Power Preparations

I’m talking about electrical power, not any sort of super-whammo-dine prepping advice.

One of our concerns since moving to Virginia, has been keeping the house going when bad weather hits. We’re on a well and septic system, so those are not a direct concern. However, it does make us even more dependant on electricity. No power = no water!  Eventually, we’ll build some alternatives for the water situation, but we needed something quick and inexpensive.

By now, you’ve probably jumped to the conclusion of “Buy a generator!”  Which we did. Got a 6kW Briggs & Stratton at Lowe’s. But it’s not as simple as buy one, buy some extension cords and you’re done in our situation. We’ve got that well to consider.

Here’s where some of that half-assery in the upkeep of our house comes into play and the problem (half-assery) becomes the solution. You see, at some point in the history of our house, the pressure tank for the well system was replaced and it was done very half-ass.

The well runs off of one 20 amp circuit breaker and it’s only 120V. I was able to easily find where the wire came down in the crawl space because some buffoon cut it and used wirenuts to connect two strands of wire from there to the pressure switch attached to the tank to control the well pump. Laying in the dirt. Ugh.

Step one was to turn off the breaker, remove the wirenuts and verify the wires were dead – no power. Next, I installed a junction box like the original morons should have.

Here’s where I think I got pretty clever. In stead of connecting direct to the well, I put in a 20 amp rates receptacle (very important – most household receptacles are only rated for 15 amps). Next, I put another junction box by the pressure tank and connected a length of 12 gauge, outdoor rated wire to the pressure switch. The other end got a 20 amp rated plug and will normally be plugged into the receptacle.

Using some of the leftover exterior grade 12 gauge wire, 29 amp rated plug and receptacle ends, I made up an extension cord just for the well. When the power goes out, all I have to do is unplug the well from the house and plug it into the extension cord from the generator! Easy and it’s also safe and legal as there’s no way to reverse power the house. I’ve also gained a receptacle in the crawlspace for any future projects.


And I’m Back

Yes, I’ve been gone for over a year. But what a year it’s been! We’ve moved to Virginia, sold our house in Colorado and bought a new (to us) house.  Here’s some of my thoughts on this experience:
1) The right real estate agent makes all the difference. When selling, talk to more than one agent. We interviewed three and went with the one that we got along best with. He put up with our nonstandard requests and had our house under contract in two days above our asking price. Here in Virginia, we were looking to rent with an option to buy because we refuse to have two mortgages at once. We ended up keeping the rental agent to be our buyer’s agent because she was such a nice person.  Even after the closing, we still talk to her often.
2) Presentation matters. One reason I think our house sold so quickly is the fresh paint, new carpets and fresh refinishing of the hardwood floors. It sparkled.
3) The right contractor is worth their weight in gold. The couple we bought this house from did not choose well and then didn’t follow up on the work they had done. Permits weren’t filed. Inspections weren’t done. It’s as if they did 90% of the job and called it good. Luckily, my wife ran into a general handyman at the gas station and he’s turned out to be invaluable. Ill try to give you a flavor of the “half-assery” done to our house in future posts.

June 2013 Garden Update

My Woody Raised Bed

My Woody Raised Bed


We’ve been busy lately so blogging has taken a backseat once again!  The good news is that the garden is coming along pretty well despite the heat and lack of rain.  I’m constantly amazed by how well the deep mulch and wood core keep the soil moist.  I actually had to cut back on supplemental watering because I had mushrooms coming up!  I was only letting the soaker hose run for ten minutes a day and it was too much water!

BTW – the red cups you see are where I direct planted some pepper seeds.  The ones I started back in the Spring died while they were hardening off. 😦



Lincoln Peas Taking Over

Lincoln Peas Taking Over


Ready for a little tour?

Here’s the results of three Lincoln Peas I direct seeded about three weeks ago.  Already, they’ve grown about a foot and are starting to climb the trellis.






Cherry Tomato

Cherry Tomato



I’ll admit I cheated here.  When I was hardening off the Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes, one of them died and the other two had a hard time.  So, I picked up this cherry tomato plant from the garden center to keep some production going.








Tomatoes, Carrots, Onions, and Cabbage

Tomatoes, Carrots, Onions, and Cabbage

At the base of the cherry tomato, I have a real “polyculture” mishmash of plants going.  Closest to the camera, in the bottom left corner is the one surviving Cosmonaut Volkov tomato.  It hasn’t died, but it hasn’t really taken off either. To the right and just behind it is an onion that’s poking along.  There’s another onion next to the cherry tomato that’s doing much better.  There’s a couple of Bambina Carrots in there as well – one next to the cherry tomato and another that was started a few weeks later near the Volkov.  In the back row are a couple of cabbage plants, one doing really well in the back corner and one barely above the mulch next to it.  I think the one in the back is getting more shade and less heat.  Cabbage really is a cold weather plant but I wanted to see what would happen!



Brocolli coming up nicely

Brocolli coming up nicely

Oh man, I can not wait for these to start putting on heads!  I love broccoli and these are doing really well given the heat we’ve had.  The row in front of the broccoli is celery, lettuce, and more celery.  The only thing I didn’t get a picture of, now that I’m looking at them, is the Red Aztec Spinach.  It’s coming along and I’m looking forward to putting it on some salads.  I’ll need to start some more lettuce soon to keep it producing over the summer.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for stopping by.


Haven’t had much to say for a while

OK, the wife gave me one night away so my son and I decided to revisit the Goose Creek portion of Lost Creek Wilderness again.  First time we made it back to a site where they attempted to dam an underwater portion of Lost Creek around 1900.  The project failed, but the old bunkhouses remain.  There’s a quarter mile side hike to get to the actual dig site, but we didn’t make it two years ago.  The boy was only six at the time and just getting there was enough hiking.  Last year we didn’t even make it to the bunk houses.  We got about half way there and had to turn around due to a medical issue.  This year we made it to the bunk houses AND did the side hike as well – Success!

RouteHere’s the route from the Goose Creek Trailhead.








DSC00866Coming out of the Hayman Fire scar heading towards Goose Creek.








DSC00867Goose Creek








DSC00868I hiked the whole way in Fila Skeletoes instead of boots this year.  I’ve been running in them for a while, but hiking in them seemed a little iffy.  It worked out, but my calves are still a bit sore.  The cold water feels good!






DSC00881Columbines in bloom.







DSC00888Tonight’s fire brought to you by ESEE Knives and Fiskars!







DSC00882There must have been an old wagon trail back here – no way you could drive in today.






DSC00883Today’s kids can’t live without pixels.








DSC00895After many travails with the fire – poor wood choice for fire starting – we’ve got some bushcraft TV going!






DSC00901Usually, he eats Pop Tarts cold, but today he wanted to warm it up.








DSC00916Heading off to the old dig site.








DSC00917Yep, that’s a long way down.









DSC00920Found this cave near the dig site.  It’s seen a lot of use.








DSC00930Old steam powered windlass.









DSC00936Camp packed up, ready to go.








DSC00937My low cost rig – HELLCAT mod on a Down East ALICE frame.  I can’t wait until the boy is big enough to carry his own sleeping bag (or I’m rich enough to afford lighter gear than Coleman and military surplus!)






DSC00944So glad I took Friday off from work to get in before the crowds.  The parking lot was full and cars were parked on the side of the road for a quarter mile when we left on Saturday!






All in all it was another good hike, but the heavy gear is really wearing me out.  Fifty pounds for an overnighter is way too much.  The military sleep system gear works great, but I know I could cut the weight in half.  Same for the Coleman tent and the Kelty air pad.  The Hellcat isn’t too bad at 8lbs, but the suspension sucks.  I thought I was being pretty careful but ended carrying some things we didn’t use – boots in case the Skeletoes didn’t work out, an Emberlit stove, Trangia alcohol cooker and fuel.  I think I could cut some weight by ditching the tent and putting us both in hammocks, but that will have to wait for warmer weather. Still a good trip and I’m proud of my son for hanging in there, singing silly trail songs, and sharing a bunch of “Teamwork High-Fives” with me.

Making Lemonade

SpringRobinThe robins have arrived!

I didn’t make actual lemonade this week, however plans went awry and I had to adapt and make the best of things.  I haven’t spent a night in the woods since November and Winter Camping is one of the things I wanted to work on for 13Skills.  The weather was going to be decent this weekend in the Lost Creek Wilderness, highs in the 50s, lows in the 30s so I decided to head up there Friday afternoon with my son.  Knowing how long it would take to drive, I decided to camp close to the road at Goose Creek Campground, but I didn’t think to check if it was a Forest Service campground or not.  Turns out it is and it was closed.  We probably could have gotten away with pitching a tent, but I knew it wasn’t right and it was definitely not a good example for my son.  We did check it out and it’s a nice campground.  Beautifully wooded, right next to the cold waters of Goose Creek, and a first-come-first-served campground.

Easy Fire StartingTo make matters worse, it was getting late, the wind was picking up, and rain clouds were on the horizon.  We looked at a couple of spots and I decided to just make a fire to cook some hotdogs on and we would drive home in the dark.

Wanting to get things going quickly, I pulled out one of the fire straws I keep in my fire kit.  These are really simple to make:

  1. Cuts a straw to the length you want.  Mine fit in the tin I keep with my knife.
  2. Melt one end of the straw using needle nose pliers and a lighter.
  3. Mix a small amount of petroleum jelly with some cotton balls in a plastic bag.  Maybe one cotton ball sized dab of PJ to about 6 cotton balls.  Too much makes it hard for the cotton to catch a spark.
  4. Knead the bag to distribute the petroleum jelly.
  5. Stuff PJ soaked cotton ball into straw with needle nose pliers.
  6. Seal the other end of the straw.

These are really handy and never go bad.  When you need them, just cut one open and pull the cotton ball out.  Pull it apart some to increase the surface area available to catch a spark and put it in your tinder bundle.

Unfortunately for us, I didn’t build enough of a wind break and the wood never really caught fire.  PJ soaked cotton balls burn hot for several minutes so there was no other excuse for the fire to not start.  It was a good thing I had already planned to cook breakfast on the Coleman stove or I would have had to listen to a hungry boy until we got back to town!  Always have a Plan B, I even had a Plan C available in the form of the alcohol stove I keep in my day pack!PalmerPark1

Here’s where the lemonade part comes in.  Having been defeated by a “Closed” sign, we decided to go to Palmer Park here in town and do some hiking.  We saw more people, dogs, and mountain bikers than I really cared for, but at least we were out in the sun and “doing something”.  I was able to show my son how the local yucca can be used to make cordage and even as a sewing needle with built in thread (thanks Dual Survivor!).  I also demonstrated how to use a sighting compass and a map to determine your location, but I think he was getting tired at that point!

Seedlings_08APRLast, but not least, the seedlings are coming along well except for the peppers.  I may have to start some more of them.  Thanks for reading!

Grab Bag Post

It was a pleasant Spring Break with the kids, watching movies, a little hiking, and just spending time together.  I didn’t get any big projects done, but we did chip away at the on-going garden preparations.

Seedlings Status April 2

Seedlings Status April 2

The broccoli, cabbage, and tomatoes we planted last week have started to sprout.  The peppers haven’t poked up yet though.  The celery is coming along well as you can see and the onions are growing towards the lights in the back of the box. Broccoli and cabbage are pretty cold hard, so they’re going into the ground by the end of April, a couple weeks before the last frost date.  Tomatoes can be transplanted immediately after last frost, but peppers and celery will have wait until June when they will be safe from frost.

I still have some work to do to get the bed ready.  I need to get the garden soil from last year’s container garden put in and possibly buy some more to get the bed filled to about three inches below the rim.  The rest of the bed will be filled with wood chip mulch to protect the seedlings and reduce watering.  That thick mulch layer will shield the soil from the sun and provide a source of organic material to break down and enrich the bed.

Another thing I’ve been doing to enrich the soil is adding coffee grounds.  I don’t have a compost pile, but you can add coffee grounds directly to the soil without composting!50rds of 30-06 for the next CMP shoot

Since I missed shooting in a competition last month, I wanted to be sure I was ready this month.  An hour was spent depriming and sizing brass one night.  Another night, I primed all the brass then started charging the gunpowder and seating bullets.  Mid way through, I found that I deformed some of the brass while trimming it by hand and it needed to be resized.  Ouch.  Looking at the resizing die, I realized I fix this if I took the depriming pin out and ran the now-primed brass back through.  It worked and I now have fifty rounds of 30-06 ready for my M1 Garand at the next local CMP match.

I’m a fan of Dave Canterbury and his approach to preparedness.  I especially appreciate his down to earth approach to things.  Now, I had been keeping my entire backpacking kit in my truck “just in case”, but it was too big and I thought I might have accumulated enough redundant items in my camp boxes that I could build a smaller kit that would fit in a small backpack I’m not using much these days.  Canterbury has several videos on his 10 C’s of survivability with the first five being the most important.  These are:

  1. Cutting Tool
  2. Covering Device
  3. Combustion Device
  4. Container
  5. Cordage

If you’re going to have repeats of any items, it should be these first five.  The remaining five are “nice to haves” and best suited to survival in the woods – Cotton bandana, compass, candeling device (light source), canvas needle, cargo tape (duct/duck/100mph tape).  Here’s my basic kit using the extras floating around my camp boxes:

Multi-tool, Knife, Cook Pot, Toiletries, Fire Kit, Space Blanket, Mirror

Multi-tool, Knife, Cook Pot, Toiletries, Fire Kit, Space Blanket, Mirror

Hammock, Cordage, GI Poncho, and Food

Hammock, Cordage, GI Poncho, and Food

  • Leatherman Multi-tool
  • Buck fixed blade knife
  • Small pot
  • Fire kit consisting of matches, ferro-rod with Gorilla tape handle, cotton pads with petroleum jelly
  • Space blanket
  • Toiletries – paper (can be used for fire) , wet wipes, lip balm (another possible fire fuel), tooth brushes
  • Folding mirror
  • Water purification tablets
  • Gorilla tape wrapped around card (yet another fire starter material)


  • Hammock (shelter)
  • Nylon cordage
  • GI Poncho (rain wear/shelter)
  • Training MRE (similar to but cheaper than a real MRE)

Not shown is a GI canteen or water and a canteen cup in the actual backpack, an Energizer headlamp that stays in the glove box of the truck, a small first aid kit, or the tools and jumper cables kept in the truck.  All of the 5 C’s are covered and most of the last five are included as well.  It’s probably not a full “72 hour kit”, but there’s enough here to keep me going for a day or two.

That’s enough for this week.  The weather is looking good for the weekend (32F nights), so maybe some cold weather camping is in order for next week’s post!