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  In this episode I will tell you about getting to a project that was some five years past due and In The Beginning, Month 22, almost 2 years in, and still going at it. And an OCC update, well, brings you up to date. ITB, month 22, May. In The Beginning, is the part of the podcast where I recount the birthing pains of Our Country Cottage. Pictures, emails, texts and my log book have given me a memory refresh to present the most accurate information of the time. 22 months in and the big things are pretty well done and now we get down to the details. One important detail that happened this month was that we got Our Country Cottage’s “Occupancy Approval” certificate. Basically a piece of paper that lets us legally occupy Our Country Cottage. Any who, on with the ITB blow by blow. When I left Our Country Cottage last month ITB 21, the weather was warming up and most of the snow had gone. Remember, I got my boot stuck in the mud. My first trip of month 22 found the snow was back. I even had to plow the drive. The generator was showing 29.5 hours on the clock. That was double what it was when I left last month. Well, at least it was working. Inside, I noticed a stack of blinds in the sunroom. Now just in case I didn’t mention this before, we have two skylights in the living room and three skylights in the sun room. There was an option to have blinds installed during manufacturing, ready to go. I thought blinds were a good idea as it would give some control to the amount of sun coming in, also they would provide a bit of insulation while closed. You guessed it, the blinds came separately, and not only that, some were even the wrong size. Keep in mind that all these were delivered 22 months ago and only now just being found out. Emails to the project co-ordinator, measurements taken and retaken and discussions over, did I pay, should I pay, would I pay, and who would pay to have them installed. It took a while to sort out but the correct size replacements did show up. Installation came later, several months later. Back outside I had had a propane line run from the tank to the front deck so that a BBQ could be set up. I figured with a thousand (actually 800 gallons) of propane already there, why futz about with the little tanks. The pipe had been run and came up in the most likely place I would position the BBQ and terminated with a locking tap and end plug. I took pics and measurements hoping there would be an easy hook up thingy. I will check out the BBQ store in the city, when I get back. Handy tip. Instead of trying to balance a pen and paper on some dubious writing surface to make a note of your measurements, grab your phone with one hand and hold the tape measure with the other hand, next to what your are measuring. Align one edge with the nearest inch or centimetre and take a pic. Not only do you have a record of the measurement but what and how you measured it. A pic is worth a thousand words and much better than a crumpled piece of paper with some chicken scratches on it. My next visit I had made arrangements to meet up with the generator tech at Our Country Cottage. But before he showed up I was busy digging in the dirt again. This time it was not as muddy. It was by the battery room hatch where I was told the end of a buried pipe was. This pipe was run at the same time the propane line was run and was to accommodate any extra wires I wanted from the generator to the cottage. The one I had in mind was a data cable that would relay generator info inside the cottage. With the aid of some software that I had purchased with the generator there was the promise of internet communication and maybe even email updates. Anyway, back to the pipe end. What I remember of the pipe unearthing was me kneeling on a bit of plywood, digging a hole with a garden trowel and being very relieved when the red cap on the pipe came into view. I exposed some more pipe and covered the hole with said piece of plywood, ready for the wire to be run. At some point during the digging the generator guy showed up. Now, the generator was running fine but a few of the extras were missing. The extras that would making starting in the cold easier, battery blanket, pre-heaters etc. These items either didn’t, or couldn’t, be transferred from the previous gen. There was also an inside cover that was broken during installation, that needed to be replaced too. I was hoping to get an Ethernet cable run from the generator to the cottage. Turned out that he wasn’t equipped to run the wire but the other stuff was taken care of. Oh, and this was the visit I got my finger caught in the garage door, slash, room divider, while I was showing it off to the generator tech. Please see Episode#15, Doors and Dividers, for the gory details. The following week, when my finger had settled down a bit, I found myself at Our Country Cottage doing the first water test of the well. Samples were taken and had to be delivered to a collection station that I would pass by on the way home. I didn’t have that much time to spare. Just enough to notice the depressing, soul sucking, and boot sucking, mud that surrounded Our Country Cottage. In fact after I dropped off the water samples I started looking into grass seed at a farm supply place. Aside from grass seed, these farm supply places are full of neat and strange things us city folk rarely get to see. After browsing through the horse medication and grooming supplies and talking to someone, I was offered pasture grass seed at a good rate, along with several other types and mixes of seed. The topic of grass seed had come up between my partner and my self before. There was an option of seed containing all local and natural varieties, almost an artisan mix, very environmentally correct to say the least. I often wondered if used that we would be just supplying a high end, gourmet, birdfeed. I was also looking into what it would take to spray seed on. You know, like by the highway. Bare dirt is sprayed with some kind of green solution and some form of grass appears a short time after. Did I mention, mud is depressing? The next few day visits only seemed to emphasize the mud issue with the last bits of snow disappearing into pools of standing water. Pools of standing water I took pics of so I would know where to work on the landscape to get the water flowing. I couldn’t even think about doing anything till it had dried up. I kept busy by clearing out the loft over the garage etc. It was about this time that the locks were made operable on the doors and sets of keys were to be had. That was a nice diversion from the mud and the ever more growing awareness of the garbage and debris previously hidden under the snow. At the end of the month and bolstered with the water test results being a go, I decided to stay overnight for the first time. The fridge was turned on for the first time. The stereo system was set up. Gotta have tunes. The second futon was setup in the living room as a couch while the first one was in the back bedroom as a bed. Can’t remember much from that first night but an entry in the log book noted the futon was not kind to my back. Next morning I was up early and turned on the domestic hot water. After about an hour I had my first bath, watching birds land on the peak of the roof of the sunroom while soaking in luvly hot water. The rest of the day I spent moving furniture, etc from the shed down to the cottage. This included kitchen table and chairs, an old waterbed frame, a home made side table, and an old BBQ. On one of these trips I met a young deer heading toward the cottage. Later that day, while I was setting up the BBQ, a couple of motorcycles rolled up and parked. They were from the flooring/tile company and had come up to correct some grouting problems. Our experience with this company wasn’t the best. In fact I wouldn’t have been surprised if they hadn’t have showed. Anyway they did what they could and left me playing with the BBQ. I managed to get the necessary propane fittings to go from that propane pipe on the deck to the BBQ. The pictures really helped me get the right stuff. All hooked up and with soapy water I did the bubble test. No bubbles, no troubles. Barbecued pork chops for supper along with a can of beans I had to open with a multi tool. That night I woke around 2 am to see an amazing display of stars, far from the city lights. Now, that wasn’t the end of that stay but it was the end of that month. And now An Our Country Cottage Update. I promised to tell you about my longest stay yet this season at OCC. and about a long overdue project that got done so lets begin. Mid to late summer brings lots of unwanted guests to OCC. Flies appear from every where and for some reason wasps showed up in the downstairs bathroom. I think they built a nest in the bathroom vent. Gad. Any who with a little chemical help, most if not all of these intruders are x intruders, intruders that are no more, leaving their remains littered on the floors, showers, tub, window seats and window ledges. Sometime I will find areas with just wings and legs, you know the picnic leftovers of our arachnid friends. Insects are one of the truths that were revealed to me early on in the OCC process and I have become much more tolerant and a lot less freaked out by them. Lets face it, when you put your cottage smack dab it the middle of their home, you will get “guests”. So after cleaning up after the “guests” I got down to that long overdue project. The Quonset. Way back, back before OCC, when we just had a trailer and a skid-steer, we put up a Quonset to house my big boy toys. It is 24’ by 24’ in size with a metal tube frame and a fabric cover, complete with a roll up door. If I recall the fabric was supposed to last somewhere between 5 and 10 years. We were now going onto 17 years, and it showed. Stitching was letting go and the door was just barely holding on. The fabric had become quite thin in places with lots of pinholes. We got our moneys worth for sure. Back during the construction of OCC, I realized the cover would have to be changed and I ordered one from a company, out east, that makes these replacement covers. It had been sitting patiently at various locations for the past 5 years. In the garage in the city, then the garage in the country, then in our utility trailer in the Quonset. A year or so ago I actually unpacked it for the first time and discovered there was no easy to follow instructions. And to my dismay the roll up door was not attached to the wall like the original. Lots of questions and lots of searches online trying to find any info or picture on this kind of cover. The original cover had pockets that the frame work went into during assembly, not really an option for a replacement cover. The replacement had straps through grommets that laced the cover to the frame instead. I ended up calling the replacement cover company for any help they might be able to give me. They were abit surprised that the door wasn’t attached, too. I really didn’t expect much from them, as it had been several years since the order was placed. I felt lucky that they were still around. The Quonset cover is in three pieces, two end sections and the main cover. I consoled myself with the concept that it could be done in sections, leaving the door till last, if I couldn’t figure out how to attach it. I pressed on. You can imagine that a 24 by 24 storage space will accumulate some stuff over 17 years and it did. My first task was to empty the Quonset out. During the trailer days we had built a couple of decks to sit on so we weren’t always dealing with gravel and mud etc. These decks have been basically abandoned since OCC took over. I repositioned these decks to put that 17 years of stuff on. I had three sections, stuff to go back into the Quonset, stuff to put somewhere else and garbage. The utility trailer, with the new cover still in it was positioned by the decks, just across the drive from the Quonset. The bottom of the Quonset cover has a flap that has to be weighed down with dirt and or gravel, to make a seal from the weather. After 17 years this original gravel and dirt seal turned into a grassed over berm. Several hours of careful skid-steer bucket work managed to scrape back and expose the flap. I did get caught a couple of times, ripping several feet of the flap before realizing what was going on. Our youngest and her friend came up and stayed a couple of nights during all this. They helped me position the trailer and other heavy things. The day of, my partner, our eldest and a friend came up for the big day. Thankfully the wind was co-operating. It was a long and hot day. There were times I didn’t know what to do next. Some preconceived ideas worked, some didn’t. Everyone pulled together and it got done. I am thankful to my family who recognized when I was starting to loose it and called timeouts when needed and put up with my project attitude. A project with uncertain outcome, but an unmistakable need to be done had been weighing on my mind for literally years, was now done. Just some tweaking, adjustments etc, easy stuff remained. The next day, when our youngest and her friend left, I was joking that I put a fresh blade into my utility knife for a clean cut. Yeah well within a half hour of them leaving, while cutting a slit in a pocket of the cover to put a strap, I partially removed about the top third of a finger. I remember looking at it and thinking, “That’s not good”. So be careful of what you say. And as far as the door goes, once everything was more or less in place, a method for attaching the door with some ratchet straps became apparent and worked out very well. So, sometimes, just going ahead with no idea other than it will be fine, works, sometimes. The rest of that visit had me trying to adjust the Quonset cover and other light tasks while favouring my finger. Putting tools away, tidying up and laundry, that sort of stuff. Just over two weeks passed before I went back up to Our Country Cottage. My finger had settled down and the Quonset need some work that I was unable to do with a damaged digit. The visit didn’t start out well. I was cold and it snowed. When I arrived I plugged in the cold weather stuff for the generator. Battery blanket, block heater etc. This will give it a fighting chance when the temp drops. Fires were built and flies vacuumed. The next day there was snow on the panels and the batteries were down to 70%. The gen was set to start when they reach 67% but I couldn’t wait. In manual mode, I started the gen from the solar control unit with no problem. Once it was running for a while I put it back on auto. In two and a half hours the batteries were at 90%, the level the system was set to charge to, and the generator turned itself off. A good sign. I have the generator stop at 90% because the closer the batteries get to full charge the less the generator charges. It tapers off. IE at 98% the system will only be asking the 20 Kilowatt generator for less that 1 Kilowatt. It is not worth putting the hours on the gen for that. So far I found that the 90% level is a good trade off. Now this is also the reason I couldn’t wait any longer to run the gen in the first place. I was giving the system a chance for the solar panels to charge the batts the rest of the way, and I needed daylight to do that. So its 2:30 pm and the batts are at 90% and we still have several hours before the sun sets. The following day was also cold and overcast. Another fire. I busied myself tidying up and sorting boxes of documentation. Documentation that was collected from the beginning of OCC and beyond, err, before. All the manuals for appliances, equipment, snow rakes, pressure tanks, pumps, Ikea assembly instructions, everything. The living room was a mess. Papers and stuff spread out over any and all flat surfaces. If I wanted to sit down I had to move something. One tricky thing is trying to figure out how much heat is enough. Like I said I built a fire in the morning cause it was cool and there didn’t look like there was a chance for much sun. That evening, when the masonry heater started radiating the energy from the morning fire, it was so warm, I was in a t-shirt and spending my time at the kitchen island, away from the heater. When I woke the following day the batteries were at 79% so I ran the generator manually again. Remember, I am still trying to regain confidence in this thing since it failed last year and froze OCC. I put on a load of laundry and went to the Quonset to finally do what I originally came up for. Snow was holding the flaps down. I managed to put on the extra straps that were needed and adjusted the fabric panels so that everything was square. Then I cinched up the ends of the Quonset and snugged everything down. Just have to put the gravel/dirt back on the flaps and take care of all the stuff on the deck that came out of the Quonset. All that stuff was covered with a large green tarp so I wasn’t overly concerned about leaving it for a while. Besides, it was covered with snow. I think I took the next day off. My log book only indicates there was a clear sky and that snow was covering about one third of the land that I could see. There is also a series of pictures on my phone documenting the work I had done on the Quonset the day before. Hey I deserve a day off. After my day of rest, I managed to get all the papers and stuff covering the living room sorted and put away. Clear flat spaces again! You have no idea… I then decided it was time to convert the tractor to winter mode. Off with the mower deck, on with the drive shaft extension, front hydraulic unit, snow thrower and rear blade. Everything gets greased before it goes on. No problems this time with the exception of the four hydraulic couplers that had lost their color identifier caps. They fell off when I did the conversion in the spring. The blue to blue, red to red, yellow to yellow and black to black got replaced with a little trial and error and we are back in business. The last day of this visit had me topping up the batteries, mental note - get some more distilled water, swapping the SD cards from one of the trail cams and collecting the logs from the solar control system. Since day one I have been using a net book for these collections. For those of you that are unfamiliar with net books they are a cheap, under powered, under resourced laptop. Lately mine has been giving me more and more problems. I have to carry an external card reader with it because it is so old the built in reader won’t recognize anything over 4 Gig. The USB port takes about 5 to 10 minutes to recognize the data loggers and the unit is so slow I don’t try to read the solar control logs until I get back to the city. I have waited over an hour for anything to pop up. This trip was the last straw with the net book. I vowed to get a new laptop when I got back to the city. OK I had been looking into it for over a year now and had been through a couple of back to school sales and those Dad day, Grad day, sales and everything in between. I started watching those email sales announcements closer and closer. About 2 weeks later, my next visit was with a family friend, who just happens to be an arborist. When you own a natural piece of land with trees on it you have to keep your eye out for potentially dangerous trees. Dead trees that can fall across your drive or on you during a wind storm or just when they decide to. Anyway I had noticed about three dead trees down by the Quonset that could inflict major damage to life and property if they decided to fall. Another had fallen in the spring across the drive. I think I mentioned that one in a previous episode. Dead trees are very dangerous to fell by yourself. Handy tip. Don’t do it, don’t even try to do it. The trunk could be rotten and you would have no way of controlling the direction of fall. Also limbs of a dead tree have a tendency to break off and fall on people at the bottom of the tree while they are being cut. They don’t call them widow makers for nothing. Our arborist had a slingshot contraption that he used to launch a line high up in the tree of choice to haul up a heavier rope to guide the fall. I held onto the rope at a suitable distance while he cut and wedged the tree. I could feel the tree react through the rope to everything he did at the base. I was also keeping a close eye on the branches at the top, just in case. One tree he managed to dislodge a sketchy branch with the slingshot thingy. In all cases I could feel the tree give up and start to fall toward me as he worked his magic. They all fell in the desired direction with out me having to do much at all. Two smaller trees were dispatched, down by the gate, without my help. The day went without incident and I learned a lot. Before our next visit I had found a good sale, ordered and received a new laptop. Setting up a new puter is a challenge on its own, so suffice to say, after several days and several Scotches later, we were ready to go. I keep the snow tires for one of our vehicles at OCC. I figure if I am up there and get a major snow fall … well you know. Some don’t agree but ... The next trip was another day trip and my partner came with. Flies were vacuumed. Snow tires were put on. Computers were tested and all went well. Collecting data had never been so easy or speedy. Oh yeah, I was worried that the week prior to coming up the inside temps were getting a bit cool, a couple of times down around 9 degrees C (48 degrees F) or so. I had not checked the thermostats since OCC had been back in operation so I took the opportunity to check and reset them. They were set to 9.5 degrees so all seems ok. I noticed that one of the temperature probes was by a window. I think I pushed it over so it wouldn’t keep getting caught in the cupboard doors. I repositioned it to a more central position in the kitchen. I also noticed that the generator had run a couple of times since my last visit. A good sign for sure. And examination of the log files showed no abnormalities. A week later and my partner and I were back at Our Country Cottage this time to sort out and clear off the deck from all that Quonset stuff. It was a long day but we managed to get the trailer loaded with garbage, etc, ready for a trip to the local dump. And all the other stuff got taken care of as well. The decks have been cleared! And that brings you up to date with Our Country Cottage. Again I am having to remind myself to take time and smell the roses. It is hard to do while all your concentration is on spreading the fertilizer to get them to grow in the first place. Getting the Quonset done is a large weight off of my mind, also I don’t have to look at those dangerous dead trees and speed up as I drive by anymore. Only small things are left to do, so maybe a rose smelling trip is in the near future. Next time Episode #22, will roses be smelt? And ITB month 23 is still wet and muddy but now the grass needs to be cut too, and does anything get completed on Our Country Cottage. For pictures and more info, you can visit our website at www.ourcountrycottageanarrative.com If you have any comments, questions or if you would like to be added to the “Friends of OCCaN” Our Country Cottage A Narrative, mailing list, you can email me at John@ourcountrycottageanarrative.com. Members on the mailing list will get website and podcast updates as soon as I do :). The Our Country Cottage a Narrative podcast is on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play so you can subscribe there and get the podcast downloaded automatically when they get released. Till next time have a good one.

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