Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Monday, August 08, 2016

Observations from 8 August 2016

Posted by: Rick

We started our retirement adventure at the off-the-grid cabin about 3 months ago. The time has passed quickly. We have been working to convert a weekend/vacation cabin into a full-time home, and that is more work than I anticipated. 

First, let me observe that retirement is a lot of work. I have not suffered from a lack of things to do--many of which are physical. The kind of work has changed, but the amount has not. I stay very busy and do not miss working in the corporate world at all.

I guess winter is the big driver behind much of what we do. Or, preparing for winter. The goal being the ability to live at the cabin without the need to go into town for as many as 5 or 6 weeks. Right now we go into town way too much, as many as 2-3 times per week. But, most of those trips are to get supplies to outfit the cabin for self sufficiency.

The projects range in scope from getting the barn installed to having a way to compost organic waste. I think I've listed the reasons we go into town before, a sampling being:

  • Dump trash
  • Stop at the feed store for dog treats and food
  • Buy groceries & other supplies which can mean stopping at the butcher, a grocery store, hardware store, WalMart, etc.
  • Turn in and check out books at the library
  • Browse the flea market and antique stores for needed furniture
  • Get mail, mail packages & letters

Let's work that list from the bottom up. 

There is not much we can do about mail in the winter. We either drive the 25 minutes to the mailbox (one way) or not. While FedEx delivers to the cabin in the summer, they can't once the roads close. USPS mail and most UPS shipments can be picked up at our mailbox at the Wooden Shoe Ranch. For FedEx, we'll need to go into town. So, we have set up "e-delivery" for important things like bills, banking statements, etc. We try to avoid paper-based mail as much as possible. For other items, we just can't order things to be shipped. We need to stock up now.

If we don't go into town, we can't browse for things to buy. We need to get any essential furnishings and accessories now.

The library has the ability to check out ebooks, so we'll look into taking advantage of that. Plus, they don't charge fees for overdue books unless they are over 120 days past due. So, we can stock up and have more than 4 months to return books!

The key to minimizing trips for groceries, supplies, dog food, etc. is to stock up before winter and have an adequate supply. That means storage space, and that is where we have focused a lot of our effort. The barn is here, and I'm working on insulating it, putting up shelves, and figuring out storage schemes. We are even installing some wardrobes purchased from Home Depot to hold clothing. We also need more refrigerator space and a freezer--projects still in process as of this writing.

Dealing with trash means minimizing it. We have started composting compostable waste (not very successfully). We will be able to burn most paper and cardboard in winter. We will need to deal with cans and bottles, somehow. Probably just clean them and accumulate them until we can haul them off.

We have made progress, but I'm nervous about a few key projects. We have the storage need solved. We have the Ranger, which we will put tracks on in October, for emergency exit if needed. Otherwise, it will be fun to just putt around when there is snow on the ground. We have Internet and TV. (We are still learning to use the Internet bandwidth we get. Several times we have accidentally burned our entire 10GB allotment for a month in a single day. For example, with our DirecTV setup, if we find an interesting program on air that is almost over and hit the "rewind" button to go backwards in the program, the system assumes we want to see it from the beginning and starts downloading a streamed version over the Internet! While it is cool to be able to control time like that, one show can burn a couple of GB of bandwidth.) Cell phone coverage has been fixed with a booster. We have a washing machine for laundry (and the outdoors as a dryer). And, the investment we made in additional solar panels and new batteries is really paying off.

A second refrigerator (and new stove) have been ordered. I think we are close to deciding on a freezer choice. The issue with these is a propane supply which is dependent upon getting our propane generator installed--a long delayed and still uncertain project.

And, scariest of all, we don't have any wood cut, split and stacked for winter yet. We need wood--probably 7 to 8 cords of it--for heat in the winter. There is no way we can fully heat the cabin off our propane heater. There are lots of excuses for not starting on wood gathering yet: we need a wood shed to store the wood; I can't build a shed until the additional propane tank is delivered (the shed would be in the way); the propane tank won't be delivered until the new generator is installed; the new generator is awaiting the needed effort and attention of the supplier...

Wildlife sightings have slowed down. But, it should pick up again as autumn arrives and animals start planning for winter. We've had huge numbers of hummingbirds this summer, but they are starting to dwindle.

Destin is a handful. He has grown up so fast. He is smart. And, strong willed. We need to work a bit harder on training, especially the recall. He plays a game of "hide and seek" and "come chase me" when it is time to come inside.

We've had quite a few days where we could not be outside much because of smoke from the Beaver Creek fire. Fire is an ever present danger here in the summer. We've taken many steps to mitigate fire danger to the cabin, and I think the risks to us would be small even with a fire in the area. Still, very scary. At least it has been cool the last few days with some rain, low wind, and higher humidity.

I guess that is it for my first "observations" post. I hope to do such a post about once every 3-4 months taking a higher-level and longer-term view of our life "off the grid".

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Fruitful Walk

Posted by: Rick

Fresh wild raspberries we picked while walking the dogs last evening. They are starting to ripen. This handful was great with our chocolate dessert.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Morning Has Broken

Posted by: Lynne

~snip~ This was our morning yesterday.

This morning dawned clear and thankfully smoke-free. Yesterday was not a good day for breathing air as the smoke from the Beaver Creek fire descended on us big time. And, no, we are not in any danger from the huge fire but we do occassionaly get the smoke if the wind blows from the right (or in this case, wrong) direction. You know, "smoke from a distant fire?"

We ate breakfast al fresco on our porch as we we so often do since we bought this wonderful retro table at a local antique store. Its cheery yellow formica and metal trim reminds me of the table we had growing up only that one was green formica and was not a drop-leaf table. There were also green vinyl padded chairs to match. This little table was exactly right for this spot on the porch. Plus, with both leaves up it can six or maybe eight if we squeeze. We bought mis-matched chairs at about $25 each at both the antique store where we bought the table and also at Bart's, a favorite browsing antique/flea market spot. Two of the five chairs actually match and those are the two pictured here. 

After breakfast we took the dogs up to open the gate and for a little exercise before we took off by ourselves to change out the cards in the game cameras up top.

To Destin, walks mean sticks!

The hike up to get change the camera cards gets easier every time we do it. We scared up a cottontail. A BIG cottontail! I think we may have caught the same rabbit on the camera at night. 

By the way, what happens when a bunny sees his own shadow?

We are not getting much from the cameras at their present locations. A few deer, a rabbit, what we think might have been a grouse at night, and even a snake. We positioned one camera next to a big hole in a rock next to the ground and that's where the camera captured the snake. Not exactly what we were hoping for. So, on the way back we scouted out possible new locations to try. One is a well traveled game trail that is near the beaver pond. We'll leave them up where they are for another week or so, then try a new location.

We saw this hornet's nest near the pond. It's very low to the ground and at first I thought it had fallen out of a tree. I reached out my hand to move the branch that it was on because it was literally only a few inches off the ground and then I saw the hornets. No no no, Lynne, don't touch that! Very wierd place for a nest if you ask me.

It was a great morning and just another reason why we love it here so much.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Walk on the Rocky Side

Posted by: Lynne

"Balancing Rock"

The other day we took a walk to "plant" the game camera in a totally different place hoping to catch more varities of game in our lens. We are actually hoping for a bobcat or mountain lion as neighbors have had a few sightings. I would love to see either one just so long as I am not standing there at the time!

We have a wide variety of woods, deep valleys filled with aspens, high rock outcroppings and high prairie grasslands on our 74 acres. The cabin is located nearest the woodsy part and aspen valley. In the valley, Bart's creek (named after our water-loving dog Bart) runs with snowmelt until late June when the tall grasses lushly take over. Monkshood likes to grow in the moist "bottom" as we call it, as it is the lowest point of our property.

But on this day the bottom was not our goal — the rocky outcroppings were. So we donned our hiking boots, and off we went. We had an idea to put it somewhere along a game trail that looks used, but not overly so. On the way there we had to pass by our marshy bog that never dries up, even in summer. And it was there that I had a joyful moment. It was almost like someone had queued up a choir of angles to sing Ahhhhhhh. I could not believe my eyes when I saw that the bog was harboring my favorite flower of all time —elephant head! I have never seen them growing on our land before, yet here they were. I nearly had a heart attack. Once you see them you'll know why they are my favorite. Their big ears, their long curled trunks — perfection.

But enough dilly-dallying over flowers — on to the main point of this blog post! Sheesh, Lynne, choirs of angels? Enough!

We picked our way up and over the granite rocks and scree like a couple of not-so-graceful mountain goats. It's a good workout, especially at this altitude. It's kind of like walking on little ball bearings on a slant. Very good for the balance!

We found a tree that Rick thought would have good coverage of the area.

Below us was the aspen forest.

So many cool rock formations up here! To me, if I were a mountain lion or a bobcat, I would hang out here.

On top, but not the highest point of our property by any means.

There are also lots of dead trees that are interesting (at least I think so). There is something very moving and thought provoking about these old giants that have given up.

I was really sad when this one fell over. It looks at rest though, doesn't it? Like someone who finally gave up after a brave battle with the elements.

This favorite still stands ... for now.

Its bark is weathered in a beautiful way. Sometimes I like to think I can talk to these old trees. I lay my hand on their bark and just stand there, listening, paying it reverance. (Not to worry, I haven't heard anything back yet.)

This same slope is also home to "Downward-Facing Dog", an old tree that was struck by lightning and gutted long ago, but after I put this up on Facebook many people thought it looked more like a wolf than a domesticed dog, one person thought it looked like a deer's head. We just thought that name up because it was catchy and like the yoga pose. 

And that my friends, was our walk on the rocky side. I know you're sad it's over but there is always more to come. I have promised the fans of "Dick the Tree" that I will do an update on him for all of those who know and love him, and it will introduce him to a whole new set of "Dick" lovers out there.

~Side note: We did switch out the cards on the game cameras (we put up one more as well) from the rocky ridge and only managed to get a shot of a doe deer and baby, the mamma moose running with the baby so that only the baby was captured, and what we think was a jack rabbit at night (hard to tell). No cats yet. Boo.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Foraging for Oyster Mushrooms

Posted by: Rick

I am a fan of foraging for mushrooms around our cabin site. There are literally hundreds of different kinds of mushrooms that grow here. We've found 3 that we can forage as edible (and hope to find more over time). One of those is the oyster mushroom. It grows on dead aspen trees in cool wet areas like the picture below.

The other day when Lynne and I were hiking below the cabin at a place we call Picnic Rock, we noticed a few oyster mushrooms on a large dead and fallen aspen tree.

I had no way to collect them at the time, and there weren't many, so we left them. But, I decided to go back down this morning with my power drill and do some "plugs" to propagate the mushrooms. Turns out if you drill a hole in a dead host tree (aspen in this case) and then fill the hole with some existing fresh mushrooms, a new cluster of mushrooms is likely to grow at that site.

Here I am drilling hole in the downed, dead aspen.

And, plugging it with some mushroom picked elsewhere on the tree.

The squirrels had been busy eating green pine cones on the same tree.

And, I picked and ate a few wild strawberries before turning to head home.

After I turned back toward the cabin, I spotted more mushrooms growing on a different tree that I had not seen earlier. As I walked to that tree, I saw another stump literally covered with mushrooms!

I guess I did not need to try manually propagating them. There are more here than we can ever use! And, they were fresh and ready to cut. Oyster mushrooms are attractive to bugs as well as mycophagists, and even if they are a few days old they can get infested. Most of these were in perfect shape. So, I came back up to the cabin, got Lynne, a knife and a bag and headed back down. She took these two photos of me cutting a few of the nicer ones.

Here are just a few of what I cut. I've put the word out to neighbors that I have these and more to see if anyone want some. If not, I'll blanch about half of them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, let them dry out real well, then freeze them in a ziploc bag.

The ones we don't freeze will go into some kind of dish within the next day or two. (I store them wrapped in damp paper towels in a paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator. They'll keep for a week that way.) Maybe sliced and breaded and fried? Maybe in an Asian-flavored stir fry with some steak and veggies? Maybe in an omelette or frittata? Suggestions?

(Please, don't ever eat a wild mushroom that you are not 100% certain of. Wild mushrooms can be deadly. Never eat any wild mushroom raw. In other words, don't try this at home unless you know what you are doing!)

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