Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you woke up one morning with no running water? You call the landlord or the water company and noone answers the phone. Or maybe the phone doesn't work. You go talk to one of those neighbors you never talk to and find out they also don't have any water. The power is out as well. The whole block has no utilities. What will you do? Will you work together to solve the problem?

Where will you get water if not from your faucet? What will you do when your toilet doesn't flush? Where will your waste go? How will you cook your food? Or keep it cold? How will you keep your family warm in the winter and cool in the summer if the central heat and AC don't work? Do you have a back up plan if this ever happens to you?

Could it happen? Yes, it could.

Think about the resources you take for granted every day. Water, food, electricity, waste disposal, transportation. What is your plan if any or all of these resources disappears? Look in your cupboards. How long will your family survive on what you have stored there? Do you have a way to cook when your electric stove stops working? How long can you go without food and water? Do you know? Do you have a storage of water for emergencies? Do you have a way to provide light or heat if a storm knocks the power out for a few days? How about 30 days? What if it went out and never came back on? What if you drive to the gas station and they are out of gas? Every gas station in town suddenly closes or raises their prices to ridiculous heights because gas is scarce. What will you do? Or, you put your trash out on the curb but the trash pickup never happens. Weeks go by and the trash builds up. Now what?

Most people don't think about these things. Should we? Shouldn't we all have a back up plan?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Finding Peace

There is a certain peacefulness and reassurance feeling of a fire in a woodstove. The smell and the warmth combined relax me and ease the stress that comes from everything suddenly going wrong...

The kids and I have temporarily moved in to the guest house. Ever since we got home from Thanksgiving travels, everything has decided to malfunction. The heater for the new trailer was taken to the shop for repair. Jamie found a replacement part cheaper than what the repair shop had it for and we'll hopefully have it working within a week. The water heater refused to come back on and then the solar power system started doing strange things. (Thankfully after I got in a good day of sewing!) I was so cold yesterday that I could not keep my hands warm enough to do anything with them. I was so cold that I couldn't think. I ended up putting the kids in the car and driving into Livermore to sit in the warm library for a few hours using their electricity. When I got home, we moved into the guest house so that we could be warm while trying to come up with a plan.

The lesson I have learned this month is that modern RV travel trailers are very reliant on electricity. The oven & stove seem to do ok on only propane, but the fridge, heater and water heater all need electricity to run even though they are propane appliances. I find this rather irritating. I think you all should consider yourselves warned. So, we've got a fix for the heater. Now what do we do about the water heater? I'm not sure. If Shannon and Jamie can both look at the thing and get frustrated, I'm not sure that I could do much better. As far as the electricity goes, I am thinking a generator is a good backup for times like these and am going to go shopping for one as soon as possible. I have a feeling that life will just happen this way whenever I feel like I might have some extra cash soon. Lesson #2 is to have a better emergency fund plan and don't get my hopes up too soon.

So here I am, using Shannon's generator to run my computer and enjoying the comforting warmth of the guest house wood stove. I sure would love to have a wood stove of my own. (I actually am planning to get a small one for my trailer, where I have my studio and the kids' playroom.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Other Photos of Life Here, October 2010

Pictures of The Kids, October 2010

I just realized I didn't do one of these posts for October, so here it is now...

Geocaching on Mines Road...

At Joan's Pumpkin Patch on Mines Road...

At our gate...

Digging up a pretty rock...

A Few Cons of Remote Rural Life

There is a lot that I love about the way I am living, but as we deal with a dysfunctional heater in the freezing cold, I am thinking about the things I do miss that I had before we moved here. Obviously, I miss living within reasonable distance of a store or shop that could fix the heater for us. Right now the heater is in San Jose with Jamie. Between he and Shannon, it's malfunction is a mystery and Jamie decided to take it to someone who could help. So I continue to warm the house up by cooking and baking a lot. It does work pretty well, since we live in such a small space, but I suspect a heater would be a better way.

I also miss having a washer and dryer. I have a ton of laundry to do and I find that the laundromat ordeal is tiring when you have to drive 45 minutes to get there. If it was just me, I think it would be far easier and more tolerable. But, with the kids and cats also living here and making things dirty, there is an overwhelming amount to do if I miss a week. If it was warm, I could wash some things here and hang them out to dry, but in this cold nothing is really getting dry that I hang on the line. I wonder sometimes if we will ever have a solar power system that can handle a washer and dryer and sigh longingly.

The third biggest thing I miss is having a social life. I really enjoyed spending time with friends knitting and sewing together or going out for coffee. It is entirely impractical for any of my friends who knit to pop in for a few hours for a Stitch & Bitch. I also can no longer hold learn to knit/sew sessions. I'm really bummed about this and I am hoping I can find some interest in Livermore at least to have a knit together meet up at the coffee shop, maybe on Sunday afternoons before I pick up the kids.

All of this really boils down to how far out in the middle of nowhere I am living. When I decided to move out here, I NEEDED to get out this far. It was so clear to me at the time and such a HIGH need, that I didn't see it easing up any time soon. Now that I am feeling more comfortable in my skin and more at peace with the events of my life, I am craving community. I can see that with my long-term plans, I need to be living close to a small town where I can find others who share my interests or near some of my knitting and sewing friends. I need a small town nearby with a yarn shop and a laundromat. (And by "nearby", I don't mean the relative "nearby" that Livermore is.)

As for the heater issue, I have already decided that if I was living in a house with a wood stove, this issue would not have even come up. I think the simpler machines are easier to maintain and I am honestly already tired of the half propane/ half electric appliances of modern RVs. The straight propane appliances seem easier to deal with, even with the unpredictable propane stove I was using before we moved the new trailer in. My future plans will include heat sources that are easier to maintain and use.

This isn't nearly as positive and optimistic as my usual blog posts, but it's honest and has been on my mind a lot lately. And despite it's negativity, I am actually NOT unhappy here. I see the pros and cons and I am trying to improve things where it is at all possible and am taking notes to be sure that I alter my long-term plans accordingly. My optimism is just part of who I am as an adult, perhaps as a balance to the pessimism of my youth. ;)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Getting Ready For Winter

There are many parts of life that one needs to experience in order to know what sorts of things one might need in that situation. I think this is very true about winter and where I am living. I knew that it would get cold and that I would want a way to heat the trailer. I went through a lot of ideas and took in a lot of advice from Shannon. (I am beginning to think of Shannon as my personal Jiminy Cricket.) I also knew it would rain a lot and snow a bit. I knew it would get ice-freezing cold.

There are some preparations that were self-evident. The kids and I all need good coats and socks and warm pajamas. The van needs chains and emergency supplies inside it. And we need to make sure that everything stays water tight. So I have been picking up supplies for the van here and there as I find them and even have started stocking it with snacks and water. Both kids have warm coats and socks and pajamas. I have found all of the winter camping gear I'd been gathering for years, which gave us the wondrous Expedition-weight Smartwool socks that Maia and I have been wearing like slippers every night. The old decrepit trailer has been surprisingly water tight other than the obvious unrepaired holes that I have covered with a tarp. I am feeling amazingly prepared. I only wish I had a wood stove, as I do have wood.

So what have I learned since the freezing temperatures and rain have encroached upon our little gypsy homestead? First of all, the wind out here blows extremely hard! My porch swing went flying one day and landed a few feet away from where I had it and fell over. It has no effective way of staking it down so I am thinking that sandbags will be the solution. Also, the mud is totally unavoidable. I have a long history of driving 2wd vehicles through less than ideal conditions and not getting stuck, but the minivan isn't exactly an adventure vehicle and I do need to treat her carefully. I'm slightly less reckless than I used to be and would prefer to not have to try to dig her out of the mud by myself. I'm still working on that issue, but I have done some work to the yard to cut down on the mud tracking into the 'house'. I spread straw all over the commonly used pathways. I also used straw to cover the chicken yard and my vegetable garden. (Imagine crisp lettuce plants safely hidden under a straw blanket while the rest of the world freezes. Yay!) When I ran out of straw, I started using cardboard. But I think I could use another straw bale. One more thing I have learned is that water freezes. (Yeah, you are thinking "Duh!") But when I went outside this morning and the kitties' outside bowl of water was frozen over and there was a frozen bit of water out the end of the garden hose, I had the reality moment of water freezing. Some people just need to see or experience things in order to really get it and I tend to be that kind of person. So I am hoping that today's sun will melt the water in the garden hose and then I can empty it and take it off the spigot for the winter.

My animals are another winter prep consideration. The chickens are pretty resilient and will really just stop laying eggs through the winter and spend more energy keeping warm. Only one of them has been laying since I moved them here, so it really isn't a big deal if she stops laying too. I can suck it up and buy eggs in town for a while. They have a coop that is designed for weather changes and so I need to put the foam insulation into it's place in the roof and make sure I change their bedding regularly to keep it clean and warm in there. The rabbit seems pretty content now that we filled part of his hutch with straw and covered the whole thing with a tarp. His water bottle hasn't been freezing and he's just eating more than usual. The cats, for the most part, have been fine. The kittens seem oblivious to the cold and just run around and play as usual. The older cats are more affected and one of them, Inari, seems very uncomfortable in the cold. (I think he may be developing arthritis.) I make sure they stay warm and I let Inari sleep under my covers at night. He seems very grateful.

A few days ago, Maia took the first hot shower we've had without going to the guest house or someone else's house since we moved up here. And I am now washing the dishes with warm water without having to boil it on the stove first. This has been a major morale boost and will make winter far easier than it was looking without a water heater. It also does make it feel a little less like camping.

What I can't figure out, though, is condensation. Every night the windows get covered and even the walls in a few places. I started looking this up this morning and learned that propane gives off water when used for cooking or heating. So a propane heater isn't exactly going to help. A dehumidifier needs electricity and we have a limited supply of that through the overcast days of winter. I need ideas. I've found some websites about winter RV living and I am getting ideas, so there is hope. I hope I can find a solution soon before anything gets ruined by the moisture.

Stocked up on food, water and propane we should be fine even if roads get to be untravelable for a few days. I still see a few preps here and there that I need to attend to, but I am learning a whole lot by experiencing this directly and working on each problem as it arises. I am incredibly thankful for the Jiminy Cricket voice of experience that hounded me about what I would need for the last few months. :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Like Always Camping

I walked outside this morning, a cup of hot black coffee in my hand, bundled in fleece and hand knitted wool. I left behind my cane and walked across the road to use the guest house bathroom. (I've been using my cane for walking assistance for the last week, so it was very nice to not need it) This morning was not as awe-ing as a few days ago when I opened my front door to find my yard and the surrounding mountains covered in snow, but it still had me breath-less at the beauty. The misty mountains were just a spectacular view for my still-sleepy eyes. I stood quietly, warming my hands on my coffee cup, remembering all of the times that I have been camping and woken up to a morning this beautiful and thought to myself "I wish I could live like this always."

Now I know why I was preparing for winter camping for years. It was not to go into the snowy wilderness for a weekend, it was to live in this trailer with my children for a winter or two. I am so glad that I am prepared for all three of us. Every day here is amazingly beautiful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why Would You Want To Do That?!

(I hear that title in the voice of my late grandmother, Dorothy Laakso, and I giggle a little bit.)

It occurs to me that from an outsider's perspective, I appear to have made a very strange decision in where to go in my life. This largely occurs to me because of the reactions I get from people who are not among my close friends. Otherwise, I only see my perspective. And that is? Well, I see that I made a decision to live the life of a homesteader but on a very low budget in order to allow me to get back on my feet after a divorce, learn what this sort of life entails without a huge commitment and so that I can save enough money to live the life I want to live. Now, I also see that anything worth doing in life is going to require sacrifice and hard work. I can work hard, that's for sure. But sacrifice had me thinking about how this decision would affect my kids. And I have thought long and hard about that. I also ask for their opinion and, so far, the sacrifice is worth it for them. What needs changing is being worked on and what can be improved is in process.

So let me begin by explaining what it means to be a homesteader in 2010. If you google "define: homesteader", you will get many definitions. The one I am working with here is this one: I sometimes think of it as Little House on the Prairie with solar panels and laptop computers. I have chickens for eggs, grow my own food as much as possible, store up food for winter and sometimes at night I read by candle light (or flash light). I am learning popular homesteading skills like canning and drying food for preserving. (I recently made and canned apple butter from apples grown on another friend's land.) Many homesteaders also employ elements of permaculture in their lifestyle. This makes sense because permaculture design is based on self-sufficiency, everything is tied to something else thus creating a cycle where everything is fed naturally. For this reason, we use a composting toilet. It takes a while to get used to, but instead of flushing our waste into clean drinking water to be treated chemically and released into the water system, we compost our waste into fertilizer for non-food plants... like oak trees! There is also a large community element to being a homesteader. We network and barter with other homesteader-minded people, like taking one person's fruit abundance and making canned or dried fruit to share with them. Both households benefit from this.

So, let me next go into what kind of life I want to be living. This is my dream and I have had it for a very, very long time. I want to buy land that is at least 5 acres or more in size. I want to build a home there. I would prefer land that came with an old Victorian farm house, but I'm flexible in how the house gets there and know that land is cheaper without the house already there. I can start out by moving my trailer there while I work on the house. I want an enormous food garden plus fruit trees, a flock of chickens, a few dairy goats, plus my herd of cats and a dog or two. I want solar and wind power electricity that I supply and maintain myself. (I should interject here to say that when I say "I" that this can be changed to "we". I am telling you *my* dream, but I'd prefer a like-minded partner to share it with me. I am lucky to have found Jamie, who was dreaming a very similar dream himself.) In this lovely farmhouse I dream of that is surrounded by gardens and animals, I will bake and cook wonderful foods which will be preserved and stored when it is in surplus. I want to can enough yummy things that I can send some off to my friends and family at the holidays. I will knit and sew and spin yarn and weave. I will have a wood stove with a rocking chair nearby so that when my bones ache, I will have somewhere to sit and knit. I will have a huge kitchen and a table where everyone can sit for dinner. I will write books and blogs and make scrapbooks and do all of the things that I am doing right now living in a 5th wheel travel trailer on my friends' land. But I will be doing it in a house of my own on land of my own. I was already doing some of these things living in a rented house in suburbia and in a tiny apartment in an urban ghetto. It is just going to make a lot more sense to be doing it where I can have the huge garden and all of the farm animals that I want to have.

Now to get into why it makes sense for me to be here in order to get where I am trying to go. First and foremost, I can save money living here. I put a lot of money into gas to get to and from town, which is a 45 minute drive minimum. But the rest of my money largely goes towards food for the kids and I. And we eat well as long as I remember to buy enough when I do get into town. We eat organic, I am picky about where my food comes from. The next largest expense is the hardware store. When things get broken and need fixing, that responsibility will largely fall on me and so I need to be prepared because, as I said before, the drive to town is long. This is mostly a matter of realizing what I need and making sure I have extra. I am incredibly lucky to have my friends, Shannon and Morpheus up here too, as I often can rely on them to help when I have failed to have what I need. It's a learning process and they are great guides on this path. So, I am saving money and I have help when I need it. In exchange for being here, I clean things up and play hostess. Since I naturally feel at home as a homemaker, I can manage to clean things up and play hostess. It's fun. I also jump in to assist Shannon when I can. Helping friends is not a hardship though. The limited expense allows me to save money now that I am catching up on my debt and working towards eliminating it.

For me, the decision to move here made perfect sense. Things just started to fall into place and a plan of action started to materialize easily for me. I am accustomed to being seen as weird, so I have no illusions that this will change any time soon. But what I hope to do with this life is to show others how much they also can become self-sufficient. I also hope that one day my family and friends will feel comfortable visiting me in my farmhouse, eat at my table of the food from my land and feel warm, welcome and maybe even peak some interest in learning more about sustainable living, homesteading or permaculture. There will always be a place at my table for you and a warm place to stay the night; I will make sure of it.

PS: Check out what the Dervaes family is up to: There are others like me!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kind of Gamey

I spent a large portion of my life being vegetarian. It started when I was 14 and didn't end until I was 23 and pregnant with my second child. Even then I wasn't so committed to being a meat-eater and often went back to being vegetarian. Recently (I'm now nearly 34), I have been much more of a meat-eater since going gluten-free. There's only so much you can give up at one time. So, not really having so much experience with the cooking of meat, I wasn't quite prepared for one of the biggest lessons I've learned since moving to my mountain home a few months ago. But, I can tell you now, I have a much better idea of what one does with a dead deer.

One day I heard a distant gunshot and thought very little about it at the time. Shannon's daughter Avia was visiting and maybe that was them doing target practice. You never know out here. Later, however, I got a phone call and soon was taking a walk to their house carrying a giant stock pot. I've actually taken part in the killing and prepping of a chicken before, so the turkey ordeal was not so very unfamiliar. He was just bigger than the chicken. The three of us, Shannon, Avia and I, spent a great deal of time plucking feathers out of this enormous bird that evening. It started to remind me of plucking eyebrows strangely enough. This led to a discussion of electrolysis as a form of feather removal. Really, what else do you talk about while relieving a dead turkey of it's foliage? I ended up taking the turkey home with me and finishing up a creepy yet satisfying meticulous search for the rebellious feathers that only popped up after slightly more boiling. Finally it was recipe time. I attempted to cook the turkey legs as one might prepare chicken legs, only they are larger and so need more time. This proved to be slightly unappealing and led me to the discovery of the true meaning of a "gamey" taste. I was unsure how to improve the toughness of the meat other then stew (which is what I did to the rooster I killed a couple years ago). Then began the endless turkey stew. Each night I added new things to the leftover stew of the previous evening. It got better and better. Several nights of dinner and the strange late night of dead bird prep was totally worth it.

The next wild animal adventure was fish. To be exact, a small-ish wide-mouthed bass. I walked home from Shannon's house with this dead fish, head and scales and everything, with no clue what I was to do with it or if I had the tools I needed. But some strange faith led me home regardless, feeling like I had a plan I just didn't know about yet. This time I had in my possession Storey's Basic Country Skills, a book I had on loan from the Livermore library that has proven to be a very very great thing to have around at a time like this. The children read to me the instructions by flashlight as I followed step by step as best as I could. I started to wonder if I needed new knives during this process. I also entertained the children by, shockingly, making the dead fish talk to them with some very simple manipulation. That was kind of fun in a somewhat gross sort of way. Terran was intrigued with the whole ordeal and wanted me to extract the fish's brain and let him keep it and the eyes. I opted to not allow this at this time. Perhaps later I will learn the fine art of fish-brain-extraction, but not today. At the end of our fun, we had morsels of tasty fish with rice and veggies while listening to Prairie Home Companion on the internet. Yum.

But, our wild animal adventures were not over yet! No, by some strange twists of fate and circumstance, a dead deer ended up in the hands of Shannon and I. Now the third animal to be dressed for dinner! It was late at night and we were totally unprepared to deal with this large animal, yet here it was and not following through seemed to be a waste. By the light of car headlights and with insufficient kitchen knives, we skinned and gutted the enormous buck. Neither one of us makes a habit of hunting and/or eating deer, so this was all very new and strange. Somehow we did it though and there it was, a whole lot of red meat to be dealt with. Back to Storey's Guide I go looking for answers... Here is where I become absolutely certain that I need a better set of knives! We managed to get a large portion of meat off of this deer with a lot of help from Jamie and other people he recruited to help him. I spent a long day cooking a yummy Venison Stew for a gathering of people. It got great reviews and was gobbled up quickly. We made cat food out of the gristly bits and packaged up the good meat to be stored in my fridge and freezer. Yet still a nearly whole deer carcass remained in the cooler. Several trips from town to bring back ice and many more hours spent removing meat and prepping it for storage. My knives were not keeping up and life was just giving me too much other stuff that had to be done right away. And then... then, of course, my fridge runs out of propane while I'm gone and the meat in there goes very, very bad. All that is left is the stuff in the freezer that stayed frozen. And now, the remains of the deer in the cooler are not going to be ok for use. I just ran out of time. Thankfully, though, we got a few dinners already out of this animal and my freezer has packages of venison prepped for jerky and for grinding. I plan to make some venison jerky for Shannon in thanks for all of the meat he's been bringing to us. I'm also going to grind the rest of the venison to make it easier for eating. We've found the red meat difficult for the kids and I to eat, and especially for Maia whose braces tend to complicate her eating. So we'll eat Venison burgers and I will have mine on gluten-free bread. :)

I have concluded from all of this that it is a very good thing to be prepared for anything. I'm looking into a better set of knives and more tools for preparing food from the abundant wild animals that inhabit these mountains. (My birthday is next month, btw.)

And, this post is made possible by my dear friend Shannon who looks out for me and the protein content of my diet. :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finding A Homesteading Supply Store

Life has been so busy around here lately that I am only now able to write the post I had planned for a week ago.

The weekend before this last one, Jamie and I found ourselves on an adventure down highway 1 from San Francisco that resulted in us landing in the Felton/Ben Lomond area in the Santa Cruz mountains. We were on a search for a store that carried "homesteading supplies" and a little google search on the mobile internet found us a place called Mountain Feed & Farm Supply in Ben Lomond. The day was very wet and the rain was still coming down. The people at Mountain Feed & Farm Supply were friendly and happy to see us. They told us they'd just opened their home supplies section of the store where we found supplies for canning, making sausage, dehydrating, cheesemaking and other kitchen-y bits. The owner, Jorah, talked to us for a while. He's a super friendly guy, great energy. He let us know that they used to do alternative fuel there but don't any longer. He also made sure to let us know that they are able to order larger scale items like composting toilets (good to know!).

Jamie and I ooohed and aahhed over everything in that building and then moved on to the farm supplies where we found feeds, fertilizers and beekeeping supplies. Next was the pet building where I ended up buying compostable kitty litter to try out and, of course, some salmon-flavored treats for my pack of felines back home. After a good chat with the ladies working in there about homesteading and knitting by the fire on a rainy day like this one, we checked out the gifts building. I awed over the cute baby things and smelled the soaps and then we happily went back out into the rain, feeling as if we'd found a wonderful resource for the life we're building.

We plan to go back there when we need something they've got. We're happy to travel the distance to support a great business. So, if you're ever in the Ben Lomond area, check out Mountain Feed & Farm Supply. It's on Highway 9. They don't have a website, but you can find them on Yelp here: And if they don't have what you're looking for, let them know. They were very eager to hear what else customers would want them to carry. I have a list going that I'll pass on to them next time I'm there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meet The Chickens...

First off, let me show you the little blue chicken coop:
Now, meet the inhabitants...

This is my oldest hen, a giant blue cochin named Penelope:

Next is a Red-Sex Link/Golden Comet hen named Honeydew:
And then there's an Easter Egger hen named Isis:

And the youngest in the chicken yard are the two "baby" Black Copper Marans who were hatched at Girl Scout Camp in July. The one on the left I believe is a roo, his name is Kopernikus. On the right is a hen-to-be named Madeline:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Here Comes The Sun...

Well, actually, the days are getting shorter. What I mean is here comes our solar power. We have a plan for powering our little gypsy home and Jamie has been explaining it to me. He's the electrician so he makes the plan. Now let's see if I understand it enough to explain it here...

Jamie says that travel trailers and mobile homes are the best situation for converting to off-grid power because they have separate light circuits and appliance circuits. The trailers we are living in are even better because the lighting is already 12v DC power rather than 120v AC. The solar panel system will be generating and storing power at 12v DC. When we convert 12v DC to 120v AC it creates heat and wasted energy and electricity. So with this we can save energy by using 12v DC as much as possible (lighting, cell phone charging, etc) and only doing conversion to 120v AC when we have to.

Ok, so the guest house has about 160-170 watts of 12v power with 450 amp hours of storage. This is what I am currently plugged into to power my laptop, charge my cell phone and mifi internet, run my sewing maching and occasional plug in a power tool. All of my lighting is battery powered lanterns and flashlights. (So far this has been sufficient for one trailer during summer). The solar panels we are looking to get are each 60-150 watt 12v. We probably only need 250-300 watts total, but Jamie has a goal of 350-400 watts. The higher the wattage, the faster the batteries are charged, which will become very important in the winter. We currently have enough batteries collected for 350 amp hours of storage. This should be ok for now, but we would like to have more.

(Now here's where we get into stuff that I have to copy and paste from his email as I am still working on understanding all of this.) Besides solar panels and batteries, we need a Charge Controller. It would be best to start out with a bigger one than we need so that as we expand we don't have to buy a second one. Jamie would like to get a 12 volt/ 45 amp charge controller with a digital display. The digital display allows for better monitoring and the size would allow us to someday expand to 500-600 watts. We are all about the long-term plan with how we're designing things here. The best source for acquiring this is going to be eBay.

We'll also need an inverter. This is what allows us to convert to 120v. For now a 600 watt automotive unit will work. When we have a more real house, we'll need to get a different one.

Other materials needed for putting the system together are things that Jamie has been able to salvage from construction site waste or has ways of getting. But everything I have mentioned is stuff we are trying to save up to buy. We can start putting the system together with at least one solar panel. This is a big project where we could use all the financial help we can get. I'm not certain of total cost and we are still doing a lot of pricing research. I'm sure I have forgotten something here that Jamie can fill in or elaborate on in comments.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pictures of The Kids, September 2010

More at Flickr:
To see all of my photos on Flickr, you have to have an account there and I have to add you as a friend/family. All of the pictures of my children are locked to friends and family only on Flickr.

Nature Runs The Show Here

Sunday, 5am-ish:
I wake up to the sound of thunder. Once my eyes are open I see the faint flash of lightning filling the trailer. Jamie and I lie side by side counting between flashes and crashes. He counts 15, I count 8. We drift back to sleep until a new sound starts: Rain. Suddenly my eyes snap open as I recall that my trailer is not ready for rain yet! The unfinished bathroom still needs the roof vent replaced and the window that is being held together by a clamp does not close yet! I jump out of bed and close all the vents and windows and then talk Jamie into going out into the rain with me to put a tarp over the back of the trailer. Together we are too short and the trailer is too slick and wet for either of us to accomplish much without a ladder. While Jamie uses a long pole to coax the tarp over the trailer, I look for ways to get on the roof. In the process I get completely soaking wet as my sweater is acting as a sponge! Finally, I am almost on the roof, the lack of coffee and breakfast is hitting me, I am cold and my body just does not want to try to scramble onto the roof. I look around and realize that the rain has stopped. *sigh* We go inside and put on dry clothes, make coffee and it doesn't rain again all day...

Monday, 00:30am:
Strange dreams wake me up. And then I see flashes of light outside. I crawl out of my warm bed to investigate. (Oh my it is cold!!) Over the mountains to the east, I see a lightning storm, constant flashes of light like explosions over the horizon. But no sound. I crawl back into my bed and hope it is not moving in my direction. I lie in bed, watching the flashes of light, wondering if I should wake the kids up so they can see the show too.

Monday, 9am:
The kids are awake now. We are all sitting on my bed. I have coffee. It is cold outside and huge fluffy gray clouds seem to barely scrape the rooftop as they pass by. I feel exposed here on this mountain, unable to hide from Mother Nature. I woke to the sounds of intense wind, wondering how much of my yard would be in disarray when the sun rose. I'm not ready to venture outside, but it looks relatively untouched from my bedroom window.
It's homeschool time now. Maia is working on her embroidery and Terran is working on a comic book about endangered species. Soon I will make breakfast, sausage and oatmeal to warm them up. And then we will clean the house and get the chores done to get ready to travel to Fresno tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Let's get one thing straight here. I AM crazy. And not just because I went outside this morning to wield a pick axe wearing flip flops. No, it's true, I really am crazy. But you have to be to stray from what is the norm in society. Homesteaders and pioneers are crazy. Have you read Little House on the Prairie? How many people pack their wife and small children into a wagon and leave all that is familiar, cross raging rivers and then try to live off of flat grassland full of pissed off natives? Crazy people. The Donner party? Crazy people. To be a homesteader or pioneer, you have to believe that you can do something that everyone is telling you will be too difficult. You have to believe in yourself enough to keep the kids going when they are sure you have lost your mind.

But I love living off the grid. I don't have to worry about gas pipes exploding like the recent incident in San Bruno. If my gas line explodes, it will do damage but on a much smaller scale. I will most likely still have a house afterward. And when my power goes out, I don't have to sit in the dark wondering what happened and when it will be back on. I don't have my own solar panels yet but it is pretty hard for me to overuse the solar power I get from the guest house's system. But if I do, I know I just have to wait till the sun comes out the next day. And my fridge and stove run off a propane tank. When that runs out, I feel stupid. I am totally responsible for it and know I should have more than one tank. Thankfully, though, I can borrow some. In the evening we use candles, lanterns and headlamps. We are extremely self-sufficient here and have absolutely no PG&E bill. I also own my home (though not the land it sits on) and have no water or garbage bill. I do have to haul my own recycling and garbage into town, but we make so little that dumping the garbage usually means dropping a plastic shopping bag full into the trash can at a gas station.

So, yeah, I am crazy. But I am also very wise. Here I can take care of myself and my children. My children have plenty of space to play and be children a little bit longer. I can start a real savings and plan a real future. I'm building the skills I will need and laying the path towards owning my own land someday soon. I am taking care of myself and creating a future that does not have me running around in circles playing society's games and getting nowhere. And that keeps me getting up each day to wield shovels, pick axes, power drills and whatever else ends up becoming necessary.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Defeat of the Kitties

The screen door to my trailer is a bit inefficient. It latches by sliding a bolt over that catches on the door frame. It is an obvious homemade job following some sort of failure of the original latch. It necessitates a hole in the screen material in order to reach the latch from the outside. I really want to get a new screen door but in the meantime, this is what I have. It only took the big cats a few days to realize that the hole in the screen (which is about 6" x 6" roughly and has a piece of screen draped over it as if that will help) was the right size for them to just leap through. Yes, they are very graceful for their flabby size. Soon after, my kitten Stevia figured out he could climb the screen to jump out through the hole. So, sick of this escape madness one evening, I got a few small boards and screwed them together around the screen material, leaving a hole in the screen just big enough for small hands to reach in to get the latch. It looks like crap, seriously, but I was going for function out of desperate frustration. I have a roll of screen material. I wonder if I have enough wood to make a door...

So, anyways, Thursday morning I get up and start getting ready to head to town. Then I realize that the cats are STILL escaping the trailer. I am now quite sick of this game, as you can imagine. No amount of reasoning with the little fur balls conveys the idea that I am merely trying to prevent them becoming a snack for a coyote or mountain lion while I'm gone. So I grab a few boards and the screwdriver again. All the while I am thinking about how much I hate hobbling my house together like this. I'd rather take the time to make things nice AND functional. I don't want to live in a scrap wood shack.

Hopefully when I return home this weekend, all 4 cats will still be INSIDE the trailer and I will be able to take down the scrap boards and actually fix the problem in a more aesthetically pleasing manner.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lil Blue Coop

Yesterday I woke up feeling sick and stayed in bed to drink my coffee. Maia decided to make breakfast for Terran and I so that I could rest. I tried to just stay inside and rest all day but the amount of work to be done finally got to me after a lunch picnic with the kids under the star dome. I put another coat of paint on the roof to the chicken coop, changing the color from pale blue to a slightly darker gray-blue. I think the paint was originally Jamie's "Creeps Blue" but it works great for this. Today I spent the day painting the rest of the coop bright blue, the same color as the kids' room. Maia and Terran helped for a little while before deciding to dive into the brush to build forts behind the trailer. I'm hoping to have the coop in it's new place and all set up by the end of the weekend. I need to also build a run but I'm not sure how much more materials I will have to buy for this yet.

Today I also built a small deck out of scrap redwood that I got from Craigslist. It's pretty simple and is a good place for the kids to play. I'm slowly filling in the trench from the water line too, because I am impatient waiting for the backhoe crew to come back and I want my front yard back. I've filled in enough now that the backhoe won't have to come too close to the trailer.

Tomorrow I will take the kids into Livermore for errands, a park play day with other homeschoolers and then to San Jose for Maia's orthodontist appointment. We'll stay the night there and I will be with them Friday until Chris gets home from work and then I will head back home without them for the weekend. This new life is full of little rituals that I am still getting used to.

How I Got Here & Why I'm Blogging About It...

Last Spring, after my husband and I broke up, I knew that soon I would have to set out on my own. I knew that the school district would be cutting their budget tighter and that it was going to get much harder to find a job that would allow me to pay the high rent for a Silicon Valley apartment. And I also knew that apartment life would mean giving up most of my animals and garden. To me this looked like doom. Barely able to pay rent and bills, barely time to see my kids, everything I loved would barely have a place in my life. My determination set in and I set out for an alternative plan. I got the wild idea to try to buy the 60 acres for sale next to my friends' land in the Mt Hamilton range south of Livermore. It was only $150,00 and came with a 3 bedroom mobile home and a barn. Unfortunately, an offer was put in and accepted before I could act. My friends who owned the nearby 103 acres spoke up and said I could live on their land and help them care for their non-profit spiritual retreat center for Bay Area Pagans. All I needed to do was find something to live in.

Here was my long-standing dream before my very eyes. I could live in their off-the-grid experiment in alternative/sustainable living and learn hands-on about everything I dreamt of doing in my life: permaculture, solar power, compost toilets, natural living! I was excited! And on the same land as two of my most trusted friends! I could homeschool my kids again, keep my chickens, and build myself a home that I could love. And I would be immersed in a spiritual community that was bending over backwards to take care of me in probably the most difficult time of my adult life. I could give back to them by being here, taking care of Stone City, and helping Shannon and Morpheus keep this place going and improving.

The short version of what happened next is that I bought a 5th wheel travel trailer that had seen better days for very cheap, and a propane fridge from an old hippie lady in Santa Cruz. I got a lot of help from Shannon and Jamie making the place livable. I left San Jose and am now getting settled in my new home. Some days my kids think I'm crazy and some days they are having the time of their lives. We swim in the pond, picnic under a geodesic dome climbing structure, make dinner by candlelight, and get very very dirty.

Now, why am I blogging about this? Because I know my family is questioning my decisions. Because I know that I have friends who either think I am crazy or wonder what I do all day up here. Because someone is worried about my kids. Because someone wants to live vicariously through me. Because I am a Pagan single mama with wild dreams and a great love of adventure that very few people can keep up with. Because a few people have told me that they like to read what I write.

So, welcome to my blog about this crazy life. Ask questions if you have them. Show support if you are able. Be respectful because it's the right way to be.