Friday, August 26, 2011

Hey Friends. Happy Summer. Here are some pictures from our place. The garden is in full bloom. I love seeing the bees on the flowers. Lots of times they spend the night on a bloom and are sleepy and slow in the morning. Not too slow to sting me though when I got too close.

Serious progress on the house. The floor is in and the siding is almost done all the way around the house.

Next we will seed some fall vegetables and work on painting the inside walls, then trim, then furniture comes back in off the porch!

Wishing you happy end-of-summer days!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


As I sit waiting for my hard drive to finish defragging, I realize it's been six months since my last post. I've read that in order to have a successful blog, one must blog frequently (like my brother Adrian). We prioritize at will, I guess.

I'll try and keep this post relatively short as I need to pull out the scythe and do some old-school lawn mowing. Mind you that there's relatively little grass to cut but rather various weeds and young tree and/or seedlings growing vigorously. I want to get them to a height that my reel mower can handle.

For the most part, Christy and I have been working our respective part time jobs (Accounting & PV installations, respectively). On the home front, Christy has been focusing her attention on the garden. Preparing new beds and planting seeds, and seedlings that she's been nurturing since early spring. I've also been working in the garden doing the tilling. Our neighbor, Matt, was kind enough to lend us his tiller. This was our first year using a tiller in the garden. We've been reticent in doing so because, as much as possible, we're trying to minimize our use of fossil fuels (key word being "minimize"). But this year we let the weeds go too long before attacking them. The tiller made quick work of that.

On the cabin front, I finally got started on the siding. We bought a bunch of 6" hemlock from our local lumber mill. We like the look of hemlock and it's known for its longevity. Finally, we can envision no longer seeing a black envelope around the house. The east side that I completed the other day looks really tall with the siding.

For the interior, we asked our friend Chris to come over and help out with sand plastering the rest of the downstairs walls. We bit the bullet and just paid him to do the work in order to get it over and done with. We were tired of waiting and knew he'd do a quicker and better job.

We've gotten in lots of family visiting lately with trips to Charlotte and Durham. Adrian and Keith and the Charlotte crew (Jim, Linda, and Nancy) have all made trips our way this spring. Later this month we'll get to enjoy first-time visits with my sister Claudia and her husband Gino (from Sardinia). In addition, my brother Andre' and his wife Laina, along with their youngest, Caymbrea and Nico, will be joining us from Vegas. And lastly, my oldest daughter, Lindsey and partner Richard, along with their daughters, Adriana and Jeisa, will also be visiting. So, it'll be a sizable family reunion this month that we're all really excited about.

As a bonus surprise, my granddaughter, Adriana will be staying with us for a couple of weeks after her mom heads back home to New Hampshire. This will be a first for all of us. What an experience for Adriana. Two weeks living in cabin in the woods. A contrast in living for certain. I can't wait!

This past April I was asked to be on the board of SustainFloyd. I of course accepted. This is my first time being on a board.

In an upcoming post, I'll blog about Christy's and my experience in Brasil this past February. Meeting my biological father for the first time and getting to know my brothers and nephews. It was an experience of a lifetime.

That's all gang.

Hemlock Siding

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Doubt About It

Well, well, well... finally, a blog update! A friend recently wrote, "I notice that the blog needs some updates. I take that to mean you're busy." I have been busy, but no busier than last year when I was blogging more frequently. For all those who have waited patiently, and not so patiently (/steve e/), let's begin.

It's snowing today. Seems as if we've been getting snow once every week or two. Apparently the New Hampshire winters have followed me to Virginia. Thankfully, they don't last as long, nor are the summers as hot.

Today I'm resting in bed after having severely strained my right hamstring. As I described to a friend today, "I was walking down some outdoor steps and on the last step, as my right foot hit the ice covered ground, I did an impromptu full split with my rear leg anchored between two steps. They always tell you to stretch before attempting such a feat. But did I listen? Nooooo... The ensuing pain was excruciating, and enough to remind me to get back on my stretching regimen." Being somewhat incapacitated, although I did cut firewood today, is giving me a "no-excuses" reason to update the blog.

The day after tomorrow, Christy and I drive to New Hampshire to visit my daughters and newly discovered nephew, Grigory. More on that later. We'll be traveling with our neighbor, Liz and her daughter, Maya. Liz's mom also lives in NH. Liz had planned on taking a train to visit during the same time as us, and so it made sense to carpool. Our sleeping accommodations will be provided by our good friends, Roy and Laurie, who, coincidentally, live less than 5 minutes from my daughter, Lauren. Thanks, you two!

So, where to actually begin on what's been happening over the past 5 months? Do I list a brief description of all the highlights? Pick a few of the highlights and go into detail? How about a little of both?

Verbosity Level: Mixed Mode

                                            On a Personal Level
  • Christy left her job at Wall Residences as their office manager in October. The job helped us fund our cabin projects for a year, but now she's able to work fewer hours off the homestead and more on the homestead.
  • Christy's now doing accounting work three days per week for a farmer-owned local foods distributor. She's also been doing accounting work at a local alternative school.
  • I've become an employee of Direct Connect Solar & Electric, owned by my friend and neighbor David. My tentative title is Service Manager (tentative, because I'm not partial to the title), heading up the repair and maintenance department. I've also worked on a number of installations in the area including one up in Lynchburg, VA (think Jerry Falwell, yawn) as part of a training installation for some of the employees of the customer. That was fun. I also got to represent DCS&E at a recent Green Expo in Roanoke. 
 Green Expo in Roanoke, VA

 A recent repair job of an off-grid system.

 Installation in Lynchburg, VA

  • What about SolShine Energy Alternatives? After being offered to do similar work by David, I felt it made more sense to accept and work with someone established rather than surf the murky waters as a novice. Besides, I still need to get my NABCEP certification in order to become a certified PV installer. Working for DCS&E will help me to accomplish that.
  • My daughter Lauren had her baby, Gabriela Janelle (Gaby), in October. I now have 3 granddaughters! Woohoo.!

  • I'm on the Community Board of Advisers and Energy Inventory Committee of SustainFloyd, a local 501c3 organization whose mission is , "To preserve, enhance and support a resilient local community". 
  • Christy has begun making these cool little cloth bags (see pic below) by hand. She's given them out as gifts and has been asked to make some to sell here

  • As readers may recall (listen to me, I sound like some writer), I discovered my biological father, who lives in Brazil, in the summer of 2009 (the year we moved here). Well, I've since made contact with my two brothers, Marco Aurelio and Anselmo. I've had more contact with Marco, the HR director for Volkswagen in Sao Paulo, in part because his English is very good. So this is where my nephew Grigory comes in. He's 19 years old and attending university, majoring in engineering physics. During his summer break (remember, southern hemisphere) he's participating in a cultural program where he's working, are you ready? In New Hampshire! Yup, that's right. He's working at Loon Mountain as a lift operator. So, we'll be getting together with him and my daughters.
  • While we're on the subject of Brazil, we're actually going there next month. Yes, indeed!  We'll there for 18 days to meet my father and extended family. It's all too exciting for words, so I'll just leave it at that.
  • Have to give a quick plug to my brother, Adrian's, and partner, Keith's blog. It chronicles the renovation of their new home in Durham, NC. What a house! It's beautiful as is the interior design. Adrian can actually walk to work. They've also done a much better job on their blog layout than I did.
  • We've added a new member to the family - felis catis. He/she (haven't determined the sex) has been living at the office where Christy works for the past two years, and was looking for a new home. We'd welcome suggestions for a new name. 

  •  Earlier this fall we purchased a used bread maker off of Craigslist, and let me tell you that it's been getting a workout. Since we're such bread snobs, (sorry Wonder) we found it too wasteful to continually purchase $5 and $6 loaves of bread (easily twice a week). So it just made sense to start making them ourselves. What a difference! I've refined my whole grain seed bread recipe to be quite tasty. We haven't purchased a loaf of bread in over 3 months.


                           The Cabin

  • Not a whole lot to report on regarding the cabin. 
  • Put in the porch railing. I haven't done much regarding the stainless steel cabling that we'll be putting on beneath the railing. I have the cable but I'm not happy with the options available to secure it to the posts. I should qualify that statement, there are some that I like but they're cost prohibitive. See below for what it'll look like.

  • Framed the laundry room, including two windows. Still waiting to find the right sized door

  • Began sand plastering the interior walls. Sand plaster is a combination of sand, drywall compound, and water. This provides a stucco-like, southwestern appearance. We'll paint over this surface with terracotta red.

  • Still waiting to get the remainder of our logs cut in order to finally side the cabin. I'm really disappointed that here we are a year later and the cabin is still shrouded in tar paper.
  • More to be added when I think of them.

That's all kids!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Introducing the 2-Alarm Mini-Spider

While hangin' with my brothers in Durham this past weekend, we stopped at a local Target store, and what did I see? The last electronic design that I completed while doing the 9-5 in Charlotte. They were everywhere! I felt like a proud papa.
Ain't she a beaut?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Glory to the Sun in the Highest

Clothesline carrying the weight of the world.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm not going to say it

The temptation is there, but I'm not going to title this post after a certain hotel chain. Having said that, the porch roof is on. I'm still waiting for what's called a rake board trim to add to the end rafters. It protects the rafters from rain.

 Next up is the railing, gutters (w/ rain barrels), and a storage/laundry room on the far side of the side porch. 

Oh, and the chicken ladder has finally been taken down. My brother, Adrian, posed the obvious, "When are you going to take that ladder down?"

Speaking of brothers, Adrian and Roney came up for a weekend visit to honor my 51st birthday. We've recently started a tradition of the brothers getting together for breakfast on our birthday. We're calling it the Brown Brothers Birthday Breakfast. Much fun was had. How can it not be fun when we get together? So glad we're not like some boring old adult brothers who merely tolerate each others company. I just wish our brother, Andre' (Vegas), lived out east. Oh and let's not forget my other siblings much further away, on other continents - my sister Claudia in Europe (Sardinia) and brothers Marco Aurelio and Anselmo in Brasil.

 Below is an ultra-sound image of my granddaughter, Gabriela - soon to be daughter of my daughter, Lauren, who is due in October.

Can't say it enough - Life is great.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On The Deck

It's been too long since my last post - sorry. It's been a busy spring and summer, and thus little time for blogging. Here's a short list of what's been happening:

  • I'm currently in the process of finishing up the wrap-around porch. The decking itself is complete and so now I'm working on the roof.
  • Started my own business - SolShine Energy Alternatives, LLC. My goal is to mostly do repair and maintenance on existing renewable energy systems; install PV and wind power systems; and design and build portable PV generators.
  • This year's garden is doing very well. It's looking very lush after the last few days rain. Hopefully Christy will do some blogging on that front.
  • I've been nominated to be on Sustain Floyd's Advisory Committee. In addition, I'm on the Sustain Floyd Energy Audit Committee.
  • All of our North Carolina families have come to visit us this spring/summer. So we're very pleased with that and the fact that we got to show off the fruits of our labor.
  • Lots of cool parties and Floyd events.
  • Our new neighbors, Matt and Teagan moved down from NY/CT this May. We met them last year when they came to visit. They're a cool/hip/fun couple. Matt and I got in some good World Cup watching in Blacksburg recently. Sadly my teams 3 teams, Germany, USA, and Brasil lost.
  • My oldest daughter, Lindsey, had her second child - Jeisa Isabel

  • My youngest daughter, Lauren, is pregnant and due in October - 3 grandchildren in total by the year's end!
  • Our friend, Dave Brown, and I have been cutting our logs for siding and building projects. I'm hoping that within the next 2 months to have the cabin sided.
  • Life is great! 
Christy and I are really happy with the porch. We find ourselves spending the majority of our free time out there. It's something we've been looking forward to for quite some time. Our floor space has more than doubled as a result.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sun Day

One of my many dreams has come to fruition. Our PV system is up and running. It's not easy containing my excitement. When I started this blog 3 years ago one of our goals was to incorporate a solar power system into our homestead. Well, that day is here! Our 2kW system is generating approximately 1.2kW as of this writing (10:20 AM). This is an on-grid or grid-tie PV system. It does not have battery backup capability. That's something I'll pursue in the future along with going off-grid.

Our local building official inspected the system yesterday, and it passed. Today, representatives from the local power company will come and do an inspection along with replacing the meter with one compatible with monitoring energy production (Customer-sited distributed generation), i.e. spinning the meter backwards. After that we'll have met all of the requirements to obtain a state rebate of $2/Watt. This doesn't include the 30% federal tax credit we qualify for.

One of the cool things about this  particular system is that the inverter (the hardware that converts DC power from the solar module to AC power), in this case, a microinverter (one per PV module), has some intelligence incorporated into it. Inside the home sits a device that monitors each microinverter and serves as a gateway that communicates with a web-based monitoring and analysis tool seen here at the left. So we're able to monitor the system from home or remotely. There's quite a bit of information presented. Guests can go here to monitor the system, as well.

Other news:
There have been numerous bear sightings in our neighborhood. Two weeks ago Christy and I watched an ~250lb black bear cut through our woods, cross the stream and head up the hill. I tried to follow but it was gone by the time I got up the hill.

The second sighting occurred when I was in Durham, and Christy was alone at the cabin. She was in bed when she heard crunching plastic. She came downstairs and looked out the French doors with a flashlight and there were two eyes staring back at her. A black bear was munching on our bird feeder. It proceeded towards the light and then veered off towards the back of the cabin and disappeared into the dark. It took a while for Christy to get to sleep that night.

The latest sighting was of 3 cubs observed by neighbors on their way home.

 This is what Christy has to resort to with desserts that belong to her while in the presence of a different  bear - a Brown bear.

 Life is good great!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lofty Goals

I know I know, sometimes those titles are kinda lame. But I tire of the boring old "Just the facts ma'm."

So I put the loft flooring in... well... sheesh... I guess it's been a month now. It's hard to believe it's been that long. Christy and I are really pleased with it. What a difference an extra inch makes. The flooring is 2x6 tongue and groove yellow pine. It  feels so substantial and solid compared to the plywood. No more having to worry if we''ll break through the floor.

Last week I started work on our ground-mount PV system. I began by digging 6 3-4' deep holes for the piers to support the system. Afterwards I placed 8" and 12" Quik-tubes for the front and rear piers, respectively. Given the tilt of the array, the rear piers needed to be dug deeper and be more substantial (there's that word, again), hence the different diameters. Certainly I could have used 12" all around but that meant more concrete. I then set 1.5" schedule 40 steel pipe in the piers. Then it was basically building a jungle gym - at least it felt that way. I kept wanting to climb it - an urge I eventually gave in to.

I ended up having to use three different types of framing system in order to make things work with the module orientation (portrait). If I had gone with a landscape configuration I could've done without the intermediary framing system (Unistrut) and gone exclusively with SnapNrack. The latter being what the panels are mounted to. See here for clarification on the difference between PV module, panels, and array.

The only things I'm missing are: wiring, AC disconnect, junction box, and microinverter installation hardware. I should have all those things in by early next week. Conservatively speaking, I should be done by the 1st. That'll give me two weeks to get the system inspected in time to meet the state deadline to qualify for the RE credit.

Second PV Installation

I recently had the opportunity to help out with another PV installation with neighbor and friend David Zachow. This installation was for a previous customer of David's who was doing an upgrade. We installed an additional 1.7kW to an existing 3kW system. It was a fairly easy installation given the low pitch of the roof and previous work done. Overlooking the surrounding verdant country side didn't hurt either.The owners treated David and I to dinner afterwards and tons of produce from their garden.