Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Forest Fire...

6:10 am - 62 degrees - hazy...

The smell of smoke is thick in the air this morning.

As of 6 PM last night (the latest official update), the forest fire is burning in steep terrain in a remote area about 5 miles east of us and had blackened 45 acres.  The fire is neither contained nor controlled, but well-staffed considering how very stressed the areas resources are right now. Last night they had two helicopters working the fire along with 20 firefighting crews, four engines and three water tenders.  They had also started back burning certain areas.

We are hope they get some sort of handle on the fire today before the strong east winds start up later today and blow the fire even closer.

(photo source: Kris Leonard)
This was taken early mid day around the time the fire was first reported. 

This is unconfirmed, but it's from fairly reliable sources... The fire was started by a campfire.  Then a second fire was started when one of the first responders unattended truck (believed to be DNR truck) somehow rolled off an embankment.

-------------------------

Update - 4:26 pm - 90 degrees - hazy and smokey...

The fire has now burned approximately 60 acres with zero containment.  There are about 90 people working on this fire with the help of two helicopters, two bulldozers and a feller-buncher.  A brush rig and water tender have also been on scene due to the remote location.  Firefighting crews are expected to continue fighting the fire throughout this week.

(photo source: katu.com)

The fire is 5.4 miles East of us.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Strawberry Freezer Jam...

8:58 pm - 78 degrees - smoky, windy...

This morning we had a Jam-In!   It’s when several of us (usually my mom and sister) will get together and make a ton of freezer jam – usually around 60-80 pints. 

Today was slightly different.  I had several girls from my Girl Scout troop come up and I showed them how to make freezer jam.  We made 34 pints of delicious homemade strawberry freezer jam.  It was a messy, sticky, fun learning experience!

Girls were cleaning and cutting up the strawberries.
We had four batches going at the same time, all at different stages.

With no-cook freezer jam you get to preserve the bounty of summer without the fuss, heat, equipment, and time that canned cooked jams require.  Uncooked freezer jam is slightly different than the cooked jams.  It doesn’t have that thick, cooked-down texture and flavor.  Instead, it looks and tastes like the ripe fruit.  If you were to compare a jar of strawberry (or any other flavor) freezer jam and strawberry traditional cooked jam, I think you’d be shocked at the difference.  Regular cooked jam becomes quite dull in color as it cooks, where as freezer jam retains the same pretty color as the fresh berries you started with.

Freezer jam does have two drawbacks.  The first drawback is it’s not shelf-stable.  For long-term storage, all freezer jam must go in the freezer – hence the name.  However, if you don’t have a ton of freezer space, freezer jam can be prepared and poured into quart-size Ziploc bags.  Squeeze out the air, seal the bags and stack them flat in the freezer.  When you need more jam, just thaw a bag, empty the contents of the bag into a jar, put it into the fridge and enjoy.

The second drawback (well, not really) is our kids got so used to eating delicious homemade freezer jam that it didn’t take long before they were sticking their noses up at store-bought jam, and every other kind of jam or jelly, except for freezer jam.  I can’t blame them though because honestly we all prefer the fresh, delicious taste of freezer jams.

To make freezer jam, all you need is ripe fruit, sugar, and pectin.  That’s it!  Quick and easy and before you know it, you’ll be proudly scooping up homemade jam for toast, biscuits, scones, waffles, pancakes, crepes, ice cream, smoothies, cake filling, etc!


~Strawberry Freezer Jam~
2 cups crushed fresh strawberries
4 cups sugar
1 pkg Sure Jell Premium Fruit Pectin
3/4 cup water

Mash strawberries with potato masher or in a food processor until slightly chunky (not pureed).  Jam should have bits of fruit.  Once the strawberries are crushed to a size you want, measure out 2 cups and put into a large bowl.

Stir sugar into the strawberries, mixing well.  Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir 1 box of pectin and 3/4 cup water in a 1-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil on high heat, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minute, while still stirring constantly. 

Pour hot pectin mixture over strawberry mixture.  Stir constantly for 3 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy; whichever is longer.  (A few sugar crystals may remain).

Immediately spoon jam into washed and prepared containers, leaving 1/2 –inch headspace.  Wipe rims of containers and seal.  Let stand at room temperature for about 24 hours or until set.

Store in the freezer for up to a year, or store in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.  Thaw frozen jam and stir before serving.

{Note:  You must measure carefully, jam making is an exact process and if you don’t measure correctly, you’ll have unsuccessful results.  Measure the exact amount of sugar, reducing the sugar or using a sugar substitutes will result in set failures.  If you want to make more than one batch, do not try to double the recipe, instead make two separate batches.  We usually have several batches, all in their own bowls, going at the same time.}

One batch will fill 3 pint jars with a little left over.

--- Enjoy!



If you are curious, here is the cost breakdown.  We always do a lot of batches at once, so this is the breakdown for 3 dozen jars of freezer jam - 36 pints (cost will depend on sales and qty purchased):
36 jars = $34.47
36 plastic lids = $8.16
12 SureJell Pectin = $46.50
25 lbs sugar = $15
24 lbs whole strawberries = $47.88
TOTAL = $152.01 (breaks down to $4.22 a jar)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mobile Wildland Fire Pump...

10:00 pm - 76 degrees - calm night...

This has been a very unusual year, weather wise.  Due to the low snowfall last winter and now the extreme hot and dry weather we have been getting, we are now faced with an incredibly high fire danger season.

For the past week, Tony has been running around town finding parts to put together a mobile wildland fire pump system... and we finally got to test it out!  Very impressive!

Full power stream shoots about 102 feet.

We would rather be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best.

{P.S. - I will do a more in depth post with more pictures once he's finished putting it all together.}

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fireworks On The Beach...

9:36 pm - 76 degrees - light scattered cloud layer...

We decided to leave the mountain for the Fourth of July holiday and took a road trip to the Long Beach Peninsula.  Wow!  If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you have not experienced the Fourth of July until you’ve hit the Long Beach Peninsula on the Washington coast.  This is one of those has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed events and WOW! was it ever impressive! 

Just imagine 28 miles of uninterrupted beach where people park 2, 3, 4 rows deep, grilling on their BBQ’s, sitting around bonfires, and letting loose with thousands of dollars worth of good old fireworks – mortars, roman candles, rockets, a 12 foot burning man made out of firecrackers!  It seems they’re all okay to use at the beach! Wow!

We went down to the beach at noon and people were already staking their
claim and getting set-up for the evenings festivities.

This was just one of the huge sections of beach that a group
 had marked off for their own firework display.

This particular display even had a 12 foot tall
burning man made out of firecrackers!

Long Beach Parks & Rec Department estimated around 300,000 people
were there to enjoy the fireworks show on the beach!

As soon as the sun set, the city of Long Beach started the evening off with the their main event, an impressive $15,000 - $20,000 display in front of the Long Beach Boardwalk.  Then the beach turned into a free-for-all - a wild and crazy night where each person was trying to out-do the guy next to him and the results were AMAZING!

We went back down to the beach just after 7pm to find a spot.  Our little guy
was very excited and couldn't wait for the fireworks to start!

Sunset on the beach and then....

...the fireworks began!



The kids finally settled down as the awesome light show continued on!

After the smoke has settled and the last firework has been set off, what’s left is thousands and thousands of dollars worth of paper packaging and cardboard tubes. 

What makes this Fourth of July event special is the huge volunteer beach clean-up that happens the next morning.  Large dumpsters are located at all the beach entrances so people can throw out their own garbage that night.  Then the next morning hundreds of volunteers and community groups organize clean-up schedules to pick up all the remaining debris.  By noon, there’s very little left of what happened just over 12 hours earlier.




This was the first time we have gone to the beach for the Fourth of July holiday and it was definitely worth it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

View From The Window...

12:57 pm - 79 degrees - light breeze...
Do you see it?  That big black dot on the next ridge over?
It's a large black bear walking along the rock slide!
There were actually two bears over on the rock slide and even at that distance, the very large moving black dots were hard not to notice!
The smaller one headed up into the trees while the large one headed down.

Monkey Butter...

9:00 am - 60 degrees - light breeze...

I had never heard of Monkey Butter until I ran across it on Pinterest.  The name alone caught my attention and sounded delicious – bananas, pineapples and coconut - yum!  So I decided to give it a try.

Wow!  This was the easiest freezer jam I’ve ever made and it is soooo gooood!!! 

Although this delicious recipe is called Monkey Butter, it’s actually a jam (freezer jam since long-term shelf canning is not recommended).  Store it in the freezer (up to a year) until you want to use it, then you store it in the fridge (up to 4-6 weeks). 

There are so many uses for this yummy Monkey Butter... put it on toast, biscuits, scones, waffles, pancakes, crepes, ice cream, cake filling, etc!  Another great thing about this recipe is that the ingredients are, for the most part, available year-round – that means you can make it any time of the year!


 ~ Monkey Butter ~
5 medium-size ripe bananas (no brown spots)
20 oz. can crushed pineapple (with pineapple juice)
1/4 cup small shredded coconut (or ground if you can find it)
3 cups white sugar
3 Tbsp bottled lemon juice (to assure acidity)
6-8 half pint sterilized jars

1. In a large pot, add the peeled and sliced bananas, crushed pineapple (pineapple juice and all), coconut, sugar and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.


2. After bringing to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook until thickened, still stirring constantly.  {Note: if you feel it is too chunky, you can use a potato masher while stirring to get some of the lumps out.}

3. When the Monkey Butter has reduced to a nice thick jam it’s ready to can.  Set out your sterilized jars and fill them using a wide mouthed funnel to within half an inch of the rim.  Put the lids on and let cool.

4. Once the jars have completely cooled you can either place them in the fridge (4-6 weeks) or put them in the freezer.  {Note: Don’t forget to write on the lid or make a label stating what it is and the date you made it.}


{Note: If you are not a fan of coconut, you can substitute it for mangos!}

{Note:  Some websites say that you can put the jars of Monkey Butter into a 10-15 minute water bath for long term canning.    But according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation “There are no home canning recommendations available for fruit purees using bananas, coconut, mango, ….”  So just to play it safe, and since Monkey Butter contains both bananas and coconut, I would not recommend canning Monkey Butter for any long term shelf life canning.  However, it can go into the freezer for up to a year or the refrigerator anywhere from 4-6 weeks.}

-- Enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Solar Power...

12:28 pm - 76 degrees - sunny...

Most off-grid homes use a wide range of energy resources, in sharp contrast to the typical all-electric suburban home.  One energy resource that we are using is solar power.

Solar power is produced by collecting sunlight and converting it into electricity.  This is done by using solar panels.  Solar panels are large flat panels that are made up of many individual solar cells.  Lots of small solar cells spread over a large area that work together to provide enough power to be useful.  The more light that hits a cell, the more electricity it produces.

photo source: alternate energy info

Once you have assessed your solar power needs and the amount of solar gain you can expect, the next step is figuring out where and how to mount your solar panels to get optimum light exposure.  There are a numerous ways to mount solar panels, and the best choice depends not only on maximizing exposure over the course of a year, but also cost and practicality.  Depending on city or county code requirements, that can sometimes mean thousands of dollars in engineering and equipment.  When all is said and done, simplicity is key.

Two important things to keep in mind when you’re looking at where to place your solar panels are which direction the solar panels should face and the optimal angle the solar panels should be tilted.

Where to place your solar panels - in general there’s one big rule: if you’re in the U.S. (or anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere), your solar panels should face true south (aka solar south or geographic south).

Identifying true south is not as simple as using a compass.  Due to the imperfections in the composition of the earth, due south rarely matches the compass reading.  A compass points toward the south pole of the earth’s geomagnetic field.  It’s the right general direction – but not exact.  

A simple method to finding true south is to look at your house on Google Earth; after centering the image on your home, you can view the north-south grid lines Google provides.  In the View menu, select “Grid”. 

Another easy way to identify true south is to look in your local newspaper (or Google) for the exact time of sunrise and sunset for that day.  Calculate the middle of these times; it should be somewhere near noon, but rarely right at noon.  Stick a pole in the ground, and at the exact middle time between sunrise and sunset, the shadow from the pole lines up with due south.

Once you have the direction the solar panels should face, next comes finding the optimal angle the solar panels should be tilted to get the best out of your system.  

The optimum angle varies throughout the year, depending on the seasons and your location.  Of course, the sun is continually moving throughout the day and to get the best from your solar panels you would need to angle your panels to track the sun minute by minute.  You can buy an automated solar tracker to do this but unfortunately, the expense of a tracker means that for most systems they are more expensive than buying additional panels to compensate.  The amount of power a solar tracker uses in order to track the sun also negates much of its benefits.

The sun is at its highest at solar noon each day (this occurs exactly half way between sunrise and sunset) and by using a Solar Angle Calculator {Click Here} you can find out the angle at that time of day.  At solar noon, the irradiance from the sun is at its very highest and you can generate the most power.  In the northern hemisphere, the sun is due south at solar noon.

photo source: gogreensolar.com

If you want to get the best performance during the summer months, you would angle your solar panels according to the height of the sun in the sky during these months.  If you want to improve your winter performance, you would angle your solar panels towards the winter months in order to get the best performance at that time of year.  If you have the opportunity to adjust your solar panels throughout the year, you will benefit from having the optimum angle on a month by month basis.

After all that has been said, here is what we did – simplicity is key after all. 

We picked up 8 solar panels that are roughly 2’6” x 5’6” for free.  We know nothing about them other than they were for a 12 volt system.  Free is a very hard price to pass up especially when to buy them new would be a minimum of $1,600.

Not knowing anything about the panels and how well they would perform, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a mounting system.  So Tony came up with a design using scrap materials that we had lying around the house.




This simple design allows them to be moved around on the forks of a tractor if we deiced we want to place them in a different location.


The orchard crates will be partially filled with large stones found around the property to counter weight the solar panels and anchor them down for high winds.



This simple design also allows the solar panels to be adjusted for optimum positioning in any direction and angle. 



They are facing due south and still need to be tilted to the proper angle for this time of year and are easily adjustable for the winter months.  Just after 7:00 pm last night the panels were producing 19.2 volts to 19.5 volts each.


We're half way done.  Need to build two more racks and then onto the wiring.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday - How It All Started...

11:22 am - 61 degrees - gorgeous blue sky and windy...

Looking at the stumps that we had to remove from the build site.

Setting beams with the excavator.


The guys taking a break.  


Building our home one board at a time on nights and weekends.

Our daughter when she was just two years old.  Always the little helper!

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Day of Spring...

1:12 pm - 60 degrees - overcast...

Wow, what a day!  The first day of spring, started off with a rare total solar eclipse and it will end with a supermoon!  What a way to start a new season.

  

Berry Garden...

12:47 pm - 59 degrees - overcast...

Just imagine walking outside your door and picking fruit from your berry patch to enjoy with breakfast in the morning, or whip up a berry pie, or can delicious jams and jellies!  Ooooh the possibilities!

Having my own berry garden has been a dream of mine for a very long time – since I was a little girl actually.  Whenever we would go to our Grandma’s house, one of our favorite things to do was going into the backyard and eat the fresh strawberries and raspberries that she had growing back there.  Fresh berries straight off the vine are just delicious!

To start my berry garden I have Reka blueberries, Honeoye strawberries, Caroline raspberries and Anne raspberries.  These are all winter hardy varieties, which is what we need since we’re somewhere between zones 5 and 6.

I purchased four Reka blueberry plants and planted them yesterday.  Reka’s are an early season blueberry variety bred in New Zealand.  It’s one of the fastest growing and most adaptable varieties.  They have a great flavor too.

I planted the blueberries along the south side
of the fire pit area.


Ollie didn't think I should be planting
blueberries at that time.

I purchased twelve Honeoye Strawberry plants, but I think I need to go back and get some more.  Honeoye’s combine winter hardiness, high productivity, good appearance and color, together with an excellent, firm, large-sized berry.  The berries are easy to pick and produce high yields over a long berry season, making it a very consistent berry producer.  They also freeze well.

I haven’t planted the strawberries yet because Tony hasn’t had a chance to make me some planters.  Instead of planting them straight into the ground, I wanted to try planting them vertical. 

This is what I want Tony to make for me so I can plant my strawberries.
{photo source: wonderfuldiy.com}

A friend gave me a wheelbarrow load of raspberry starts which I believe are Caroline Raspberries.  They are a large berry, with a rich, full and intense raspberry flavor, and they freeze well.

I just ordered 5 Anne Raspberry starts since I couldn’t find them anywhere locally.  I discovered these delicious golden raspberries last year at a local farmer’s market and fell in love.  Anne’s are a sunshine-colored berry that has a unique sweet taste unlike any other raspberry.  Some say it’s like crossing a raspberry and a green grape, while others describe them as having a hint of apricot flavor.  Anne’s excellent size, appearance, and very sweet flavor make it an excellent addition to any berry garden.

Anne Raspberries
{photo source: scenichillfarm.com}

I haven’t planted any raspberry bushes yet because I still have to figure out where I’m going to put them and then I need to make a trellis of some sort for the bushes to grow on.  Not sure what style of trellis to make yet though.

{photo source: oocities.org}
I bet you can guess what I'll be working on this weekend... berry planters and a trellis.

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