More Snow.

We had another snowstorm which left us with about 6 inches of snow up here at the ranch. The animals have been having  a blast and I love how quiet and beautiful the landscape is when everything is covered in snow. There have been a few icy mornings on the drive to work, but other than that, no issues caused by snow so far. The woodstove (who we’re now referring to as Roarin’ Johnny or Smokin’ Johnny, I also like San Juan Smokey as his name) has been awesome and the cabin is wonderfully warm when it’s below freezing outside.

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We were in the middle of a bookshelf project when it started snowing, and we got most of it built but needed some extra lumber. When we went lumber shopping, everything was pretty wet still. So we have some lumber drying in our storage loft at the moment, and some other stuff outside that is trying to dry out. The snow and wet put everything on hold for the time being, but that’s ok, because we have heat! And light! And a toilet inside!

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Who’s a happy duck?!

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Life is pretty good so we’ve been taking it a little easier the last week or so. Our one little solar light is enough to light the whole cabin ($35 on amazon, baby!), and we usually spend our evenings with the animals all snuggled up inside by the woodstove, while we watch a movie we rented for free from the library on our laptops, which we bring with us to work to charge during the day. It’s a pretty sweet system we got set up here.

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Pup-a-lup.

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We’re saving up for a more complete solar system, as well as finishing our bathroom, and other future projects that are still in the planning stages. For now we are enjoying not having to rush to get things done before winter. Between our wood supply and the woodstove, we feel pretty good about life right now. So we can actually sit back and have a beer and not feel guilty about not being busy all the time!

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Snow.

Winter is here!

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When our first snow of the season hit, we did not have our woodstove in yet… and it was admittedly miserable. But I can’t help it, I do love the snow and the cold anyway. Knowing our cabin was going to be FREEZING did not stop me from doing a happy snow dance outside.

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That first storm left us with only a couple of inches of snow, which melted away quickly over the next few days. Then we got the woodstove in, then it snowed again! Even less the second time, but a dusting is better than no snow, in my opinion (especially when you have heat in your house!).

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Amelia digs the cold weather; we built her a super rad outside duck house, so she has a dry warm place to go if it gets really cold and windy. It’s like a luxury 2 bedroom apartment! An apartment full of dry straw and a hinged roof (A hinged roof! Coming from animal care background you have no idea how exciting that is for cleaning and general care purposes!). Loki gets all zoomies and crazy weird in the snow (in a good way). And the steep windy dirt road that leads up to our cabin was only sketchy in a couple of places.

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We are not stingy with firing up the woodstove when it gets cold in the house, which is usually by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We keep it going all evening and try to keep up with it overnight so it isn’t freezing in the morning. Last night I added some more wood to it around midnight, and it was still just about out and chilly in the house at 5:30am when I got up for work. We’re still learning the quirks of the stove and how to maximize our heat from it for longer periods of time. It’s pretty fun to watch and play with!

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I decided the woodstove needs a name, since he is a pretty integral and necessary part of our lives now. Haven’t made any decisions yet, but putting some creative energy into this for sure. Suggestions?

Woodstove. Part 2.

It was a stressful, at times frustrating, at times confusing, and cold sort of day, but… we got the woodstove installed! We managed to figure out, pretty much all by ourselves, how to install it, how to get all the pieces together, and then we did it. We did need to borrow some tall ladders and a few tools from a neighbor, and he did lend a helping hand a bit, but we’re pretty proud that we basically did it all. And after several nights of very cold weather, and snow, and rain, and yuck, it was all more than worth it.

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Hole in the roof!

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Putting the chimney together.

From cutting a hole in the roof, to putting the chimney pieces together, to putting together the structure that physically went through the roof, to weatherproofing and sealing the chimney outside, it all worked (more or less without issue). The night of November 6th we fired up the woodstove for the first time, kicked back, and reveled in being WARM.

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First fire.

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Sexy.

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All sealed.

The chimney and stove and everything is the appropriate required distance from anything combustible, but we’re still keeping a close eye on things that are close by. So far we’ve had no problems with anything getting too warm, even when the fire is roaring. There was a little haze inside the house that first night, which we were warned might happen. As the wood burns the soot helps seal the inside of the brand new chimney, and after the first few hours the haze was gone and no more smoke or anything has seeped inside. We keep a couple windows cracked because it is such a small space, and yes, even a small fire keeps us very warm! So nice to be in a tank top inside when it’s below freezing outside. It’s amazing how much more productive you feel like being when you’re warm.

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Cabin looks legit now.

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Dog is also pretty pleased.

Life feels about a million times easier now. Here comes winter!

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Cozy.

Poop.

One of the main, if not first, question we get from people who don’t know much about living off the grid, is, timidly, “where do you poop?”

Well, up until yesterday, we had a bucket… down our property… in the woods. It has quite a nice view, actually. This was until we got our composting toilet installed in the house, which finally happened yesterday! And just in time for snow.

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Hey, if you have to poop outside… not bad, am I right?

By this time, we had 2 full buckets of poo (hey, you guys wanted all the details), so we needed to figure out something to do with it. So we built a… wait for it… shitbox. (It makes me laugh, anyway). It has its own “venting” system, so while it’s protected from weather, it can still breathe (lovely, eh?). Sphagnum peat moss and RidX are mixed in heavily with the waste, so it will eventually compost with time. Come spring time we’ll probably add worms to speed up the process.

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Shitbox construction.

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Shitbox construction continued.

Our composting toilet has the same two elements: peat moss and RidX. And yesterday we installed a venting system with a hose and eventually a solar fan (on its way in the mail!) that vents any odors right out of the house.

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Inside shitting! Before picture: now the the toilet is mounted to the ground and the hose goes outside.

It started snowing today here in Southern Colorado, so pooping inside the house came just in time. Shit (no pun intended), just peeing inside the house last night when it was pouring rain was awesome.

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Completed shitbox.

Propane.

The nice thing about living off the grid is you can decide in what capacity or how far off the grid you really want to be. The opposite of that is other people who live off the grid all feel extremely strong about how far off the grid they live. For example, R and I do not want a generator. We moved to the woods to be IN THE WOODS, not hear and smell a generator just to run our lights, or tv (which we don’t have), or cable (which we’ll never have), or whatever. However, for some reason, we keep getting told, “you MUST have a generator, how will you LIIIIIVVEEE??!!”. Weird, we’ve lived without it so far…

Another one of those things is propane. We weren’t real thrilled with the idea of dealing with propane-run appliances as it was, but we kept being given propane-related things (like two tanks, some lines, etc.), that we figured, well, I guess if we don’t have to actually buy all this stuff, might as well go with it. The main reason we weren’t thrilled about propane in the first place? It’s just another thing you have to rely on. It’s not a renewable resource (except for this, but that’s not really an obtainable thing for our situation at the moment). It’s expensive. And as I found out yesterday, it’s dangerous.

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Right now we’re 0-2 on propane cookstoves. The first one (refer here) was mouse-infested beyond help, and this week we failed on cookstove number 2. Another one of our very generous neighbors gave us their extra propane range/oven, apartment-sized, we actually WATCHED it work at their house before taking it, and it seemed like a sweet deal. So we brought it up to our place, drilled a hole in our wall, and started dealing with installing it.

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Looks cool…

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For two days we messed with it and messed with it. Had to go buy new parts, a new flex line, and still could not get the freaking stove to light. So yesterday while R was at work, I decided to really try to figure it out. There’s a shut off switch on the actual stove, so I thought maybe we just had it in the wrong position, and I’m going to turn the switch and see what happens.

I go outside to open the propane tank valve, and it won’t open. So here I am with a wrench trying to open the goddamn valve, and it WON’T OPEN. I mess with it for awhile, maybe turn it a quarter inch with all my muscle, get frustrated and go do something else, go back and turn it another quarter inch maybe, get frustrated, text R, do something else, mess with it again. By this time I’m so done with this thing I decide to just give up until R gets home. An hour goes by. AN HOUR.

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I’m sitting outside with Loki, reading up on our composting toilet, when all of a sudden it sounds like a jet plane is attempting to take off inside our house, and propane is spewing everywhere. I run inside, covering my nose and mouth (instant headache), trying to flip that shut off switch to no avail… and my heart is pounding and I’m freaking out thinking our house is going to blow up… so I run outside and attempt to shut the valve that I had apparently opened, which of course won’t budge. (Inside my brain, “WHAT THE FUCK WHAT IF I CAN’T TURN IT OFF WHAT IF THE HOUSE BLOWS UP WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”).

I grab the trusty wrench and manage to get the valve unstuck and closed. For whatever reason something clicked and now the valve works just fine. Why it was apparently open but took an hour for any propane to come out of the tank is beyond my understanding. After my heart stopped pounding, I tried to figure where on the stove it was leaking from, but couldn’t find the leak and was honestly pretty tired of the whole situation. I aired out the house, kept Loki outside, and waited for R to get home. When he got home he disconnected all the parts so nothing would leak into the house anymore, and we decided we’re done. We didn’t particularly want propane anyway, and now we feel like it was for a reason.

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Look at the lovely hole in our wall.

So we decided we’re going to focus on solar instead. We’ve been looking into lots of cool solar-powered gadgets and we can get small electric appliances that will run off of our completely renewable, clean, safe, energy from the SUN. Once the woodstove is installed we can cook on that. Granted, at the moment we’re using the small camping propane tanks to cook on, but those are used outdoors and are easy enough for even us to understand.

Off the grid for us means having to rely on as little as possible. Besides the sun, you can pretty much rely on that. The day when we can’t rely on the sun, is the day we have much bigger problems.