Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Outhouse



For some reason, whenever I’ve done anything that is different from what most people normally do (like hike a couple thousand miles or live on a bus and now live in a cabin in the woods) there are always questions.  Not the kinds of questions I expected to get but always “where are you going to poop?” Or “where will you go to the washroom”? And most recently “why would you want an outhouse?” And “how many steps from your bed to your outhouse?” Honestly, I can’t believe how many times I’ve been questioned about my toilet habits in the past eight years!

So here it is all of the answers people seem to want to know.  Years ago while thruhiking the Appalachian Trail I had the opportunity to see and experience just about every type of outhouse imaginable.  There were the typical pit
toilet outhouses (like you see in most provincial parks) and other odd pit toilets (imagine a small platform on a side of a mountain with a toilet on it - no walls and a perfect view of the landscape). There were “upgraded” outhouses that had fans under the toilet exhausting the terrible smells through a pipe out and away.  In some of the more touristy areas of  state parks I hiked  there were compost toilets (like Sun Mar or Nature’s Head) complete with educational information about how the toilets worked and why they were so much better for the environment.  As I hiked farther north I was fortunate to meet “caretakers” students working in the White Mountains whose job it was to literally “stir the poop” with big paddles (picture a canoe paddle) in giant bins to help the decomposition process before the bins would be helicoptered out be dealt with in a more appropriate environment.  But the outhouse that fascinated me the most was one that had two toilet seats (no, not the one with the cribbage board in the middle for any hiker reading this).  It was hilarious! There were explicit instructions on what to do and how to do it and included instructions and a pooper scooper for if you made a mistake.  Soon after visiting that outhouse I met someone who was out doing research using that outhouse. He explained how it worked. One seat had a funnel that led to a 50ft hose with holes in it and was for urine. He explained that it is completely safe for urine to go straight into the ground and said that the capability to move the hose around so that the urine wasn’t always going to the same spot made it even better.  Then he explained how they had tried different types of duff for seat number two (where the number two goes). Duff is the bulking agent (on the trail this is usually sawdust or dead leaves but could be peat moss or coconut coir) that is thrown in the toilet after a bowel movement to cover the feces and leave air pockets. This helps cover the smell and allows for faster decomposition.  He went on to explain exactly how to create the ideal conditions for decomposition. Part of his job was to take samples from the completely decomposed bin and have it tested for E. coli levels.  While
I thought that sounded like a gross job he was obviously proud that his last samples results had been perfect.  Basically this system worked. At the time I thought all this information was interesting but to be honest I never thought it was something I would need to know (or want to know about) at any point in my future.


Not my picture but this is one of the outhouses on the Appalachian Trail.


From the time we decided to buy the cabin I knew I wanted an outhouse and I knew which type of outhouse I wanted. I also figured this would be a hard sale for Michael.  Fortunately the book I had wanted to borrow from the library “The Humanure Handbook” by Joseph C Jenkins became available while I was away visiting my daughter so Michael had a chance to read it first. The book starts out by comparing humans to pathogens with no care or concern of our host (Earth) and gives alarming statistics about our destruction of natural resources (wood, water, fish, animals) and the creation and release of toxic chemicals. It mentions our overconsumption of just about everything and then brings up waste (food waste, yard materials, agricultural waste and human waste).  He suggests that by processing the waste rather than recycling it we are causing way more damage to the earth and depleting our soil and fresh water supply at the same time.  I’m glad that Michael had the chance to read it first because even though he admittedly said “I don’t want to deal with shit!” He was much more receptive to the idea of recycling anything than he ever has been and acknowledged that having an outhouse is a more natural part of a cycle for soil nutrients than wasting water and flushing those nutrients away.  Still I could tell he  was a little skeptical.



Again not my picture.

When we arrived early this spring to our cabin we quickly had to make a choice of which already existing outbuilding would be the outhouse. There were still several feet of snow but unless we were prepared to drive the 11km to town everytime we needed the washroom it had to be sorted out immediately. We quickly agreed upon a small outbuilding that was attached to the back of a metal shed and began to to adapt it.  We bought a giant bin, peat moss to use as duff, toilet seats and enough wood to make a bench style set up with the bin sliding under the toilet.  Ironically the only items that we needed that were difficult to acquire turned out to be toilet paper and hand sanitizer (due to the Covid panic).  It looked better than many outhouses I’ve had to use in the past but it certainly wasn’t something we were proud of. But it worked and there was still too much snow and frozen ground to make it any better. It was okay and it didn’t stink but it wasn’t the outhouse I wanted yet. 


Not my picture.

Unfortunately the poor outhouse didn’t become a priority again (there were so many other projects going on in those first few months) until the grandkids were coming up for a visit.  I didn’t want them to be afraid to use the washroom so we spent some time making it nicer.  I had stripped the paint off of the old door and restained  it.  Michael added a pipe with a built in fan that exhausts the air from the poop bin out and over the top of the outhouse.  Adding the fan required setting up a small solar panel, regulator and battery for power.  It’s funny that the outhouse has power capacity before the cabin does but that’s a whole other story.  He lined the inside walls with plywood and swapped out the old, leaky roof with a clear roof that makes the outhouse bright all day long.  We added a simple solar light for at night.  We used the leftover flooring from the cabin to put a new floor in the outhouse too. Most importantly he set up the second toilet.  It’s set up similar to the toilet I saw years ago on the trail for urine with a funnel and a hose. Michael dug a trench for the hose and filled it the area with gravel.  The outhouse looks nice and still smells like fresh cut wood! 


This is what the inside looks like now maybe one day it will be lines with cedar.

And I was happy for about a day... Then I realized that the new roof (that looks so awesome) turned the outhouse into a sauna.  Seriously,  if the toilet seats, or toilet paper and hand sanitizer weren’t there you would think we had purposely built a sauna! For now this has been fixed by adding a piece of screen up high to let fresh air in and leaving the door open when no one is in there. Soon we will add a 12v fan so there  will always be fresh air inside. Eventually I would l would also like to add cedar veneer but as long as it smells like fresh cut wood I will leave it as it is. 




I would love for this to be the end of the post but I can just imagine a few of my friends saying: “and who empties the poop bin?” I do. Michael doesn’t do poop.  The bin probably needs to be emptied once a month but I am choosing to do it once a week to make it more manageable.  It gets dumped on a compost pile in combination with the kitchen compost and the yard compost far enough away from our creek and stream.  Every time I dump the bin I cover the compost pile with a rake full of dead grass to add more air pockets so that it will decompose faster and so that we don’t see it.  So far it doesn’t stink!  Up until recently we have used peat moss for duff but right now we are trying out coconut coir. I like the coconut coir even better than the peat moss as the peat has an earthy smell and the coconut coir doesn’t smell at all. However, the coconut coir is way more expensive and unless I can find it cheaper we will be switching back to the peat moss (@ $8 per 60L).  I’m sure we could ask for sawdust from the local lumbar yard and we may try that out in the future but we have enough supplies to last us to next year right now.


Don’t forget to wash your hands!

Very few people have come to visit so far (again Covid) but the ones who have ask if it bothers me that the washroom isn’t attached to the cabin.  It doesn’t bother me at all and it’s nice to have the chance (or be forced) to go outside at night and notice all the fireflies or the amazing night sky that I probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to if I could easily stay inside. The outhouse isn’t that far away and is only 37 steps from my bed to my outhouse.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

A New Kitchen



One of the first projects this month was getting the stove cleaned up and making sure it worked before installing it. A friend of ours who has several trailers offered it to us along with an RV furnace and a double sink (thanks again Vic!).  It cleaned up nicely and everything worked first try! The furnace needs a little more work but since it’s warm out it’s not a priority right now. 





Michael has spent most of his time outside cutting grass, trimming all of the overgrown bush close to the cabin and monitoring my garden.  So far we’ve had wild strawberries, the strawberries from my hanging baskets and radishes. The lettuce is almost ready. 




My friends seem to think that we are hard at work everyday here but the reality is that most days we have been working on fun little projects.  We bought some pine boards and after I stained them Michael put them up for me.  Since then I have printed off a few pictures I like and modge podged them to a couple of containers. 



As you can see my kitchen area doubles as my storage area and everything is on display. To keep things looking tidy I mounted some leftover pipe from the under counter project on the wall and am using it to store my pots and pans. 




Seeing the pots up inspired Michael to finish up the kitchen area for me. During the winter we had planned  a fancy backsplash for the stove that would take awhile to make. We found a place in North Bay that sold us the stainless steel and put the corner bend in for us. We already had the copper and Michael did the rest! He did an awesome job!





I bought the rest of the wooden boxes that we needed and stained them but it took awhile

to decide what to put in them. I feel like we already had enough mountains in here. I was thinking maybe trail signs (like the PCT logo or a copy of one of the original blazes, the Camino de Santiago blaze, the AT logo or even just a white blaze) or maybe animals (a bear, a wolf, an eagle...). We finally decided on a parts of a landscape on each box and Michael just started to draw them on.




We had bought a few outdoor solar lights and Michael found old fashioned taps at the hardware store.  After taking the solar lights apart and mounting the tiny panels outside and feeding the wire inside, we mounted the taps with the light bulbs attached and hooked up the wires. The lights turned out great and come on automatically when it gets dark outside.





Although we already had the sink we have been waiting on a faucet to arrive that was purchased online.  After months  of waiting I decided to just buy a water filter that comes with its own faucet (we needed a water filter anyway) so that we could go ahead and install the sink. We have clean water inside now! 




I’d love to be able to say that the kitchen is finished but it will be at least another month before we add a more permanent power system and buy a fridge for the cabin.  We are still using the solar panels on the bus as our main source of power with occasional use

of a generator.  We have a fridge on the bus but because we are keeping the bus adventure ready we are making several trips from bus to cabin anytime we need something from the fridge.  




The grandkids came up to visit and it gave us the chance to explore one of the local beaches.  It’s a beautiful area and the water was perfect! 




I have been taking it easier this past month (I’ve taken the time to read several books and am starting to daydream of the next big hike) but Michael has been pretty much continuously working on one project after another and is ready for a break. I think we will really slow down on the work this month and just work on landscaping and a few small, easy jobs inside.


I’m happy to have a kitchen in the cabin and not have to run back and forth to the bus as much and am impressed that this much work has been done in three months. It’s amazing how many goals we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short time and I find myself starting to think about what is next!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

From Bus to A Tiny Cabin




It’s been exactly four years since we moved into the bus and it’s a little bit sad to be moving out of it. We will still use the bus for trips and as a guest room but we are saying goodbye to life in 80 square feet and hello to a bigger living space (144sqft)!

It’s been two months of hard work getting the cabin move in ready but here we are, we have moved into the cabin and I have been decorating! It all started a
month ago when Michael was away helping one of the kids move and it rained several days in a row. I couldn’t do any of the real jobs that needed to get done so I made a picture for the cabin instead. 





When the weather started to co operate I finished staining the trim for the main floor. I sanded down an old maple table we had in storage and refinished it for our new countertop. As soon as it was done I wanted it set up but the new staircase needed to be installed first.  It was a bit of a chore to sand, stain and seal it and an even bigger chore to get it mounted to the ceiling. 





The great thing about these stairs is that they are designed to be out of the way during the day when we don’t need access to the bedroom.  Thanks again Vincent!





And it’s kind of a cool system!


It’s a bicycle lift and it works great! We might just swap out the rope for something stronger and more durable.


Once the stairs were in it was time to set up the kitchen!


The stove and furnace will be on the left, the sink will be centred between the beams and the fridge will be on the right. I will buy a few more wooden bins and stain them a honey colour. Eventually there will be a shelf above the sink. It’s getting there!

We already had the countertop ready and the shelves are made of metal grid that we also had in storage. I used the grinder one day and cut the shelves for the kitchen along with shelves for a coat and boot rack I made.  We are waiting on a faucet we ordered on amazon before installing the sink and the stove needs a little TLC before we install it.  So for now we are still using the kitchen in the bus as well as the BBQ that came with the cabin. 

We do have running water though! Michael hooked up the new pump and mounted a solar panel to set up our water system. We’ve temporarily set up the shower on the side of the cabin but it will eventually be set up in a more discreet location in a month or two once the kitchen is done. 





The yard is starting to get cleaned up and the junk pile at the edge of the road gets bigger everyday. I think we will be searching out the local dump soon. I can’t believe the stuff that has been buried here! Everything from kids toys, a fake Christmas tree, a kitchen table from the 1960’s and a lot of smaller items both new and old. Not all of our yard finds have been terrible.  Michael found a giant saw blade and I’m thinking of painting a landscape on it. Michael wants to make it look like a giant saw is cutting into the cabin. 





We also had a huge burn pile but with the province wide fire ban it just kept growing. The minute we heard the fire ban would be lifted for the long weekend we started planning the fire pit. To get rid of the pile quickly Michael made a temporarily fireplace and attached chicken wire on top so that we could burn even if it was windy. And burn we did! The first night we got rid of about a third of what we had.  We are still working on burning the rest and soon there will just be a dump pile left!

With the stores closed due to covid19 I decided to start shopping online. Wow! What a difference! Stuff comes right to the door no hassle.... and it feels like Christmas every time the fed ex driver visits! 



The new couch and new chair are a few of the online purchases. Of course the day after the chair arrived I walked into the cabin to find this guy:



I’m pretty sure he was just visiting though. I’ve managed to scare off the birds and they now longer fly into the cabin and stay a safe distance from the door but I think we are going to have a problem with the squirrels who are always scrambling up the sides of the cabin.

Remember the floor I ruined last month and had to replace? Well we decided that since we put a new floor down upstairs we might as well tidy up the walls as well. After a couple quick coats of paint our bedroom looks exactly how I imagine a cabin bedroom should look. I’m super happy with how it is all coming together! In the future I will swap out the trim but for now it will do.





We are still working on the yard slowly. I’ve started planting a garden and I’ve sprayed a garlic barrier spray to keep the mosquitoes at bay. It worked great and there are no more mosquitoes, if only it also worked for the black flies!

With most places closed we haven’t ventured out too much but we have met a few neighbours in passing and the people at the hardware store know us by name. We haven’t even explored the roads near the cabin but I’m sure they lead to somewhere nice because several boats have been trailered past our cabin.  On the one excursion we did take we found the biggest bear I’ve ever seen (about 2km from the cabin) but just like every single other bear he took off as soon as he saw us.  We are both looking forward to a time where there isn’t a job that has to be done right away. Now that we are in the cabin we will slow down  on the rest of the jobs.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Progress


It’s been a month of hard work everyday and there are more jobs to do everywhere we look. I’m not complaining it is absolutely beautiful here and the more we do look around the nicer it seems. But almost every job we have done turns into a slew of other jobs required just to finish the original job. Progress is very slow and there are more half done jobs here than finished ones. It makes me wonder how the first settlers managed. I mean, I have a bus (with power) to live in but what if I didn’t? I can just make a call and place an order at the hardware store (even with a pandemic going on around us) and then go pick up almost anything I need. Imagine the early immigrants who had to painstakingly chop down trees and cut every piece of lumber they needed using simple man powered tools.  Think about how long that would take! A small town is 11km away from our little cabin. We can go buy groceries whenever we need to but those first settlers, what did they have to eat day after day until they had food from a garden? Even if they hunted,  it would take time away from building. We have pretty much everything we need handed to us! I have a creek here and a well and yet I can’t wait to have a real shower set up. How long did the first settlers have to go before that was even a priority? And don’t say "oh they probably just heated up water" because trust me that is way more tedious than it sounds! I have two pots and even if I fill them with water and heat it up, it is barely enough to wash and rinse my hair. I can see why kids were made to share bath water back in the day. It reminds me of how appreciative of hot water I was getting into town after days of hiking.  I wonder if I’m just so used to taking too much that I am less appreciative of my pots of hot water than an early settler would have been.  I’ve already decided that I only need hot water from my shower head and not my kitchen sink. I’ve spent the past four years heating up water for dishes on the bus and it hasn’t bothered me at all. 

Anyway, so what have we accomplished in a month? I took the stain off the inside walls of the main floor and resealed it while Michael was fixing the tool sheds or as I am calling them the man area. 


This is what it looked like before with a solid colour stain on the walls.


This is what it looks like now with a cedar stain.


Michael took down the roof of the "carport" because I wanted a greenhouse but once the roof was off he realized everything needed to be replaced. So now I have a brand new "greenhouse." It’s not entirely enclosed yet but I’m considering it a finished job.


My new greenhouse! It still needs to be closed in but is good enough for now.


A good friend of ours came and helped for two days and was the first person to actually sleep in the cabin. We left him with the heater from the bus and it was so warm he had to get up during the night and turn it off. That’s a good sign! 

The first job they worked on was levelling  the cabin. Some of the supports were in rough shape so Michael had made concrete pads for everything to sit on ahead of time.


The cabin wasn’t level and was sitting on all of this.


Now the cabin is level and is sitting on cement pads. There is still more work to do in the future but everything is stable.


Next the big, bulky staircase was taken down and our friend offered to make a new set of stairs that won’t take up any floor space during the day.  Awesome! Thanks!


The bulky staircase has to go!

A few of the support beams inside needed replaced so that was also done with the help of a friend.


The new beams are behind Michael (and above him). This picture also shows the contrast between the new and old stain. The old stain is where the counter will go and will be completely hidden.


While Michael was working on replacing the beams he noticed the "nice" flooring upstairs that was being hidden by sheets of painted plywood.  It looked like inch thick pine and so I  destroyed the plywood floor upstairs only to find a floor that had been pieced together from beam to beam with short pieces of pine. Ugh! I should have left well enough alone! Upstairs wasn’t even a priority and now the plywood needs to be replaced! Several hundred dollars (not in our budget) later we now have a new plywood floor that we have sealed and will use as is for now.


This is what I discovered under the old plywood.


We spent an afternoon installing flooring downstairs. It’s not exactly the colour I was looking for but during a pandemic you  take what you can get! It looks great and finally feels like we’ve accomplished something! It feels like we will have a cabin kitchen in the near future! 


New floor on the main level.


And I know this is silly and wasn’t a priority at all but there was a really ugly door on the outhouse and I thought it would be a simple job.  There ended up being so many coats of paint on it and took longer than I had wanted to spend on it, but now it looks great!


Old outhouse door.


Refinished outhouse door.


On our breaks from cabin work we have managed to rake up a good portion of the property between the cabin and the road. We’ve found lots of junk here that will need to go to the dump but we’ve also found a wall from an older cabin that has usable cedar logs and posts in it that will be perfect for a retaining wall we want to build between the cabin and the seasonal stream that runs down to the creek.  Michael has also found really old glass bottles here, it makes me wonder about the history of this place. 

We have already found raspberry bushes, two types of thyme, asparagus and wild strawberries growing on the property and have been told that there are blueberries that grow along the side of the road as well! We found logs covered in old dried up mushrooms (not sure what kind yet or if they are edible) but we will have fun finding out! I wonder what we will discover here next?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tiny House Dreams



Becca’s van is finished and she is off adventuring now. I would have liked to share a few of the finished pictures of her van or the ordeals that came up while building it but am waiting for her to share it with the world. She has set up an Instagram account if you would like to follow her journey it‘s here: 

Vanaste


With that project finished and Chris’s restaurant open for business it’s time for the next project. Michael has wanted a piece of land for awhile now and we have spent any free time we have had this year going and looking at property all over Ontario. We finally found a gorgeous property with a few outbuildings already on it near Mattawa. There’s a well and a septic system already on the property and a beautiful creek runs through it!  There’s a ton of work to be done but the largest of the outbuildings will end up being our tiny house!



There are lots of hiking trails in the area, the Ottawa River is only a few kilometres away and even Algonquin Provincial Park is within walking distance (well walking distance for hikers at 19km). I’m can’t wait to explore the surrounding area and already have my first hike planned out! 




We had looked at this property earlier in the summer and had planned on being able to get some work done this year but there were delays and  the snow is already here. The reality is that most of the jobs we want to do need to be done is warmer weather. Other than a few weekend trips between now and Christmas we will likely leave everything as it is until spring and manage to get an adventure in this winter before the work begins.


This is what the inside looks like right now.







Hopefully by next summer this place will be transformed to our new home. Michael thinks he needs to landscape

But I think it’s perfect just the way it is! There are trees and trails, a creek and a big forest behind us!
















The bus looks bigger than the cabin but it’s just an illusion. The cabin is just under 300 square feet (144sqft per floor) while the bus is only 80sqft.  It may seem small to you but after living on a short bus this will seem huge to us!