Visit us on the Airwaves

We are having a grand time creating podcasts.  Actually Jay was rather reluctant but once he did a couple of them with me, he was sold.  You can hear the podcasts at http://www.bluerockstation.com or listen on the radio at WOUB AM Studio B (When the Biomass Hits the Wind Turbine Show), and WGRN (Arriving at Blue Rock Station).  We’re having fun with Chris Luers as our producer (Barking Frog Media) putting together the audio shows about life as we see it.  Stay tuned for more including online webinars plus two new books.

Recording these shows with Jay has been quite informative.  First of all, it’s clear that he makes me laugh more often then I realized.  Yes, he is funny, but on the air he is extra humorous.

Secondly I realize that lots of the things we’re doing in our life together would be interesting to me even if it wasn’t us talking about preserving food, solar energy, and safe travel…

You’ll find more information in those podcasts then you could ever imagine.  I hope you’ll listen to one or two, and let us know what you think.

The Critters:
The new peacock and his hen arrived with great fanfare. The chickens were immediately intimidated by the long peacock tail and huddled together as I carried him down through the field to the hen house.  Over time though they all figured out how to live together, and then a raccoon tore through two layers of wire to brutally kill Mr. Peabody.  In a short time we had all grown to admire and respect his grandeur and abilities.  Penelope, his mate was at a loss without him, but she continued her daily supervision of Laura Nein’s 4th grade class chicks, and still went on her own into the hen house at night.  She’s happy to report that a new Mr. Peabody and his mate, Petunia appeared suddenly this week and while I am still grieving for the grandest peacock ever, it seems like life is moving forward (in peafowl land anyway).

Food, the Heart of Sustainability:
I love potatoes… but doesn’t everybody?  One of my favorite ways to fix them this time of year is to boil them, drain and then add some course salt with pepper.  Newly dug potatoes are best for this recipe, which is often requested by returning interns.  You can’t go wrong with this easy combination.  Bon Appetite!

Words that Guided:
Just for today I will honor my own ability to make smart decisions in life…just to prove it I’m going to make a list of them.

Kindest Regards, Annie

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Rebuffed Chickens and the Business of Goat Herding

September News from Blue Rock Station:

Every morning the hen, Isabella and her chicks, who live in the tiny purple chicken tractor near our bedroom window – touch my heart.  As Isabella waits to see if I will bring her some greens, her chicks rest on her back and next to her, reminding me (as if I need reminded) that everybody needs a mama.

There have been lots of young chicks, and by this I mean young people of all sexes, in our lives this summer.   Our two interns were a constant joy to share our lives with as they learned, and taught.  We also had an abundance of young people visit for field trips and tours.  They’re about to be in charge of the world – and it makes me feel confident that we’re going to be just fine.

This autumn promises to be busy as we role our the new solar installer webinars online, and prepare to publish The Business of Goat Herding book.  The Level II Solar Design and Installation book is waiting for me to finish the last edits so it can be a part of our new product line.  Check out our podcasts or register for one of our fall classes (University of Dayton Solar Installer in October and Rural Action Athens Solar Installer in November) on our website.

The news might be full of gloom and doom, but opportunity abounds.  So turn off your TV or radio (or news feed) and join us soon either in person for a tour or consult, or online to share in a great community of people who have an agenda that will keep the earth (and our souls) alive.  Stay tuned for opportunities to become a member of Blue Rock Station and enjoy our podcasts, webinars and Ask the Expert.  More to come…

Where you can find us for solar training:
There are still a couple of slots for the October class at the University of Dayton, Dayton OH  OR at Rural Action, Athens, OH. You can register at www.bluerockstation.com.

750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed. Now on lighter “office duty.”

Upcoming Workshops at Blue Rock Station:

Check out some of our other upcoming classes.  Please register early because all of our events have limited space.

September

  • September 29th-30thTiny House Weekend wrap up for winter…pound some tires, plaster a little and get her ready for the long sleep.

October

  • October 4th – 8th – Solar Installer Level 1 Certification Class, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH
  • October 11th: John McIntire Library – Annie will be giving a talk on “Stories of a Woman Who Learned to Thrive – Growing through and beyond the #MeToo Experiences” 6:30 pm. Free of charge.
  • October 13th Open House Tour 1 pm to 3 pm
  • October 20thFREE SCHOOL: Join Eduardo Sandavol for the second annual Day of the Dead workshop. Learn the real history of the celebration, make some authentic food, and help set up the official Day of the Dead alter.
  • October 27th BRS Goat College afternoon…Rural Action sponsored (part of the SARE grant series).  Register early to avoid disappointment.
  • October 27thSolar Generator Workshop – at Unitarian Universalist Church in Marietta, OH

November

  • November 3rd – 4th: Earthship 101: The basics of Earthship building and living plus stay over in a strawbale cabin
  • November 5th – 9th: Solar Installer Certification Workshop – Rural Action, Athens, OH
  • November 10th Open House Tour 1 pm to 3 pm
  • November 17th:   Learn to be an Activist in today’s world – BRS Free School – register by emailing annie@bluerockstation.com

The Critters:  

Henry (pronounced “on ree”) is quite a wonder.  While still a young chick, he decided he wanted to live at the barn.  Each morning he greets me at the chicken chalet gate, so he can walk with me to the milk room. Patiently he waits while I muck out the barn yard, and then he jumps onto the feed bin with a cute little coo, asking for food. I can point my finger to anything and he comes to see what is of interest. And, now he’s been practicing his crowing. Hoping to impress the ladies, who he just discovered this week.  As the parade of hens came under the chalet gate, Henry’s world has turned upside down.  Unfortunately he hasn’t figured out he has to dance to win their approval, so when he runs after them they turn and fight as if they’re roosters.  He’s had his heart broken, and perhaps his ego damaged, each morning.  He walks with me back to the milk room with his head bowed.

Food, the Heart of Sustainability:

There are still lots of delicious tomatoes available at farms and markets. Pack them into cool jars, add a little salt and place them in boiling water for about 40 minutes.   It’s that easy. Or make up a big batch of sliced/diced tomatoes of various colors, add salt, pepper, and some fresh herbs (parsley, basil, thyme) and enjoy as a salad.  But save enough for later in the week to put on top of a baked potato, a bean salad, or coleslaw.   Bon Appetite!

Words that Guided:

Just for today I will speak the truth in the kindest way possible, but I will speak the truth about something that’s needed to be said.

Kindest Regards, Annie

Crack Technology

Something new has invaded Blue Rock Station.

For years we have welcomed interns into our home/business/life.  The experience has been wonderful for us and we hope a great learning experience for the interns.  We work hard during the day, and typically the evenings are filled with conversation, music and staring out over the hills and letting the mind rest.  Often the interns sit outside and write letters to friends and relatives.  Actual pen and paper letters.

But in the past few years this idyllic scene has changed a bit.  The interns have brought with them a mental parasite;  a rectangle that consumes their attention, their conversation, their ability to think clearly.  The rectangle has gobbled up resources, time and joy.

As I write this, I am listening to NPR.  They are telling a story of how high school kids have been asked to give up their phones for a day.  Twenty-four entire hours without the rectangle.  You would have thought their entire family had been killed in a plane crash or they were being asked to walk a dozen miles barefoot across broken glass.

We have tried to limit interns access to the phone here at Blue Rock Station.  But like addicts everywhere, they need their fix and when unwatched, are shooting up with Facebook and Instagram.  We turn off the broadband receiver – and suddenly there are errands that must be run at places with free wi-fi.

I am not sure what solution lies undiscovered.  I just know this addiction to crack technology is damaging and widespread.  I see students on college campuses walking in groups – but they are not together.  They are each focused on their rectangle as they walk in front of cars – oblivious the the world around them and their “friends” in the “real” world.

Why wait for the zombie apocalypse?  It is already here.

Eleonore Buried Along With Her Name

News from Blue Rock Station:

The snow is piled high against the house and it seems hard to believe that in just a few days it will be March.  The worst of winter will surely be over.   We shouldn’t complain, however, as there’s been an abundance of sunshine this winter season.  The sunshine does make extra work for us, since we feel duty bound to keep the solar array clear of snow.

And if the end of February approaching isn’t exciting enough, there’s the release of Jay’s new book ASSEMBLING A SOLAR GENERATOR.  That might not sound like best seller material (true, Steven King is probably not too worried), but we are pretty thrilled with the idea that one small book has the power to help lots of folks create a solar collector in a box they can haul around their house when the electricity is out.  Or when they need power outdoors, or they just want to challenge themselves to use less… all that and odorless, quiet and dependable. Check it out at our website, www.bluerockstation.com

A reporter from the FARM AND DAIRY JOURNAL braved the snow and joined us for an afternoon a few days ago.    Apparently they had held an editorial meeting and created a list of the most influential women in Ohio agricultural and I ended up on the short list.  For the life of me I can’t imagine how that happened since I can think of at least a half a dozen women who should have knocked me down a peg or two on their list.  Now I’m anxious to see what they write, since I’m sure I’m their new poster child for “liberal” women farm producers.

All of the discussion of women in agriculture got me to thinking that what we really need to do is to bring women farm producers together to see what we look like.   There are more then 3,600 women farm producers in Ohio and yet we are apparently quite invisible.   Shawn Fiegelist (City Folk’s Farm Shop) listened to my rant on this subject and now we’re going to put together a little summer farm tour to showcase women’s hard work in farming and homesteading. Perhaps something good is coming out of that afternoon with the FARM & DAIRY reporter after all.


Upcoming Workshops from Blue Rock Station:

The complete schedule for 2015 is, as always, posted at www.bluerockstation.com.  To register for the courses at City Folks Farm Shop, visit their site at www.cityfolksfarmshop.com.

February:

  • February 28th-March 1st (and the next two weekends): Solar Installation Certification Class (Columbus OH) co-sponsored by Simply Living and City Folks Farm Shop. This is the same 5-day solar certification course, but broken into 3 weekend sessions for those who can’t take an entire week off. (SOLD OUT)

March:

  • March 7thCheese Making – Columbus at City Folks Farm Shop (just a couple of slots left)
  • March 7th & 8th: (Columbus OH) Second Weekend Solar Installation certification class co-sponsored by Simply Living and City Folks Farm Shop
    (SOLD OUT)
  • March 14thGoat College: Goats Hands-on Experience – Columbus at City Folks Farm Shop (sold out last month and only a couple of slots left)
  • March 14th &15th: Third (final) weekend Solar Installation certification class co-sponsored by Simply Living and City Folks Farm Shop
    (SOLD OUT)
  • March 17thRecycling in the Garden – Columbus at City Folks Farm Shop
  • March 28th: Earthship and Sustainable Farm Tour (Spring Equinox)
  • March 29thGoat College at Blue Rock Station – a full day of goat school, lunch and a little cheese making

The Critters:

There’s a heaven for goats and Eleonore Rigby is eating everything in sight.  And no doubt she has pushed the pearly gates open to check out the grass on the other side.

On Saturday I left the OEFFA conference early because I felt like I just had to get home.  When we arrived, Eleonore was waiting by the barn wall beckoning me to hurry to do chores.  I led her into the barn with her feed, and she fell to her knees.  As she ate, I managed to get a heavy vest on her to help her stay warm.  But when I cam back with some water, it was clear she had decided she was ready to leave Blue Rock Station Green Living Center.

I settled her on the hay and covered her with more vests and got some water into her.  She closed her eyes and rested.  For a while I laid down with her as the bitter wind blew outside of the stall, and I kissed her nose each time she opened her eyes to look at me.  Her children and grandchildren came to say goodbye and give me courage with their nudges, and then she left me.

At the beginning of the winter I told her that if she was going to die this year, could she please do it by going to sleep and not waking up, rather than by getting sick (she was 13 years old , which is ancient for a goat).  I am glad she honored my request.  I am also grateful for all of the years she taught me about goats.

Just last week she snuck into the milk room to see me, nudging me, then licking her lips to tell me in her own regal way that she wanted to eat.  I kissed her on the nose that day and thanked her for teaching me so many things in this life.  Just a reminder, which goats are good at, that it’s never good to miss an opportunity to be grateful, no matter what the situation.  She may be gone, but she is  still with me …she will always be with me.  True friends are forever.

Words that Guided:

Just for today, I will remember to be grateful for the smallest moments…thank you Eleonore Rigby for reminding me .

Kindest Regards, Annie


Wants versus Needs

When we started this project four years ago, we envisioned our Thanks for Nothing Month as a period of reflection – a time to think about each and every item we are consuming.  And, of course, it does work.  Sort of like walking up a steep hill, all the time reminding yourself how good the exercise is for you.

For some reason the experience keeps reminding me of that old routine by George Carlin when he talks about “stuff.”  You go on a trip and only take some of your stuff.  Then you go on a day trip and take even less stuff – only the stuff you really, really need, and so on.

Conscious consumption has brought on thoughts of things I need, rather than things I have or want.  What are the things I am very aware of consuming when I limit consumption.  Here is a brief list...
  1. Firewood.  Seems that in the middle of January, when the outside temperatures hit minus 5 degrees, I seem to need some heat.  This is an actual honest to goodness need.  Not a “want” pretending to be a need.  
  2. Water.  We don't need a bunch of this – but the goats and llamas and dogs and cats seem to get very irritated if we don't keep fetching and carrying water to them.  They just can't seem to get in the spirit of Thanks for Nothing Month (especially the cats).
  3. Blankets.  I feel like this is a borderline item, but there is nothing quite so nourishing as to get below a pile of blankets on a warm, soft bed as the world freezes solid outside.
I think everything else really falls into the “want” category, although if I didn't have them, I would probably be able to summon enough rationalizations to push them up a notch to “need.”  I speak of course of...
  1. Food.  I could probably stand to go a fair time without it, but wouldn't want to.  This month, however, I find that we are eating less and less.  Perhaps it is because we have worked our way down through all the “goodies” and are well into bags of frozen chicken broth and rice.  Still good and all that, but just fine in moderation.
  2. Light.  I could be flip and simply say that when the sun goes down, just climb under the blankets.  But a bit of light in the evening is cheerful.  But it is amazing how little light you actually need.  We have been discussing personal light rather than abundant light. No need to light the whole room (or house) when you can simply light the place you are looking at.  
  3. Coffee.  I thought about putting this under the “need” list.  It seems to motivate me more than heat to get up in the middle of the night and fill the wood stove (so that hot water is waiting for me when I climb out from under the blankets).
  4. Clean hair.  I always figured that if I was captured by terrorists (or the CIA), all they would need to do is not let me wash my hair and then touch it.  I would chatter away like Joe Biden.  
So that's about it when it is pared down to the basics.  So why do I have all this other stuff around the house?  Under which list does the Chia Pet go?

Blowing up Inverters – Sort of

I now know what I didn't know.  I know what I know.  I don't know what I don't know I don't know.  And I don't care that I don't know what I didn't know but now I know but could get by just fine not knowing.
750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed.  Now on lighter "office duty."
750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed. Now on lighter “office duty.”
The learning curve continues.  

Perhaps I'll have that carved on my headstone.  Seems rather profound without being actually profound (a bit like Donald Rumsfeld).  But I digress.

I have managed to blow up one of the inverters on one of my solar generators.  Not blow up as in it lies in pieces at my feet – but blow up as now when I push the button, nothing happens.  I know why this happened, which is helpful.  My mistake was believing the literature.  The inverter was plenty big enough to handle the job, except that it wasn't.

The information on the internet was wrong (imagine that).  The manufacturer was apparently mistaken – asserting that limited power could handle the problem (why does this all keep reminding me of Donald Rumsfeld?)  

I have fixed the problem by installing an inverter that is rated to handle ten times the power requirements of the refrigerator.  Colin Powell would be proud.

Postscript:  Turns out I didn't know what I knew.  I went to replace the bad inverter – but it turned out to be a bad connection.  The smaller inverter still won't power the refrigerator, but at least it didn't meet its maker... yet.  

Tweaking the Solar Generators

The first full day of Thanks for Nothing has come and gone – and we have once again survived without some of the conveniences of a modern society.  Amazing. 
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
My role on the first day was largely technical.  As mentioned, we are trying out our solar generators – trying to test them and push them to their limits.  Well, right off the bat we found some limits.

We built three units.  The small unit, complete with a 400 watt inverter, a 35 amp-hour battery and all the other bits and bobs that make it work seems to be doing its assigned job just fine. In fact, I am connected to it as I write this.  For more than a day it has managed to supply power to my laptop, printer, cordless telephone and lamp (see, a complete office if your office consists only of a laptop, printer, telephone and lamp).  

We used the laptop all day – plus watched two movies on it during the evening (actually documentaries – so we are still pure and righteous).  We have also been listening to the radio over the internet on the laptop.   Some day we might actually stream music and join the modern world more completely.  As I type this, the unit just gave out a squawk that it was at the end of its juice.  So 24-hours seems to be the limit on this unit.  That will probably get you through most power outages.

The middle unit is, as you would imagine, a bit bigger.  It has a 750 watt inverter and a 110 amp-hour battery.  We determined to use this for the refrigerator, as our LG fridge only draws about 165 watts when running, I figured this would be more than enough.  But we have learned something about inverters (and motors).  

When the refrigerator kicks on (and this applies to any appliance with a motor), it draws a bit more energy in the first few seconds of operation (a surge).  Our inverter is supposed to handle this, rated to up to 1500 watts for a few seconds, but happier if only providing 750 watts or less on a continuous basis.  

We found that when the refrigerator tried to kick on, the inverter would indicate it was overloaded (even though it was well below its rated limit).  It would do this four or five times, then chug away happy as could be.  I worried that all this might be putting a strain on our refrigerator – so we moved the bigger unit in to take over.

The large unit has a 2,000 watt inverter and a 225 amp-hour battery bank.  The refrigerator is really happy with this unit.  We need to do a bit more testing, but it looks like there needs to be a lot of headroom in inverter capacity when working with motors – much more than the rated watts of the unit might suggest.

So we are off and running, settling into the slower pace of Thanks for Nothing month.  Dinner must be anticipated well in advance and cooked on the wood stove.  It is eaten by candlelight, which is never a bad thing.