leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

To Touch A Dream

How many times had I seen that movie scene?  Letter arrives.  Guy afraid to open it.  And I’m like “C’mon, suck it up buddy!” 

Until yesterday when it was my turn.  

I’m standing in the driveway, fixing the hand-drawn cart, when over the hill comes the big, brown UPS truck.  “Not the bare root trees,” I think out loud.  “We’re not ready.”  But beneath that uttered fear was a silent one far greater, a fear I really didn’t even allow myself to fully indulge, so fierce was my denial.

But then the driver handed me the small package.  I read the ‘from’ label.  CreateSpace.

Denial evaporated.   My novel, The Corridor---the adventures of a totally off-grid, razor-wire fenced world within our world---had arrived.

Though it was not the actual novel, but the five proof copies I’d ordered didn’t matter.  After nine years, I was about to actually see , hold, and even smell the results of my seemingly endless mornings of writing.    Not quite yet.  After all, Linda was off at the dentist.  I couldn’t open it without she who’d supported me, endured me,  all these years.  At least that was my excuse for behaving like ‘afraid-to-open-letter-man’.

As I nervously settled the unopened box onto the front porch table,  I thought about how The Corridor and The Land are practically twins.  We purchased The Land in April 2004 and I began The Corridor in June 2004.  Perhaps it’s what happens to twins: The Land informed The Corridor and The Corridor informed The Land, so much so that sometimes they are indeed hard to tell apart.  Though my bones felt  the truth of this, I’d still never actually touched The Corridor.  I’d never actually touched my nine year long dream.

To put that in perspective, Home the Land Built, so long in the making, arrived a year ago.   The Corridor outlasted it.  All I’d seen of The Corridor was digital representations.  Glowing rectangles.   DOCs.  PSDs.  PDFs.  For nine years I’d violated my own Right to Look principle.  And now that I finally could, what if…what if…what if…???

What exactly was I afraid of?  That I wouldn’t like it?  That CreateSpace, the self-publishing publisher, bungled the printing?  That might have been what I was telling myself, but that wasn’t really the tugging core of my fear.   My fear, perhaps like ‘afraid-to-open-letter-man’, was more fundamental. 

Fear of finality.  No more imagining.  No more changes, except typos.   This was it.  I was about to awaken.  The longest dream of my life was about to end.    Right-to-Look man is humbled.

And so it goes with fear.  Linda arrived.  She lunched.  We opened the box.  We shouted for joy.   I wept.   We clinked glasses of bubbly pear juice.    To feel---to touch my dream---was beautiful, more beautiful “in person” than I’d ever imagined. 

And yet, after all that, am I fully awake?  Is the dream over?  Not nearly.  Though I’ve already read the first 110 pages, it still doesn’t seem real.  Long held dreams, it seems, can feel as solid as the cream pages of a novel.  I wonder when it ends?  Perhaps in June when The Corridor appears for sale on Amazon.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Feelin' Rich 2

“Come quick!” I hollered to Linda from the front entry.  “And bring your umbrella.”  I was so excited I thought I’d wet myself.  Not that I’d notice.  I was already soggy from standing in the rain, the just barely warmer than snow rain.

Out the door, we stepped over the gravel driveway rivulets to the shed lean-to.  Now that I had led Linda here I felt like delaying the surprise, savoring the moment.  As we listened to the overhead tapping of water on steel, we watched junco peck at the feeder hanging in the hedgerow, just beyond the Humanure Hacienda.   Behind us, the driveway rivulets converged to form a large puddle.  Its outflow, the driveway stream, coursed down the hillside, flooding the mowed path.    I couldn’t stand it anymore.  The time had come.
Down the hillside, we sloshed across the flooded path.  I pointed.  And there, parallel to the driveway stream, flowed yet another stream.   Much to our wondrous eyes, this stream gushed right out of the hillside like a newly emerged spring.    Yet its sound---like the echo of a subterranean waterfall---was like no earthly spring.   It could only be, it had to be, the cistern overflow pipe.  And that could only mean one thing:  the 5400 gallon cistern was full of harvested rainwater!  We’re rich!!!  Just like our solar electric, we’re rich again!!!

And yet, as the rain continued to fall, we both stood there in denial.  How could it be full already?  We’d just endured the spring-less April.    Snow, sleet, ice and yes rain, occasionally it fell as cold, cold rain.   And each time, I’d dash out with my raincoat and throw the switch, directing the downspout water through the first flush diverter and into the cistern.    When the rain stopped, or began turning the downspout into a giant snow-cone maker, I’d turn the switch off, directing the water back out into the yard.   
But since we lack transparency---no good system for seeing how much water is in our cistern---we never knew how much water we’d collected.  Until now!  Now, like our off-grid solar electric, we’re in the season of abundance.   Spring!  Is that why we call it that?  Because water gushes forth with bounty? 

“Waste away!” I tell Linda.  “Let it gush out the faucet, just for the joy of it, if you like.”   Why not?  That’s the way the world works.  Isn’t it?  Not only our cistern, but both our ponds overfloweth.  No creature of the Land is wanting for water now.  Why should we?   The season of scarcity, the winter-long drought of rainwater harvest, is over.   No more thought to water conservation.  No more short showers.   No more worrying about a wasted drop.  It’s time to wash ourselves in the abundance.

My old grid-tied life---measured and metered---deprived me of this wild ride.  I’d even begun to believe that the world provided constant availability.  Of water.  Of energy.  Of food.  But now, thankfully now---  as the cistern overflow pipe gushes---I’m living like the world really works:  the ever-cycling seasons of scarcity and abundance.   And ALL my real joys (and hence sorrows) live in that cycle:  the feeding flocks of juncos, my precious friendships,  my darling Linda.  The grid, in its well-intentioned drive to subdue the sorrow of scarcity, stripped me of the joy of abundance.  No more!   

I’m a lucky man. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How It Works: Off-Grid Solar Electric

Purpose.  Provide all electrical power with no tie to grid.

How It Works Summary.  Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight to DC electricity which is stored in battery bank and converted to 110V AC for usage.  Gas-powered generator backup.

Cost.  $30,000 including installation.  Also received large tax credit.    Battery replacement in 7 to 10 years biggest anticipated future cost.    We have no electric bill and never will.

System Components

12 Photovoltaic (PV)  Solar Panels each capable of producing 250 watts DC max for a total of 3000 watts DC max.  Actual wattage depends upon amount of sunlight which is a function of solar veiling (trees, structures, clouds, fog, snow, rain, ice..) and solar angle.  No trees and structures veil our panels.  Angle impact changes throughout the day, peaking at noon and falling to zero  between sunrise and sunset.   Angle impact changes throughout the year,  maximized on summer solstice and minimized on winter solstice. 

16 Deep Cycle Batteries each capable of storing 2500 watt hours for a total of 40,000 watt hours.   Batteries must be kept above 50% capacity (20,000 watt hours).    Battery depletion rate is roughly proportional to amount of electricity used.  Since our home typically draws only 100 watts at given time of day, the batteries store 4 days of electricity.  Upon hitting the end of useful life, our lead-acid batteries will be 90% recycled.

Tractor-powered PTO Generator capable of producing 6000 AC watts to recharge batteries before they fall below 50% capacity.   With generator plugged into 60amp AC service outlet and attached to PTO, diesel-fueled tractor is manually started and run 4 hours to recharge depleted battery bank. 

110V AC Electric Panel.   Like any home is USA, provides 110V AC power to outlets and fixtures. 

Multi-function Invertor.  Outback FlexpowerOne intelligently charges batteries from either the DC solar panels or the AC generator.  Draws DC power from batteries, converts to AC and routes through electric panel to provide home power.    Monitors and displays amount of solar-generated power, battery capacity and amount of power house is drawing. 


Maintenance.  Monitor battery capacity and recharge with generator (when approaching 50%).  Replenish water in battery cells (every 3 months).    Start battery equalization program (every 3 months).  Scrape snow off solar panels (as needed). 

Report Card.   Warm Season = A.   Cold Season =  A-.    (See blog post for details).

Biggest Challenge.  Can we get away from the house for a week?  Yes from February through October.  November through January remains uncertain.  (See blog post fordetails).

Biggest Success Factor.  Low power house (100 watts typical).  No AC, dishwasher, clothes dryer, or microwave.  100% LED lighting.  Ultra-efficient fridge and freezer.   Water pump is shallow not deep-well.    No toilet flushing power.   LP gas stove. 

Enabling The Connection.    Behaving like any plant, solar panels make transparent the amazing power of the sun.  Like the Land, off-grid  solar electric follows the seasonal cycle of scarcity and abundance, conserving energy in winter and joyfully “wasting” power in the summer. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Insanity's Teacher

“Why would you ever want to ____?”

I get this question all the time, so feel free.   Fill in the blank.  How about “..drink water spilt off your roof?”  Or “…run low on electricity?”  Or the hands-down favorite, “….empty sloshing buckets of pooh?”

Some, including myself at times, probably wonder if I’m insane.  Maybe so.  But this wintry spring, I’m learning one thing.  I’m not nearly as insane as I’m going to be.  Or could be, if I learned from my teacher:  Home the Land Built.

I mean, here it comes, yet another mega-snowstorm in the coldest, cruelest “spring” I can recall---and that’s saying a lot for a lifelong Minnesotan---and what’s going on about Home the Land Built:  a celebration of life and light.   Never mind the frozen pond, I see ducks splashing in the frigid inrushing melt-waters.  Never mind the ice-crusted prairie, I see little kestrel hawk flap, flap, flapping his wing as he hovers in search of what? 
And then, yesterday, while a stiff northerly slapped our cheeks, flock upon migrating flock of juncos--but a thumb with wings---flushed out of the prairie and across the driveway for ten solid minutes.  I couldn’t help but imagine the warmer, sunnier climbs they’d vacated to arrive here, now, in this endless April Fool of a spring.  And junco isn’t stopping here.  He’s going all the way to the arctic.  

Then there’s robin.  Dozens of them bob, bob, bobbing along in the punky yard, pecking morosely, for what?  What are they finding to eat?  Worms don’t wiggle well in ice.  But it’s not just the birds.

Even Home the Land Built itself is going insane.  Since the cold snap began in February, I haven’t started the backup generator once.  Not even close to needing it.  We’re toasty inside.  A sunny day, no matter how cold, warms us to a shirt-sleeve 75F.  And most of that extra heat is coming not from the passive solar windows---the 2.5 foot overhang already blocks most of the high-angled sun---but from excess solar hot water pumped through the concrete floor.   
And today’s storm, raw as it was, managed to squeeze out rain rather snow, rain which we joyously harvested.  Hurrah!  The long, rain-harvest drought of winter is ended.  And yes, when I emptied the toilet buckets into the Humanure Hacienda, the hay-covered compost actually raked away.  Thawed, if you believe it.   No Celtic priestess ever danced so at the arrival of light!  This, all of this, as an April mega-snowstorm bears down.

If insanity means “Follow the light to whatever end”, then I couldn’t have found a more insane teacher than Home the Land Built.  So, just to honor my teacher, I donned a heavy jacket, strode out into the raw, spring-lit elements and flung handfuls of prairie seed onto mucky, ice-crusted gopher mounds.  Why?    Because it felt great!  It felt great to join the splashing ducks, the hovering kestrel, and the arctic-bound juncos.  It felt great to join the energized solar panels, the guzzling cistern, even the sighing compost heap.  The celebration of the insane.  In spite of all evidence to the contrary, we say ”spring is here!”

On May 4, 2011, as I puzzled over my first Rah-dur blog entry, I realized I wanted a purpose-driven subtitle.  “Leave old job.  Leave old home.  Enter new home.  Engage new life.  Maintain what matters.”  Looking back, I had no idea what “engage new life” might come to mean.  I’m beginning to feel like the crew, or perhaps Starship Enterprise herself, when Captain Picard points his challenging finger toward the stars and utters, “Engage!”  Or maybe I’m like Captain Picard himself when confronted by the omnipotent being Que.  “It’s not about charting nebula,” Que shrugs.   “It’s about exploring the unfathomable reaches of existence.”  Hail to Que and Home the Land Built: Insanity’s Teachers.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The Humbling Crowds

“So, let me get this right,” I said to the seemingly shy yet determined woman before me.  “You attended last Thursday’s talk at Midwest Mountaineering and tonight you listened to us all over again here at REI.”     

“No,” she said.  “I came now, after your talk, because I wanted to know if you really meant what you said."

“What did I say?” I gulped, hoping I had really meant it.

Perhaps reading my nervousness, she put me at ease with a smile.  “You said anyone could come visit your home.  We’d like to come.”

I can’t recall exactly what I felt at that moment.  Sometimes I suffer from delayed emotion syndrome.  I probably experienced all the typical post-talk feelings:  exhaustion, adrenaline-rush, crowd-management anxiety, and most especially, the bliss that comes from connecting with the energies of an entire room.  But later, as the Prius exited the freeway and followed the two-lane home, my shoulders slumped as I recalled the shy yet determined woman. 

I still couldn’t believe she returned to our second talk in a week just to ask if she could tour Home the Land Built.  Of course I’d said yes, yes, yes and gave her my contact info.   We’re all about that.  But now, as the fields of dirty snow rolled past, all I felt was humbled.  To receive someone’s---anyone’s---undivided attention is such a great gift.  I mean, that’s where the Connection lives, doesn't it?   I felt myself blinking back the emotional surge.  I was driving after all.  But how often does someone hear my story, relate to it, and go far out of their way just to dive deeper?  That very evening, as we sat before our ritual fire, Linda and I offered a toast.  Clink!  Can you hear that generous woman?  That’s for you.

And clink!  Here's another for all of you that listened to our story.  The hundred who crowded into the low-ceilinged basement of Midwest Mountaineering.  The next hundred who registered online to fill the spacious event room at REI.   And another clink of the glass for those who wanted to but couldn’t attend.   Who’d have thought the REI event would waitlist a week before the talk?  To all of you I want to repeat what I said to the generous woman.  “Yes.  We invite you to our home.  Come if you wish.  Our door is open.”  Home the Land Built rose to connect us to the Land and to you. 

And clink! to LocusArchitecture---Paul, Adam, Wynne---for spearheading these talks, assembling spiffy, twirling presentation graphics, and inviting us to share our story.    Clink! to Midwest Mountaineering and REI for granting your space and grabbing your customer’s attention.   Clink! to Minnesota Renewable Energy Society for your sponsorship.  Clink! to Tracy at Birchwood CafĂ© for sending those tasty treats for all our guests.  Whoa that coconut macaroon was just what I needed before the talk.   And whoa if we clink again I'll fall into the fire.

The most heartfelt thanks goes to all you of who came and offered us the gift of your attention.  And you, there in the humbling crowd---generous as the woman who dared ask to visit---feel free to follow her to Home the Land Built.  The least I can do is offer to hear your story.

By the way, since so many asked what happens to our house when we leave it, I can tell you what we returned to after a night away.    Though the masonry heater felt cool to the touch, the house was still 70F.  The batteries were 100% charged with electricity.  The 80 gallon solar-heated water tank was at 144F and being pumped into the floor.   The toilet bucket was no more full than when we left.  And I can only assume that the cistern still contains roughly 1500 gallons of water.  Maybe your trip down will inspire us to make the water system transparent.