Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

A Little Spring Humor

Friday, March 28, 2014

Presented with a little giggle, but no comment:

Time to Call the Professionals

Thursday, March 27, 2014

As you all know, I'm on a quest to squeeze out every penny of energy savings that I possibly can.  J.'s brother and wife had a professional energy audit done last year and, after implementing the recommendations, they significantly warmed up their finished basement and lowered their heating and cooling bills. At the time, I poo-pooed it, thinking that there was no way an energy audit of our holier-than-swiss-cheese old house.  (In my subconscious, I may actually have been afraid that they would recommend we bulldoze and start over!)

After doing some research, however, I discovered an Energy Star program offered by our local utilities (KCPL and MGE) where they will reimburse you up to $1200 for energy improvements.  That includes $400 for an audit by a certified energy auditor (which is the going rate) and then up to $800 if you implement just one of the auditor's recommendations.  The amount you can receive back depends on the improvements you made.  For example:

  • Additional attic insulation up to R-49 is eligible for 2 cents x the R-value x sq footage
  • Additional wall insulation up to R-19 is eligible for 3 cents x R-value x sq footage
  • Air sealing is eligible for $10 for each % you lower air leakage up to 40%
  • New windows\doors are eligible for $100 each

We just had our energy audit done and it was extremely informative.  They perform a "blower test" where they open one outside door to your house and then seal it off with a big airtight tarp-looking-thing that has a huge fan at the bottom.  The fan sucks all the air out of your house, and this helps indicate where air is leaking IN.  The auditor asked me to come up to our attic and, as I hit the bottom of the stairs, I could feel the cold air rushing past me.  We obviously have an insulation problem up there.  According to him, basements are the "leakiest", followed by attics.  They measure the blower door test in percentages and he explained that his brand new home measures at 40%, meaning that when his furnace or AC is on, he's heating or cooling 40% of that air every hour. Here's ours:

Um, yeah.....

He left me with 5 things that we need to look at and told me the good news is that they're all easy and they're all covered under the rebate.

  1. Insulate the crawl space and walls in our addition (already planned!)
  2. Insulate the rim joist in the basement
  3. Increase the attic insulation to R-49 with blown-in insulation
  4. Weatherstrip the doors in the attic and caulk\weatherstrip windows and doors all over the house, including caulking around the ceiling vent in the bathroom.  That's not something I probably would have thought of, but he noted it was VERY leaky!
  5. Replace the remaining lightbulbs with CFLs or LEDS (already planned!)

If we do these things, the auditor said he's certain that we could lower our bills by at least 25%.  Here's a snapshot from the report that he gave us showing current energy costs and what we could save.

That's not bad, considering much of what we need to do is easy and will be paid for with the rebate and several of the things on the list were already on our to-do list.

The best part of this?  I paid no money out of pocket for this.  The auditor helps you do the rebate form, and then the rebate goes directly to him.  You keep the savings!

If you're in the Kansas City area and are interested in having an energy audit, I can highly recommend the contractor that did our test.  Email me at crankypuppy@gmail.com and I'll get you the information.  The only thing I ask is that you let him know we referred you, as he does pay a small referral fee.  :-)  

Hey, every little bit helps...


I've shared this post as part of this week's HomeAcre blog hop.  Go check it out!

Yep, We're Tree People

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Not my driveway.  At least not yet.....
Some girls want diamonds, some want a new car, some want a fancy career, and others want a good man who will settle down with them and have kids.  Me?  I've got the good man department covered.  All I want now is my mother-in-law's driveway.  That's right...I'm outright shamelessly coveting it.
You see, she's got a beautiful tree-lined drive at their place and it's something I've always wanted.  It's been on the "to do" list for our acreage for some time and, now that we are out from under the thumb of the USDA, we can actually plant some trees there.
Earlier today,  J. headed off to an auction while I finished up some work (yes, this week has been h-e-double-hockey-stix and the reason why I've been away from here for several days).  It just so happened that they were auctioning off some nursery trees at what is normally our go-to farm equipment auction. If you're been following the goin's on here, then you know that we recently went to a class on tapping maple trees to make syrup.  Well, you're never going to guess what kind of trees they had at this auction.
Yep, oak trees!  Just kidding...they had several varieties of sugar maples:  Commemoration, Green Mountain and Fall Fiesta.  They even had some Autumn Blazes, which aren't sugar maples but, because of their fabulously beautiful spreading branches and drop-dead gorgeous orange and red fall colors, I've always wanted one of them in our back yard. J. did not disappoint, as he hauled an Autumn Blaze home for me.  And six 12' sugar maples to boot!
This pic doesn't show it, but one of these trees was sticking 12 feet off the back of this trailer.  I'm surprised he didn't get pulled over by the highway patrol!
We've got an old weed tree in our back yard that dropped a huge limb last fall and it appears to be dying.  The tree guy  is coming over tomorrow to give us a quote on taking it down and removing some big limbs from our neighbor's trees that are overhanging where the solar panels will go.  Once the big tree is down, we'll replace it with the Autumn Blaze.  It's the biggest tree on the trailer in that picture above and is 20 feet tall!  It's going to be fun getting it off the trailer and into the ground, that's for sure.  The other trees will go up to our farm.  We don't have a house there yet, but this will give me that tree-lined drive that I've always wanted.

Solar Panels are Here!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Welcome to the seventh post in the series related to our solar energy project.
 Click here to start at the beginning!
They're here!  A big Conway Freight truck pulled up to our house on Thursday to deliver our solar array - all 2,976 pounds of it.  Good thing he had a pallet jack, because everything had to go up our steep driveway and into our garage.
First, we had two cardboard tubes about 12" in diameter and 14 feet long.  Each one contains 8 of the aluminum support racks that hold the solar panels. All we'll need to provide are the Schedule 40 pipes that are the vertical supports coming up from the ground. 
Then there were two pallets of 20 solar panels each.  We opened the boxes to look at them and the panels are actually stacked on their sides.  This makes sense if you think about how glass companies transport glass - it's stronger when it's vertical.  There was a ding in one of the boxes and a teeny little dent in the back of the first panel, but it won't be visible and won't affect the panel.  So we noted it on the shipping invoice and moved on.

Each 305 watt panel weighs 51.7 pounds, so we estimated each of these pallets weighed around 1,050 pounds each.  They were heavy enough that we couldn't get them up over the lip of our garage, so it's a good thing our neighbors came out to help.  It took 3 grown  men to push them off the jack and into the garage!
Then came the pallet with the inverters, the shut off switch, cabling, and all the other miscellaneous small stuff that we'll need to connect everything. 
Once we got everything in, it filled one entire side of our garage.  I guess I'll be parking outside until we get all this installed. 
The delivery driver asked what all of this stuff was and, when I told him it was our new solar array, he said "You're going to install that yourself?"  He seemed pretty incredulous.  I guess some people think we're nuts.  And maybe we are.  But really, this doesn't seem like an undo-able task to me.  A big project?  Yes. 
And now it's here and it's REAL.
I'll be back next time to talk about what's on these pallets, where we got the equipment from, and where all of it is going to go.

If you're interested in more on our solar project, please check the "Solar Project" section on the bar to the right.

Wait 5 Minutes

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The saying around here is "If you don't like the weather in Missouri, wait 5 minutes."  It's not a favorite for no reason, trust me.  We'd had some spectacular 70 degree days today and Monday (today hit 79!) where the normal highs are in the 50's.  J. and I have been slowly cleaning out our basement and you could literally feel the temperature change as we were dragging things out to the trash trailer.  On our last trip out, the temp was down to 53 and it was starting to rain some random drops.  Time to go in!  A little over an hour later and it was sleeting. 
Crazy Missouri weather.
The reason we're cleaning out the basement (the whole house, really) is that I hired an energy auditor and he's coming next Monday.  Our utility companies (both gas and electric) have rebates that will fully pay for the audit ($400) and up to $800 of work that is recommended by that audit (caulking, new windows\doors, insulation, weatherstripping, etc.)  You just have to implement 1 of their recommendations (not all) to get the  money. 
The reason we're getting ready to gut our laundry room is because it's sitting over an uninsulated crawl space and the walls aren't insulated either.  You can literally feel the cold air coming up through the floor in the winter.  It also runs up through the walls up into the 2nd floor home office as well.  We have GOT to get that fixed to be more energy efficient.  Having that rebate money will help a lot on the costs.
In other news, we found an electrician that will help us with the solar panel project.  We have to have a licensed electrician sign off on it before the utility company will even come inspect it.  He's charging us $500 for the signoff and 8 hours to review our plans, answer any questions we have, and do any work we need him to do.  I think that's a pretty good deal and we can get a federal tax credit of 30% of that cost back on this year's taxes.
We have a lot to do but, for now, we're waiting.
Waiting for the energy auditor to arrive on Monday.
Waiting for the application to be approved by the utility. (They have 28 more days!)
Waiting for the solar panels to arrive.  (They should be here this week!)
Waiting for Spring to officially arrive so we can start the garden.
Did I mention that I am the most I.M.P.A.T.I.E.N.T person on the planet?

The Latest Buzz

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Finally!  A chance to sit down and catch my breath this week, even if it was only to spend the day in a standing-room only Beginning Beekeepers Workshop put on the Midwestern Beekeepers Association.  They announced that they had expected about 60 people to sign up and they had 175, with another 60 applications that they had to turn away.  Who knew beekeeping was so popular?
$60 for the 8-hour workshop included a book on beginning beekeeping, all of the slide materials, lunch and snacks.  There were vendors there with all the starter equipment and I came home with a ton of magazines.  You know how sometimes classes like this can be too high-level and just not worth your time?  Not this one.  Wow!  They covered everything from bee anatomy, their behavior, where to put your hives, how to extract honey, how to build your wooden hives, etc.  There were demonstrations with the equipment as well (without the bees, of course).
I wasn't in a spot where I could get really pictures, so I'm sorry I don't have any for you.  How about this picture from Wikipedia?  I don't know about you, but it makes me pine for Spring.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia
So here's the crazy news.  They must have given away more than 50 door prizes throughout the day and I was so bummed when they didn't call my name.  But then they announced they had one final giveaway.  They called my name!  You are not going to believe this, because I still can't....I won a complete hive from Ed Fisher and a 3 lb package of bees from Cecil and Joli over at Heartland Honey.  It was so nice of them to donate those items - the hive alone is worth about $300 and the bees are worth $125!  I met and talked with them (such nice people!) and I am incredibly thankful to them and so happy to get started after I pick up the bees in April.
I hadn't planned on getting serious about beekeeping until maybe next year, since we have this solar project coming up, but I guess I'm going to have to make way for some fuzzy winged friends in the backyard.  Next weekend, they're holding a class on how to build a hive, so I'll be joining them.  Right now, the hive is just a box of pieces that need to be glued and  nailed together.  Then I'll need to paint it, find a good spot, and we'll  be ready for our newest residents here at Cranky Puppy.
I hope everyone is having a great weekend so far!

Breaking Records

Monday, March 03, 2014

We hit -6 last night, breaking the record for the coldest day in March in our area. 
I just updated the almanac stuff to the right and guess what said about February?  "Near normal temperatures...".  Guess what it says about March?  "Near normal temperatures..."
Uh-huh. February was one of the coldest on records.  I guess I should give them a little credit for saying that it would be coldest on March 3rd. 
Near normal temperatures for us right now should be in the mid-40's to almost 50.  Heck, that would be shorts weather after all this bitter cold we've had.  Is Spring ever going to get here?!

That's One Tasty Tree

Saturday, March 01, 2014

March is roaring in like a lion and, with Winter Storm Titan nipping at our heels, we headed to the Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs this afternoon for a fun session put on by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

This is the class I tried to get into last year and it filled up the first day of registration.  But thanks for J.'s mom's fleet fingers (she was the first person to register!), we were able to get in this year.  Lots of families and kids came out to learn how to tap trees and turn tree sap into maple syrup, sugar, candy and other sweet treats.
We started off with a quick, very informative discussion of everything maple syrup.  Let me see if I can remember some of the points that you might find interesting. 
Did you know.....
...that American Indians were the first to collect and use maple syrup?  The legend is that it was discovered by Iroquoian Chief Woksis when he threw his tomahawk into a tree, causing sap to run from the wound and into a basket that his squaw then used to prepare their evening meal of venison.
...that maple syrup comes from maples trees - most notably the sugar maple, red maple or black maple?  The silver maple in our backyard really doesn't work well for this purpose, but did you know that you can make syrup from the sap of walnut trees?
...that the best month for sap production in Missouri is February?  That's due to the weather.  To get the sap out of the tree, you need cold nights below 32 degrees and days that are warmer than freezing.  In fact, the greater the differences in temps, the better the sap flows and the more sap you'll be likely to collect.
...that Laura Ingalls Wilder was fond of making a caramel-like candy from maple syrup by boiling it and pouring it onto snow banks to harden?

...that Mrs. Butterworth's syrup has NO real maple syrup in it? 

After the presentation, we were off to a taste-testing of popcorn coated with maple syrup and walnut syrup.  Since I didn't even know there was such a thing as walnut syrup, this was a great.  And the surprise is that it's MUCH tastier than maple syrup.  You can see a difference in the picture above - the walnut syrup is in the small jar on the left and the maple syrup is in the bottle on the right.  The walnut is much lighter in color and flavor.  We've got several HUGE walnut trees around us.  I wonder if the neighbors would notice if we hung buckets off of them?  *grin*
Then we were off to try our hand at drilling and inserting a tap into a log.  You need a drill, a hammer, and a spout.  See the hook on the spout (on the left below)?  That's for hanging the bucket to collect the sap.
With the weather below 32 degrees, the sap wasn't flowing at all, so we practiced tapping on a log.  While the kids were taking their turn at drilling, I was off snapping this picture of this interesting tree.  I wonder what kind of trauma caused this?

I love being in the woods and snow was starting to fall, so it was even more magical.  From the corner of my eye, I'm pretty sure I saw a wood fairy dart out of that tree as I turned away.
Back inside, I just had to take a picture of this little chipmunk before we left. 

He's an ex-chipmunk, but still tiny and adorable.  Having lived in Missouri all my life, I have never seen one of these little guys.  Ever!
I had some coupons for chicken feed so we hit Tractor Supply and picked up 300 pounds before heading home to batten down the hatches for the storm.  By that time, the Jeep's tires were starting to leave tracks in the snow that was starting to collect on the road.  Someone had a really bad day, because we saw 3 wrecks on the highway and some poor fellow Jeep owner had somehow gotten their Grand Cherokee perfectly balanced on the guard rail.  All 4 tires were off the road!  I wish I could have gotten a picture of that for you.
Oh, and before I go.....I want to give you this link in case you're interested in learning more about collecting sap and making syrup:  http://www.tapmytrees.com/preparation.html.
Til next time, stay warm my friends!  We're slated to hit -10 tonight.

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