Ouch, electricity!

Old GFCI outlet removed from my wall with instructions for installing the replacement outlet.

Old GFCI outlet removed from my wall with instructions for installing the replacement outlet.

The last couple weeks we have been on a GFCI adventure.  For those (like me) who aren’t super handy with electricity, GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.  That’s a special outlet that turns off when it detects minute differences between the current flowing into and out of an appliance or outlet.  You know, those funny outlets in the kitchen or bath that have the little buttons and maybe a little light on them.

The frustrating GFCI outlet above the vanity.

The frustrating GFCI outlet above the vanity.

Last week we suddenly lost power to the six or so outlets to the rear of our RV.  When we tried to reset the GFCI outlet in the bathroom (the culprit in previous power losses of this sort) we had no luck.  This outlet has been a real pain to deal with as it is mounted in the bottom of a cabinet above our toilet and vanity.  My husband and I both have middle aged eyes and wear bifocals to see stuff closer than arms length away.  The bizarre posture one must assume to actually see this outlet naturally places everything we need to see in the wrong part of the bifocals rendering it all kind of an amorphous blur.  Of course everything we need to see is tiny and not visibly labeled.

After telephone consultation between my husband and his father (who is much handier than us), it was decided that replacement of the outlet was required.  So the next step was to remove the outlet so we could take it with us to Home Depot (to make sure we bought the correct replacement).  As things go, it was a hot day and we were already very fatigued from trips to a feed store and to (wouldn’t you know) Home Depot for gardening supplies. We had been looking forward to resting in cool air conditioned comfort, not sweating with the power off removing an idiotically placed electrical outlet.  After much sweating, cursing, and frustration we got the outlet disconnected.  Off we went to Home Depot (again!) to peruse the selection of outlets.

These GFCI outlets come in variousIMG_0055 types depending on whether you need them to handle 15 amps or 20 amps and whether they will be installed inside or outside.  The one we got cost about $15 and came with excellent installation instructions in 3 languages.  Fortunately one of these was english.  The most important instruction was, “Turn the power OFF.”  I like that they included that.

So, after more cursing, sweating, and struggling, we got this new outlet installed.  We plugged our rig back into shore power.  The cute little green light was on.  Nothing worked.  We tested the outlet according to the instructions and found that we must have the wires connected incorrectly.  You see, this outlet is connected in series with all the other outlets in the rear part of the RV.  If it’s not on, none of the other outlets get any power.

At this point we were too exhausted and frustrated to go any further.  I was certain I had connected the wires the same way they were connected to the old outlet, but the instruction booklet was telling me that I must have connected the “load” wires to the “lead” connection and vice versa.  Load is the set of wires coming from the power source, while lead is the set of wires which connect to the downstream outlets.  I just wanted to cry.  We opted to leave it alone and turn the AC back on.

Klein Tools non-contact voltage tester.

Klein Tools non-contact voltage tester.

So, today we finally felt sort of ready to try again.  I had purchased a voltage tester so I could actually check the wires and know for sure which was the load wire.  I found out when I researched and shopped for the appropriate tester that there are “contact” and “non-contact” varieties.  I’m all for something that tests without actually touching the live wires so I got a non-contact tester.  I found this to be a handy tool and well worth the $20 I spent on it.

So, we turned off the power and pulled the outlet out of the wall.  This time we left the ground wire attached.  When trying to tighten the contact screw with the ground wire wrapped around it last time around, I learned the hard way that you should wrap the wire clockwise around the screw.  Wrapping it counter-clockwise only leads to much frustration as the wire scoots out from under the contact screw during tightening!  So after much testing of wires and turning the electricity off and on, I thought to check the labeling on the back of the new GFCI outlet.  It turns out that the old one and the new one, while appearing almost identical, had the load and lead connections on opposite ends of the outlet.  I had carefully connected the load wires to the lead connections.  Once I switched the wires around, everything worked perfectly.  So, lesson learned: always read the labels on the contacts even if they look just like those on the old outlet.

So now the outlets all work.  We are quite relieved the problem was this “easily” solved.  I guess it’s all relative.  I wonder what will be next?  Oh yeah.  The hot water heater just quit working.  Argh!

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Spring gardening.

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I’m working on starting an actual garden in the ground.  It took me a good while to come to this decision as it is a commitment to staying where we are for the foreseeable future, but I like where we are and would like to stay awhile.  I talked to my landlord today to check out where the pipes are and stuff and got started.  In the picture above, my husband is helping out.  That’s really something because he’s not one to do much yard work.

So I haven’t decided how big to make this garden plot.  I have quite a stash of seed and picked up more yesterday, so I could probably plant quite a huge plot if I wanted to dig it up and thought I could keep up with the weeding.  I know from past experience that it’s way easier to start a garden than to maintain it.  Also, as I enlarge the plot it requires more amendments (in my case composted manure) and I can’t afford a whole lot of that.  So better to stay smaller and get a bigger yield.  So far I’m getting close to 10 x 15 foot.  I used to have a 20 x 20 foot plot at a community garden.  That was a nice size so I may try to match that.  That’s 400 square feet.  You can do quite a bit with that.

I looked at a list of deer resistant crops.  Most of the nightshades such as tomatoes and eggplant were on it which delighted me.  I don’t know if the same goes for rabbits.  I hope so.  Anyway, here’s the seed I have:

  • lettuce
  • several kinds of tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • Jack Be Little pumpkins
  • yellow straight neck squash
  • zucchini
  • Kentucky Wonder green beans
  • wax beans
  • purple hyacinth beans (ornamental but produce edible pods and beans)
  • fennel
  • basil (sweet and lemon)
  • cilantro
  • pickling cucumbers
  • nasturtiums
  • kale
  • napa cabbage
  • marigolds
  • morning glories
  • New Zealand spinach

Cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, squash and herbs are probably my top priority.  The marigolds can go around the edges.  There is a dead oak tree that I think I will set the morning glories to climbing.  I’m not sure about the rest.  We’ll see.

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Snow!

Peter Penguin enjoying the weather.

Peter Penguin enjoying the weather.

We had a rare snowfall last night.  I awoke to a frosted world this morning.  The snow was tiny balls which a friend tells me is called “corn snow,” although upon further research I found the proper term is graupel.  Corn snow is snow that has gone through thaw-freeze cycles on the ground whereas graupel is when supercooled water droplets collect around snowflakes and freeze.

101_1812We moved the rig this week.  Just from one spot to another on the property where we park.  Now we are on a bit more of a slope, but our view of the trees won’t be obstructed when someone else moves into the third space.  For the last two months we’ve only had one other RV parked here.

Moving felt like a lot of work for only driving a few feet.  Backing into the new space was challenging.  The angle was a little hard and there weren’t good visual cues to tell me where I was.  Also the pad was raised about a foot and backing up the slope strained the transmission a bit.  We did finally get parked, safe and sound.  Before I move again, I plan to mark the space with landscape paint so I can see where I’m going when I’m backing in.

I’m starting to put down some roots here.  I’m finding myself wanting more permanence, wanting a bigger garden, wanting to get some chickens and build them a house.  There’s no reason we can’t do these things.  I like our neighbor and it’s starting to look like he’s interested in making our place more than a few RV spots on a piece of land, more of a little community.  We’re hoping when someone else moves in they’ll be of like mind.

So, thinking of getting some chickens.  I used to get fresh eggs from my sister, but she’s down to only two or three chickens and doesn’t have any to spare these days.  My neighbor says he’ll help build a coop.  Once we do that I’d like to get some New Hampshires or Ameraucaunas.

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Junebug and Cash begging for donkey candy.

This morning the donkeys next door called me over to the fence.  Every now an then I slip them a treat, like a carrot, some fresh grass, or something I call donkey candy.  I make a mixture of peanut butter, birdseed, and dried cranberries to put in the woodpecker feeder.  Of course the woodpecker prefers straight seed (so I’ve observed) but there are others who approve of my concoction.  The crows absolutely love the stuff and will strip the entire feeder clean in minutes.  There is also a ruby-crowned kinglet who likes the peanut butter.  One day when I was filling the feeder, I made a couple of little balls of the peanut butter mixture and rolled them in birdseed.  I gave these to the donkeys and now they come to the fence whenever I fill the bird feeders.  They demand donkey candy quite vociferously, at least that’s what I imagine they are saying when they hee haw at me.  I wonder what they think of the snow?

Posted in Moving, RV's, snow, weather | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

More homemade stuff.

I got a burst of creative energy the other day and tried some more recipes.  I have been searching for mouse repellants.  Most are stinky garlic and Tobasco mixtures that you would spray outdoors at possible entry points.  I was looking for something nicer to put in cabinets.  I found a recipe on DiscountQueens.com that looked easy and inexpensive using baking soda and peppermint essential oil.  The recipe did not include and amounts for the ingredients, so I just experimented.  Here’s what I came up with:

1/3 cup water

3/4 cup baking soda

20 drops peppermint essential oil

100_0001First mix the baking soda and water.  The consistency should be fairly soft.

101_1804Then pour into a silicon mold.  I had a few to choose from and Mr. Bebe was there to supervise.

101_1805I went with the hearts and this recipe made just enough to fill all the molds.

101_1807After 24 hours I took them out of the molds.  Be careful, they are kind of brittle.  The peppermint scent is strong, but pleasant.  I don’t know if these will keep mice out of the cabinets, but they certainly smell better than mouse pee!

Evicting the mice from the cabinets has been quite a chore.  I’ve been gradually transferring all edible things into plastic containers to cut off the food supply.  We’ve also realized we can no longer keep our trash bag under the sink.  It is just too big a mouse magnet.  I’ll be searching amazon for a compact trash can to keep under our little table or somewhere.  I trapped 3 mice in the space under our stove amongst the duct work.  This was in the live catch trap and I let them go outdoors.  I hope they don’t just run back as fast as their tiny legs will carry them.  While cleaning the accumulation of plastic bags and such from the undersink area, I found an ingenious mouse nest.  I had left a stainless steel vacuum bottle with the lid off in there.  Some little mouse had it stuffed full of comfy looking shredded paper.  When I dropped the bottle on the ground outside, the startled mouse took off like a shot!  That’s one way to get them out.  My husband also found one perusing our trash bag and just through that whole bunch out the door.  So that’s 5 out in the last few days.  Now I’m stowing the peppermint hearts here and there.  We’ll just have to see what happens.

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Homemade Stuff

Over the last couple years, what with dwindling finances and such, I’ve been looking for ways to make things myself cheaper than buying them already made up.  Last year I really got busy looking for recipes for things ranging from dog ear cleaner to skin moisturizer to scouring powder.  I found some great sites that have lots of recipes like Crunchy Betty and Wellness Mama.  These two came up over and over when I put things like “homemade skin cream” or homemade deodorant” in google.

I’d say the biggest money saver has been homemade scouring powder, followed by dog ear wash.  I don’t think I found a specific site for the ear wash.  I found the same info repeated many places such as homesteading forums and brief articles from breeders, groomers, and vets.  This article is fairly representative.  The great thing about these recipes is the ingredients are dirt cheap.  The scouring powder is made of baking soda, salt, and borax.  The downside of using this instead of Comet is you have to scrub harder, but you are not left with a chemically smell either.  For my dog’s itchy ears I went with equal parts witch hazel and vinegar.  Just plain, white vinegar not the more expensive apple cider vinegar.  I don’t think her ears will know the difference.  I’m just trying to lower the pH in there.  The first thing I tried was half alcohol and half vinegar but she must have had a scratch in there as she yelped and went crazy.  I decided to stay away from the alcohol in the ears from now on.

Just recently I made some homemade neem oil shampoo for my pup.  She’s been itchy and I don’t think it’s fleas as I treated her recently.  I got the recipe from Soap Deli News Blog.  I did skip the Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap called for in the recipe.  I don’t know when that stuff got so pricey.  Fourteen or fifteen dollars is a bit much for a 32 ounce bottle of liquid soap.  I used unscented bar castile soap melted into water using this recipe.  So my recipe was this:

1 ounce melt and pour unscented castile soap (bought by the pound from a soap making supply place) chopped into small bits100_0002

2 tablespoons neem oil

1 1/2 tablespoons shea butter

10 drops eucalyptus essential oil

10 drops rosemary essential oil

8 ounces boiling water

I mixed together the first 4 ingredients then added the boiling water.  I mixed thoroughly then left it a while to finish melting.  When it was fairly homogeneous I poured it in a small dish detergent bottle.  This made enough for maybe two baths for my rather large dog.  I may tinker to give the recipe a more “soapy” feel.  The neem oil reeks, so I can see why it is reputed to scare away fleas.  The essential oils helped some.  I may use more next time to see what that does.  So far I can’t say whether it has been helpful for itching, but it was an interesting experiment.

One of my other projects is trying to make a less expensive replacement for Icy Hot which I use quite often.  I tried mixing wintergreen essential oil and shea butter last year, 100_0003but to get the 30% methyl salicylate into it meant the shea butter was totally liquified and stayed that way.  I kind of left it in a little bowl and waited until I could get around to buying some beeswax to thicken it up.  I finally got some and finished it up.  What I came up with is harder than Icy Hot, more like the consistency of Tiger Balm, but melts more on your skin.  I don’t know the exact amounts of what I put together since it has been several months since I made the original brew.  What I had left was a little less than 4 ounces wintergreen and shea butter mixture (at about a 1:2 part ratio).  I added around 2 teaspoons beeswax pastilles, 5 drops peppermint essential oil, and 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil.  I have seen recipes which call for menthol crystals and that would probably make it more icy and burny, but at $30 a pound it will be a while before I get to buying some.  My stuff smells nice and feels smooth on the skin and feels slightly cooling.  I will still get the benefit of the methyl salicylate (similar to aspirin) even if it doesn’t really act as much of a counterirritant (the burning on your skin distracts from the deeper pain).

I’ve also been knitting.  I am working100_0004 on my first ever sweater.  I’ve been a crocheter for over 20 years and a knitter for 7 years, but have never been able to work up the nerve to knit a sweater.  I just hate the idea of doing all that work and then finding I don’t like what I made or that it doesn’t fit right.  Plus the cost of the yarn is not insignificant.  A home knitted wool sweater costs far more than its made in China store equivalent.  This project has been coming along slowly since the end of August.  The knitting itself isn’t so slow, it’s more that I haven’t been too in the mood for a while.  Mostly I work on this project at the laundromat while waiting for the wash.  The pattern is Iced, by Carol Feller.

Soon I want to make some more skin creams.  It is that dry time of year.  Last year I made a cream with shea butter, coconut oil, and essential oils.  I liked what it did for my skin, but it needs to be thicker in my climate.  The cream spent most of the summer as a liquid and I just don’t have enough room in the fridge to keep beauty products in there.  I’ll be adding beeswax this time and trying out some different essential oil combos.  The one from last year is lemongrass and sandalwood which has a pleasant lemony scent.  I like peppermint foot creams so I’ll probably be making some of that.  I want to perfect my recipes so I can give them as Christmas gifts.  A mystery shipment of 4 ounce Ball jars that arrived at my sister’s house a couple months ago will provide the perfect size containers.  (Amazon did not know why they sent them to her address and told her to just keep them.  Gotta love when things like that happen!)

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Cold!

Our outside water dish is frozen solid!

Our outside water dish is frozen solid!

Just like most other places in the US, we are pretty cold here.  At one o’ clock in the afternoon it is still below freezing today!  I know that doesn’t even compare to the below zero temperatures in the midwest, but it’s cold for us.

There are a few things we have to do to prepare for these cold snaps, living in our RV.  We usually turn off the outside water and disconnect the supply hose from our rig and use the water in the onboard tank.  Our tank and plumbing are all enclosed in the “basement” which generally protects it from freezing in this climate.  I wrapped up my pea plants in a tarp.  Everything else is fending for itself except my lemon tree which I’ve brought inside.  It was blooming, but I lost most of the buds when I forgot to bring it in another frosty night.

Indoors we are using two small ceramic heaters we got from Amazon.  This morning it was still pretty cool in here, but now it’s pretty comfortable.  We have dressed in layers and spent a lot of time under the comforters.  If it was much colder, we would need to fire up the propane furnace instead.

The mice have become quite a problem since I wrote about them before.  They are running rampant in several of our cabinets and have even gotten into the storage space under the bed where we store our linens.  Our neighbor told us an exterminator recommended sonic repellers to his sister.  She has had good results and they were quite inexpensive.  After perusing Amazon and reading reviews, we’ve decided to give them a try.  We can get 3 for less than $20 including shipping and they claim to cover “approximately 1059 square feet.”  Hopefully two or three will cover our approximately 240 square feet.  I’ll probably give one of them to our neighbor to thank him for the tip.  They are supposed to be pet friendly and work against mice and several types of insects.  I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I will remain comfortably ensconced under my two down comforters, wearing a big flannel shirt and my knitted alpaca scarf.

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Christmas on the homestead.

We are getting ready for the holiday here on the homestead.  Last week I made a batch bread and butter pickles for gifts.  Our gifts have gotten a lot simpler in the last few years.  So far these have been very well received.  Who needs more?

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Things have been heating up here in the Bastrop area.  Tempers have been short at the HEB grocery store.  Yesterday a checker told my husband two men got in a fist fight over the last box of cake mix.  Yes, two supposedly grown men duking it out on the baking aisle.  Police were called and these cowboys were hauled off, presumably to jail.  Can you imagine the phone call to the wife?  Honey, I need you to bail me out…Well, I didn’t get the cake mix…No, I didn’t get eggs, sugar, milk, or cat food either…What do you mean you’re not coming?

Today was less exciting.  We did go for a nice walk in the neighborhood.  Allie enjoyed running through all the tall weeds she could find.  We saw a couple of our neighbors.  The guy next door is home from the hospital.  Oh, and we met a guy walking down the road who asked if we’d seen a black bag.  It evidently contained deer heads.  Two of them.  He left ‘em outside last night and now they’re gone.  I’m thinking some very happy coyotes ran off with them.

Yeah, life is never dull!  Here’s wishing all my friends a very merry Christmas!

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