“Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities.” – Frank Lloyd Wright, quoted in his obituary, April 9, 1959

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cabin Trip 2014 - Day Seven? - Cabin Transformation

It is Sunday. We arrived a week ago tomorrow. So, I guess that makes this day seven! Time is flying.

Let me catch you up on a few things, then we'll switch to the main topic for this post.

Friday night, after dinner, we built a fire in our outdoor fire pit. It used to be at the back of the cabin and in a place that was not very "comfortable" to just sit and warm ourselves by the fire. So, I moved it to the front of the cabin, on a nice flat space near the picnic table, and I think that will work much better. We enjoyed a shot of whiskey (Buffalo Trace is our current favorite), and watched the sun set and the stars come out. It was very nice. The dogs just laid there quietly by the fire.

Saturday was busy.

First, I figured out that the furnace probably is working fine with the new pressure switch. It just takes about 45 seconds before the "whoosh", which seems like a very long time when you are standing there waiting. It worked yesterday morning and again this morning. I'll test it another few times before calling Grant and declaring victory.

We decided to buy a couple of pieces of furniture that we saw at Bart's on Friday. So, after checking the game camera (we got a photo of a moose!), we took off for Laramie. We arrived a bit early, so went into town to get gas (I took a couple of empty 5-gallon gas cans in), and to wander the Hastings store. I'm sure Lynne will blog about Hastings in Laramie, but I can tell you it is a fun and fascinating store. We bought a couple of books and a USB charging center for all our mobile appliances.

At Bart's we picked out two book cabinets (although one was no-doubt originally a CD cabinet). We rejected our other furniture choices (clothes dressers, mostly). Upon getting the book cases home, we decided to go ahead and finish our re-arranging of the cabin so we could place them where we wanted them. That meant moving the sofa, coffee table, chairs, rugs, and other stuff we had in our "living room". 

The cabin, which is essentially one big room, is now divided into smaller distinct rooms, mostly by the placement of furniture. And, we really like it.

Here is a photo of the antique hoosier that we moved into the open space of the kitchen. It may seem weird to have a piece of furniture stuck in the middle of a room like this, but it works great. It provides us with additional storage and a work surface that we never used before. The piece of amazing and beautiful furniture was being wasted in its previous location. (You can see Hailey laying on the floor partially hidden.)

Here is one of the new pieces of furniture, placed against the back of the hoosier. This is a shallow set of glass-fronted shelves which we will use for CDs, DVDs, shallow books and also spices and other pantry items. (You can see part of Bella laying on the floor to the right.)

This small dresser/desk used to sit by my side of the bed. I used it for computer work, the printer is on top, and the drawers held some of my clothes. It is now moved out where the hoosier used to be and has become the place where all the "office" work is done. Lynne is busy working on a blog post. (And, there is Hailey again.)

This is the re-arranged living room. The furniture in the room has been rotated 90°. The sofa used to face the fireplace. This arrangement better separates the living space from the bedroom, and also allows us to make better use of the chairs in the room. The TV is in the cabinet to the left of the fireplace.

And, now a couple of bedroom shots. The first is looking from the living area into the bedroom. The second is looking from the bedroom into the living area. Notice that we've turned the dressers so that instead of being against a wall, they form a wall? This provides a more efficient use of space and creates more separation between rooms. We now have plenty of room for some additional furniture such as dressers or book shelves. Also, the bed used to be against the log wall and facing the living area. It is now rotated to our one interior wall and faces the east windows.

Finally, here is a shot of our new book case which sits against the back of Lynne's dresser. Looks nice, huh? Quarter-sawn oak in pretty good shape. And, we got a good price on it.

Tags:  cabinphotos
Posted under: Cabin News • by Rick on 09/21/2014 at 07:45 AM
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Cabin Trip 2014 - Days Four & Five

The chimneys got swept on Thursday, and we didn't do much else that day.

We went over to the Mickelson's to give them a cookbook in thanks for all the help they've given us (and will give us).

We also took the game camera to the bottom, but toward the pond. However, when checking it this morning (I'm writing this on Friday), there were no photos.

The heater did not work right this morning. Bummer. It is really tough solving intermittent problems. I replaced the pressure switch with one that Grant left for just that purpose.

The redecorating continued. Lynne cleaned out various cabinets and we got all our jig saw puzzles in one place. We sorted them and decided to keep about 1/2, but will donate the other half. (We learned that there are two vendors at Bart's -- a local flea market -- who take donations and use the proceeds for good causes.) The hoosier is now able to serve as a small pantry for us!

We had chicken pot pie for dinner and while eating we saw two moose walk though our meadow. One was a large female and the other was probably a 2-year-old. Both were very black.

Today, Friday, again the heater did not work. I called Grant and he had some ideas for me to try. We need a reliable heating source for the cabin. Not just because it might get cold while we are here, but because we like to leave it set at 45° over the winter to keep the cabin from freezing.

We drove into town for shopping. We are now stocked for a week or more. Most shopping was done at WalMart because we needed some miscellaneous items, too. One thing we've discovered is there is nowhere to put our recycle items any more. There used to be drop-off stations all over town for cardboard, cans, bottles and plastic. But, they are gone! I guess Laramie now has curb pickup for recycling, so the need for collection stations had gone away. Doing some Internet searching, I may have found a drop off at the University, so we'll check that out soon. I'd hate to just throw away items that could be recycled.

We had a nice visit with Terry Miner at his auto repair shop. He lets us dump our trash in his dumpster -- which is really appreciated! 

After all the redecorating and re-imagining of the cabin layout, we've identified the need for another dresser for clothes, a night table or bedside stand for Rick, and a bookshelf or two. So, we dropped by Bart's Flea Market on our way home. We found a few items that might really work well. I took some measurements and photos and we've decided to go back and get a couple of items, maybe even tomorrow (and take the puzzles to donate).

Tonight is left-over chicken pot pie and brownies for dessert.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot. On our drive into town we saw a coyote, antelope, a herd of over 30 elk, and a red-tailed hawk.

One other quick story. As we left Bart's I got a phone call on the cabin cell. So, I pulled over to the side of the road. After a minute another call pulled up and stopped behind me. It was odd, but I was talking on the phone so did not pay much attention. Pretty soon, someone is tapping on my window. I rolled it down and a young woman asked if we needed help with directions or anything. Lynne told her "no" we were fine, we just pulled over to talk on the phone. So, she said goodbye and went back to her car, turned around and drove off.

I guess she saw our New Jersey license plates and just assumed we were lost. Made a bad right turn somewhere wink

Tags:  cabinmoose
Posted under: Cabin News • by Rick on 09/19/2014 at 04:39 PM
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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cabin Trip 2014 - Day Three - The Rest

We did more than just sit around watching a guy upgrade our satellite Internet on Wednesday. We also got a chance to try out the game camera Lynne bought me for Christmas. Unfortunately, I have nothing to show you. I had set it up wrong. But, it is out there again and we'll see if we got anything overnight. Stay tuned for that.

Our propane forced-air heater is broken. The way it works, like all gas forced-air furnaces, I guess, is a small blower comes on to blow some air through the system purging any small amounts of accumulated gases. Then, the burner comes on (whoosh), and finally the main fan. Then, it gets toasty warm in the cabin. We noticed last year that the pre-blower would come on and just run, and run, and run. No "whoosh" and no heat. We did not have time to get it looked at, so simply turned it off over the winter. Usually, we leave it on 45° all winter which keeps the cabin above freezing as long as we have electricity.

Grant from Laramie Heating come out yesterday (Wednesday) and took a look at it. He found some problems with the water condensation draining do-dah that didn't allow enough vacuum to trigger the thingy enabling the safety systems to "okay" the "whoosh". After cleaning everything up, all was working well. He left a spare pressure switch with me, along with instructions on how to install it -- just in case.

Well, guess what? I'll be installing that new pressure switch today. This morning, we got up to a 64° cabin -- which is not terrible. I turned on the heat to just take the cool edge off and the pre-blower ran and ran and ran. No "whoosh". Bummer.

The other thing we did on Wednesday was re-imagine the furniture layout in the cabin. The cabin is 30' x 30', so 900 square feet. There are many houses that use that amount of space for two bedrooms, a bathroom, living space and a kitchen. Yet, because ours is just one big open space, there are no walls to define "rooms" and create logical furniture arrangements. So, we got to thinking that we could rearrange things to create more storage and cozy living spaces. 

I, the engineer, created a computer model of the cabin floorplan along with little furniture models and now have the ability to re-arrange furniture in virtual reality. 

Lynne, the pragmatic artist, asked me to help her move the real furniture around to try out different things.

Our bed is now in a new position (which we like). Likewise my dresser. These moves actually "wall off" the bedroom some turning it into a little room. We also moved the antique Hoosier from against a wall out into the open in the kitchen. It seems odd to have a piece of furniture just standing there in open space in the middle of the room. But, it works. It provides additional counter space and storate for the kitchen area. 

We have ideas for the living area, TV, etc. too.

I'll try to remember to post a photo or two.

We make a hamburger recipe we saw on TV: Oklahoma City Onion Burgers, with twice cooked Belgian fries for dinner. Yum. The house smelled (and still smells) a bit like fried onions.

Well, that is it for Wednesday. It is now about 7:15 am on Thursday and the chimney sweep comes this morning. Coffee is made, and soon we'll heat up some muffins for breakfast. I'll fire up the generator for shower time. We'll get dressed, do a bit of cleaning, and the wait for the chimney sweep.

Tags:  cabin
Posted under: Cabin News • by Rick on 09/17/2014 at 03:49 PM
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Cabin Trip 2014 - Day Three - Internet

It is Wednesday. Sort of day 3. Day 2-1/2 really.

Anyway, I did not finish describing what happened yesterday.

To the most observant of you, you will have noticed that we are blogging. That means we have Internet access. Those of you who have kept up with our annual trips in the past know that it often takes a day or two to get Internet access. Last year on one of my long phone calls to technical support, the agent suggested that I upgrade to their "Gen 4" system...that the upgrade was free.

So, I did. I arranged to get an upgrade of our hardware. And, made the appointment for Tuesday morning after our arrival. And, sure enough, just before noon yesterday a guy and his helper (wife) showed up to do the upgrade installation. It went relatively well. It was a bit tough to position the satellite dish so that it can just see past the stone chimney and get line-of-sight to the satellite. It took a couple of hours, but now we have a fresh, new satellite Internet connection.

The upload speed is somewhat faster. The download speed is much faster. And, our bandwidth allowance increased by a factor of 20! We used to get 250MB per day of download bandwidth. If we exceeded that then we could not do anything for 24 hours. Well, we could buy a "token" that removed the restriction immediately, but those were $5 each (or something like that.) Now, we get 2GB of download bandwidth and at certain hours (2:00 am to 8:00 am) we get an additional 2GB that does not count toward our "normal" allotment. This is a good time to run program updates, download movies or music, etc. The new service is really tuned to today's Internet-based entertainment industry. 

It works great.

It is why I am able to tell you about it.

Tags:  cabin
Posted under: Cabin NewsStuff You Gotta Know! • by Rick on 09/17/2014 at 03:39 PM
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cabin Trip 2014—Day 2

What happened to Day 1? We arrived yesterday in the early afternoon. We had done our Laramie shopping, which went well, and were happy to arrive ready to settle in for a few days.

We could not get down the driveway. The wooden archway that marks the entrance to our drive had fallen down. This was not unexpected. When installed back in 2001, the builder did not creosote the logs and they were rotting near the ground. A neighbor had rigged up some wire hooked to a rebar pole driven in the ground, and that had held up one of the posts for over a year. But, this Winter, it fell.

I was able to drive around it in 4WD and we got the truck to the cabin site with no further issues.

I unlocked the door, stepped inside, and turned on the lights. Nothing. No lights. A quick check of the PV system meters showed that the batteries were at about 19 volts (it is a 24 volt system), and the inverter had cut out at 22 volts, just like it is supposed to. Further investigation (I have some pretty sophisticated meters) showed that the batteries had not had a full charge in 66 days! It was a bright sunny day, but the charge converter (the device that takes power from the solar panels and uses it to charge the batteries) was showing on 6 amps of input current (should have been 28 to 31 volts) and some of its indicator lights were not working. Hmmm.

No electricity meant no water, so we pee'd in the trees.

I fired up the trusty generator and it supplied us with electricity for lights and started charging the batteries.

We unloaded the truck and got the dogs settled and I went down into the crawlspace to check the batteries. They were very dry. I had one gallon of distilled water and it was used up adding water to the first two batteries (there are eight). Faced with a possible need to go all the way back into town, I planned to drive to several neighboring cabins to see if anyone was home and if they had distilled water.

To get out of the driveway, I planned to use my chain saw to cut up the log and drag it out of the way. But, as is typical, I could not get the damn thing started. So, I drove around the downed post again and went in search of neighbors. Our closest neighbor was not home. I drove back to the cabin and told Lynne that I'd drive to a different neighbor, much farther away, and if they were not home, I'd drive into town. 

But, on my way out I passed the first neighbor and he volunteered to bring 3 gallons of water and chain saw to our rescue.

We got the post out of the driveway, and later I filled all the batteries. But, at this point it was obvious that something was wrong with the charge controller. The input current had not changed from 6 amps, even though the sun was in and out behind clouds. And, the indicator LEDs were still not working. It would not respond to any commands I gave it. Ah oh.

I called the company that we use for off-grid services (PV and wind) and they needed to order a new charge controller and by the time it arrived, they could come install it on Friday. Friday? Crap. That meant 4 days of minimal electricity and the noise of a generator. Did I have enough gas?

We got through the night with lanterns and minimal electricity. I did get enough charge on the batteries that they, along with the boost from the generator, were able to fill the water tanks and provide water. Good thing, because it is hard to boil macaroni without water.

Sloppy Joes and boxed Mac & Cheese for dinner along with abundant red wine.

Before going to bed, I tried one more thing. I completely reset the system. I opened the breaker to the PV panels and to the batteries. This removes all power from the inverter, my Trimetric meter system and the charge controller. I thought maybe a complete reset would fix things. What it did was wipe out the program in the inverter, so I had to reprogram it with all the appropriate settings; I lost all the readings stored in the Trimetric; and the charge controller still showed 6 input amps (it was dark by now), but the LED did come on!

To bed around 8:00. We were pooped.

This morning, however, the charge controller seemed to be working. It showed zero input amps (before the sun came up), and I was able to program it for a battery equalization charge. I ran the generator for about 7 hours and during this time the charge controller seemed to be working with as much as 31 input amps. The batteries got up to about 29 volts and after I turned of the generator, settled at about 26 volts. That is good! We'll see what happens over the next few days.

(I am going to still get the new charge controller as a backup -- this has happened before. But, I did call the installer and told her she did not need to treat my case as an emergency.)

More later, I'm sure. We did other stuff today...but, not much.

Tags:  cabin
Posted under: Cabin News • by Rick on 09/16/2014 at 02:10 PM
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