Thursday, October 11, 2018

The End of an Era - Selling the Sawmill a.k.a. How to Dismantle a Woodmizer LT10 Sawmill a.k.a. New Beginnings

If I recall correctly, last year I only cut two or three beams on the sawmill.  I didn't have any big projects in mind, but did have some large logs on the skidway.  One of the largest was a huge birch that had blown down previously, and Grandpa helped me to portion it off and bring it in.  I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, but I knew it had some good board feet in it.  I cut it into two large eight by eight beams.  Kenny offered to help move one of the beams, and immediately pinched the tip of his finger badly and that really killed my interest in doing any more unneeded cutting for the season.

This past summer Donna and I made loose plans to build a new sauna.  With that in mind, I cut up a stack of true two by four beams in twelve and eight foot lengths.  Once they were on my drying rack, I realized that I didn't really have too many future projects in mind again.  This coincided with good friends of our family talking about their own desire to own a mill to help them construct a barn in the near future (they have quite a menagerie already - and are open to expanding it).

A handshake arrangement was made (after consulting Donna), and Thanksgiving weekend was arranged as the best opportunity to get it dismantled and moved to its new home.

Several times during this process, the phrase "highest, best use" came to mind - not just for the mill, but also for things like my time and attention.  It's a principle I can only attest to know about and occasionally strive for, not something I claim to have mastered.

First part of any job - forming an overall plan of action.

Picking the low-hanging fruit to boost our confidence.  Removing one bed section.

Down to just the very heavy mast - time to bring in the big guns (both mental AND physical!)

A little grunting and groaning to get started.  Note the powerhouse framed by the mast!

It felt easier to move laying flat.

I asked for this picture NOT to be taken.

This slope seemed to get steeper once we were carrying the mast.

Ahh, sweet relief!

The beams are required to lay the track on.

Everything all banded up, and the family finally rounded up and buckled in!

Kenny found a tree - maybe Christmas material?

Bonus Blue Jay who had been visiting us.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Revising the Crawlspace Vents

Since we first built the cabin, I have made it a biannual tradition to suit up, crawl under the floor and either open or close the vents in each corner.

I curse, struggle, swear (quietly) and then return to the land of humans spent and crusty.  Finally this year I decided to try to change that, even if only slightly.

Originally I hadn't thought much of it - I had the screens mounted flush with the outside of the cinder blocks, and would crawl up to each one under the cabin and push foam into the space behind them.  Or pull it out, depending on the season.

The original setup - screen flush with the outside of the blocks.
Finally last year I realized that if I had had the foresight to mount the screen flush with the INSIDE of the blocks, I could be pushing the foam in from the outside, where I only need to crawl under six feet of deck in the great outdoors, rather than six feet of dusty rock in the pitch black.

Assembling my tools.
Looks about right for going down below.
Once again I went under inside this year and caulked in new screens as flush as possible to the inside of the blocks.  This was frustrating enough but hopefully it's the last time I need to do it in this manner.

A few days later, I lay down a tarp in the corner of the cabin under the porch, and crawled up to the screen.  It took a bit of work with a hammer and elbow grease, but I managed to break the outer screens off the blocks and clean them up.  Then I measured some cedar board to line the entire cavity, and spray foamed around them to try to ensure a good seal.

Tearing out the old screen.
The new screen was too tight, I had to flex it into position.  Hopefully unintended consequences of this don't return to bite me.
Boxed in nicely, ready for the outside foam plugs.
In the next week or so, I'll stuff the openings full of additional foam to seal up the crawlspace for this freezing season.  Hopefully this process will be much less frustrating than having to go under the cabin itself.

If only I could figure out a way to drain the water lines without having to go under the cabin either.  If only...

Sunday, September 23, 2018

...And First Snowfall of the Season!

Yesterday we attended the NOHE to help us have a better background in the ins and outs of being a small landlord.  Afterwards we dropped by on one of our tenants to put up some blinds for them and have a bbq (as well as to enjoy their shower!)

They mentioned once or twice that there was supposedly a chance of snow overnight.  I saw the same thing on the local news broadcast just before pastry time as well, but it was really hard to imagine it.

At two a.m. this morning I woke up to a tingly bladder, and noted that the scene outside the patio doors was unusually bright - likely due to the nearly full moon (no, not mine - the real one - I do wear at least underpants at night!)

As you can imagine, without my glasses, I couldn't see accurately, but upon sober second look, things weren't the same...  shape...  outside.  I put on my spectacles to be treated to, well, a spectacle!  Everything was covered in a thick layer of snow.

I lay down, not sure if the proper reaction was excitement or dread - my body didn't really care, it feels both of those emotions the same way.  I decided that it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.  I still would like to have more wood put up for NEXT winter, but at least this winter should be covered for the most part.

An Aiki tradition - the annual marking of the first snow in Donna's windscreen.

I didn't realize how much we seem to have a used car lot here!
Now I have to go through my mental checklist of things to ensure I'm prepared for.  Bring in things that shouldn't be left out for the season...  Find the ladder and set it up to sweep off the solar panels.  Find the broom for the solar panels.  Dig out the oldest pile of humanure to make sure there is lots of room for this season's contributions.  Maybe take a trip or two down the bush trail and bring in some logs that have fallen across the trail.

At least the pond didn't freeze - today.  I think it was frozen yesterday though.
It's likely best for me to make this list elsewhere, as it is sure to grow throughout the day.

A close up.  Is that a patio chair there?!  Another thing to put away!
Where are my winter boots?
Sauna looks very wintery!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

First Fire of the '18-'19 Season!

Whelp, I was hoping it would never come, but here it is.

This morning it was 17.7 in the cabin, and I can see that at this moment it is 0.0 outside.

In an effort to promote and maintain familial happiness, I finally put a match to paper and wood and lit the first fire of our season.  It has currently warmed the cabin to over 18, but it's not roaring for some reason.  I put in some large chunks of well seasoned birch, so at least it should go for awhile.

Not bad for a 5am picture!  Note the electric heater which supplements in late afternoon when the sun is still strong and the batteries are almost floating.
The main woodshed is full, which is nice.  The sauna woodshed is three quarter's full, which is honestly, more full than it's been at the start of any given season, so there's that.

Slightly worryingly is that the wood pile for the '19-'20 season has only just begun - hopefully in the remainder of the month and up to Christmas, I can take advantage of the Brrr Months to get some wood put up for next year.

At least I can warm up large quantities of water now without using butane or watching the power levels 😀!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Brief Update on Aiki Finances

One of our guiding principles when we first took on this particular endeavour was to try to trim down our lifestyle such that it allowed us to spend more time together.  For a family of introverts, we sincerely enjoy one another's company!

The first three years we were able to bask in the ability to spend the entire time together most days.  It didn't mean we were attached to one another, but moreso that if one of us needed to work on a large project, the other was free to keep an eye on Kenny.

While Kenny has grown and doesn't need constant (or really any) supervision, we still want to be sure that he is involved in the goings on in our household and connected to us.

Unfortunately, fiscal realities set in and my part time income(s) certainly weren't enough to keep us afloat.

Donna's skill set is much more employable and as such, she has gone back to work.  First at three days a week, then moving up to four, and for nearly a year now at five.  This is definitely the opposite direction from where we intended that particular needle to move.

Rather than get bogged down in how annoying this has been, I'm going to write only about the positive spin it has put on our finances for now.  If it weren't for that, I don't believe it is something we would want to continue for any longer than required.

It has allowed us to pay off the roof of the cabin when we realized that was a project that couldn't be tackled by one person.

It allowed us to purchase a more reliable vehicle to make the pilgrimage back to southern Ontario to visit family once (or twice?) a year.

It reduced a fair amount of stress from watching the bank balance that once seemed so high in the black, to keep tracking into the red.

We like the bank balance needle moving higher again, but we also are mindful that Kenny is at a great age to start having more adventures together.  Whether here on the homestead, or perhaps showing him a bit more of the world.  We also now believe that providing him with some of his own tangible assets may be a good plan for his future; something that seems increasingly hard to prepare for or predict using traditional means.

Almost two years ago we suffered from reduced access to one of our greatest resources out here on the homestead - one that I've often admitted was the difference between total failure and the successes we've had.

Mummu and Grandpa decided to move from the property adjacent to us back to the city.  It's nice that they are still more than close enough to visit often, but it's nowhere near what it was like when we could walk back and forth between us.

One of their choices in moving to the city was that they no longer wanted to be home owners.  They were happy to rent and have fewer worries about how to maintain a household.  Not to mention no longer having to cut wood and blow out a huge driveway.

An idea floated while they began their search for an appropriate place to move to - for Donna and I to purchase a tidy little home of their choosing, and then turn around and rent it to them for enough to cover the expenses.  This would give everyone the best of the situation.  We still had a mid-sized HELOC [home equity line of credit] on our house in Kitchener, and the local RBC was willing to provide a mortgage for the remainder based on Donna's income and our credit rating.

Together we found a cozy bungalow that seemed to check off all the required boxes.

This situation worked so well for the first year that it began to show us a way to perhaps get Donna home sooner.

With that in mind, we tapped even more of the equity in our Kitchener home to purchase a triplex in Thunder Bay, and placed three very lovely tenants there.  It required more renovations than we expected (isn't that always the case?), but we believe we have done most of the heavy lifting so that it shouldn't require many more inputs going forward.

Mummu and Grandpa have been at their place a bit over a year now, and recently we began looking for something else for them as there were a few things that they would prefer to have differently.  Luckily we found another home in the city that they like even more, and it sports a small suite in the basement which should help to off-set the increased price.

So here we are, about to close on that house, and lining up renters for the house they are now leaving, as well as this new basement suite.

Truth be told, this year we probably will make very little or even nothing from all of these "doors" - as renovations took a bit of a toll on the balance.  We also had windstorms in southern Ontario that damaged the roof in Kitchener, which needed to be repaired to the tune of many thousands of dollars.

We're optimistic that with these large capital expenses finished, rental properties may provide a less time-intensive stream of income for the family budget and may soon free up Donna significantly.

I'll try to add in a bit more writing about how we are managing our time and money going forward, as I think that's an important part of the picture.  Things like financial independence and early retirement have played a large part of our thoughts of late, and so it's only fair to include them on the blog.

Bonus picture of "hawky" - a hawk that has been hanging around the cabin quite a bit the past week, and appears nearly tame!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Using Sour Milk to Make Quick and Easy Cheese in our Rice Cooker

We were down to our last bag of milk.  Luckily I had starred milk on our Wunderlist and made sure to purchase some more just as we started the bag.

Unfortunately, as I went to pour Kenny a glass from that final bag, he remarked something like "I don't know if that's a different kind of milk from usual, but I really don't like it."  Immediately I  sampled it and could taste the distinct acidity of milk starting to turn.  I set the bag aside in the fridge and poured him a glass of new milk, and decided to take another spin at making cheese the next day.

I don't know if I'm unique, but I still torment myself with embarrassment even over things that happened years and years and years ago.  Often to such a degree that recalling those events causes me to cry out loud now, at my age.  Fortunately Kenny has learned a bit about this quirk of his father's, and when he hears me make these whimpers, if I reply that I'm just remembering something embarrassing to his queries, he soon lets the issue drop.

The title of this blog post is one of those embarrassing memories.  Then again, as I start really embracing the dad joke, perhaps it isn't so bad.

On the plus side, it was pretty much exactly the recipe I used for making cheese this time around.  Cost of cheese - about $1.50, using milk that was going in the thunderbox anyway, so that's not bad.  It tasted like some sort of fancy gourmet cheese that would have been much more than $1.50 for 100gm, so I guess I came out ahead there.  Thinking I should save some brine from feta, and put this in the brine to give it that same flavour. I may end up making my own cheese on a more regular basis?

Much easier to heat the milk in a rice cooker!  Just set on cook and wait for the bubbles.

Maybe an ounce of vinegar.

Cheesecloth and colander assembled.

Right on queue, here's the bubbles!

Things happen real fast when the vinegar goes in.  Stir for a minute, switch to warm, and let this just curdle for maybe a quarter hour.

Pouring through the cheesecloth.

Still pouring.

Pouring complete.  There's the curd in the colander.

Wrapped up the cloth, set between two dinner plates, and put on a full jug of vinegar to press it for another half hour or so. 
Looks cheesy.  Very bland.  Needs lots of kosher salt!

And packaged for salads or just eating straight up.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Rack for Milled Lumber

As you probably remember from the post about me starting up the sawmill again, I've just been throwing the 2x4's willy-nilly all over the ground in an effort to make a big dent in the skidway.

Ugh, what a mess.
Doesn't really look any better from this angle.
Me thinking, "I'll deal with you later!"
After the pile started to get really unruly looking though, I decided it was time to put that stuff on a rack neatly for aesthetic, quality, safety and space reasons.

I planned out a complicated rack that I could build using gas pipe and gas pipe fittings and headed in to Home Depot.

Unfortunately, when I arrived, they had only a fraction of the types of fittings I would have needed, and even less of the pipe in the sizes I wanted.  On top of that, a mental calculation of cost made it less and less attractive.

I headed down to storage solutions and then figured that, while sub-optimal, a heavy duty storage rack should still be able to be pressed into service.  As such, I purchased the largest, heaviest duty one they had and headed home.

While Donna and Kenny pursued their chores at the cabin, I assembled the racking on a level area really close to the mill, and began to load up the product I had already cut.  I was able to fit five boards across, then a sticker, and then repeat this process for three layers.  This times four shelves gave me space for theoretically 60 boards at a time.  Realistically, I lost a number of slots where the diagonal braces spanned the ends, but I also made up a number of slots on the top shelf which I could pile higher.  I also found that I could even pile a couple boards outside the shelving on the protruding ends of the stickers.

Nice, level area close to the mill.
Sliding them in from the end is just the way of things.
Looks nice and neat though!
All in all, it sure has cleaned up the mill area, and I trust that it will help keep the boards I cut straighter than they would be just piled on the ground.  I'll report back if there are any issues.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Kenny's Garden Harvest

Be it ever so humble, there are no veggies quite like "grown on your own..."

Showing off the bounty from our raised beds.  Made for amazing fresh salad!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Yet Another Clothes Line

When you live off-grid and don't have easy access to gas or electric services, you start to really miss some things, and others, not so much.

One thing I've not really missed - especially since even when we had one, we didn't use it terribly much, was our dryer.

Even back in the city, I had installed a clothes line in the rafters over our back porch, very similar to what I installed on the sauna here in the bush.

Now that we've moved washing operations into the main cabin though, it makes sense to keep the drying operations closer.

In addition to the very popular indoor drying rack, we also owned a pop up drying rack that I would set out on the deck as much as possible during the summer, and continue to use throughout the winter indoors just for extra space.  Unfortunately that rack met its' untimely end after being overloaded and then subjected to a large gust of wind last week.  Go in peace our good friend.

So sad, those rods aren't suppose to be on the ground!
I remembered that in the bush were the remains of a previous clothes line that had been abandoned when the line under the porch roof of the sauna was installed.  Kenny and I grabbed my larger ladder and headed out to retrieve any useful parts.  It didn't take long to disassemble and bring it back to the main cabin.

I didn't want anything that would in any way interfere with our ability to move around on the porch.  It's somewhat cluttered enough already.  Also, the porch rafters on the cabin are at least a foot higher than the sauna, so I didn't think anyone other than myself would be able to reach them comfortably.

With those points in mind, I decided to install a single line just along the outside edge of the rafters that Donna and I could access while not blocking any traffic.

Assembling my parts.  Don't freak out by the dismembered rack in the background.
First some open cup hooks were installed at each end of the beam.

Open ended hook.
Then at each support post, I also installed an eye hook to help keep the line from sagging.

Eye hook.  Hopefully far enough under the edge that in light rain, clothes could still stay up?
I ran the remaining clothes line through the eye hooks and tied it off at each end.

I also installed a tension device to allow me to tighten the clothes line right away, and any time in the future that it may sag.

Easy adjustment down the line.
I loaded it up, and so far it's worked great!  It only gets afternoon sun, but anything is better than nothing in life!  I wonder how long into the cold season we will be able to use it.  Time will tell.

Enjoy my unmentionables!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Using the LT10 Sawmill Again

Well I'll be jiggered!  But let me explain - I only used the sawmill a handful of times last summer, culminating in the time Kenny dropped a 6x6 birch beam on his finger and I felt so bad that if someone had offered to just take my sawmill away I likely would have just let them.

Fast forward to a couple days ago when I realized it was a nice day, and I had time, but that I had done nothing to winterize the mill.  I poured a couple of glugs (it's a real unit of measurement - honest!) of seafoam into the tank, then topped it off with petrol.  I was actually thinking I should be stingy with the petrol, on the assumption that I would have to remove the engine and have it serviced at KC Auto before I would be able to get it to start.

Stunningly, it started on the SECOND PULL!  I almost fell off the catwalk!  Kohler engines - I am sold!

In any case, I cut up a few logs into a small pile of true two by fours to likely put towards the new sauna.  One really great side effect was the sawdust that was produced - We had actually paid a bit to the local firewood guy to purchase some of his excess sawdust and chips in the spring!
A few two by fours to get warmed up!
A nice big bucket of clean, dry, natural sawdust for the composting toilets!
Today is grey and drizzling, I'll likely skip the mill and just go under the cabin to open up the vents instead.  Then follow it up with a sauna.