Hobbit Hole

On the road to Hobbiton

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More sights from along the pathway to the Hobbit Hole:


Making the most of heat

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IMG_20171024_184006I wanted to say a little something about making the most of the heat you generate in your wood stove, complete with a crappy cell-phone photo to illustrate.

I store all of my cooking iron on top of the wood stove. Every time the wood stove gets hot all of my iron: a flat-iron, a massive dutch oven (the much beloved Aunt Itsy’s Skillet), and three smaller iron skillets 8”, 6”, and 4” in size respectively. The last is a single-egger. All that cast iron –itself not entirely easy to heat through and through– re-releases all the heat it absorbs as the stove & cabin air cools down. Kept well-oiled and lovingly-used the deep and healthy cure of each piece is renewed every time it’s heated without the loss of substance attendant on most types of dutch oven cooking. This extends the life of each piece in a damp climate and keeps each more or less sterile and ready for use at any time, especially the sealed dutch oven.

You’ll see all that iron being put to use in different ways in this picture. I’ve got a big-ass and damned cheery fire blazing in the wood stove below, so here you see my flat-iron being used to keep the bottom of a pot of rice from scorching, the dutch oven doing what it does second-best (sit there & look pretty), and the trio of omelet pans supporting a saute pan full of dinner in conditions so stable and sustaining it’d make a chef look twice at his/her expensive food warmer.

You’ll also see a big-ass stock pot with a steamy lid here. There’s three gallons of water in the act of being brought to a quiescent boil. The little bit of steam that escapes the snug lid keeps things vaguely humid in a sinus-friendly (but not mold-pleasing) way. All of the clean, hot water that doesn’t get used for washing up after dinner will sit there cheerily re-releasing warmth into the cabin all night; even after the fire has gone out.

There’s plenty of thermal mass in a giant iron wood stove already, but finding ways to enhance that mass allows me to heat the same space for longer with less fuel.

PS: Dinner was delicious.

Along the path to the Hobbit Hole

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300m or so up into the woods from the closest automotive access…

Interior shots of the Hobbit Hole

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I’ve been holding off taking pictures of the interior of the place because there were a few details I wanted to take care of first; to make the place more of a home with an aesthetic than a shack in the woods nobody loves or cares for anymore.

Big photo dump. I apologize in advance for your bandwidth if on mobile:

Life on rechargeables

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IMG_0156This is what it looks like some mornings when I arrive at the coffee shop. Plugged in to this single outlet are my laptop, phone, my ‘big light’ power brick, and the battery for my cordless shop vac.

Interestingly enough the shop vac battery charges fully in roughly the same time as it takes to discharge it in operation: 20-25 minutes.

Interior lighting plans for post-solar era

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For as many windows and skylights as this cabin has, the sleeping loft puts the small living space beside the front door under a permanent umbra. It’s not that it makes this part of the cabin uninviting but rather illuminates (pun intended) what could become a serious problem once the shortest days of winter are here. Olympia sits at 47 degrees north in latitude so our weather is only half as crazy as it is in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. Light becomes as important as warmth in certain seasons.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. The lack of daylight in general and our modern human predisposition to expose ourselves to less daylight than our bodies evolved to expect creates a depressive psychological effect in some people not to mention the various imbalances resulting in a lack of vitamin D, which requires direct exposure of skin to sunlight to metabolize in the body. Some people purchase light boxes for therapy. Others make subtle changes like using full-spectrum light bulbs or basking more frequently in the glow of a warm fire. The wood stove is warming but built tight as a drum, without even so much as a window. I’m going to need a source of light as well if I’m to maintain my cheery disposition all winter, in the season my German sister in law refers to as Die Eishöhle, or the ice cave.

Right now of the five circuits I’m going to need to build three of them are for lighting. The other two will power the 12v pump in the water system and eventually an interior pure-sine power inverter to charge computers, phones, and occasionally my juicer. Luckily in the age of LED I’m able to positively flood the cabin with light without drawing bupkis from the (prospective) battery.

The three lighting circuits will consist of:

  • Four or five paper lanterns stretched across the cooking/dining area, with bright warm white LED bulbs wired in. This circuit will run through a wall switch (I’m leaning toward old-school brass marine switches) and feature a dimmer knob.
  • One bright hanging fixture in the living area, casting a bright light up and down but shading all eyes from bright direct light. This circuit will run through a wall switch (I’m leaning toward old-school brass marine switches) and feature a dimmer knob.
  • One gooseneck switched reading lamp at the head of the bed in the sleeping loft. This circuit will run straight to the distribution panel and not through the switch/dimmer box.

Once I’ve got these in and get a sense of how my battery life holds up to regular use I might add an outdoor light outside the front door and another over the back deck.

The current lineup of the ‘big light’ and an array of oil lamps, candles, kerosene lanterns, and a couple of battery-powered string lights are about all I have for lighting right now. Even in sum they’re not entirely suitable for all but the most intimate types of entertaining, let alone entertaining or anything other than spot-work the ‘big light’ can cover.

A truly shitty post

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Q: What do you do with your pooo? How do you handle your number twooos? Whence do you scoot when your bowels are looose? What do you do with your pooo?

IMG_0137A: Right now we’re using the tried-and-true repurposed containment method, which is to say the latrine here consists of a big white pickle bucket nestled under a purpose-built toilet cabinet. Primitive as that may sound, there’s a bigger picture in mind.

My first project on arrival was to replace the rickety old roof over the latrine’s location along the rear of the cabin. The old one was a couple of lathes with some clear plastic and the ‘chickenwire treatment’ on it (the ‘mossification’ method of choice here). It hung so low it was unavoidable when standing after a visit, which defeated the whole ‘keep dry’ mission of the structure. The dripline it generated was also too close to the latrine structure itself, putting knees at risk and splashing dirt up on the latrine itself.

bin_loadingThe reason I’m keeping the latrine system is because years and years ago I read the good words of Joseph Jenkins in The Humanure Handbook. The truth is despite the best efforts of our digestive system the stuff that comes out of our bums is full of highly valuable nutrients. Of course it’s also full of stuff that makes humans sick so we have to be careful how we unlock those nutrients for reuse.

Jenkins recommends the addition of rotted sawdust to the raw humanure to add an easily-digestible form of cellulose to the mix to recreate in your bin the same conditions one finds in a healthy compost or animal manure pile: a thermophilic reaction that raises the temperatures inside the pile to a level so consistently high that over time almost all of those parasites and intestinal bugs get killed.

Jenkins recommends an annual cycle. Last year’s section in the humanure bin (a two-stall affair) ages, mellows, and digests itself into a fine crumbly brown nutrient that’s perfect fertilizer for indirect nutrient generators like orchard trees or berry bushes. I’d plant berries here by the house but the deer would make short work of them. My eventual nutrient product I’ll likely just add to ferns around the house to make them even more prehistorically enormous than they already are.

There are no openings in the structure along the East wall (outside of which the latrine sits) so intrusive odors are never a problem. I’m going to rebuild the base underneath the latrine structure itself so it’ll hold together over winter. Right now there are a lot of old rotten pallets along the East wall acting as a sort of base for some of the fixtures out there. There’s plenty of lumber in the shed (and mains power for sawing/predrilling) to rebuild it properly. A paint job is in the works too, to make it a little easier to clean.