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.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Meat. It’s What’s For Dinner...

9:09 am - 52 degrees outside - overcast, low clouds...

It’s that time of year again... hunting season. 

Hunting wild animals for food used to be a part of everyday life – for some it still is.  Hunting may not be for everyone, but it’s a part of our lives.  Hunting is simply harvesting wild food, and we only harvest what our family will eat.

my great-grandmother in the early 1900s

Tony hunts for deer and elk every year – one deer and one elk will put enough meat in the freezer to feed our family for a whole year and be able to share some with family and friends. 

A few years ago, our daughter took and passed a hunters education class to get her hunting license.  Last year she got her first buck (male deer), and this year she got her first bull (male elk).  We are very proud of her, and she is helping to provide for our family.  We are also very proud that our children know and understand where their food comes from.

Caitlyn's first bull elk. Shot 2nd day of rifle elk season.

Hunting for our own food also gives us peace of mind that the meat in our freezer has not been tainted by antibiotics, artificial hormones, pesticides, herbicides, or unnatural feeds that are not needed and are possibly harmful.

Elk tastes similar to beef (no gamey flavor).
Compared to beef, elk meat is lower in fat and higher in protein.

There are a lot of shocking things about meat.  Sometimes I find that the most shocking thing about meat to some people, is that meat is actually made of dead animals!  Crazy right?  Sorry for my sarcasm, but I do seriously think we maintain a cognitive dissonance between the animals we see and the meat we eat.

One of the problems with our current food system is that there is this real disconnect with where our food comes from.  The same person who would squeal if they saw a farmer shoot a cow can easily buy packages of ground beef at the grocery store...or a package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts...or fish fillets.  While we understand what meat is in a cerebral way, we don’t really understand what that means.  We don’t equate a dead, bleeding animal with this delicious looking meal on our plate.  We literally and figuratively remove the life from our food.

To hunt and butcher an animal is to recognize that meat is not some abstract form of protein that springs into existence at the grocery store tightly wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam.  Meat is life.  It still astounds me how many people actually believe that the meat they buy at the grocery just meat at the grocery store.  They forget or choose to forget where it really came from – a living breathing animal.  In order to appreciate that slice of steak on your plate, I think you need to also know and appreciate where it came from.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Getting Ready For Winter – Cleaning The Chimney...

6:04 pm - 46 degrees - foggy, raining...

Sunday was the last day of dry weather before the rain came, and with it more cold temperatures.  Even though we've already had a week of cold temps, Tony didn't want to use the fireplace until we had had a good day of rain.  Everything has been too dry and the fire danger lever has been too high to take any chances.

We heat our home with a wood stove from roughly around September until May.  This ends up being one long continuous burning season.

Having a wood burning fireplace definitely has its ups and downs.  The warm glow of a fireplace is one of nature’s simple gifts... if you can ignore the mess and hassle that come with their daily operation.

Though creosote inevitably builds up over time inside the chimney and chimney cap which can become a very serious fire hazard, by using only properly split and seasoned firewood, you can slow the creosote accumulation.  If at all possible, try to steer clear of the slow, smoky, smoldering fires; these tend to create creosote rather quickly.  Clean, hot burning fires are the ones that generate the least amount of creosote.

There is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to how often you should clean out your chimney.  We just happen to do it at the end of every summer, right before the cold season hits - Tony climbs up our steep metal roof to clean out the chimney and chimney cap (which is 34 feet up in the air) - something that we feel MUST be done before we can safely use the fireplace.

Building A Pond...

4:50 pm - 47 degrees - foggy, raining...

When we were driving around looking for property 12 years ago, we came upon this near-perfect rural off-grid property... and we were sold!

Our property has a good amount of acreage, gorgeous views, a nice home site, and it’s a nice distance to and from civilization.  It was perfect... except for one small thing – it was missing a visible water feature.  Yes, a river bisects our lot, but we can’t see it from the house.

I have always wanted to live on a lake or have a large pond or some kind of water feature within sight of the house.  It's only taken 12 years, but we finally have a visible water feature – a pond!

A pond offers numerous benefits for landowners: entertainment for the family, water for wildlife, aquaculture, fire protection, erosion control, and aesthetics are but a few. 

And in our case, the pond will also hopefully offer another source of power – hydroelectric power. 

For those of you who don’t know what hydroelectric (or hydropower or hydroenergy) is – it’s a reliable source of renewable energy that runs 24/7 for very little cost.  Power is generated from the movement of water, like waterfalls or streams, water that is stored in dams, as well as flowing in river to create electricity.  The water flows through a turbine to help generate electricity; using the energy of falling or flowing water to turn the blades.  The rotating blades spin a generator that converts the mechanical energy of the spinning turbine into electrical energy that we can use to power our home.

Even though a pond has so much to offer, there are a lot of factors that needed to be considered first.  Factors like:
 - Is the land and soil actually suited for a pond?
 - Can we build the pond ourselves?
 - What size of pond do we want and what size will fit?
 - How much will this project cost?
 - How long will this project take?

While Tony is the researcher, thinker, and planner, I am one to jump in with both feet now.  So when he told me that he was thinking that he could put in a pond and wanted to know what I thought – my response was YES, the bigger the better!

After walking around the designated area he had picked out and visualizing his plan of attack, Tony started digging, and digging, and digging.

The underground springs Tony tapped into, quickly started filling the hole and eventually the big hole started to look like a pond.  Before the pond got too full, he added a 4” pipe that is about 2’ below the water line for our future hydropower source.  

Tony also added an 18” culvert for an overflow.

After getting the edges, top and surrounding area cleaned up, we spread grass seed covered with Turf Mulch.  The Turf Mulch is a naturally organic product that is a ground dressing for the newly seeded area.  It will help the ground retain moisture, form a protective mat over the seed, help the grass seed germinate quicker and help with erosion control until the grass grows in.

And we now have a 10' deep by 40'x50' trout pond!  The water level is currently at the uncapped hydro pipe, which he painted black so it would blend in a little more.  Tony wanted to keep the water at the lower level until the grass starts to grow.  The trout will be coming in about a month or so.  So excited for this project and how it is turning out!  My husband is amazing!!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Fall Is Almost Here...

8:13 pm - 62 degrees - smoky...

The nights are getting colder, the mornings are getting darker, the kids have gone back to school, and tomorrow the rain is supposed to return! 

Where did summer go? 

Weeks turned into months in the blink of an eye, and before I knew it, the kids were back in school and we’re busy running everyone around to soccer and volleyball practice.

Summer was extremely busy, and we didn’t even get anything done on or around the house. Tony spent the summer helping our neighbor build a 3,000+ sqft tree deck for their daughter’s wedding.  The tree deck and the wedding were both absolutely amazing!!

Even though everyone was really busy this summer, we did manage to sneak in some fun here and there.

The kids were constantly catching critters.

We went berry picking several times and canned some freezer jam.

We went hiking, canoeing, camping and fishing.

And we made several quick trips to the Long Beach Peninsula for more fun and surf fishing.

They caught a crab while surf fishing for perch!
The crab grabbed the bait and didn't want to let get.
They let it go after we got a quick picture.

Although I love the warmth and sunshine of summer, and everything that goes with it, I am really happy fall is almost here.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Berry Hike...

3:30 pm - 72 degrees - cloudy...

I love, love, love living in the mountains.  Being able to step outside the front door and walk around our property harvesting wild berries, is just amazing!  Now that harvest season is upon us, it’s time to go on another berry hike and see what we can find.

There are so many different types of shrubs and trees that offer up a berry tempting variety of fruits for our taste buds.  However, it’s always important to keep in mind that not all fruits found in our forest are safe to eat.  So after a tasty stroll around the property, here’s what we found...

Blackcap aka Wild Black Raspberry {Rubus occidentalis}

Blackcap aka Wild Black Raspberry {Rubus occidentalis}

The Blackcap or Black Raspberries are closely related to the Red Raspberry but the black fruit makes them look like Blackberries.  Even though many may get them confused, they have a taste that is uniquely their own and oh so delicious!

Blue Elderberry aka Blue Elder {Sambucus cerulea}

Whether it be red or blue, Elderberries are easy to like.  They are user-friendly.  Jam, jelly, pies, syrup, schnapps, brandy and wine can all be made from those tiny little berries.  The flowers are also edible and can be used in pancakes and muffins or just dipped in batter and fried.  They also make a nice tea.

Blue Huckleberry {Vaccinium deliciosum}

Any hiker in the Pacific Northwest worth his or her weight in Huckleberries, know that late summer hiking has joys all its own...of a juicy, purple/blue variety.  The wild Blue Huckleberry is a very coveted berry.  Pickers often find themselves competing with Black bears, cougars, and other native animals for the sweet, juicy huckleberries which are just delicious in pies, jam, pancakes, muffins, ice cream, syrup, and oh so much more.

Oregon  Grape {Mahonia nervosa}

The Oregon Grape is not related to true grapes, but gets its name from the purple cluster of berries whose color and slightly dusted appearance are reminiscent of grapes.  The berries are highly acidic (sour), but they make a delicious jam.

Oval Leaf Blueberry aka Alaska Blueberry aka Early Blueberry {Vaccinium ovalifolium}

The wild Blueberries that we found in our yard are likely the most well know berry on our list of berries we’ve found here.  And personally I think they taste just as good if not better than the ones bought in the store.  I even had to pick a handful so I can make Blueberry pancakes in the morning.

Red Elderberry {Sambucus racemosa}

Some references say Red Elderberries are edible, some say they are not.  Basically what I have found out is that if you eat a lot of raw, whole, Red Elderberries, you will most likely end up with an upset stomach.  If they are deseeded and cooked, then they are just fine.

Red Huckleberry {Vaccinium parvifolium}

These delicate translucent berries have been a source of food for generations of Northwest natives, animals and people alike.  As heavily used as they are, not everyone enjoys their tangy-tart flavor.  It is for this reason that the Red Huckleberries are usually combines with other berries, like the Blueberry to add sweetness.

Salal {Gaultheria shallon}

The Salal’s dark blue berries and young leaves are both edible, and both with a unique flavor.  Salal berries were a significant food resource for Native Americas, who both ate them fresh and dried them into cakes.  More recently, the berries are used in james, preserves and pies.  They are often combined with Oregon Grape berries because the tartness of the Oregon Grape is partially masked by the mild sweetness of the Salal berries.

Salmonberry {Rubus spectabilis}

The Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Trailing Blackberry and Black Caps all share the fruit structure of the Raspberry, with the fruit pulling away from its receptacle.  Books often call the Salmonberry “insipid” but depending on ripeness and where you found them, they are good eaten raw and when processed into jam, jelly and wine.

Stink Currant aka Blue Currant {Ribes bracteosum}

Stink Currant is named for its skunky aroma.  It’s far less pungent than Skunk Cabbage, and the name doesn’t always translate to flavor.  It seems that the flavor of these berries can range anywhere from nasty to delicious. 

Thimbleberry {Rubus parviflorus}

Thimbleberries are larger, flatter, and softer than Raspberries, and have many small seeds.  Because the fruit if so soft, it does not pack or ship well, so Thimbleberries are rarely cultivated commercially.  However, wild Thimbleberries can be eaten raw, dried or made into jam.

Trailing Blackberry {Rubus ursinus}

This Blackberry is not the big brambly invasive bully lining area rivers and roadways.  Our native Trailing Blackberry likes to spread.  Instead of forming self supported brambles, it rambles about the landscape as a vine-like ground cover, but tastes just as delicious as the brambly Blackberry.

...we found quite a few actually!  I just love having all these delicious wild edible berries around our home!  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Off The Mountain Fun...

4:57 pm - 43 degrees - raining...

Every now and then we just need to get away from the daily grind, which sometimes means getting off the mountain to go exploring.  

One of the many reasons we love living in the Pacific Northwest is because it's one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the country. 

Head North and you’ll run into Olympic Nation Park which is home to the Hoh National Rainforest – the largest rainforest in the United States.  There is also the Puget Sound which is comprised of inlets, channels, estuaries and home to the San Juan Islands. 

Head west and you’ll see the beautiful rugged coastline of the Pacific Ocean that is lined with steep cliffs, moss covered trees and enough rainy days to keep it gorgeous and green. You also have the Long Beach Peninsula which is an arm of land that is known for its continuous sand beaches which also happen to be a Washington State Highway.

Running down the center is the Cascade Mountain range that splits the area in two from north to south.  There are also a handful of active volcanoes, along with the remains from the many lahars (volcanic mudflows).

Running across the center from east to west is the Columbia River.  Along the Columbia River is the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area which protects the spectacular canyon where the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade mountain - with cliffs and overlooks of Washington to the north and Oregon to the south.

You want the high desert, head to the east side and you’re in the Columbia Basin which is a dry, open country, rich in stark scenery.

There are so many different options to choose from, a few hours in any direction and you have something beautiful, different and amazing to explore and enjoy.

Still, home is where our hearts are.


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