Heartbreak in the Desert

Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Companion

This post will be hard to write. On Thursday, April 13, 2017, I left our house to return to El Paso to visit Linda who was still hospitalized. I left the gate closed, but the doggy-door open so that our dogs could go outside and provide some cooling air in the house while I was gone.

I came home Friday evening to check on them and my best buddy, and glued-to-me companion, Padfoot was missing.

Now, Padfoot has quite often gone walkabout.  He climbs over the gate and disappears for a while. We usually find him bugging one of the neighbors, but he never stays gone long. We will either discover that he is missing and go find him or he will come home on his own.  Well, Thursday was different.  I left for 24 hours and I was unable to find him anywhere when I returned on Friday.

As I write this (Tuesday, April 18, 2017), it has been almost five days since his disappearance. At this point, I am quite sure that he is no longer alive. There are no water sources out here in the desert, and a dog his size (6lb Pomeranian) surely can’t go five days without water.  Also, it’s breeding season for the rabbits.  That means that the coyotes are out in large numbers preying on them. Sadly, Padfoot is just the right size to be targeted by them and is certainly slower than a rabbit.  He’s also quite friendly and would likely walk right up to a coyote to say hello.

At this point, I have to accept the fact that my best boy, my beloved Padfoot, has crossed the rainbow bridge and is in Heaven.

Sirius Black “Padfoot” Douglas (??/??/2011? — 04/13/2017)

1175256_608348302520304_1001795650_nWe don’t know when Padfoot was born. We adopted him as a stray in 2013. Our vet guessed him to be about two years old at the time. One of our friends knew that Linda and I really liked Pomeranians and saw a post on Facebook stating that this little black guy was available for adoption.  We ran right out and picked him up.  Since he was a stray, we had to register that with the county animal shelter in case his people came there looking for him.  We had to wait 10 days before we could officially adopt him.  When the time came and went, we made it official.  We got him chipped and gave him the name of Sirius Black. For me, it was a pun.  He was an all-black dog with the exception of a little white on his toes and a little white on his chest like he was wearing a tie.  I said he was “Seriously Black.”  So why call him “Padfoot?”  You must not be a Harry Potter fan.  Harry’s Uncle (Sirius Black) was able to transform himself into a rather large black dog.  Because of this, his friends nicknamed him “Padfoot.”

It was quickly apparent that Padfoot had bonded with me.  He was downright unfriendly to Linda for quite some time. He always wanted me to pet him.  He was so quiet when we first got him that we had wondered if he had been de-barked by some previous owner. It turns out that he was just quiet at first. His voice was rather strange.  When he would try to vocalize, it was a very airy, aspirated sound, which is one of the things that made us think he had been surgically altered. It actually took almost a week for him to bark.  Once he did, we knew that he just had a strange way of vocalizing.

I quickly discovered that he was quite playful.  We developed a game that I called “Kill Daddy,” in which I would attempt to grab (and hold closed) his snout and he would try to prevent me from doing so.

I trained him not to bite any harder than was needed to hold on to my hand or fingers, but encouraged him to make ferocious (for a 5-lb tiny little dog) sounds as though he was seriously considering murder.  It bothered Linda for a while since she didn’t realize it was just a game.  She eventually realized that it was playing when she saw Padfoot initiate the game on several occasions.

If I wasn’t around or I wasn’t in the mood to play with him, he’d even entertain himself.  He would go grab his squeaky ball and toss it for himself!

He would do that with his dry kibble, too.  If you weren’t paying him enough attention, he would bring a mouthful of food over right next to you and crunch on it loudly until you paid attention.  I tell you, he was a character!

1920474_711367645551702_2004635526_nThat little booger just loved to escape! Every time we would open the gate in our back yard, if we weren’t careful, that little turd would squirt out and go running down the street, daring us to chase him.  We were quite worried about it for a while since he would keep running away from us!  Then, I figured out how to capture him.  I would use his friendliness to bring him back.  I’d stoop down to the ground, clap my hands and call him an in happy, playful voice.  He would stop, turn around and then run back to me. This just further increased our bond. Whenever I’d leave for work, he would stand up against the fence with the most pitiful look in his eyes, as though I was going away forever.

10154494_715622155126251_2040469254_nHe, like most dogs, liked to beg for food.  However, he was an absolute master at it.  He was nearly impossible to refuse.  Basically, if it wasn’t something known to be bad for dogs, he would get a bite.  Every time. Of course, we don’t mind sharing with our dogs.  They get so little actual “people food” that it represents a very, very small fraction of their diet.  The rest of the time, they eat regular dog kibble.

12795496_1061640280524435_3927453897355644892_nWhen we first got him, he wasn’t very loving toward Linda.  However, once he realized that she was home all day while I was at work and that she often had tasty morsels, that behavior changed. He warmed up to her and started taking turns being her lap boy, and then mine. By the looks he was giving the one that didn’t have the dog on their lap, he was clearly trying to make them jealous.  It often worked. We called that “giving neeners.”

That little stinker got whatever it was that he wanted.  If he wanted petting, he got petting.  If he wanted your sammich, it didn’t matter how much you said no.  You lose. If he wanted your jelly beans…

Yes, this dog liked jelly beans.  I keep a supply of Jelly Belly clones around and he really liked the popcorn and vanilla ones.  So, I’d crush the jelly bean and give it to him. I make no secret of the fact that I was a total sucker for that dog and his antics.

14117947_1167685556586573_8219269076537564368_nThat little dog had the most irresistible face.  If you told him “no,” he would have this look like you had just beaten him with a stick or something.  He knew exactly how to pull our strings and made full advantage of it.

Padfoot was extremely friendly.  Although we had trained him not to do it to us, he just loved to jump into peoples’ laps and give them kisses.  No matter who you were, you were gonna get kissed.  When he would go walkabout, our neighbors would often bring him home.  Of course, what they didn’t know was that he really looked forward to it.  He could give them kisses and get a car ride at the same time!

10303755_736754376346362_3544156907134320893_nWhen Linda and I would take him for a ride in the car and we had food, he would place his chin on your shoulder, begging for a bite. What I never could understand is how a 6-lb dog could seemingly exert 2-3 metric tons of force on your shoulder with that chin.  It just made no sense to me.

When I was driving, he was not allowed in my lap, so even without food, I would get the “chin of death” on my shoulder, as well.

He was always a good sport.  I could put him in my lap and mug up his face in funny poses.  He would just sit there, enjoying all the attention. Often, he would hold the pose long enough for me to get out the camera.  Some of my favorite pics of him are in those poses.

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He was always excited to see me. When I would come in, he would jump up on my lap and “hold me down.”  Much like the “chin of death,” he was able to exert metric tons of dead weight on my lap when he wanted his cuddle time.

He would often fall asleep on my lap or in my arms and I could snap pics of him in close-up. He was such a cute little dog. I just loved him to pieces!

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When it became clear to me that he was lost, I was lost. I knew that I was very, very attached to this little dog. I knew that one day, I would have to say good-bye. I never fathomed that it would be this soon.  I always figured that I would have my cuddly little dog until he was too old to walk anymore, and I would have to pick him up to put him in my lap.

I always figured that I’d have to feed him softened food because his teeth had fallen out.  I figured I’d have to tone down the game of “kill” to be suitable for a geriatric Padfoot.

This little dog owned a piece of my heart. When he left, it ripped a hole in my soul. I cried. A lot. And loud.  I looked up into the starlit sky and said, “Padfoot, daddy misses you.  I’m sorry that I wasn’t here to find you and protect you.  Please know, my dearest little dog, that daddy loves you forever. No matter where you are. I will miss you until my dying day and then we will be reunited in Heaven with all those I love.”

 

Padfoot, always know that mommy and daddy love you, forever. Wherever you are.

 

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Posted in Personal Updates, pets | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News

It’s always something!

Well, my plans to make regular blog posts and videos have been slightly hampered lately. Although I am managing to keep my planned schedule, I had wanted to make sure I had several videos and several blog posts “in the can” so that I don’t have to feel pressured to produce them every week and I can concentrate more on making quality content.

HA!

Health Issues

Many of you know that my wife, Linda is not in the greatest of health. She’s diabetic, hypertensive, has cardiac issues, and has low-functioning kidneys. We recently have been working on her blood pressure.  The doctor prescribed a new blood pressure med, Clonidine, to add to the pile-o-pills she already takes.  At the time, we couldn’t afford to fill the script, so we held onto it for later.

2a88ed9ebf2226c79306ee081b242d37About a month ago, Linda tripped and fell, spraining her ankle badly.  Our neighbor brought over a walker so that she could get around.  We hoped that it would heal up on its own.  However, after a week it didn’t seem to improve so I took her to the ER to have it x-rayed. Unfortunately, we can’t go to the Little Clinic or Urgent Care since they don’t accept Medicare (really!?!??!?). So into the ER we went.

They found that there was nothing broken (thankfully) and gave her one of those space boots to immobilize her ankle so it could heal.

The Creepin’ Crud

4185674043_abe5c52402_bThe ER visit was on a Wednesday.  On Friday evening, I noticed a small scratchiness in my throat. I thought “Oh great, a sore throat.”  Boy, was I wrong.  I went to bed and woke up the next morning sicker than I’ve been in years.  I spent the next 20 of 24 hours in bed, dead to the world.  On Sunday, I spent over half the day in bed.  I had chills, fever, aches, and general awfulness. The only thing that provided any relief was a hot shower.  Sunday night, Linda felt a little scratchiness in her throat…. Yup. She got it too.

Apparently, the old adage “if you want to get sick, go to the hospital” held true here!  Holy moly were we just the “dead twins” until I started to improve on Tuesday.  However, the end game of the illness was different for each of us.

For me, the sickness descended into my lungs.  I got bronchitis and had a nasty cough.  Even almost a month later I am still dealing with it. For Linda, however, the sickness went a little farther south.  She developed a UTI.  We held off for a couple days to see if she could shake it, but it wasn’t happening.  So, we headed to the doctor’s office.  She was in a lot of pain by this point and the doctor was booked solid and could not see her until late afternoon.  We elected to go to the ER….again.

Fairbanks-ED-3The ER docs did their tests and kept her there for a while. Then wrote her a script for some antibiotics. Sadly, the incompetence in the discharge people at the hospital meant that I wound up driving to two different Wal-Mart pharmacies to find the one that they had called the script into.  Oh, did I mention that I told the hospital to call the script into Wal-Greens?  Oh, yeah…that.

Oh, My Darlin’ … Clonidine!

By this point, it was just into the beginning of April and we had some money.  So, after getting her antibiotics script filled, I decided to fill her other needed scripts, including the Clonidine.  The doctor had prescribed that she take it three times a day.

We returned home from the hospital, confident that she would kick the UTI in a couple days and glad that we could now properly follow the cardiologist’s prescription with the new Clonidine.  She forgot to take the morning dose that first day, but took her noon pill.  We then went to the neighbors for a tasty dinner.  We returned and she took her 7PM dose.

That’s when the shizzle hit the fazizzle.

About 9PM, she started complaining of not feeling well and having arrhythmia.  She often would have short episodes of it that would go away on their own if she just rested.  So we decided to go to bed to see if she could just sleep it off.  Well, that didn’t work.  She was up most of the night with arrhythmia and some chest pain!  Ugh.

The next morning (Saturday), I looked up the side effects of Clonidine.  Yup.  Arrhythmia and chest pain were among them.  I advised her to NOT take the Clonidine until we could talk with the doctor on Monday since she had only taken two doses and had a pretty significant reaction.  We hoped that the issue would calm down over the course of the day.  Nope.  So, around 5PM Saturday, we made the trip back into El Paso to go to the ER.

Emergency-Room-Nurses-StationHer heart rate was dipping as low as 35BPM!  Holy crap!  Not surprisingly, they admitted her and put her in ICU to monitor her closely.  Thankfully, as the drug wore off, her improved and returned to about 60BPM.  That’s still rather low, but fairly normal for her.

The hospital contacted her cardiologist, who agreed that it was likely the Clonidine that caused the issue.  He came in to see her on Sunday and decided that it had been a while since she’d had a full cardiac workup including an angiogram.  They scheduled it for Monday morning.

Renal Reactions

In order to do an angiogram, the doctor uses a special contrast dye to see what’s going on in the arteries under the x-ray. Unfortunately, this very necessary dye is known to be hard on the kidneys. As I mentioned before, she has kidney problems.  Well, when they did the angiogram, the doctor added two stents to improve blood flow.  They wanted to add a third but had to cut it short because they were worried about her kidneys not handling the dye.

I suppose that’s a good thing.  The nephrologist is keeping her at the hospital for further observation and tests because her kidney function has decreased significantly as a result of the use of the dye.  We are praying that they recover enough to not require dialysis. Only time will tell when or whether that is necessary.

We are hoping that they will release her today.  As of the posting of this blog (9AM) I have not yet heard what their plans are.

Conclusion

Well, because of these complications, my video production and blogging may lag a bit.  I will try to get something out on time, but I hope you guys will understand if there’s a delay.  I love making videos and blogging, but my wife must come first.

If you’re the praying type, please send your prayers. Please pray for Linda’s healing as well as for the financial provision that we need to make it through this time. Be that in the form of extra work or donations, that’s fine.  I actually prefer to earn money rather than receive a handout.  Maybe that’s prideful, I don’t know.  But we both appreciate all the support we get from you guys!  Thanks!

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Posted in health issues, Personal Updates | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Quick and Easy New England Clam Chowder

WARNING:

Clam chowder purists should probably not continue reading.  This recipe is a quick and simple way to make a pretty close copy of a New England (cream based) clam chowder on a budget. There are canned clams, canned milk and canned potatoes in this recipe. You have been warned.

Introduction

OK, now that I have the disclaimer out of the way and the clam chowder purists have left the page in a huff, I can get on to the rest of this post! I really like New England style clam chowder.  But doing it the traditional way can be a slow process.  My clam chowder recipe is orders of magnitude better than the canned stuff you buy at the store, but I’m not going to tell you it would win awards when placed next to something that took hours to prepare.

This recipe makes about 3-3.5 quarts of soup.  Scale it as needed.

Ingredients

  • 17910699_1402782886410171_1862726391_n2 12-oz cans of evaporated milk
  • 2 15-oz cans of diced new potatoes
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease (or fry a couple strips and much the bacon while you make soup)
  • 2 6.5-oz cans of minced baby clams (or 4 cans if you want even MORE clams!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 6 teaspoons corn starch (7-8 if you like thick chowder)
  • salt to taste

Instructions

In a large pot, on medium high heat, cook chopped celery in bacon grease until it starts to soften a little. Then add in the onions and cook until they, too, are soft.

Open the cans of clams and potatoes and dump them in.  Do not pour off the water from these cans! Use a little extra water from the faucet to rinse out the yummy bits from all four cans.

Allow this to cook on medium high heat for 20 minutes or until the celery is completely soft and has no crunch left.

Add both cans of evaporated milk. Reduce heat to a simmer, cooking for another 20 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, add white pepper and salt to taste.  In my recipe, I wound up using about a teaspoon of kosher salt.  If you’re using table salt, it would be about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon.

Also, prepare the thickener (corn starch). Put the 6tsp corn starch into a jar with about a cup of water, put on a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously to blend and make sure there are no lumps.

After the soup has simmered, shake up the corn starch mixture again and add it to the soup.  Bring the soup back to a strong simmer to make sure that all the starch has done its thickening job. If the soup is too thick, add a little bit of milk.

Adjust salt level if you need some more.  Allow to cool a bit and serve.

17909467_1402575529764240_1589583367_nThis soup always tastes better if you let it rest in the refrigerator overnight before serving.  I know this because I usually eat a bunch right away (I can’t wait!) and then eat leftovers the next day.  It always tastes better on day 2.

Conclusion

inquisitionFor you purists that are still reading, well, you asked for it.  Corn starch and no roux to thicken?  Heresy! Canned clams? Burn him at the stake! Canned milk? Sacrilege! And canned potatoes?  zOMG..OMG.

Well, I have and can make clam chowder the proper way.  However, sometimes I just want a quick and tasty meal that only takes about 10 minutes of prep and 30-40 minutes to simmer.  That sure beats the prep time for the real deal.

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Posted in How-to, Recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Best Nest

In part 1 of this series, I talked about getting our new cabin.  Part 2 dealt with plumbing. In this post, I’ll catch you up to date on the housing situation.

Electrical

Once we had the new cabin physically connected to the original, I had to add power.  So, I picked up an electrical subpanel, some romex, boxes, outlets, and covers and set to work.  I put several circuits in the new bedroom, even though from an electrical view I only needed two. But I like to have things like my water pump and washing machine on a separate circuit from the outlets in the bedroom and porch.

I added a circuit and some switches for lights in several areas as well.

Insulation

12369059_1021371904551273_648660400341355727_nI bought several packages of insulation to stuff into the walls.  Some of that had to be done before the bathroom was installed, but the majority waited until those walls were complete. It makes a huge difference!  Even though our walls are only 2×4 construction and limits us to R-19 batt fiberglass insulation, the change was quite noticeable. Modern insulation is not nearly as irritating to install as it was years ago. Presumably, they treat the product to help reduce that effect.  Even with that improvement, it was a sweaty, itchy, scratchy job to put in.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have much help in the job, so it was rather interesting at times getting an 8′ long batt of insulation to cooperate. I only had enough insulation to do the walls. This proved to be quite “interesting” in the winter of 2015! The bedroom was always cold since the warm air from our heater was just escaping into the attic area.

12375966_1021371997884597_2613907410478909482_n Sure, I had plastic up and that helped, but it needed insulation. I was finally able to purchase the needed insulation in 2016 to make the bedroom livable in colder weather. Unfortunately, the people who built this place have a different definition of 24″OC ceiling and wall joists. Due to the way they designed the walls and ceiling, 1/3 of the spaces were narrow, 1/3 just right and 1/3 too wide.  It’s easy to deal with spaces that are too narrow or just right.  Even the too wide ones weren’t too bad on the vertical spaces in the walls.  However, since insulation is usually friction-fit and then held in place with staples or little metal hold downs, the spaces that were too wide in the ceiling resulted in me having to get creative and put wooden slats diagonally across those spaces to keep the insulation from falling down on us in the middle of the night.  Definitely not cool.

Network Installation

Yes, I’m an IT guy to the end. Since I had the walls all apart, it made perfect sense to run network cables in the house.  Sure, wifi works, but nothing beats the speed and security of a wired network! In true IT Guy fashion, I totally overdid it.  I’ve got way too many drops in our bedroom, but I wanted to be absolutely certain that I had all the bases covered. Considering that I was employed as a cabling technician, I certainly was qualified to cable my own place.

Flooring

11949318_973169192704878_9004550578839618044_nJust like in the first cabin, we decided that linoleum was the right choice.  It is relatively inexpensive, goes down easily and is easy to clean up wet and dry messes as well as the occasional pet accident. Since the bathroom was already framed in and tiled, we had to move everything out of the new cabin and measure to cut the linoleum.  Since it was an irregular shape, I got my neighbor, Jeff to come help me since he’s much better at the measure twice, cut once philosophy.  For me, I seem to be the “measure 15 times and still screw it up” type.

The Dog Yard

With the original cabin we had enclosed a small space off the edge of our porch as a dog run. Once the new cabin went in, we expanded it considerably.  Also because we raised the original cabin and the new one, we had to put skirting along the exterior walls that made up two sides of the dog yard to prevent them from just going under the house and escaping.

Skirting

Since the new cabin sits considerably higher off the ground than the original one does, we had to add some kind of skirting. We lucked into some scrap MDF and put it around the base of the new cabin. I know that it won’t last in the weather, but it will stop the wind from howling underneath!

It’s amazing how cold the floors get when there is air flowing beneath them.  One of these days, I want to try to get under the new cabin to insulate.  Given the winds we get here, I don’t think that fiberglass is the right solution. I think the spray foam may be the way to go.  Unfortunately, spray foam insulation equipment isn’t cheap.  It costs hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy.  I may have to look into what renting it would cost.

The Scramble

In December 2015, my father decided to come visit us for a few days to see how things were going for us.  Since he lives in Los Angeles now, it was only a day’s drive for him to come see us.

12299392_1013206068701190_1700905807558793033_nWell, as you may recall from part 2 of this series, we left the walls of our bathroom uncovered with no door.  Heck, it was just my wife and me and we weren’t really entertaining guests. So we had to scramble to put some walls up and get the door installed. A run to Lowes and $100 later, we had the supplies and put a skin on the bathroom.  It still isn’t totally complete, but it does provide the needed privacy for a guest to use the bathroom.

While he was here, we rearranged some furniture in the original cabin so that we could set up an air mattress.  It actually worked out pretty well.  So, we now know that we can accommodate a single guest for a limited duration stay.  That’s good to know!

Attic Access

I never really knew what a pain it would be to go fetch the ladder every time I needed something out of one of the attics. We had always planned to add pull-down attic stairs eventually.  However, once the insulation in the bedroom was complete, it was quite the ordeal.  I had to get the ladder, remove a piece of insulation, do my business in the attic, replace the insulation and then take the ladder back out of the house.  Most annoying.  So, we picked up some attic stairs for each cabin and my neighbor, Jeff helped me install them. Now I can get up into my attics whenever the need arises!

Conclusion

Not a lot more has gone on with the cabins.  We’ve added a little more insulation in places and that job is far from done. We added a screen door with a dog flap so that we can let the dogs go in and out freely in the warmer months as well as get some cross-flow ventilation while at the same time keeping the flies (oh, the flies!) out. We’ve got another screen door to install on the back door, and I’ll probably feature that installation on one of our YouTube videos.

 

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Posted in accomplished, catch up, homestead, Personal Updates | Tagged , , , ,

How Strong is *Your* Acid?

Measuring and Tracking The Specific Gravity of Lead-Acid Batteries

Keeping track of the health of your batteries is really important. One way you can help predict their eventual failure is by measuring and tracking the Specific Gravity (SG) of the electrolyte (acid) in your batteries.

For this job, you’ll need to have a couple tools. You want to have some distilled water, baking soda (in case there is an acid spill) and a hydrometer.

A What-o-meter?

A hydrometer is a device that measures the density of a liquid relative to that of pure water. In the context of batteries, it measures the strength of the acid in them. As your batteries charge, the density of the electrolyte will increase.

Another factor that affects the density of the electrolyte in your batteries is temperature. As the temperature of the electrolyte increases, its density will decrease. So, when measuring the Specific Gravity (SG) of your batteries, you have to compensate for the temperature of the electrolyte by either using a hydrometer that has temperature compensation, or by using math (UGH! MATH!) to compensate for the readings you take.

I have two hydrometers. So should you.  Having more than one gives you the ability to check your readings to make sure that your hydrometer is still working properly.

hydrovoltMy preferred hydrometer is made by Midnite Solar. It’s the Hydrovolt. It’s a temperature compensating hydrometer, so I get accurate readings without the dreaded math.  It costs more to purchase than a standard hydrometer. Hey, I’ll pay good cash monies to avoid math.  Won’t you?

 

hydrometerMy other hydrometer is a non-compensating unit. I picked it up at an auto parts store. I keep it around just so I can occasionally double-check my readings when I don’t get the numbers I’m expecting.

 

On Your Marks…

This part of the process is really easy. First, make sure that your batteries are already full. Both full of water and full of charge.  Ideally, once your batteries are fully charged, you should disconnect them from your system and allow them to rest for about an hour so that the electrolyte levels can balance out.  However, in a real-world situation, that’s just not practical.  So, just make sure the batteries are full of water and full of charge before you take your measurements.

Get Set…

Keep a log.  Either in a notebook or in a spreadsheet.  You want to keep track of the SG in every cell of every battery over time.  I number my batteries 1-16, and each cell gets a letter designation. So the first cell of the first battery is 1A. The second is 1B, etc.

In my log, I record the date, time, ambient temperature, electrolyte temperature, SG and whether I am using a temperature compensated hydrometer or not. I also keep track of the voltage of each battery.

You can use this data to track the life cycle of your batteries and even catch when one battery or cell is underperforming and take preventative steps to either correct it or replace it.

Measure!

This is the easy part.  Take the cap off the battery and draw up an entire bulb of electrolyte from the cell you want to measure. Hold it up parallel to your eyes and level. On the Hydrovolt, the two wheels will turn and point directly to the SG reading.

On the standard type, you will look to see where the liquid level crosses the scale on the small bulb inside. This can be difficult to read. Keep in mind that it is not temperature compensated, either.

Record all these values in your log. Return the electrolyte you just drew up back to the cell that you got it from. You don’t want to mix the electrolyte between cells. It will throw off your future SG readings.

A fully charged cell with proper temperature compensation should read between 1.265 and 1.275. Lower values can indicate an insufficient charge or damage to your batteries. Higher values are also not great. That can indicate that you don’t have enough water in your batteries or that there is some other issue that needs to be addressed.

Note: Every manufacturer uses a slightly different formula for their electrolyte. So, make sure you consult your battery manufacturer to see what the proper SG reading for their batteries is when they are fully charged.

Clean Up Your Mess

When you’re done taking the measurements, you need to clean out your hydrometer.  There will be a little bit of acid left in there. It can corrode the components of your hydrometer, and even cause incorrect readings in the future.  Luckily, cleaning is really easy.  Just draw up an entire bulb of clean, distilled water and gently swish it around in the hydrometer.  Then squirt it out.  I just squirt it on the ground.

That tiny amount of acid won’t hurt anything.  However, if you’re concerned with the environmental impact, place it in a sealed glass container and contact your local government for proper disposal instructions.

Ugh. Math.

If you’re not using a temperature compensating hydrometer (why?!), check out this page. It goes into the math of how to calculate the proper SG based on your readings and the temperature.  This should be enough to convince you to buy a Hydrovolt. However, if you’re a math geek and want to save some money, go for it!

What to do Now?

If your SG readings are low across your entire battery bank, I’d suggest running an equalize (EQ) cycle on the entire bank.  This is a controlled overcharging of the batteries and can often help boost low SG levels. If you have just one battery that is drastically low, it may be advisable to remove that single battery from the system and run an EQ on just that one battery.  Of course, that would mean taking your battery bank offline for several hours.

If you still have one battery that is consistently underperforming, it may need to be replaced. If your battery bank is old (more than 1-2 years) It’s better to plan the replacement of the entire bank if you have a bad battery or two. Because of the way lead-acid batteries work, putting a new battery in with several old batteries will cause the new one to “age” quickly to match the others.  So, if your bank is getting old, just do what you can to keep it running until you can replace the entire bank.

Also, consult the internet! I rely heavily on the knowledge base at the Northern Arizona Wind and Sun forum.  Those people really know their stuff. While it can get a bit technical at times, most of the folks there are willing to slow it down and explain. After all, their goal is to educate you, right?

Wrapping it Up

Stay tuned for part three of this series, in which I go over the importance of keeping your battery terminals and cables clean. It can make a huge difference in the performance of your battery bank!

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We’re not Taking this Crap

Expanding our Living Space, Part 2

In part one of this series, I took you up to the point that we had our new cabins connected. We moved our beds in there immediately so that we had more living space. The process of remodeling a space that you actually live in can be entertaining at times.

Water Supply Upgrades

Since our water supply was all potable, we didn’t want to use it for washing clothes, showering and flushing a toilet. We had two 275 gallon storage cubes that we had been given. I purchased a separate water pump and pressure tank and set up a completely separate non-potable water system. We planned to get our non-potable water from the community well.
IMG_20170324_104857You can see the crazy complicated plumbing job here. If the light were lower and the pipes made of metal, you’d swear you were in some industrial complex scene from a bad sci-fi movie.

It works.  I won’t go into the gory details here, but it allows me to isolate parts of the pumping system as well as flush out the sediment filters I have both before and after the pump. Perhaps I’ll make a YouTube video that shows how all the bits work.

11140067_1043187745703022_1970462260682523666_nNext was to add another propane water heater.  Originally I put a small unit here since I was able to procure it cheaply.  You’re supposed to vent these things outside, but propane burns cleanly, so I decided that it wasn’t necessary.  Heck, our propane cook stove and propane space heaters vent into the house, so why not let the water heater do it, too? We later discovered that the smaller heater wasn’t up to the job of keeping our showers hot and swapped it for the one that heated the water for the kitchen.  Much better fit for the flow rates!

Washing Machine

Since we now had the room, one of our neighbors that moved to El Paso gave us an indefinite loan of their washing machine in exchange for storing their electric dryer. I figured that was a pretty good deal, so we moved the washing machine in. This saved us enormous amounts of time and money! We used to have to take our laundry all the way into El Paso and spend time and cash at the laundromat.

We aren’t able to power the dryer, so we hang the clothes outside to dry. Since we live in a desert, it doesn’t take very long for them to dry. Most days, there is a light breeze that speeds that process along. However, on days when the winds are high (sometimes they gust up to 80MPH!), the clothes will wind up full of dirt.  On days like that, or in the winter when it’s cold outside, we usually just hang them up on a piece of rope stretched across the bedroom.

The “Little Room”

One of the big reasons we got the extra cabin was so that we could add an actual bathroom with a shower and a flushing toilet.  So first on the list was to get that up and running. Some of our neighbors who were remodeling had extra fixtures that they were replacing. Since they were perfectly serviceable, they donated them to us.  So, we got a bathtub, shower fixtures, sink, toilet and even the tile and DuRock concrete back board that we needed!

I ran all the plumbing in the exterior walls and added a shower enclosure. I figured out where the toilet would go and started the tile.  I had never done tile before, and I think it turned out pretty good!

Bye-Bye, Bucket!

11988748_975493452472452_4742716234054855801_nFor the first 18 months that we lived here, we didn’t have room for a flush toilet. So, we did our business in a bucket.  It was smelly and gross and I had to carry the sloshing bucket over 200 feet to where we disposed of the mess.  That was the biggest reason that we got the additional cabin.  We were tired of that dang bucket!

If you’re thinking of going off-grid without a flush toilet and septic system, don’t mess around with the bucket.  Get a real composting toilet.  The bucket is fine for a week of camping or in an emergency, but for day-to-day life, it stunk.

In order to install a toilet, we needed somewhere for “it” to go.  That means a septic system.  Because we live in a rural area with no building or sewage codes, we dump our gray water into our garden area.  11988349_975493489139115_899628615290648957_nSo, the dish, laundry, and shower water all go to the garden.  The black water, however, must go to a septic if you don’t want a horrendously smelly mess.

Since it’s just the two of us, and it’s only the black water from a single toilet, we elected to build our own small-scale septic system rather than pay thousands of dollars to have a ridiculously oversized septic dug in our yard.

I don’t have pictures of how we constructed ours, but here’s a great article for a similarly designed system.

11150600_975494012472396_1967971963277058768_nOnce we had the septic system installed and tested, I was able to install the toilet.  For people who have lived without a flush toilet for long periods, you know what I mean when I say that we were elated.  We got online and told everybody.  They must’ve thought that someone’s three-year-old had hijacked our accounts since we were so proud of having made a dookie.

As you can see, we had the walls for the bathroom framed, but no coverings. Since it was just Linda and me, we didn’t really care all that much. We decided to focus on other parts of the project.

In the final post of this series, I will bring you up to date with where our new cabin is today. That will include information about flooring, electrical, insulation, attic access and a last-minute scramble to create privacy for a visitor.

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George and Weezy Would be Proud

Expanding our Living Space, Part 1

When we decided to move to the West Texas desert back in 2012, we had the notion that we’d live in an RV while building our own home from locally-sourced natural materials. We had ideas of building an earthbag home. Unfortunately, I was laid off from my job at the University before we were ready to make that plan work. So, we had to change our plans.

10520599_838847086137090_4147308077746062310_nWe purchased a 12′ x 24′ cabin and had it delivered to our land. Because this was our only home, we had to live, sleep, cook and use the bathroom in a one-room cabin.  This meant that we didn’t have enough room to have a “proper” bathroom with a tub and flushing toilet.

It was Linda, me, three dogs and two cats. We had a set of storage shelves, a table, a stove, two twin-sized beds and our solar power equipment all stuffed into 240 square feet.  It was…um…”cozy.”

What a Load of Sh!t

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For lack of a modern bathroom, we took sponge baths and pooped in a bucket and dumped it into a compost pile on our property. That wasn’t really fun. I had to carry a 5-gallon bucket that weighed about 30 pounds about 200 feet to where we dumped it for compost. It was nasty, smelly work that only I could do because it was too heavy for Linda.

For those thinking about doing this: don’t. Bucket-pooping is fine for a camping trip or in some emergency. But for long-term, it’s a crappy solution. If you’re not going to put in a flush toilet, spend the extra money to buy a proper composting toilet.  When it would get warm in our house, that thing would start to stink.  There was no privacy partition.  So, when we had guests over and I needed to poo, I had to kick everyone out of the house so that I could do my business. Also, guests felt strange about using our facilities, so neighborly visits never lasted too long. Add to the fact that it was only about 10 feet from where we prepared food, we decided that bucket-pooping was something we didn’t want to do forever.

Movin’ on Up

11178220_916905231664608_858663506571700594_nAfter we paid off our first cabin, we decided to get another. We wanted to have a place to put a bathroom with a flushing toilet, a shower, and a real bedroom. So we started shopping. We found a repossessed cabin at discount. It was 12′ x 32′ with a wrap-around porch. It was exactly what we wanted.  While our monthly payment was more than we wanted, we were able to afford it and still survive. We placed the order and had it delivered a few days later.

Because our land is sloped, we couldn’t just drop the new cabin on the ground and call it even.  We decided that we would arrange the second cabin perpendicularly to the first. Since we knew that both cabins would need to be raised and leveled,  I picked up several 4×4 posts and cinderblocks. One of my neighbors helped me raise and level both cabins. Believe it or not, we used my trusty 2-ton floor jack to do the work. We raised it up a little at a time until the two cabins were mostly level with each other at the point that we wanted to join them.

10433144_916975231657608_5178797492948904009_nWe decided to let the cabins settle for a few weeks before we built the hallway between them. It’s a good thing we did! We had to make some adjustments to the level before we started cutting holes in the buildings. We removed one of the side windows from the new cabin and turned it into a doorway. We then built a short hallway between them. Since we were unable to get the two buildings totally level with each other, there is a slight slope to the hallway that joins them.

Once we had them joined, the real work could begin! We moved our beds in right away to take some of the space pressure off and give us a little more breathing room.

In my next post, I’ll talk about all the work we had to do to go from sponge baths and bucket-pooping to something that resembled “modernity.”

 

 

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