Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

On the Eve of 2015

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hello! I had two titles for this post wrestling around in my brain and the positive one won out.  The other was going to be "The Winter of Discontent".  Or Discomfort might be even better. It's been over 6 weeks since I posted here, so I wouldn't be surprised that there is no one left here to read these words. I do hope you've stuck around.
You may remember that I was complaining in May that my back was bothering me.  Carrying heavy solar panels and moving over 2 tons of plaster by myself during our laundry room renovation may have had something to do with being the last straw for an ailing back.  I've been in chriropractic care for over 7 months now only to see the situation continue to deteriorate.
This year, Santa brought me an MRI on the day after Christmas which shows two bulges in my L1-L2 and L5-S1 discs.  Bulging sounds so much nicer than "herniated", doesn't it?  No matter what you call it, my L5-S1, which is right at the base of your lower back, is so significantly herniated that it is now fully pressing on my nerves. 
The result is a tingling\numb left foot, pain down the left side of my leg and a feeling as if someone is sticking me in the ass with a hot poker.  8 weeks ago, it was intermittent.  Now the pain is constant and my life consists of sitting through the pain at work and coming home to lay on a heating pad on the sofa, which is the only place I feel relief.  Simply dragging myself up the 14 stairs to our bedroom is excruciating.  I'm only 44, but I hobble around like I'm in my 80's.  Grocery shopping? Nope. Laundry? Nope.  Cleaning the house?  Out of the question unless I drag a chair around with me.
But I couldn't bear to let 2014 leave me in defeat without leaving a post here to mark its passing. With the dawn of 2015, I am resolved to take back my health through whatever means necessary.  Pain only makes us stronger, right?  We've got new chicks coming in April, a new "old" house to renovate, and a garden to plan and tend to.  I hope you'll continue to come along with us in this new year.
All the best to you and your family in 2015.  Happy New Years, everyone!

Snow Outside, Toasty Inside

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Snowmageddon all the forecasters were warning us about seems to have fizzled out overnight, as this was all we had when we awoke this morning.  Just enough to cover up the solar panels.  It's still colder than a well digger's belt buckle, though.  I guess we're skipping fall here and going straight to winter.  Bah!

The unpleasant weather is the perfect excuse to stay inside, so we spent the day working on insulating the rim joist in our basement.  This was a to-do from the energy audit that we had done in the Spring.  Apparently, beyond beefing up your attic insulation, insulating the rim joist in your basement is the second best thing you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your house.  Even if you have a brand new house.  There's a huge amount of energy that is lost from holes around service wires coming into your house and the airflow between your foundation wall and the rim joist.  

It's fairly simple to fix with some insulation.  The pink fiberglass stuff does not work for this, though, as it's terrible at stopping air infiltration!  Instead, you can pay someone an exorbitant amount of money to come in and spray foam everything or you can do what we did and opt to use rigid foam.

Not our house - our foam is baby blue

Basically, you just need just a few things for this project:

  1. A sheet of 2" rigid foam that's available from any hardware store
  2. A sheet of 2.5" screws to secure the foam to the rim joist.  Don't go longer than that or you'll poke through the outside!
  3. Spray expanding foam (like "Great Stuff")
  4. A retractable utility knife
And here's how you do it:

  1. Measure the cavity between the joist.  (We measured them all and just wrote down the measurements so we could cut the foam outside.  It does make a mess.)
  2. Subtract 3/4" to 1" from the height and width measurement.  This will allow for the expanding foam later.  If you cut the foam too tight, it will be hard to get the foam in there.
  3. Use the utility knife to cut the foam to your measurements.  
  4. Center the foam in the space and then use a screw to secure it to the rim joist.  Then go around all 4 sides and fill the gaps between the rigid foam and the wood completely with expanding spray foam.  Voila!  No more drafts.
It's 22 degrees outside right now and, as we worked, we found areas where cold air was literally pouring in over the foundation wall.  The temperature in our basement immediately and palpably went up with each piece of foam that we installed.  While we were at it, we added some additional spray foam to the basement windows as well.  It took us about 4 hours to do half the basement, so this is a full day project.  The other half will have to wait until next weekend, as we're out of spray foam.  And energy.

Bring in the Professionals

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Yesterday, I gave you a look at the progress on the front of the house.  What a difference, huh?  Now to move on to the back of the house.

That big ol' tree on the right gives great shade to the park-like backyard, but it is WAY too close to the $1400 house and overshadowing the roof.  So it's got to go.  But it's also way out of our league so I had to bring in a professional tree service.  When we need help, I always call Eli's Tree Service, because they do good work.  In fact, I called them yesterday and they said they could do it today. 

It looks weird without the tree there now.  But now we can get a dumpster close to the house.
Not only did they take the big tree down, but they also finished our job on the front tree and took the rest of that down, use their bobcat to take out the rest of the fence posts, and chipped up all the brush that we cut down yesterday.  They really do a great job.  Look at the front now! 

But you can also now see the broken windows I need to fix!
 With winter not far off, something new that Eli's is doing this year is posting Craigslist ads for free wood pickup.  That allows people to get free firewood and it also help lower the amount of wood that Eli's has to pay to haul off and dump.  A win-win situation.  Either way, the wood gets recycled and that makes me happy.

I know this project may seem crazy to a lot of you, but this grand old house can be saved.  I'm sure of it!

Clearing a Path

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Before.  Can you spot the house?
Our helper, Charles, joined us today for the first real day of work on the $1400 house.  We need to get a new roof on the house and get a get a dumpster close to it so we can clean out all the trash and debris.  So today's objective was to take out the old fence in the backyard.
The grapple attachment on the Dingle made short work of the fence and made an easy job of taking out the huge posts.  J. made some serious headway on taking down a bunch of the trees, including part of that tree that's preventing you from even seeing the house from the street. 

After.  Wow, there is a house under all that!
A couple of the branches are growing up and over the front porch roof and we were worried they would either hit the neighbors house or bust the window, so we left them until we could get a ladder up there.
Charles is scrapping all the metal from the house, including all the old fencing, so it's nice to know it's not going into a dumpster. 
Things are looking better already!

It's Official: The $1400 House is Ours

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The day has finally come.  After weeks of waiting, J. and I headed to the County Courthouse at 9 a.m. to find out the fate of the $1400 house.  Would the owner be there?  We didn't think so, but that would be really awkward if he was.
Having never done this before, I didn't know what to expect.  The courtroom was teeny and people were packed in there like sardines.  We got there just in time to find seats in the very back.  Little did I know that you have to actually go up there in front of the judge so, when my time came, I had to crawl over a bunch of people to get out. 
There are three outcomes to the situation:  (1) they confirm the sale, which is what happens 99% of the time, (2) they ask you to pay more for the property if you paid less than 10% of the assessed value, or (3) the owner shows up with an attorney and they delay the judgment.  In our case, the owner didn't show.  However, the assessed value was $15K and some change and I paid only $1402.  The judge could have asked me to cough up another $100, but the county attorney asked that he go ahead and confirm the sale.  We were out of there by a little after 10 and then headed straight over to go inside and assess the state of the house.  No more worries that the cops might show up and arrest us for trespassing.
Here's a taste of what we found inside:

Lots of crap! 

In fact, it looks a little like some of those houses on "Hoarding: Buried Alive".  Granted, it's not filled to the ceiling like those, but more like every closet and storage space opened up and puked all the clothes and other contents onto the floor.  Mental note:  bring a scoop shovel!

That's an old piano on the left and stacked cardboard on the right.  The hot-cold cycles of an empty house have caused every piece of wallpaper to start flaking off.  That's a good thing because we'll be able to get the walls cleaned up quickly.

And then there's the original trim that is all there except for the stair railing and spindles and the fireplace mantels.

Yes, it's a mess.  And, yes, there's a hole in the roof around the chimney.  But the house has empty for more than 10 years and we were expecting much, MUCH worse.  The basement floor is concrete and the foundation is in great shape.
It's all ours!  Now the fun begins.  Nicole Curtis ain't got nothing on us.

We're Generating Power!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I've been sick since Tuesday with some nasty respiratory thing that's going around the office.   Just an hour ago, I was on the phone with someone from work when the phone suddenly went dead (we have Google Fiber) and I heard a bang.  At first, I was a little freaked out and then I realized...Kansas City Power and Light was here swapping out the utility meter.

I was in no condition to try to make my way all the way down into the basement and mess with the inverters, so J. had to throw the switch when he got home.  How exciting!  Now we just have to figure out whether everything is working OK, which means we need to figure out how to get everything registered on SolarEdge's monitoring portal and hook the inverters up to a network switch so they can report back to SolarEdge. 
And figure out how to read that new meter.
Stay tuned...there's more to come!

The Truck Has Been Found

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

We got the call first thing this morning.  They found the truck in downtown Lawrence, locked and the keys gone.  Along with the radio and all the stereo equipment.  And the cute little stuffed Tigger head hanging from the rearview mirror.  Really??!!
Other than that, the truck seems okay.  No dents or major issues.  Whoever took it wiped it clean, took all the stuff out of the glovebox, took the $20 emergency money in the visor, locked it and walked away.  They probably would have come back for it, since they took the key.  The expensive toolbox full of tools was untouched, thankfully.
The dealer is taking it back to finish the work and then we'll go pick it up.  And somebody is going to write us a check for our time and a new stereo.

Anybody Seen Our Truck?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A couple of weekends ago, J. headed out to go to an auction in Lawrence, which is about 35 miles from where we live.  He never made it.  Right as he turned on the road to go the auction, the brakes went out on the Dodge.  If that wasn't bad enough, he was in a spot where he could barely get intermittent cell coverage.  After many dropped calls, I was finally able to get him the number for the local dealer and he had it towed over there.

Fast forward to this morning where he gets a phone call from them. The guy asks "Ummm...by chance, did you come pick up your truck over the weekend?"  You can imagine J.'s reaction to that one.
 "No.  Why?"
"Well, we can't find it."

Yep, it was stolen from the dealer's lot.  Why they didn't have it locked up over the weekend is beyond me.  So the cops were called to do a report and the guy that last worked on it admitted in front of the officer that he couldn't remember if he followed dealer policy and dropped the keys in the box or not.  The keys are missing so my guess is that he left them in the truck.  If that wasn't bad enough, they admitted that there had been scrap thefts recently right next to the dealership and "maybe they stole the truck to haul off the scrap?".  Um, wouldn't that be another good reason to lock it up?

And then they had the audacity to tell J. to turn it in on his homeowners policy and they would reimburse him for the deductible.  Um, no.  That won't be happening.

I am so mad right now I could spit nails.

Diggin' for Gold

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Today was all about our poor neglected garden.  Full of weeds and tomatoes that think it's Spring again because of all this nice weather.  The bees have been visiting the tomato flowers and they're heavy with green tomatoes.  In late October!  I couldn't bring myself to rip them out just yet.  Maybe this weather will hold and they'll ripen.  We did manage to find 2 that were ready.
Our baby Yukons in May

But the real star of the show was the Yukon Gold potatoes.  Time to dig those bad boys up and see if we have redeemed ourselves as potato farmers.  It seemed like a great year for potatoes.  The plants were tall and green.  I didn't see even one potato bug this year, but the grasshoppers were thick as thieves in late summer after the potatoes were pretty much done flowering.  The leaves looked like swiss cheese when they were done. 

So then I hurt my back and we were busy with the solar project and the garden went on the back burner.  In fact, we only planted tomatoes and potatoes this year because we were so busy. 

Now the question was how to dig potatoes with a bad back?  The answer is sitting in a chair.  Actually, it was team effort with J. popping them up with a potato fork and me raking them out and throwing them in a bucket.  Since I can't bend over and pick them up, I was using one of those reach-y tools to grab them.  Hahahaha...yes, it was quite a sight. 

When all was said and done, we ended up with a 5-gallon bucket full from two 10' rows.  Not bad, I guess.  The pic below may be missing a few of them as they ended up as mashed potatoes. 

If you've never had Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, you haven't had mashed potatoes.  They're so smooth and buttery all by themselves that you don't have to add anything to them.  Absolutely delish!

Hello, Fall

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The leaves have been turning for about a week now and we've been closely watching our little maple tree that we planted back in June to see what color the leaves will be.  It was sold to us as an Autumn Blaze, so it should be a shocking bright red.  I'm not expecting much showiness this year since the tree is probably still trying to get its footing after 4 months in new ground. 

But I was pleasantly surprised to see it finally start turning.  The walnut trees are almost completely bare, having heralded the coming weather change early.

The bees are flying around like crazy gathering up what little pollen remains and getting ready for winter.  The weather couldn't be better for this...70s and sunny.  It feels like winter is far off today and for now...

Fall is here!

I See You

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Am I the only one that can't resist messing with a preying mantis?  I found this one hanging out on the back door header and looking like it could pounce on me if I tried to walk in the door. 
Try moving your finger back and forth in front of one to see how they react.  I swear they move like robots.  This one swiveled it's head like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. 

Water Storage

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Here's another confession:  I'm a Craigslist troll.  I must check Craigslist 12 times a day looking for that elusive bargain.  It's part hobby, part obsession.
One of the things I'd like to do is setup a way to capture the rain water coming off the solar panels and store it for when we need to water the garden.  Why spend money on city water if we don't have to? 
So I was super happy to run across a Craigslist ad for food-grade 275 gallon IBC totes for just $80.  These normally go for over $100, so that's a decent price.  J. and I headed up into the northland after work to go look at them.  The guy that was selling them probably had 10 of them sitting in his side yard.  We loaded up 2 of them in Kermit (our green trailer) and headed for home.

We already have one of these tanks and we used it to water the trees that we planted on the farm.  Now I just need to rig up some guttering on the panels and tie all three of them together.  But that project will have to wait until Spring.
Are you collecting rainwater?  Have a novel way of doing it?  I'd love to hear about it - leave me a comment!

Energy Usage Progress

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I sat down to pay bills this morning and, while I'm out on the power company's website, I like to pull down our latest usage numbers and see how we're doing.  With all of our efforts toward swapping out our light bulbs for LEDs and using smart outlet strips like this one, we should be seeing it pay off. 
Those numbers above are comparing the month of September from 2013 and 2014.  A 31% decrease from this time last year is not bad, but the weather has been pretty temperate as we're enjoying a prolonged Indian summer.  But an average of 60 kWh is still way too high.  What's interesting is that I also pulled the daily usage numbers for this month and the average is just over 25.  The difference?
We turned off the air conditioner in late September.  Using the air conditioner more than doubles our usage! 
The average monthly usage for folks in Missouri is 1060 kWh per month, or just over 35 kWh per day.  So we're not doing too bad.  But we've still got more bulbs to swap out for LEDs and more stuff to unplug, so I bet we can get our average usage under the roughly 45 kWh that our solar array is going to generate every day.  We'll get credits for what we don't use, so maybe that will help pay for the air conditioner that I'm just not willing to give up on those hot summer days!
Have you come up with some creative ways to save power?  I'd love to hear about them!

I've Been Summoned

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Tucked in between the chiropractor bills and catalogs was this little nugget from the mailman.  We were originally told that the hearing to finalize the sale of the $1400 house wouldn't be until December.  But apparently Jackson County is in a toot to get their back tax money as quickly as possible and now the hearing is scheduled for early November. 
Maybe if we're lucky we'll still have this Indian summer weather then.  A girl can hope, right?  We've got several trees that need to be cleaned up and, even though the front porch floor needs to be demolished and replaced, that will probably have to wait until Spring.
In other news, we've got a neighbor who is willing to help us out with cleaning out the house.  Charles has been helping Dave and Christine (of TheDeadlyNightshade fame) with cleaning out the cottage that they're working on. I think that is winding down, so the timing on our project is perfect.  When I first met Charles, I thought he was such a nice guy and a great father to a beautiful little boy.  He told me this weekend that he was blessed and given a second chance at life.  Apparently he used to be a gangbanger and he said, during that time of his life, he didn't think people could be good.  He said he's just trying to make a life for his kids and make them happy. 
He went on to say that, even if we couldn't afford to pay him, he would help us.  Well, I believe a man should be paid for a good day's work. I'd rather give the money to Charles, a neighbor and really hard worker, than to a big company. 
We've got quite a nice little community shaping up here.  And we need more people like Charles in this world.

Where Did September Go?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

For the life of me, I don't know where September went.  Perhaps it flew by us when we were focused on getting the solar project to the finish line.  We're so close that I can now see the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel".  At any rate, I had a month's worth of posts in my head that I wanted to get on here and didn't, for one reason or another.

So I'm spending this stormy first night of October filling in the gaps for you on what we've been up to for the last 30 days.  That's right...I broke the cardinal rule of blogging and am backdating a bunch of posts all the way to September 1st because I'm also using this blog as a kind of historical record of "the farm".  The posts are full of mayhem, misadventure and even a mystery, so have fun reading (at least I hope you're still here!)


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The city inspector came by today for the final inspection and we passed!  He's calling the utility to tell them to swap out the meter.  That's the final step and then we're done with this project.

Solar: Testing the System

Monday, September 29, 2014

Safety switch off.  Breakers on. 
Inverters on. Optimizers paired. 
Sun shining.
Panels producing. 
We produced energy for the first time today.  Even if it was just for a short time while we tested the system in prep for the inspection tomorrow.
Wow, it really works!

Indian Summer is Here!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's late September and it should be cool sweatshirt and shorts weather.  Summer isn't ready to go yet, I guess, because it's still sunny and in the 80's.  While we were out working on the final wiring on the panels, I snagged these pics of my girls out and about enjoying the local flora and soaking up some sun.

And Then There Were Three

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Our chicken snacker has struck again and two more chickens are missing.  This time, I found a small hole dug under the boards and a pair of chicken feet in the chicken run.  Just the feet!
And some telltale evidence on the step to the coop leading to where the fiend enjoyed his dinner. 
This means war.

Solar: Final Wiring is Done

Monday, September 22, 2014

We're almost ready for inspection.  We started tonight with 2 strings of panels.  After connecting each string together, for each string we have the positive wire from the first optimizer and the negative wire from the last optimizer that are hanging free.  Using cable extenders, we ran these up the supports to the back of the array and then down into the junction box in the picture.  NOTE:  We taped the connectors of the extender cable to the connectors on the optimizer wires temporarily.  If we had connected them permanently, we would have had electricity running through them while we were making the final connections in the box.

It's extremely important that you keep track of which wire is which at this point.  If you click to biggify the picture, you'll see some tiny little labels that read "1" and "2".  We also used tape every few feet as we ran the wires to make sure we didn't get anything mixed up.  All wires went down and then back up into the box - this is called forming a "drip loop" and it's designed to funnel water away from the box and down the wires where it will drip off onto the ground.  By the way, this is an outdoor rated NEMA box that is designed to be outside all the time and has a waterproof cover.

Once all the wires were in the box, the connections are easy.  Ground from the array goes to ground from the house.  Red wire from String 1 goes to red wire from Inverter 1, black wire from String 1 goes to black wire from Inverter 1.  Repeat for String 2 and Inverter 2. 

With the junction box all done, we needed to make that final connection permanent on those extender cables by removing the temporary tape and connecting them with a snap. 
With that, the wiring is all done.  Just some final labeling to do and we'll be ready for inspection.  But J. is leaving tomorrow morning and will be gone all week, so it will have to wait until after he's back.
I'm getting so excited to have this project finally done!

Solar: Optimizers and Panel Wiring

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The SolarEdge system is nice in that the microinverters (SolarEdge calls them "optimizers") only output 1 volt each when the inverter is shut down.  I'm not saying you wouldn't get a nice shock if you put your tongue on the wires, but it's not going to kill you.  So it's nice and safe to work around.
Today, we worked on getting all the array wiring hooked up.  Each panel gets an optimizer installed on it.  You can mount them on the racking, but we chose to mount them in one of the pre-drilled holes on the panels.  Since we have 32 panels, we had to mount 32 optimizers. 

 Each optimizer has 4 wires coming out of it:  the 2 short wires receive the wires from the panel to which the optimizer is attached (one positive and one negative).  The longer wires are used to connect the optimizers together in a "string".  Our design called for 2 strings of 16 panels each, where String 1 will connect in to Inverter 1 and String 2 goes to Inverter 2.  Starting with the first panel, you connect the negative wire from optimizer 1 to the positive wire on the second optimizer.  Rinse and repeat until they are all tied together.  These wires use MC4 connectors, which are the standard for solar installations.  They just click together and it's failsafe, since one end is a male end and other female.  There's no way, really, to connect the wrong wires together.
Since we know that each optimizer outputs 1 volt, then we can easily use a voltmeter to test each string of panels to make sure everything is working properly.  With 16 panels, we should get 16 volts. Looks like it's working!

We used special clips called SunRunner clips to organize the wiring under the panels and make it nice and neat.  If you click and biggify the picture aove, you can see some of these clips to the right of the voltmeter as well as the MC4 connectors.
Finally, we needed to drive the ground rod and then run the ground wire across the front of the panel.  There's a special connector on each support that holds the ground wire tight as it runs across the array.  Using a neighbor's Hilti, we drove the rod down in the ground and then connected the solid copper ground wire to the rod with an acorn clamp.  From there, stranded copper ran from the ground and into a junction box where it will then go into the conduit and into the house.
We just have to finish up that junction box wiring and then we're pretty much ready for the city to inspect everything.  I'll show you that tomorrow.
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