulk or the gun.

And outside.  You can see where steam has escaped over the years due to lack of good seal.  We'll see how it goes in future.
I'll try to post updates as the work progresses.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Improving the Aeration of my Goldfish Pond

Stunning as the survival of two goldfish was this past winter, I still would like to believe that we can keep this up going forward.

I purchased a dozen new fish to add to our pond a couple weeks ago, although within the first hour we lost one, and the next day, found another floating belly up.

The remainders dove deep and only in the past few days have we begun seeing them poking around at the edges of the pond.

Today was a lovely, sunny day, so I decided to finally make use of the spare solar panel and pump aerator I had purchased in the fall (but which arrived too late to be able to install).

Previously at our well, I had put the pump inside a small plastic box.  This time I decided to be more frugal and pulled out the jar and lid from a recent nacho cheese indulgence.  These actually appear as though they may work even better.

Mmmm, Nacho Cheese.
I was able to drill a nice sized hole through the lid.

Next time I should clamp the lid before I drill.
Then, used my needlenose pliers to fold over the edge so it wasn't in danger of abrading the power cable or air hose.

Making sure the edges aren't too abrasive.
I inserted the pump and screwed the lid on tight.  It looked really great!

Looks pretty good to me actually.
We took it down to the pond and dropped it in - it worked really well - I placed the aeration stone under the existing trough, to keep all the disturbance in the pond in one specific place.

Bubbling like mad!
I simply laid the solar panel on a nearby rock, and then decided to waterproof the connection between the solar panel and the pump.

Nothing too fancy, tried to tuck the jar down between the rocks.
A simple way of waterproofing the contacts.
This worked so well, I sanded the contacts of the pump and panel at the well, and then did the same hot glue waterproofing there.

Added some water sealant to the entry point of the air hose as well.
These contacts were in rough shape after the winter - I sanded them for better conduction before waterproofing.
I was really tickled with how well it all turned out!  It will be interesting to see just how long the aerator is able to keep a bit of the pond ice free for longer - and if there is a commensurate increase in fish survival.

Stay tuned!