Tag Archives: Off Grid

House update: miscellaneous jobs

You know when you have that big project on the horizon that you need/want to start working on, but for whatever reason you can’t yet but there’s a long list of projects to do so you gotta get them taken care of and when you finally do them you realize it actually feels good to be able to cross something off the list and you wonder why you procrastinated so long because, I mean, you’re not working on the “big project” right now anyway?

*Takes a deep breath after that extremely long run-on sentence.* 😉

Yeah, we’ve crossed quite a few need-to-do little projects off the list in the last couple of months since getting the septic finished. Some of them so small, I didn’t even bother to take pictures. But some of them were significant enough that they have made our life so much easier.

Like our garden hose hydrant. We dug a trench (more trenching!) from where our water line crosses the driveway over to where we wanted the hose faucet next to the landscaping rocks.

The trench.

Tee into the water main

Princess Girl got in on the action

The gravel in the bottom of the pit is to aid in drainage since this is a frost-free hydrant. That means that every time the water is shut off, the water that is in the top of the pipe drains out of a small hole at the bottom of the trench so there is no water up in the pipe or faucet to freeze in the winter. We did put in a shut-off valve just in case we ever need to shut the water off to the faucet for any reason, but theoretically, we shouldn’t ever have to use it.

We have water!

And it works like a charm! And made our water situation around here so much easier! Watering the gardens were a breeze with 1700 gallons on tap. Yep, that’s how big our cistern is. We fill it up from the well as needed (every couple of weeks at the end of summer) and it supplies all our outdoor and animal watering needs. Right now it is mid-November and we haven’t gotten any moisture all season long. Great for working outside, not so great for our fruit trees and perennial plants. So we’re still having to water the trees and gardens every once in a while. This hydrant also makes it super easy to re-fill our rain barrels (because, you know, no rain). We use the water in the rain barrels for the animals. Before having the hydrant, we would have to turn on the big generator and well in order to fill barrels, etc. Now, with 1700 gallons of water at our disposal, we only need to fire up the genny and well pump every…actually, we don’t know how long it will take us to go through that much water this time of year. Suffice to say, it will take a while. And since it’s all under ground, it won’t freeze during the winter. Yay!

Another project we were able to check off the list was to move the electrical conduit for the garage. We hired out having the garage built, and we ended up needed to scoot the whole building back a few feet, which means the place where we originally had the conduit coming up was no longer in the correct spot.

New perimeter lines drawn

You can see in the pic above that the conduit was now several feet away from the wall of the garage. So, once the construction crew dug the footers, we came in and extended the conduit so it comes up inside the garage near the wall where our solar power system will be installed.

Electrical conduit extended

Again, not a huge job, but it HAD to get done.

Another small job that made our life so much easier was installing shop lights in the house.

Let there be light!

Now that the days are shorter, we needed light in the house so we can keep on working after the sun goes down.

And speaking of the days being shorter, and therefore colder, we finally got our laundry room door ordered and then installed.

A real door!

We could have had this door in place since January since it’s frame is part of the steel building, not the interior wood frame like all the other doors will be. But last winter and spring we were on hold with the house and the house only had this one wall anyway. And over the summer it wasn’t needed because of the weather. It was only when it got cold enough that we needed to stop the breeze from blowing through the house that we got our butts in gear and got it done.

And yet another small job we got done recently was replacing the rain gutter on our mud room. We had scabbed together something when we first built it, but after two winters it needed to be replaced. So we got a real gutter system. And now we’re set for this winter. And hopefully we’ll get a lot of rain and snow this year. We need it!

Princess Girl is learning all sorts of skills living here on the homestead.

So much nicer than the old system.

And that’s about it for now. As I said, there were plenty of other odd jobs done that I just didn’t document. And in the middle of all that, there was one major project that we worked on over the course of a couple weeks…

The floors!

But that’s a post all on its own. For now I am going to sign off.

I gots things to do!

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House update: Septic Phase 2

Finally, I feel like we’re making progress! In fact, I have so much to share, I’m putting it in several blog posts to keep it all straight. 😁

So, last I left off, we we’re just starting on our leach field. I naively stated that “by the end of the week” we hoped to have a completed system.

Ha!

It wasn’t that was hit any unexpected problems. It was more that the problems we did face we’re harder to overcome than we expected. Namely, we had no dirt with which to backfill the leach lines. It was mostly just rocks. So, we had to purchase and haul in dirt. Again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First thing we had to do was dig the trench for the sewer pipe from the already buried septic tank, down the hill to where the leach lines were going to go.

Blessedly, Pops was on hand to dig once more.

My mom came to help, too!

We only ran into one huge Boulder which we just couldn’t budge with the small excavator we rented. But, a friend had a jackhammer that worked to get the boulder out of the way.

Our excavation crew. We are blessed with great friends who come to help us out.

Completed pipe from the septic tank down to the distribution box.

While we were working on the pipe, Pops was digging the trenches for the leach chambers. So once we got the pipe laid, it was time to bring down the chambers and start laying those.

We chose this system because the trenches only need to be 3 feet deep and no gravel is needed. And it’s very easy to put together. And handle. And transport. Etc, etc, etc.

Pajii finds a bit of shade inside a septic chamber 🤣

Leveling the ground in preparation for another chamber.

Making sure the previous chamber is level.

Prepping the ground for yet another chamber.

Once the chamber is in place, dirt is shoveled in on the sides to hold it in place. That’s where we ran into issues. We had trouble finding enough rock-free dirt to cover the chambers.

Digging the third and final trench.

Sometimes, the big tools had to come out to make the chambers level.

Pajii once again inside one of the septic chambers. 🤣

Each leach line was 80 feet long.

We got all three lines laid and partially buried, then had our inspection. Which we passed, no problem!

Here you see the leach field in relation to the house. What you can’t tell is just how steep that hill is.

Now it was time to backfill.

But again, how to get the backfill material from the trailer to the pipe when you’re dealing with steep, rocky terrain?

Buckets. Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of buckets full of sand.

If I never have to move sand by bucket again, I’ll be happy. 😉

Once we had a good layer of sand on top of the chamber, we could then push the native dirt (full of rocks) back over the top.

Goofball!

The hubby and I got real good at handling the mini-ex.

Aaaaand we’re done!

And that’s it. A completed septic system. It felt so good to know that we have another huge portion of our build completely done.

So now we have a fully functional septic system. But of course, nothing is hooked up to it. We have dumped the trailer sewer tanks in there a couple times since it’s been done, and that’s been great. Not having to go into town to empty those is a blessing indeed.

But let me tell you, that first toilet flush in our new house is going to be magical.

Once we finished the septic system, we turned our focus to the inside of the house. Primarily, the floors. But that is another post. I want to get this one sent off into cyber space and get back to working on the house rather than writing about it.

Homestead update: not a lot of progress in the last two months

So, last I wrote about the house, we were still waiting on contractors to come finish the siding and roof. Our house sat with only 1½ walls for 4 months till the new contractors finally fit us into their schedule. They finally started and I jumped in to help on a particularly windy day. In the process of helping, I learned how to do it.

So when some unavoidable delays happened again, we decided to take matters into our own hands.

Brushing off the dirt from the panels

And there were were, a family of rock stars who put the preliminary insulation, and siding up on 1½ of our walls, all by ourselves.

But then…

Before the contractors could come back and start on the roof, there was some trim work that needed to be done. And we REALLY wanted that roof. So, we continued working sun up to sun down in a push to get ready for the contractors.

With the help of some good friends

This picture makes me so happy. I love that my girl is old enough to be a huge help, but also to really remember this awesome adventure we get to have as a family.

We got the trim all on and it was time for the roof.

But first…

Yep, that’s a fire pit. INSIDE our house. How many of you can say you’ve done that?

And then the day finally came that the roof started going on!

Oh Happy day!

Pajii got to help!

Finally! The roof was on, but there was still a bit of trim work to do before we no longer had the equipment. So once again, my brother and sis-in-law jumped in to help out.

And then it was done, done!

We still have to cut in the doors and windows, but at least it’s “dried in”.

So the exterior structure of our house was done. And so was I!

This is what happens when you hurt your knee but don’t really take the time to slow down and heal. It keeps getting worse until it’s so bad you can’t walk on it any more!

So, I was laid up for about a week, waiting for my knee to heal well enough that I could get back to work.

But in the meantime, we had one more job to do with that equipment.

Putting in our cistern tank.

But let me back up…

Last summer, we needed to rent a large excavator to widen our garage pad. We also dug the hole and trench for our cistern system (say that three times fast!). A cistern is a fancy way of saying a water tank. This one is specifically a holding tank that we will fill with our well water and use as the water for our house. Being off grid, this is the best system.

But in order to get the tank in the hole, we needed to prep the hole and run the line for the water.

Remember the part I said the hole and trench were dug last year?

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. And this picture is after Pajii had cleared all the big rocks out! But that entire trench had to be bedded in sand for the pipe to lay on. And how do you get dirt up a 175 foot long trench that is 3+ feet deep and only 2 feet wide?

With buckets. Lots and lots (and lots and lots) of buckets full of sand! In fact, that’s how I hurt my knee, all the way back at the beginning of June. Carrying those heavy buckets (each one weighs roughly 40lbs when full!)

And where were we getting the sand for most of the job?

From our own sand pit, of course. We bedded and covered nearly a hundred feet of pipe on a very steep hillside by “mining” sand from our property. A lot of extra work, but it was free, and we had the time (we were still waiting for the contractors at the point.)

So fast forward several weeks. The contractors came and went and we had abandoned the trench prep in lieu of working on the house (because, priorities), I had begun to heal from my knee injury, and we were looking forward to finishing the cistern and starting the next phase of the journey.

But that was not God’s plan. My Dad’s health took a drastic turn for the worse and it became apparent that he should no longer be living alone, and therefore, his house on the other end of town needed to be sold. So, very reminiscent of when we dropped everything and moved to Oregon in 2014 to care for Hub’s ailing mom, we dropped nearly everything to care for my ailing dad and get his house ready to sell.

That was at the end of June. It took two months, but I’m happy to say, PopPop is now settled in here with us (in his own trailer), his house is in escrow, and we only have one more load to bring home from his house.

But in the midst of all that, we needed to finish the cistern. And we needed to do it quick. We had already put in so much work to it, that to leave it at the mercy of the elements was just stupid. So, while we still had the equipment we used for the siding on the house, we put in the cistern. Then we had to bring in load after load of DG (saving us the time and effort of shoveling it from our own property). But, how do you get the DG from the trailer on the road, down 15+ feet to the hole that the cistern is in?

That’s right, some of our roofing and siding scraps. The sand just slid right in. Quite ingenious, if I do say so myself.

And so easy, a 5 year old could do it.

Then it was another while before we could get it finished. That entailed hooking up the supply pipes, etc to the tank.

Hubs is inside the tank, putting holes in it!

Starting to fill in the hole to cover the tank

And that brings us up pretty much to the present. Here’s an updated picture of the dianthus bush I planted.

The dianthus has not done too well in our hot summer, but the alyssum, petunias, zinnias, and marigolds that I planted around it have just about taken over!

And we’ve got another broody hen who has been sitting on golf balls for 5 days. I put 9 fertile eggs under her this evening. This will be hen #6 that we’ve tried to get to set till the eggs hatch. It has been misadventure after misadventure. But I’ve learned a lot and have great hopes that this clutch of eggs will be the one!

We did have two chicks hatch from our very first broody hen of the season.

I’m not sure why only two of the 7 eggs survived. Of those other 5 eggs, one chick was half hatched, three were fully formed as far as I could tell but had died before hatching, and one had gone rotten from the beginning of the brood. But I was totally excited to get two of our very own, completely home grown chicks! Too bad they both turned out to be boys. 🙄😒

And now, for the truly, truly up-to-date update:

We’ve started working on the Septic System: Phase 2! By the end of the week, we should have a complete septic system. Hallelujah!

Using a friend’s transit level to lay out the septic field.

The middle one of the three required leach lines marked out.

And today, we started cutting the trenches. But that’s another post for another time. Right now, I am t-i-r-e-d. And we still have at least another two hard days of work till we can call for inspection.

Nighty night. Don’t work too hard!

Healthier Hot Chocolate (Only 3 ingredients!)

There’s nothing like playing hard in the snow, then coming inside to a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

It snowed again last night, the most snow we’ve had all winter.

The girls and I took the opportunity to get in some good old fashioned snow play.

When we came in for some hot chocolate, I realized we were dangerously low on our home made hot chocolate mix. But it was no big deal, because with only three ingredients, this hot chocolate mix goes together in a jiffy.

You read that right: three ingredients. This version is so much healthier than any store-bought hot chocolate I’ve found. And depending on what sweetener you use, you can make it even healthier. I’ve seen many other hot chocolate recipes what use more ingredients, and you certainly can add in flavorings of your choice, but we prefer to keep it simple. You can also omit the dried milk and add the cocoa and sweetener to whatever milk you normally drink. I like to have the milk in the mix, however, mainly because we don’t have a microwave, so heating milk on the stove means dirtying a dish. And we avoid that at all costs. Especially in the winter when our water system in the trailer is a bit more labor intensive. But also, I like to make up a big batch of this and have it on hand to drink, no matter how much milk is in the fridge.

Ok, I’ve talked long enough. Here’s the recipe.

Homemade Healthier Hot Chocolate

One serving:

  • 1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar/sweetener
  • of your choice
  • 1/4 cup (heaping) dry milk

Put all ingredients in a mug and mix them together, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till all ingredients are dissolved.

One quart of MIX:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar/sweetener of your choice
  • 2½ cups dry milk

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Then pour into a quart size container, label and place in the pantry/cupboard ,etc for later use. To use, place 3-4 large spoonfuls of hot chocolate mix into a mug, add 6-8oz hot water, stir till dissolved.

Notes:

  • Add more or less mix and/or water to achieve desired taste.
  • Mixing all the ingredients together before adding the hot water helps the cocoa not form so many clumps.
  • Feel free to use whatever sweetener you prefer. You may need to play with the ratios a bit, though. We typically use raw cane sugar, but we’ve also used coconut sugar and pure maple syrup. If you prefer to use a liquid sweetener, you’ll need to put that in at the same time as the hot water.

Do yo own thang

Weird title for me, I know, but I’ve really been thinking about this subject lately.

Do what works best for you.

You see, I posted this picture on my Instagram recently.

I was nearly instantly criticised (*ahem* Mom) for not hanging my clothes properly.

“Your grandmother would have made you rehang all those clothes properly.”

(To be fair to my mom, she was only joking. Not that grandma wouldn’t have had me change it. She would have. Oh, she most certainly would have. But my mom doesn’t actually care how I hang my clothes.)

But the conversation with my mom got me thinking.

I know how to properly hang clothes on the line. But I don’t for several very good reasons.

First of all, we don’t have space on our clothes line for each article of clothing to be spread out single file. In that picture above, every clothespin is holding two articles of clothing and they are hung in such a way that they take up as little space as possible. You see, I am not very good horrible at doing a load of laundry every couple of days to stay on top of it. And that’s when we’re not busy building a house. So before I know it, the laundry basket is piling up and I’ve got 4 loads of laundry to do.

And while clothesline drying is the only sensible option living off-grid as we do, we don’t have a good place for a long enough line to accommodate 4 loads of laundry. I know, I know, we live on 40 acres. How can we not have space?

Well, partly it’s because we don’t have good trees to tie a line to. The space we have our 25′ long line at is the only space between two suitable trees that was within a feasible distance from the space we are living. And now that the washroom is in our well shed (pictures to come soon!), the clothes line is actually kinda far away from where the clothes are being washed.

And partly, we just haven’t gotten around to putting up a new/additional one near the well shed because, you know, building a house.

And partly because we don’t want to put a lot of time and effort into something that’s temporary. Once the house is built, we will put up a (larger) clothes line near it. So for now, I am stuck with the one line I have.

Another reason that I don’t hang clothes “properly” is that living here in the windy, arid high desert, clothes dry a lot faster than they would have in my grandmother’s home of humid Ohio. Especially on a hot summer day, but even on a mild fall day like today, I am constantly amazed at how fast those clothes dry.

And the last reason I don’t hang clothes the way my grandmother would have is because I don’t have to worry about ironing like she did. I mean, seriously, I don’t think I own more than three articles of clothing that need to be ironed. And those are dresses that don’t get worn or dirtied very often. And when I do wash them, you can bet that they get hung on the line “correctly” so they don’t get so wrinkled.

So what’s the point of all of this? This post isn’t really about doing laundry. It’s about the fact that I do laundry the way that works for us in our current situation.

And that’s the great thing about homesteading. There is no single “right” way to do it. We all have the freedom to do this homesteading thing in such a way that it fits our family. And as our situations change, we can do things differently. If we want to, that is.

I’m reminded once again of a quote that is usually attributed to Theodore Roosevelt,

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” -Bill Widener. Source)

While I do believe there is a set of moral rules we Christians should follow, when it comes to homesteading, you are free to do yo own thang. Even if it’s not how others would do it.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Just like my jumbled up clothes drying on the line.

House update: getting ready for concrete

We are scheduled for our slab pour in just two days! (“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”)

Its been a lot of hard work getting to this point where we are ready to pour (and there’s still some work to be done tomorrow.)

When I last updated, we had just started cutting the trenches for the plumbing and footers.

This looks like a complete disaster, but there really is some order to it.

This is the same area later that same day.

We put a call for help out on Facebook and a bunch of our extended family showed up to help with the shoveling.

Even Flower Girl was a huge help!

My brother manning the sifting station.

My sis-in-law lugging some buckets of dirt out of the forms.

We were able to dig nice and neat trenches for the interior footers.

Once we got the trenches all dug and cleaned out, it was time to start on the drain piping.

ABS fittings

Our first completed branch line dry-fitted.

Once we had all the pipes laid out where and how they needed to go, we had a few days wait for our retired contractor friend to stop by and let us know how we did. He made a few suggestions which we followed.

While we waited for him, we made a good start on our septic system.

When we got the go ahead from our friend, we started gluing all the drain pipes and fittings together.

And bedding all the pipes in sand.

The girls had fun talking to each other through the pipes.

Then we had to test the system. This involved capping off all the pipes except this really tall one, then filling the whole system with water.

We only had the backhoe for a limited amount of time, so we got as much done with it as we could. Such as getting the water line put in across the driveway.

This line will eventually connect to an underground cistern which we will fill from our well pump.

I let Princess Girl try her hand at moving the backhoe around (with me right next to her, of course.)

We passed our under-slab plumbing inspection, and it was time to start backfilling. Again.

This time we needed to use sand to completely cover the pipes.

A good friend came by to lend a hand.

Flower Girl love playing in the sand.

She also found a way to go sledding in September. 😄

Once we had the sand over the pipes, we switched to using type 2 base and we were back to filling and compacting.

Once the pad was fully backfilled, there was just once last project to do with the backhoe before we had to turn it back in to the rental company. We needed to cut our footers for our garage and the trench across the drive to run electrical lines.

Then it was time for rebar!

Over the next several days we worked to get all the rebar finished in time for our inspection. We hit a couple delays, but managed to git ‘er done.

And that brings us up to our current situation. We had our inspection on Monday and passed with flying colors. Our concrete contractor was booked up till Friday, so that’s when we’re scheduled. We still have a couple odds and ends to take care of before we pour on Friday, so we’ll be taking care of those tomorrow.

So, Lord willing, we’ll have a finished slab by Friday evening! And let me tell you, it’s none too soon. The temps are dropping and freezing weather is just around the corner.

We’ve worked hard, but it’s exciting to see the progress. Hopefully when I update next the slab will be done!

How do we…stay warm

It snailed today.

Yes, you read that right. It’s not a typo.

And, no, it doesn’t have anything to do with slimy little creatures with shells on their backs.

See that “snow” on the straw bales? It’s actually hail.

Get it? Snow + hail = snail. I’m so puny.

See? Little tiny hailstones. But it was cold enough today for it to have been snow.

Never even made it to 50° outside. Probably going to have our first freeze tonight.

The weather brings to mind a question we get asked every time the temperatures plummet. And since we turned on our heater today for the first time this season, I figured it was a good time to answer everyone’s most pressing question.

Do we stay warm enough in the winter?

The answer is, “Of course!”

The the real truth of the matter, however, is that YOU might not think so, but we stay plenty warm. Relatively.

Yes, it’s a relative answer. WE think we stay plenty warm, but most people who live in climate controlled comfort would be rather uncomfortable at times. Case in point, as I sit here this evening and write this post, the thermometer is showing that it is 59° in the trailer. Now that is pretty chilly, I will admit. And I am about to turn on the heater to take off the chill before we turn in for the night. However, if we were not headed into a sub-freezing night, I wouldn’t bother. I’m just about perfectly comfortable as I sit here and type. How? I’ll share with you some of our tips to stay warm in the winter.

Tip #1: Your attitude affects your temperature. Ok, so I don’t know for sure if having the right attitude can actually physiologically affect how warm you feel, but it sure seems that way. We CHOOSE to live closer to the changing seasons. By having a cooler house in winter and hotter house in summer, not only are we saving money on heating and cooling bills, but we are more connected to the outdoors and the seasonal changes around us. We LIKE the changing seasons and don’t want to insulate ourselves from them too much. And honestly, you get used to it after a little while. I’m sure you’ve all heard of those people who live in Alaska coming down to the lower 48 and thinking it feels like summer when everyone else is all bundled up? Yeah, it’s like that. You can get used to anything. We chose to get used to colder temperatures in the winter.

Tip #2: Layers! I nearly roll my eyes every time I hear someone complaining that it’s cold at 65° when all they are wearing is shorts and a t-shirt. Unless you are one of those people from Alaska that I just mentioned, or you are doing physical work, yeah, you’re going to get chilled at that temperature. Go put some more clothes on. Throw a blanket around your shoulders. Something to help your body stay warm. And remember that your blood circulates through your whole body. So even if your legs themselves don’t feel particularly cold in shorts, your blood is getting cooled as it travels through them and contributing to your feeling of chilliness. Most people that I know just go bump up the heat a few degrees if they feel cold. We choose to put on more layers of clothing. It’s kinda nice having a whole different wardrobe in the winter. “New” clothes every 6 months. Woo-hoo! Oh, and this goes for night clothes as well. In cold weather, we bundle up to go to bed, often wearing a hoodie to keep our heads warm as well. I even made Flower Girl a sleep sack so that she stays warm enough, even if she kicks the covers off. It is basically a fleece nightgown that is long enough that it has a closure at her feet. Kinda like a combination nightgown and fleece sleeping bag. I am hoping she hasn’t grown out of it yet.

Tip #3 – Get moving! Want to warm up quick? Do some physical exercise. When we lived downtown, I would run up and down the stairs several times to warm up in a hurry. Even light housework like picking up toys, etc will get the blood flowing and warm you up.

Tip #4 – Auxiliary heat source. When we lived on the grid, I used to keep space heaters strategically located around the house so that when I got chilled, I could cuddle up in front of one. Living off-grid in a camping trailer now, that is not really an option. But you know what works great? Hot water bottles.

We got these last fall and Christmas and we use them All. The. Time. when the temps are cold. I have a problem with my feet getting cold before bed. And when my feet are cold, I just can’t feel warm. So I heat up my hot water bottle, put it at my feet in bed, and drift off to sleep in cozy warmth. They also work well to sooth sore muscles and relieve monthly cramping.

Tip #5 – Turn on the heat when you need to. So yes, we have a heat source in our trailer. And yes, we do use it when it gets cold. It is a propane fueled catalytic heater made by Mr Heater. The one we have is the Big Buddy.

Rarely do we ever have to turn that baby up on high. When we do, we have to turn it back down to low real soon or get heated out of the trailer. Even on low, it is capable of keeping us too warm – see the picture of our temperature reading earlier in this post. It was 74° inside because I was busy and hadn’t turned off the heater.

And in case you were worried, yes, we have a carbon monoxide detector. And no, we do not typically run the heater at night while we are sleeping. These heaters are supposed to be safe to run inside, but we’d rather be safe than sorry.

So yes, we stay plenty warm here in our little trailer on our mountain homestead. And if it’s chilly inside, it’s because we choose to have it that way. Because we’re different like that. But then, you probably already knew that.

Stay warm, my friends. And thanks for reading.