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.  

Here Comes The Sun

There’s anticipation in the air and it’s not because fall weather makes me nervous that it will frost and finish off the garden. Actually there should be a giant drum role because when we created the first 10 year plan for Blue Rock Station in 1996 we put renewable energy (I barely understood this term) at the end of the goals because it wasn’t an efficient use of money or resources in those days). BUT…In three weeks we will install the solar array that will provide most of the power we will need for the entire farm.

The system we’ve designed is going to be installed in three segments – one the first week of October, and then we’ll add another array in a year, and then, if we need it, another array in 2016. This approach allows us to practice more conservation and also to learn more how we use energy, and how not to go hog wild since it is technically free.

Jay likes to say that when solar energy is readily available (and cheap) people will go crazy using it – “like a bunch of fraternity boys at a party with free booze”. I don’t want to think about energy as “free” because it is not. Many resources (some that are very limited) go in to making the solar array system. Rare minerals are required to create solar panels and those minerals are growing more and more scarce. That’s the reason that the US (and other countries) are exporting used electronics to China – little children are used to extract these rare minerals so they can be re-used. The rare minerals have some very serious side effects when touched by humans. I will leave you to figure out why this isn’t good.

My hope is that this new way of generating electricity will provide us with ways to “think” more honestly about how we live on this land, and how we can learn more about ourselves in our quest to not take away from the future.

The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #5

DISBUDDING GOATS

According to Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (King James Bible).” The United States, being founded on Christian ideals, has shown to have taken the biblical directive of dominion over all to heart by consuming 20% of the world’s resources despite making up only 5% of world’s population. Additionally, this concept has created a worldview that has reduced many of the farm livestock and the pets in the US to dollars signs in the pasture, and ornaments in the apartment.

The reality is that when one views their livestock or pets as an object that they own, and not as a sentient being that also provides service for the human beings, it completely changes the dynamics of that relationship. For many Americans farmers, any kind of sacrifice, or inconvenience brought on from the animal’s anatomy (e.g. horns, claws, etc.) is often too difficult to learn to work with. Rather, the American farmer’s most preferred management style is to maim or strike fear into the animal for the sake of convenience (or because that is how it has always been done). The focus of this article will be on the prevalent practice of disbudding goats in the United States.

Yikes!

The process of disbudding a goat is an extremely painful procedure. A 1000º iron is pressed against the top of the skull of a baby goat (typically less than two weeks old), leaving large wounds in the place of the horns. In the best case scenario the animal screams, goes into shock, and is scarred for life. However, it is not uncommon for the animal to run a temperature for several days, and can become lethargic accompanied with depression. The eyes can also be affected if the heated iron touches soft tissue, causing blindness or a disfiguring of the face. Unfortunately, some animals experience personality changes and even stunted growth after disbudding.

The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) currently does not allow dairy goats to be shown if they have horns.* It seems odd that a surgically altered goat would be deemed the breed standard. The official response from the ADGA is, “for the safety of other animals, as well as exhibitors, horned animals are not allowed at ADGA sanctioned shows.” This is the most common justification for disbudding. Having a goat with horns is just far too dangerous to have around humans or other goats. Horns do have the potential to be dangerous, but the danger is an exception and not the norm when the proper precautions are taken to ensure everyone’s safety around the animals.**

Fern-bunny believes that she is the standard of perfection.

At Blue Rock Rock Station, the philosophy of livestock management focuses on ‘peaceagree’ (i.e. the ability to get along with the herd) rather than pedigree. Annie Warmke has been a goat herder off and on since she was 19 years old. She says that, “goats will ram with or without horns; it is part of who they are, but their horns are an important part of natural health for these livestock. They provide protection when giving and receiving blows. Constant maliciously intended rams to a goat’s side or udder could seriously injure it, but that goes back to ‘peaceagree’. The question we ask ourselves with any animal in our herd is, ‘Would I want a person with that attitude living with me in my home?’ and the answer to that question should help a farmer decide whether an unruly goat living amongst the herd is worth the risk.”

It is, of course, the job of the farmer to teach their livestock that it is not okay to ram humans. With or without horns, the farmer must always be aware of where their bodies are in relation to the goat’s head. Additionally, it is imperative that the farmer be attentive to places where a goat could potentially get its horns stuck (e.g. housing, fencing, etc.). Likewise, it does not mean that it is time to disbud if the farmer is unable to do their job adequately. It means that it is time for the farmer to reevaluate whether or not they should continue having a partnership with goats.

Franklin scratching his side.

Horns provide great utility to the goats. Goats scratching themselves in hard to reach places while the disbudded ones are forced to rub up against fences, fence posts, buildings, trees, humans, large rocks, doors, etc. They are also handy when browsing for food. More importantly, the horns are chocked full of blood vessels that help to regulate the goat’s temperature.*** Losing horns is akin to a human losing the ability to sweat. It seems unkind to do this to an animal that spends most of its life outdoors.

The goat is the most widely domesticated livestock in the world, and in most countries the goats get to keep their horns. However, in the United States (i.e. cattle country) the inhumane practice of disbudding has been normalized; all in the name of safety. But life on a farm is full of potential hazards, many of which are exclusive to certain animals (e.g. horses’ hind legs, dogs’ teeth, cats’ claws, etc.). Part of being a farmer is learning to mitigate these hazards in a way that promote health in addition to prosperity to the land. This is a situation in which bending nature to human will is causing unnecessary suffering to sentient beings. It is not the goat’s horns that are truly dangerous, but human’s lack of desire to learn from these beautiful animals.

Floyd is happy to be able to grow out his horns!

*ADGA Ruling, pg. 80
**Our Mountain Hearth, “Why We Don’t Dehorn Our Goats”
***Johnson, Robert L., “Why Horns”

The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #4

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #3: ESTABLISH LASTING FRIENDSHIPS

All too often I meet people who have made it their sole mission in life to seek out one person who will give them indestructible happiness. This is a mission that is doomed for failure. Not only have they made an investment with impossible expectations for their significant other, but they have set themselves up to be resentful when those expectations are not met. It also creates a situation in which one will be all alone if the connection with the other ever severs. What happens if their lover dies, or they have to leave for a while, or it just doesn’t work out like it was originally planned? Happiness isn’t found in one person; it spawns from the multiple lifelong connections you have made within your world. As Aristotle once said, “in poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”

Now, I admit that I am not the most sociable person in the world. I can even be a bit snotty about it. I only let in people who I absolutely adore, mostly because I find social interaction to be exhausting. If I get to a point in my life where I feel like I have let too many people in, or if they are hanging out with too many people I do not want to let in, I disappear. I learned quickly that people get upset if you just ignore everyone for an indeterminate amount of time, so once I got a vehicle I began finding more excusable ways of escaping. I might change jobs, transfer schools, or work as an intern in Ohio. It’s like I have this unspecified social quota that I let slowly fill up, and once it’s filled I dump everything to start again. I should probably say that I plan to work on this, but I feel like I know myself well enough at this point to know that expecting anything else would be me not respecting the way my brain is wired. Though, I suppose I will eventually need to find less drastic ways to “recharge”.

Being Introverted doesn't mean I don't enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by friends.
Being introverted doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by friends.

I always come back to the ones I love.  I may be extremely introverted, but I am not heartless. I require their support as much as any extroverted soul. I am only less overt with my appreciation. During my stay at Blue Rock Station, I have witnessed how exponentially important friendship becomes with age. People die, careers are halted, homes are loss, children can be ungrateful, romance may fade, but true friends are always there when you need them. For this reason, one should always make room for friendships in life. They fill your days with songs of laughter and joy, whose melodies will give you comfort in times of sorrow.

Photo credit:  Anna Marie

Day #4 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month

Day #4 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month            Sunny/Cold

“Just for today I will take five minutes to think about how I can increase the Happiness Factor in my life.”
Chefs Nans & Jay
Mornings at Blue Rock Station are the best, even when there’s no hot water for a proper cup of tea.  Jay and I settle into our rocking chairs to listen to National Public Radio (NPR) on the hand crank radio, and wait for the water to heat.  Both of us seem to find ourselves arguing with different news reports, especially the stock market report.

In fact, it’s the stock market report that got us thinking about creating an annual THANKS FOR NOTHING Month.

Fall 2011…One winter day, as Jay and I were driving along Highway 60 into town, I was once again arguing with the radio about how silly the Stock Market Report seemed to be.  It simply has nothing to do with our everyday lives.  In fact, I would argue, it has nothing to do with anyone’s life.  What difference do the numbers going up and down really make – unless you were one of the incredibly small number that were just about to sell or buy a stock – and then I don’t think you would rely on NPR for your up-to-the-minute information.

“Wouldn’t it be grand if we could hear a Happiness Factor Report on our own community?” one of us said (I don’t recall which one of us had this brilliant idea). “The Happiness Factor in Ohio went up 13 points yesterday because the Cleveland Browns finally won a game…” or something to that effect.  Seems to make more sense than “The Dow Jones fell 45 points on profit taking and fear of the Fed easing on monetary blah, blah, blah.”

I’m sure it was Jay who then suggested that we should try to spend some time living without money.  I instantly wanted to try.

At some point we decided on the month of January for our experiment. January is a slow month for us, with snow and cold winds…a time to “hunker down.”

In October 2011, I included our “THANKS FOR NOTHING” (the name we gave our January time) announcement in our regular Blue Rock Station newsletter to let folks know what we were thinking.  Almost immediately I had a note from Nans Thomassey, one of our former French engineering student interns.  He wanted to participate.

Nans and I had a grand time sharing ideas about how he and his partner Fanny  could live without money, and then he suggested we should include energy in the formula.  He wanted to focus on living with the rhythms of the earth and making sure that the lights would be out at sundown.  That conversation helped us to begin to create a format for the month that was going to “push” each of us to examine many things in our lives…I could never have imagined the outcome.

After our planning session I began to feel a little “pinched” by the thought of not using energy, and that made me realize that I was about to be on an amazing journey that would turn me at least 90 degrees and re-shape a portion of my life.

How was I going to cook?  Do Laundry?  Get to Jeanette’s party (I’d promised the year before that I’d be there)?  And, more importantly, how was Jay going to get by without his daily shower?

Fast forward to January 2014 and THANKS FOR NOTHING Month #3.  It seems like we find new ways to challenge ourselves each January, and 2014 is no exception.  We find now that we look forward to January – an excuse to slow down a bit – take a breath.

And with the frigid weather drifting down from the Arctic, it is strange to find that the electricity might go out – and we will not notice.  There will be no pipes bursting and no plants dying or no mad rush into the harsh winds, bundling pets into the car to go in search of a place where coal burned miles away helps keep us from freezing at night.

It will simply be another night.  Minus 10 degrees outside, 68 degrees inside.  The cats and dogs sleeping in front of the wood stove.  Us humans will be feeling very sleepy by 8 pm because it has been dark for nearly three hours.  We will blow out the kerosene lantern and head to bed, warm under the comforters.  And give thanks for the nothing…that is everything.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with greek yogurt

Lunch:
Fresh baked oat bread (gluten free)
Fried white fish
Salad greens
Peach crisp

Day #3 Thanks for Nothing Month

Day #3 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month            Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will cross off one thing from my to do list, and think about how good it feels to do nothing about it.”

Earthship in Winter
The sun was bright all day – such a gift on a bitterly cold day.  The house was warm even though we let the wood stove get down to only hot coals.  The beauty of a home that uses thermal mass coupled with passive solar for the basis of heating is that sunshine bumps up the warmth inside.

We spent the day with an Amish farmer and one of the “English” he works with – his goal in coming to us for consulting was to learn more about our building methods so he can utilize some of our ideas in a new retail shop he wants to build for his poultry business, plus he and his English partner want to create new Websites for their businesses.

They were looking for marketing advice, and we had a grand day of sharing ideas and “pushing the envelope” with how to use the Internet more efficiently.  After six hours we had shared stories, laughed more then we

in an “ordinary” business meeting, eaten a simple meal warmed on the wood stove while we met, and given both of them a push forward with their own ideas.  This is our idea of doing business – making friends, giving everything we have to the moment, and then staying in touch to see how it all unfolds.  I believe this is the new business model for our culture.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

During evening chores a young guy I had talked to about re-homing the chickens I’d taken in from Capital City Animal Shelter drove up at the barn to “adopt” one of the beautiful roosters that I’d decided were too healthy to butcher.  He was worried about how to introduce the rooster to his small flock of hens.  We discussed how a new rooster with hens wasn’t a problem – all he needed to do was put the rooster in with the flock after dark, and the next morning all of them will be excited and happy to get acquainted.  It doesn’t work so smoothly when introducing a new hen, and that’s what he was worried about.

When I returned to the house Jay was waiting with the oil lamp lit on the kitchen table.  It’s really nice to open the door and see the glow from the lamp.  The US weather service says sun down is at 5:15 PM in this part of Ohio so we abide by that if we’re using the computer – turning it off like clockwork…No technology whether powered by renewable energy or not after dark.

The evening was spent returning fun phone calls to friends.  Sometimes I feel like I have forgotten the art of talking on the phone for fun, but last night those women on the other end of “the line” reminded me of how much joy comes from reconnecting with just our voices.During evening chores a young guy I had talked to about re-homing the chickens I’d taken in from Capital City Animal Shelter drove up at the barn to “adopt” one of the beautiful roosters that I’d decided were too healthy to butcher.  He was worried about how to introduce the rooster to his small flock of hens.  We discussed how a new rooster with hens wasn’t a problem – all he needed to do was put the rooster in with the flock after dark, and the next morning all of them will be excited and happy to get acquainted.  It doesn’t work so smoothly when introducing a new hen, and that’s what he was worried about.might have in an “ordinary” business meeting, eaten a simple meal warmed on the wood stove while we met, and given both of them a push forward with their own ideas.  This is our idea of doing business – making friends, giving everything we have to the moment, and then staying in touch to see how it all unfolds.  I believe this is the new business model for our culture.

????????????

When I returned to the house Jay was waiting with the oil lamp lit on the kitchen table.  It’s really nice to open the door and see the glow from the lamp.  The US weather service says sun down is at 5:15 PM in this part of Ohio so we abide by that if we’re using the computer – turning it off like clockwork…No technology whether powered by renewable energy or not after dark.

The rest of the evening was spent eating stew warmed on the wood stove, and watching a DVD on the charged laptop.  Bedtime is usually around 9:30 PM but we watched the film longer then usual.  The living room was warm and I was working up my courage to get into bed under the cold covers in the cold bedroom.

Menu

Breakfast:  Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

Day #2 THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH

Day #2     THANKS FOR NOTHING Month                               Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will touch the arm of every person I speak to face-to-face.  This one act has the power to create a connection between us.”
????????????????????? Mornings during THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH are a challenge during these beginning days of the month.  Each year we forget how much thought goes into the process of having hot water.  And hot water is the first thing needed in the morning, and nearly the last thing required in the evening.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

The wood stove in the living room is the only active source of heat for our home, an “Earthship” designed by the architect Michael Reynolds.  The home is constructed with rammed-earth tires, cans, bottles and lots of other re-purposed items.  Because the basic premise of the home is to use the concept of thermal mass for heating and cooling, the house naturally never falls below 55 degrees F, even with no heat source.

The only sources of hot water include a large old-fashioned enamel water kettle, and a small modern metal tea pot which are heated on of the top of the wood stove.  This hot water is used for washing dishes, filling up the solar shower bag that’s used for an evening shower, and, most importantly, for hot tea and coffee.  It takes a bit of planning to not run out of hot water, and that’s where our month of no electricity and money gets off to a rocky start.

For example:  Unless someone gets up in the night to put wood into the stove, in the morning the water in the tea kettles is only lukewarm.  The room is still plenty warm, and the stove is still hot, but the tea kettles loose their heat rather quickly.  Since Jay loves his morning cup of coffee, and I crave a proper cup of morning tea, this causes us to huddle around the stove, waiting for the smaller tea kettle to begin to “sing” that it’s finally hot enough.

After the first night, I’ve decided that if I wake up, no matter how much I hate to get up, I’m going to refill the wood stove.  Last night I did wake, and I tried telling myself that it didn’t matter, we could wait for our tea.  But then I remembered that there would be people joining us for a consulting visit and we would not have the luxury of hanging out until we’re good and ready to begin the day.

???????????????????????

With my head lamp shining brightly, I wandered down the hallway like a coal miner and filled up the stove.  Unlike a coal miner, I had the added hazard of avoiding stepping on any of the cats that sleep wherever they find a bit of warmth.  Then back to bed, to dream of warmer days.

Last year I tried hoarding hot water by filling up insulated water carafes.  It didn’t really work.  Lukewarm water just doesn’t make a great cup of coffee or tea.

I’d love to hear an idea or two about how I might keep the water hot enough over night to have a nice hot cup of tea, and not have to wait around for 30 minutes to get the day in high gear.  I’m considering putting some clay bricks on top of the stove (slight thermal mass) and putting the tea kettle on top.  My hope is that the bricks will hold more heat then the top of the stove.

The saga of how to keep the water hot over night continues.  I hope to hear from folks about possible solutions.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese