December 28, 2019

Random Photos from 2019

I'm closing out the calendar year with photos that never made it to a blog post. Some of them were published elsewhere, croppings of a few made it to my blog header, but others not at all.













Random Photos from 2019 © December 2019

December 25, 2019

It's All About a Birthday

When my children were little, I pondered how to teach them that Christmas isn't just a children's fun holiday for receiving candy, toys, and gifts. Sure, there are books, DVDs, and Sunday school lessons emphasizing the reason for the season, but I wanted something that would be tangible to a small child. A real life experience.

My kids have birthdays close to the holidays. My daughter's birthday always falls on or a few days before Thanksgiving, while my son's is five days after Christmas. To explain Christmas, I told them that a birthday is a celebration of a person. On their birthdays we celebrate them. They receive gifts as we give thanks for their birth. Christmas is a birthday too, so on Christmas we celebrate Jesus. It's a celebration of His birth. Instead of asking "what do you want to get for Christmas," the question was, "what are you going to give for Christmas?"

At the beginning of Advent I would ask, "what are we going to give Jesus for His birthday this year?" I pointed out Scriptures that focus on giving, especially to the poor and needy. When the kids were little, we participated in things like caroling at retirement homes and Operation Christmas Child. As they got older, we continued to focus on helping others, especially the elderly and those in need. We hand made gifts for those we wanted to encourage and say thank-you to.

We never did Santa Claus. We started Christmas morning by lighting the Christ candle in the center of our advent wreath and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Then we exchanged presents as a family, but everything was small and inexpensive. Everyone got their "big" gift on their birthdays, and learned not to expect large or elaborate gifts on Christmas. Our other traditions revolved around special meals and food.

Not focusing on ourselves helped keep Christmas low key. No fuss or stress. And it meant no post-holiday let down. All of that enabled us to keep our focus where it belongs.

So, in keeping with our Christmas tradition:

Merry Christmas to All
Happy Birthday Jesus!

It's All About a Birthday © December 2019

December 21, 2019

The Demise of a Cookbook

This has been my favorite cookbook for as long as I can remember.

Well, maybe not my best favorite, but it certainly has been my most reached-for cookbook over the years.

It's the 1969 edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook and was a Christmas gift from my grandmother in 1976. According to the copyright, that was the year they reprinted the '69 edition.

I've lived in eight different states over the years, and this cookbook has accompanied me with each move. Obviously, it's seen better days. The index fell out years ago. I actually lost those pages for a long time and finally found them stuck in another cookbook.

No index hasn't caused me to retire it, however, although I don't know why I still grab this one first. It's not like I've memorized page numbers. Maybe because of its sentimental value, maybe out of habit. It's odd because I don't cook this way anymore. But its recipes have become my base recipes, and I know the modifications and substitutions to make. I look at the recipe and automatically make the changes.

Several years ago, I looked for a replacement for it online. All I could find were "vintage" copies with vintage prices. There was no way I was going to spend $75+ for a replacement, so for a long time that was that.

The other day I made a stop at Goodwill to check their $1 clearance racks. I buy all of Dan's and my clothes there and have found some fantastic bargains. I found a denim skirt that fit nicely and headed to check-out to pay for it. I happened to glance at a display near the cash register and saw this...


It was a gift I didn't feel I deserved, but one for which my heart sang thanks. Funny how such a small thing can mean so much.

I'll go through the old one to transfer any notes...

... and then the new one can take its place on my cookbook shelf.

Who else has found happy bargains lately?

The Demise of a Cookbook © December 2019

December 17, 2019

Solar Energy Isn't Free Energy

One of the things I used to admire about folks who are off-grid is that they have no electric bill. Many of them say it themselves, they love the financial freedom of not having to pay for electricity. Still, we all know there are costs involved, and some people might be inclined to ask how long it will take for the system to pay for itself. A low-end off-grid system might cost roughly $35,000 not including shipping, installation, and interest if buying on credit. Neither does that include backup, i.e. a generator. The average American electric bill is said to be $104 per month. Do the math, and you'll likely agree that it takes more than a monetary advantage to go solar.

For some people it's a sense of environmental responsibility. For Dan and me, the motive is food preservation. Since we rely more on what we grow than on a grocery store, this is important. The cost of a year's worth of groceries more than offsets the system paying for itself. We've spent roughly $2450 on it, so compared to having to buy all of our groceries, our little system will "pay for itself" in about three or four months. Savings on the electric bill will be lagniappe.

Now that we are in the midst of the project, however, I see something I didn't consider during my feasibility study—eventual replacement costs.

Having recently purchased our batteries, this is forefront in my mind. Our solar panels should last 25 to 30 years, but flooded lead acid batteries average about five years; longer if we take good care of them—shorter if we make mistakes. The fact of the matter, is that we have to be ready when they need to be replaced. Our income is low enough that we must budget for everything, so I need to take this into account now.

What am I looking at for replacement cost? Our six batteries totaled $880, with $100 of that for the core charge since we didn't have old batteries to trade in. If the batteries last 5 years, and I want to have $780 available for replacements, then I need to save $13 per month. Because prices always go up instead of down, it would probably be wise to bump that up to $15. If we want to upgrade the battery bank—in terms of battery type, amp-hours, or both—then we need to set aside more.

We could have bought a different type of battery, one with a longer lifespan, but these come with a heftier price tag. As it was, we did the best we could, and I have no complaints about that. I would be curious if the cost per year for different battery types is comparable to $13 a month, but for now, that's a moot point.

Of course, I'm curious about how much lower our electricity bill will be once we get the freezer (and hopefully fridge) on solar. Will it be enough to offset the savings for replacement batteries? Time will tell! Either way, our ability to preserve our harvest without being dependent on the grid gives me great peace of mind. And that, is priceless.

December 13, 2019

A Home for the Solar Battery Bank

After we got the batteries, we needed a home for them. Dan planned to build a box, until he took a closer look at an old box that we already had.

This was left in one of our outbuildings when we bought the place. We've used it to hold kindling over the years, but when Dan measured it, he discovered that it would work for a battery box. It's just large enough to house our six batteries, the charge controller, and the circuit breakers. All it needed was reinforcing, a base, and some paint.

The base is repurposed too. It was originally the form Dan made for pouring the concrete pad for the outdoor laundry tubs.

We had already chosen the location.

Photo from "Burying the Solar Cable." See
that post for why this is a good location.

The cable was buried in a conduit under the driveway. To run them into the box, Dan used vertical PVC pipe and two elbows the same way he did at the solar panel end.

The last step was to build a cover. This was made from scraps of lumber, plywood, metal roofing leftover from the carport project.

It still needs some paint and vents, but other than that it's ready.