Monday, December 28, 2009

The Holidays in the Hills

We spent our holidays snow shoeing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and had an absolute blast. We didn't see a soul the entire time, the puppies ran an played, it is why we live here and love it.


2009 in Review

2009 brought some serious out of the box thinking as far as home design was concerned, not that other years haven't seen big leaps in ingenuity and non-traditional design, but this year's designs were inspired by two main pressures we all face - Economy and Environment.

This year saw smaller, module homes come to the fore front to remind us that $250-$350 a square ft doesn't have to be the norm and we can live in custom, detailed finished homes with stunning architecture for an affordable price. Our homes can still be not only our best investment but a place to be proud of, to enjoy LIVING in ourselves and stand out from the cookie cutters of the 80's and 90's.

And there has been an enormous push to green it up, not only in the building of our homes utilizing refurbished, recycled and sustainable building resources but as important building homes that are efficient and utilitarian to run day to day. No more extra rooms we don't use more than twice a year, no more energy sucking appliances, windows and lack of insulation. High quality homes today have little to no indoor toxins (still working on getting rid of this addiction to granite countertops) and pride themselves on high comfort, ease of use and maintenance and low cost to run....isn't this logical?

Check out Jetson Green's top 62 Innovative Green Homes of 2009 - and there are 4 Container Homes on this list, I hope our hits this list in 2011!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Comments Feature

I am hoping the comments feature of the blog is fixed now. So I am expecting a plethora of comments raving about my every written word.
If you are still having problems commenting, please let me know.


I think that Remodelista must be my favorite website ever. There isn't anything they post about that I don't like. But they hit the jackpot when they posted about Erin Martin's Water House in Napa, I am utterly in love with this place, its stunning. I love everything about it, it rocks my world. Check it out at Erin Martin's website or on Remodelista.

 I adore the dining room and the seeming absence of the wall and that dining room table is fantastic.
The kitchen is as near perfect as I have ever seen. Of all the hundreds of photos I have collected from magazines and on the net, this takes the prize as being as close to what I would love in a kitchen. Of course nix the chairs and concrete countertops;-)

The exterior is stunning, the awning and clean outside facade and how you can open up the house from front to back, leaves me breathless.

Thank you Remodalista...pure inspiration!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Container Cabana

I am starting to think I should just give up on blogging and give you all a link straight to Jetson Green, they write about everything we are doing, want to do and hope to do container!

Here is another container project, though I wonder where on earth they bought a container through that cost them $2,900, they are a lot cheaper through the ports.The link to the piece is here with more pics.

They did a nice job, I really like that it is insulated and the interior wall covering. This reminds me of one in Oakland that used a refrigerated container as their business office, it came out really well. I will try to find a picture of that one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Even the Men of God live in Recycled Container Homes

Place - East L.A.
Use - Four Square Church Parsonage
Construction - 7 Shipping Containers and some stick built portions

To see more check out the blog entry from Jetson Green
Even men of the cloth see the potential in this building type and did a great job to utilize both types of construction to create a residential and educational space.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

One Step Further

Earth Shelter homes are for sure all the rage, small footprint, low profile, incredibly energy efficient and often a good option for building where local regs might not let you build a traditional home, like this one at Big Sur. But check out this place in Switzerland - fantastic. Click here for more pictures of this stunning place.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Kyle's Kitchen Drying Rack

Currently we have a very old dishwasher that we do no use. One, because its not Energy Efficient. Two, it is horrible at washing the dishes, they don't come out very clean. Three, we are somewhat opposed to dishwashers, just can't fathom how they can possibly save water. I say this because there are two of us. We don't eat a lot so when we do, we just about have to completely wash our dirty plates before they go into the dishwasher as it takes a good week to create a full load, which means that the dirty plates would be sitting there a week before being washed and that long with food caked on, no dishwasher would get them clean.

I haven't used a dishwasher yet that has gotten a full load really clean. Inevitably something has to be hand cleaned or rerun through the machine again. And this is with diligent pre-rinsing. What is the point.

Okay, rant over - so we use our dishwasher now as a great drying rack, its fantastic and works perfectly. So in the new house instead of a dishwasher Kyle had the idea of a drying cupboard. Lots of drainage, water catchment and maybe a fan. So when I saw this picture on AT this morning, I was excited, a sort of smaller take of what we had in brilliant and makes us glad we aren't the only people seeking these out of the box options to living.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Power Buy Back

I just heard that our power company in CA, PG&E, will now buy back your power from your solar installation on your home. Whatever excess you do not utilize over the coarse of a year, they will purchase back from you. Massachusetts is also beginning this practice. 42 states and DC currently offer net metering in which they give you credits for the excess power you supply them that you can then use to offset the power you use at night or on stormy days. Now more states are working toward actual payment additional power you give to the grid over and above what you use. That could potentially make solar panels a money maker if you had an energy efficient home and conserved where you could.

And shocking fact, the Garden State, NJ, is second in largest residential solar installation to CA and is very solar friendly. 17 states offer solar incentives and between state and federal refunds you could potentially finance over 1/2 the cost of a solar installation....something to think about!

The Box Office goes up in Prvidence

Do you think our home will be built this fast, how fantastic would that be.....

Courtesy of Jetson Green

Its a fantastic look when it will be done, what a great, fun place to work, might actually make me want to go to work.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Natural Awning

In our efforts to create our passive solar house we are taking a few key ideas from our current place. It faces East and has a large front porch and back deck with a big overhang. Both the porch and deck are fantastic and keep the house very cool and shaded in the summer, but it does in the winter too, which isn't a good thing. And when I say cool, its probably 15 degrees cooler in the house than outside....Brrr cold in the winter. Its also hard to have house plants in the winter because there is little sun that penetrates the house.

So with the new house, how do we shade the sun in the summer and achieve this fantastic natural cooling effect but also allow the sun in, in the winter and reap the warm, sunny benefits in the winter...its a challenge and we have been looking  at all kinds of awnings and retractable sun shades. We did see a fantastic awning that is made of a series of flaps that open for sun and close for shade, it was a fantastic design and we loved it. But I do like this natural, willow branch awning. It could easily be removed in the summer. I wonder how long it would last and how hard it would be to make, I am imagining a fantastic use for manzanita!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Alternative Giving

Once in a while I am stumped for a gift or I know who I am gifting to has it all - or at least doesn't need anymore "stuff". Years ago I worked at a generous company that gave all its employees $500 at holiday time to give to a charity of our choice in the company's name (the company I currently work for DOES NOT do this or anything close).

During this time I found Heifer International which is an amazing, and reputable, non profit where you can buy livestock for a village or community in a Third World to provide them with a sustainable food source or income. Its hugely successful and very "give a man fishing pole vs. give a man a fish" type of giving.

There are many other entities out there that do this type of giving, you can give in other people's name for them and I have adopted animals through Defenders of Wildlife, particularly for the little ones, and you can even get a stuffed animal of the animal you give for the little one.

Or if you want to help offset a loved one's carbon footprint (particularly if you know its rather large, yes there will be some of my friends reading this that will received this for the holidays as HUGE HINT!) you can buy offset packages at TerraPass. Or check out Carbon Fund, same premise and I have used both .

So these holidays,think twice about hitting Target or Toys R' Us for those

disposable gifts that will be forgotten in a week or sold at the next yard sale and think about an alternative gift that will benefit our environment or others that don't have as much as we do. If this recession has taught us anything, its that we can live with a lot less and we need to appreciate what we do have. As our economy recovers, let's kick the wave to start spending like crazy again....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Birthday Card

My mom just sent me the best birthday card ever, seems like just yesterday Mr Ziggy would have said this with this exact look on his face...I love it!!

Its going to be a hectic next few weeks as my mom and I are driving her two dogs, Grady and Puzzle back here to CA from VA. They will all be out here for about a month, so we will have 5 dogs here. Its pretty much why we bought land in the country so we could all hang out together, doggies and all. It will be great fun to see Ziggy, Grady and Denali all ripping around playing and the two oldies, puzzle and Wolf hanging on the porch watching the youngsters.

So stay tuned as the mayhem ensues.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The San Juan Home

We have to finish our vacation with an enormous thank you to the wonderful people who brought us here, showed us this part of the world and made this possible - Rick, Marcia and Kathy Brandt. They are such wonderful people, so kind and generous to open their beautiful home to us. Never having been out here, we have seen another corner of our country that has taken our breath away. The San Juan Islands are truly spectacular and unlike anything else anywhere in the country. They really have a piece of heaven up here and we are so appreciative of their hospitality letting us experience it. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to the Brandt Family, you are the best.

Last Days in San Juan

Vacation is winding down, we went to Orcas Island and up Mt. Constitution yesterday which was fabulous but socked in with clouds. Today was some utterly jaw dropping views of the Olympics - what a amazing array flanking the south side of San Juan, and then to look the other directions to see Victoria, B.C.

We had a hail storm last night that was quite impressive, we got soaked to the skin running back from grabbing clam chowder (42nd bowl since we got here) to the ferry and then nearly missed the ferry as we were in the wrong lane with no ticket. We are still learning the ropes.

Today we climbed Mt. Young, Kyle had to summit something while here so the 650ft peak had to do. It was gorgeous at the top with a pillow topping of moss so thick and lush you could have kipped out right there and been comfier than at home. The views were awesome too and Ziggy had a blast running around and climbing tress ( I climbed one too).

As well as visiting an Alpaca Farm here on the island, we also went to a Lavender Farm here, which is a feat as Lavender like dry and alkaline soil, not the glacial acidic soil and constant wet conditions here on the island. But they are stunning and beautiful addition to this peaceful island. Got us thinking about our farm at home.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

San Juan Islands

It was a gorgeous day on the island today, all blustery and cold, fabulous to walk all over this end of the island, which is what we did. We came across an amazing sculpture garden that was a natural setting to tons of brilliant art pieces that covered all different mediums and styles. I loved this one of a tree falling out of its surrounding. Both Kyle and I liked the wind chimes, of which there were many.

This one was a fantastic installation, we really thought it was ingenious.

Ziggy wasn't happy with the fox, way to realistic and

gave it a couple of growls but it didn't take long for him to make friends. This fox meant no harm.

Traveling to San Juan Island

We hit the ferry to San Juan Island and had a blast traveling over there and seeing all the islands there are and then finally to see Vancouver Island, so amazing. We stayed in Anacortes on Monday at Kyle's good friend Gary Santiago and his wife Bernie and family. Gary and Bernie own Skagit Cycle in Anacortes so if you are ever in the area and want to rent bikes or pick up some biking gear, check them out. This was a shot of all of us at the top of Anacortes. They have a stunning view of the water and islands from their house and if you go around the corner, WHAM - there are the Olympic Mountains, all snow covered 
 and so majestic. Its truly a stunning place. These islands and gorgeous landscape and windy conditions, you think you are in the thick of Scotland. In Anacortes the winds were about 60 mph, but it was fantastic. We are excited to see more...

Monday, November 16, 2009

WEED - can't get enough

Hey all - we are off on our vacation. We left the house yesterday leaving the big dogs behind. It was hard but I know they will be happier at their house.
So Ziggy, Kyle and I made it to Weed last night and overnighted here after a great dinner at the Black Bear Diner, love it!! We awoke this morning to a STUNNING shot of Shasta and the sun rising in all pinks and blues. Its such a stunning mountain.
Will post more when we reach Anarcotes tonight, after hitting the REI flagship store - YEH! I love vacation.
Oh, and we had TV last night in the hotel room which was great, but what did we watch all night till I fell asleep - The Weather Channel......

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ruff Ruff Bakery

Apparently people are shocked at the fact that I bake for the dogs. I guess it is shocking that I do anything in the kitchen that produces something edible but also that I go to those extent for the pups. It actually makes perfect sense, the dogs enjoy my baking and are the only ones who are appreciative and actually eat what I bake, so that is very satisfying.
The other thing is, is that I am cheap. We have 3 dogs and we go through a lot of COOKIES each day, yes, they know that word. If I were to buy all these cookies, I would be broke, so I make dozens and dozens at a time. Its amazing what you can bribe them to do with a COOKIE.
Therefore the Ruff Ruff Bakery was started, for healthy and slimming treats (use low fat ingredients) with no preservatives, which also means you have to refrigerate them and eat them soon or freeze them.
This is the two young boys, impatient for the cookies to bake - they know when I am in the kitchen, that it is for them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lovin' Craigslist

Some of you already know what a cold and rough winter we had last year in the temporary housing here are Cottonwood. The temporary housing is a 1972 (pre-HUD certified) mobile home that not only seen better days, has not been loved and cared for like a mobile should....huh??

Anyway, it was so cold last year, huge gaps around the doors, a gale blowing through the windows (single pane, gun shot riddled, plexi-glass) (and note to why I no longer clean these windows because wherever there is a gunshot hole, when I clean it cracks bigger, so I just don't clean), and a big porch front and back to little sun ever gets into the house and warms it. It was VERY cool all summer but we pay for this in the winter. So knowing that we have at least 2 more winters in this thing, we took charge this winter.

First thing was to improve the weatherstripping around the doors, then we plastic wrapped all the windows, can feel that improvement already and its not that cold. And then we replace that nasty behemoth of a stove the house came with turned out to be completely useless with a Craigslist find. We responded to a local Craigslist ad last spring for a wood burning stove, knowing that any other make, brand, model stove would be an improvement over this thing. We turned up and the lady had a few stoves for sale and cut us a deal. I know what you are all saying, why on earth do you need multiple stoves...well we thought we would need one for the "cottage" when that is finished and maybe one in the shop. So we bought two stoves, one cool contemporary looking one, a Vermont Casting stove and she threw in a broken pellet stove for free. Remember I live with horder extraordinaire so his ears perked when he heard free and broken and was thrilled when he found there was still room on the truck...Oh Yipppeeee......

So true to his word he replaced the motor and fiddled with a couple other things with the stove and a the other week we installed it. There was a small learning curve on this BUT its fabulous. Its clean, low maintenance, runs for a good long time and gets our place really toasty. So with our new weatherization tricks and the stove so far we are running around in the nuddy having a grand ole' time.

Apparently Ziggy and Denali feeling the heat as they get all lovey dovey with each.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Little Introduction

As I find more and more blogs that I love to follow my blog list grows. Its great fun looking at all the different blogs, design, living, green, project specific, whatever it may be. The first thing I try to find out with a new blog is who is behind the brilliance that is their blog, their goals and dreams, and where in the country are they located. The location part seems key to me as it helps interpret what kind of climate and culture they are living in, which gives perspective to the blog content. Not that I want to stalk these people but a little background helps give the blog more personality and individuality.

So I thought I would do the same, although I think most of the people that follow this blog have either known me since I was 3yo (Merrie), seen me at my worst (Jen and Lesli), seen me naked (mom), or just already know more about us and our place and don't need to really know more. But oh well, in case there are any straggling wanderers who have accidentally stumbled upon this blog looking for weekend getaway or a gardening are a few little details about us.

So this is me - I am 35 (I can still say that for another few days). I plug away at a computer all day long for an environmental consulting company but really love to make things, my perfect day is to step back at the end of it and look at what I have produced...and it not look like an excel spreadsheet. I rode horses for about 25 yrs but haven't been on one in 3 yrs, weird. I now like to hike, rock climb and kayak. I live on my dream land (soon to be dream home) and hope that I am buried here. I still pinch myself that I own property in California, I just can't believe I get to live here and with Kyle.

Speaking of which, this is Kyle, the K man, K Diddy, or Batman, as he is referred to at the Firehouse which is where he works as a Firefighter Engineer/Paramedic. He is a search and rescue expert as part of the FEMA USAR Team in Oakland, specializing in swift water and confined space rescue. He is that guy you want to be stranded with on a desert island (and not just because he is a Veggie and won't eat you). He is also a Mountaineer having quite a few summits under his belt and is a caver (don't you dare call him a spelunker). He is also an avid bike rider and rock climber and house builder extraordinaire...or at least he better be.

So we are building a house out of shipping containers on our lovely land in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We are pretty green and its VERY important to us to live simply and have an efficient home that is built with as much recycled content as possible, what better than containers. They are also incredibly strong (earthquakes) and fire retardant (wildfires) all important characteristics when you live in the disaster state and one of you is a firefighter. We are really hoping that this idea takes off and we are seeing more and more of these homes around the country, heck around the world. Plans for the new house on the left.

We also share our lives with 3 pups. Denali, a very large 2yo mut, Wolf, a medium size 7yo mut and Ziggy, a 1.5 yo terrorist. They are fabulous and fun and though terribly behaved, are like our kids (yes, K - you are a Dad)......

So that is pretty much us in a nutshell. We have a project list that is never ending but we are in this for the long haul so I guess we won't run out of things to blog about. Happy trails.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Apartment Therapy Re-Nest | Restored Church Converted Into Home

So this is my second AT post today, yes, I have fallen to just reposting other site's posts. Shameful. But I had to share, how amazing is this church remodel in the U.K. what a beautiful balance of church and home.
I bet they don't swear when they stub their toe in THAT house.
Apartment Therapy Re-Nest | Restored Church Converted Into Home

Apartment Therapy Los Angeles | Corey's Converted BarnHouse Tour

Apartment Therapy Los Angeles | Corey's Converted BarnHouse Tour

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Call for info

One of the big things we want to incorporate into the house is dead standing timber. Just like this gorgeous kitchen from Remodelista Website..
I think that bringing in natural, irregular elements to the house would soften all the straight, geometric lines of the containers. Isn't this kitchen absolutely fabulous.
So we have some big trees on our property that could use weeding out in order to maintain the health of more wooded areas. Wanting to recycle and use everything, we want to dry, strip and preserve them for use in the house, but everything I read says use carbolic acid or creosote which is really NOT going to happen on this property.....someone else said, submerge the logs under water till all the oxygen is depleted from the log, but for a 10foot plus log, this is logistically difficult.
Anyone tried this or got any ideas, I thought if we just hung them vertically off the ground and let them dry and an organic preservative would do it, but I would hate to get them installed and then in a few years they start rotting in our house.......

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Solar, Solar, Solar

Probably the number thing that comes to mind when we now here GREEN or renewable is Solar. Its been around for so many years (solar panels from the 60's are still at it, probably just not as efficient as newer ones) and is nothing really new, though technology is improving creating more efficient panels that have a higher rating of energy conversion. We are also coming up with new ways to utilize power from the sun, either Photovoltaic or Thermal (thermal is being used for large scale solar application, think tons of reflective panels in the Mohave that heat water, create steam, run turbines, its the stuff we did in 5th grade, just bigger)

On a more local scale, at home, we sought property that would be ideal for renewable energy and even dreamed of living off the grid. The property we ended up with was already grid tied thus avoiding the costly task of dragging utility lines to the house and with the cost of batteries and the maintenance, it makes more sense to continue using the grid as our battery bank but with the goal of coming close to netting our energy usage.

We aren't in a great wind area, there aren't many places that are, therefore its harder to implement on a small, residential scale. You really need consistently higher wind speeds, and thus you probably don't really want to live there. But with our Southwesterly facing property, solar is ideal. So how are we planning to do this.

Something that has gained a lot of popularity, you might see them in the car park of Google or some apartment complexes are solar arrays that also serve as a car port of types. They are a brilliant idea for those large car parks where your car just bakes in the sun all day plus, moving forward into the future you can plug in your EV straight to the solar panels and drive for free. (this implementation is by Envision Solar)
So we wanted to do something similar. We have talked about putting in a shed type structure up near the shop for the tractor, farm truck and our little caravan, Gimley. So we thought we would take it one step further and create a solar car port, a perfect place to situate our solar array. Then I saw this application (courtesy of Jetson Green) and thought it was a cool implementation of the solar array, kinda like a suspension bridge.

Here is the one at Patagonia HQ in Ventura, CA. But for a residential application I really liked this one from EcoFriend.....