Monday, December 30, 2013

Belated Merry Christmas 2013

...just taking a few minutes to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and of course, a Happy New Year. Our household has been busier than a pair of booster cables at the close of a redneck funeral, so to speak. It would take too long to elaborate, so just trust me. Ironically, I ended up with two interesting gifts that in a way, I thought I'd never own. As an "experienced" 35mm photo-nut, I always said I'd never bother with a DSLR camera. Simply put, there's no reason this day in age to have a bulky reflex mirror behemoth hanging from your neck. However, I could not help but notice the crisp  and stunning photos that such things render. Canon, one of my most disliked brands has been dumping their older T3 with a non-stabilized lens for the bargain price of $299. By using her "Optimum" points, Debbie was able to shave almost $175 from that, ringing it in at around $125 plus tax...ok SOLD !! So far so good, and yes I'm impressed...

A few sample photos...
Next up, some more irony; Even though I've been using the tried and true Yeast+Sugar method of carbonation for homemade Root Beer, my sons gifted me with a SodaStream Jet. It's a CO2 carbonation Gizmo that I'm kind of taking a liking to...
It comes with enough CO2 to Fizz up about 60 litres of soda. The flavoring is a little expensive, as is the CO2 refill, but there are alternatives. All in all, it's a bit of a fun distraction...so far, I've only made a litre of Root Beer, and while it lacks the yeasty goodness of my normal homemade, it's otherwise quite satisfying. I'll certainly take the time to explore making my own flavouring, and alternate CO2 sources. This should take me well into the New Year  :)


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Always playing Catch-up (Malawi 2013)

It happened again; another calendar month with no post from me. It's not that I couldn't find the time, I just didn't "take" the time. November seemed busier than usual. Back on October 24th, Debbie and I joined a team of 8 and participated in a short-term missions trip to Malawi. The 2-week trip was busy and a little tiring, but I think rolling up your sleeves and helping is always the right thing to do. In my experience, you need not labor or brood over this stuff...let me reiterate: if it involves helping someone, it's ALWAYS the right thing to do. In other words, you need not pray and ask Jesus what he meant by "go ye into all the world"...duh !

A significant part of our trip was undeniably the children we met. Of the 15 million people in Malawi, almost half are children. By most of our measures, they don't seem to have very much, and it was heart-wrenching to hear them in the villages singing "my cup is full and running over". I felt a stark rebuke in my soul as I pondered how unappreciative and cynical I can be, while they sing from the depths of a thankful heart...
video

I was also a little moved, envious even, of the simplicity of the village life. The daily routines of providing for one's family, cooking the evening meal etc had a calmness about it that was strangely attractive...
The two weeks went by quickly. I think I'd rather a longer stay. With our tasks complete, we headed for home...
Homeward Bound
I think it's mostly our age, but we were a little "wiped" by the time we arrived home on November 7th. Debbie was much worse shape than me, with a nasty cough that refused to "get lost". Accordingly, the next couple of weeks were an exercise in recovery. However, things are looking up (just in time to get ready for the Christmas season). The last 3 weeks of November simply vaporized, and here we are. Overall, I'm very thankful. Sometimes you need to be removed from your comfort zone and afforded a little shock therapy in order to be able to refocus, re-zero, and re-calibrate. We met so many people who just "get it". They happily put others first, and it seems to be their "normal" just to give instead of receive. I think I read about that somewhere once...what book was it? oh yeah...The BIBLE !  :)
God help me to give away my life so that I might find it...something to ponder as Christmas approaches...

Monday, October 28, 2013

More winter preps

Had to finalize my wood storage before departing for Malawi because time is running out. This year, I constructed a new wood rack along the side of my garage. It's 24 feet long and can almost store 2 cords.
I now have enough for the winter that will soon be here.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Winter Preps 2013

I installed a wood stove/chimney back in 1998, and have been pretty much addicted to heating with wood ever since. It's a little curious because I never really grew up with it, except for a brief lapse in the mid 70's where my Father installed one of those Valley Comfort "12 hour burners" in response to the fuel crisis. It was much too large for our tiny home and it only survived a winter or two. I don't really save much money given the fact that I buy all my wood in city-slicker fashion (cut and split), but the comfort and peace of mind are invaluable. I took delivery of my last load yesterday, and recorded the "dumping...



There's probably enough for six weeks or so in that load. It's not quite dry, but I won't be using that particular wood until at least February. It's kind of comforting to know that if a winter storm knocks out the power, it won't really be much of an issue...drop by if you're in the mood for stackin'  :)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanksgiving and Stoving

This year, Thanksgiving afforded me an opportunity/excuse to try out an unused stove. Sometime last year I purchased a 2 burner campstove/oven combo unit. It sat idle until now. We had a bunch of people coming over for a Thanksgiving meal, about 15 or so. Saturday night I began to wonder if that lone turkey was going to be enough. We kind of have an unwritten rule in our home that nobody leaves hungry. Anyway, just to be certain, I ran out to pick up some backup protein. Alas, the stores didn't have much left late Saturday night. I resorted to grabbing two of those prefab Butterball stuffed frozen Turkey Breasts, concluding that the 6 pounds of extra white meat would set our minds at ease. Not my first choice but it would have to do...
They called for 4 and a half hours at 325F, so I thought this would be a good test, and it was nice and sunny out.
Since I had never used this oven, I knew I was taking some risk, but who cares right ? Adding to the recklessness, I decided to use a 1 lb disposable propane cylinder, the ones I despise.
The results while not perfect, were actually pretty good. It turned out that only one of the two were necessary, but leftover turkey is never a bad idea, salmonella notwithstanding :)

On the technical side, the oven is well insulated and very miserly on fuel. 4.5 hours and it consumed about 11oz of propane, or almost 3/4 of a one pound tank; that's not too bad.
All in all, it was a Happy Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Overnight Trip

...finally managed to get away for a little paddle and a night in a tent. Everything went perfectly. Nice weather, lots of sun, little wind, and good friends.
...got to spend the night in my Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2, even though I was not the first (James broke it in on me previously). It was only one night but hey, it's one more than last year. I must be more aggressive in seizing the day...ha right...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Heritage :)

This is a photo of my grandfather from 1957. When I first saw it I wondered why he was carrying a briefcase...silly me. It's a Coleman Stove of course. So, I kind of come by this madness honestly...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Outback Lodge Tent

A good Kijiji find, and addition to my supplies; a single walled throwback tent, Cabelas Outback Lodge. They are $350 new. At 10' x 10', it's quite the mansion  :)
It's seen some use, but is still in great shape. a classic with a single pole in the center...
It "only" weighs in at 16 pounds. That's pretty light for a beast of such size. I'm hoping to try it out winter camping, but we'll see...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Keji Youth Canoe Trip

Over the Labor Day Weekend, Joel and James joined with some other youth and men from church for a three night canoe trip through the back country of Keji National Park. The two videos below were put together by Wayne Smith, from photos and footage taken along the trip by Brian Crooks.
First up, the movie trailer...

video

Next, a slide show of some of the memories...pretty good  :)

video

Many thanks to guys like Brian, Pat, and Wayne who make it a point to seize the day and pull stuff like this off...the next generation is in good hands !

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Summer. There it was, Gone !

Wow. I can't believe it's September 11th. The last half of summer has vanished and I can't come up with a reasonable explanation as to why or where. It's true that time and tide waits for no man, and you have to really seize the day as it were. Our life seems to be entering a new phase. Our boys are 17 and 18, and forging a life of their own. That, coupled with both of us working makes for a busy household. We're like the proverbial ships passing in the night. Thankfully, we still seem to sit down and eat meals together quite a bit, mostly thanks to Debbie's perseverance. Lots of activity though; Debbie went to Nfld for a week. Joel was away for much of the summer working. James lucked out and got invited to go to Nicaragua for a couple of weeks. It's good to have friends. We managed a few nights camping, and the boys took in a week of youth camp, along with a 3 night canoe trip.
Here's hoping for a less hectic autumn...right  :)

photo by Brian Crooks

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Deep Cycle Batteries

Another off-grid power component of course is the battery. There's not much point in generating electricity with solar panels unless you have somewhere to store it. There are many considerations. Many people opt to go with 2 6-volt golf cart batteries, joining them in series to produce 12 volts. I chose the less "hard core" option of 2 simple Costco Deep Cycle 12-volt batteries, wired in parallel. My considerations were centered around choices. For example, I can easily remove a battery temporarily and use it for another purpose, something that you can't really do if you go with the 6-volt option. I'm a bit of a scatter-brain, and might at any moment rip a battery out and embark on a different project etc. 

Costco has several Deep Cycle choices. Again, for the sake of options and versatility, I compromised and got two "Starting / Deep Cycle" ones. Each will function as a starting battery if needed, and they claim a respectable 115 amp hours. Time will tell how good they are, but so far so good.
I have them kind of "temporarily" mounted under my back seat. They are not properly vented but I try and have the seat cover raised and the side door open for the times that I'm charging them in any high amp manner. I'm hoping to build a box and properly vent it, but you know what they say about good intentions. 
Next, I'll look at Inverters and 110-volt AC, although I try my best to live with 12-volts only  :)

Monday, July 29, 2013

More Solar / Power

Given the cumbersome nature of my recently created 110 watt solar setup, I decided to augment it with a semi-permanent addition. Over the last year, little amorphous 7 watt solar panels have been at Princess Auto for less than $20. 

7 Watts at 12 volts admittedly is not much. Nevertheless, over numerous visits to the Princess, I ended up with three of these panels. I kind of had a plan, but never acted on it...until now...
Three of these panels mounted quite discretely, stealthly even, in my Vanagon's luggage rack, and you can't even notice them unless you're either 7 feet tall, or standing at an above the van vantage point. I ran the wires through one of the drain holes in the corner of the luggage rack and sneaked them into the van, attaching them to a small charge controller. From there I have a setup comprised of several options: First, I have a plug going to the main starting battery for trickle charging/maintaining that. Next, there's a barrel post connector that I can plug in to my PowerBox 800...
This PowerBox is handy as a booster pack since it has booster cables. It also has a 600w inverter for short-term powering of 110v devices. so I can keep this charged. Finally, I can also run a cable to my main auxillary power setup...two 115 amp-hour Costco Deep Cycle batteries nestled in the van...
pay no attention to the ammo box...heh...heh...
All of this pretty much satisfies the power needs quite nicely, and I like that all my eggs are not in the one basket.

Friday, July 26, 2013

More Solar

I found some time to putter...yay! Along with my two Coleman 40 watt solar panels, I dug out two 15 watt Canadian Tire ones that had been lying dormant. One of them was never even removed from the box. I thought of buying more, but resisted the urge. Sometimes it's best to use what you have, especially since none of this is critical. Nevertheless, a total of 110 watts is better than nothing, so I decided to try and make a "system" of sorts. Basically, I constructed a crude "suitcase" affair from 1x3 strapping and old panel board. Into this, I fitted the two 15 watt panels. Then I added the two 40 watt panels on hinges so that the whole thing unfolds...
   Notice in the picture above, the 15 watt panels are physically larger than the 40 watt ones. They are several years older than the new 40 watt "polycrystalline" ones. This seems to be working out ok, but the whole thing is a bit heavy. However, it folds up and packs away nicely. This is all part of my plan for a semi-portable off-grid power setup. These panels, along with 2 Group-27 Deep Cycle Batteries, an inverter, a small gas generator, and a hefty battery charger should make for a good multipurpose Power Station. Fully charged, I'll have about 250 amp-hours of power. That will easily run my fridge for 3 or 4 days. Assuming those 3-4 days include some sunshine, the solar will extend that considerably. Then the gas generator will only be needed as a last resort, i.e. after 4 days of no sun. That's much better than having to rely on a gas generator the minute the power dies.
One possible problem though is that my little charge controller is rated for a maximum of 105 watts of power, but my setup is actually 110 watts. I'm going to take my chances with that one though. Each of the 40 watt panels came with a charge controller, so if one fries, I'll learn my lesson and buy a better controller, something I have planned anyway...or I might just use both controllers, hooking two panels to each for example...
More to come...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Solar?

I've been fooling with 12 volt power of late, and seeing how complicated or simple it might be to depend on it. For this, I chose a single task; the powering of my 12 volt cooler. I used a separate 110 amp hour Kirkland (Costco) Deep Cycle battery. The initial take-home message is that I need much more solar collection ability than I have. Combined, my two 40 watt Coleman solar Panels are simply inadequate. I'm not quite getting 5 amps of charge from them, and that's only in ideal conditions. Thankfully, the cooler is quite efficient. The unit draws a maximum of 46 watts, or about 4 amps. Also, it's only cycled on for less than half the time so I'd estimate about 2 amp hours consumption. Assuming one does not want to run their battery much below half-way, we're looking at the single battery easily powering the cooler for a 24 hour period, but not much more. Of course while driving, the battery can charge back up, but if you want to stay put for a few days, you'll need a solution.
 Assuming nice sunshine, my setup can "maybe" put 50 amps back into the battery on a nice long summer day, if I move the panels to better face the sun as the day goes along. So, in reality I can barely keep up.
Knowing this, I think I will conclude that 200 watts of solar panel is a working "minimum".
 With that in mind, I'll probably try and sell my 2 40-watt panels and go with some larger ones. thankfully they are coming down in price. I could add another battery, but that would only be a partial fix. i.e. it would last another day or so, but then I'd still have to recharge everything. Depending on the amount of time you camp without an electric outlet of course, this whole discussion could be a little academic. Nevertheless, it's good to have options. Perhaps I 'll go back to propane refrigeration, but that's another story...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vanagon: The Personal Mobile Kitchen

"eating out" is one of the big money wasters of our time. While I'm often guilty, I also use my van to help minimize the pain. For example, last week I had to attend a 3-day Training session at a local hotel. I showed up quite early, often the case for me when trying to avoid traffic. I had an hour or so to kill so I made a coffee, and decided to take one more step and have a nice bowl of oatmeal. It was the instant variety, so I only needed to boil some water...
JetBoil Oatmeal
Admittedly, I did go out to a nearby Lebanese joint for lunch, mostly for the friendship and company of colleagues...you can't be a total Hermit after all  :)
Beef Shawarma please
But I digress of course. On day 2, it was back to the van for an interesting concoction I've taken a liking to. Basically, it's Kraft Dinner mixed with Chili. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. It's good and hearty, if not a little sodium "rich"...
KD Chili
All in all, the Camper Van is a good item to have parked outside the office. It's normally equipped with water, food, cooking capability, refrigeration, extra clothes, and the list goes on...
Swiss Army Knife on Wheels
The swiveling front seats help enhance the dining experience...LOL...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For the Love of Coleman

For many years now, I've taken a shine to old white gas Coleman Stoves and Lanterns. I like the fact that you can tinker with them, and the haunting hissing noise of a Coleman Lamp takes me back to childhood simpler times. Call me nostalgic, or nuts, I don't really care. Accordingly, I'm always keeping my eyes open at yard sales and on Kijiji on the off chance that a good deal will materialize. One that I've long coveted showed up this week, and it's $20 asking price was too good to ignore. It's a model 222a. This was kind of marketed as a "Backpacker" lantern as it's a mini version of the classic lantern. At only 9" tall, it's compact if not cute...
new to me 222a  :)
Like most of these things, it came in its original box, and appeared to have been used maybe once. I pumped it up with the gas that was in it and it fired right up. This particular model was manufactured in 1979 under the "Peak 1" name. Interestingly, I purchased its sister stove back in the late 70's.
my 505b
Of course I had to bring the new lantern in the house and hang it in the kitchen while turning out the lights; not cool according to my son who was at the table trying to complete his homework...oh well.
Hanging on the pot rack. 
With respect to "tinkering", many parts are still available for these units, some directly from Coleman or if not, from other online vendors, ebay etc...
So, I think I'm up to about a dozen lanterns, but more on that later...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Early Birthday Present ?

Sometimes opportunity knocks, and often in my recklessness, I simply answer. Case in point: I've always seen the "need" for a small generator, mostly to use as a way to charge 12 volt batteries in support of a off-grid setup for supplying 110 power to a freezer for example, during a power outage. They have other uses of course, but I'm speaking of a small unit in the 1000 Watt maximum range. For several years now, I've owned an abomination in the likes of a 2-cycle Princess Auto Powerfist generator...
my old one...
This has been ok, but it's quite loud, and the workmanship is a bit sloppy; the threaded fitting in the bottom of the tank leaks for example. A constant pain as all the o-rings and gaskets in the world can't seem to fix it. I've fooled with it so much that I fear it's beyond fixing...just a minor leak that poses no problem when the unit is running, but leave it overnight and you're dealing with the stench of gasoline by the next day.
The ultimate of course is a 1000 watt Honda, but my mind can't fathom paying the $1,000 asking price.
This where the story gets interesting. In July of 2010 (almost 3 years ago), Canadian Tire briefly carried a Champion 1000 watt unit. A bit strange since it seemed to come from nowhere, and disappear just as fast. They listed it for $499. I wanted one but was too cheap to pull the trigger. Here's what there web site depicted back then:
Canadian Tire Web Site July 2010
Go there now of course, and you'll find no sign of it. It's a Honda knockoff, and actually had pretty good reviews. They say good things come to those who wait, so imagine my shock when I walked into the Quinpool Road Canadian Tire just last week...
Regular price still hiding underneath

Whoa...where did that come from? for the life of me I don't know why these would show up 3 years later ? A little web searching...no sign of it on the Champion Web Site although I WAS able to download a PDF of the owner's manual from there. I also read that Honda sued them over this one because of trademark infringement. Anyway, with my birthday coming up this week, I managed to secure the necessary managerial approval  :)
 A nice unit, and bonus, I don't have to use mixed gas. Like my other one, this one has a nice 12 volt outlet as well...my main reason for wanting it, although for my purposes, I can easily just run a battery charger from the 110 outlets...
 Here's a video so you can get an idea of how loud this thing is...not bad actually...So, an early Happy Birthday to me  :)
video

The labeling on this generator reveals that it's a re-badged Kipor brand unit, the IG1000 to be precise. Here's a photo of the Kipor...
seems identical
Here's what they say about the Kipor:

Quiet, lightweight, and easy to use, the Kipor IG1000 lets you bring an outdoor power source wherever you need it. Kipor Inverter Generators provide cleaner energy to power sensitive electronic equipment while being quieter, maintaining greater fuel efficiency, and releasing less exhaust into the environment. The IG1000 provides up to 4 hours run time at maximum load; requiring less output will extend the run time above 4 hours. The IG1000 is ideal for providing everyday portable power to a wide range small electronic devices and also a wise investment as an emergency power source. Popular uses for the Kipor IG1000 include: running a radio/cd player, electric drill, electric fan, toaster, electric lights, or a small desktop computer with monitor. Includes a free accessory kit that contains a spark plug, an oil bottle, and a 12-volt charge line. All Kipor Generators carry a 2-year non-commercial/1-year commercial use warranty from any Kipor North America service dealer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Walmart Score

I went to a local Walmart last night and struck a good emergency supplies deal. They were renovating, and had a bunch of shelves full of clearance items that they were trying to pawn off on some unsuspecting goon...then I came in :)
First off, I have some tiny camp stoves that burn alcohol. A good source of alcohol fuel is gas line antifreeze, and one of the best varieties is the HEET brand in the yellow bottle. Normally, they are abour $4 for a 355ml bottle but Walmart had been selling them for $3. In this particular clearance aisle, they were marked down to a buck a bottle !! There were 14 left, and I'll leave it to you to speculate on how many I bought. Needless to say, I won't be buying any more in this lifetime...
These are 12 oz bottles, and my tiny stove requires about one ounce to boil 2 cups of water...

My second find is a little less glamorous...the nicest way I can put it is "poop bags". Reliance markets these double walled toilet bags that have some sort of "bio-gel" inside for taking care of the nastier qualities of human waste. Well I wouldn't normally buy these, and hope not to use them, they could come in handy...
At a regular price of $14.48, I wouldn't look twice, but marked down to a loonie? Well that's a different bag of sh-----aving cream  :)
You can see from the label that these are meant to just insert into a variety of "Loos". I did a bit of searching online, and the most humorous article I could find made me laugh out loud...
So there you have it; an otherwise innocent visit to Walmart increases my supply of emergency supplies.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lunch-time Retreat

Yesterday it was mostly rainy, drizzly, and just plain dull. Nevertheless, when noon came, I needed to get away from my desk so I retreated to my van and started rummaging for a hot lunch. I found a can of Kirkland Chicken Breast meat and some cheap ramen noodles...Bingo !! Time to fire up a stove. The JetBoil is a bit small so I went with my Brunton Talon, and GSI Soloist Pot...

come on...boil !!
The stove is a tiny if not typical single burner canister stove. The orange canister is actually the one that came with the stove...I'm trying to use it up but it seems to be lasting forever. This is because it only takes 3-4 minutes to get a boil, which uses very little fuel.
With all the cold dampness, I needed some heat. Enter the cheap butane heater from Rona of all places...
only 4000 btu, but nice...
ok how's the chicken and noodle coming?
nice flame...
and we have boil...
m-m-m-m-m...
I'm not a big fan of these noodles, but an added can of chicken changes everything. So, in the span of 30 minutes I got to get away from my desk, play with some gear, and have a nice lunch. Luckily, my van was still stocked from a recent weekend trip, but I've been sneaking out there alot lately and doing this sort of thing, so a restocking exercise is in order. It's always prudent to have some canned items on hand, along with some fresh water, and a means to cook. Only complaint: I kind of burned my tongue, likely from eating too fast.