This blog is about our travels in our solar powered "Airstream" and living off grid, in our passive solar home, near Bancroft, Ontario, Canada.

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Saturday, 30 November 2013


I'm always impressed with the ingenuity of the folks up here. They use whatever they have on hand to make something useful and practical.

Take this footbridge as an example; made entirely of wood and strong enough to support an ATV. Useful and Practical

Two other considerations when building something; easy, cheap. Not sure of the cost of the bridge but it does look like an easy build and will make our snowshoe hikes so much easier when we have to cross this stream.

Life in the bush, even in winter, is a delight.

Safe travels everyone.

Friday, 29 November 2013


Yesterday the sun came out and we just had to go for a walk in the bush.

We have snow but not nearly as much as my sisters in London. They've really been hit hard with over 4 feet of snow this week.

The woods are so quiet and peaceful this time of year. Not a sound except the water trickling through the creek and our boots crunching the snow. With the sun on our backs it was the perfect time for a winter hike.

Every hike needs a destination so we always stop by to visit neighbours. Here we chat with Lee who is busy chopping wood for the stove. We do a lot of chopping up here, down south they do a lot of shopping. Chopping or shopping what is your preference?

Back home it was time for the artists to get their creative juices flowing. Here Christiane uses varies media she found on her hike to create her design.

Mary, Leanne and Christiane have a discussion about design. 

It has been wonderful having company this week but today the girls leave and head back to the city and it will be as quiet inside as it is outside. 

Thanks for stopping by and safe travels everyone.

Thursday, 28 November 2013


When company arrives it is a good excuse to go exploring. After getting new snow tires yesterday we headed north to Maynooth for lunch and a visit to the Potter's Studio.

It's a wonderful place to find local pottery, music, blown glass, textiles, wood sculptures, prints, even take a pottery class.

You must also spend a few minutes with her new pup as he begs for attention.

Another great day enjoying company and our Canadian winter.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


It looks like Narnia outside this morning. Our little cabin in the woods stands frozen and silent. Mary is baking pancakes and the house is smelling good. Time to add another log to the fire.

Passed this spot as we headed north to Maynooth for lunch.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


This morning after breakfast we had to teach Christiane how to use the bobcat. She is visiting from Germany and we needed to move and burn brush so it was the perfect time for some basic lessons.

A quick explanation of how to use the joysticks 

and Christiane was dumping brush where we needed it.

Leanne tried to keep the fire going but the brush was just too wet. Even when we poured diesel fuel on it the brush wouldn't burn.

If the brush wouldn't burn there is always wood to split. Tonight we are suppose to get our first major snowstorm of the season, 10 - 20 cm. I think we have plenty of firewood to keep us warm.

I moved more brush back into the bush while the girls took a hike back to the ponds.  At least there are no bugs to deal with this time of year.

Tomorrow it's snow tires and shoveling snow. Are you missing winter?

Stay warm and dry and drive safely everyone.

Monday, 25 November 2013


Last week we drove up to Maynooth to see the quilt display. The North Hastings Quilt Club had a number of quilts on display in the library and Mary was interested to see how her quilts looked.

The Maynooth library is a beautiful building designed to be used by community groups throughout the year. During the winter months it hosts a very popular indoor farmers market the second Saturday of the month.

The quilts looked lovely hanging in the library. The pink quilt and blue stripped quilt to its bottom left are quilts Mary did.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Winter has arrived. The snow is no longer melting and disappearing the same day. Ice is beginning to form on the lakes and our propane use is increasing. Presently we can get about 8 months of use from our tank of propane. I would like to extend that to 12 months and I think we can.

The more solar power we use the less propane we consume. Even in winter we can have sunny days and full batteries so we need to maximize the solar power on such days. 

This is our latest electric appliance that will help us reduce our propane consumption. It is a small toaster oven that now sits on our counter. With it we can bake, broil, warm, toast, just as long as it will fit in the small oven.

Now don't those biscuits look delicious and they were. Fresh out of the toaster oven and they didn't last long.

In the past we would have baked them in the large oven which uses propane. Now we will use the toaster oven and reduce the propane use.

Another helpful appliance is our wood stove.

Here, Mary cooks a pot of vegetarian chili on our wood stove, no propane.

We had a delicious lunch, ate well thanks to solar power and wood. 

We will continue to monitor our consumption and find ways to further reduce our dependence on propane. If you have any suggestions please send them along. Remember keep it simple.

Thanks for keeping an eye on us.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


This morning I was up early to help cut firewood and stack it ready for the yearly TREK. The TREK is a walk through the bush here in Bancroft to experience the Christmas story.  

With this machine and a few good men the job was quickly done.

Cut pieces were tossed into a pickup truck then transported and stacked where needed.

You are guided through the bush at night by lantern to each station where some part of the Christmas story is acted out by church members. 

Here is a shelter beside the path ready for the actors on December 14th. Each shelter will have a fire to help keep everyone warm.

Hope to see you there.

Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


Just got home from the Victorian Tea. Had a wonderful time. Mary will write a full report in the morning.

The story behind this gala event took place more than 15 years ago when one lady decided to invite a number of ladies to her house for tea, just to give them a break during the, what can be, the most hectic time of the year. They were so appreciative that she did it again. It caught on very quickly and others asked to join this special hour. When her house became too crowded she looked for another spot. Enter Graphite Camp. 

It has become a sought after event, 4 evenings and still the tickets are sold out quickly. Our special guest for the evening sang her way through the Christmas story. The decorations were spectacular, the serving ladies elegant and the message was beautifully presented. All in all, an evening well spent. 

The men came in with tea and dainties, dressed in white shirts and bow ties. Art thoroughly enjoyed serving a room full of lovely ladies and plans to return next year. 


For those who haven't seen Sean in a while here he is last week in a bike race. Yes, I know it's a bike race and he is carrying his bike and in most cases you would think he should be riding and you are right. But see those logs behind Sean? He is racing through an obstacle course and there are spots where you jump off and have to carry your bike.

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Not my idea of fun but there are hundreds out there who do this every weekend and they love it. Sean won a bottle of maple syrup for his efforts.

Thanks for sharing the picture Casey.

Have a safe day everyone.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

1st SNOW

We got a present overnight, ..................

our first snowfall.

 Yesterday Sean and Casey phoned to say they were coming up for a visit. We had a wonderful time of catching up.   Mary made pancakes and sausages for breakfast and then we looked at, what else....pattern ideas for a quilt. No better way to spend time except perhaps enjoying the e-mails from friends in warmer climates. 

This morning it's cold and our wood stove is keeping us cozy.

Time to get more wood. Enjoy your day and thanks for stopping by. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

OFF GRID - EMPTY HOUSE - Part Two: Conserving Propane

Part Two: Conserving Propane

See Nov 17th for Part One

Now that we are using the wood stove, propane consumption should diminish considerably. In the summer our propane consumption is typically 5% per month. My goal is to cut our propane consumption by 20% so we can get a full year's use from one tank of propane. Is this achievable? Several adjustments will contribute to the goal. 

One will be the use of cooking with electricity during our sunny surplus days in the summer.  An electric counter toaster oven may be purchased for such use. Presently our electric slow cooker, kettle and  charcoal BBQ all help reduce our use of propane. 

The second adjustment could be using our wood stove for cooking during the winter. Our wood stove has a flat surface which makes it easy to heat a pot of soup or stew and those are two dishes perfect for winter consumption. 

For us wood for the stove is readily available on our property. It isn't free, as we need to cut, haul, stack and dry it well in advance of using it, but it is abundant and far cheaper than propane.

A third consideration is an electric water heater to bring our cold well water up to a more moderate temperature before it enters the propane water heater to be heated for domestic use. 

For us this would be a cheaper approach than installing a solar water heater as such a system would require a huge tank of water for storage during the high production summer months. A solar water system is so efficient that it will produce a huge quantity of very hot water and a hot tub or swimming pool is recommended as a place to dump the excess hot water. It is easier and cheaper if we simply install a small electric water heater and turn it on and off as required. 

A final step would be a heating coil around our wood stove to heat water during the winter months but that might not be aesthetically acceptable sitting in our living-room.

Reducing our reliance on propane to heat our water, our house and for cooking is achievable but it will never be eliminated. Also the convenience of propane makes this off grid living feasible as we age. The assurance that we can cook, heat the house and our water without the chore of hauling in wood allows us to stay here in comfort even as some tasks we easily do today become impossible tomorrow. 

Bottom line: Our system so far has exceeded our expectations. We couldn't be happier. We are comfortable, content and spoiled living in the bush without the noise of the city or a generator running outside our door. 

We have all the conveniences we need to prepare meals, stay clean and warm throughout the year and we are not tied into the grid system. 

We do need to keep an eye on the sun and make adjustments if the forecast calls for extended periods of cloudy days. But those adjustments are minor and not life changing. 

We may do the laundry later in the week when the sun is out rather than on a cloudy day when it would draw down our batteries. We installed LED lights as they draw less power and our house is super insulated which keeps us warmer in winter and cooler in summer without high energy demands. We do not have air-conditioner, don't need it as the house design contributes to its comfort level.

If you are considering building and living off the electrical grid and have some questions don't hesitate to send us an e-mail. We are not experts but we are living off grid and hopefully can answer your questions.

Thanks for stopping by and safe travels.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


What happens when you leave your off grid house unattended during the cold, dark, wet month of November?

We were a little nervous about how everything would function as we knew we would have some "no sun" days as well as freezing temperatures. We left our thermostats sent at 15*C (59*F) so the in-floor heating would function anytime the temperature dropped below 15. 

Our in-floor heating uses 4 pumps and is divided into three zones. 

The fourth pump is attached to the water tank.

The heat for the floor comes from a heat ex-changer attached to our domestic hot water tank. 

That little copper box with the red arrow is the heat ex-changer.

This tank uses propane to heat the water and is directly vented to the outside. All worked perfectly.

When we got home the outside temperature was 0*C but inside the house was very comfortable. Although we had snow and days without sunshine Jim never saw our batteries below 80%. Granted we weren't living here but we did leave both our freezer and refrigerator plugged in, the pumps worked to push the hot water through the floor and the well pump came on a few times as neighbours came in to water our plants.

We have a generator that will come on automatically to charge the batteries if they get too low.  On the 12th of November the generator came on and ran for 5 hours. No one was here but the information was recorded by the memory chip in the generator and I could retrieve it when I checked Saturday. 

The only negative in this whole system is the amount of propane our generator consumes. We had our propane tank filled just before we left. Propane tanks are filled to 80% and today our propane gauge sits at 69%. (Down 11%) Only our water tank and generator were consuming propane while we were away. 

Tomorrow - Part Two - Conserving Propane

Saturday, 16 November 2013


The leaves are down, there's ice on the pond and the fire is crackling in the wood stove. Yesterday was a very, very long day. We spent twenty hours in the truck but once we were on the road we just wanted to be home. About 10:30 last night we pulled in.

This is the longest we've left the house unattended. We did have neighbours come in to water the plants but no one stayed here for over a month. All was fine when we got home thanks to Jim and Pierette. Jim left a data sheet on the state of the batteries and the weather so I would know how everything performed while we were away. I'll do a report in a few days on the status of our systems but for now it's just good to be back in our own beds. 

Time for breakfast and a walk about our property.

Safe travels

Thursday, 14 November 2013


We are getting ready to leave. We've enjoyed our stay, plan to come back but tomorrow our time is up and we have to head north. Our plan is to pack the truck today, get up early and head for home. It is a seventeen hour drive and whether we do it straight through or stop along the way will depend on traffic and our ability to keep our eyes focused on the road.

This morning we took our last walk on the beach, had a lovely chat with a lady who comes down and rents a place for the month just to enjoy the beach and restaurants in the area. We know we've barely scratched the surface here and that is why we hope to return when time permits.

The rest of November looks like a busy month with events, showers and family visits all of which we are looking forward to.

Safe travels everyone and thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


Missed seeing the horses yesterday. The weather wasn't good for the afternoon viewing and they wanted people off the island by 2:30 because of an incoming storm so we passed on the tour; visited Fort Macon instead.

Today we can't get internet access at our resort so we are down the street using the free wi-fi at McDonalds.

It has turned cool. Temperature this morning is only 4*C

I think it will be an indoor day, probably off to Hobby Lobby.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Mary wanted to visit the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium just down the road from our place so yesterday that was our agenda. Amazing, impressive, informative, captivating, are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind. It is truly an aquarium North Carolina is proud of. This is evident in the appearance, the respect shown for the exhibits, and by the host of volunteers who do such wonderful work at this world class facility. If you ever visit Atlantic Beach plan to spend a day at the aquarium, it's the best bargain on the coastline.

Although I tried my best pictures fail to grasp the wonder of the place.

You stand behind eight inches of glass while the sharks swim past.

Fish I'd never seen before are there.

Volunteers answer your questions with enthusiasm and knowledge.

We attended a workshop on snakes which you could touch if your nerves would allow. Mary stayed in her seat. This snake looks to be getting just a little too friendly with the instructor.

He doesn't look very friendly does he? Glad we have eight inches of glass between us.

It was a delightful day, full of learning and new experiences, the type of day you don't soon forget.

Today we are off in search of the wild horses. Wish us luck.

Thanks for stopping by and safe travels Tony.

Monday, 11 November 2013


We made it! Actually walked all the way to the pier and spent a good hour watching the fishermen.

The pier sits on stilts, reinforced with cross-members, ready to stand against the next storm that sweeps up the Atlantic seaboard. From her crusty appearance I would guess she has seen quite a few storms. Today the sea was calm with the rollers just gentle making their way to shore.

Up top the east side seemed to be most popular. Although the wind was blowing we enjoyed sitting and watching the fishermen at work.

Once off the hook the fish is cleaned and made ready to take home for supper. 

We on the other hand went to the fishmonger and bought fish. The popular fish here is called "trigger fish" because of the dorsal fin that locks in place like a trigger for defence. 

Once again supper was delicious.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


We've very easily slipped into a routine here at Peppertree. We will be here until Friday when we say goodbye and head for home.

Our mornings start with breakfast then out to the beach for our morning walk. Our destination today is the pier. We've come close a couple of times but today we intend to reach it and walk out on it. We will see. 

The morning walk is followed by a shower, followed by a snack, followed by a trip to the local fishmonger for some delicious local catch for lunch. When you are staying beside the ocean you want to eat from the ocean and yesterday's meal was so tasty we want to eat fish every day we are here.

So after the pier has been tagged and we've returned to cleanup and go into town we will first stop and load up on fish. 

The fishmonger is only open Thursday to Sunday so we plan to stockpile enough fish to get us through to Thursday. This is good eating, healthy eating the type of eating I should be doing all the time.

Saturday, 9 November 2013


We arrived shortly after three yesterday and had time to unpack and stroll the beach before the sun disappeared.

From the door of our unit to the beach is a two minute walk. 

Fishermen worked their magic from the water's edge as the sun began to signal the end of another day.

Way off in the distance the customary  pier juts out like a crooked finger into the Atlantic. Some day this week it will be a destination walk as I'm sure we will cover many miles on this beach before heading home. It's good to travel but for us we need a home base and always look forward to seeing family and friends again.

A year ago Don and I drove Daytona Beach. Well Don, they allow driving on the beach here as well, but we will be walking only.

The last light flickers across the waves as we head back inside full of anticipation for the new morning and adventures ahead.

Safe travels everyone.