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 2, 2016

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream In A Bag...

2:20 pm - 61 degrees - mostly cloudy, light wind...

This past weekend we went camping at the beach and we made some homemade vanilla ice cream in a bag to go along with our Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler.  Let me just say... it was an amazingly simple and delicious camping dessert!

Everyone made their own individual servings of ice cream, in their own baggies and it took maybe 15 minutes... or less.  The hardest part of the whole process was shaking the gallon sized bag, half filled with ice for about 10 minutes.


~ Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream ~

2 Tbsp Sugar
1 Cup Half & Half
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
½ Cup Coarse/Canning Salt
Ice
Pint – size Ziploc Bag
Gallon – size Ziploc Bag

Mix the sugar, half & half and vanilla extract together.  Pour into a pint-sized Ziploc baggie.  Make sure it seals tightly.

Take the gallon-size Ziploc bag and fill it up halfway with ice and pour the salt over the ice.  Now place the cream filled bag into the ice filled bag.  Make sure it is sealed tightly and start shaking. 

Shake constantly for about 5-10 minutes.

Open the gallon-size bag and check to see if the ice cream is hard, if not keep shaking.  Once the ice cream is finished, quickly run the closed pint-size baggie under cold water to quickly clean the salt off the baggie.

Open the baggie and pop in a spoon and enjoy

Firewood Cutting Is Underway...

12:43 pm - 60 degrees - lightly raining...

A wood-burning fireplace is one of the simplest joys of the winter months.  It’s also a lot of work.

For us, our wood burning fireplace is currently our only source of heat, so falling, cutting, splitting and stacking firewood is an important skill for us to know and do.
  
Tony does all the falling of trees and cutting those logs into rounds.  Thankfully we live on many acres of wooded forest so we are able to start at the source.

  

I help Tony with the splitting.  Even when log rounds are small in diameter, it makes sense to split them.  Splitting speeds along the drying process and improves the burning qualities.



And we all pitch in to do the stacking.


Even though the ideal time to cut firewood is in the late winter and early spring months (this allows for the maximum drying time), we usually have so much going on, that we don’t get around to cutting, splitting and stacking our firewood until the end of July, beginning of August.

So firewood cutting for this coming winter is underway.  Tony spent last weekend cutting this pile of logs...



...into this pile of rounds. 


Now the splitting and stacking starts.  How much wood could a wood stacker stack if a wood stacker could stack wood?  We’ll soon find out...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler...

10:51 am - 72 degrees - blue sky with lightly scattered clouds...

We’re going camping this weekend and this super easy and delicious Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler is on the menu!  Camping food just tastes better... it’s a fact.

If you are looking for a tasty, yet simple dessert recipe - this is it!  This quick, easy, basic cobbler recipe will satisfy and sweet tooth and can be modified depending on the type of cake or fruit that you like!  It can also be made in a fire pit, in a barbeque, or an oven.


~ Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler ~
1 box yellow cake mix
2 (21 oz) cans peaches
1/2 cup butter
Cinnamon, to taste
Dutch Oven
30 pieces of Charcoal
12” Dutch Oven

Rub the inside of the Dutch oven with cooking oil or butter.  Or you can use a disposable foil liner made specifically for Dutch ovens - make clean up a breeze!

Place the Dutch oven over approximately 10 charcoal briquettes or over coals on a flat spot in the fire ring.

Once the Dutch oven is hot, pour the cans of peaches into the Dutch oven. 

Spread the dry cake mix on top of the peaches and try to spread it out as evenly as possible.  Sprinkle the top with a little bit of cinnamon to taste.

Cut butter into even sized pats (small chunks) of butter and arrange on top.

Put the lid onto the Dutch oven and arrange about 16 hot charcoal briquettes or scatter hot coals over the lid.


Bake until done.  Depending on how hot your coals or fire are, this could be anywhere between 25-60 minutes.  After 25 minutes, check cake with a clean knife of toothpick, if it comes out clean, the peach cobbler is done.  If not, add a few more charcoal or coals over the lid and check again in 10 minutes.


Serve with vanilla ice cream or whip cream and enjoy!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Catch and Release...

5:48 pm - 76 degrees - scattered clouds, light breeze...

Two of our cats caught a little chipmunk and when our 11-year-old daughter realized what they were playing with, she freaked out a bit.   


After rescuing this cute little critter, we let him go in a huge slash pile.  Hopefully he'll hide out for a while and stay away from the cats. 

It's never dull when you live in the mountains.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

DIY Faux Shiplap Walls...

7:57 pm - 61 degrees - scattered clouds, light breeze...

Over the holiday weekend, I decided that I wanted to finish out all the closets in our home with a wood planking look.


Real shiplap is more than I wanted to spend, but that’s the overall look I’m wanting in all the closets – it’s a nice neutral texture that can be added to any space and can be styled in a lot of different ways.

A popular technique to get the shiplap look at a lower cost is to cut a piece of plywood into strips that you nail to the wall just slightly spaced apart.  This will save you a few bucks, but on the down side you have to rip plywood into perfectly straight strips and balance coins or spacers between boards to get the perfect spacing which would make the project a lot more labor intensive than I wanted to attempt.

So the best solution, at a reasonable price, that I found was to use tongue and grove planks.  It still gives me the look I was wanting and it was incredibly easy to install.  Altogether - planks, wood filler, sandpaper, primer and paint totaled just over $130 and the project took about 9 hours spread out over three days to finish.


After a trip to the hardware store for supplies, Tony and I started getting out all the tools I would need for this project (I always have to get organized before I start a project).

What I used...
- 8 packs of v-groove pine wallplanks (6 planks to a pack)
- Tape measure
- Level
- Brad nailer with nails
- Putty knife
- Sandpaper
- Primer & Paint



The kids’ closets are 11’3” wide by 2’7” deep with a back wall + slanted ceiling measuring 6’10” with three door openings –-- soooo... there was a lot of measuring and cutting involved.

I started the first board in the bottom left corner, used the level and a scrap piece of sheetrock to keep the board half an inch off the subfloor (the spacing will allow for the future installation of flooring) and nailed in the board using the brad nailer.


After serveral trips up and down the stairs to cut boards, I quickly found my rhythm alternating the plank lengths as I worked my way up the wall.  It took me somewhere between one and a half to two hours to get all the planking up.  


After the boards were up, I went back and filled all the nail holes and smoothed out the seams with wood filler.  After the wood filler had time to dry, I went back and sanded all those spots smooth.  Then paint!  I used half a can of primer (one heavy coat + touch ups) and half a can Valspar Snowcap White (one heavy coat + touch ups).


He wanted to help so bad, so he's filling nail holes with wood filler.

Putting on a coat of primer.

Putting on the final coat of paint.  Final paint on the left, primer on the right.
I absolutely love how it turned it.  One kid’s closet done, one more to go!


All done!  Love it!


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Surf Fishing...

2:31 pm - 60 degrees - mostly cloudy, on and off showers...

This past weekend we took a road trip to the Long Beach Peninsula to get away for a couple days, meet up with family and do some surf fishing for Perch.
 

The first day, the weather was cold, raining and windy but that didn’t stop Tony and Jack from surf fishing for sea perch off the sandy beach where the kids and I had been clam digging last month.  When Tony told me they were going to go surf fishing this trip, I wasn’t really expecting much, so you can imagine my surprise when Jack reeled in a huge Red Tailed Surf Perch on their second cast out!

Standing on the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean, surf fishing.

Second cast out, and caught a huge Red Tailed Perch!
 
Heading back out to catch some more Perch.

Sea perch are abundant in the waters off the coast of Washington and Oregon year round, so a sunny day during the winter, or a cold and rainy day during late spring, you can still catch perch.

In between the changing of the tides, which is when you want to go surf fishing, we ran around town, drove on the beach and enjoyed time with family.

Did our good deed for the day and helped out a
couple girls who got their car stuck in the sand.

Saw a cute little seal pup in the surf.  Don't worry, we didn't
bother or touch the little seal pup.

During our short two-day getaway, the guys went fishing several times and caught quite a few Red Tailed Perch... none of which made it to the freezer.

That's a 12-inch cutting board!  Those are some big perch!

The morning catch.

The weather definitely wasn’t the best, but everyone still had a great time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Slipforms – Rock Hunting...

9:23 pm - 57 degrees - cloudy...

The rock hunt has started, so far I’ve gathered 18 sq ft of rock! 

My goal is to only pay for concrete and coloring oxide mix.  The rock will be collected from around the mountain.  The slipforms will be made from scrap materials lying around the house.  And I’m hoping to find some scrap wire and rebar somewhere.
  
Two days of gather rocks - 6' x 3' pile.

Our home is a 36’x36’ square and I plan on rocking the first 4 feet all the way around the house with slipforms {click here} – so that equals 544 sq ft of surface area that I’ll need to rock.  Actually, I will need less rock than that due to door and window openings, but I’d rather have more rock than needed on hand.

Over the years we have dug up so much rock we have piles of it everywhere, so I have started to dig through those piles looking for rocks that have at least one flat side and nice coloring.  I have also been walking around the mountain and just picking up nice rocks here and there that are lying on the ground. 


Now that I have a small pile going, I think I need to actually start sorting them out according to size – small, medium, large, extra large.  This will help when it comes time to actually building the wall – I can go to the specific size pile that I need instead of having to dig through one large jumbled mess.

I’ll also have an “uglies” pile – the rocks that go behind the front flat-faced stones – these will be used as filler, we’ll use less concrete that way.

Sorting rocks - small, medium, large, extra large.

Since almost all of our rocks have a rough, jagged look to them, we will have a “random rubble” look.  Random Rubble walls don’t have perfectly square or rectangular rocks or stones laying in nice straight rows, instead it’s a technique in which a coursed or obviously horizontal seaming effect is avoided.  A random rubble wall is just that – random.  Stones of various shapes and sizes are placed according to their best fit.  This technique is perfect for a beginner since there isn’t any cutting or fitting of stones required.

As I sort out the rocks, I’ll also have to clean them off.  Any loose dirt, debris or anything else that can end up between the rock and the concrete needs to be removed – a clean surface is needed for the concrete to properly adhere to the rock to produce a strong wall.  With that being said, I’m keeping the lichen on the front flat-faced rocks.  I’ll clean the lichen off all the other side’s where the concrete needs to adhere to, but I like the unique designs the lichen creates and I think it will add more interest.

Rock with lichen on the end.

Rock covered in lichen.

Rock covered in lichen.

With the use of the natural, rough, jagged looking rocks, I think our home will reflect that same characteristic and will have an interesting rugged appearance.  I can’t wait to see what the finished product will look like!



“The fact that the stones are used in their natural state as they come from the fields on which the house is build, gives a sense of self-improvement through thrift, rather than by acquisition from others... The material itself combines that sense of permanence, solidity and security so necessary for the establishment of a home.” ~ Frazier Peters, HOUSES OF STONE 1933

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Slipform Stone Walls...

1:33 pm - 50 degrees - raining...

I have mentioned before how we are kind of doing everything backwards, with a lot of shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’s being learned along the way.  That was not intentional, that is just how it has turned out. 

What do I mean by ‘doing everything backwards’?  Well, the second floor is further along than the first floor.  More accurately, the first floor doesn’t really exist yet... our home kind of looks like a one level on stilts – I currently park my rig under the house, in what will one day be the foyer.  Now you understand what I mean by doing stuff backwards.  Instead of building from the floor up, we are building from the roof down.  Once again, that was not intentional, that is just how it has turned out.

The other day Tony jokingly said that my summer project could be to slipform the downstairs exterior walls.  I had no clue what that was, so after a quick Google search, I said “YES!  That is going to be my summer project!”  I don’t think that is the response he was expecting.

Slipform stone construction has been used for over 100 years.  It is a method for making a reinforced concrete wall with stone facing in which stones and mortar are built up in courses within reusable slipforms. 

Slipforms are short forms, up to 2 feet high that are placed wall thickness apart, these forms serve as a guide for the stone work.  The flat-faced stones are placed inside the forms with the good faces against the form work.  Any stone with a flat face on at least one side can be used, and they don’t have to be very thick to cover a fair amount of wall.  Concrete is poured in behind the rocks, filling in the concrete with what are called “uglies”, or stones without a flat face, to use less concrete.  Rebar is added for strength, to make a wall that is approximately half reinforced concrete and half stonework. 

(photo source: Pinterest)

(photo source: Pinterest)

The slipformed walls can be faced with stone on one side or both sides.  After the concrete sets enough to hold the wall together, the forms are “slipped” up to pour the next level.  With slipforms it is easy for a novice to build free-standing stone walls.

Slipforming combines stone masonry and concrete work to form a wall that shares the attributes of both.  Slipforming lets the builder create a flat or plumb stone wall that has the beauty and strength with the reinforcement of concrete and steel, without using masonry skills, making it less expensive and more accessible to the layperson.  The final product is long-lasting, low maintenance, and virtually weather and fireproof.

(photo source: Pinterest)

I have been very adamant about wanting stone to go all the way around the house on the first level, but we have been hesitant because of the cost.  This is a perfect solution, although extremely labor intensive.  There will still be the cost for cement and rebar, but I believe we can dig up enough stones around our property to build the exterior walls, which will be a foot and a half thick.  And it will be progress!  I’m always excited when there’s progress on the house.

I have one month to research and gather supplies before the kids are out of school and I will have the time to start slipping rocks and concrete together. 

  X  Level
  X  Wheelbarrow
  X  Buckets (haul cement and small rocks)
      Shovel
      Trowel
      Cement Mix (gas or electric)
  X  Scrap lumber to build slipforms
      Stones (various sizes)
      Cement
      Rebar
  X  Used motor oil (paint faces of slipforms –easier to pull away from dried cement)
  X   Stone House by Tomm Stanley research book
  X   Our Home Made of Stone by Helen Nearing research book


My two research books just arrived from Amazon!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blackberry and Red Raspberry Freezer Jam...

11:50 am - 52 degrees - scattered clouds...

Yesterday I had some extra time so I decided to make some freezer jam.  I ended up with 9 jars of Blackberry, 9 jars of Raspberry and 9 jars of Strawberry freezer jam.  Yummm!!

Delicious Freezer Jam.
Setting up for 24 hours before it goes into the freezer.

Freezer jam is hands-down my favorite kind of jam.  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 raspberry (or any other flavor) freezer jam and raspberry 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!

Filling up jars of red raspberry freezer jam!

~Blackberry or Red Raspberry Freezer Jam~
3 cups crushed fresh blackberries or red raspberries
5 1/4 cups sugar
1 pkg Sure Jell Premium Fruit Pectin
3/4 cup water

Mash the berries with a potato masher or in a food processor until slightly chunky (not pureed).  Jam should have bits of fruit.  Once the berries are crushed to a size you want, measure out 3 cups and put into a large bowl.

Stir sugar into the berries, 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 berry 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.}

For the Strawberry Freezer Jam recipe {click here}.

--- Enjoy!

Digging For Razor Clams...

11:30 am - 51 degrees out - scattered clouds...

Eating locally grown food is great, but when you are able to go directly to the foods source and harvest it yourself, that’s even better!

Our last trip to the Long Beach Peninsula, (which was a couple weeks ago) just happened to coincide with clamming season.  Yea!!!

The kids and I have never been digging for clams before.  There is a stock pile of clam-digging supplies at our beach property, but we’ve never used them.  But this trip, we thought we’d give it a try.

Long Beach locals swear that clam-digging is in their blood.  But, for us newbie’s, it was a very fun (and gross) learning experience.

First, we dug out our clam-digging supplies and made sure there were enough clam guns for everyone.  Then we ran into town to get our clamming licenses at Jack’s Country Store along with a list of the clamming tides.  All clam-diggers 15 years of age or older must have an applicable clamming license to harvest razor clams on any beach.  Children don’t need a license as long as they’re with an adult who has one.

Swung by Jack's Country Store to grab a clamming license.

After not so patiently waiting for the clamming tide to come, I got all the kids (4 total) and supplies loaded into our rig and we headed for the beach – with no clue how to properly clam dig!

We dragged our clam guns and netted bags down to the wet sand, to an area that was still nice and smooth, away from all the other clam-diggers.  We were told to look for air bubbles or dimples in the sand, so we started wandering around looking.  After about a minute or so, we found a “dimple”.  I called the kids over so we could all see what would happen when I plunged the long, cylindrical tube of aluminum into the sand, plugged the tiny air hole on the handle, and pulled it back up out of the sand... and was rewarded with jumping up and down and shouts of excitement since we had just dug up our first clam!

Our first razor clam!
  
Razor Clam

Things got a little crazy after that first clam was dug up.  Kids were running back and forth shouting “I found a dimple!”, “ACK, it squirted me!”, “GOT ONE!” and so on.  It was quite amusing to watch as they ran around from dimple to dimple, placing their clam guns over the center of the dimple, and do their little squiggle dance as they plunged their gun into the wet sand.  When they pulled up all the sand contained within the gun, dumping the contents to the side, they quickly dug through that pile or dove down into the hole to grab that clam.    

We found dimples!  AKA Razor Clam Show.

Clam-digging cousins.
  

Our last razor clam of the day.

It only took about a half an hour for all of us to reach our limit of 15 razor clams each.  Being new to this, our razor clams weren’t all perfect, we did manage to cut a few in half when we plunged the clam gun into the sand, but all clam-diggers are required to keep the first 15 clams they dig up, regardless of size or if you accidentally cut them in half.

Everyone had a lot of fun digging for the clams, but the clean-up...well that wasn’t as much fun.  In fact, it was gross, but we got the job done.  If you want to clean your own clams, it’s a good idea to look up how to clean them first so you may clean them safely and correctly (click here for instructions).  Of if you don’t want to clean them yourself, you can drop them off at a local seafood store or cannery to have them professionally cleaned and vacuum-packed.

We really did luck out.  We had an absolutely perfect evening and great success for our first clam-dig. 

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