Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Moon Illusion

The other morning as I was walking from the sawmill back towards the cabin, I couldn't believe how large the moon looked just above the roofline.  I snapped what would surely be an awesome picture, only to find this...

Doesn't the moon look huge?!
So what's the deal?  It was huge in my eye, but tiny in the camera?!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Humanure Hacienda Maintenance

It's really, really surprising the difference in volume of the compost pile during the winter as compared to the summer.  Last March already I was hefting the buckets well over my head to be able to get them piled on top of the existing material.  I didn't switch to the other side, and just continued piling, but then the spring arrived, the pile began to shrink, and then accelerated, and now we've spent the entire summer STILL piling on the same side of the hacienda and yet the pile is currently about three quarters of the way full.

Pragmatically though, I know that all good things must come to an end, so the other nice day, I mucked out the opposite side of the structure to ensure space this coming winter.

Backing in the ATV gets easier each time.

Making a good dent in the old pile.

You can see that the pile that was overflowing in March is still quite manageable in October.
Donna was accepting of me putting the old compost down at the start of the ravine, where things have gotten very mucky this year due to much increased traffic in that spot as I now use it as a turnaround for the ATV and trailer.

We also discussed the hacienda a bit, and I think we agree the upcoming plan for it would include putting a roof over the top of both sides to keep some of the snow out.  This would hopefully keep the pile from increasing in volume quite as quickly in winter - I believe that we are actually preserving quite a bit of snow by covering it in layers of sawdust until the summer sun can finally penetrate deep into things.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

First World Woodstove Problems

On a whim last week we purchased a 14" pre-made pizza at the store to bake next time we ran the stove at the supper hour.

I popped it onto our cast iron flat frying pan, and was chagrined to see that our oven is probably only about 13" wide.

I ended up creating two extra bread sticks to make things work out.  Oh well, I had some caesar salad dressing that I used as a dip and it was great!

Fits like a glove now!

Extra treats for Daddy, who DIDN'T need them!
I also got to eat most of the pizza, as there were a few hot banana peppers on it, and when Kenny hit one, he aborted his whole meal.

Live and learn - not only do I have to remember to avoid oversize foods in the oven, I also have to tell myself not to eat three quarters of a pizza (and some pumpkin pie later in the evening) if I want to have a restful sleep with fewer bellyaches.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Greenest Frog Ever!

Found this amazing fellow on the driveway the other day.  Not sure why he wasn't hanging out in the trees where he'd blend in better, but we were happy to make his acquaintance!

Gorgeous colours!

A little encouragement to hop into the greenery.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Kenny Attacked by Venomous Snake!

While clearing brush around the woodshed, we must have disturbed this fearless and ferocious fellow!  Kenny tried to come in for a closer look and was very nearly set upon!

You can feel the anger!
Luckily the strike of this venomous reptile fell a little short, and we quickly released him back into the undergrowth to go harass some other creatures before finding a place to hunker down for the winter.

Uh oh, is he eyeing me now?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

In Which I Disappoint Grandpa by Felling a Tree the Wrong Way

Whelp, as I've mentioned a few times already, I've been working hard at clearing away brush and superfluous trees from the woodshed and cabin.

A couple weeks ago, I was working close to the woodshed and managed to clear out space around two trees that were growing nearly right against one another.  They probably were a single tree sharing a root system...

Due to the fact they were so close together while growing, all the branches on each were missing from the side against their partner.  I like this feature when cutting them up, as it means that I only have to go down one side of the trunk to remove the side branches.  As with anything though, the law of unforeseen (admittedly, not unforeseeable) consequences comes consistently into play.

The branches on the tree I was cutting down were all about ninety degrees to the direction my wedge cut was pointing.  The tree as it fell decided to "split the difference" and fell at a 45 degree angle.  Completely missing two other tall trees that I was certain would have acted as guidance in the event that it didn't fall as I wanted.  Instead, as if pulled by a magnetic force, or Murphy's Law, the tree came down directly on the end of the woodshed itself.

Harder to do a better hit if I had aimed it!  Note the uneven load of branches.
Kenny was safely ensconced on the cabin porch, as I don't permit him to be closer than a radius of twice the height of whatever trees I may be cutting, but even so, I asked him to go back into the cabin as I needed to say some things out loud that I'd rather he not hear.

I'm just pleased I was able to winch it off with tearing down the porch roof too.
The damage to the steel was cosmetic and annoying, but nothing too crippling.  It did open up the seam slightly, but not enough that I was going to try to rush to repair it.  I'm not sure how I can repair it, as I don't want to stand on the porch roof, so I think that maybe once the shed is emptied of wood, I will go inside and see if I can massage the steel in that manner.  Otherwise, I may not lose sleep over it.  We'll see.

A slight gap at the top shouldn't let in a worrying amount of rain or snow.
It did make me feel much more confident about the snow load the roof and porch roof can hold.  The tree was not insubstantial, and even with me winching it off of the roof there didn't seem to be undo hardship caused.

The change in expression on Grandpa's face when I related that no, it wasn't a windfall that caused this, but my own cutting was something to behold.  :)

Next time I will try to see if I can't find a way of coaxing trees to fall better when they are anywhere near my buildings or equipment.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Eclipse

We happened to be visiting with my parents during the recent "Eclipse of the Century" (by what metric?)

I managed to snag this picture with my camera from an internal reflection.  Not too shabby I think.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Answer to a Mystery?

So far, to our knowledge, pine boring grubs notwithstanding, we haven't really had too many critters invade our cabin.  We do what we feel is a pretty good job of keeping food scraps in their proper places, and the space is small enough that there aren't really any nooks or crannies that don't get exposed regularly.

There was ONE episode a couple years ago where we discovered a small mole or vole in the thunderbox, but we were unable to ascertain really how it go there.

One possible solution to this mystery did arise a few weeks ago.  It was still warm enough that our bedroom door was open and the screen was allowing in a breeze.  Kenny and I happened to be in the bedroom and heard a quiet noise from the deck that just didn't sound like something the wind could produce.  Twice I stepped out onto the deck and the sound stopped, I assumed there was a bunny or something similar perhaps under the deck that didn't want to cause trouble.

Finally, it was time to change the toilet bucket, and that's when I discovered it...

Kenny remarked "Oh so cute!"
Somehow this little fellow had climbed the wall of the cabin, then dropped down into the bucket.  What an experience!  He had been scrabbling around for a few hours at least, perhaps the most part of a day!

I tipped him out on the steps and encouraged him to live free, free as the wind blows...  Without undue haste, he made his way to the edge of the steps and jumped into the grass, hopefully to return to a relieved family for the season.

Ready to head home with tales of high adventure!

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Short Update

As summer is winding down, I'm getting more and more apprehensive about how little I feel I have accomplished during our short, snow-free months.  It's not been an easy year here for me, although things are still always getting better overall.

This past month since I last wrote, I suffered through a(nother) sinus infection that unfortunately coincided with my brother and sister-in-law visiting us.  I was in pretty rough shape for most of their time here and wasn't able to participate in many activities.  I sure hope they are willing to give us another try!

One nice feature of their visit was that we all left the homestead and travelled to Killbear Provincial Park together.  By this time I had visited my nurse practitioner clinic and received a prescription for nasal steroids, as well as antibiotics for the strep.  I did feel a bit vindicated when the NP looked down my throat and exclaimed "Oh my God!  That's crazy!"  She reassured me (again) that I wasn't a hypochondriac.
He's a ZipLine natural!
A budding Dr. Doolittle?
God bless modern medicine.  Within a day the antibiotics had me feeling much more relaxed about our trip.  I could eat again!

After a few days with our whole family in Killbear, we proceeded down to Waterloo to spend another week with my parents and catching up with friends and family.  It was nice that my Aunt and Uncle from Australia were able to drop in while they were visiting Canada.  It's becoming a very rare treat to meet up with my father's side of the family.

For the second summer in a row, we replaced wheel bearings in our Echo while in Waterloo before returning home.

One notable milestone was that shortly after returning, I actually had to trot out the generator and run it for the first time in a few months because the batteries were low and sun wasn't in the forecast.  This, and whenever we put on our first fire, are the real landmarks on our calendar.

I know I have more blog posts already in my brain, wriggling to get out, so I'll try to work on them later.  For now, I do have real world chores to work at.

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).