Electrical Optimization

September 1, 2010 3 comments

Our house is tall.  Most of our day is spent on the main floor, the bedrooms are on floor 2 and the attic houses a playroom for the kids.  Sadly, while there used to be a radiator at the bottom of the attic stairs and one in the attic they had been removed a long time ago.  Possibly when the steam boiler got swapped 30 years ago the one they put in didn’t do a good job for all the floors so they took them out.  What is left up in the attic is a set of 3 baseboard heaters that I’m not really happy with.  They get a bit too hot, and last winter Petra’s Cinderalla Barbie suffered some hair meltage because she was placed up against one of them.


I’ve been thinking of ways to try and reduce the electricity usage needed for the playroom and I’ve been batting around a few ideas.  One is that I need to get a programmable thermostat for the attic.  There aren’t any kids up there between 8PM and 8AM so having the heat off/very low would do a good job to cut usage by up to 1/2.  The other thing I’d like to put in is a ceiling fan which would pull up the cold air and force the warm ceiling-level air to circulate down.  As our house has no forced air heating it can get pretty stagnant and it should help to make the room more comfortable when set a bit cooler and make the heat created more usable.  The third thing I have in mind is I would like to have an on-demand heater that senses when the room is in use and heats it up.  I know that infrared heaters create heat immediately, so I would like to go to the store and give some a try.  If I could have the baseboards hold the temp at cool but manageable during the day the infrared could quickly make it comfortable.


I don’t know if I will have the time/money to do the infrared thing this year.  Heck, I think it would be efficient to put in-floor heating under the carpet but the cost is just waaaay to high for that.  Even without the infrared I think I can save half the heat costs which at 10c per kwh x 3 1000w heaters x 16 hours heating per day x 30 days x 5 months would mean saving half of $720.  Hmm…  looking at it that way it might be a good idea just to shut down the playroom for Jan-Feb… 


Well, that’s the plan, I’ll have to let you know how it works out.

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The Home Stretch

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

This one month, post-a-day blogging challenge only has a few days to go, and likewise my summer “vacation” ends in a week.  Next Tuesday classes will begin and life will go back to more of a routine.  I put the finishing touches on my syllabus today and tomorrow it will go out to the printers.  I have a few meetings this week and next Tuesday will be the first time I leave the house before 8 AM in over 4 months. 

We have done a lot around the farm this summer, we have managed to go on several fun trips: people got married, kids had birthdays, mountains got climbed and lakes got swammified, but still I would love for the summer to never end.  Hell, I’d take the snow and staying home.  I am very lucky that I have a job that gives me a lot of flexibility time-wise.  Only about a quarter of my work week is “gotta be there right now” time and the rest can be pushed back or forward to fit around life.

I didn’t really have this plan in mind going through school, becoming a teacher and having a big family, but am I ever glad this is where life has taken me.

The Dog Catcher

August 31, 2010 4 comments

Just thought I’d take the time to quickly share a training session from Dash this morning.

Get it!
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Just Dropping By

August 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Before we moved to Chicago we had a bunch of local friends and family and while there were a bunch of expected visits there was also the occasional drop in.  People would call, give maybe a 10 minute lead time and Erron and I would frantically get the worst of our mess tidied up.  I’d say we are cleaner and messier at the same time now.  We can’t let things go all to hell because of the kids, but the kids do sure make a clean house messy in a flash.


This morning while Erron and Elijah were in town I happened to be upstairs putting Micah down and my phone rang.  It took me about 15 seconds to realize I was talking to Kelly M’s mom.  We had seen them at Kelly’s daughter’s birthday a month ago and said if you’re ever driving by give us a call and stop by.  Turns out they were driving by, and got my number just in time to call about stopping by.  They had just passed our turn off the highway so were about 15 minutes away.  Sure!  Come on by!  (Oh crap…  I’ve got to get some stuff done…)


To be honest, when I go to a house I do give it a once over to see if it is clean or tidy or whatever, but usually that doesn’t really matter as I am there to visit with the people, not the house.  I know this is probably the same for other people, but still there is that feeling that people will be judging you and you want to make that impression just a little better if you can.  So I quickly got the dishes off the counter and gathered up the randomly strewn bits of kids clothes that happen to get shed during the day like a cat losing fur on a summer day.  I ordered the shoes and swept the front room, I made sure the girls had pants and the table was cleared.  It was a bit fun to have our first drop in visitors to the farm.


We had a great visit, they stayed about 6 hours and their granddaughters and our kids had a great time while we visited.  It is always fun to show off the house as we feel so lucky to have found a place like this that suits our family so well.


Not a whole lot else to say except, if you’re ever driving by give us a call and I’ll do a 10 minute tidy for you too.

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Say Hello To My Little Friend

August 29, 2010 1 comment


I think it is inevitable that when you live in the country you are going to have mice.  We are directly surrounded by hundreds of acres of wheat fields so I am sure there are more mice out there than I can guess.  Hundreds?  For sure.  Thousands?  Maybe…  I just checked the “Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management” and they state that when food is plentiful you can get 15 mice per acre.  That said we would have about 240 mice in the seed-rich Fall season.  I know they are out there, I know we are really intruding on their natural habitat, but I don’t like them in my house.


Last night while Erron and I were sitting around the TV room we saw either one mouse run by 3 times, or 3 mice run by one by one.  I hope it was just one making repeat visits.  Because they are still doing fire renovations there are gaps in the baseboards by the radiator and this seems to be a good place for them/it to come and go.  I have also seen one slip through the side door in a gap so small that I probably couldn’t fit a pencil through it.  They are tenacious little bastards, I’ll give them that.


Dash is a great dog, and his mouse hunting skills are improving every day, but he can’t catch what he isn’t around to see, so I decided to throw a couple live traps into the living room here against the walls and also to drop a mouse block under 3 of the radiators.  One by the front door, one in the kitchen and one in the TV room.  They are a blue cube shaped “food” laced imagewith a blood thinner and bittering agent.  Apparently the mice don’t taste this certain bitter chemical but if the kids did manage to check it out they would not be able to eat enough because of the taste to do any damage.  What the blood thinner does to mice is to prevent them from clotting when they get a little injury, like having to squeeze through a tight spot.  They end up dying from an internal bleed, what a great way to go.  I placed a few in the basement last year and sure enough we got about 6 or 7 dead ones in the next couple weeks.  It really is just the Fall that they are troublesome as they are trying to stockpile for the winter.  Once it is cold they aren’t sneaking in anymore.


In the house I haven’t seen much of any mouse damage to our food, most everything is in plastic bins or cans, so it is more of a nuisance than a “we need to get rid of them!” issue.  If anything, I have had them rifle through my car more than disturb anything in the house.  The live traps were actually purchased to get the ones that were sneaking into my car as any time I left a food wrapper, or even some food in the car I would find nibble marks in the morning.  I used the catches I would get from the traps to train Dash to hunt and kill the mice.  The first day I got 3 mice from the car.  I let them out one by one and Dash was more startled than anything.  He only got 1, but it was a good start.  I tried to get him all excited and crazy by letting him sniff the trap and saying, “Get it Dash!  Get it!  Get the mouse!”  Even the one he did get he didn’t really know what to do with it as he would grab it then let it go.  Fast forward a few months and he has become a killing machine.  One day I emptied the grain bag from the food bin in the pumphouse (a 50lb bag of grain for the pigs that sits in a garbage bin).  There was a bit of spilled grain in the bottom and the next morning when I went to feed the pigs there were 6 mice at the bottom of the bin.  The mice were climbing in to get the food but the sides were too slick and too high for them to get out.  One by one I scooped up the mice and tossed them onto the grass for Dash to catch and kill, he got 5/6 of them.  Since then I have left that bin exactly the way it was and have managed to get one or two mice every couple of days.  One day I didn’t have the scoop so I just took the bin out and tipped it while getting Dash excited.  He dove into the mostly tipped-over bin and grabbed it before the edge hit the ground.  We keep the chicken food in a big metal garbage can and a few times we have forgotten to put the lid back on and I’ve found a mouse in it in the morning.  The bin is big enough, and our Jack Russell Terrier is small enough, that I just drop him in and let him catch it right there.  It is a bit satisfying to hear the crunch of dog-jaw on mouse-skull and then see him drop a twitching mouse to the ground.

So far Dash has managed to catch 3 mice in the house, one gopher in the yard, and probably 15 kills from trapped mice outside, plus one near miss in the kitchen.  I saw a mouse scurry by in the kitchen under the radiator, I called Dash over and he did a sideways diving slide under the chair to try and bite the thing and just barely missed it.  He is quite a good dog to have around and is keeping up his part of the bargain. 


imageWhat bargain?  Last September when we first noticed the mice we considered a farm cat (I’m allergic to cats) and last minute I thought maybe there were dogs bred to catch vermin.  A little Googling and we came up with J.R.’s as vermin-catchers and we found a breeder on Kijiji an hour away selling puppies.  A few hours later we were home with a little bundle of fur and hopes that one day he would guard us from the mouse army.


I almost forgot to mention, not only is Dash a working dog, but he has a lot of other things going for him.  He is cute, he is good company when walking across the fields after dark, he does tricks, the kids adore him, he warns us when people come to the door, he has taught the kids responsibility for having a pet and he helps clean up some of the food the kids drop on the floor.


I like having a dog.

Big In Japan

August 28, 2010 1 comment

petra chickFive weeks ago we got our cute, fuzzy little baby chicks.  As jumbo sized eggs are 75 grams I would estimate that this is the maximum size of these just-hatched chicks that we brought home.  We knew they were supposed to grow quickly, the hatchery had a little table that showed how much food they should eat each week and how big they would be, an essential tool for a farm that has thousands of chickens and needs to plan ahead.  Of course we aren’t a commercial chicken farm force feeding chickens to gain maximum weight every week, so the 6-8 week timeframe for getting an edible bird is probably not going to happen for us.


After the cute stage comes the damn ugly stage.  These chicks lose the bright yellow feathers and the half naked chicken skin with spikes of new feathers  isn’t a pretty sight.  Besides being ugly they are pushy and a lot more smelly than our nice laying hens (they are eating 4x more food per day, so making a lot more crap with it).  They have gotten past the ugly stage now, their white feathers are mostly in except for the tail and spots on the belly.  They are starting to develop their combs and waddles too, but we still call them the baby chicks.

photo(3)It is a bit odd calling these things babies, but they’re barely over a month old, so what to do?  Petra and I have been calling them the broilers, since that is the weight we will be raising them to, about 6-8 pounds ideally.  Today when we got home from the circus the broilers were out in the yard, more adventurous than I have seen them, and they were even mingling a bit with the layers which happily peck about the yard looking for bugs.  I managed to get this picture of 2 of them side by side, it was a bit amazing to see how much they’ve changed into chickens from chicks.  They still look a bit babyish as their necks are shorter than an adult and they have barely any tail, but they are already pretty thick around the middle and they have bigger feet than the layers that are probably over a year old.  Petra and I tried to weigh a couple of them to check the difference.  A good question right now might be, “How do you weigh a crazed chicken that won’t stand still?”  Our answer is to put it head down into a tall and narrow 1L pail that used to hold potato salad and balance that on the kitchen scale.  They mostly fit in, and once they are head down with their wings pinned against their sides they don’t make much effort to get out.  After weighing a couple chicks they are looking to be around 1600 g while the layers are only 1400 g.  Yep, the baby chicks are already heavier than the big chickens who are giving us our daily eggs.  They have gotten over 20 X bigger in 5 weeks, or to put it another way, if you chopped one in half that would be the combined weight of all 13 baby chicks the day we brought them home – just a little crazy.


I looked into it and the dressed (butchered) weight of a chicken is about 75% the live weight.  This means our chickens would give us some 1200 g of meat and bones, or, if you are used to buying chicken by the pound, 2 lbs 10 oz.  This is bigger than most grocery store rotisserie chickens if you want to make the comparison – in just 5 weeks! 


Looks like I will have to start planning out and building my killing cone pretty soon for our home butchering extravaganza.  I can’t wait until we can have our first full 0-mile supper.

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Big Sisters Rock

August 27, 2010 1 comment

Petra, for all her stubbornness, is a great sister.  Tonight Erron had to run into town leaving me with the 4 kids and we were upstairs watching Petra’s dance recital video.  I had Micah on the bed with the kids and had stepped out to look for the remote.  I was sure Micah wouldn’t wiggle forward in the 10 seconds I was out, because most of his wiggling is backwards or in a circle, but when I came back Petra was laying across the bed in front of him to make sure he didn’t crawl off the bed.  She didn’t need to be asked, she just figured it was a good thing to do.  Later when we were getting ready for bed I had just gotten Micah to sleep and he wasn’t quite asleep enough to be put down yet.  I grabbed Natalia’s pullup and asked Petra to help her get them on.  She held them for Talia while she stepped in and helped her pull them up.  Petra will give her toys to her brothers or sisters without being asked (sometimes) when she can tell they are upset and could really use what she is playing with.  She will quite often help keep the baby happy while I get things in the kitchen and in a pinch she can hold him while standing for long enough for me to tie a shoe or wipe a kid’s bum in a public washroom.  She can pour juice or milk for her sister when I just don’t want to get up for the hundredth time during supper and has been trying to learn how to sprinkle salt for her too (ok, that ended disastrously).

I’m sure as the years pass she will keep getting better and better at being the big sister, and I am very proud of that.

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