Winter Storm Nadia is Naughty.

I remember years ago in first grade our school taking two vacation days in February to celebrate the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, February 12, and President George Washington, February 21st.  We would work on crafts centered around both presidents and display them the entire month of February.  Today, schools celebrate Presidents’ Day, which complete robs the importance of these two presidents who were models of what a president should do and behave like.  Plus, 2 days off from school with presidential arts and crafts for a month, what more could a first grader ask for during one of the bleakest winter months?

On Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday, N. Idaho was hit by Winter Storm Nadia.  Unlike the snow apocalypse the media might make you think it is, the snow storm was a forgotten normalcy we faced since we moved to N. Idaho.  I plowed 7 hours yesterday and could not keep up with the falling snow.  This morning the sun is out and so will I, but today I will cut the final paths that will get us out of our snowed-in off grid, toasty, bungalow.  Enjoy the quick video I made during the rush of yesterday.  If you are snow bound today.  Perhaps, my old blog post on Spokane’s worst snow storm and preparing for such an event will help encourage you.

A Birthday Tradition Revisited

In this day and age, it seems that traditions are receiving a bad press.  Many traditions provide a sense of comfort and stability in a world that is filled with chaos. The tradition I started for my wife’s birthday is now over a decade old, and it is a tradition that is now rooted in our family.  Hopefully, this is a tradition our son will carry with him into his marriage, and it will become generational.  What traditions have you started in your family? What have you been doing for years?  What stability have you brought to you and your family’s lives through your traditions?

The following video… I filmed last year, but I was finally able to edit it the way I envisioned these past few weeks.  I hope you enjoy our continued tradition to celebrate the most important person in our household.  After the video, I included the first post I made about this birthday tradition 3 years ago.  Enjoy the flashback.

For the past eight or so years, I started a tradition for my wife’s birthday.  Before this epiphany, I would ask my wife what she would like for her birthday cake?  I would then, like most husbands, go hunt down the desired cake and purchase it from a bakery or sometimes an ice cream parlor.  One year my wife said, she didn’t feel like having a cake or anything.  She was reading about how unhealthy processed cakes were due to all the additives and processed ingredients.  I don’t blame her; I am not a fan of food coloring in my food either.  But, I didn’t have a problem;  she always made my cake from scratch.

My wife knew I was not a good baker, but I felt the gauntlet had been cast down, the challenge had been made, and I needed to step up as a husband and respond in the only dignified way I could and that was to don an apron and start a bake’n. Thus, a new tradition was born.

It is a Woman's World... I love this cook book from 1939.

It is a Woman’s World… I love this cook book from 1939.

I found a book with the most natural ingredients I could find at a Robert’s Bookshop selling used books in Lincoln City, Oregon.  The cook book is pre-WWII, and I figured the war was a definite trigger for over processed foods in our diet as the military rations found commercial labels and entered our grocery stores soon after.

I began searching through the cake recipes and I tried several for my wife over the years.  The first cake I made  was almost a brick, and from then on I got much better.  The cakes from this cook book are not fluffy, light cakes.  They are dense, rich, thick cakes that stick to the roof of your mouth and to your ribs.  They truly are good.  However, three years ago I made Krista the Zesty, Orange Cake, and now I am not allowed to bake a different type of cake or change recipes.  This is the birthday cake that has won my wife’s heart, and so  I have dedicated the past few years to perfecting the recipe and the cake’s presentation.

Icing, filling, whatever it is; it's all good... Here is the page I reference for the orange icing. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation that only a true baker would know. I left the other two recipes in the shot since Prune filling sounds so interesting.

Icing, filling, whatever it is; it’s all good… Here is the page I reference for the orange icing. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation that only a true baker would know. I left the other two recipes in the shot since Prune filling sounds so interesting.

When it rains, it pours… The week of my wife’s birthday this year; I had meetings scheduled every night after school, the snow plow truck broke down, and the propane stove and oven quit working.  At least the wood cook stove, was available to make the cake without any problems.  In fact, I prefer the wood cook stove to the propane one when baking.

The icing on the cake... I usually create the icing for the cake the night before I make the cake so it has time to chill.

The icing on the cake… I usually create the icing for the cake the night before I make the cake, so it has time to chill.

I usually make Krista’s zesty, orange cake in stages.  On the eve before making the cake, I make the orange icing.  After I grated the peel for the orange flavor, I squeeze the fresh orange for the half cup of orange juice needed.  I also grate a lemon for the icing and add the juice of the freshly squeezed lemon for a little more zing.  Once the icing is cooked and thickened, I set it out to cool before placing it in the fridge overnight.

The apprentice... My son and apprentice is adding his eggs to the cake batter and doing a fine job. He has been a great help in the creation of this birthday cake.

The apprentice… My son and apprentice is adding his eggs to the cake batter and doing a fine job. He has been a great help in the creation of this birthday cake.

The next day,  which was luckily the weekend, I began making Krista’s cake.  This year I had help from my son.  He did an excellent job cracking the eggs and adding the ingredients to the mixer to make the cake batter.  He also learned how to juice the oranges and lemon for the batter as well.

In this next shot is our Juice King, which is our citrus juice squeezer.  Krista found it at an antique sale, and it has worked great ever since we brought it home.  I require the use the juicer three different times.  Once for the icing, then for the cake batter, and last for the frosting.

Roll up your sleeves and squeeze... Here we work together to squeeze the 1/2 cup of orange juice required for the recipe.

Roll up your sleeves and squeeze… Here we work together to squeeze the 1/2 cup of orange juice required for the recipe.

When the batter is ready for the cake pans, I have the wood cook stove revving up to cooking temperature.  The key is to not overheat the oven because waiting for it to cool is time consuming.  I close the flue and open the oven vent.  I also open up the ash tray drawer below the fire box and when it approaches the 350 degrees required, I shut everything down except the oven vent.  I tend the firebox making sure it has enough fuel to cover the baking time of 25 – 35 minutes.  Once I have the fuel and the temperature needed, I place the cake pans into the oven on the same rack.  The oven temperature was so even and the cook time so short, I didn’t need to re-position the cake pans once they were in the oven.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man... I could not help but to feel rush a little by the hungry eyes behind me and the next line, "Bake me a cake as fast as you can."

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man… I could not help but to feel rushed a little by the hungry eyes behind me and the next line, “Bake me a cake as fast as you can.”

The finished product this year was great, except I hate to waste anything, so I added way to much orange icing to the center between the layers of the cake.  I must remember when it comes to presentation, less is more.  However, when it comes to flavor and taste, I still tend to get carried away and put as much frosting and icing on the cake beyond surface allowance.  Good thing I’m not an architect.

Almost finished... All that is left is to add the orange icing and candles on top.

Almost finished… All that is left is to add the orange icing and candles on top.  The toothpicks held the top layer in place to add the frosting.  I placed way too much icing in between the 2 layers, but it was worth it.

Here is Krista’s beautiful, zesty, orange, double layer cake made with orange, lemon zest icing between the layers and drizzled on top of the orange and vanilla butter cream frosting.  Now, my wife has to wait another 366 days for her birthday cake; it’s a leap year.  Unless, our son or I request it as well.



I miss the 1980s Radio Shack

While building the bicycle generator, I wished I could find an electronics component store. I needed a couple parts, a diode and an inline Volt/Amp meter.  I checked the phone book for electronic parts and components and an older phone book had a few stores, but in the new phone book, the section no longer existed to be replaced by e-cigs.

The elusive diode…  After several phone calls and a store drop by, to no avail, I succumbed to ordering online.

In the video, I am feeling a sort of dread and disappointment that my generation will no longer see the brick and mortar specialized stores.  Instead, we must shop online exclusively for specialty items.   Ordering online for us means a minimum of a 4 day wait and that is with 2 day Amazon prime.  If the component is the wrong size, does not work as anticipated, or is made so cheaply it would be unwise to use it in the system, the return of another 4 days with another 4 day wait for the replacement could postpone a project over 8 days. Plus, the initial 4 day wait to begin with is a dozen days and don’t forget weekends.  I could have finished the bicycle generator in one day, if I could have purchased all the parts I needed at a localized store.  Gone are the days.

Gone are the days… The inline Volt/ Amp meter, I was surprised even my auto parts store didn’t have this one.

What does this mean for our society? Patience is a virtue? Or, progress is only as fast as the postal service.  Perhaps, with the death of these corporations a new demand will inspire people to start their own brick and mortar businesses to replace them, and the cycle will begin once again.  We can only hope.  I wonder if I could start a successful electronics store.

It Really Works… Introducing the Bicycle Generator.

For the past few months, I have been trying to build our own bicycle generator.  Soon it became a sort of obsession as I tried to take an old exercise bike and convert it to a human powered generator.  These past few weeks, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  With help from a follower of this website, author of Random Thoughts [of an engineer] who pointed me in the right direction.  A bicycle generator, producing 6 Volts cannot charge a 12 Volt battery.  The Volts are like force and force the current Amperes through the system.  A 6 Volt generator couldn’t push its way through a 12 volt system.   It would be like a snowball trying to push back an avalanche, well maybe not that extreme, but since it’s winter, I needed a winter simile.

I tried to use a 24 Volt alternator, but that too failed.  The physical human force to power it was beyond our physical limits for any measurable amounts of time.  I tried using a small DC charge controller which could not be integrated into the system.  I debated buying a DC booster and went with an extra DC motor added in series instead.

Unfortunately, I have little to know knowledge of electronics. However, I plan to do another post and video about the deceptions on the Internet concerning these so called bicycle generator plans, and how people believe certain laws of physics don’t apply to them.  That is fine if people want to create their own religion, but please don’t put blueprints on the Internet and claim they work when they don’t.  I wonder if the authors who wrote the bicycle generator article actually built the bike. Hopefully,  they’re not spreading false information because they want a “blog article” paycheck even if it means their is no factual basis in the article.

Moving on… How do you like the music?  This song “I Believe You” comes from a used record I purchased years ago, Made in America, 1981.  I finally got to play it with a record player I received for Christmas.  I grew up listening to Karen Carpenter, and I love her voice.  To avoid a copyright strike on YouTube, I altered the song 4 different ways. First, I placed a slight echo, next I upped the bass, I sped up the tempo by 15%, Lastly, I added a slight reverb to give it an auditorium feel.  I have learned that altering older music for people to listen to online has been called VaporWave.  I am not a big fan of it and didn’t push this song so far out that it would be almost unrecognizable.  Plus, like electronics, I know even less about mixing music. If the video gets taken down by YouTube, it will disappear here as well until I can find another song to replace it.

Update:  The video was flagged as copyright infringement by YouTube’s algorithm within a few seconds of the first of the upload. So, I had to pick an open source song completely different from the one I had.  All that work mentioned above wasted.



Off Grid electricity is NOT free.

Out with the old… The T-105’s are being retired.

I believe I am guilty of promoting free energy on the off grid homestead, and during the summer months it appears that way.  However, during the winter months cloudy skies make solar energy creation improbable, and it’s the battery bank that keeps the home’s electricity going from day to day.  When the fog and inversion continues throughout the week, a 5 gallon jug of fuel is added to the generator. The generator is fired up to produce the home’s power and to fill the battery bank for a few more days.

Winter is the time of the year when an off grid home realizes they are not living “free”.  Perhaps a nice sunny equatorial home would provide the energy the home needs and less reliance on a large battery bank.  But even then, a home close to the equator has a constant 12 hours day and night. In which the daylight begins at 6 and ends at 6 in the evening.  If only we lived on the equator… but I really like the 4 seasons, so that’s out for now.

If you are thinking about going off grid, depending on where you live and what your winter is like as far as darkness and climate, you will want to size your battery bank accordingly.  Our new bank, if we conserve, can get us about 4 days, without direct sunlight.  We have added so many new systems that require more power and we added to our family another person, so power usage has naturally increased.  More lights are on, our fridge runs more often, and the phantom load of the Internet and the propane tankless water heater begin to add up over a few hours.  If I remember, like I just did, I shut them off.

As seen in the video,  I crunched the numbers and our new battery bank (basic electric bill) is estimated at $25.00 a month over a 10 year period.  That’s not bad, but that doesn’t include the generator maintenance or the fuel for it.  A 5 gallon jug is required to charge the battery bank from 50% back up to 100% and to equalize them.  Without equalizing, it’s about 4 gallons of fuel needed.  I am keeping tabs on our generator usage this year with the new bank and tractor generator; it will be nice to be able to prepare a constant monthly budget by spreading the winter expenditures year round.

Off grid electricity is NOT free!

If my wife and I lived on the grid in this area and had solar panels that covered our electrical usage, the power company would still charge us a $25.00 minimum monthly hook up fee.  That doesn’t seem fair, but with many people trying to save money with increasing electrical bills the power companies do not want people wiggling out from their profit margins, plus someone has to pay for all those linemen who repair the down wires after a devastating storm.  Either way off grid or on, you will have to pay someone for your electricity.  As electricity bills increase, so does the price of batteries. The T-105’s I first bought were $155 each in 2011; this year they are $180 a piece.

If you are thinking about supplementing your on grid home or building an off grid power system, now is the time to start because prices are always going up.

When the Battery Bank Dies…

At the end of this past summer, our battery bank of seven years decided to die.  It was an interesting cascade failure event.  One batter cell went dead and could not be revived, then another battery flagged a similar problem.  Pretty soon I was isolating batteries that would no longer hold a 6 Volt change.  The isolation meant I had to drop from a 3 string battery bank to a 2 string system.  I ordered the batteries at the perfect time.  The sun was shining well into September which carried the system long enough until the replacements arrived.  I was happy to receive them, another few weeks and we would have been in real trouble, running a generator to make due for the lack of electrical storage.

The video published was in a file waiting to be edited and published.  I admit blogging and YouTube videos which have grown intertwined has dwindled, and I discussed that briefly on another post.  Currently, I am enjoying Christmas break and I am gearing up for the return to teaching after the New Year’s holiday. I hope this post and the New Year 2019 greets you well.

My wife and I plan to make a list of this year’s highlights this evening and save them to be read next year.  It will be a bonding time between us as we recognize our successes despite the obstacles around us, including replacing a dying battery bank. I plan to include my son in the event as well, and I am curious to hear his own version of events.

May you enjoy this New Year’s Eve, celebrating with family, friends, and have a chance to reflect on the highlights this year.

God Bless,

A Surprise Inside the Wood Stove

One day I arrived home from work to a surprise inside the wood cook stove.  My wife was cooking dinner on our propane stove, and left a note for me on the wood cook stove.  It was a late fall day, and the chill in the air beckoned for a fire in the wood cook stove each evening, but first a look inside.

Inside the stove, a small noise could be heard as something moved slightly about in the firebox.  Not knowing what it could be and hoping it wasn’t a maimed mouse brought in stealthily by the cats, I grabbed a flashlight and approached the situation from a bird’s eye view through the firebox cook lid opening. I peered down into the darkness hoping the flashlight expose what was inside.  The rest can be seen in the video as I change my work clothes into an old sweatshirt and use an old pillow case for the task of removing our stole away bird.

As can be seen, the removal of the bird was incredibly easy, but making the video was not.  I recently applied for a grant to improve my journalism class at school.  I was blessed to receive three Mac computers with the highly coveted Final Cut Pro program.  What I have discovered in the process is the painful superiority complex Macintosh has created in the PC world to over complicate simple computer use functions.   Where I can find simple help tutorials with Blender, Movie, Maker and Even Adobe Premier, however, not with Final Cut Pro.  A user must pay for a class to get what a simple user manual should provide.  I have never been a Mac user and I understand why. Last night I spent 45 minutes trying to get the Mac to recognize my flash drive and it still doesn’t.  I have to go online today and research more on how to get a normal plug and play device to play nice with Mac.  Video editing has been an adventure, and I am unsure if it is skill or pure stubbornness in forcing my will upon the program.  I hope to get better with practice, but it’s definitely a challenge to me.

“Bird.” The World Book Encyclopedia. Field Enterprises Inc, 1952. I find many uses for my mom’s World Book Encyclopedia Books to this day.

After much frustration with technology these past few months, I reverted back to a classic way to identify the bird who had inadvertently trapped itself in our wood cook stove.  Instead of turning to the vast amounts of overwhelming information on the World Wide Web, I turned to my mother’s encyclopedias she gifted to me.  My mom where given these encyclopedias by her parents when she was a child.  I have always loved my mom’s encyclopedia collection.  When I was younger, I would read them for fun, and as I got into high school, the Internet was still not invented yet, so I used them for reports I had to do for class.  Under the section devoted to birds, I found a variety of pictures and matched the bird’s features that impressed upon me, the narrow curved beak, the oval marks on the bird’s cheeks, the spots on the bird’s chest, the gray color of feathers.  Soon it became apparent that it was Flicker.  Now taking that new substantiated info, I was able to do a concise search online which gave me the characteristics of the bird, and how it ended up in our chimney.  The Northwest Flicker, one of over a hundred names, likes to nest in hollow trees and also use their beak to drum territorial signals to others of its kind on metal objects.  The chimney served both purposes, it made a load sound in which to drum its beak upon to broadcast the bird’s message. And, once the bird found its way into the chimney cap, it felt like a nice hollow tree to explore and make a home, until it ended up in the firebox.

Sixty-six years later and still useful. I find that many things our society has discarded as obsolete are still very useful and relevant to this day.

The rest is history.