Friday, March 29, 2013

Base to Final

This has been an amazing first week of spring. The first day wasn't very promising, but after that things warmed up and even got sunny.

We took 997 out of her hangar at Bellingham Airport for some landing practice around the patch. Base leg let us see Mt. Baker in the distance capped by a wispy cloud.

Then on final approach, I could see her lofty snow capped peaks over the wing.  What a nice day to enjoy blue skies up close and personal. -- Margy

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

KOZI Warm Off the Grid

Earlier I shared the wood stove that's the "heart" of our float cabin home. Without its warmth, we couldn't live here in all seasons.

Our stove is a KOZI.  KOZI still makes wood and pellet stoves, but our model is what I lovingly call a classic.  John (you met him last week for the letter "J") found our stove used and refurbished it before installing it in the cabin that would later become ours.

I don't know for sure, but I surmise that the KOZI company chose their name because of how you feel when you cozy up to one of their stoves.  Here's your chance. Hold out you hands and feel the warmth.

How was that?  Makes me think of Christmas.  The local Shaw cable channel runs a fireplace video continuously day and night. -- Margy

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Last Pickings, First Planting

Spring is finally here. The weather is a bit fickle, but the longer days let you know the world is changing. It's time to get my floating garden ready for the new season.

First I picked the end of last year's crops. I leave things like carrots, kale, and chard in the ground. Even with freezing temperatures, they last better that way.

The only thing I dared to plant this early was garlic bulbs I found at Canadian Tire (your tire store and more).  For the last two years I've grown garlic in small pots on the transition float deck. I don't get a large crop, but plenty to last us for the following year.

The last thing was to work up the soil and augment it with some steer manure and peat.  Wayne helped me get it done just before another rainstorm moved through. Now everything can rest for a month.  I'll begin my seed and seedling planting during my next visit in mid-April.

Are you working in your garden yet? What have you been doing to get ready for the new season? -- Margy

Saturday, March 23, 2013

When is a Bridge a Ladder?

The ocean has tides, Powell Lake has cycles. High high water comes in July after spring rains and snow melt. October brings low low water after a long hot summer. Winter rains bring the lake back. Then in spring, the lake drops to a high low level because storms are less severe, and snow remains frozen in the high country.

Lake level is determined by rain, snow melt, and runoff. After a heavy storm, it's not unusual to see it go up several inches. Lake level is also controlled by a dam built mainly to provide electricity for the papermill.

This year the water's particularly low for early spring. More like October than March. We've had plenty of rain, so they must be releasing more water through the dam than usual.

Our cabin rides in 80 feet of water. We're lucky. Some cabins go aground when the lake level drops too much. We can adjust our steel cables to shore, but our "stiff leg" log holding us away from the cliff is no longer floating. It's high, dry, and mighty stiff.

And our access to shore is more like a ladder than a bridge. I sure hope we get plenty of spring runoff, or it is going to be a very dry summer. -- Margy

Friday, March 22, 2013

Up the Lake

There's nothing like heading home after a hectic day in town.  We can travel in rain or shine, but shine is always more appealing to the eye.

This morning we got back just at "sunrise." Because we're in the shadow of Goat Island, that doesn't happen until after 9:00 this time of year.

Wayne has written two exciting books highlighting our off-the-grid lifestyle in Coastal BC. Up the Lake introduces you to cabin life. Farther Up the Lake includes more stories about our region.  Both are available in Kindle, e-book and print formats. -- Margy

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rhubarb Critter Attack

Spring is in the air. Warmer weather brings out new green shoots, and hungry critters awakening from the winter doldrums. Last fall I cut back my rhubarb that grows in a pot on the transition float. I covered the crown with crumpled newspaper and extra soil.

My goal was to help the roots survive freezing frosts. It's worked for two years. But when I got back to the cabin last month, a hungry critter had dug into the pot and removed the mulch. This particular critter must have been looking for grubs because the roots didn't seem to be damaged.

I replaced the newspaper and soil and added a critter deterrent. Now all I have to do is hope that the rhubarb plant will sprout, and that I get back to the cabin before it reaches the top of it's new protective cage.  What methods do you use to deter critters?

Update: This last trip to the cabin, I thought the critter had been back. From the deck, I could see newspaper pushed up again. But when I got out there, it was the rhubarb plant sprouting. Yea! It made it through another winter in it's small pot. Now all I need is some strawberries and we are in business. -- Margy

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jack of All Trades

His name may be John, but he's a Jack of All Trades. People who grow up here in Coastal BC are a self-sufficient sort. Isolation is one factor, independence is another.

John learned to build float cabins by following traditional methods, seeking his father's advice, taking shop classes in high school, and building forts and mini-cabins as a kid with his brothers.

John built our cabin in Hole in the Wall from the waterline up. He got a cedar log float from a logging company, took it apart and rebuilt it better, stronger, not faster, but longer lasting. Sounds a bit like the creation of the bionic man doesn't it.

John called ours Cabin #3 because it was his third. He's currently finishing Cabin #5.

John continues to use his Jack of All Trades skills to help us maintain and upgrade our cabin home.  As you can see, he's quite versatile:

These are just some of the major projects over the last twelve years. He also keeps an eye on our place when we are out of town, making sure wind storms haven't caused damage. With our cityfolk background we will always need a guy like John with Jack of All Trades skills. -- Margy

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Keeping a Boat Dry in Winter

I just love the movie Captain Ron. If you love boats and haven't seen it, you're missing a classic. There's a line from the shower scene that reminds me how wet a boat can get. Captain Ron: "It's a lot of water... Well, it's a boat."

Winter up the lake can be moist.  Our Bayliner 2350 with an enclosed cabin needs help to stay dry inside.  We use a variety of strategies to keep it dry and reduce the proliferation of mildew.  Before heavy rains begin, we remove the cushions from the V-berth.

We install Dri-Z-Air dehumidifiers in the empty berth to help absorb moisture. We also place others in other strategic locations. After the pellets dissolve, the liquid is emptied and the units refreshed to continue drawing moisture out of the air.

We also use our solar power to run a Davis Instruments Air-Dryr 500 on a timer. When in operation, it sits safely in the middle of the boat's floor.  This dehumidifier is good for off-the-grid since it only draws 0.6 amps while handling 500 square feet.

And when we're using the boat, or running the engine at the dock, we use the built-in diesel heater to warm the cabin. To help distribute the warmth throughout the boat's cabin, we have attached a flexible duct hose. As we cruise on the lake, we move the warm air around the boat.

With just a little bit of effort, we keep our boat dry and relatively mildew free.  What are some of the solutions you use? -- Margy

Monday, March 18, 2013

Liquid Creosote

If you use a fireplace or woodstove, you know that creosote is the dangerous buildup of smoke and vapor residue in the chimney.  If you burn a hot, fast fire, combustion is more complete and creosote buildup is less likely.  It's when you close down the flue to let the fire burn low and slow that creosote builds up quickly.

When the temperature within the chimney gets below 121 degrees Celsius (250 F), the gases liquify to form creosote.  My Imperial Magnetic Stove Thermometer helps me monitor and control this.

We notice that liquid creosote production is more pronounced when the temperature drops below freezing. This super cools the outside portion of the chimney.

The morning after a particularly clear and cold night, we went outside to discover liquid creosote crud all over our picnic table.

It dripped down through the vertical chimney pipe, out the clean-out hatch at the bottom, and onto the metal porch roof. Because our roofing was recycled, it dripped through empty screw holes and right down onto the picnic table underneath.  Liquid creosote is greasy, dark, thick, and has a strong burned odour.

After a hot fire the next day, the liquid creosote dried up.  But that is also a dangerous condition.  Every other month Wayne goes up on the roof to thoroughly clean any creosote out of the chimney pipe.  Once a year we remove the inside portion to do the same.

Do you use a wood stove or active fire place? How do you take care of creosote? -- Margy

Friday, March 15, 2013

Company's Coming

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail, nor cloud keep John from his appointed rounds (so to speak). The only thing that keeps him down the lake and in town are high winds. 

Our cabin is in a protected area called Hole in the Wall. Neighboring First Narrows seems to generate its own weather system and scuttering clouds.  But to the south is a section of Powell Lake that John "lovingly" refers to as the North Sea. Can you guess why?

If the winds aren't building three foot waves on the southern part of the lake, we can expect company if there's a job to be done.

John's a good friend who we can always count on.

Today is Sky Watch Friday. Go to the Sky Watch Friday website and you'll see sky photos from all over the world! -- Margy

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Woodstove Cooking: Imperial Stove Thermometer

I purchased an Imperial Magnetic Stove Thermometer at Valley Building Supplies in Powell River.  This magnetic thermometer is designed to show safe operating temperatures to avoid creosote formation and overheating. During normal operations, I put in on the stovepipe to monitor the exhaust temperature.

When we're using our woodstove thermoelectric generator, I put the Imperial thermometer on the side. The generator modules have an operational temperature range from about 250 to 325 degrees Celsius  (482 to 617 degrees Fahrenheit).

A fire that's too low won't generate electricity.  One that's too hot will damage the power modules.  Our generator, cooled with lake water, produces a trickle charge for our cabin batteries during winter months when the solar panels aren't very productive.

It also works as an oven thermometer or to check the metal stovetop surface for cooking temperatures. It has a handy wire handle to lift it in and out of the cast iron dutch oven I use for baking on top of my woodstove. I was surprised to learn that the interior temperature gets up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on my cooking times I would have guessed less. For $14.95 (CAD) I thought this multi-purpose Imperial thermometer was a good value. -- Margy

Friday, March 08, 2013

Boating on the Bay

Boating at sunset on Bellingham Bay is always a beautiful experience.  We just went out for a quick spin and saw a gorgeous sunset.

It was a good thing we didn't plan to go far, or stay out too long.

Just after we returned to the dock it started to rain, and then the hail followed.  That must have been the cause of the interesting cloud colours and formations over Lummi Island. -- Margy

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Heart of our Home

This time of year, our KOZI wood burning stove is the heart of our home. It came with the cabin and has been a steadfast friend ever since. With regular stovepipe cleaning, it keeps the fire roaring, or low and slow.

A woodstove must have wood. For us, that's fairly simple. During high water, the wood floats right to our front porch. All we have to do is scoop it up, cut it up (sometimes) and let it dry. When we are gathering wood throughout the summer, we are dreaming of the cozy fires it will bring during long winter nights.

Storing wood on our cabin's float is problematic. We want it close, but not weighing down the foundation of our cabin. Our floating woodshed serves this purpose well. For those really rainy and windy nights, we have our small indoor wood shelf (click here for directions) that holds about 4-5 days worth of really dry wood. It takes up a little space in our "guest room," but no one seems to complain.

Because we gather wood from debris floating on the lake, it comes in all sizes. When it's large, it must be cut and split. For twelve years we completed that task using a chain saw and ax. We still use the chainsaw to cut the pieces into stove lengths, but for Christmas I got an electric log splitter. What a wonderful device for both of us to use.

In case you missed the video, here it is. Watch out for your fingers!

Do you use a woodstove? Do you use it for heating, cooking, or anything else. I'd love to hear your experiences. -- Margy

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Apache Trail Scenic Drive

Wayne and I spent an afternoon on the Apache Trail Scenic Drive while we were in Arizona. It was fairly close to Tempe where we were staying, and the sunny warm afternoon made for a great time to be outdoors. The road called Apache Trail starts in the town of Apache Junction. It travels through high desert with lots of cactus, including the impressive branching saguaro.

The route was originally used by the Apache to get through the Superstition Mountains.  It later became a stagecoach trail before an automobile road with grades and switchbacks. It must really been something to experience back in the day.

We found a trailhead near the top of the pass with an old cattle pen. This time of year there's quite a bit of grass on the desert floor, so I guess you could run cattle in these mountains.  But it would take a lot of land to sustain just one.

We passed Canyon Lake with boats waiting for the season to start. Today sure felt like the right season to me. And the campgrounds and picnic areas in the Tonto National Forest weren't crowded.

We drove as far as Tortilla Flat, a former stagecoach stop turned into a tourist area. For us this was the end of the road before turning around and returning the way we came.  To continue,  the road becomes dirt and we didn't want to try that is a rental car.

You can make this trip in half a day, or take longer depending on how many attractions you want to see along the way.  We opted for the low key version. -- Margy

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

While Wayne and I were visiting the Saguaro National Park West and Tucson Mountain Park, we stopped at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  The entrance fee isn't cheap, but the natural displays are well done and very informative.  The trails are a mixture of paved walkways and well-pack desert gravel.  The terrain is mostly level, and ramadas made with natural desert materials give shaded rest spots along the way.

Different desert habitats are depicted including the desert, mountain woodlands, desert grasslands, and pollination gardens.

Displays include typical desert animals including mountain lions, bears, wolves, coyotes, squirrels, prairie dogs, javelinas, lots of birds, and other creatures great and small.

While the animal habitats were clean and natural, it was a bit sad to see these proud animals on display.  I guess there's a fine line between needing specimens to study and allowing animals to remain in their home environments. -- Margy

Friday, March 01, 2013

Desert Skies

We came all the way from the Pacific Northwest to Arizona to find some sunny blue skies.  Well, that isn't the whole truth (we're here for USC Women's Basketball), but it's a great side benefit.

Shortly after arriving, we drove to Tucson.  Along the way we stopped Tucson Mountain Park west of town to take a walk in the warm desert sun.

The high desert is dotted with Saguaro and many other kinds of cactus. 

Just a few hours in the sun gave our pale skin a nice pink glow. But we better get some sunscreen before it goes too far to quick. -- Margy