If you’re looking for authoritative pieces on this and that – keep looking.
You see, I’m no authority on just about everything. What you’ll find here are my personal experiences, thoughts on things, and some poetry with odd themes such as solar power and Halloween.
I’m the first one to admit I’m not perfect. I have a really bad anger problem along with depression and anxiety.
Neither me nor my husband have our shit together by any stretch of the imagination. When we made the big move from our suburban home to a wildly different setting, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about it but I am not offering advice because I probably shouldn’t.
We are self-professed eccentrics; responsible people wannabes. We’re secure enough with ourselves to admit we envy others who seem to have perfect lives. We are the ones who show up at the farmers market to sell something only to discover the seller down the row has four times the inventory, professionally displayed with matching business cards (that really happened).
I’d like to think that we represent the archetypal underdog -that part of our collective consciousness that we hide from each other’s view. I hope that by being honest about ourselves, we can reassure others who suffer from less-than-perfect syndrome.
As a matter of fact, we like being a little off. We’re intelligent and kind and we revel in our off-ness. We are castaways on The Island Of Misfits. In a nutshell, we have low self-esteem but we also think we’re pretty cool. Reconcile that.
I think we all struggle with the idea that we have aspects of ourselves we love and some we loath and they have to occupy the same space in our heads. Just stay on your own sides of the room.
So we’re not perfect, and we didn’t have the picture-perfect display when I sold necklaces at the farmer’s market. We’re the kind of people who’ll use duct tape when we’re supposed to be using electrical. Why?
Because we either can’t afford it, don’t want to do it the right way or don’t know how.
When we sold our house on the other side of the state, we had no idea where we would settle down. Personally, I didn’t want to move too far from our old home because of our ties. Friends and family and a fierce resistance to change make me like a limpet: I find a place to stick to and I stick to it.
When my husband and son first pitched the idea of moving, I had a tiny panic attack. We’d lived in our house in Snoqualmie for eleven years and in the surrounding valley for about twenty seven. The idea of leaving it all behind scared the crap out of me. I needed time to digest the idea.
For anyone, moving can be overwhelming because of the logistics alone. The emotional and sociological impacts only quadruple the anxiety. I was looking at selling a perfectly good home and launching into the unknown. My family was my only safety net amidst the potential chaos of change.
Selling a house is stressful enough – packing everything you own (which is more than you think), finding a new place and moving all of your stuff there almost qualifies as a traumatic event. You have to say goodbye to friends and family and schools change. You worry about the effect it’s going to have on your child. Luckily, our son was on board which made things a lot easier in the guilt department.
Not having bought anything yet when we hit the road was an added unknown. We did know we loved the outdoors and wanted something away from the cities; something with trees and acreage.
We spent over three months living in the little travel trailer we’d bought as a temporary home, while we looked for property. We visited many prospects while we camped and pushed farther and farther east in our search. I didn’t want to move too far away but it became apparent that I might have to compromise.
In August, we decided on a place. We would be situated in Stevens county in eastern Washington about seventy miles south of the Canadian border. It was beautiful and there were four seasons – unlike the monotonous rain of the Puget Sound region we’d left behind. The property fit our criteria perfectly so we made an offer and waited until things were finalized in mid-September of 2017.
On September 17th, on an especially rainy night near Snoqualmie Pass where we were camping, we packed up and headed home – our new home.
The property we’d settled on was raw land and we knew we would be facing some major challenges to make it livable. Ultimately, reality kicked our asses, especially during our first year but we survived (unlike some of our worldly possessions that succumbed to the forces of nature).
Living off-grid isn’t just living; it’s an experience that involves an interplay between emotions and pure grit. Out here, you interact with your environment and surroundings because you must. What you do or don’t do directly affects the quality of your life. You learn cause and effect and that’s a good lesson.
If I was a princess type, I wouldn’t survive a day but I wouldn’t be here if I was a princess.
When I’m stressed out, the tasks of daily living become burdensome. I’m easily frustrated and ask myself “what was I thinking”, only to wake up the next morning to the sight of trees, mountains, deer and other wildlife bathed in the brilliant light of a sunrise I could never have experienced from the doorstep of my former suburban home.
Being here comes at a price but the cost reminds us we are alive.
The usual disclaimer that I love my solar power system but my power inverter seems to have fallen victim to either myself or the elements and it just makes for good material. The metering is confusing so I’ve underlined the syllables you put emphasis on.
You once sat so proud upon the top shelf of the rack
Your spot above the batteries the leader of the pack
Then one fateful rainy night I went out to go ground you
I raised the lid and God forbid a drop of water found you
I flipped your switch there was a glitch as I dealt the death blow
That was the end can’t comprehend Be missed more than you know
You failed the test you weren’t the best now all I have is scrap
To Amazon where you belong you sorry piece of crap
I bid adieu I feel for you it just might be my fault
Made a mistake you I did break was a form of assault
Looking across our property at night through the mist of a very low-lying cloud is the beckoning rectangular shaped glow that is our nearly-assembled ShelterLogic 12′ X 30′ snow-load rated shed.
Almost a month after receiving it, it’s up and we’re down to the last touches like installing the anchors that will keep it from blowing away. It’s supposed to take three people about three-and-a-half hours to assemble.
It took us a little longer.
The instructions were all in pictures but our strategy was to jump in as far ahead as possible until we made a crucial mistake then back up and start at the beginning.
Fourth time’s a charm.
We’ve needed a real shed since we moved here. Our old one is constructed of pallets – the roof being a lattice-work of beams haphazardly nailed together with a tarp on top. The parts of the tarp that lay over the openings would fill with rain and snow and sag heavily.
We had to keep it cleared off but it got overloaded once or twice with what was probably tons of snow. Surprisingly, it held while some neighbor’s professionally built structures caved in.
Our antiques, bikes, cleaning supplies, tools – all of it has been going into the shed and suddenly I’m thinking we should have gotten a bigger one.
Last week, our new neighbor of one whole month approached me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to cut down our trees on the edge of our property or have him do it so he could move the cul-de-sac we share thirty-feet over and onto our property.
He was very casual about it – like it was a matter of an overhanging branch that needed to come down or something. It felt more like a shock-and-awe maneuver as this was the first I’d been clued into his plans.
I told him I would need to talk to my husband about the matter and I practically sprinted to the RV with the bad news. My husband was just as floored as me. We felt so blind-sided we couldn’t think straight.
Were we over-reacting or should we be wary of this person?
We scheduled a legal consultation and here’s what happened: Our neighbor had done his own survey and discovered the existing easement road was fifteen feet to the side of where it is shown on the survey so he decided he was going to move it – without consulting with us first. The road, however, has been in it’s current location for decades and would most likely be considered an implied easement and remain in place.
To add to the confusion, the easement is also described as being the existing road in other parts of the same legal documents which would make it legally in the right spot. The contradiction might warrant another look by the attorneys to be sure.
We were advised that the proposed change would be to our detriment and the neighbor’s benefit. We would be the only ones out of the three property owners who shared the easement road who stood to lose acreage if it was relocated. A judge might take that into consideration if this ever goes to court.
The attorneys told us that it would save everyone a lot of money to negotiate rather than go through litigation. We could even propose a sum for the use of our property as an option.
Armed with this basic real-estate legal knowledge, we’ve decided to just watch and wait and hope the neighbor doesn’t push for this after we leave him a note informing him of our stance.
We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day but there it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark coming earlier hasn’t helped.
The matter with the neighbor over the cul-de-sac derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct letter for him and his wife on one of his fence posts and are waiting for a response – if any. He’d previously gone onto our property (past well marked posts), and spray painted survey marks on the ground for the cul-de-sac he was planning – for all of us.
We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property. We traded some antique ax heads for a discount. One of the guys does handy work so we may have some help with the work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game.
I insulated the battery bank tonight. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two-million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.
The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve him more in chores for the benefits those things offer a young person.
Work in progress photos:
Black is black and red is red. Our solar battery shed.
Fire wood pile…obviously.
Our sizable new water tank needed to be refilled but alas, the freeze snuck up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into a tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after each use from now on.
I moved the ever-growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago out of the trailer. We want to put it all in the shed but it still needs to be built!
We need to clean up the messes from all of our projects too. It never ends around here.
I also have a million administrative tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of items. I drew a big mind-map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done – complete with sub categories. I hope to dispel some stress by getting the morass out of my mind and onto paper.
Writing also helps me to cope when I feel overwhelmed. It’s a little like talking to someone only they don’t talk back. 🙂
It’s been a couple of months since we bought our solar power system and we’ve noticed a big problem that seems to run across the DIY industry: the kits don’t have a built-in low voltage disconnect (LVD) for the AC part of the set up.
Solar kits run both AC and DC loads. The AC is the one you would use for your home. It’s strong enough to run the big appliances. The DC is stuff you run right off of your batteries like when you go camping.
With batteries, if you deplete them too much, they become damaged and their lifespan is shortened significantly.
Our solar power kit came with charge controllers that have a low voltage disconnect (LVD). It cuts the draw from the batteries at a certain voltage to protect the battery but ours only turns off the DC load – the part we don’t use.
The inverter that came with our solar kit turns off the load at 10.5 volts – way too late.
Because we thought everything was being monitored, our batteries ran well below fifty percent many times. We wonder if they’re ruined.
I bought a generic LVD from another company and installed it but it stopped working, possibly because it couldn’t handle the amount of amps going through it. I was warned that might happen.
We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. One option we have is to buy an inverter that is programmable but they’re super expensive. We now have no way to monitor the batteries but we kind of don’t care. I’m tired of messing with this stuff for now. I need a break so we’re back to using the gas generators until everything is running smoothly.
Here’s another thing to be aware of if you live in an RV: when you’re adding up how many watts the various appliances use per hour, don’t forget you’re charging the RV batteries also.
I had a ball trying to figure out how many watts it takes per hour to charge fifty percent of two batteries. I’d share the formula but I lost the paper with my notes on it.
The solar kits come with a battery thermometer that plugs into the charge controller. The temperature probe gets taped onto the side of the battery to let the charge controller know how much energy to use to charge the battery, depending on whether it’s super cold or hot. They’re not mandatory but they make charging more efficient.
There are a lot of variables that impact the functioning of a solar power system. If one part isn’t running or working well, there goes the whole thing until you track down the problem.
I believe a low voltage disconnect is the most important part by far. Batteries are expensive. Every DIY kid should have one built into the AC part of the system.
I love having solar but the truth is it’s been a huge pain in the but to set up properly.
Our first winter here: It’s early morning. Snow is falling and the neighbor is texting to say she hopes the trailer doesn’t cave in.
I go out into the white with my pajamas still on under my coat, boots and gloves. With a huge groan, I wrestle the ladder around to the back of our makeshift shed that is topped only with tarps that are sagging under the load. I don’t want a cave in.
I climb up the ladder with a shovel and start to scoop and push snow off the side. At least the plastic is slippery and I can move some of the snow to the edge and off. One shovel at a time. I figure each push is a little less weight on the “roof”. The snow is heavy and the shovel is cumbersome to manipulate from the top of the ladder.
I’m bummed. The snow is oppressive to me right now. Not fun – like it used to be.
I feel resentful that I agreed to sell our home in the burbs to come out here and experience this. I did agree to it though. Maybe a reward is in our future, I think to myself. I often burst out in tears at this point, wanting to live somewhere else.
Deep down, I know this will pass – that there is meaning in everything. I know I’m learning and experiencing things in life that will be worth telling a story about someday – but this sucks. I’m breathing hard and I’m cold and miserable. I’m angry. I’m depressed. Once again, for the hundredth time, I feel resentment that I’m even here.
When I write, I usually don’t mention the emotional upheaval that truthfully underlies our story. We’ve argued and cried (mostly me) time and time again about our circumstances. I want to blame but I know I have no one to hold accountable but myself. I understand we decided as a family to come out here but this is really, really really hard.
But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
A hundred, not even a hundred years ago this is how people lived but they were used to it. We went in with a certain amount of naivety. I actually hate the term newbie but it fits. Live and learn.
Soon after this, me and my son went to live at an emergency shelter in town for three months while my husband stayed on the property with the cat. I didn’t even care about admitting defeat at that point. I was glad to be able to get away from the cold.
Although I grew up in Utah where the climate is very similar to that here, I’ve lived most of my adult life out of the snow belt. Western Washington, the Puget Sound region is where I’ve spent a majority of that time. It’s the rain belt; a place of moderate temperatures year round and lots of rain.
I used to pray for snow every winter because I missed my childhood days of sledding and snowball fights. After we moved from Utah, snow became the little bit of cake mix left in the bowl you got to lick. There was never enough and you were always left wanting more.
Now I’ve had a bowl-full and some. I’m satisfied. It’s not so fun anymore. As a matter of fact, it’ll soon be the only thing I get to eat every day.
When it snows for the first time each year, the first fifteen minutes of play time is soon over and you have 172,800 more minutes to try to get it out of your boots, car, half-mile of driveway, off of the top of your trailer (before it caves in), off the top of your shed, off your solar panels, and out of your life in general.
The reality of snow is that it slows you down, gets dirty, is heavy, is cold, is wet, and rules your life for months at a time. But snow is also transforming. It muffles sound and brings soft silence. It is fun to play in and it’s just beautiful. That’s why I missed it so much all of those adult years.
I think our biggest problem last winter is that we couldn’t get out of it and get comfortable. We had to trek back and forth up and down our half-mile long driveway to and from our truck because the four-wheel drive broke and with that, the road was completely impassible from the first deep snow on.
We made ruts with our feet as we trudged back and forth carrying groceries and hauling propane cylinders in the wagon we took the wheels off of to make into a sled. The deer and the other animals shared the trail with us. They’re not stupid.
Despite the challenges, I have no regrets about moving.
Thankfully, this winter we’re better prepared. I can now take hot baths when I get too cold and we have a fireplace to keep us toasty.
This year, I can look forward to winter days and nights tucked in safe, warm, and cozy while we watch the snow fall outside.