Tuesday, 30 August 2011

High speed high point

The day of the site survey by RipNET, the fixed wireless internet provider, finally arrives. We are both a little nervous because if we get bad news we may as well put the place up for sale and look for another one where the internet is more accessible. Several of contractor Mark's crew have been telling us they have already had the site survey and RipNET cannot help them unless they are willing to build a tower in excess of 120 feet and the signal would only be so-so. That's a very expensive tower for just a mediocre signal!

The bucket truck finds us a good signal at 68ft.
The RipNET van pulls in and a much bigger "bucket truck" follows. The crew gets to work setting up the truck's outrigger legs and looking for the prime location for the tower. We need to get the location right since the tower also has to work with the future house as well as with Priscilla's location now. What they are doing by going up in the bucket is finding where the best signal is and how high the tower has to be. Only a few minutes go by and they are happy to report that we are receiving an excellent signal and our tower will only have to be 68 feet tall. Oh my god, I'm so ecstatic that I grabbed hold of the closest crew member and said, "Can I hug you? You can't believe how relieved and happy this makes me and I feel compelled to give you a big thank you hug." He was very obliging and possibly a little frightened by the overly affectionate crazy woman in the woods. Big sighs of relief as the trucks head off down the driveway...for us and the man that I latched onto, I'm sure.

While we were waiting for the day of the site survey to happen, my brother, Scott, had discovered that the very same service we are looking to procure is no longer working for him. The trees have grown between the signal sending tower and his receiving tower and he is not receiving a signal at all. He's lucky though; he can just switch over to the DSL service that RipNET also offers instead of having to extend his tower by another 10 feet.

Getting fitted with safety equipment
Scott kindly offers us his fixed wireless equipment he no longer needs, with one condition...I have to retrieve the receiver from the tower! He's concerned the tower won't support his weight but will be fine with mine...ya, good story Scotty. I'm game for this as I have no fear of heights and I always used to climb the TV tower at home when I was a kid, just for fun. It'll bring back fond memories and I'm always up for a good climbing adventure.

Outfitted with the safety equipment and a fanny pack with the necessary tools, up I go to get that little square box that will connect us to the rest of the world. All is good until I get above the roof line; the higher I climb the more the tower sways. Somehow, I don't remember this ever happening as a kid. The onlookers on the ground look really, really small.

Retrieving the little box at the top of the tower
The retrieval mission goes smoothly with the exception of needing a screwdriver. I climb halfway down while my nephew (he's only 12 otherwise I'd have made him do this exercise) climbs halfway up with said tool. Back up to the top I climb...wrong screwdriver! Repeat down and up for correct screwdriver. Now my legs are starting to burn and shake from all the climbing and standing on my toes on tiny little rungs while I work. The safety equipment is quickly becoming my new best friend because every muscle in my body is now shaking. The job of releasing the receiver is not a difficult task; hanging on to the tower with one hand while trying to work with the other is the tiring part. A few minutes later the job is complete and the receiver and I are safely on the ground. Ras and I are starting to envision how nice it will be to have internet service at Priscilla. No more driving around searching for a signal.

We could have just purchased our own fixed wireless equipment and not gone through this thigh-burning exercise, but why, when this equipment will do the same job at no cost. Well, ok, there was the small cost of wobbly and very sore legs for the next couple of days. Isn't it crazy what we'll do for something we really want?

One step closer to high speed!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Priscilla receives her first guest, rather ungraciously

Other than to immediate family, Priscilla had not yet been shown off, except by photo. Our first visitor, Marie, is an enthusiastic camper and fisherwoman. We figure she will be fine with the lack of hydro and as long as there is a dock to fish from all will be fine. Thank goodness contractor Mark will be delivering the floating dock the day before Marie arrives. As it turns out, the floating portion is the first part of the new dock system to be built and the rest will be built after we see how this part works with the shoreline and then the building will progress upwards with the final piece being the landing at the top of the stairs. It seems we have hired the perfect contractor for ourselves...he does things backwards too. We like him. He gets us. No odd glances are exchanged...yet.

Priscilla, having 22 years of experience already behind her, is starting to sputter a bit and she is not being subtle about it. Most notably, the fridge is not getting cold but, oddly, the freezer is working fine. Marie takes this in stride and just puts ice in her beer. Problem solved. Off she heads to the dock with that iced cold beer and her fishing gear. Ras joins her.

A few minutes later, I get a call on the walkie talkie to say the new floating dock is breaking away from its temporary mooring and can I come down to the water and help secure them all before they end up floating away. Marie was probably hoping the dock would break loose then she could chase after the big pickerel that just got away from her. We have no fishing boat at this point so Marie would have settled for a fishing barge, I'm sure.

A moment in time when more fish stories are fabricated.

Is it nice to laugh at your friends when they fall out of their kayak while attempting to disembark? Maybe not, but I did, and I find myself compelled to mention that Marie is the inaugural member of The Tippy Kayak Club at Turtle Falls. Hey, maybe we could call the place Marie Falls.

Back to Priscilla and her problems. With her new larger audience it's Show and Tell time for Priscilla. She's showing her age and telling us in no uncertain terms, fix me, fix me! The toilet is leaking. That sounds much worse than it is. It's really just the fresh water line from the pump that's leaking and every time the foot pedal is used to flush, clean water leaks onto the floor. No problem...Sham Wow to the rescue! We discovered very early one morning, in a heavy rain, the window in the dinette area leaks...badly. Niagara Falls comes to mind. This is a problem and explains the spongy section of the interior wall beside this window. Also, the winterizing antifreeze had not been flushed from the freshwater holding tank. Oh, that's not a pleasant smell. That means I now have to flush this tank a few times with water we just paid to have delivered to the lot. That's what I was doing when the rescue call from the dock came over the walkie talkie. I haven't even mentioned the noise from the generator that my brother loaned us for Marie's visit. We thought it would be nice to have some power while she was here. I will admit it was great to be able to charge the battery in Priscilla so we could run the water pump and turn on a light at night, but talk about can you hear me now! My ears are still ringing. Those things are unbelievably loud. Fun times on the land with Priscilla, indeed. Somebody, please, remind me again why we are doing this!

Shortly after Marie headed back to civilization, Ras and I looked at one another and agreed Priscilla was not a very gracious host and maybe it would be best to postpone any further visitors until these problems are fixed.

Marie did appear to enjoy herself though. She's far too polite to ever tell us if she didn't. She didn't catch any fish worth keeping. She got eaten alive by mosquitoes and she witnessed, first hand, Priscilla's penchant for problems. Her ears are probably still ringing too. She said she'd come back again next summer.

See you next year, Marie?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Hydro...the dependable part time power

One interesting thing about our lot is the fact that hydro and telephone lines run right through the middle of it. That's right, we are 75 feet away from a hydro line and we want to go off grid. The choice to go off grid usually happens because the hydro line is more like 750 meters away. How backwards can we possibly be? We're getting used to the odd glances.
Hydro lines being buried & the temporary panel.

Several confusing calls are made to Hydro to start the ball rolling to connect Priscilla to the grid. I have also ordered a small solar generator. This, I figure, will allow us to practice with using solar power and will definitely come in handy when there is a power outage. Now we just have to get serious at thinking in terms of energy conservation.

One of the fun things I've been doing as my required homework before building a renewable energy house, is using an inexpensive energy meter to find out how much energy we use per day in our home in the city. Ras is amused at my crazy obsession with this and realizes that I will come back to normal once I know how many watts absolutely everything in our house uses. This turns out to be a very eye opening exercise and explains why every hydro bill is slightly higher than the last. Long story short, I have been able to reduce the energy consumption in our house by close to 3 kWh per day, bringing the average daily summertime usage down to 10 kWh/day for our 1100 sqft home. Phantom energy use in today's electronic equipment is massive and, thankfully, avoidable. When I read that the average total daily usage for an off-grid home, that's anywhere from 2-3 times bigger than ours, is about 4 kWh/day I realize I still have some work to do. So I've told Ras that we can only use 3 kWh/day at Priscilla because I cannot bear the thought of using/paying for any more hydro than we already do. Reduce 3 in the city to use 3 in the country. Not sure, but I think she shot me an odd glance. Although, Ras will have no need to worry, after a week at Priscilla with power we are using about 1kwh per day, as long as the fridge is running on propane.

The waiting game we played with Hydro was tons of fun. Every week we were told we would have power at Priscilla and every week we were still in the dark. This game lasted for 2 months. We excelled at using candles, battery-operated everything and propane. And just when our solar generator finally arrived we got hooked up to the grid. Just as well, the sun decided to go on vacation that week anyway. Does anybody know where I can find Murphy? I've got a noose with his name on it.

Hydro Hog...the fridge, not Ras! Note the swank retro interior style.

Just for fun, take a guess at how much energy a 1989 Priscilla fridge uses on a daily basis...8 kWh/day!!!  I am not impressed. That's certainly more than my little solar generator can handle and almost as much as our whole house in the city uses. This is totally unacceptable. I think I'll look into that dehydrated food the astronauts eat...

More later,

p.s.1. Ironically, I was editing this post during a power outage in the city (love the battery powered iPad) and the solar generator is at Priscilla.

p.s.2. I thought this was funny. This is a quote from the email I got from our electrician to let us know we were finally to be connected to the grid.
"Hey Girls, you will be happy to know your power is to be connected this coming Monday August 8. Hydro One called today to confirm.  So one more weekend and you will have the dependable part time power the rest of us have."

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What we want vs. what we get...and some turtle tales

Our second priority, building the dock, needed approval from the local conservation authority.  After getting our contractor, Mark, to draw up some plans we sent in our permit application.  Mark met with the conservation authority guy and did an amazing job of selling most of the plan but certain things had to be sacrificed.  There's a delicate balance of getting what we want and what the conservation authority will let us have.  Even decks on land at the shore must be called landings to satisfy regulations.  Weird!

The list of what we wanted:
>A nice big floating dock in the water and a ramp up.
>A good sized deck (or landing as the conservation authority prefers) attached to the rock.
>Stairs up the rock to a landing at the top of the rock.
>A separate deck at the top of the rock to enjoy the view of the lake from a different perspective and to enjoy some shade on hot days.

The list of what we can have:
>The floating dock and ramp is ok.
>The deck (or landing) attached to the rock must be smaller than we wanted and cannot be cantilevered over the water.
>The stairs up and the landing at the top of the stairs are ok.
>We cannot have the separate deck at the top of the rock.  Why?  Good question.

Mom & Ras enjoy the original deck/dock. Sorry Ras...I had to draw the top landing right over top of you. I'll get to the turtle.

The bylaws for our lot requires us to build 30 meters back from the water's edge.  This makes sense for the house and the septic system.  I get the intended protection of the water's health and I have no problem with this.  I also get the laws that are in place to limit the destruction of the natural shoreline from weed pulling, rock moving and breakwall building.  What I don't get is the conservation authority will allow us to plop a big ol' floating dock on top of the sensitive ecosystem of the shoreline, they give us a hard time about attaching a deck/landing to a rock where nothing is living, and they totally nix the deck at the top of the rock...because it is a structure and no structures are allowed within 30 meters of the water.  Is the set of stairs and the two landings on either end of it not considered a structure?  Is the floating dock more environmentally friendly than a deck on land?  How can that be?  I guess I shouldn't complain because we got to have the dock we wanted in the water and, sure, we can set our chairs (albeit quite askew as the ground isn't too level) on top of the rock and enjoy the other view of the lake.  It just all seems really ridiculous to me.  I would have thought the conservation authority would have given us a hard time about the floating dock and given us free reign with the on-land deck.  But what do I know?  Anyway...permit granted with restrictions.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention the other names we have thought about for the compound as my brother affectionately calls it.  One evening, just around dusk, I walked down to the water to enjoy one last look at the lake before nightfall.  There was a turtle at the top of the rock and I could see that she had been trying very hard to dig a hole in which to lay her eggs.  My first thought was how did she get up here because the rock is very steep and unless I've been missing the leatherback olympics all my life, turtles are not that athletic.  My second thought was why not dig where the dirt is deeper than one centimeter.  There had been many attempts to dig a hole deep enough for her eggs only to be stopped short by that very large rock.  Upon recounting this story to Ras she replied with, "Maybe we should call the place Turtle Rock, or maybe Turtle Ridge."

In keeping with the turtle theme, upon returning to Silverstone Trillium Turtle Ridge Rock after a few days back in the city, we were horrified to see our shoreline choked with weeds.  I believe we both blurted it out at the same time..."Holy crap, we bought a swamp!"  This is unacceptable.  This will never do!  Immediately me and the kayak paddle jump into high gear to rescue Ras's swimming area.  Ras slowly walks back up the hill toward Priscilla, visibly horrified yet secretly devastated.  I worked away at the weeds, almost bending the kayak paddle from the weight of each bunch I extracted, producing an enornous pile of weeds on the rock.  Stinkin' damn transient weeds!  I'm thinking to myself with each paddleful of weeds that I'm probably going to be arrested for this.  And then I heard it.  It sounded like a baseball rolling down the rock.  When I looked toward the sound I saw this little, baseball-sized, turtle rolling down the rock and...splash...back into the water he went.  Apparently, the turtle was entangled in the weeds and tossed onto the weed pile on the rock with the last snarled paddleful.  Ok, now I really think I'm going to be arrested.  Before you go forwarding this blog to the conservation authority I know for a fact that there are businesses in the area that charge for the service of removing these transient weeds by the barge load.  Not one standing weed was ever removed by me or my kayak paddle!  Just the floating ones.  Turtles...beware!

Ras and I were enjoying the sunset that evening on the dock, surrounded by beautiful weed-free water, and I finally gathered enough courage to confess to my earlier turtle-assaulting actions.  Then I said, "Maybe we should call the place Turtle Falls."

Not guilty at Turtle Falls,

Sunday, 21 August 2011

On the hunt for high speed

After Priscilla arrived at the lot the following three things, in order of importance, were our top priorties.
1) To get an internet service provider...so we can work and, therefore, pay for this adventure while being there for the whole summer, not just weekends. 2) To build the dock...to enjoy the lake and the sunshine. 3) To get hydro...to enjoy Priscilla in all her glory.

The internet is a great thing. It has freed us up to be able to work from anywhere, at any time, as long as we have a high speed connection. That feature got overlooked in the exciting whirlwind of offers, counter offers, lawyer meetings, bank meetings, permit procurement and just general family exuberance.

Look at this photo. These are the phones that we use to tether our laptops to the internet. Do you see any bars on either phone? Ya, me neither! All I see is "No Service". Now that's not to say that we can't get any signal on the lot. If I stand on one particular rock on one leg and hold the phone way up high over my head I can get two bars...sometimes. I don't know what makes the difference from minute to minute but then sometimes I have to do this karate kid pose at the end of the dock. Sometimes the signal is best at the trailer but never is it consistent. And nor is two-bar reception good enough to tether with, even if it were a consistent signal.

One Telus phone + One Rogers Phone = No Service.

The fact neither of our cell phones worked on the lot didn't worry us too much at first. There was always Bell, even though the thought of letting them back into our lives after having completely kicked them to the curb many years before was making us queasy. And then there was always the local fixed wireless company that my brother was using but since we didn't have a house to bracket a tower to, they were out of the question. "Sorry, can't help you."

The search for high speed is beginning to make us feel like we have purchased the only lot on the planet where every form of Internet service stops just less than a kilometer away...so close yet so far. The local phone company's DSL service went to within 900 meters of our lot. Even good old Bell does not service the area with DSL. Are you kidding me? And the cell signal from all the big 3 providers...non-existent for the most part and occasionally only good enough for the dreaded can you hear me now nonsense...can you hear me now? All around us is the elusive high speed but nothing on our little piece of paradise. How can this be? This was supposed to be at the top of our list. I know what you're thinking...but satellite internet also needs the tower to be bracketed to the house and the speeds are just not good enough.

Our last hope is to go back to the fixed wireless company, tell them we are serious about the free standing tower and cringe as they quote us. The salesperson said, "There's no house? We usually deal with situations where there's a house first and then we can attach a tower to it". Ya, well, we like doing things the other way around. Makes us unique. We like the odd glances. Gives the employees of companies we deal with something to amuse their families with at the dinner table.

So now we wait for the "bucket truck" to arrive for a site survey. This begins our new favourite hobby of hurry up and wait. While we wait, we can only hope and pray that the signal will be strong enough and the tower doesn't need to be a million feet high to continue with this, our last option, otherwise we will have to endure driving around the countryside hunting for the enviable 5-bar signal, park on the side of the road, and get kinks in our necks as we work in the car. Or we can drive the 20 minutes to mom's house and use the excellent signal we can get there. This makes my mom happy. Her signal at our lot would make me happy.

Can you hear me now?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 19 August 2011

The power of family

My family couldn't be happier that we have bought this property. My mom is just glad to have me home again. This experience has reminded me of the power of family big time. The overwhelming love and support from my immediate family has been staggering. Help is always available at a moments notice, loans of water tanks and generators, the gifting of dock chairs and internet equipment. Ras is an only child so she is loving all the crazy family dynamic she has created by insisting we look for property close to my family. The bonus we never anticipated is the front of the line service it seems we get because everyone in the county knows and loves my mom. My mom treats everyone like family and therefore she is part of their families as well. There's nothing like the support a small community offers. It's sure different than the relative anonymity we've lived with for the last 3 decades in the city.

At breakfast the next morning after an impromptu family gathering, Ras was reliving the fun we had with everyone in the water, seeing the unattended leftover spaghetti spread all over the tablecloth by raccoons, enjoying s'mores around the campfire. Her eyes welled up and she said, "This is exactly what I was envisioning this place to be...a place for family to gather and enjoy the beauty of nature and each other."

Dreams do come true. How cool is that?


Thursday, 18 August 2011

There is no Ras in Procrastination

You know how they say opposites attract? That couldn't be more true for me and Ras. She wastes no time jumping into a project. I prefer to ponder things for a while before making the leap. We were only back in the city for a day before Ras was on the phone to her cousin John, asking where we might get a good deal on a used camper and what his recommendation would be. John is the goto guy when you want to find anything at a good price. He steered her toward building the garage first but if that was not feasible then a hard-sided camper would be his next choice. Before you could blink, low and behold, we were the proud owners of a 1989 32 foot, 5th wheel trailer. Oh, she went through the motions of making me believe I had something to say about it by dragging me off to the RV place and getting my opinion but I knew I had no choice but to say yes to welcoming "Priscilla" into our lives. Ras named the trailer Priscilla because it reminded her, with all its interior pinkness, of the bus the guys bought in the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. We had no plans to traverse the country in our Priscilla but to park it on the lot so we could enjoy the beauty of the woods and the lake while we decide what we want to build and learn more about the renewable energy sources we will use.

Really, for about $110/ft, who could resist? Truck not included.

So now we own a trailer but not yet a lot. It's June 9th and possession of the lot takes place on the 17th of June. This little trend of going about things backwards is a recurring theme you may notice as this journey continues. As you might imagine, being the ponderer/procrastinator I've eluded to being, this is not quite as much fun for me as it is for Ras. I did get my way of not having the trailer delivered to the lot until we actually held the deed in our hands. But if Ras had her way Priscilla would have been sitting on the lot bright and early on the 10th of June. Why do opposites attract so strongly?

The summer solstice arrives and so does Priscilla, although she is a few bits and pieces lighter as plastic covers and miscellaneous items flew off during her 385 kilometer trip along highway 401. There was a mad rush of tree cutting, trench digging and gravel spreading only a day or two before to prepare the site. This work happened quickly because of who we know (or rather who my mom knows), that's for sure. It is proving to be a good thing that we bought in the area where I grew up and where my family still is rather than in a place like Muskoka, where we have no ties at all.

Ahhh...home sweet home. From cidiots to trailer park girls, in just over 4 weeks. All we need now is a margarita and a couple of chairs on that tiny little dock! While sitting at the water and looking at the big silver grey rock which makes up our shoreline, Ras suggests the name Silverstone. We think about going for a swim while we ponder that. Trillium Ridge or Silverstone? Hmm...



Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Too good to be true

Ever had that feeling that something is just too good to be true? I'm back tracking here just a little to our meeting with the real estate agent at the lot on the Monday morning after Mother's Day. At the location there were three 5-acres lots for sale, side-by-side. All had between 260 -350 feet of water frontage. The lot we have fallen for was the middle of the 3 and the one with the least frontage and therefore the lowest price...or so we thought. That should have been the first clue...the nicest of the three lots was the least expensive? Too good to be true, right? Long story short, we were reading the listings wrong and the lot was actually the most expensive of the three and way more money than we wanted to pay. At least the frontage was bigger than we thought. And then we found out we had to pay HST. OMG, how painful is that?!

We parted ways with the real estate agent and headed to the local chip truck for some lunch and to discuss which ridiculously low price we would insult the seller with. In the parking lot at the chip truck we see a township truck. I scan the picnic tables for someone looking like a township person to ask a few questions about local bylaws. After we discuss the merits of the food he scares the hell out of us by saying he thinks the bylaw on that lake states the front setback is 300 meters. The lot in question isn't even 300 meters in length, what's that all about? He points us in the direction of the municipal office to confirm.

Too good to be true alright!

The municipal office eases the tension. The 300 meter setback is only for the lake on the other side of the bridge, not for the lake we are looking at. Ok then, let's get to that insulting offer to the seller.

Mimi: Maybe we should call our lawyer too. Ras, does your phone (Rogers) get any service here?
Ras:   No.
Mimi: Ya, me (Telus) neither. Hmm...guess we'll have to call Bell.

More later,

Saturday, 13 August 2011

It all began with window shopping

Mother's Day 2011 began with some innocent window shopping in the beautiful little village of Westport in Eastern Ontario. The windows displayed real estate listings for waterfront properties. We were just looking to pass time until the nephews' football games that afternoon. We were at least two years away from being ready to buy a cottage property. Who knew there would be several listings with all the right features...rock ledge, deep water, south facing, 5 acres of mature trees, access to four lakes connected by 28 miles of  waterway for exploring? Luckily, the listing had enough detail that we could find the place without imposing on the real estate agent on Mother's Day. It was love a first sight for me. The trilliums were in full bloom and the forest floor was a sea of white because of them. The closer to the water we walked the more I fell. It wasn't until we got to the water that Ras started to feel the love. The only thing on the property is this little dock. Only one house can be seen from this perspective in the summer time...two when the leaves have fallen.

       Ras, aka AquaGirl, in her element at the water's edge       
Off to the football games we go...with visions of a cottage, a much bigger dock and the family and friends gathering to enjoy what we initially named Trillium Ridge. Then the discussion quickly went to this is the perfect opportunity to build a house/cottage exactly the way we want it and to use as little resources as possible. Hello solar panels, bye bye Hydro One. Nice dream...

After the football games we took my mom and sister to look at the lot. They, too, fell in love at first sight. So what did we do Monday morning? We put an offer in on it...and our lives will never be the same. We've gone from being completely debt-free city dwellers to what our country dwelling friends refer to as cidiots...city idiots. I do see their point as we all make the exodus from the city, all at the same time, to cottage country, only to settle next to our cottage country neighbour at proximities that are likely closer than in the city. We, at least, have 5 acres...does that put us in a lesser class of cidiotism?

The purpose of this blog is to keep a record (since neither of our brains is efficient at record keeping these days) of our journey to reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources and to keep family and friends informed of our adventures as we build a cottage in the woods by the lake. Although I must give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Rita G for your insistence to make our often times laughable follies available for more than just you to chuckle over!

Oh, I forgot to mention one of the important features that the lot we wanted to buy must have: high speed internet....ha!

More later,