Short Days and Warm Showers

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I use solar to heat the water I use in my home for washing and bathing. It takes about 3 hours of good sun each day to keep up with all of my hot water needs. When we get a few clear days, the water storage gets hot enough that I can go a couple days with heavy overcast conditions.

This time of year, the sun is only effective for heating from about 09:00 AM until about 3:00PM. That’s not a big window, if the day is partly or mostly cloudy. Furthermore, we seem to get a couple of sunny days, followed by 3 or 4 cloudy days. I gave in and turned on my electric water heater for one day in late December. Otherwise, there are days when I have to take a warm shower, instead of a steamy hot one.

For me, this has sort of become a crusade; to try to get by on what the sun provides. It’s not much of a sacrifice. Most of the year, I have more hot water than I can use. However, these short days, combined with overcast conditions, really do test my resolve. Occasionally, in the summer, we get a week of rainy dark weather and I run out of hot water, but it hardly matters, because I take some of my showers outside in the summer, anyway. Hot showers just aren’t as important to me when it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C).

I just purchased another photovoltaic panel and a new charge controller so I can add about 300 watts of capacity to my solar electric system. It also suffers a bit when the days are short and overcast. I have batteries to get me through the dark times, but they need time to recharge at least twice a week. I hate to add more batteries, because they have a relatively short lifespan (see my other blog entries on battery woes). I don’t need more photovoltaic capacity in the summer, but I definitely need it in winter. I’ll figure out some way to use the excess power in the summer. I’ve been working up some ideas for a while. One of those ideas is to power the refrigerator off the solar during the day, and let it switch back to the grid at night. That would let me use more energy while the panels are generating it, and not put an additional load on my batteries.

I took the Polar Bear Plunge on January 1st. It’s the 2nd time I’ve done it in North Carolina. It was a good time. The water was 49 degrees Fahrenheit (10C) and the air was about the same. The sun was shining and it wasn’t windy, so it was really a nice day, considering it was January 1st.


Bad Waffles!

morning-fresh-wafflesWell, this is a deviation from my normal post. As a rule, I avoid processed foods, but I enjoy frozen waffles with my morning eggs, on some mornings. I’ve purchased frozen waffles from Food Lion, Lowes Foods, and Piggly Wiggly. I’ve had no bad experiences with the first two, but the Morning Fresh brand waffles from Piggly Wiggly were so bad, I couldn’t eat them. I tried to eat them, because I hate to waste food. The ones I ate tasted very old and were tough. I didn’t know waffles could be tough. One of them had so much ice on it (similar to one of those pictured, but not quite as bad) that it was soggy after it was heated. Imagine a soggy, old waffle; yes, it was disgusting.

This was the first time I’d purchased the Morning Fresh brand of waffles. I get most of my eggs from local chickens, but I did purchase Morning Fresh eggs, and I found those to be of poor quality, also. Unlike the waffles, they were edible. I’ve purchased other brands of frozen waffles on several occasions and I’ve never experienced anything like this.

I didn’t try to return these waffles, because my time is worth more than the $2.39. I may never shop at Piggly Wiggly again, as this is their store brand, and I’m seriously concerned about the quality of their products. I am sure they have quality produce, but I only get groceries once a week, and I prefer to get everything in one stop.

Bad Caps, Solar Cooking, and the Outdoor Wood Stove

goopWhat’s up with the caps on adhesives? This isn’t the first cap that I’ve broken like this, and I don’t think I’m over tightening them. This isn’t a cheap product. You’d think they could make a cap that would last through a few uses. It seems to be the smaller sized tubes that have this problem. I think I’m going to start saving caps, if they don’t break.

_DJT3504Now that I’ve got that behind me, let’s talk about something much more appetizing. I don’t often eat meat, but I bought some chicken legs so I could bake them in my SunOven, and I was not disappointed. I let them bake for 90 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The SunOven is powered 100% by ambient sunlight, so the cost of baking the chicken was zero. The SunOven is a good deal when you have clear, sunny days. I love my SunOven. I use it to bake bread, brownies, energy bars, etc. I use it as a dehydrator, simply by propping the lid open a bit to let the moisture escape.

I don’t know if you remember my outdoor wood stove project. I heated my house with it during the severe winter of 2013-2014, but the design was not optimal. I had a 6″ diameter round duct transferring the hot air from the stove to the house, and that simply wasn’t a big enough pipe. In a nutshell, the outdoor wood stove consists of an insulated box around a combustion chamber that heats the air in the box, which is circulated into the house by a blower. There is a cold air return duct and a hot air duct. The hot air box is sealed and insulated to minimize heat loss, and it is separated from the actual wood fire, so no smoke goes into the house.

_DJT3499I removed the old duct and built a 6″ by 14″ (inside dimensions) rectangular duct that is also insulated and encased in a plywood enclosure. In the photo on the left, you see the outer box around the duct. The wood stove enclosure is on the right and the house is on the left.

_DJT3497The photo on the right is a view, looking down the duct from inside the house. There is a door on the outer box that is open, or it would be dark inside, since the box is completely enclosed in cement board (fireproof).

The old 6″ pipe had approximately 19 square inches for airflow. The new duct has 84 square inches, which is more than 4 times as much capacity. That will not only allow a greater volume of warm air to move into the house, but will also prevent pressure from building up in the outside box. That should cut down on heat loss through air leaks.

I made some additional improvements to the wood stove and I’ve got a lot of wood split and stacked for winter. There are a few more things I’d like to improve on the stove, but they might have to wait until next year. I’m looking forward to sitting by the warm fire and reading a good book on cold winter nights.


I’m pretty sure my health is the most important thing I possess. I am reminded how important it is when it falters. I won’t say that nothing else matters, but I wouldn’t want to be rich if it meant I would have to sacrifice my good health.
Our priorities show in our actions. Because I value my health, and try not to take it for granted, I exercise, watch what I eat, and I care about my environment. Some people might call me a tree hugger. I won’t deny that I have hugged some trees, and I am an environmental activist. That is probably obvious. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be.
I’ve heard of people who are so removed from their natural environment that they are afraid of it. I can’t say that it doesn’t pose some hazards; I tangled with some poison ivy on my last outing. However, it also seems obvious to me that we are a product of our environment. An unhealthy environment means unhealthy people. If you’re breathing dirty air, or drinking polluted water, your body will pay the price. Maybe it won’t be immediately noticeable, but the effects can be cumulative.
Many people become environmentalists when industrial pollution moves into their neighborhood and starts making them sick. I would encourage everyone to be more preemptive. Don’t wait until your health begins to fail to take steps to protect it. Go outside, take a walk, breathe the fresh air, and don’t assume it will always be that way. Plant a tree, and watch it grow. That tree will provide oxygen for you and your loved ones, in addition to shade, protection, and carbon storage. You might even want to give it a hug.


What I’m going to write here probably isn’t universally applicable. If you follow the links to my sources, you’ll find that my experience only represents a narrow slice of the big picture, but none-the-less, this is my experience, and I feel I need to defend chiropractors since they have provided a much needed, affordable, and effective solution to a condition that was robbing me of much of the joy in my life.

My story starts with chronic lower back pain that dates back as far as I can remember. I have always suffered from varying amounts of pain, and, for the most part, I came to accept it as part of life. There were times when I aggravated my lower back condition to the point that I wound up in the emergency room, but the doctor would just look at my back and tell me that I had muscle spasms that were putting pressure on my spine and causing me pain. One doctor commented that he was surprised I could even walk. The doctors gave me muscle relaxants that didn’t help enough to convince me I should continue taking them. My back would eventually improve and I’d just tolerate the constant, low level pain.

About the only relief I found in those early years was a doctor of osteopathy named Dr. Lobb. Back then, I worked in the fields and did some heavy construction. The pain in my back would get pretty extreme, and it got really difficult to get to work. Old Dr. Lobb would manipulate my spine for $5 a visit, and I would be able to go back to work.

Fast forward about 20 years and I was losing range of motion in my neck. My condition was deteriorating and got so bad that I could not look over my left shoulder at all. Although I learned to tolerate the lower back pain, I couldn’t live without being able to turn my head, and the muscles around my neck were constantly sore. I suppose a physical therapist would have been a good choice, but the nearest one was 35 miles from where I lived, they couldn’t get me in for 30 days, and I wasn’t sure if I could afford physical therapy. Schilsky’s Chiropractic was about 15 miles away, they got me in right away, and an adjustment at the time was only $30, which included e-stim massage.

Dr. Schilsky insisted that I get X-rays before he would commence treatment, so I paid for X-rays of my lower back and neck. The X-rays revealed two things. The first was that I had a spondylolisthesis in my lower back, which had been there since before my spine had hardened into bone, which happens around 5 years of age. At this time, I was over 30 years old, and no medical doctor had bothered to discover this, much less offer any real treatment. The second discovery was that my neck had lost it’s natural curve; probably due to the bazillion hours I had spent staring at a computer display at work.

Looking at the X-rays and listening to Dr. Schilsky explain my condition, I was satisfied that what was being presented to me fit the symptoms that had landed me at the clinic. Furthermore, the recommended treatment plan was similar to what I had experienced with Dr. Lobb, about 15 years before this. If you do any serious research regarding chiropractic therapy, you’ll find that the picture is pretty grim, although the scientific reviews do conclude that spinal manipulation can help some people.

I can’t say that the science is biased against chiropractic therapy, but they do tend to focus on some ridiculous claims that date back to the 19th century. I don’t accept most of those claims. I wouldn’t go to the chiropractor if I had an infectious disease.

What I will say is this: After I completed a few weeks of therapy, I had the full range of motion back in my neck, and my lower back pain was much improved. A follow-up X-ray showed that I had regained the normal curve in my neck. I’ve been told that isn’t proof of the efficacy of the treatment; it doesn’t prove causality. Well, lets consider that I had been suffering for 20 years with lower back pain, and for the past 15 it has been almost non-existent. Did my lower back cure itself in those 3 weeks? Why didn’t it cure itself sooner?

Then there is my neck. It had been getting progressively worse for months. All of a sudden, it got better, and the X-rays offer objective evidence of the change. Some people who ridicule me would have you believe that my neck got better on it’s own, and I have been duped into thinking that the therapy played a part in my recovery. I will concede that my case isn’t proof of efficacy, but the results are enough evidence for me to say that chiropractic therapy helped me get my life back. Maybe the chiropractor did nothing more than what a physical therapist might have done, but I got 3 weeks of treatment for around $600. That bill would have been more like $2000 had a seen a physical therapist; if I could have gotten an appointment. Furthermore, the medical doctors had their chance to discover the problem in my lower back and they didn’t even bother to look.

It’s important to note, that I have made some lifestyle changes since I discovered that I suffer from a chronic lower back condition. Dr. Schilsky told me what I should do to strengthen my back, and things I should avoid to protect it. Those changes have played a significant role in reducing the pain level in the long term. I still get occasional adjustments, and they seem to help; especially my neck, since I still spend too much time at a computer.

My chiropractor (currently Dr. Smith) is my only doctor, since I can’t afford to see a medical doctor. I injured my back in a fall a few years back, and it was bad. I fell backwards and one side of my back hit the corner of a piece of furniture. I could tell, after a few days, that the pain was escalating, so I went to Dr. Smith for an X-ray. Sure enough, there was a visible deviation in my spine that hadn’t been there before. After about 5 adjustments, my back pain subsided and I felt like I was able to stand up straight, again. I had a full recovery, with no surgery or medication.

The reason I’m writing this is because I have been laughed at and ridiculed by “critical thinkers” for embracing “junk science”. I was called a sucker and a moron. If you’re one of those people, I only have one thing to say to you. I lived with a burning pain in my back for over 20 years. I had trouble sleeping at night. It hurt to have sex, and do pretty much anything. Today, I don’t have that pain. I may not be able to prove causation, but I have enough evidence to give credit where credit is due. You can laugh all you want, but you don’t know me, and you don’t know what I went through. You’re only proving that you’re a jackass. The science on some chiropractic therapies is inconclusive, others are supported by evidence. You aren’t much of a critical thinker if you don’t realize that just because something can’t be proven in a clinical study doesn’t mean it’s not true. Science still hasn’t figured out what we should and should not eat, for long term health. There are many things that are difficult to study. All I care about is a positive result. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

I can’t tell you that chiropractic care will work for you. I think there are some good chiropractors out there. I love Dr. Smith. He helps a lot of people, and he’s helped me. Your mileage may vary.

I leave you with this quote, but I suggest you read the source article to get the full picture …

Chiropractic is not a science, but that doesn’t mean that nothing they do is based on science. There is evidence that spinal manipulation therapy is effective for some kinds of low back pain. It is no more effective than other treatments for low back pain, but is a viable option for patients who prefer it. It is not exclusive to chiropractors, but is also used by physical therapists, physiatrists and doctors of osteopathy. In essence, the one “claim to fame” that chiropractors have is not really anything uniquely chiropractic but is a manual therapy shared with other disciplines.

Making up for Lost Time

The winter was rough, and spring seemed unwilling to commit itself for a long time. My garden barely happened, this year. I have some wonderful spinach, but that’s all I planted. I guess I’m going to learn to be a better forager, this year.

I’ve been kayaking a lot. The filamentous algae in my local creek is really bad, this spring. The extension agent told me it is most likely due to the excessive rainfall we’ve had, carrying in lots of nutrients from the surrounding area. The algae chokes out fish. It’s a good reason to be very careful about how much fertilizer you put on your lawn, and when you apply it. Personally, I don’t use any chemicals in my lawn. It’s more of a meadow, than a monoculture of manicured grass, but I like it that way, and the local wildlife definitely prefers it. The wildflowers provide food for pollinators, and the birds find lots to eat.

_DJ23294Here is a photo of my outdoor wood stove. I still owe you a detailed explanation of it’s design and operation, but I’d rather do that after it is completely finished. In a nutshell, the square duct in the foreground carries hot air into the house and the round duct in the background returns cold air from the house to the enclosure to be heated by the wood stove that is mostly embedded inside the enclosure. No smoke gets into the house, just heat from the stove. I still have a good deal of work to do to make the wood stove fully functional and more efficient. As I mentioned in a previous post, it got me through a hard winter, but I learned a lot from the experience, so there will be improvements before the next heating season.

Surviving a cold winter

Back in November, I built an outdoor wood stove (I’ll post details of the design and construction, soon), because I had lots of wood to burn and my heat pump wasn’t working. Winter came early and it was harsh, as I’m sure most of you know. I burned through all of my firewood pretty quickly, so I spent a good deal of time searching for dead trees to cut up and split. I managed to get through most of January heating my house 100% with wood. Finally, we got some nice weather, so I went out and found the defective part in my heat pump and ordered a replacement. I’m still supplementing my heat with what little wood I have left, but the heat pump works well in this milder weather. I’ll be better prepared for next winter.

My electric bill for November-December was $30, December-January was $40, and January-February was $70 (because I relied on electric heat for part of the month). If I have a nice, dry stockpile of hardwood for next winter, I should be able to keep the electric bill around $40 a month for the entire winter.

Regarding the outdoor wood stove, I have photos of it’s construction, and I am planning some improvements to make it more efficient and easier to control. I’ll cover all of that in a future post.