Grey Water Woes

April 8, 2018

Lots of snow for April

File this one under “Live and Learn”. Most of what we do out here on the Ponderosa, does not come with a manual. We make it up as we go along. Sometimes it works out great, but more often than not, some tweaking is required to perfect it. Such is our grey water experience.
Our grey water – from the kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, shower and laundry, empties into a large holding tank buried outside. The toilets empty into a central composting unit in the basement, so no sewage goes into the holding tank.
Last winter, we had no problems with the holding tank, but we did have to empty it mid-winter. Since it has no sewage, we pump it out onto the garden or shrub beds. However, this is not much fun when it is freezing outside. This winter, we decided to see if we could last all winter without empting the tank. We emptied it mid-November and were hoping to get to March.

Two 1250 gallon cisterns full of rain water

In addition, we had to conserve water this winter. Our cisterns were full by the end of September, but we didn’t get any significant rainfall after. The previous year we had rain into mid-October, so we headed into November with full cisterns. To conserve cistern water we decided to melt snow for dish washing and dump that water outside rather than down the drain – easily done using two plastic washtubs.
We almost made it to March. The day after Ken returned from his Mexican holiday (Feb 27), the water from the washing machine backed up into the shower. The holding tank was full. We shovelled off the snow and removed the bales covering the tank to discover a couple inches of ice. Breaking through that we emptied the tank only to discover the inlet to the tank had frozen. I guess our zeal to conserve water resulted in not enough hot water going into the tank.
For the next four weeks, we had to manually empty the drain pipes after each water use by opening up a clean out in the basement and collecting the water in pails, dumping them outside. Not a terrible job but more than once we got drenched in cold dirty water. We tried thawing the drain by pouring boiling hot water down, to no avail. Since hot water is lighter than cold, I figure the hot water sat on top of the cold water in the drain and not getting down to the ice.
We brainstormed all kinds of solutions. Perhaps if we could get down into the holding tank and crawl to the inlet we could melt it with a melt it with a torch. I went down the hole, but nothing could convince me to crawl to the end. It stinks down there and you have to crawl to through wet sludge.

Pumping hot water down the drain

Eventually, we decided to try getting the hot water down to the end of the drain pipe where it was frozen. Using a transfer pump and a length of ABS pipe, we pumped boiling water down to the end of the drain. As we pumped the hot water to the far end, cold water trickled out the cleanout into a five gallon pail for emptying. Slowly, with each pot of hot water, we were getting further down the drain. After three days, we had melted through five feet of ice. Finally, we heard the sound we were waiting for. Woosh, and the last bit of ice cleared and the water flushed down into the holding tank. A few more pots of hot water dumped down the drain for good measure and our grey water woes were solved. No more hauling five gallon pails of water up the steps and outside. We celebrated with a nice hot shower!
Lessons learned:
• We need to keep better record of the amount of water used during the winter and empty the holding tank before it gets full, even if that means a January pump out. The tank water must not reach the top of the tank where it has contact with the frozen ground. Having to empty the drains manually we did learn that Ken uses almost 7 gallons for his short shower and I use almost 5. A large load of laundry takes 12 gallons. If we kept track of showers and laundry we should get a good idea of how much water is going down the drain.
• We need to empty the holding tank just before the cold weather hits, even if it’s not very full. Starting with an empty tank could buy us a couple extra weeks at the other end.
• Melting snow for dish washing helped us extend the cistern water over the winter. We started winter with less water and had very little snow melt off the roof this spring, but still we are doing fine with water. We should make it until the spring rains arrive.
• We will likely continue using some melted snow for dish washing during the winter and continue to dump it outside. It is a great way to conserve our water and clean the snow off the deck at the same time. However, we will make an effort to dump very hot water down the drain periodically to keep the tank from freezing.
• Since the snow has not yet thawed here – we are having an exceptionally cold spring – we don’t know how much of a mess the wash water dumped off the back deck made. Next winter, the landscaping will be completed (I hope) and we need to figure out a better place to dump the water as there will be steps where it was dumped this winter.
Living on the Ponderosa is like a big science project. Research, brainstorm and try it out. Review, revise and re-try. Generally the simplest solution works best. Always something to learn. We will see how we do next winter.


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Digging Out – After the Storm

March 7, 2018

All dug out


All dug outMarch 4 and 5, 2018 – this was our first major winter storm of the season. Over the two days, we had approximately 40 cm of snow dumped on us, along with stiff east winds. Although the mild temperatures, hovering around -2C, meant that at least we were not dealing with -50 wind chills.

After the storm, before digging out


The storm began Sunday evening. We were working in town at the local museum annual membership supper. By the time we finished clean up and headed for home, the snow was coming down fast and furious. Visibility was reduced to nothing at times and it was a struggle to see the road. At one point, I had to get out and walk in front of the vehicle to keep us on the road. Thankfully, not for long. We made it home safe and sound.

shoveled trails everywhere

By Tuesday morning the storm had passed and it was time for cleanup. By shovel and Kobota we cleared out around the house and garage. The road we left for the plow. This morning, Wednesday, the plow came through and we are able to get out if we need to.

Hanna breaking trail

We got lots of exercise trudging through the bush remaking our snowshoeing trails.


Gotta love a good storm.





Kobota Clean Up


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Snow or Sand

February 25, 2018

Sunny Manitoba in February

Sunny warm Mexico in February









What is your winter vacation of choice – the warm sandy beaches of Mexico or the chilly white snowy landscape of Manitoba? My husband and I have a difference of opinion on this one, so this year we are not doing a winter vacation together. I am enjoying sunny Manitoba, and he is enjoying sunny Mexico.

wind protected trails through the bush

I love it here in the winter. Its a quiet, tranquil and quite solitary, as we get few visitors over the winter. The cold is not hard to take when you have good gear and can suit up, strap on your snowshoes and head out into a winter wonderland right outside your door. With an abundance of sheltered trails through the bush, there is always a good one to follow even when the wind is howling and the windchill is bone chilling. And I love the pristine whiteness of my winter wonderland. No stressing about packing, getting a house sitter, or getting the animal settled. Like going on a retreat without ever leaving home.

For the last two weeks, I have enjoyed solitude. Just me and the fur kids, Hanna and Sox. Snowshoeing, yoga, meditation, cooking, and a few fun projects. Love the simple life.

There is not much chance Ken will give up his yearly winter getaway, he is not a big fan of the cold winter weather here in Manitoba. However, I am glad he is willing to go without me. (he organizes group travel so is travelling with over 40 friends, so he has plenty of company) To each his own.

Snowshoeing across the lake

Selfie shadows









Enjoying a hot chocolate in Sheryl’s quinzee


Snowshoeing with sister Sheryl and Kensi

Ken enjoying the sun


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Visiting the Grandkids

January 31, 2018

One of the disadvantages of wood heat is that someone has to feed the fire.  If we both plan to be away for more than one day during the winter, it is necessary to find a house sitter. The last two years we were able to get a friend to house sit for us. This year, I decided I would not travel south with Ken for his annual winter getaway, opting to stay home instead. He is heading to Mexico in February, so I decided to fit in a visit to see the grandkids in January.

Baba and Gigi with baby Nora

Our newest grandchild, Nora, was born last September, and the last time I saw her, she was three days old. By the time we see her again in June, she will be nine months old – no longer a little baby. Ken visited the grandkids in November on his way to a one week site inspection in Mexico. So January was my turn for a little Baba time.



Christopher, Astrid and Emily



I flew into Vancouver and spent the weekend with Christopher, Emily and our 19 month old granddaughter Astrid.  As a bonus, Astrid stayed home from daycare on the Monday for an entire day with Baba.

Astrid is at an interesting age, just beginning to talk and assert herself. She is super cuddly, likes to read books, play with blocks, draw with markers, dance and sing. When you tell her we are going out, she runs and gets your shoes, coat and gear for you and then gets hers too. While I was there she loved to play a dress up game. She would get her coat and get you to help her put in on, then she’d get a sweater and put that on top of the coat, then another sweater, and still another on top of that. As many as she could get on. Too funny. She also liked to put on my boots and try to walk around in them. While Astrid loves to play with toys, her favorite thing is to clean up. After playing blocks for a bit, she wants to put them back in the container. And everything has to go in the right container.

Baba and Astrid

Astrid Swinging



Story Time




















Baba with Jacob and Nora

After my Vancouver visit, I took the Greyhound bus to Kamloops. Now, that is the way to travel the Coquihalla in the winter – no driving worries. I spent ten days visiting with Kelsey, Matt, Jacob and Nora. Nora was almost 4 months and Jacob 27 months.

They had snow when I arrived and Kelsey, Jacob and I had a blast making a snowman. Jacob liked to stand on the stump beside the snowman and jump and knock his hat off – over and over again. As the weather turned colder, we had difficulty getting Jacob outside to play as he hates mitts. But he burned off plenty of energy at the indoor play centers and trampoline parks. Jacob is jabbering full steam now and my favorite was “cold water” and “How ’bout this!!” whenever he wanted something.

Kelsey Jacob and Mr. Snowman

Jacob and his shovel

Playdough fun

Baking Muffins

Jacob feeding the ducks corn

Jacob snow fun with Baba
























Nora is a delightful, contented baby. She gets fussy just before sleep time, but otherwise is bright, alert and cheerful. Its easy to coax a smile or laugh out of her.  She adores her big brother and he amuses her to no end. He loves to snatch her soother from her and sit in her bouncy chair, but she does not mind – yet.


Jacob and Nora








After my Kamloops visit, I took the Greyhound back to Vancouver for another weekend and Monday with Astrid. This time we attempted a snowshoe at Bowen Lookout but had to bail out, it was windy and snowing big fat wet flakes. We opted instead for a hike at Atkinson Lighthouse.

Astrid with Baba and Grammy

Astrid hiking with Baba and Mom

Hiking the easy way, on Daddy’s back

Christopher Emily and Astrid
















I flew back to Winnipeg and then spent a few days in the city before Ken drove in to pick me up. It was a great opportunity visit with Kerry and Megan.  Grandkids Katie and Tyler were super busy with hockey games and practice but I did get to watch one game and have a short visit. I also got a chance to meet up with some friends I have not seen in a while.

And now I am back home again. While I always enjoy time with the kids and grandkids, it is nice to be back with the peace and quiet on the Ponderosa. Ken got the two upstairs storage rooms mudded and taped while I was away. He also did a pretty good job of cleaning up, which I really appreciated. While he is away in Mexico, I plan on painting these rooms and turning them into a meditation room and a kid’s playroom.

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2017 Year in Review

December 29, 2017

Another year over, it seems in a blink of an eye. 2017 was another busy year here at the Ponderosa. And we are pleased to announce …drumroll please…..THE HOUSE IS FINISHED!!!!!!! There are still lots of little projects to do, but the house proper is finished.

The House July 2013

The basement of the house was dug in July 2013. We estimated it would take us three years to finish and I vowed I would not move into the house until it was all done. Ha ha. Turns out it took almost five years and we moved in when it was not much more than a shell. But still I think five years from start to finish is not too bad for two old farts doing most of the work on our own. It’s been exciting to watch the house develop. We learned so much during the process.

Livingroom window seat and cubbies




During 2017, we completed the living room with all of its bookcases and cubbies; and

Upstairs bathroom

the entire upstairs – master bedroom, walk-in closet, bathroom, TV room, dormers, bannister and walkways. We also spent most of the summer working on outdoor projects – an outdoor kitchen, balcony and some landscaping.

Outdoor kitchen









The Porter Family February 2017

Looking back over the year, I am amazed at how much work we managed to get done while spending so much time just having fun. In February, we officially welcomed Megan and her two children, Katie and Tyler, into our family.  Kerry and Megan were married in January in a small ceremony in Winnipeg and had a big wedding in Mexico in February. It was great to spend a week in the sun with all the kids, grandkids, relatives and friends.

Tyler, Jacob, Astrid and Katie

In June, we made our annual trip to BC to visit Christopher, Emily and Astrid in Vancouver and Kelsey, Matt and Jacob in Kamloops. As a bonus, Kelsey and Jacob came back with us and spent an additional two weeks at the Ponderosa. Christopher and a then almost one year old Astrid, came out at the end of June, as well as Kerry, Megan, Katie and Ty, to help celebrate the life of my sister Laverne, who passed away September 2016. In July, I was invited to do a cooking class in Edmonton and took that opportunity to visit with relatives.


Baba and Gigi with baby Nora

In September, we made another trip to BC to visit the kids and welcome another grandchild into the world. Jacob’s little sister, Nora Joyce Aubut, was born on September 24th. Ken paid the kids and grandkids a visit again in November, before heading to Mexico for a week.

Nora 1 day old









Darlene and Ken with Andrea, Cristiana and Stevie and Hanna

In 2017, we also signed up with a program called Workaway, which promotes volunteering, work and cultural exchange around the world. As Workaway hosts, we hosted travellers who were interested in learning more about plant based eating and living off grid. We were lucky to have five fabulous Workaways come stay with us. In exchange for room and board, they worked 20 to 25 hours a week.

Yoga on the deck

Shayan from Great Britain and Charlie from Ontario housesat and took care of Hanna and Sox while we were away on our BC trips. Stevie from New Zealand, and Andrea and Cristiana from Italy helped us with the garden and landscaping. Cristiana led us through our morning yoga routine. We had such fun playing tourist with them as well as cooking and working together. I learned something from each of them, and hope they also learned something from us.

2017 was also time to get back to the books for me. While Ken was busy perfecting his cabinetry skills, I was improving my knowledge of plant based nutrition. I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies and eCornell. In April, I received my Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition. I enjoyed the on-line learning method and the lectures from well-known experts in the field. I am an academic at heart and loved learning the science behind the diet.

Cristiana and Stevie filling the woodshed for the winter

With building winding down in 2017, we began getting in the groove of daily living on the Ponderosa. We spent more time gardening, foraging, harvesting, preserving and just enjoying a simple lifestyle out here in the bush. With the help of our Workawayers, we put up a stock of wood for this winter (2017-2018) and have next year’s (2018-2019) already split and drying. And we have started the 2019-2020 pile.



Cabbages growing in net cages

The garden was fabulous this year and we used or preserved pretty much everything it produced. We have a good supply of garden produce stored in the root cellar, canned, frozen and dehydrated, which should take us through most of the winter.

Canned garden preserves





Hothouse with peppers, eggplant and basil

We experimented with different gardening techniques – a mini greenhouse to extend the growing season and netted cages to protect our brassicas from pests. We produced a fabulous crop of sweet peppers and basil in the little greenhouse and grew a great crop of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale under the cages. We cleared more land so that next year we can expand the garden and hope to put up a bigger greenhouse.

We are really enjoying the slower pace of life here at the Ponderosa. Morning and evening walks with Hanna and Sox (yes, our crazy cat Sox loves to come along for walks), snowshoeing the trails during the winter, kayaking and canoeing in the summer, and time for yoga and meditation. Not to forget, time for cooking and baking. This year I ventured more into fermentation – making sour kraut, kim chi, pickles, kombucha, ginger bugs, apple cider vinegar and sour dough bread. There always seems to be more to learn and try.

Do we miss city living? No, definitely not, but there are a few things we miss. Ken misses playing slo pitch and bowling. Poor guy, he only got to play one game of ball this summer. As for me, I miss connecting with friends. I travelled to Winnipeg to host a few plant based cooking classes this year but did not find much time to connect with city friends. Hopefully in 2018 we can both find time for these pursuits again.

From the Ponderosa to you, we send sincere wishes for a wonderful holiday season and peace, health and happiness in 2018.

Posted in Basement, Bathroom, Construction, Decks, Family, Food, Fun, Gardening, Home, Landscaping, Living Room, Outside finishing, Outside living space, upstairs | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Upstairs flooring

December 26, 2017

Loft room floor complete

The last major job to finish was the upstairs flooring and baseboard trim and I am happy to report that it is now complete. Our goal was to have it done by Christmas and we finished on December 23, just in time.

The upstairs of the house has the master bedroom and bathroom, two dormers, two storage rooms and a large open loft that we use as the TV room. After living so long with plywood floors, it is a real treat to have the flooring in.

Master Bedroom

The master bedroom  was completed last spring. The floor in it is prefinished narrow ash hardwood. The bedroom is nice and big enough for a people bed, a dog bed and a cat bed.

The bathroom was completed last month.  The walk in closet , located between the master bedroom and bath, was completed in the spring. The bathroom and closet both have vinyl flooring.


The two dormers have built-in day beds under the window with storage cubbies below the beds. Ken still has to finish off the doors for the storage cupboards and I still need to finish sewing the covers for the day bed mattresses. We also hope to put in sliding barn doors across the front of the dormers so they can be closed off and used as bedrooms for the grandkids (or short guests – the beds are only five feet long) when they visit.

The storage rooms, off the dormers, are drywalled but no other finishing done on them. I plan of tackling them in 2018. They will have vinyl flooring. One of the storage rooms is my meditation room and the other I plan to make into a room for the grandkids’ toys.

loft floor installation

The loft TV room was not in the original house plans; however, the structural engineer did not like where we wanted the outside structural wall to go and suggested we expand to add a loft. We are so glad he suggested it as it turned out to be one of the most used rooms in the house. In the winter, it is warm and cozy with the heat from the wood stove rising, keeping the second floor nice and warm.  In the summer, the windows capture the cool breezes and the room is always comfortable.  Its a great room for relaxing, watching a movie, reading a book, enjoying the view of the lake or doing yoga. Ken has plans to build an entertainment unit for this room.

The floors in the open area of the upstairs – the loft, the walkways and the dormers, are a mixture of hardwoods. The hardwood was bought in small lots off Kijiji, left overs after reno projects.  We looked for lighter colors and ended up with a mixture of maple and birch, some wide boards and some narrow. However, the tongue and groove of all them fit together so we could mix and match. And it was all prefinished so just install and its done. No sanding and finishing thank goodness.


Herringbone corner

Since the area is all open, it was quite a puzzle figuring out how to make it all go together. We decided on a mix of narrow and wide maple, with some birch thrown in as well, for the east walkway. The part of the loft room adjacent to the stairs is also a mix of narrow and wide maple. Where these two meet, Ken did a herringbone joint. The rest of the loft room continues with wide maple. The dormers come off the east walkway and are wide maple which is a bit darker in color. The walkway in front the bedroom and the west windows is all done in narrow maple, meeting in the corner by the door to the outside balcony with another herringbone joint. Considering we used 6 different lots of wood, I think it flows together really well.

The installation was a long process, with so many nooks and crannies. Each of the bannister posts needed to be fitted around. As Ken likes to say “It was tricky”. He did all the installation work.  I was the template girl, making all the templates for the bannister posts, arranging all the hardwood in size order and laying out the rows for installation.

under construction

It is quite a treat to have construction in the house done. I was beginning to consider the pressure tank a permanent fixture in my livingroom.  Hopefully this is the last picture of my livingroom being used as a construction site.

After almost five years of constant construction, I am happy to say the house is pretty much complete. There are lots of little finishing projects, but those are never ending and will always keep us busy. Its been quite a journey!


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Maple Trees

November 19, 2017

Winter is a great time to explore the property as there are many areas that are hard to get to at other times of the year. You can make your way through the bush without all the underbrush and insects bothering you. And you can cross frozen water. We actually chose the house location by tramping the area in the winter.

Today was a beautiful day. Sunny, no wind and only -10C. Since I was not in a hurry to get back inside, Hanna and I went exploring,  snowshoeing across the frozen beaver pond at the south end of the lake. While snowshoeing along, I happened to spy this on the frozen pond – a maple tree seed.

I was curious, how did this seed get here. Maples are not native to this area and the only maple trees I know of where planted by my parents in their yard about 2 miles away.

Investigating, I found more seeds and along the shore of the pond I found maple trees, four to six of them. What an exciting find for me. In the spring of 2016, I tapped some birch trees on the property and made birch syrup, but it is not as tasty as maple.

Maple tree

The trees are not in very good condition, but I am sure with a little love and pruning they will shape up well. They have some pretty interesting shapes and configurations. The trunk of the one below is almost parallel with the ground. I think the grandkids will love climbing on these trees. We a path down to the south end of the lake, but it stops before these trees. We will have to make it a priority to extend the path past them and clean them up before the spring so I can tap them.


How they got here is an interesting question. I believe my Mom planted them. The seeds from the maples on the home property often sprout, forming little trees in Mom’s flower beds, and have to be pulled out.  I am thinking that my Mom took some of those seedlings, planted them here and forgot about them. This spot is where we always came for picnics and camping when we were kids. The beaver pond used to be a meadow and we would drive across the neighbors field to this meadow and camp. (All five of us kids and my Mom sleeping in the back of the station wagon. The lake is just down the hill from here and we would skip stones.) She loved the Ponderosa property and even talked about building a retirement home here.  Maybe she was planning for that. By the time the trees would have gotten big, us kids would have been grown up and there were no more picnics here.

I do wish I could ask my Mom about the trees. On December 19, it will be two years since she passed away. Although I can’t verify the origin of the trees, I believe Mom planted them and will enjoy this wonderful surprise gift from her.

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